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...

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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, January 29, 2010

SLO Simple

Sometimes a lack of ingredients can yield the perfect dish. As I started to chop my only onion and discovered it moldy and useless, I tossed it aside, reassessing my stratagem for the impromptu soup recipe I decided to throw together. I possessed a package of flavorful, fatty pancetta; a few cloves of garlic (down to the nitty gritty of the bulb); a few cans of kidney beans; a large bunch of red Swiss chard and kale; a carton of vegetable stock. What could I do?

I heated up a large pot, drizzled it with grapeseed oil, sprinkled a bit of pepper—and chopped the heck out of the pork belly. These little slices of unsmoked Italian bacon melted perfectly with the garlic (divine scent as they merged and sizzled) and I wondered what would transpire next.

As the pancetta began rendering its fat and the pungent garlic cloves started to permeate the air, my can opener whirled open the cans of beans. These high fiber staples soon found their way to a strainer, where they were promptly rinsed, drained, and left to ponder their fate. After a rough chop of the chard and kale, these healthy greens, purchased from a local San Luis Obispo County farmer's market, established their home with the dynamic duo sautéeing in the pan. A little salt, more pepper, a dash or two of nutmeg...another flavorful layer.

After the lofty greens wilted down to just a few inches of their original makeup, the red and white legumes spilled from the strainer, landing in the simple mishmash of ingredients. The vegetable stock soon followed, a quick stir ensued, and a lid topped it all off. Simmered for 40 minutes—with salt, pepper and nutmeg levels slightly adjusted as the rich, tasty broth developed—the flavors melded perfectly.

Soon I enjoyed the flavorsome fruits of my labor, realizing that sometimes just a few united ingredients...left to their own devices...are all you need. Maybe that's one of the great secrets to a simple, happy life.

SLO Green, Bean, & Pancetta Soup

3 oz. package pancetta (chopped in small pieces)
4 cloves garlic (peeled & chopped)
3 tablespoons grapeseed (or olive) oil
1 bunch Swiss chard (washed and destemmed)
1 bunch kale (washed and destemmed)
1 15 oz. can white kidney beans
1 15 oz. can red kidney beans
1 32 oz. carton vegetable stock
Dash or two or three of nutmeg
Salt & pepper to taste

Here is a simplified version of my spattered directions above...

Heat oil and a few shakes of pepper in large pot over medium heat. Chop pancetta and garlic cloves and add to sizzling oil. Stir often. Meanwhile, open beans and rinse and drain in a large strainer. Chop chard and kale (rough or fine—your choice, of course). Add greens to pot with a few dashes of salt, pepper, and nutmeg to taste. Sautée until wilted to a pulp. Add beans and mix before adding vegetable stock. Cover with lid, lower heat, set timer for 40 minutes, and taste often. Depending on your preference, more spices might be in order. I used a ton of pepper. This healthy, delicious soup nourishes 2 - 4. Serve with crusty whole-grain bread if desired.

Eat well.

Eat healthy.

Live simply.

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

Thursday, January 28, 2010

SLO Chanterelle

Chef Seth and event coordinator Dawn White (my brother and sister-in-law) are the genius behind Pacific Harvest Events, a Central Coast boutique catering business. They have built a stellar reputation by providing their clients with innovative, flavorful meals, utilizing fresh local fare from San Luis Obispo County whenever possible. Their latest adventure led them on a quest through the SLO hills in search of the golden funnel-shaped chanterelle, long considered an excellent food mushroom. Check out Seth and Dawn's amazing recipe that resulted from their recent hiking excursion. This delectable dinner just might inspire me to hit the trails over the weekend to take advantage of the chanterelle season.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Elizabeth in Napa, Day 2

Day 1 Abridged: After driving from San Luis Obispo to Napa Valley and tasting at five wineries, a friend and I ended our long lasting day by indulging at Bistro Jeantry—a charming French bistro in Yountville. Tucked away in a cozy corner, we pleasantly fussed over their world famous cream of tomato soup in puff pastry (this amazing recipe is posted on their website and I vow at some point to recreate it and pair with a SLO County wine), slick oysters, rich pork belly with a lentil and foie gras ragout, hearty cassoulet, and a gorgeous coq au vin. The next day brought more overindulgence, some of which is highlighted below...

Day 2 also brought a blanket of fog. After a short car-ride ascending a winding, scenic road that took us high above the misty view, we reached the pinnacle and glimpsed the spectacular landscape of Sonoma Valley covered in fog below. Descending into this cloud-like miasma, our first tasting stop of the day began at the Mission style setting of St. Francis Winery & Vineyards.

St Francis of Assisi, Patron Saint of animals and ecology, greeted us near the entrance to the winery, where a bell tower hovers above the tasting room. The bell was blessed in the Piazza Della Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi, Italy.

We opted for their "Zin Fanatic Tasting" and started our cold, foggy Sonoma morning with a flight of some of their tasty, spicy Zinfandels to warm up our palates for the long day ahead.

At Arrowood Vineyards & Winery, we opted for white varietals in their tasting room, and enjoyed a fragrant, luscious, creamy 2007 Viognier, Russian River Valley. Lovely views dotted the landscape throughout the day, including Arrowood's Petit Verdot vines.

These knarly Zinfandel vines, planted in 1924, grow outside Wellington Vineyards and Winery's tasting room, part of their 21-acre estate vineyard that includes 24 different varieties. Of particular interest in the tasting room is their bold 2008 Noir de Noirs, Old Vines—a deep, dark blend of Alicante Bouschet, Lenoir, Grand Noir, and Petite Bouschet (some of these rare varietals are estate-grown).

Towards the end of our Sonoma visit, we stopped at the inviting, picturesque grounds of Chateau St. Jean and visited their reserve room for a flight of Pinot Noir. This was our fifth winery stop and we were ready to head back to Napa Valley.

Much like the first day, another sparkling respite was in order. Seated in a room overlooking auburnesque Napa vineyards dotted with new grass and cascading mountains in the background, we relaxed and sipped some bubbly in the late afternoon at Mumm Napa, recharging our weary bodies and palates.

Our final stop at the end of the day brought us to Darioush Winery, noted for its Bordeaux style estate wines. Their tasting room was formerly housed in a double-wide trailer; now the marbled visitor center provides tasters with a grandiose experience, tastefully executed...Napa style.

As we left Darioush, the setting sun brought the wineries to a close. But our day of excess wasn't yet finished.

Excellent wine—and food—replenish the soul. Our last dinner found us in St. Helena, at Tra Vigne Restaurant, an establishment Julia Child used to frequent. Their appetizer, seasonal fritto misto, delivered a fried assortment of gulf prawns, calamari, artichokes and a first for both of us—fried lemons. Thinly sliced, breaded, deep fried and served with chile aioli, this tangy new discovery caught our attention and we looked forward to choosing our entrees.

Our friendly waiter helped us settle on two choices that proved excellent. For me, sage infused papardelle with braised rabbit ragu and wild mushrooms. My friend chose smoked and braised beef short ribs with three cheese polenta and horseradish gremolata. Both were amazing—my dish proved one of the best pasta dishes either of us had ever enjoyed.

And the wine?

After two days of tasting in Napa, a trunk full of bottles purchased, and an excellent wine list at Tra Vigne, we settled on the obvious: we brought a favorite bottle from San Luis Obispo County with us.

Claiborne and Churchill Vintner's 2007 Pinot Noir, Edna Valley AVA

A satisfying SLO taste from the end of an indulgent Napa weekend.

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

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Elizabeth in Napa, Day 1

I recently ventured out of my SLO comfort zone—leaving the insular community of San Luis Obispo—vanishing from the county for a few days. I left the younger SLO vines behind me for a taste of Napa Valley. This whirlwind tasting adventure (13 wineries in less than two days) resulted in less of a story about the nuances of the wines that I swished, snuffled, and savored—but, rather, a journey where I left my familiar surroundings, tried something new, and learned firsthand about some of the many wines from this world-renown region. Following are a few of my favorite sights from the first day of the trip...

After driving all morning and then hitting two wineries in the Carneros region—an appellation where grapes ripen in a long, cool growing season influenced by maritime fog—my traveling companion and I stopped to recoup at Domaine Carneros, where we were seated inside their lovely chateau-like winery for a flight of their crisp sparkling wine. Relaxing and enchanting!

Our next stop transported us to Artesa Vineyards and Winery. Nestled on a Napa hillside, this contemporay establishment offered stunning views of the surrounding valley. Upon entering their visitor center, I felt like I'd stepped in to a museum. We made our way past the lobby, peering at the glass, metal and canvas artwork adorning the center room, created by the winery's Artist in Residence, Gordon Huether. Once in the tasting room, we delighted in experiencing some of their reserve and limited release wines, including a rich, smooth 2005 Cabernet Franc, Alexander Valley AVA, that reigned as one of my favorites of the day.

Gordon Huether's "Nails of the Cross" sculptures surround Artesa's main fountain at the base of the staircase, leading up to the winery.

At the end of the day we rushed down to the heart of Napa Valley to visit one last winery before the tasting rooms closed. Ending up at the infamous Robert Mondavi Winerya symbol of Napa Valley since 1966—we made our way back to the reserve tasting rooms. Little did we know where we'd end up.

After tasting some of Mondavi's lovely and aromatic Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir reserve wines, my adventurous companion boldly asked an attendant if we could make our way to the fermentation room (which he had once visited during an auction).

Granted permission, we wandered with a glass of wine in hand, ducked past the ropes, and meandered alone, where dozens of grandiose fermentation tanks lined the room. Wine permeated the air.

The hallway beckoned us and we delved deeper into the cold, stark cellar room below, marveling at the perfect symmetrically-lined barrels of ageing wine.

Later my friend recounted the story of years ago when his parents visited this winery when he was just a baby. Back in those days, the late Robert Mondavi acted as a tour guide on his own winery tours, holding my friend as a baby on their tour.

At the end of the day—after swishing, snuffling, savoring, and exploring five wineries—we were still ready for day two of our Napa adventure.

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

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

SLO New Year

I run. I drink wine. Now that I’m wholeheartedly training for the Wine Country Half Marathon taking place a few months from now in the northern region of San Luis Obispo County in Paso Robles, I’ve turned to the vines for inspiration. Living just a few miles from the picturesque milieu of Edna Valley—a unique wine growing region located in the southern area of San Luis Obispo County where grapes and SLO runners alike are influenced by the cooling temperatures of maritime air—I realize my hobbies go hand-in-hand.

Over the next few months, as my mileage increases, I will continue to plot my running courses along the back country roads lined with acres of dry auburn-colored vines, and will resume my discoveries of the wineries located along the San Luis Obispo Coastal Wine Trail (although not necessarily at the same time). This past weekend I rediscovered an old favorite, stopping in for a tasting at a family-owned winery located in the heart of Edna Valley that produces about 10,000 cases per year and specializes in dry Alsatian-style wines: Claiborne and Churchill Vintners.

Their signature wines, Dry Gewürtrzminer and Dry Riesling, reign as some of my local favorites. I picked up a bottle of their aromatic and spicy 2007 Dry Gewürtrzminer ($18) that paired wonderfully with Latin cuisine served at a family dinner that evening. The distinctive qualities of this deliciously crafted dry wine cut through the spicy (and sweet) layers of flavors in our dishes and left a lingering spicy finish. The more I imbibed, the “perfumed flower” effect from this fragrant varietal softened, allowing the fruit flavors to evolve.

Claiborne and Churchill's crisp 2007 Dry Riesling ($18), left a slight punch of citrus on both the nose and on the palate, and exuded a wonderful creamy mouth feel with a lingering mineral finish. I enjoyed sipping this sumptuous wine on its own but it could easily have been paired with our spicy meal. Their full-bodied 2008 Pinot Gris ($18) brought light stone fruit aromas and soft flavors of the same, imparted a smooth feel on the palate, and finished dry. Try this with seafood pasta.

Their 2007 “Classic” Pinot Noir ($26) splashed a lovely light garnet hue, radiated cherries and raspberries, and left a velvety finish. I know this amazing Pinot with its fresh, fruit-forward effect will be a big hit when I serve it with an upcoming salmon dinner. I ended my tasting experience with a touch of their 2008 PortObispo ($14.50). This thick, rich concoction of Petite Syrah and Merlot resulted in concentrated flavors of plummy, chocolate undertones and an intense finish. Think decadent, chocolate dessert.

As I carb-load over the next few months, my hobbies will continue to take me to new and interesting places in my own surroundings. I will pound the pavement and trudge on foot through the gently sloping hills of Edna Valley, push myself to new limits—all the while seeking out the unique and delicious. I look forward to the unknown; running myself into the ground; and discovering new SLO County wines. As we start the New Year, I hope you will seek out your own leisurely pursuits!

Visit Claiborne and Churchill's "straw bale building," open most days throughout the year from 11 -5.

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

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