Goodbye Old Friend

R.I.P. 2008 - 2011

You came into our life during a time of transition. You gave hope, energy and caffeine on those summer Saturday mornings when we were building our future home. Your stainless carafe was sturdy and unbreakable as we bounced down washboard roads from Vermont to Utah. Your speedy brewing got us moving out of those Wal-Mart parking lots in a timely fashion. Your sleek design and simple functionality were things of envy among the climbers in Mexico. Your five-cup capacity ensured a fresh second pot on those cold rainy mornings when we just couldn’t get out of the van. You waited patiently in the holler while we swapped hemispheres. Your timer functioned flawlessly as you sputtered to life at 5:30 AM, signaling another morning of work in the California wine cellar. And you continued to brew, right up to the end, in our new Oregon home.

Goodbye old friend, your efforts were not in vein.

Shrimp T.

Despite the cheesey sign, this place is completely yummy.

On our way back east there was a night spent in New Orleans. In less than 24 hours we took in a classic dinner, po’ boys for lunch the next day with bread pudding and beignets squeezed in between not to mention a fair amount of bourbon. Enough with the wine we were in New Orleans after all bring on the cocktails. Dinner was the highlight of our tour of gluttony where I had Shrimp Tchefuncte from the Palace Cafe. I can’t even describe it because broken down into its individual ingredients it sounds rather average and it is not average. So a couple bites into this dish I’m panicking. Can I recreate this? I must have this in my life and often! With no plans to live in New Orleans (although that is one solution) I was filling a little desperate. A quick internet search  came up with both the recipe and a little history about the dish. I’ve tackled Shrimp Tchefuncte twice now and while it doesn’t match the real thing…it is my current favorite for savory spicy comfort food. Try it for yourself.

Jill's take on the Palace Cafe classic.

The Long Way Home

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Leaving California in December we struggled to decide on our route home. We dreamed of hitting countless back country and cross country ski destinations across Utah and Colorado. We did pull off a snowy Thanksgiving visit to Yosemite before the reality of coping with the effects of winter on both ourselves and Norman Clyde sent us south.

We ticked off some new places and visited old favorites. It rained in Death Valley, slightly and in the middle of the night but still rain in the desert of deserts. Of course there was! We soaked up the mesmerizing peace that is Joshua Tree. We were wowed by Petrified Forest National Park, spent a quick day peering into the Grand Canyon thinking it just might be worth returning to for deeper explorations and marveled at the be-jeweled interior of Carlsbad Caverns.

We topped out on the Texas high point, Guadalupe Peak (8749 ft). Who new Texas has mountains that are nearly 9,000 feet tall? Putting off the bulk of the driving for as longs as possible, we spent a few days soaking in the sunshine and the hot springs of Big Bend National Park in far southwest Texas. I visited Big Bend years ago when tourists often crossed the Rio Grande and spent the afternoon in the tiny Mexican village of Boquillas. Today this is a big no-no as all unofficial border crossing were closed in the wake of 9/11. Blah.

Leaving the southwest behind we made a mad dash across Texas and tackled what for us is the most adventurous activity of all. We took the van into a city. A city with narrow, one way streets and lots of parking garages that can’t house a giant van. Shockingly, and I mean shockingly, it all came together and we had a wonderful 24 hours in New Orleans. We found a charming hotel. Norman Clyde had valet parking. Best of all great restaurant beta from the brother-in-law. And we have a new “I have to go back there” destination.

Can You Dig It?

For weeks I’ve been running around the winery saying, “Yis! I want to dig out a tank.” This involves crawling inside a large stainless steel tank to dig out the grape skins that remain after the wine has been drained. It is a whole deal.  Grapes have a gas problem, lots of carbon dioxide. This brings up obvious safety issues that have to be addressed including proper ventilation of the tank, safety harness with retrieval cord, and a CO2 monitor.

One way in, one way out.

Today as our other responsibilities are waning we had an opportunity to dig. We dug out one of the crawl inside tanks and then another smaller one that you rake out from the outside.

A couple that digs out tanks together...

Jill pulling rake duty.

Harvest is nearly over but for now we’re still putting in long days. We look forward for more time to write and actually drink some wine in the coming weeks.

NC to CA

Any sanity or sense Steve and I had two years ago must certainly be long gone. If you need proof of this we thought driving from North Carolina to California would not be so bad. We’re pros at this, right? While the trip was really smooth, it was long and tedious and left us questioning are reasoning abilities about making the decision to go all the way from east coast to west for a short-term winery job.

To our credit we did try to plan things to do along the way to break up each day a bit. This is easier planned than executed as more often than not we just didn’t have the energy to take a big white van off the interstate to track down the local charm. That said there were a few highlights. We visited Stonehill Winery in Missouri. Way, way back, 1800’s back, Missouri had a fantastic wine industry. Today they have a surprising number of wineries producing lesser known grapes / wines that are well suited for the climate. We bought a bottle of sherry- our first. Next up was barbecue in Kansas City at Gates Bar B.Q. where much of the restaurant was shrouded in smoke from the pit. It was obvious that half the customers eat there weekly and the other half stagger in as if on a pilgrimage to a distant, holy land.

Steve having a come to BBQ moment in Kansas City.

Our new climbing partner in Denver.

That was about the extent of our tourist stops on our westward trek. We did visit pals in Denver and met their adorable little boy.  With a little luck we made beers happen with our wildland firefighter buddy as we passed through Winnemucca, Nevada. He is good at being anywhere and everywhere in the American West. I’m not sure how he has such mastery over his geography. It is a mysterious combo of truck, helicopter and I suspect nose wrinkle.

Picture perfect Lake Tahoe.

Stellar Jays are a fixture on the Tahoe landscape.

Just before reaching our final destination we spent a cool (literally- there was snow at elevation) weekend in Tahoe. This was a favorite spot of mine from our 2009 travels. With my foot swelling (sting ray) and weekend crowds on the trails, we kept our hikes short and our vista lingering long. For such a touristy area somehow parts of the Tahoe area manage to be not only bearable but actually pleasant. With a mellow weekend behind us we rolled on into northern Sonoma County and a tiny but just right apartment on a big ‘ol hill overlooking the Russian River Valley. More to come!

Winemakers in the Making – Maybe

Our New Zealand work permits expire in November. We’re on a plane home August 1st. This doesn’t add up until you add wine. Then it becomes a perfect plan. Remember we worked at a winery during the Southern Hemisphere autumn. We put in long hours at a large winery as truck after truck delivered tons and tons of grapes. No real ah ha moment but a sweet experience for sure.

Sweet enough for us to apply to one wine job at one winery in California. More winery work was not the plan but I was in a restless mood after vintage wrapped up in Gisborne. I saw the job online. I thought, “Oh why not? It is California wine country after all, a smaller winery, that could be nice, see what happens.” A few weeks later we were accepting wine jobs in the Russian River Valley for the North American crush, start date September 1.

We dig the winemaking world. Lets be clear Steve and I are far from calling ourselves winemakers, we’re cellar rats, the seasonally hired hands that are the key to wineries making it through harvest. Someday we may be winemakers. For now it is too soon to tell if this is a new career or simply an adventure not yet finished.

Cheers!

Yes, that is bubbly with fish and chips. Getcha some.

My Time in Stars Hollow

If you don’t get the title, then skip this one unless you want a great opportunity to make endless fun of me. If you do get the title, then go ahead and give into that girlish giggle, pour yourself a stout cup of coffee, and think of a witty comment.

Steve and I have been a little vague about exactly how we are spending our Southern Hemisphere winter. This isn’t intentional. We have so much to share, that important details can get lost. Important details like I’m living out my own Gilmore Girl fantasies casting myself as a nice combo of Lorelai and Sookie. If you aren’t familiar with this epic masterpiece of television dramedy then see first sentence.

So we are innkeepers, sorta. Now this isn’t the Dragonfly Inn. The place we’re minding is Kokopu Estate and it includes includes two rental cottages or in NZ speak holiday homes. One is a 100 year old cottage with full shabby-chic charm. The other is a romantic apartment attached to the main house. Even though it is the off season we regularly have guests at both accommodations. Along with looking after guests, we’re answering calls and emails about the place and confirming reservations for NZ’s upcoming summer season. For GG fans just imagine Emily and Richard’s house with a couple rental cottages and you are close to our setup, maybe a little less posh and and a bit more farm.

Did I mention that Luke, I mean Steve, makes me coffee whenever I ask? Nothing like all day coffee drinks to make you feel like a Gilmore Girl.

So you can’t reenact the Gilmore Girls without an adorable toy town. Surrounded by green hills and set at the water’s edge, Akaroa might be even cuter and quirkier than the fictional Stars Hollow. The local color includes notoriously grumpy laundry ladies, ever changing rules at the library, and the occasional boat being towed down main street.

The strangeness continues as this part of New Zealand was originally settled by the French. This left a proud and highly marketable heritage. Many signs are in French and all the streets are marked “Rue”. One day we saw a man wondering about in a Napoleonic era French army uniform carrying a large French flag over his shoulder. This town’s Taylor perhaps.

We don’t have Lane’s band to groove to, instead there are some local guys who get together and play the ukulele.

Good food, always essential to the Gilmore Gang, is covered with several fine restaurants and a cooking school. Imagine a tiny town with a cooking school and no chain restaurants. It is winter and most nights I’m happy to stay in with Luke err Steve. Even Sookie, Stars Hollow’s gourmet chef would approve of my boeuf bourguignon.

So, for now, that’s us. Before you decide I’ve completely lost my mind,  Steve thinks he’s Higgins from Magnum P.I.

Update 7/20/10 Learned that uniformed French soldier is the official town crier. This place gets more Gilmore everyday.