Thursday, January 21, 2010

Last Day in California

Our plans for visiting vineyards today have been dampened. As I lay in the warm queen size bed, Lucy and Baxter snuggled between Dan and I, my eyes closed, I have Ilissa's electric smile in my mind as the rain pours down outside - the wind slamming the rain into the house and making the windows creak. We decide we can go anyway, after all the tastings are done inside. Ilissa has made it so she only has about a half days work ahead of her. I'm grateful and proud because she works really hard, as always. We have known each other for about 24 years, meeting on set, we both ran camera. Since, she has gone back to DC and worked for CSPAN, CNN, Fox News, Omega Recording Studio, and Voice of America. We sit in the garage, on the smoking couch,  I blog and Dan does his computer things (FaceBook and gaming), the dogs snuggled between us.

The rain is coming down so hard that Dan calls to make sure the vineyards are open while I make lunch and Ilissa takes a shower. We are having sammies on the roasted garlic, rosemary bread, with the jalapeno gouda cheese and slivered basil. Gail gave Dan some dill pickle chips that she brought back home from North Dakota. We had been saving them for the trip, and now we finish them off. Ilissa is happy, she closed a big deal, liked her lunch, and is singing as she cleans up. I like the deal here, I cook, she cleans!

With the rain pouring down, a lot of the vineyards are closed. The Temecula Wine Valley Trail, is flooded out, but we ferry on.

A flooded soccer field.

One of the few open is Cougar Vineyard and Winery. Their tasting room is in the cellar, it's cold and there are no chairs, but the lady serving up the tasting is entertaining. We are not too impressed by their wines, all aged in stainless steel, but enjoy each other's company. Plus, you get to keep the glasses!

Ilissa smuggles in Molly, in the above picture she is in the bag over her shoulder. Nobody is the wiser.

The lady at Cougar sends us to Leonesse Cellars Winery.

Running through the rain we get into the warm, tasting room.

I'm not feeling it, I've had too much wine in too few days. It was pretty and the company was great and again, I just kept thinking how great it would be in the summertime. After a dinner at the local Chicago pizza joint, Ilissa, me, Dan and Justin watched My Life In Ruins. The guys loved it!

Temecula (Teh-meck-q-la)

Who knew that the town of Temecula was so cool? I'd never heard of it and neither had Dan. Ilissa encouraged us to go to Old Town Temecula for the day. It is my turn to cook today since Justin has work and then school - he's getting a degree in Criminal Justice - so I want to do some food shopping as well. The day is clear with blue sky peaking out of the clouds here and there, but no rain.

I decide I want to make an omelette for dinner and I want farm fresh eggs, I know it sounds crazy, but it makes a difference. Justin, a foodie like me, had mentioned that there is a farm nearby. I did a search on my iPhone, but no luck. The only farm I found was a flower farm, and they recommended the farmers market.

The wind had picked up and the skies were getting grey so we wrapped our coats around us and looked around the farmers market. There were no eggs but we found some fantastic bread. A rosemary and roasted garlic sandwich bread, and a sourdough baguette. My omelette uses croutons (I know, weird, but it makes the omelette) so I figured the rosemary bread would be great with that, with the sourdough I would make bruschetta. I remembered that Ilissa has some oranges, that the neighbor grew on her tree, and I thought I'd use those in a salad.

Old Town Temecula is, as the name implies, the old part of the town. It reminds me of an upscale Georgetown. Old, renovated buildings mingle with new ones, created to match the look of the old west. There are restaurants, antique shops and artisan food and wine shops. After perusing an antiques store, we walked down the store lined sidewalk. I spy a sign that says olive oil tastings. Dan and I love, love, love, olive oil, the peppery the better, and I garnish almost everything with it. The Temecula Olive Oil Company, is a cute little store with creaky wooden floor boards, and it's clean and cheery. We meander to the back and find a lady behind a counter lined with olive oils. She asks us if we'd like to do a tasting are we are in! They use little plastic cups, pour a sip into it and give it to you. You smell it; clean and fresh smells of grass and green fruit, permeate your nose. The oils made with unripe olives are peppery, they have a bite to them, a little bitter, spicy. These are our favorites. Some olives are left on the tree to mature, these oils are smooth, buttery. On to the flavored oils. They are made buy adding the fresh ingredient to the olives when pressing, no additives, chemicals, or artificial flavors. Each oil individually blended with the chosen ingredient. The fragrances fill our noses; basil, blood orange, rosemary, and truffle. We are in heaven, the smells taking us to a warm, breezy, summer's day, erasing the cold, blustery day waiting for us. The hand crafted vinegars; champagne honey, balsamic fig, and pomegranate are sharp, acidic, sweet. The pungency of so many vinegars makes me cough. She says the balsamic fig served over a soft cheese, makes an extravagant desert. We had seen a cheese shop earlier, with cheese tastings, so I decide I want the balasmic and the buttery olive oil (because this is for our friends and most people don't like the sharp, peppery ones) Dan gets the citrus blend (made with blood oranges) and we go off to lunch.

We decide on The Bank. The building was built in 1913 as the First National Bank of Temecula and has even survived a robbery. Now, it serves fantastic Mexican food. As we are eating, I feel like Butch Cassidy will come barging in at any moment. The atmosphere is old west, and California, in a hippie kind of way. Leaving, I notice a wine tasting sign we can't refuse.

Temecula Hills Winery is somewhat off the beaten path, off Front street (which is the main street) on to main street, which is a side street. In front of the cute, little, 100 year old cottage is a courtyard with a huge tree stretching it's branches over the yard. The leaves are wet but I imagine them in the summertime, providing shade for the people who have come to taste wine. Inside, it's warm and jovial. The walls are covered with Mediterranean style murals, grapevines and grapes crawling up it's length. The long, granite topped bar has customers along it's 20 foot span. They are well into their wine tasting; laughing and joking with each other. Debbie, our wine expert and server happily explains that for $10.00 you can taste any of their 6 wines and we go for it. We happen to be sitting next to an older man, trim, maybe 60, hair full but grey. He is happy, having retired early and moving from Orange County,  he is now a vineyard appraiser and has a fantastic house with a view of the mountains that surround this valley. We make everyone jealous by telling them our story, he says in his little boy voice, "I wanna go to Hawaii". The warmth, talk and wine creating instant camaraderie. I am finished with my wine selection but Debbie gives me a "splash" of their 2008 Late Harvest Viognier and another of raspberry champagne. The Viognier is a white desert wine. It's not overly sweet, light, clean, it's fantastic, we buy it to have with desert.



ahhh, taste

The back courtyard at Temecula Hills Winery.

The owner/winemaker notices our olive oil and says he has oils as well, come, have a tasting. Game, as always, we almost skip over to his back bar to have a taste. Instead of cups he has a plate meant for deviled eggs, you know, those little clear plastic jobbies? He starts by telling us he uses bread and dumps a bunch into the center of the plate. A little drizzle of olive oil goes into the first divot. We are instructed to soak the bread in it until it absorbs all of the oil, then suck the oil out of the bread. Doing it this way incorporates air, lending a truer taste. His oils are excellent as well and we get the jalapeno one. The clean, fresh, taste of the jalapenos give the oil a nice kick. He suggests cooking your breakfast eggs in it, I'm thinking of drizzling it over grilled, fresh, Mahi Mahi and sprinkling a little sea salt over it.

As the rain pours down, we run/walk the two blocks up Front Street and are at the Temecula Valley Cheese Company. Cold, wet, and tired, we tell the shop purveyor my plans with the fig balsamic vinegar and she suggests a soft cheese from France. We also get a gruyere for the omelette and a local jalapeno gouda just because.

On our way home we stop at Trader Joe's to get some fresh basil and heirloom tomatoes for the bruschetta. At home, Ilissa is done working and Dan fixes her computer while I make dinner. We have the bruschetta and omelette (stuffed with croutons and gruyere), and a salad with toasted almonds, thinly sliced red onions, avocado and the neighbors oranges in a vinaigrette I made from the citrus olive oil and fig and balsamic vinegar. Justin came home early (everyone in class got dumped on, on the way in, and were sitting soaking wet in class with the air conditioner cranking, they couldn't turn it off so the instructor let them go early) and joined us for desert; the Viognier and soft cheese drizzled with the fig-basalmac reduction. 

We bought Ilissa a flower bouquet, something she loves to arrange, taking great pride and satisfaction in the process.

Cool note:
Dan has been following Laird Hamilton's blog almost religiously. He is famous for pioneering big wave surfing. Yesterday, Dan sent him an email telling of our move and asking if he know someone that could teach him how to surf. He just got an email back with a guys name and phone number! I am relieved that Dan will be learning by (probably) one of the best surfers on the island.