Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Happy Un-Turkey Day

I just returned from a wonderful visit to my boyfriend's mother's home in the Central Coast area where we celebrated Thanksgiving. If your are thinking, "where's that?" then I'll tell you... it's the until-recently quiet agricultural area near Pismo Beach, San Luis Obispo and Paso Robles. Since the movie "Sideways" the place has become one of the major wine tasting destinations in California. It's funny, but the first time we went wine tasting down there, we kept saying "This place looks familiar" until we realized that we were going to the exact wineries that were in the movie. Remember the place where Paul Giamotti loses it and pours the spit bucket on his head? Been there! Oh yeah!
So being vegetarians, I'm always trying to come up with a great homey, umami-rich Thanksgiving dinner that omits turkey without missing it. This year our menu was:
Cannelloni filled with Dandelion Greens and Mushrooms
Potatoes Dauphinoise
Brussel Sprouts with Chestnuts and White Wine
Dressing with Chestnuts, Mushrooms and Cranberries
Port-Cranberry Relish
Louis-Roederer Brut Champagne
Whitehouse Sauvignon Blanc 2007
Ovene Puzzle Pinot Noir 2005

On Saturday our wine tasting took us to the Lompoc area. We visited Palmina, Fiddlhead, La Vie, Melville and Babcock. Terry will supply reviews in a bit, but suffice it to say, that in this primarily Pinot producing region, we found them to be overwhelmingly flabby and over-pressed.
Palmina produces many Italian varietals such as Barbera, Dolcetto and Sangiovese, which are less common grapes that I absolutely love trying. They have a white varietal, Arneis, which is crisp and creamy, and I decided I like it very much. The Undici Sangiovese was also a hit.
La Vie is a small winery started up by some young folks, very friendly and unassuming. Their wine were harsh and tart though. I thought the Pinot would have made a great Rose. They are very young, and have a lifetime ahead of them to grow as winemakers.
Fiddlehead was a welcome relief. The wines were well structured and full. They produce very nice Sauvignon Blancs. The Estate Pinot was also wonderful. The winemaker is a woman, and she's making a huge splash in a man's world. We left with a bottle of the 728 Pinot and one of the SB's.
Babcock is perhaps the biggest name in the area and sorry but their wines are blah.
Mellville was a nice surprise. One of the Pinots was pretty good and the Syrah was nice. But their winery was really beautiful, and we had a nice time there.

All in all, the Lompoc wineries were low-key, friendly and fun to visit. The wines were overall not impressive, and a bit of a disappointment. Especially for the price, which tended to be in the $30-$50 range.

I highly recommend the Cannelloni for any occasion, it's delicious! It came from the "The Vegetarian Table: France" cookbook. I guarantee you and your guests will love it! It's really fattening, so if that's a concern, you can replace the high fat ingredients with a low-fat version. I made it with Parmesan cheese instead of Gruyere. I have also made it with low-fat cottage cheese in place of the bechamel sauce. It was still deeeeelish!

11 TB butter
1 t salt
1/3 t ground pepper
1/4 t cayenne pepper
1 1/2 c minced green onions
1 lb fresh mushrooms, any kind, chopped
2 big bunches dandelion greens, chard, chicory or spinach, or a mix, chopped (2 cups)
1/4 c dried bread crumbs
1 c grated gruyere chese
16-24 cannelloni shells, fresh flat pasta, mannicotti shells or large shell pasta (depending on what you can find) cooked according to directions on package

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Make a bechamel:
In a heavy bottomed saucepan,over medium heat, melt 3 tablespoons butter. when it begins to foam remove the pan from the heat and whisk in the flour, 1 teaspoon salt, black pepper, cayenne paper. Return to medium heat and gradually whisk in milk. Reduce heat to low and stir until there are no lumps. Simmer,stirring occasionally, until the sauce becomes thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, about 10 minutes. Be careful not to burn. Remove from heat and drizzle the surface of the sauce with 1 tablespoon of milk to make a protective film. Set aside.

Make the filling:
In a skillet over medium heat, melt 5 tablespoons of butter. When it begins to foam, add the green onions and saute until translucent, 3 or 4 minutes. Add the mushrooms and saute until the color changes slightly, 2-3- minutes. stir in the dandelion or other greens and cook until just limp. stir in remaining 1 teaspoon of salt and remove from heat. Stir in 1/2 cup of the sauce and the brad crumbs to make a paste.

Grease a large baking dish with butter. Using a knife or spoon, fill each of the cannelloni shells with some of the filling. Arrange the filled shells in the prepared dish snugly. Reheat the sauce over medium-low heat briefly, whisking. Add 3/4 of the gruyere cheese, whisking until it melts. Do not overcook. Pour the sauce over the filled shells, blanketing the dish from edge to edge.
Sprinkle the top with the remaining cheese.

Bake until slightly golden brown and the sauce is bubbly, 10-15 minutes.
Serve immediately. Yum!!!!


Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Cleaning up our Green Waste- pass it on!

Original article in the Chronicle

Americans have a separation problem, and nobody knows that better than municipal composters.

When ordinary trash is thrown into green curbside collection carts, companies spend time and money to remove it and cart it to the landfill.

"I had the accounting department look at the average over the last nine months, and we pulled (from incoming green waste) 68 tons per month of contamination, primarily plastic," said Greg Pryor, general manager of Vacaville's Jepson Prairie Organics, which composts San Francisco's green waste.

Municipal green waste is the name given to plant material collected from yards, city parks and commercial landscaping. In a few cities, including Oakland and San Francisco, it includes food scraps from produce handlers and residential, restaurant and hotel kitchens. Composting green waste reduces the amount of garbage entering landfills and cycles nutrients back to gardens, parks and farms.

Compost can include animal manures, sawdust and sewage sludge, none of it likely trash-free. But municipal green waste is probably the trashiest material to enter the compost stream.

Balls, batteries, electrical wire, irrigation tubing, watering cans and garden tools find their way in; even a bicycle has been found with the green waste at Jepson Prairie. "It's broken, it's in my yard, must be yard waste," seems sometimes to be the attitude. Then there is the full lineup of plastic bags: grocery bags, trash bags, fertilizer bags and, coming full circle, compost bags.

What happens to all that stuff...

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Kids don't try this at home

On a beautiful sunny October Sunday, I met my friends at the annual Illegal Soapbox Derby races in Bernal Heights. It's a long standing San Francisco tradition, and one I have always wanted to attend. It was a great gathering of true San Franciscans, the kinky, quirky crowds that make our dear city so special. You can see the video here.

Paperboy brought his kite buggy, outfitted with a new braking mechanism, and he and other friends had many successful trips down the hill.

I, however unwisely, decided to take a spin. The trip down was thrilling! As I glanced the end of the course, I began to brake. Then to my horror, I saw that 2 motorcycles, used to tow folks back up the hill, were parked dead in the middle of the road! I quickly looked to the right and my brain said " I just have to drive up on the grassy area to stop. Then I made a mistake... as they say in the bicycle culture, "look where you want to go, not where you don't." I saw a wooden post in the way, and I panicked. I suppose my foot slid off the steering post and I lost control. I don't' really know. It all happened so fast. But the next thing I remember is that I was turned around 180 degrees, 2 guys were running towards me, yelling at each other that they should not have parked in the middle of the road, and I could not stand up. Someone towed me back up the hill, my friend took me home and another friend drove my car home for me. The next day I went to the doctor and sure enough, my ankle is broken. "You broke the wrong side of your ankle" he said. I guess these fractures have a high incidence of non-union, so on Wednesday I got a screw put in. Now it just hurts like hell and I'm off my foot for 6 weeks.