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.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Sunset Savor the Central Coast 2013

It's not every weekend that I spend almost an entire day eating, drinking and savoring the bounty of California's Central Coast, only to get up at the crack of dawn the next morning and run a 5K race. Hardcore? Maybe. But as a devoted food and wine enthusiast who happens to enjoy running off my indulgences, this year's Sunset Savor the Central Coast hit the mark. 

On Saturday, I spent the good part of my day at Sunset's Main Event at the historic Santa Margarita Ranch, where wineries, breweries, restaurants and artisan food purveyors transformed this former farming and ranching outpost into a food and wine lovers paradise. With over 200 wines to try and dozens of tempting food bites, I rubbed elbows with a bevy of locals and out-of-towners who came out to the ranch for a taste of the good life. 

In its fourth year, this savory event spans four days. Thursday and Friday kicked off with adventure tours and special dinners at impressive locales around San Luis Obispo County—how does indulging in abalone on the cliffs of Cayucos or an elegant sunset dinner at Hearst Castle sound?—while the Main Event stretched over the weekend. 

New for this year, the Savor Run, produced by the Central Coast Cancer Challenge, allowed athletes to participate in a "Fastest Mile Challenge," 5K, or 10K that started and finished at the historic Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa. Even though I didn't quite feel up to the challenge after Saturday's indulgence, I knew what I had to do: run through the streets of downtown San Luis Obispo. So I woke up early Sunday morning to line up with hundreds of other runners and walkers. Guess what? I did just fine. 

Now that this gratifying weekend is over, a little recovery and a lot of hydration is in order. At least until the next big festival. Harvest celebrations are just around the corner. 

With blue skies and a fiery hot sun, my palate steered me towards mostly white wines. Crisp Rhone blends from Caliza Winery, Halter Ranch, and Ecluse Wines hit the spot; while a lovely pert vermentino from Tablas Creek caught my attention. Unoaked chardonnay from Chamisal Vineyards and Tolosa Winery paired nicely with the summery weather, and Still Waters Vineyards Cuvee Blanc 2012—a refreshing blend of viognier, chardonnay, pinot gris and sauvignon blanc—also went down easy. I did venture into the red zone and particularly fancied one of Talley Vineyard's pinot noirs and Justin Winery's infamous Isosceles blend of cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc and merlot.

Even on a scorching day, who could resist a warm bacon churro with chocolate sauce? Thank you, Artisan. Scores of people lined up all day long to indulge in the luscious cheeses provided by Fromagerie Sophie, a soon-to-be-opened and not-to-be-missed specialty cheese and charcuterie shop in downtown San Luis Obispo. Thomas Hill Organics outdid themselves with Bengali-spiced lamb and mint aioli, while countless other chefs let "farm to table" guide their senses, offering tasty bites that showcased the locally grown produce found on California's flourishing Central Coast.

Located in the heart of the Central Coast, San Luis Obispo County's unique geographic pockets provide destinations well worth exploring, both for those who travel here, as well as for us "SLOCALS." Sunset's Main Event highlighted wine and food, surf and sand, vibrant produce and innovative products. I stumbled upon sheep milk ice cream from Negranti Creamery in Paso Robles. The salted brown sugar flavor was most definitely worth the exploration and discovery. In fact, I went back for seconds to indulge in more of this "teat to table" treat!
It's no surprise that a few food celebrities made an appearance in our culinary paradise. Food Network Chef Marcela Valladolid shared a few secrets with a captivated audience and let us in on some simple tips for making Mexican tacos and pineapple margaritas. A few hints: Don't overdo your tacos with a lot of condiments; use lime juice to cut through the fat and enhance the flavor of the meat. When making a simple syrup for your margaritas, add half of a jalapeno pepper to give it a little kick.

Food Network Host Sandra Lee wowed guests at the Farm to Table exhibit, enlightening the audience with refreshing cocktail ideas.
Then there was Sunday—race day. If showing up is half the battle, I succeeded. If crossing the finish line without collapsing is the other half, mission accomplished.
 Another adventurous weekend rife with local delicacies and bucolic life. Well done.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Sculpterra Winery & Sculpture Garden

Sculpterra's estate-grown cabernet sauvignon
Sometimes the grandest things in life are what matter the most. 

Last Sunday we celebrated my sister's birthday at Sculpterra Winery & Sculpture Garden on the east side of Paso Robles, where we marveled at the larger-than-life bronze and stone sculptures that surround Sculpterra's elegant nouveau wine country tasting room. With over 200 wineries to choose from in Paso, this one stands on its own. 

Towering sculptures by the late artist John Jagger weigh in at thousands of pounds and adorn the park-like setting, while vivacious, green vines roll symmetrically across the landscape. Sculpterra's 30 acre pistachio orchard flecks the sloping hillside and their vigorous 120 acre vineyard includes cabernet sauvignon, pinot noir, zinfandel, merlot, viognier, petite sirah, mourvedre, and cabernet franc. 

For most of my family members, this was their first excursion to Sculpterra. We set up our picnic on tables under a robust oak tree, purchased a few bottles of wine from the friendly staff in the tasting room, and enjoyed live music playing in the background. The kids ran free; the adults ate, visited and explored the sculpture garden; and at the end of the day we felt as if we'd escaped to someplace splendid and inviting. 

Ain't life grand?
Giant creatures lounge outside Sculpterra's tasting room, soaking up the sun and providing visitors a grand entrance.

My sister-in-law felt that Sculpterra provided an atmosphere that encouraged guests to hang outside and picnic.  Agreed!
Harvesting this year's vintage of wine grapes has already begun at Scultpterra. Their wines are barrel aged between 12 and 18 months using a combination of new and old American, French and Hungarian oak.

They produce around 3,000 cases of wine per year.
Sculpterra's 2012 Viognier was a big hit on this warm summer's day.

One of the lofty sculptures graced this bottle of 2010 Statuesque—a grand blend of 34% cabernet sauvignon, 33 % syrah, and 33% petite sirah.
Sculpterra's ornate iron gate welcomes visitors. Master blacksmith Robert C. Bentley left his mark on the entrance, as well as in the tasting room. 

Dr. Warren Frankel and his wife Katharine started the vineyard in 1979. Their son, Paul, is Sculpterra's winemaker.

A portion of the proceeds from the sale of Sculpterra wines are donated to “His Healing Hands,” a non-profit medical missionary organization that sends temporary medical teams into communities around the world that need urgent healthcare and respond to natural disasters.
All in all, a very grand experience.

Sculpterra Winery & Sculpture Garden is located at 5015 Linne Road in Paso Robles.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

SLO Imagined

Sometimes you dream up sensational recipes based on the few ingredients you end up with in the cupboard and the fridge. This weekend I had a few basics to work with: organic chicken, Cal Poly grown grapefruit and avocados from the university's student farm, apples from a San Luis Obispo County orchard, and a little imagination.

Armed with several dried, savory spices, I handsomely dressed a pound of boneless, skinless chicken thighs and baked them with exotic, frenzied flavors. Later, I peeled and sliced some grapefruit, avocado and apple to provide an intriguing, piquant lettuce-less salad base for the well-dressed chicken. I topped the medley of ingredients with a tangy-sweet lime-honey vinaigrette.

Simple. Enticing. Well-imagined. 

Serves 2

Chicken Ingredients:
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken (thighs or breast)
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
1/2 teaspoon each of the following dried spices: cinnamon, cloves, ginger, cardamom, allspice, nutmeg, cloves, kosher salt, black pepper
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes

Preheat oven to 350 °F.
Mix olive oil with all spices and red pepper flakes.
Place chicken in a glass baking dish and pour the oil mixture all over it. Turn with a fork to coat chicken evenly and place in the oven for 25 - 35 minutes. You can insert a cooking thermometer into the middle of a piece of chicken and if it reads 165 °F, it's done. Remove from the oven and let cool for about 20 minutes.You can prepare the chicken the day before if you like and refrigerate it until you're ready to prepare the salad.

When you're ready to eat this memorable, savory dish, prepare the dressing and salad base. Assemble and serve.

Salad Dressing Ingredients:
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Juice of 2 - 3 limes
1 clove garlic, peeled
1 heaping tablespoon raw honey 
Salt & pepper to taste

Put all ingredients in a blender and whiz to creamy perfection. Taste and adjust for seasonings. 

Deconstructed Salad Ingredients: 
1 grapefruit
1 avocado
1 apple
Sliced chicken
1 tablespoon freshly chopped basil or mint

Cut the top and bottom ends off the grapefruit. Rest the grapefruit on one of its flat ends on your cutting board, and slice the pith and skin off by following the curve of the fruit. Cut in half and then gently cut out thin segments of the grapefruit and arrange on a platter (remove any seeds you encounter). 

Core and slice the apples and arrange with the grapefruit slices. Cut the avocado in half, remove the seed and skin, slice and arrange on top of your fruit. 

Sliver the chicken and arrange on the sides of your platter. Sprinkle with chopped herbs for some color and drizzle with the lime vinaigrette. 

Local ingredients call for local wines. I took advantage of the beautiful warm, sunny weather and drove a few short miles to the Edna Valley region to seek out a local riesling to pair with this dish.

I found a few. Claiborne & Churchill Vintners and Wolff Vineyards are two of my favorite family-owned wineries and both produce Alsatian-style riesling.

Gorgeous weather. A tempting recipe. Incredible wine and terrain.
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