Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Holiday Shopping for the Gourmand

Sasha the Wonder Dog preparing to do some holiday shopping
With less than two weeks to Christmas the shopping frenzy is officially underway.  Here are a few ideas for the gourmand and art lovers in your life:

The Splurge:
Fresh White Truffles from Urbani paired with Patricia Wells’s new book Simply Truffles, this is a combination made in heaven for any gourmand!  What could be more intoxicating than the earthy smell of truffles? 

Budget Friendly Luxury:
White Truffle Oil, Truffle and Cream sauce from Urbani, paired with Patricia Wells’s new book Simply Truffles.  It’s not the same as a fresh truffle, but sure to please the palate and inspire one to set up a Truffle Account so you can splurge next year on the real thing.

For the Practical:
www.williamsonoma.com or www.amazon.com or www.chefscatalogue.com

De Buyer Mineral Pans.  Not only are these stylish looking, they are impressive in weight and quality.  This is an item that will not break the bank, but definitely impress the receiver.   You can find these pans at Williams Sonoma, Chef’s Catalogue and Amazon.  (These are on my list this year.)

For the Cook’s Library:

Anyone who loves cooking can never have enough cookbooks.  I don’t know why this is the case, it just is.  My favorite cookbooks this year:
Around My French Table by Dorie Greenspan – This is filled with great recipes that are informative and user friendly.  It makes French cooking accessible to anyone with a pan and a little desire to try things.
My Grill by Pete Evans – Not only is Pete Evans a complete hunk of chef, his recipes are great for the grill and weekend entertaining by the pool.  The unusual flavors and spices take your ordinary grilled chicken and meats about 50 notches.
Food From Many Greek Kitchens by Tessa Kiros - This book is like an instant vacation to the Greek Isles.  Beautiful photography captures the charm of the the food and people.  Great recipes with stories to go with them.
Simply Truffles by Patricia Wells – If you love truffles this is a must.  I’ve already started my truffle fund for next year so I can enjoy all the seasonal truffles and try her recipes.  

For the Art Lover:
www.amazon.com or www.phaidon.com
Phaidon recently released a comprehensive book, The Art Museum.  It is an extensive and wonderful history of art.  This book is a little costly at $200, but you may be able to find it at a reduced price for the holidays on Phaidon’s website.  Warning:  This book weighs a ton and is rather unruly in size so if you buy at a bookstore and not online, make it your last stop of the day as you will not want to lug this book through the mall.

For the Movie Buff:
 Christmas in Connecticut starring Barbara Stanwyck – This is a holiday gem we discovered three years ago.  Not only will this movie delight and surprise the movie buff, it is a foodie’s holiday movie.  Great ensemble cast and heartwarming rom-com!

For the Music Lover:
LA Philharmonic – This is a little regional to Southern California, but well worth the drive into downtown Los Angeles to experience Disney Hall and the LA Phil.  This is a purely magical way to spend an evening or afternoon with your loved one or friends.  January and February 2012 the LA Phil is kicking off the Mahler Project and it promises to be the musical event this winter!
 A Very She & Him Christmas – I love this album.  It is a little traditional, a little folksy, and very fun to listen to.  This album is a quirky way to mix up some of your favorite holiday songs.

Happy Holiday Shopping!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Back in Lodi Again

The Farm at Michael David Vineyards
Just about four years ago
We set out on the road
Seekin’ some great artwork
Lookin’ to spend a pot of gold
Things got bad, things got worse
I guess you know the tune
Oh! Lord, stuck in Lodi again.

With acknowledgment to Credence Clearwater Revival, we did indeed find ourselves stuck in Lodi again.  But “stuck” is so pejorative a word and not descriptive really of our recent visit as described in my prior post “P-A-P-A Loves Stockton.”   
A friendly welcome from the "Fox"
Lodi is a city of 60,000+ located in farm country about thirty-fives minutes from Stockton and Sacramento.  It is the self-professed “zinfandel capital of the World,’ and indeed there are many wineries in the area that make those 16 percent alcoholic behemoths that masquerade as wine rather than port.  But it is also where the first fast food restaurant was founded in 1919:  A&W Root Beer. 

Tree lined Main Street in Downtown Lodi
The downtown area is quaint and small-town in feel and appearance.  The old brick buildings along tree-lined Main Street hold no national chain stores, just lots of Mom & Pop establishments serving the needs of the community.  The storekeepers are friendly and helpful, eager to assist a weary traveller or shopper, even if that means walking you down the block just to make sure you get a proper introduction.  While one does not expect to see Sheriff Taylor strolling his beat, I am pretty sure I saw several Barney Fifes roaming about. 
The Artisinal Bakery - The Dancing Fox

Here are my Top 5 reasons for a visit to Lodi:

1)      Wine & Roses Boutique Hotel/Restaurant

Restaurant/ Lounge at Wine & Roses

One of the Gardens at Wine & Roses
Wine & Roses is a lovers’ destination in the middle of Lodi wine country with beautifully manicured grounds, old world charm, spa ammenities, and cuisine to please.  The Lodi Wine & Visitor Center is located on the property, affording an opportunity to taste lots of local wines and then stagger back to one’s room for a well-deserved nap.

2)      Dancing Fox Artisan Bakery & Pizzeria
Charming Artisinal Bakery & Restaurant - The Dancing Fox

Artisinal crust, fresh toppings, delicious!
This is an artisan bakery that serves  breakfast, lunch and dinner and truly great pizzas.  Their pizza is a dream:  crisp, thin crust topped with ooey-gooey, fresh and delicious toppings.  Dancing Fox is dog friendly and received “Four Paws Up” from Sasha, The Wonder Dog.  This was the only downtown restaurant we tried, but several others looked interesting—particularly Rosewood Bar & Grill.

3)      The Cellar Door – Bokisch and Van Ruiten Wines
A glass of Bokisch Albarino at The Cellar Door

Sasha the Wonder Dog carefully guarding the Bokisch wines
On our previous visit, we discerned from our tasting at the Lodi Wine & Visitor Center and elsewhere that Lodi wines were not our cup of tea.  We aren’t interested in high alcohol, tannic wines, so we were shocked to discover a haven for quality wines right in the heart of downtown Lodi.  The Cellar Door is an intimate tasting room that offers tastes and sales of some of Lodi’s finest wines: Bokisch, Van Ruiten, Michael David and Jessie’s Grove. 
A little vino for our cellar at home
Our overwhelming favorite was Bokisch which specializes in white varietals and a Tempranillo.  Very European in style, their wines are low in alcohol but high in quality and quaffability.  Van Ruiten also has some excellent wines, although they are generally higher in alcohol and less quaffable than the Bokisch wines (exceptions are the Double Barrel Reserve Chardonnay at around 12% and the Carignane at 13%).  But Van Ruiten has the distinction of effectively being named the best zinfandel in the world by a 2009 Wall Street Journal panel headed by Hugh Johnson (of World Atlas of Wine fame) that selected a 2007 Lodi Old Vine Zinfandel as one of the top 12 wines of the world (and the only zinfandel among the 12).  The Van Ruiten tasting room along Highway 12 is a very friendly and enjoyable experience. 

4)      Cheese Central

Just one of many display cases

What a festive pumpkin to celebrate Autumn
I am a cheese addict, and getting me into a store with gourmet cheeses guarantees that a purchase will be made.  Fortuitously, Cheese Central is right next to The Cellar Door.  So for palate cleansing you can either run back and forth during tasting flights or simply buy some cheese and bring it to The Cellar Door.  Cheese Central had a nice combination of foreign and domestic cheeses, but we focused on local cheeses not readily available in our area.  We especially liked two Central California cheeses.  The first is by Fiscalini (www.fiscalinicheese.com) and is called Horsefeathers.  It is a gentle cheddar horseradish spread that rocks just about any dish you incorporate it in – my baked potatoes have taken on an entirely new meaning!  The second is by Central Coast Creamery (www.centralcoastcreamery.com) and is called Seascape.  It is a cheddar-style cheese made with a blend of cow’s and goat’s milks.  Great flavor on its own and smashing with a glass of wine!

5)      The Knowlton Gallery

Artist Gil Dellinger at work teaching
       Stellar, nationally recognized plein air painters are on exhibit at Knowlton Gallery.  On any given afternoon you may find the likes of Ray Roberts, Peggy Kroll-Roberts, Gil Dellinger or Randall Sexton moseying around.  If Joe Paquet is in the area, you are in for a special treat.
Not only does Knowlton Gallery carry a spectacular group of artists, it has artist workshops and tours of artists’ studios.  The full “art experience” awaits your visit.

Van Ruiten Winery

Grapes at Wine & Roses educational garden

A little wine education is always in place

A gaggle of gourds for the holidays

For further information:

Wine & Roses

The Knowlton Gallery:

The Cellar Door:

Bokisch Vineyards:

Van Ruiten Winery:

The Dancing Fox:

Cheese Central:

Thursday, October 20, 2011

P-A-P-A in Stockton

The Stockton Waterfront

Stockton, California is the place you pass by on your way to and from Sacramento or San Francisco.  So why was Stockton our destination last week?  Why did my loyal chauffeur/financier, Sasha--The Wonder Dog, and I, the Culinary Diva, endure eight hours of pitted, truck congested roadway through the heartland of California just to end up in Stockton?

There is beauty in delapidated, rusty buildings, especially on waterfronts

Well, Stockton is more than just a rest stop along Interstate 5 or Highway 99.  It has the largest inland seaport on the West Coast, hosts an annual Asparagus Festival and its 300,000 inhabitants revel in the knowledge the Caterpillar tractor was created there in 1904.  But most importantly for an art groupie like myself, since 1931 it has been home to the Haggin Museum and its surprising collection of 19th and early 20th century paintings by such masters as Albert Bierstadt, Jasper Francis Cropsey, Childe Hassam, George Inness, William Keith, Thomas Moran, William Merritt Chase, Auguste Bonheur and one of my very favorite artists, Jean-Leon Gerome.

Character and subject matter is abundant

About every two years the Plein Air Painters of America (PAPA) gather at the Haggin Museum to showcase their abundant painting skills.  PAPA’s membership includes about every noteworthy plein air painter in the United States, so an exhibition and sale by this august group is bound to be special.  One of PAPA’s favorite sons is Gil Dellinger, a Stockton resident and a major reason a bi-annual PAPA exhibition and sale is held at the Haggin Museum.  According to Gil’s You  Tube video, “the air in Stockton, all year long, has pink in the air, and dust and occasionally smoke, so the air takes on a lovely golden color.”  (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yQj1WsLVVRY).  I don’t know if Gil’s comments are the result of an artistic “purple haze,” but I do know the sunrises and sunsets are quite special.  Combine the ambient light with the Port of Stockton, ships and boats of all sizes, shapes and fitness, old buildings, farmland and vineyards and there is no lack of interesting subject matter.

Gil Dellinger creating a little atmospheric magic with his pastels, did you notice the purple shirt?

Events like this are structured for the enjoyment of artist and patron alike.  The artists get an opportunity to paint “en plein air” (outside in natural lighting conditions) and spend time with their cohorts exchanging barbs, recollections and ideas while offering paintings for sale to serious collectors.  The patrons enjoy interacting with the artists (most of whom attend the event and welcome discussing their paintings with the patrons) and watching the artists create paintings before their very eyes during a morning paint-out and sale, in this case at the Waterfront Warehouse.  For some patrons, these paint-outs allow them to indulge their fantasies about how well they can paint (as in, “I can do better than that!”).  For others, it provides the necessary spark to return to the canvas or take up painting at the local art club. 

Sasha the Wonder Dog wondering why no one is painting her

My enthusiasm for collecting ebbs and flows with our personal finances, but my enthusiasm for painting has waned recently because of work.  For very sound and imminent reasons, we vowed only to look and not buy.  But that vow was broken.  Being surrounded by artist friends and their wonderful art is exhilarating.  Spending time with Joe Paquet, Kevin and Wanda Macpherson, Don Demers, Randall Sexton, Ray Roberts, Ken Auster and Gil Dellinger reminded me why I like these events so much.  The artists are very interesting people.  They are generally well-travelled, well-educated, conversant on a wide variety of topics, and exuberant about what they do. 

Susan Hallsten McGarry engaging artist Joan M. LaRue

I was engulfed by memories of my 2005 En Plein Air Masters painting experience at a 12th century castle in France with the unfailingly humorous Kevin Macpherson and his lovely wife, Wanda, as hosts and Gil Dellinger as my painting mentor; my painting workshop with Ken Auster where he demonstrated his technique for finger painting large canvases; and Don Demers’ stunning demonstration paintings that hang in our house and which were done on the cliffs overlooking the Dana Point harbor during a four-day painting symposium.  Plus I particularly enjoyed watching my chauffeur/financier talking with Steven Doherty, Editor-in-Chief of PleinAir Magazine, about that publication’s exciting new art event to be held in April 2012 in Las Vegas and then grilling Steven about why our painting that is featured in advertising for the event is mislabeled.

Don Demers paints and entertains his fans at the same time

I came back from Stockton energized about painting and desperately longing to attend Joe Paquet’s workshop on Catalina Island in January 2012.  And I came back knowing that when the PAPA exhibition and sale concludes in January I will be the proud owner of a gorgeous landscape painting by Michael Lynch.

Michael Lynch - Spectacular how so much is conveyed with so few brushstrokes

I hope the photos inspire you to find your own “art spirit”!

Joe Paquet

Masterfully working
Capturing the atmospheric conditions of light and ambiance

About an hour later you really see how the painting has taken life

The painting makes me wonder about the history of this building

Ray Roberts:
Ray Roberts & Model at the beginning of the day

The only figurative piece of the day
Notice that the position has changed for artist and model from the first photo of the day

Model and plein air painting - not your usual scene

 Ken Auster:

Ken uses the Soltek Easel - light weight and great for travel

Ken has rearranged some of the subject matter  - artistic license is the trademark of a great artist

How Ken makes such beautiful paintings is often a mystery to those who have seen his palette
Voila - rearranged landscape and a beautiful end result

Randall Sexton

Randall working on his composition

Early in the morning before the crowds descend upon the artists

Don't know about you, but I wouldn't view this and immediately think Stockton - Randall has captured the essence of a larger cosmopolitan city that still has charm - Artists frequently capture inspired moments

Gill Dellinger:

Gil at work, he is masterful with pastels

Gil's Groupies (notice the common theme of pink, purple and yellow - definitely an atmosphere!)

No matter the subject matter, Gil creates a romantic ambiance in his paintings

Other Artists:

Gay Faulkenberry painting before a bicycle ran into her

Brian Stewart creates a sweet scene reminiscent of the South

John Cosby hard at work

A not-so-simple brushstroke makes all the different

Masterful watercolor by a P-A-P-A guest artist Gerald Fritzler

Kathleen Dunphy makes a little magic

Jean Shuss diligently working away