For better or worse, here I am—trapped in paradise. As long as I continue to live in this vital, inimitable spot on the globe,

I will continue to seek out the unique…the delicious…the innovative products, services and traditions of San Luis Obispo County.

Stay posted for a few of my favorite things.

About Me...

My photo
A wanderlust at heart... captivated by the California Central Coast. Join me on my culinary and vino-infused adventures as I explore and discover the regional novelties of San Luis Obispo County that make living here...easy to stay...and hard to leave.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Day 2 in Switzerland

Rolle, Switzerland
Another cloudy, rainy day. But even the gloomy weather didn't stop my weary, jetlagged body from exploring my remarkable surroundings (as well as picking up some new, useful colloquial French). Late morning, a family errand whisked me from the towering hillsides and vineyards that hover over the city of Rolle, to the nearby town of Gland—which is supposedly inhabited by Phil Collins and is also the butt of many jokes in French movies and television shows. Gland has two meanings: acorn and the tip of a p---- (you can fill in the blanks). Gland is not far from the towns of Aubonne and Gimel, and strung together, Aubonne Gimel Gland, creates a play on words. To all the girls, I put my gland inside. Useful to know. 

Food converted to energy is also helpful. When we headed back to Rolle, our growling stomachs led us to the charming downtown restaurant, "Le Cap Breton" (the Breton Cape). This savory crêperie, owned and operated by a Frenchman from Brittany, offers a variety of crêpes and appetizers set amidst a rustic, nautical-themed setting. Adorned with antique chairs and tables, seafaring trinkets and baubets as far as the eye can see (such as seashell-shaped candelabra and bright yellow napkins folded in the shape of boats), this comfortable yet busy maritime atmosphere creates a funky oceanic environment for patrons.

We ordered Kerisac to accompany our meal—a tasty dry apple-based French hard cider with a unique musty flavor (my brother picked up notes of "mushroom or fungus"). This drink fared well with the vigorous first course, fish soup served in a ceramic boat with chunks of red mullet fish (rouget), petite slender mussels, and stems of lemon thyme that swam in a rich brown broth (which we easily mopped up with toasted slices of baguette topped with housemade mayonnaise-tartar sauce and grated gruyère cheese). Tasty, warm and satisfying on this cool, overcast day.

Next up: the main course. I ordered the "Galette de l'Atlantique." This large crêpe, served folded and topped with smoked salmon, sautéed onions, capers, lemon, lettuce, and a citrus cream dressing, ended my aquatic meal on a rich, hearty note.

On the way out, I couldn't resist stopping at the bar for a picture as I learned yet another play on words. La Criée du Bar (bar = sea bass). Translation: The fish is screaming...or...You are screaming at the bar for a drink.

Even after this oceanic feast, several hours later we found ourselves eating again. This time, Papet Vaudois, a traditional Swiss dish typically served during the cold winter months in the canton of Vaud (Rolle belongs to this canton, which is the equivalent of a state in the U.S.), ended up on my plate, lovingly made by my sister-in-law and her sister. Consisting of potato, leek and cream stew served alongside local sausages (we bought saucisse aux choux—pork sausage with cabbage), this tangy, creamy, time-honored, warm meal was a treat.                  
And for the wine? What else? I wanted to reciprocate and retrieved from my suitcase a bottle of 2005 Sinor-LaVallee Pinot Noir, Aubaine Vineyards, San Luis Obispo County. A smooth, pleasant, fruity hit. Our dinner party was surprised at the bold fruitiness of this wine and was even more flabbergasted to learn that San Luis Obispo produces even bigger fruit-forward wines. They declared this wine a "pleasure to drink" and later I heard they wanted to know how they could order this wine and have it shipped over.

And for dessert? A light strawberry mousse cake. Delicious (délicieux). No double meaning intended.

Day 2: Good food. Good company. Learned something new.

All Text and Photos Copyright © 2010 by Elizabeth in SLO. All Rights Reserved. 

Monday, October 11, 2010

Day 1 in Switzerland

From my travelogue...

It’s Day 2, actually—around 4:00am—and the only noise I hear is the sound of a clock ticking away tirelessly in the night. The nearby hills are silent; the plump grapes are finishing their final days of ripening in the cool night, soon to be plucked for the annual harvest. Yesterday’s long, arduous journey from California rewards me with this idealic setting—smack in the heart of gorgeous Swiss wine country. My current locale is the ville of Rolle, nestled in the canton of Vaud, a French-speaking region of glorious Switzerland. Huddled in the major wine-producing terrain of the La Côte Region, Rolle is bordered by the blue swell of Lac Léman (Lake Geneva) to one side, and the lush green Jura Mountains to the other. Varietals such as Pinot Noir, Chasseslas, and Gamay thrive. Lucky me.

Yesterday my sister-in-law and nephew greeted me at the Geneva airport on a drizzly, rainy day, their bright smiles welcoming. My adventure begins. Driving to Rolle, the landscape is flanked by rising green landscapes and misty air, the symmetrical vineyards cover the intriguing majestic hills as far as I can see. We drive a bit closer and I am delighted to see the rich dark grapes fattening on the vines. Overcome with travel fatigue and not yet able to explore my new surroundings, I settle into my brother’s apartment and find enchantment in watching my nephew explore his home and toys. Now a toddler, a little cherub with curly blond-reddish locks and plump dimpled cheeks, he is ever the curiosity seeker. He warms up to me—his American aunt whom I hope he will see often over the years. I gladly pick him up whenever he throws up his arms.

Two naps later in the day, the clouds have cleared enough for me to revel in the stunning view of the lake and the sparkling French Alps from the patio. I am again reminded where I am: in a different kind of paradise. My brother comes home from work and I am ecstatic to seem him. I bring out gifts from the States. A monkey Halloween costume for my nephew, American candy, shirts from Pismo Beach, and other reminders from home.

We order pizza for dinner—authentic Italian-style according to my brother. It is delicious and satisfying. They present me with an unexpected gift for my upcoming 40th birthday, a generous gift certificate for a spa treatment at the luxurious Beau-Rivage Palace in Lausanne (a posh hotel that sits near the shores of Lac Léman). How lovely to travel halfway across the world and be pampered in style. I have no idea what’s in store for me over the next few weeks. Novel experiences. Unusual wines and cuisine. Remarkable sites.

I am in a new place…with familiar family…ready for unfamiliar adventure.

All Text and Photos Copyright © 2010 by Elizabeth in SLO. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, September 6, 2010

SLO Provence

Thick lamb loin chops marinated in rich olive oil with a blend of lavender, thyme, fennel seeds, and chunks of garlic. Small yellow, red, and purple potatoes sizzling in olive oil with a bit of chopped shallot and fresh thyme leaves. A Syrah-Grenache Rhone blend to round out the meal. Sounds like a match made in heaven.

It was. Superb. Inspired by my mom's recent trip to Provence, where almost every one of her delicious meals included thyme, I conceived of the following dinner. 

If you enjoy lamb, this recipe is for you. Get out your spice grinder, your penchant for herbs de Provence, and prepare to feast. This is a lovely meal that will be requested...maybe even begged for...again. The ingredients are simple yet flavorful, memorable and rich. The prep time is minimal and the payoff is big—happy, satiated guests who will rave about your culinary efforts. Nothing beats that.

(The following ingredients can easily be doubled for a party of four)

Lavender Rubbed Lamb
1 pound lamb loin chops
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 tablespoon culinary lavender buds
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cloves garlic, peeled & chunked

This spice mixture is an experiment loosely based on the traditional herbs included in herbs du Provence (even though I didn't include savory or basil). Place lavender, fennel, thyme, peppercorns, and salt in a spice grinder and...grind into a fine powder. In a glass bowl, add oil and chunks of garlic and incorporate herb mixture. Get out a glass baking dish as well as your beautiful chops. Dip lamb in olive oil rub (be sure to lather both sides of meat) and place chops in baking dish. Pour any remaining oil over lamb; cover and refrigerate for 2 - 4 hours.

Thyme Potatoes
1 pound new potatoes
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 medium shallot, chopped
Fresh thyme leaves (strip 6 or 7 stems of their leaves and discard stems)
1/2 teaspoon salt
Pepper to taste

When it's close to dinner-time, preheat oven to 350ºF. Scrub potatoes and leave skins on. Cut into even-sized quarters. In a medium-sized bowl, add oil, chopped shallot, thyme leaves and salt & pepper. Add potatoes and stir until they're saturated in oil. Dump potatoes and any remaining oil from the bowl in a glass baking dish, sprinkle with a bit more salt & pepper if desired, cover with foil and bake for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes is up, take lamb out of fridge and set on counter. Take foil off of potatoes and finish baking for an additional 10 - 20 minutes (cooking time will depend on the size of your potato pieces). Stir them occasionally while they're in the oven and remove the dish when the potatoes are tender when pierced with a fork. Set on top of stove, covered in foil.

Crank up your oven to broil, place your lamb in the screaming hot, and watch your chops carefully. Cooking time will vary depending on the thickness of the cut and your oven's quirkiness. I used the low broil option on my oven (my chops were VERY thick) and it took about 12 minutes to get them the way I like them—just a bit over medium-rare. Cooking time could conceivably range from 5 - 15 minutes.

Remember, if the juices from the meat run clear, the meat is fully cooked (in my opinion—overdone). You can poke the center of the chops with a fork to test for "bounce." A little bounce and give is good; you still have some rare meat in there. How long you let it cook depends on your own preferences.

Once the savory, fragrant chops are done to your liking, remove from the oven and plate with the rich potatoes. Be sure to drizzle the thyme-infused olive oil (leftover from the pan that the potatoes baked in) over the meal. Pair with a glass of Syrah for a stunning meal and prepare to wow your guests. 

Prepare to feast.

This meal was largely inspired by French herbs, and the savory ingredients were predominantly from San Luis Obispo County. The culinary lavender hailed from an organic farm in Paso Robles, Central Coast Lavender Farm. I picked up the potatoes, fresh thyme leaves and garlic at local farmer's markets. The rich olive oil that I used was a Tuscan blend produced by Hidden Hills Olives & Oaks in Templeton.
But I strayed a bit from my usual SLO County wine selections...

My new favorite hangout in Pismo Beach: Tastes of the Valleys Wine Bar
This new wine bar offers overs 170 wines by the glass that range from San Luis Santa Barbara and beyond. I stopped by to find a nice Syrah to pair with my lamb dinner. Co-owner, Ash Mehta, helped me find the perfect wine—Morgan Winery's "Cotes du Crow's." This 2008 Rhone blend of Syrah (55%) and Grenache (45%), appellation Monterey, was easy on the fruit (translation = it wasn't a fruit bomb) and complimented the Provencal flavors of the meal. Some wine experts feel that the natural "meatiness" inherent in red Rhone varietals makes it an agreeable match with lamb.
I couldn't agree more.

Bon appetit!

All Text and Photos Copyright © 2010 by Elizabeth in SLO. All Rights Reserved.

Friday, August 27, 2010

SLO Olives

The slurpers stopped me in my tracks. Although I arrived early at the 7th Annual Paso Robles Olive Festival, the dawdling crowds had already ascended upon Downtown Paso Robles City Park. I had to fight my way through the mecca of hungry olive oil tasters. But my resolve to clash through the unhurried mob and make my way to the multiplicity of olive oil, locally-made food, and San Luis Obispo County winery kiosks spurred me on. With wine glass and tote bag in hand, I forged ahead.

After standing in line to vie for a sample of We Olive's olive oil ice-cream (which I successfully procured, savored, and declared rich and delicious), I looked around at the undending vendors and didn't quite know where to start. I remembered a favorite from last year's tasting adventure, and sought out Carriage Vineyards bright, buttery (think the color of popcorn kernels!) olive oil. After a quick swig of the varietals they offered for sale, I opted for a bottle of their grassy Arbequina. Then on for some wine tasting.

After meandering a bit through the masses wth my prized tasting tickets, I sought out the pleasant sips of Hearthstone Vineyards, Kiamie Wine Cellars, Stacked Stone Cellars, and Derby Wine Estates. Later I was delighted to stumble upon the intriguing wines and welcome hospitality of Graveyard Vineyards. A future visit to their vineyard in San Miguel to retaste their serious wine is in order.

Eventually lunchtime set in, and I wandered around Downtown Paso where I stumbled upon Thomas Hill Organics Market Bistro & Wine Bar. As I sat outside in their lovely courtyard in my famished state, munching on a fabulous grilled pear and avocado sandwich layered with Humboldt fog goat cheese, arugula, and citrus vinaigrette, I knew I'd revisit this charming restaurant again (where their menu is based on fresh, organic produce from their Paso farm). The thick focaccia...the grilled pears with an almost savory chutney-like essence...the richness of the avocado and cheese offset by the tang of the dressing, all worked together in harmony...providing me a welcome respite from the horde.

Then it came time to face the crowds again. I'm glad I did, as I soon discovered the smooth, peppery taste of Hidden Hills Olives & Oaks Tuscan olive oil blend, as well as Chaparral Gardens tangy artisan vinegars. How does Blackberry Roasted Pepper Vinegar sound for future recipes? Or Pacific Spice Vinegar—made with organic kiwi's, citrus, ginger chili and secret spices?

After calling it a day, I leafed through the festival's offical program and found a recipe for goat cheese marinated in olive oil. Sounded good, but required 2 days in the fridge to marinate. Too impatient. So, I made up my own quick version. Here it is. Enjoy before summer slips away!

SLO Marinated Goat Cheese

1/2 pound goat cheese
(I used a hard, aged cheese; soft goat cheese would work just as well)
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/8 cup finely chopped herbs
(I used Italian parsely, chives, & thyme leaves)
2 cups sliced fresh veggies
(I picked up yellow cherry tomatoes &
zucchini from the farmer's market)
Salt & pepper to taste
1 small baguette, sliced

This recipe works well for 3 - 5 people; you can easily double it if you're expecting more guests.

Put olive oil, lemon juice, and salt & pepper in small bowl. Chop herbs and add to oil mixture; whisk together. Place cheese in middle of platter and arrange sliced veggies around the sides of platter. Drench cheese and vegetables with 1/2 of oil fusion. (Reserve other 1/2 in fridge for later). Squizzle cheese and veggies with a bit more lemon juice and salt & pepper if desired. Cover with plastic wrap and let flavors meld for one or two hours in fridge before serving. Set out platter and reserved bowl of oil marinade at least 20 minutes before guests arrive. This appetizer is too messy to serve as a finger food, so provide your small swarm of visitors with petite plates and forks. Serve sliced baguette on the side to dip in the the reserved oil marinade. Don't forget to offer your friends chilled glasses of your favorite Sauvignon Blanc. They will love you (as I'm sure they already do).

Who could resist this charming façade?
Thomas Hill Organics offers a seasonal menu and a Central Coast wine list. Guests can order by the taste, half, or full glass.  
The curiously-named Graveyard Vineyards sits adjacent to Pleasant Valley Cemetary in San Miguel. I'm looking forward to visiting their ranch and tasting their chocolate-infused port.
In spite of the multitude of festival-goers, I look forward to slurping my way through next year's olive celebration.

Bottom's up!

All Text and Photos Copyright © 2010 by Elizabeth in SLO. All Rights Reserved.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

SLO Renaissance

I'm a born people watcher. Not a voyeur—just a curious spectator of life. I can plop my arse in a coffee shop with a good book and amuse myself for hours, finding occasional mirth with the actors that come and go. Some of life's players sit and read by themselves; others chat with friends or colleagues; many simply come in for a fix and go. We all play our speckled roles.
In July, San Luis Obispo County's El Chorro Regional Park transformed into Donneybrooke, an English Renaissance village, and played home to the 26th Annual Central Coast Renaissance FestivalThese festivities brought scores of artistes who immersed themselves in a subculture of late 1500's Elizabethan Costuming, hilarious comedy, and thrilling jousts. Whether costumed or not, we all cooperated as indviduals, collectively painting the town red in this makeshift community. I watched and observed hundreds of participants throughout the afternoon, walking away delighted and entertained.
I'll let the pictures speak for themselves and hope you find a bit of merriment in this did I. 
 Lively entertainers bemused onlookers with strings and songs. 
Peasants danced in the streets.
Noble gentleman of the Queens Royal Court bespoke eloquently of current affairs.

Celtic musicians and dancers diverted our attention as they flittered about the stage.

The Merry Wives of Windsor wenches belted out humorous, saucy English tunes; reminiscent of taudry bar-speak.

No village is complete without a watch tower.

At the end of the day, I connected with my Scottish ancestry.

Donned in pleated kilts, these brave souls put up a good fight.

Who can resist a knight in shining armor jousting on a giant steed?

Or better yet—a Viking who lets it all hang out!

Hope to see you in Donneybrooke next year.

Sunday, August 8, 2010


Over the summer I stepped out of my comfort zone. A happenstance blurb on a social networking site caught my eye, and I thought, what the heck? Free wine tasting in Paso Robles, a free gourmet organic lunch, and the chance to check out one of San Luis Obispo County's newest wine tasting services—The Wine Line. What was the catch? I had to get in front of the camera and "act" like a wine taster having fun while they filmed a commercial. I didn't hesitate to volunteer for this cool blog opportunity. And fun it was!

This entertaining day started mid-morning for me and three other volunteers. One of The Wine Line's friendly drivers shuttled us and the owner, Jason Westfall, to meet the filmmakers. For the next few hours, the camera followed us hopping on and off the comfortable touring van while we explored the creations of two wineries; one on the west side of Paso and one to the east. Not much acting was required as we naturally had a blast hanging out and sipping vino.

Our first action stop of the day began at a small, boutique winery on Highway 46 West, at the home of Caliza Winery. Spanish for the word "limestone," Caliza's tasting room is surrounded by their beautiful 20-acre vineyard that grows in rich soils that are a combination of fractured shale and clay loam. Located in the heart of the Templeton Gap region of Paso, the warm climate is tempered by cool marine air that swings through the gaps of the Santa Lucia mountains, providing budding grapes the opportunity to glow in the warm sunny days and recover during the cool nights; resulting in optimal acid levels. After tasting their 2008 Kissin' Cousins—aptly named for its lovely mouthfeel—this gentle, sexy blend of Viognier, Grenache Blanc, and Roussane quickly caught our attention. Due to the filming schedule, we only had time for one more taste and moved to Caliza's 2009 Pink (you guessed it—rosé), which was a hit and made us realize summer was here.
Next up: a short drive to the east side of Paso where we hopped off to find the beautiful grounds of the grandiose Vina Robles Winery & Vineyard beckoning. Founded in 1996 by a Swiss entrepeneur, Vina Robles is surrounded by vineyards and boasts a 14,000 square foot hospitality center. We proceeded to the tasting room and delighted in meeting Martin Columberg, the Director of Hospitality, who guided us through an incredible tasting tour of reserve wines paired with artisan cheeses. Martin hails from the German region of Switzerland and trained there professionally as a chef. Not only did he provide excellent advice on which wines to pair with the cheeses, he gave us copies of some of his recent recipes that incorporate Vina Robles wine. (Look for his possible food and wine classes in the future). My favorite pick of the day: the 2006 Ryan Road Syrah. With a rich, velvety texture, it paired properly with "barely buzzed," a full-bodied cheese hand-rubbed with coffee and lavender. Unusual, but intriguing.

After the filming festivities finished, we sat in Vina Robles' lovely courtyard and enjoyed a fabulous lunch from Farmstand 46, arranged for us by The Wine Line. "Gourmet, healthy food made from organic, estate-grown vegetables and herbs. Farmstand 46 promotes and supports local, organic, sustainable farming." Need I say more?

For the remainder of the afternoon, Jason offered us the chance to take advantage of The Wine Line's shuttle service. So, we hopped on for a west-side stop at Kenneth Volk and Lone Madrone's tasting rooms for our last fun sips of the day before being shuttled home. The Wine Line offers stops at 60 Paso wineries; guests have the opportunity to choose where they'd like to go throughout the day and create their own touring adventure at their own pace. This stellar, much-needed, wine tasting shuttle service is the only one of its kind in SLO County. Click here for more details about their flexible service, pricing information, and winery options.

And don't forget to check out the final edit of the video promo!

Hop on. Hop off. Have fun!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

SLO Reflections

Time sometimes escapes me. I find it hard to believe that just over a year ago I hit “publish” on my computer screen for the first time, sputtering my inaugural blog post out into cyberspace for all to see. Although a writer at heart, I’m a fiercely private individual, someone who does not easily share the details of my day-to-day existence. But my self-professed challenge to seek out the unknown in San Luis Obispo County—a place I had grappled with, as well as reveled in, for the last several years—impelled me to throw myself out there. So I set off on new adventures and my creative juices started to flow. I penned a few words, snapped the occasional picture, and created a lot of absolute memories.

As I reflect on the last 365 days, I cannot help but feel gratitude…a sense of accomplishment…a strong sense of purpose. I’ve discovered novelties about this flourishing county and about myself; forged new friendships and reconnected with old friends; developed  healthy new SLO habits; and now entertain a more positive outlook on life. I bought my first piece of real estate, tested my own limits, and had a few “a-ha” moments about what’s really important. I immersed myself in a community event that I felt passionately about and ended up on the board of directors—a huge feat for me. But the past year wasn’t all rosy. I lost a good friend to an untimely death and dealt with a few conflicts. But here I am. Still moving ahead. Still in SLO.

I will continue to hit "publish," as each story provides me with a huge sense of joy and satisfaction. I appreciate all of my readers, all of the feedback, and all of the encouragement. My blog is an outlet that's pushed me to explore my own backyard and will remain a constructive outlet that helps me connect with you—the reader, the adventurer, the creator of your own reminiscences. As I promised one year ago: As long as I continue to live in this vital, inimitable spot on the globe, I will continue to seek out the innovative…the delicious…the SLO-made products, services, and traditions. For better or worse, here I am—trapped in paradise. Here’s a look at some of my favorite things.

This past year I looked to the SLO hills for a place of quiet reflection as well as a challenging workout. Steep hillsides, stunning views and magnificent landscapes keep me on my inspirational path of exploration, and continue to lead me to new hiking grounds.

With a farmer's market in almost every niche of SLO County, the bright colors and fresh seasonal produce continue to lure me back every week.
Fanciful SLO County crops keep my creative juices flowing and my recipes imaginative.

Don't forget the grapes! With over 26,000 vineyard acres in SLO County, the abundance of sweet, juicy varietals growing in unique, optimal geographic conditions has led to over 200 wine labels in the county. 
So many tasting rooms. So little time. I've barely scratched the surface.
My quest to discover innovative SLO County products has led to a few favorite finds. I now have more varietals of honey in my kitchen than I ever knew existed. I truly believe you can discover the answer to any of life's problems while savoring a spoonful of heavenly, raw, unfiltered honey.
 Whether running a race on the beach or bumming in the sand, I've logged many beach hours during the past year. I will continue to explore the stunning SLO County coastline.

SLO County celebrates many of its novelties throughout the year. I attended wine festivals...olive and lavender festivities...a Renaissance Faire..even a surfing competition. But my favorite festival of the year goes to the San Luis Obispo International Film Festival—where "movies matter." Pictured here are actor Alan Arkin (SLOIFF's 2010 King Vidor Award Recipient) and director Norman Jewison (and me, raisting a toast in the background).

But my most beloved memory of the year? A visit from my brother and sister-in-law from Switzerland who introduced us to my new little nephew. He just turned one in July. How time flies!

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