Whines and wines….

What a fascinating day. From students who don’t want to work (and I mean a lot of them!) to a wife who is leaving as I write this to go do a sleep study to see if she has apnea or some other sleeping disorder, to a daughter rapidly on the mend from the dreck, to a dog with brand new behaviors all because–he got new food—it has been a day of highs and lows, and some really nutty changes.

Wife, child, students, dog—for some reason, I’m feeling pulled in more directions than I feel I was designed to go. I don’t have the sort of fun feeling I wanted to have at this point in the school year, and I feel like I’m having to bargain with people who don’t deserve to be bargained with. It’s an uneasy feeling–and it’s been gnawing at me all day. I’m pretty thankful, actually, that the aforementioned dreck has left my system mostly–because if that injury were added to this particular insult, I’m just not sure where I would stand. Ultimately, I think I’d just feel flattened. And I’m close to that now, anyway.

Meanwhile, on the bright side, the dog is indeed more thankful this evening. We bought him new food called Nutro, and were given all manner of recommendations to it. It was supposed to be the food that dogs love. A little more money, but a little less than the Natural Balance food we’d purchased recently–which he loved. I switched because I wanted to save money. The dog wouldn’t eat. He hated the stuff, eschewing it and turning his nose up to it. He even lost a couple of pounds.

Now, understand, I love dogs and my own in particular and I am not above spoiling them at some level. But ultimately, I don’t buy into the whole buy the best food money can buy, get him brand new toys every two weeks, pamper him and treat him like a child–camp. He’s a dog. He’s not my son–and I already have a daughter. Humans come first in my book, and again–while I love the dog, I’m not a left-wing nutter PETA fanatic. In fact, I think PETA ought to be outlawed for basically having way too much time on their hands and being entirely too silly to make a rational, reasonable argument. He’s a dog, have I said that?

Well…..

I did two things. I added some cheaper Pedigree canned food to his dry food because he likes soft food. Always has. He’s got weak teeth, so I—well, I give in. And, I went back to Natural Balance dogfood. It’s a little more money, but not as much as Eukanuba, for gawd’s sake, and it’s better, at least in ingredients. He loves it–and eats every bite. So–I guess I have to confess that while no nutter from the activist wackos, he is my dog. And I want him to enjoy his food.

OOOH! Lest I forget: French Hill Sierra Foothills 2002 “Grand Reserve” Barbera. Barbera is an Italian varietal and they are growing a lot of it in the Sierra foothills. This I bought at Trader Joe’s at $12.99 a bottle–and I think it was a steal. Beautiful ripe and luscious black cherry and even a hint of strawberry with a nice smoky touch of vanilla and some loam. Really delicious and I’m off for more.

Rest for some….no rest for me….

The weekend was filled with the usual post-dreck things. I started getting better, the family started getting worse. Now, dreck has passed to Peanut and Sue and they are battling it as they can with Sue in full-blown mode, like I was, with antibiotics, etc. due to the sinus infection problem. Peanut still holds out a little hope even though her fever spiked a bit today and she felt pretty miserable. She’s got the nose running, the achiness and the cough—but her breathing meds, a little dimetapp and some children’s motrin have helped all of that. Her doc doesn’t want her on anti-biotics right now because she has no ear infection and the sinuses, while swollen, aren’t all that bad. She may pull this one out. We hope so, anyway.

However, last night was a grand time with our friends the Fickenscher’s out in Ventura, near where we used to live. They have three munchkins, one of whom is Peanut’s age and they are fast friends. We all had a great time with a lot of good wine including a 1991 Justin Cabernet Sauvignon that Paul apparently kept very well, because it was tremendous. There were sublime tastes of strawberry, raspberry and then some leather and smokiness, a little touch of herbaceousness was there as well. It was heavenly stuff.

Second semester makes its official start tomorrow and I find I am reticent to go. I haven’t had that feeling in a while, where I don’t want to go in to work–but that feeling is making itself known and I am unsure why. Perhaps it’s the fact that next year will be a harder year as I will be teaching new things and so I’m already thinking ahead. Then again, second semester is almost always more fun than first semester simply because you’re b-lining to summer break which, regardless of what any teacher tells you, is absolutely the number one reason to go into teaching. I mean, I love to teach, I really do. I have some wonderful moments in my career that are powerful and delightful, awe-inspiring and touching. None of them, however, compare with the feeling of 2 full months off while still being paid. Heck, I feel like I’m in France–except there, everybody gets time off and the result is that their economy sucks, quite literally. It sucks the life out of everybody and everything. OK, enough of that….

That was quite the tangent, yes? Well, back on track now. The end of January signals the pick-up of the wine season again. The lull of the holidays has now fully passed and so all the wares are out there being shown. It’s also a signal that spring is coming (though admittedly a couple of months away) and so too is Festival season. The Santa Ynez, Santa Barbara and Paso Robles festivals are all coming from April through May, and I will cover at least Paso for your reading enjoyment. It’s a night to think about busy-ness, I suppose. I can’t hang on to my ear infection, Sue’s and Peanut’s illnesses as fodder for hope–so, I will trust they are getting better–and so are the days.

The end of a semester…

My bread and butter comes from teaching high school English. It’s not time to loll about here and talk about how teaching made me a better writer (which it did) or how teaching got in the way of my writing career (it didn’t) or any other such nonsense. Rather, it is a simple moment to reflect, while antibiotics clear the ear infection (that’s what the dreck amounted to) and while Friday works its magic over a tired, cold-wracked frame, on the end of 14 and a half years of the profession.

Hard to believe, really. I’ve been doing this almost 15 years. It’s a milestone in many ways, but for me it’s poignancy comes personally. My original plan consisted of not being in the classroom for more than five years. After that, I was getting out to pursue “something else.” I never knew what that would be, though I always wrote. I flirted with writing educational materials and actually freelanced for Holt, Rinehart and Winston, EMC Paradigm and Flying Rhino productions. Those were fun jobs, but I soon realized I wasn’t going to make a living doing that because it would have meant moving, probably to the midwest, and while I was game to go–my wife was not. My bed was made.

So, I changed districts and got more motivation. I got a Master’s Degree and a fellowship at University of California at Santa Barbara. The fellowship with the South Coast Writing Project, or ScWrip, really turned things around. It made me a better teacher and it made me care about it more. So, now–here I am nearly 15 years into a career I never thought I’d have.

The other personal milestone is that my wife and I are working out our retirements at 56 years of age. At that point, I will have taught 30 years and that means I’m coming up on the halfway point this summer.

Meanwhile, I never thought I would see my writing career pick up as it has after my daughter was born. I was convinced her birth would slow it down. It has, in fact, done the reverse and so I find that what all your writing teachers taught you is true: Writing is discipline. The more discipline you have, the more and better you will write. True words. Having Peanut sharpened my disciplined responses. I know why I teach, I know why I write and one helps the other.

Anyway, it seemed a good time to reflect on that–as no doubt I will again on June 16th, when the year ends and that 15 years is past. Happy Friday.

And now–for something more…..serious

Tonight, I heard from several friends with whom I’ve become acquainted electronically in Biloxi, MS. It is because of these contacts that I am reminded to pray for Grace–to ask for humility, to seek peace–and to offer what I can of myself to better things.

How awful it is that we are burying, in the news, the tragedy of the Gulf Coast. I swear to you as someone who is in contact with people there weekly (at a minimum), the Government, Red Cross, etc. are useless–and it is people of faith who are making things happen. I was reticent to say this, but I will put it out there—-if you gave money to the Red Cross as an attempt to help Katrina victims, the chances are your money never got to the Gulf and never helped anyone who really needed it. The devestation goes well beyond the hurricane–it goes into the money that has been “disappeared” from the entire region and is lost in some bureaucratic nightmare.

According to my friend Pete Berlowitz–who is with Hands On USA in the area, 95% of the work being done in the Gulf is being done by faith based organizations. The Lutheran Church, of which I am a part, is actively involved and its Lutheran Disaster Relief arm is an essential part of the recovery effort.

If you have questions, I urge you to contact me. If you would like to donate to the effort, please contact Lutheran Disaster Relief–or Relief Connections. If you want something more focused, more personal, even–drop me a line. I will put you in touch with a couple of churches in need of help. I’m not writing with my hat in my hand—and I don’t want checks sent here. But I can point you to some reputable, faith based folks--who are turning the tide, quite literally, in the Gulf Coast.

Dreck whine–and wine.

Well, it’s day 4 of the dreck just ending. I thought it was the dreck itself that was ending, but it made a bold comeback today which was none too welcome. Still, the bodyaches and general nastiness are gone. What I am left with is congestion which, if its energy could be harnessed, could launch Atlas rockets.

In any event, I maintain a relatively normal schedule. It is finals week, which helps, because my presence at school is not required past 12:30 and today, I didn’t need to be on the campus until 9:30. I must say, that was a big plus. The sneezes keep coming, which is no fun–though Peanut thinks they’re funny. I’m a dramatic sneezer. I like to put the whole body into it, and if she’s watching, I adopt the whole “Sneezy” persona from Snow White. She giggles at that–and that’s worth the sneeze.

Broke loose and bought a bunch of wine tonight, the best of which was two bottles of Lano Rouge from Lane Tanner. I’ve written about Lane’s wines previously and there is a link on the articles scroll to the right here where you can read about her. She makes great wines, and this little beauty is a Pinot Noir and Syrah blend, not nearly as unique as you would think, but it’s darn good–adopting the light fruit of dark cherries and blackberries of Pinot while intertwining those with the smoky deep plum-purple of syrah. Get your own. It’s grand!

Dinner and Whine…

From high atop my getting-well perch, I can see the dreck fading into the distance. Oh, sure, I still sound like I’m under water, but in general, I feel pretty good. Get tired pretty quick, but even so-I was able to take Scoop the Wonder Dog out for his rounds today. No big climbs or hikes, just a 2 mile flatland jaunt. Still, it was good to get out other than just to work. Scoop seemed happy, sort of like he did last summer—

Now, my tall glass of water and my Lemon-zinger tea with honey by my side, I prepare to tell you of Thai cuisine from Charn in my hometown, here in Camarillo.

Everybody knows Thai food, love it or hate it. I happen to love it even though my midwest sensibilities can be rocked by the–ah hem—potency of their peppers. Thai chilis possess a grand heat index (This must be the definition of irony: capzaisin burns the very fleshy tissues in your mouth–but, is also used as an analgesic pain killer…) that goes way above what mortal midwesterners can take. I mean, it’s one thing to have a little Tobasco on the meatloaf, but Thai food is simply off the scale…

Still, Charn delivers up fresh Thai goodness (I opted for the ever popular Chicken Satay) with a clean, focused energy that belies the simplicity of the food. OK, I’m still trying to figure out what that means as well. But it sounded good.

Settled for a Heineken, and I do mean settled. That beer amazes me. It gets import bucks and tastes like Budweiser and I ask myself why I don’t just buy the Budweiser. Do I have to answer that?

Anyway, even Peanut had a good meal with fried shrimp and rice and we all chowed on coconut ice cream and sticky sweet rice with fresh mango. That is a personal favorite of mine and it does wonders for the capzaisin racked tastebuds still reeling from the previous entry.

The evil winds seem to have died down tonight which makes us all happy. They play havoc with Sue’s asthma and they didn’t assist me at all with the dreck—so, good riddance, I say.

I have nothing clever to end with. It happens sometimes–and I feel bad about it. I wish I had some witty retort that I could simply end with, but I don’t. All dried up. Good night….

Dreck rising, rising…….fading….faaaaaading….

Well, at least I hope it is. The dreck came on strong on Sunday morning with the fever dreams (though, atypically–no fever) and the aches, pains and what I have come to call the “eternal stretch…” This is where you just stretch out the old bod to see if what you’re feeling might just be some form of aging process, you know? Hit 40, get the kidney stone, the torn back muscle, the sore feet—aaaaaaaaaggghhh! So, you just get up in the morning to stretch thinking, “I’ll shake it off. It’s nothing.” Then, the stretch just seems to go on for a while until suddenly you realize, the stretch is actually making you tired—and it’s then you know–you have the dreck.

So, I went to work today (as my good pal Ron says, why waste a sick day on being sick?) and plugged along. It’s finals week and so this is the week my kids stress, not me so much. Even my yearbookers have to show up on finals day—deadline week, you know…just sort of worked out that way. But when I got home, I was treated to a child unhappy at my condition because it meant that she couldn’t play. Meanwhile, it was all I could do to keep my eyes open—We agreed on getting into the spa together where we could play Little Mermaid. She enjoyed that–and she made cookies with her mom. She’s learning the ropes in the kitchen from one of the best.

My pal and commrade in wine and food arms Michael helped with a slight shift in the design of the site. Needed to rearrange some things, and I’m happier with it now. You’re a good man, Michael….

Had a glass of Fonseca Tawny Vintage Port. This is good stuff and at less than $25.00 a bottle, you really cannot go wrong. I first tried this particular Port in Las Vegas at Napolean’s Cigar Bar at Paris, Las Vegas. It was really tasty with the Maduro cigar I was smoking and I bought some in December. Since Port holds up well, it’s a great keeper–and a small snifter of it when one is sick is one of the true paliatives that gives credence to the “keep alcohol in the system when sick” theory. Mainly, it’s a cough killer–and I was happy with that. But the berry, almond and light vanilla flavors added to it as well. The added bonus? I’m pretty tired, pretty cough-free, and ready to give the dreck the ole 1-2 combination with a good night’s sleep.

Onward, dear friends. Onward.

The Crud is back–and with it, the dreck…

Light posting this evening as I feel like dreck. It’s the first time I’ve felt so in some time, perhaps a year. I looked back at old blogs and don’t see any reference to it, except about a year and a half or two years ago, when Peanut was smaller and she used to get stuff all the time. Now, I’m the one that got this one. Sue had something similar last weekend, but hers occupied the g.i. region, while mine is decidedly higher. I feel like I have a fever, though I’m not registering one. When I saw a lot of people at school start getting it, I hit the echinnacea pretty regularly and all the assorted cold prevention accoutrement, which probably do nothing, but they make me feel less helpless. I even drank a glass of Curtis Crossroad Grenache (20% syrah) and though it is one of my favorite Central Coasters, I tasted nothing, really, except some nebulous fruit and liquid. Things are bad…. I’m never much of a napper, but I took one today for nearly 2 hours. Peanut and Sue were at a birthday party and so I hunkered down–no T.V. even. I’m fairly proud of that.

It’ll be early to bed tonight to try to kick this thing quickly. More tomorrow….

Let me divert your attention to…

My good friend Adam Mahler at the Untangled Vine, has got a couple of great posts up–one on terroir and one on his evening with Chef Chris Watson, with whom I too have become friends–through Adam, as it happens, discussing wine and food. It’s worth the read if you want to learn a bit more about wine…

Quick break: You’ve got to try this site-–use the Yeti to hit the penguin–see how far you can make him fly. I warn you-it’s addictive, if not a little strange. Courtesy of Keith (blogroll)

Meanwhile, Tom at Fermentations, another friend of mine, has put up two very important posts on the marketing of wine to the “Milennials,” or young adults between 21 and 28. What’s important to note is that it’s not the Europeans or the Amercans that got the attention of this young, hip–if frugal–group. It’s the Australians-and it was a smart move. Tom points out an article from the local Napa paper that discusses the trends, but it is apparent that marketing wine is being done best by our good neighbors to the south.

In my experience as a wine and food writer, I’ve found that if there is one area sorely lacking, especially around the Central Coast wineries, it’s marketing. There are some absolutely great wineries up there with some truly extraordinary and delicious wines, but I don’t think they even know who their target market is. It’s sad, actually. Demographics needs to be utilized much more heavily in the region, I think, if these smaller wineries are going to gather a following. And it’s important that they understand that if they’re trying to target the Milennials, for example, then they cannot advertise $25.00-$40.00 or more bottles of wine and expect to keep that following.

This is a phenomenon I’ve recently noticed. Some of the smaller, boutique wineries–seem to be reaching out to the younger market, placing their product at hip, new wine bars, for example, and even designing eye-catching, focused ad campaigns. But they seem to fall short of realizing that while us middle-aged, experienced folks might be able to purchase the occasional (or, more than occasional) expensive bottle, the 20-somethings are much more interested in their catchy ads and a perhaps a tasting at the winery where they know they can try the stuff for around $7.00. Make no mistake, when they go back to the Best Western King Frederick Inn in Solvang (a fine and good hotel by the way–especially for the price), they’ll sit with their friends over a bottle of Greg Norman Estates Shiraz from Australia. And they’ll do it because it’s pretty tasty and nuanced and it costs about $10.00 at Costco.

It's all about Taste

A fine Friday night out with Tom and Jayme, good friends of ours from church. We ate at Maria Bonita (no website! I have talked to Francisco. He says he’ll think about it). Maria Bonita was the first restaurant I reviewed for the Ventura County Reporter when I signed on as the food and wine guy. I was hooked! The place is phenomenal and Francisco makes his own sauces using herbs and spices he grows and makes himself. It is the best Mexican food I’ve ever eaten–period. No ambience to speak of, but it’s clean, comfortable–and the food is on par with the best cuisine I’ve ever eaten. Delicate and subtle flavors, nothing from a can, and each dish prepared fresh.

I’ve written about the sangria before. It’s not the world’s best wine, but what he does is use the previous day’s Cabernet, Merlot, Tempranillo–whatever–and lets it sit cooled with small-diced fruit and fruit peels. This blend of sugars, fresh from the fruit, fermented from the wine, create a sweet, simple drink that cuts through any spices that might adorn the dishes and refreshes like cold iced-tea might on a hot day.

Afterward, it was off to see Last Holiday with Queen Latifah. Yeah, it was worth it. There were several bust-a-gut laugh out loud scenes in it, but it was, like dinner, delicate and nuanced. Just as Francisco could delve into the world of “enchiladas especial” with canned sauces and processed cheese, so too the movie had about a million opportunities to descend into cliche. But neither Francisco nor director Wayne Wang allow that to happen. Instead, Francisco gives it to you fresh, subtle and tasty and Wang serves up a dish of a film, themed around food by the way, that refuses to be average and wasting. It’s all about placement–and great acting. Timothy Hutton, Gerard Depardieu, LL Cool J and Queen Latifah all deliver fine, simple and real performances. Depardieu is particularly disarming, as he always is. I could watch him work all day. Everything he’s done has become him and he seems the kind of actor who really cares a great deal about what he does. In this film, he is Chef Didier and the portrayal of his charming, somewhat eclectic, but never cliche chef was one of the gems of the story. Everytime he’s on camera, there are a number of ways the scene could go bad, and it never does. Depardieu simply charms his way on and off the screen. None of the performances are over the top or even silly. No parodies here, just people dealing with circumstances, albeit, at times, contrived.

But fun–worth it, and a wonderful Friday…

UPDATE: Ebert seems to agree with me.