Sunday, August 26, 2012

Charcuterie and Brioche and Caviar - what more could you want?

A lovely birthday dinner in San Francisco

Spruce is known for their charcuterie and so we of course start with an assortment to share as an appetizer.  (I will start recreating this platter for dinners at home all the time.  It’s easy to assemble at the last minute and the presentation is lovely.)  Spruce includes about 5 varieties of sliced hams and beef (including bresaola, prosciutto, and beef tongue), a small pot of pâté, sliced cornichons, a small lettuce salad garnish, and a delicious fruit preserve. 

We splurge on an order of the California Osetra Caviar.  I didn’t know there was caviar from California.   We are certainly not every day aficionados but we are impressed with the taste and try to restrain ourselves so as to make sure we all get about the same amount.  The brioche toast accompaniment (along with the traditional blinis) is devine and I now want to have brioche toast every morning, with the crust cut off.

The service - a bit too attentive.  There seem to be two wine sommeliers and while our waiter is lovely, we keep getting interrupted while we are eating or talking to make sure “everything is ok?”.  But not a biggie – we feel very cared for.  And at least our waiter doesn’t tell us his name and so fortunately we don’t have to slash his tip.  I love my white corn soup with huitlacoche and coriander cereal.  The main courses are quite good – especially the brioche crusted halibut.   (Again that amazing brioche.)  This is a very pricey evening out.  On first reflection I think I would like to save my fine dining dollars for the top of the line establishments.  On second reflection, the total cost is not bad given that we splurge on caviar and enjoy some lovely wine.

(Huitlacoche - sounds so lovely.  It was delicious in the corn soup but now I know what it is and I am not sure I can eat it again.  Knowledge is often not a good thing.   Don't check out these links if you would rather just enjoy the taste next time you have an opportunity.....Spoiler Alert!!)

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Day Trip to Charleston, S.C.

I must say the best part of our trip was getting there.  On the recent 2-hour drive from Hilton Head our family took turns suggesting songs we wanted to hear.  My son played each of our choices from Spotify (through his IPhone) and we had hilarious and poignant moments critiquing, complaining about or enjoying each other’s song choices.  Most memorable song – Empire State of Mind by Jay-Z.  I personally love this song but can't understand all the words.  So our son googled the lyrics and gave us an engaging reading of this very intriguing rap song.

Kudu Coffeeshop
One of many cute boutiques
Fleet Landing
Everyone is so darned nice and welcoming in Charleston.  We loved driving by the beautiful mansions in the Battery, visiting Charleston’s historic City Hall and its beautiful art and hearing from the very knowledgeable docent the story surrounding John Trumbull’s portrait of George Washington (I can’t ruin the story in case you go…), lunch on the waterfront at Fleet Landing (great food – don’t let the industrial looking location put you off), coffee at Kudu's,  and shopping the cute boutiques on King Street.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The New Napa?

Albemarle County, Virginia has become quite the grape growing area - which would so please Mr. Jefferson as he is considered by many to be “the greatest patron of wine and wine growing that this country has yet had”.  You won’t find the breadth of good wines we do in California but there are notable standouts and the area’s wineries have been winning more and more awards in national competitions.   Think a history and wine trip to the area - sounds pretty perfect.

Over half of Virginia's vineyard acres are within the MVA - Monticello Viticultural Area - and most of the wineries in the MVA are within an easy drive from Charlottesville and only a two hour drive from Washington D.C.  The Monticello Wine Trail website has great information on visiting wineries in the area and beautiful pictures to pique one's interest.

Thomas Jefferson did many things so very well.  He was a true renaissance man.  His beloved home, Monticello, and his university, the University of Virginia, are both listed on Unesco's World Heritage List.  I am confident one day Virginia will make him even more proud and become a prime destination for wine lovers throughout the world.

Zinc Open Kitchen
But one must eat when touring and drinking wine.  There are some great restaurants in Charlottesville as one would expect from this horse country, university town, wine mecca, and world famous history center....  On this most recent visit we try Zinc.  We love it.  The setting is a former gas station with the former service bays providing funky decor and windows.  The wines and cocktails and glassware are enticing.  I love the charcuterie plate, the seasonal cold soup, the mussels, the duck.  Local ingredients and fresh local produce are in abundance.   It is quite obvious that the chef and staff are professionals and care deeply about their restaurant and I can tell this will be a repeat restaurant for us when we are in town.

Friday, August 10, 2012

My Mom’s Homemade Chocolate Ice Cream – it’s the best ever

I do think life moves slower in the south.  And I think weather has much to do with it.  Languid, hot, humid, cloudy much of the times, thunderstorms, lighting.  We love it!  At least for a few weeks at a time life is simple and delicious.  We have been looking forward to my Dad’s homegrown tomatoes and we eat 100’s of them.  The silver queen corn is the best ever and we gorge ourselves.  My Mom’s homemade chocolate ice cream recipe – it’s the best ever. 
Homemade Chocolate Ice Cream
    • 2 cups sugar
    • 1 can evaporated milk
    • 1 can Hershey’s chocolate sauce
    • ¼ cup maple syrup
    • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
    • 1 gallon whole milk
    • 6 junket tablets (I have to order them in Ca. – can’t seem to find them at the stores…)
(Plus ice and ice cream salt for the ice cream freezer)

Bring to a slight boil the sugar, chocolate sauce and evaporated milk in saucepan. Stir til sugar dissolves.  Stir in maple syrup and vanilla extract.  If you have time and can wait, chill this mixture in refrigerator.  This will save processing time in the ice cream maker.

Soak 6 junket tables in about ¼ cup warm water until dissolved.  Add to chocolate mixture.   Pour into ice cream freezer, add the milk, and process according to the ice cream maker’s instructions.  
My Mom thought the ice cream was best right after it was made.  I like it best the next day, after it has hardened a bit more in the freezer. 

Monday, August 6, 2012

Renaissance Man

 Soon after leaving Dulles airport, the consistent green gives way to varying shades of greens and blues.  The light blue of the much taller Appalachian Mountains further west highlights the dark blue of the Blue Ridge Mountains in the near distance.  Only about 25 minutes after leaving Dulles, we spot the beautiful, compact Charlottesville airport that has been designed in the Jeffersonian style.   
Rotunda undergoing renovations
Jefferson's Ingenious Serpentine Walls
Charlottesville is Thomas Jefferson’s town; excuse me, that’s “Mr. Jefferson”.  Natives still use the respectful salutation.  I grew up with the great man’s accomplishments all around me.  The home he took such pains to build, Monticello,  where you can see examples of his many inventions and innovations, is 2 miles to the south overlooking the University that he founded and designed.  The Rotunda and the “Lawn” at the University of Virginia are working examples of Mr. Jefferson’s vision in creating a functional but beautiful educational environment.  

Mr. Jefferson’s tombstone at Monticello has this epitaph he wrote for himself and in which he purposefully neglected to mention being the governor of Virginia, or Vice President and President of the United States, but including those things he thought were most important:
  “Here was buried Thomas Jefferson, Author of the Declaration of American Independence, of the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom, and Father of the University of Virginia.”