Archive for May, 2010

Santa Monica!

May 30, 2010

This past week I drove my friend Jasmine up to Los Angeles

Jasmine is a writer and soon-to-be publisher author!  She runs her own blog called Eat Move Write and is currently in the works of writing her FIRST book!  I hung out at a local Starbucks while she met with her agent up in West Beverly Hills.  Her meeting didn’t take long and afterward we decided to check out Santa Monica since we were about 10 minutes away.

We ended up walking around downtown Santa Monica.  I was enamored by all the cute shops and loved how the streets were completely closed off from cars, leaving pedestrians free to walk in the middle.  Although they had your staple expensive clothing and high-end stores you would expect from L.A., my favorite stores were a toys and games shop called the Puzzle Zoo and Ye Olde King’s Head, a shop that carried imports from Great Britain.  I bought a t-shirt at the games shop for $5!

We also stopped to eat at this wonderful French country-style cafe called Le Pain Quotidien (The Daily Bread).

All of their coffees were Peruvian organic! *so proud*

I ordered the Chicken Curry Salad Tartine with side of harissa-cranberry chutney.  De-Lish!  I ate about 3/4s because I wanted to save room for…

You guessed it… dessert!  It was a lemon custard made with fat free yogurt.  It was ok.

After lunch, we walked around some more and then headed down to the boardwalk where there were ride, shops, and more restaurants (though I didn’t get any pictures of that… whoops!).

The ocean was absolutely beautiful.  Even though we were freezing cold, we were determined to walk down the entire boardwalk!  When we finally made it to the end, we were in for a big surprise…

Mr. Seal was waiting to greet us!  Say cheese!

It was a fun little trip to L.A., but I’m glad to call San Diego “home” for now at least!

Cheers,

Jess

It’s official! I’m a food & wine blogger!

May 27, 2010

That’s right!  Little ole Jess, someone who barely thought she could put pen to paper, is officially a contributor for DishKebab.com’s dining news blog!  I didn’t want to mention anything until it was official, but when I opened my mailbox today and saw this…

Getting paid!

My very first "paycheck" for the blog entry I produced!

I couldn’t keep my mouth shut any longer!  Even though my blog entry hasn’t gone live yet, nothing says official like some dolla dolla bills ya’ll 😉  Also, I received a handwritten thank you letter and a copy of the agreement I signed!

You can also go read my contributor bio by clicking HERE!  It doesn’t get much more official than that, folks.

As you may remember, my last blog entry was about Port wine.  The blog about Port was actually my first blog entry for DishKebab.  One of the nice things about blogging for DishKebab is that you can use any article you’ve written for them on your own personal blog as well.

So, you may be wondering…

What the heck is DishKebab?

Well, to put it simply it’s a blog that supports iDine, a dining program that rewards you for dining out.  All of the contributors are members of the dining program that review restaurants on the program in their area and dish on topics other foodies would enjoy.

The program is a neat idea—kind of like frequent flier miles but for eating and everyone’s got to eat!  This is great way to earn rewards while dining out on vacation and at home.

How does it work?

  • First you chose a membership level.  Even at the most basic level you can sign up for free and earn 5% back on each purchase.
  • Register your credit cards/debit cards.  The more the better!  iDine uses your credit card/debit transactions to determine if you ate out at one of their qualifying restaurants.
  • OR take a look at their website and search for a restaurant on the program by looking up the city, state, or zip you are in.  Check out ratings and read reviews by other diners.
  • Rate your recent dining experience in order to earn rewards!
  • Sit back and watch as you earn money back on every purchase.

I experienced this firsthand last Friday when my friends and I ate out at Harney Sushi in Old Town, San Diego for my friend Christina’s birthday.  I had no idea it was part of the iDine program but surely enough, I received an email a few days later from iDine informing me that I had 60 days to rate my dining experience at Harney in order to earn my 5% back reward.  The survey took about 2 minutes.  Not a bad trade in my book.

So what are you waiting for?!  Sign up today!  Plus, while you’re at it, check out my blog entries on DishKebab.com for the latest in San Diego’s food & wine scene

On a last note, I will leave you with a new discovery I made yesterday about California.  Did you know it was once a Republic? I had no idea!

According to Wikipedia, “The California Republic, also called the Bear Flag Republic, was a government proclaimed by settlers on June 14, 1846, in Sonoma in the then-Mexican province of California. Declared during the Mexican–American War, the republic lasted a mere 26 days.”

Either way, I love my new t-shirt!  I am sporting my California pride!

Cheers,

Jess

A Crash Course in Port Wine

May 22, 2010

Port wine is like the nectar of the gods.

With its full bodied mouth-feel and sweet, rich flavors, it is the perfect after-dinner drink.  I recently uncorked a bottle of Tawny Port from Orfila Winery in Escondido, California and was highly impressed with their take on this lovely dessert wine.

History:

Stories of Port wine go back as far as the late 16th century in the Duoro Valley of Portugal, where Port is still grown and produced today.  Port is named after the coastal city of “Porto” where the wine was originally exported.  Laws today protect the origin of this wine so that only the product from Portugal can be labeled as Port.  Wines that undergo the same process as Port wines are often be labeled “dessert wine” instead.

How It’s Made:

Orfila Winery’s Tawny Port is extremely aromatic with unmistakable scents of raisin and spice taking center-stage while hints of caramel and orange linger on the palette as an after-thought.  A friend of mine referred to it as “raisin-flavored cough syrup,” which isn’t entirely off base!

Because Port is a fortified wine it’s extremely sweet and syrupy.  Fortified wines undergo a different process than most where grape-derived spirits like brandy are added to the partially-fermented grape juice to kill off the yeast and halt fermentation before all of the sugar converts to alcohol.  This creates a wine that is sugary and several times higher in alcohol content than most at 19.5-20% abv.

Unlike other single varietal wines, Port is made with a blend of different red and black grape varietals.  Not all Port is made alike, however—there are also dry and semi-dry versions, and occasionally you may run across a white Port.

Styles of Port:

Orfila's Tawny Port

Ruby Port—Named for its deep red color, Ruby Port is young, fruity and undergoes two to three years of aging before it’s bottled.

Reserve Ruby Port—This is a higher quality Port with more intense fruit flavors and a longer period of aging before bottling, generally five years.

Late Bottled Vintage Port—Similar to a Reserve Ruby Port, LBV Ports are made from grapes harvested in a single year and undergo four to six years of aging before bottling.  It’s best enjoyed while it’s young.

Traditional Style LBV—This traditional style is made much the same way as LBV, except that the wine is not filtered before bottling, leaving behind a deposit that requires decanting.

Vintage Port—Vintage Port is the crème de la crème when it comes to Port.  It uses grapes from the very best vineyards during years when harvest is exceptional.  With a short period in oak, this wine benefits from several years of bottle aging and requires decanting.

Tawny Port—An inexpensive Port made from a blend of light-colored ruby and white Port, it brings to mind flavors of toffee nut, caramel, and dried fruit.

Reserve Tawny Port—Light brown in color with flavors of nut, coffee, chocolate, and caramel, these wines require a minimum of seven years in oak.

Aged Tawny Port—A high quality blend of wines labeled with 10, 20, 30, or 40+ years of aging, Aged Tawny Port does not require decanting and is best enjoyed slightly chilled.

Food and Wine Pairings:

It’s important to consider what foods pair best with Port wine. You can drink Port solo, but it’s particularly refreshing when served alongside chocolate desserts, fresh fruits, puddings, and cheeses.

Stilton cheese is to Port wine what jelly is to peanut butter: a classic pairing that should not be missed out on.  Stilton cheese comes from the blue cheese family.   I decided to go with Trader Joe’s White Stilton With Apricots because I thought the sweetness of the fruit would pair nicely with the sweetness of wine, and I was right!

Brix Chocolate

I also used some Brix Chocolate, a special type of dark chocolate made especially for wine.  Both the cheese and the chocolate paired nicely with the Port and helped mellow out the tannins, making it more drinkable.  For only $18 Orfila’s Tawny Port is definitely worth every penny.

Armed with your newfound knowledge of Port wine, now you’re ready to impress friends and family at your next dinner party!  They may thank you for the wine 101 lesson, but more importantly you’ll enjoy wine’s ability to bring people together for an evening of fun and great conversation. And, on that note, I’ll leave you with the wise words of wine connoisseur Percy Croft, “Any time not spent drinking Port is a waste of time.”

Cheers,

Jess

A weekend gettaway at Hearst Castle Part III

May 15, 2010

The last leg of our trip involved a short drive North of our hotel to see the elephant seals!  Just off of Highway 1, we were able to see the seals up-close and in person since this time of the year happens to be their molting season.  The seals return to the shore to shed their coats once a year, and are also land-bound during their breeding and birthing seasons.  Apparently it can get quite ugly during breeding season where a lot of fights go down between the males!  Too bad we just missed it.

What are those gray dots?  Those are the seals!  Here’s a better look at the seals:

I know they look like they’re dying, but really their just being lazy!  See the one in the back with his back arched and his head pointed up at the sky?  That proves they are alive 😉

There had to be hundreds of these guys along the beach.  Amazing when you think about it.  Coming from Indiana, I’m not too familiar with marine life and the wonders it brings.  The closest comparison I have is seeing a live skunk!

Also the views here were absolutely amazing!  I really fell in love that weekend with the Central Coast.

Afterwards, we went on a hike nearby in an area that made me feel like I was no-where near California.  The forest was like something out of Hans and Gretel or Little Red Riding Hood.  It felt like a magical forest full of wonder and surprises…  and there were definitely surprises!  On our hike, we came upon this…

No, it’s not a twig… it’s a SNAKE!  He was blocking our one and only path.  Rather than disturb him from his nap (since yelling and stomping didn’t seem to wake him) we made a path through the grass and went around him.

The rest of the hike was very peaceful—no rabid squirrels or anything jumping out at us 😀  It was a nice end to our trip before we had to pack our bags and head back down South.  Anyway, I am literally counting the days until I head back up that way.  It’s definitely worth the 5-6 hour drive and if you get a chance, drive along Highway 1.  It’s breathtaking!

Cheers,

Jess

A weekend gettaway at Hearst Castle Part II

May 14, 2010

Last weekend, I went with a couple girlfriends up to visit Hearst Castle in San Simeon, California.  Even with the trip being so short, we managed to cram a lot into those 2 1/2 days which is why I’ve broken this trip into 3 different blog posts!  I like to give all the deets!

One of the things I didn’t realize until only a couple days before our trip was how close we were going to be to wine country!  Paso Robles, a huge wine hot spot in Central California, was only 45 mins – 1 hour from our motel!  They have somewhere around 180-odd wineries.

After touring Hearst Castle, I really really wanted to visit a winery but since most of them closed by 5pm, we decided just to go out to dinner.  We found a brochure at the motel and were sold on a little restaurant called Matthew’s that promised to deliver local wine, local ingredients, and “wine country cuisine”.

We started out with some local wine from Dancing Stallion.  We decided to try their 2006 Syrah which was absolutely amazing!  Very rich and full bodied with high tannins and a lush mouth-feel.  You could definitely smell the dark cherry and blackberry aromas!  Some of the best Syrah I have had to date.

The food was just as delicious!  I ordered the pumpkin ravioli.  I love anything with pumpkin.  Fall is my favorite season, so it shouldn’t be any surprise.

Pumpkin ravioli

I also split a salad with Julie.  I love fruit salads!  This one had pears and oranges and was topped with walnuts, Gorgonzola cheese, and a champagne and citrus vinaigrette.  It was très magnifique!

Fruit salad with Gorgonzola, walnuts, and champagne vingarette!

I love that the portions here were so small.  One, it makes you feel less guilty for indulging!  Two, the food is very rich and satisfying so you don’t need much.  Three, it leaves more room for DESSERT(s)!  We happened to order three.  What?!  There was three of us… 😉

Chocolate martini

Chocolate pave with pistachio

Apple caramel bread pudding

My favorite was the apple caramel bread pudding.  I’m not a huge chocolate fan—definitely not into the rich chocolates unless they are mixed with something a little more mellow to balance out the flavors.  For that reason, I didn’t love the chocolate pave which was pretty much like a supper rich, dense chocolate brownie with berries on top.   The chocolate martini on the other hand wasn’t bad with its layers of cream, ice cream, strawberries, and drizzle on top.

We each paid about $50 for the meal (ouch!) but it was totally worth it.  Sometimes you need to allow yourself to indulge in a wonderful meal that you know you can’t get anywhere else 🙂

I’m currently plotting my next adventure up to the Central Coast so I can finally visit their wineries!

Cheers,

Jess

A weekend gettaway at Hearst Castle Part I

May 6, 2010

Hearst Castle

This past weekend, a couple girlfriends and I headed on a weekend gettaway to the lovely Hearst Castle!  The famed castle, referred to affectionately as “the ranch” by Mr. William Randolph Hearst, began as a short project for a modest bungalow that quickly got out of hand.  Designed by architect Julia Morgan, the project spanned 28-years and was never officially completed due to the failing health of Mr. Hearst.

Hearst Castle

Fountain

Me & the Girls in front of Casa Grande

Me & the Girls in front of Casa Grande

Today the 165 room castle takes up more than 90,000 square feet and is open to the public for tours.  Hearst was a collector of fine art who had a love for the historical architectural styles of Europe and that passion is deeply conveyed in his home.

The Neptune Pool

The Neptune Pool

Me in front of the Neptune Pool!

One of my favorite parts of the property was the awe-inspiring outdoor Neptune pool.  Inspired by the ancient architecture of Rome, the columns used in the pool actually date back to early Roman times and were one of the “collectibles” Hearst acquired.  Doesn’t the water look inviting?

Apparently the Hearst family still throws barbecues here.  I wonder how I could go about getting on the guest list. 😉

Fireplace in the Main House

The Main House

Hearst collected a lot of things, fireplaces included!  I wish I could remember all the dates on these, but as far as I know they are very, very old.  Everything in Hearst’s home is part of his collection.  It’s quite a site to see.  As I walked around the property, I felt like I was in Europe.  It was a small taste of something I someday look forward to!

The Dining Room

Place setting

The dining room was a gathering space where Hearst would share meals with the famous guests he invited to stay with him.  Breakfast and lunch were optional, but when the dinner bells rang everyone knew it was time to head into the dining room.  Although everything else was very formal, Hearst’s place setting was surprisingly casual because he wanted to make his guests feel at home.

I also included a picture of the dishes for my mom to see because she loves dishes and it’s in her colors!  I wish I could have brought a set home! 🙂

Here are some more random pictures of the interior of Hearst’s property:

Guest room

Beautiful ceilings

Lamps
Ancient vases

As you can see Hearst collected everything from ceilings, doors, lamps, books, tapestries, and ancient vases.

Also, I had to snap a photo of the old wine bottles in Hearst’s kitchen. 🙂 Some of these bottles date back to the 1820s!  I can see that Hearst definitely had good taste in wine simply by reading the name of the region indicated on the bottle like Bordeaux and Chablis.

The Roman Pool

Gold tiles

The tour ended with a stop to the beautiful indoor Roman Pool.  It’s the perfect spot for a romantic, evening swim and probably one of the most expensive rooms in the estate due to the gold tiles used in the walls, floors, and pool!  This room was breathtaking and probably my favorite stop on the entire tour.

Special Events & Weddings!

Breathtaking views

Hold your special event or wedding right here!

One of the cool things I did discover is that you can hold events at Hearst’s Castle!  Yes, your wedding or special event could actually be held there.  Not to say it won’t cost you an arm and a leg because the price begins anywhere from $10,000 to $20,000 to rent the space on top of a $1,000 – $2,000 non-refundable deposit.  Insurance up to 1 million dollars is also required.  So… you may want to consider your options unless you are like my friend Julie who plans on marrying a rich doctor! 🙂

Well, our photo tour is coming to an end!  The pictures don’t do ANY justice to the sheer magnificence that is Hearst Castle.  It’s really one of those things you have to see with your own eyes!  Hopefully this gives you a little teaser of what you have to look forward to because I HIGHLY recommend that you go see it if you get the chance.

Cheers,

Jess