We are three sisters united in our search for the divine - in food, libation, literature, art, and nature. This blog will capture the true, sometimes decadent, at times humorous, and every so often transcendent adventures of the Salvation Sisters.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Will Work For Great Wine and Linda’s Heirloom Caprese Salad

My Traveling Tales by Linda

Surrounded by his team, David Coffaro blesses the grapes.
"It's so essential that a winemaker give some of his personality to his wine. His personality is part and parcel of the wine itself. The greatest wines have implanted in them the ideas of the winemaker as to what they should be. His character is part of the wine. ~Max Schubert

   I have written on a previous occasion about how I believe that the Universe conspires with us every now and then, to bring about a joyful synchronicity in our lives, such as the events that led to me to meet my long lost cousin, Syd, many years ago. I like to think of these tidbits of happy life experience as little jewels scattered along the often difficult path of life. They serve as reminders for us now and again, of the myriad and rich ways that we humans all interconnect, as we weave, in a seemingly haphazard fashion, in and out of one another's lives. This past week, I was fortunate to be present for just such an experience. I just happened to show up at the right place, right on time.

Monica and Clarke
   I wrote at this time last year, that fall in Sonoma County is a magical place to experience. When my besties, Monica and Clarke came to dinner two weeks ago for a homemade pizza-on-the-grill  party at my house, they brought a bottle of wine that gained my highest admiration once we started sipping. Monica and Clarke have great taste in wine. And not only do they share a great palate, but they have a knack for searching out small and singular wineries that make outstanding wines which are also sold for fair prices. This particular bottle was grown and bottled not far from where I live, I was most pleased to discover. Down the road a stretch in the beautiful Dry Creek Valley, David Coffaro Vineyard and Winery is making some mighty fine wines.
   I called the winery the next morning and Dave answered. After talking with him for a bit, he suggested that I stop by the winery tasting room at my convenience and try some wines. He and his assistant winemaker, Matt Wilson, make over 20 different varietals, so there is a lot to choose from. I told him that I planned to pay a visit on Friday, and he said that they would be busy starting the harvest that day, but to check in with Cindi in the tasting room. This year instead of my Canon Powershot, I grabbed my Canon 50D Digital SLR (she cackles happily to herself), put on a pair of jeans with my new green cowboy boots for fall, and headed out into the sparkling late summer afternoon with the sunroof wide open.

   Wine tasting in West Sonoma County, is generally speaking, a whole different experience from wine tasting in Napa. West Sonoma County is off the beaten path, and thankfully absent are the ostentatious and grandiose winery tasting rooms where tour buses frequent and gift shops abound. They are often filled with throngs of tourists, all vying for a chance to taste some wine from some poor beleaguered soul behind the tasting bar.
   When I wandered into the unassuming tasting room at the David Coffaro Winery after taking some photos of the gorgeous views of the vineyard just outside, I was greeted by Cindi with a warm smile. Two couples from Pennsylvania where just finishing up, and I had the place to myself. Cindi began pouring and as I savored, and she began answering my many questions. Dave had a background in finance, she explained, but discovered his true passion was in farming. He began growing grapes many years ago for other winemakers, but he eventually transitioned into making wines for himself, and boy howdy, am I ever glad that he did.

   Dave's philosophy incorporates the belief that his premium wines should be available for a fair price. The bottle that Monica and Clarke brought to me, I discovered, was purchased as a part of the Crazy Coffaro's Futures Program. This is an ingenious way of offering the best possible deal to the buyer. You purchase the bottle for the next year in advance... in other words, those grapes have not yet been grown, harvested or made into wine. The risk involved is shared by you and the winemaker, and therefore the bottle price for a potentially fantastic bottle of wine also is an amazing value.

   As I continued my tasting, Matt, the assistant winemaker, approached me and having seen my enormous camera, tentatively asked if I would be staying a little longer? My curious expression led him to explain that the first of the Zinfandel harvest was being brought in, and they had neglected to arrange for a photographer to document the annual gathering of the crew and the blessing of the grapes. An elated me... Miss Wannabe Professional Photographer, could barely contain her enthusiasm for the proposed project. I explained about the Salvation Sisters blog, and my wish to do a blog post on the winery... so a deal was struck.
   To further add to the synchronicity of events, Matt it turns out, is from the same very small town where my son, Jordan, now lives in the scenic and mountainous Plumas County of California. I wrote about my travels to see Jordan this past spring when he and his firefighting friends grilled baby back ribs for me. Matt moved to San Francisco after graduating from high school, where he attended culinary school. In 2005, he began working for the David Coffaro Winery as a cellar hand. When the assistant winemaker left to pursue his own winery in 2006, Matt became the assistant winemaker.

   With all hands on deck in front of the wine press and a huge bin of the freshly harvested grapes, Matt uncorked a bottle of the 2009 Sparking Pinot and poured a toast for all. Dave made a blessing and offering to the new harvest, and then we all cheered and clinked glasses with one another. I took photos as fast as my camera would go while trying to drink the delicious bubbly at the same time... a challenge, but one that I would eagerly accept again.

   Pat Coffaro, Dave's wife, and Cindi, kindly gifted me with a bottle of their 2009 Block 4 to take home. I had tried it in the tasting room prior to taking the photos and had given my two thumbs up to the silky and fruity blend with bright flavors. So I suppose that this bottle represents my first paid gig for photos. Wonders will never cease. And in the future, if anyone should ask… I will work for great wine.

Linda's Heirloom Caprese Salad

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Plum Tart

by Michelle

"If heaven above lets fall a plum, open your mouth."
                                                         ~Chinese Proverb
   Earlier this year I reconnected with a friend that I had not seen for years. My daughter and her son were classmates in elementary school, went seperate ways in junior high, and are now together again attending the same high school. Back in 2006, I invited Rhonda and her husband, Joe for a Valentine's Day dinner that I hosted for a group of married friends. For dessert that evening I made a plum tart and two apple crostatas. Upon seeing Rhonda again this past spring, she shared with me that whenever she makes a tart, she thinks of me. Rhonda's kind remark made my heart sing. I was once again reminded of the importance of sharing a table with friends, and that great food, superb drink, gregarious storytelling and spontaneous laughter make for happy memories.
   When my family moved to Tucson in 2001, we did not know anyone, except for my mother. I cranked up the friend-making machine by having new acquaintences over for dinner. The old adage, "A way to a man's heart is through his stomach" also applies to making a new friend. Before long we went from seating six for dinner, to crowding twenty friends around two large tables, with a third table for children. Halloween parties co-hosted with my friend, Michelle could accomodate a much larger crowd for an ever widening circle of friends.

    My life changed significantly in 2009Several successive events put the brakes on my entertaining routine. A few sub plots in the story of my life collided, and left me to try to find order in a newly disordered world. The theme also played out in my physical environment and my home is probably best described  as - using nice words - a professional organizer's dream project. My large dining table is stacked high with miscellaneous kitchen goods, decorative items and paraphernalia for entertaining. Cardboard boxes line the walls on either side of the china cabinet. Even more boxes have the table surrounded, as if the inanimate objects are playing a game of cops and robbers. All the boxes have been opened and rummaged through, but not fully unpacked. Quite often I find myself on a scavenger hunt trying to locate a paticular item that may still be in a box, or hiding in plain site amongst the stacks of "stuff."
   Until a few months ago, the eclectic mix of belongings were packed neatly in boxes that fit snuggly from floor to ceiling in a 10x10 square foot storage unit. In May and June of 2009, I carefully packed boxes in advance preparation for the move to California. To make a long story very short, Maddie and I lived in California for a year with my sister Linda before we ended up returning to Arizona. It was strange returning to my house. I felt as if I was moving into a familiar hotel. The walls and ceilings were still brightly painted in blocks of color, and our furniture remained, but my personal items were absent, giving the house a muted personality. For all the care I gave to packing, it seems absurd to see the pandemonium of my belongings. When my husband broached the organizing topic last week, I simply raised my hands and said in a dull voice, "I give up." I think I heard my dining room table groan in resignation, too. The boxes cheered. They prefer the house over the dark and dusty storage unit.

   An article and glossy photo spread in Elle Decor magazine unveiled recently divorced Courtney Cox's new digs: a tasteful modernist home overlooking the Pacific ocean. At the end of the article she made a comment, a quotable quote, if you will, "This is exactly how I want to live." I scowled. The actress hit a nerve. For about a week thereafter I would walk in my front door, glimpse the garage sale in my front room and exclaim (sarcasm oozing), "Just like Courtney Cox, I'm living exactly the way I want to live." On each occasion, my daughter rolled her eyes, slapped me on the shoulder, and said in an unapproving tone, "Ohhhhhh, MOM!"
   Even though I said it, what I said is not true: I have not given up. I am just temporarily resigned to the fact that I only have so much time. I work a lot of hours and travel often. The good news is that I'm too optimistic and stubborn to give up. At the moment, I just have a little bit too much stacked on my proverbial plate. This too shall pass. It will be easier to attack the mess when the temperatures drop into the eighties and I can comfortably work in the garage to ready the space without inviting heat stroke. New cabinets will be installed this fall and will provide ample space to reintroduce order to the massive disorder within my home. In this time of upheaval, I'm learning a lesson about planning, preparation and patience.

   I fancy thoughts of entertaining again, but perhaps not on such a large scale. I'm looking forward to decorating sugar skulls next weekend with friends, and afterwards enjoying a Mexican potluck buffet. I have pushed aside the mindset that my house has to be in perfect order to socialize with my friends. I am emboldened with the idea that things can be as they are and not how I want them to be. I have scheduled a dove dinner with friends for mid October, a meal that for me always seems to usher in the fall season. Perhaps candlelight will throw interesting shadows on the victorious boxes. May their reign be short lived.
   In the meantime, I will make special meals for my family. Last Sunday I put together a dinner of leg of lamb, sauced with tzatziki, accompanied by side dishes of roasted peppers, tabbouleh and rosemary bread. While prepping the meal, I reminisced about the similar menu that I enjoyed al fresco at Rhonda's house in April, sipping a mojito at a long narrow table draped in patterned cloths surrounded by mismatched chairs. Clusters of flowers huddled in vases were bursting with color. A long string of lights draped between branches of stately trees illuminated the area in flattering light. Softly playing music rose and fell just like the laughter that filled the air. It was a lovely evening that will be thought of often, not just by me, but by everyone that was fortunuate to sit at Rhonda and Joe's table that night under the bright moon, the flickering stars and the swaying lights. Drawn back to the present, I think happily about Rhonda and the dinners we have shared, as I make the plum tart.

Plum Tart

Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Jefferson State Of Mind Journey and Danny's Beer-Butt Chicken

My Traveling Tales by Linda

 "The newsreels were to air nationally the week of December 8, but tragically on December 7th Pearl Harbor was bombed and the State of Jefferson rebellion of 1941 came to an end. The people of the region went to work for the war effort and good roads were eventually built into the backcountry to access strategic minerals and timber. These same roads have helped countless numbers of rural families make a living from the land that continues to produce abundant, quality natural resources. The State of Jefferson 'state of mind' remains in the hearts and minds of people everywhere." 
                                                                                                  ~The Jefferson Statehood Project

City Hall in Jacksonville, Oregon.
  This past August I took a real summer vacation which I had not been able to do for the past several years. I had originally made plans with Michelle... she and Maddie were coming to visit me in Sonoma in the first week of August, but when Michelle had a business opportunity arise, she had to cancel. She was headed for Waco, Texas... leaving me to plan an entire 14 days without my sister and niece.

Mount Shasta: "So beautiful it is almost unreal," said Avalon.
   What to do? Well, my friend Richard and I had been talking for several months about traveling to his family's property in Southern Oregon, so suddenly this seemed like the opportune time to go. Richard's family purchased 30 acres on the Little Applegate River five years ago, when I stayed there with Richard for the first time. This is the Southern portion of Oregon, that once led a campaign to secede from the state of Oregon and along with the northern most part of California, in order to become the 51st state. The State of Jefferson secession movement gained momentum for a time, and then ulimately failed in 1941 when World War II began. Richard's property is remote... about a 30 minute drive from the quaint town of Jacksonville, and since my daily life includes the hustle and bustle of retail, I was really looking forward to a scenic road trip. I hungered for a nice long stay on pristine acreage with river running through it. No cell phone service, no internet, no television... heaven!

   On the first leg of our trip we traveled up I-5 and enjoyed the views of mile after mile of orchards and farm country. We were surprised to see many acres planted with sunflowers, as well. A few hours up the road we pulled into the City of Mount Shasta. One of our favorite stops is the Berryvale Natural Foods Grocery. It is a great little market/deli, and is a good place to pick up last minute items, stretch your legs and have a snack. The mountain was dazzling in the afternoon sun with its snow covered peaks standing out against the blue sky. I felt my spirits soaring while I filled my lungs with mountain air. I could feel myself gladly leaving my busy daily life behind, and happily settling into vacation mode.
   We didn't arrive at the Little Applegate Ranch until well after dark. We attempted, without success, to get the pump turned on. Finally, we decided we could live without running water until the next morning. I could hardly wait for the sun to rise the next day... illuminating views of the large meadows, the riparian growth along the river and the hills in the distance. When I awoke, the sun was shining, and the view did not disappoint.

   Since we had no cell service, we drove into the town of Jacksonville, so Richard could contact the caretaker of the property to obtain assistance with getting the water turned on in the house. No cell phone service, no water, heck, perhaps we should have ridden into town with a horse and buggy, which would have fit the scene because Jacksonville is very small and is best known for its historic red brick buildings from the turn of the 19th and 20th centuies.
   In modern times, the town is known for the Britt Festival. The Britt Festival has been bringing great music to the community since 1963. A pavillion was built on the site of former hillside estate of Peter Britt, one of Jacksonville's founding pioneers, and visitors flock every summer to see great musical performances and enjoy the gorgeous vistas that the Siskiyou Mountains provide.

Stop by the Good Bean Company for the scene and a tasty latte.
  The first stop of the morning was at The Good Bean Company, which is Jacksonville's busy coffeehouse set in an historic building which formerly housed a saloon. Their coffee is delicious, and Richard and I found ourselves on many a very warm afternoon, sipping tasty iced coffee drinks in the cool interior. It turned out the cell phone and internet were harder to leave behind than I thought, and an annoyed Richard accused me of hogging his computer... which was probably true, and has also made me consider investing in an iPad for just such a future occasion.

   Jacksonville has quite a few restaurants among the plethora of gift shops to choose from, since the primary business of the town is catering to visitors. Our favorite place to have breakfast is MacLevin's Whole Foods Deli. It is a small space operated my Mom and Pop MacLevin, and the food is organic and delicious. The made-in-house corned beef is a yummy lunch option.
   We also enjoyed a Sunday Brunch and a dinner out at Gogi's. Gogi's seems to be the best fine dining experience that Jacksonville has to offer, other than The Jacksonville Inn.
   Jacksonville is just the right size to amble around the downtown and outlying neighborhoods on foot or by car. It is full of picturesque buildings, houses and shady trees from a bygone era.

   The Little Applegate Ranch is an hour's drive from the beautiful city of Ashland, which is famous for its Shakespeare Festival. Richard and I were lucky enough (in June) to purchase the last couple of tickets available for a Molière 17th century comedy, which is a play with a twist, on a Tuesday night in August... so if you wish to see a performance when visiting Ashland, it is prudent to plan well ahead. The plays are extremely popular, and many families as well as senior's groups have a tradition of attending a few plays every summer, so the tickets to the Shakespeare plays were already completely sold out by the time I began my search on-line. In the end we were so glad that we saw The Imaginary Invalid. The production was outstanding... I laughed for the entire two hours and had tears in my eyes at the end. Richard and I and the rest of the audience gave the cast a standing ovation. I will definitely go back.

Sesame and Larks are two notable dining recommendations in Ashland.
   Richard and I splurged on a delicious dinner before the play at Larks, which is the restaurant in the Ashland Springs Hotel. We had a leisurely meal at outside tables on the sidewalk, and enjoyed our dinner al fresco while people began gathering for the play that evening just down the street. Ashland is also home to the beautiful Lithia Park, and many couples and families were enjoying the evening eating and playing alongside the creek. Richard and I ate several times at a restaurant just across the street from the park called Sesame. This Asian-fusion restaurant is a real gem, with great food, tables outdoors in front facing the park, and a wonderful shady patio in the back that is situated alongside Lithia Creek. Their Citrus Peppercorn Crusted Ahi Salad served over peanut dressed soba noodles was so good that I ordered it twice (on separate occasions), and I am going to try to duplicate the flavor sensation here at home.

   Southern Oregon has become known in the last decade for producing outstanding wines, including along the Applegate Wine Trail. Since the weather was hot during our stay, I was very much in the mood to sample the tantalizing array of whites. The area's wineries produce excellent viogniers, sauvignon blancs and chardonnays. I came home with bottles of my favorites that I tried from Cowhorn Vineyard and Garden, Troon, Longsword Vineyard and RoxyAnn. Downtown Jacksonville and Ashland have many tasting rooms in which one can sample the region's splendid offerings.

   Early into our stay, Richard picked up a pamphlet advertising jetboat tours on the Rogue River. We purchased tickets over the phone for a five hour whitewater excursion that included a dinner stop. We drove into Grant's Pass on the day of our tour, and subsequently happily climbed aboard a sleek jetboat with about 20 other folks on a very hot afternoon, who were all anxious to see the breathtaking scenery of Hellgate Canyon and get drenched from the acrobatics performed by our boat's pilot along the way. I was not able to bring my camera with me due to being warned in advance that there would be water flying everywhere, so the photos that I would have loved to take are provided in the link here. Richard and I both gave this outing two thumbs up. It was definitely worth the price of admission.

Visiting the Pacific Botanicals farm.
   Another day's adventure was to a local herb farm from which I have purchased medicinal herbs in the past. Pacific Botanicals has been growing certified organic medicinal herbs on a beautiful farm near Grants Pass since 1979. I called a few weeks before our visit to arrange for a tour. It made my heart sing to see the row upon row of elecampane, motherwort, lobelia, echinacea and poke root thriving in the summer sunshine and rich soil of Southern Oregon.

   A final journey on our vacation was to drive out to Applegate Lake, and see the old covered McKee Bridge on the way. Later we drove as far as my low-to-the-ground Honda Civic would take us on Yale Creek Road to look for wildflowers because the season is late on the Siskiyou Crest. The road became too much for my little car before we had gone very far, but I was able to photograph a few worthy specimens, and gaze at the majestic view across the valley. Too bad my dear sisters Michelle and Juliette couldn't be with me on this venture, since we had such a wonderful time together (cough) at Red Rock Canyon  in Las Vegas, you can read all about it here (from Juliette's point of view).

   For the journey home we traveled back on Highway 101, which weaves through gorgeous forests and along the Pacific Coast. It is Bigfoot country, and every time I drive through the dark and narrow winding roads among the giant redwoods there, I am always hoping I will catch a glimpse of the big and hairy him or her. So far no such luck. There are many roadside stands selling enormous carvings of Bigfoot though. I always wonder how people get their oversize sculptures home? Richard and I were reluctant to leave the Oregon summer, but our time had come to an end in the State of Jefferson, and return we must.

Danny's Beer-Butt Chicken

Sunday, September 4, 2011

El Dia De Los Muertos: Making Sugar Skulls

by Michelle

   I cannot count the number of times I have intended to throw a sugar skull decorating party to celebrate El Dia De Los Muertos (The Day of the Dead), only to find that once school is back in full swing, I have a million other things to do, and time seems to slip right by, sliding past Halloween, and then "oops there it is" November has arrived, not late, but right on time, ringing the doorbell to my consciousness, jolting me back to reality. I wake up on All Souls Day thinking, "Darn, I didn't do the Day of the Dead party. Oh well, maybe next year."
   Times, they are a-changin' at my house because I discovered that sugar skull "blanks" can be made way ahead of time. In fact, Juliette has blanks that are a year old that are waiting patiently for a full beauty treatment. There is one caveat. Sugar skulls cannot be made on a humid or rainy day. No two ways about it. This is a project for when the forecast calls for hot, dry weather, which isn't such bad news... stay inside in the cool air conditioning and participate in an activity that is fun to do with friends and children of all ages.

   My daughter Maddie studied Latin American culture last spring in art class. For a school project, she decided to document the sugar skull making and decorating process. It's not easy just to make one sugar skull. If you are molding one, you might as well spend a little more time and make a dozen or two or three or four. That's what Maddie and I did. The skulls are waiting patiently to be vividly brought to life at the end of September by our friends and family. We'll top off our decorating day with a casual Mexican buffet.
   For more information on the holiday, check-out Juliette's post from last year: El Dia De Los Muertos and Pumpkin Soup.

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