2017, make it simple, make it good

img_2219Au revoir 2016, I welcome 2017. While it would be tempting to reiterate the plethora of challenges forever attached to 2016, from personal challenges to a tumultuous election, I will strive to recall the positive and pleasant.

The 3 best memories of 2016

1. Sold our house and moved into townhouse

We recovered from the December flood, repaired the house and put it on the market. Thanks to a great agent, Kim Tornow, the whole transaction was a smooth success. Five months later than originally planned, which actually was a blessing as the market went up.

2. Vacation in Japan

I was ambivalent about going to Japan, but it only took a day to make me fall in love with the country and the people. Rebecca, our niece, was going to school there, and we wanted to visit our exchange student, Saori. We were unable to connect with Minori, our other Japanese daughter. It was just as good as a trip could be, I am ready to return anytime.

3. Sonoma and Crater Lake

What is there to say, how can you beat wine, good food, and hiking in a National Park.

The keyword for 2017 – Simplify. With all of the challenges and craziness of 2016 simple is a good word, but never mundane. So here are some desires and objectives for 2017.

My 3 Goals for 2017

1. Find pleasure in simple things

Reading a good book, going for walks, taking time to slow down. In a world that wears “busy” as a badge of success I want to strive to make “simple and slow” my hallmark. More time spent in contemplation and reading, walking and sketching.

 

2. Simple food – great taste

Food is of course always a priority. This year I want to cook simple dishes with amazing flavors. Jacques Pépin says that the best meals  use the best quality ingredients, prepare them simply, and savor the flavors. We plan to do more with local and seasonal foods. We continue to reduce meat and poultry.

Drink more tea. We have even canceled some wine clubs and are following the “Cheap Wine Curious” blog – good wines under $10.

3. Travel, simple regardless the length of the trip

Short weekend trips within driving distance of home. Here are some destinations we hope for in 2017:

  • Olympic National Park, Washington
  • Whistler, BC for snowshoeing
  • Scotland, England, France, Italy (OK, not a simple trip, but we do travel simple when we go)
  • National Parks in Utah
  • Hiking and snowshoeing around Washington

I am sure that 2017 has some surprises and challenges up its sleeve, and I am ready. If life and 2016 have taught me anything it is that you have to roll with it, or as I wrote in my book “Let it be Hot.” Rod McKuen said it well, some good advice for this year,  let’s make it a good one.

I’ve been going a long time now

along the way I’ve learned some things.

You have to make the good times yourself

take the little times and make them into big times

and save the times that are all right

for the ones that aren’t so good

Sunriver, trying to remember how to ski

img_2634Day 3 in Sunriver, Oregon. Yesterday we went cross-country skiing at Swampy Lakes Sno-Park. When I was young (20’s) I gave up downhill skiing because the lines were too long, and I was either too hot or too cold: hot while skiing, cold on the lifts – not to mention that lift tickets were expensive. So I switched to cross-country: no lines, always warm, and less money.

My son’s family are here with us, they are snowboarders, so they went to Bachelor. Well I hear the lines are longer than ever, of course since it is  Christmas Break there were record numbers of people at Bachelor, so they spent a lot of time waiting in lines; I guess nothing has changed. And those lift tickets have just gone up in price.

My cross-country skills are pretty rusty, the last time we went skiing was a few years ago at Mt. Bachelor, and before that it was at least 30 years since I had been on skis. My mind remembers what to do, but my body and balance have forgotten how.

img_2637It was a beautiful day, we did the beginners loop; for once I overcame overconfidence with practicality. Yet it was still quite a challenge getting back into the flow. All went well until I jinxed the day by proclaiming, “Its been 30 minutes and no one has fallen.” Well shortly after that we both fell, and followed that up with a few more. Snow is cold, and the deep un-groomed snow offers little support, so getting back to standing proved a challenge. Yet we prevailed and finished the 2 ½ mile loop without much incident.

Today we are skiing the golf courses here at Sunriver, they are better groomed so most likely more conducive and forgiving as I attempt to reclaiming some long lost skills. My mantra today, “Bend your knees, keep your weight forward.”

A morning of skiing, then I am sure we will be on the hunt for a good lunch and some time to recoup.

 

On Crepes and Crepe Pans

Thin pancakes are ubiquitous around the world. The Mexican tortilla, the gold rush flapjack, and Indian nan are just three styles of bread requiring a simple batter and the convenience of a griddle over a fire. The French, naturally, turned the simple into the elegant – voila le crepe.

picxzxvsw

Brittany is usually credited with being the home of the crepe, yet crepes are popular throughout France. Traditionally they are served on February 2nd, Candlemas, Virgin Mary’s Blessing Day. If you could catch the crepe in the frying pan with your right hand when it was flipped, while you were holding a gold coin in your left hand, you would have a wealthy and prosperous year. Of course these days, if you actually own real gold coins you must be doing quite well already, but it is a delightful tradition.

Crepe dough is a basic combination of eggs (2), flour (1 cup), milk (1¼ cup) , salt (¼ tsp). It should have the consistency of heavy cream, quite thin for a batter. (This is important) There are those who embellish it by using beer, and if making sweet crepes vanilla or sugar may be added. (I have eaten more savory crepes than sweet) I find that a wire whisk in a large bowl is faster and just as effective as the KitchenAid Mixer. Be sure to refrigerate for at least one hour for the best results. For those with lactose issues, unsweetened  soy milk works just fine, and I have used gluten free flour and all was well.

The real key to success, other than not having the batter too thick – I mention that again thanks to many disasters when it was too thick – is technique and the right crepe pan.  There are two pans in my kitchen dedicated to specific tasks, which I tend to be protective of, cringing when others want to use them. One is my egg pan, a cheap 8 inch, non-stick fry pan with rounded sides. In my days as a fry cook I learned to flip eggs, without breaking the yokes. I prefer that this pan is used for nothing but eggs.

My crepe pan is mine, no sharing, don’t even ask. It is new, replacing other nonstick pans, or a round cast iron griddle, all of which have produced admirable crepes over the years. But my new “de Buyer” from France is special. 6144prxibwl-_sl1500_

The de Buyer family has produced ironworks and cookware in France since 1810. In 2015 the de Buyer family sold its shares to Edify; thankfully they have continued the tradition of high quality that was established long ago.

My pan is from the deBuyer Mineral – B collection. The B is for beeswax which protects the finish of the pan until the pan is seasoned for use.  It is the 11.8 inch size, I like the largest diameter as you can make crepes of all sizes in it. De Buyer’s are iron pans, you treat them much as you would cast-iron, they need seasoning, and you never use detergent on them. They develop non-stick properties without chemicals. My first use was a success, limited only by a bit of user error in the cooking.

Cooking crepes takes practice, but that does not mean you should fear it. The first key is to have the batter thin (did I mention that already?). Most cook the crepes in a bit of butter, over a medium high heat, this is a quick process which throws many people off. My pan takes about ⅓ Cup of batter.

There are various techniques, find yours. Some say pour the batter at the top of the pan, which is tilted away from you, letting the batter run down, evening it out by tilting the pan to make it round. You have to work quick as the batter will begin to firm up immediately. Another is to pour the batter into the center of the pan in a circular motion, then spread it out by rotating the pan, letting it run to the edges; I have had better results with this than the edge-pouring method.

At the creperies on the streets in Paris, they spread the batter with a spatula. My new de Buyer came with a wooden spatula, so that is my next challenge, I am expecting great results.

The crepe should cook for less than a minute on the first side, then be flipped (gold coin optional) or turned to cook the other side. This is when you add the fillings – cheese, ham, mushrooms, the list is pretty much limitless. When it is brown, fold the crepe over , slide onto a plate, pour a glass of wine, enjoy.

Give crepes a try, they are a wonderful quick meal, fun to make, and a pleasure to eat. theWinesketcher wishes you Bon appetit.

Saturday morning tea, reflections on Sonoma – Part 1

Sonoma and Crater Lake, both beautiful, both potentially intoxicating, one in a not-so-good way the other most desirably good. We try to take one trip a year, yet we have not been there for three years so we enthusiastically anticipated this trip. First off – Sonoma and food.

We visit Sonoma for great food and exploring wineries, seldom are we disappointed, this trip was one of theimg_2463 best. We discovered that some things are changing in the Napa-Sonoma world. In the past we gravitated toward the less presumptuous Sonoma, and less expensive. Well, Sonoma has become more like Napa, and Napa has become a bit less stuffy

Thursday night we started the gastronomical part of our trip at John Ash & Company, part of the
Vintners Inn at Windsor. A new place and definitely on our list of places to revisit.

Friday lunch we headed for Brix, near Yountville. Plein aire dining with a view of the gardens has always been a must on our trips of the past; not sure about the future though. The food was good, but not as stellar as in the past. My flatbread was soggy. The roasted, thin red peppers were so good, they could have been my meal. The service that makes you feel tended to but comfortable was right on. A good meal.

So why the uncertainty about the future? We noticed it in the food, good but not as great as in the past. We learned that there was a new manager. Making conversation with one of the servers I asked how long she had worked there. She said she came over with the new manager, from a restaurant we were not familiar with (she seemed slightly put off that we did not recognize it, apparently it has prestige). She explained that the new manager brought some of his old staff in so they could raise the standard of the restaurant up. When I said I liked Brix better than Thomas Kellar’s  famous French Laundry or Bouchon it was clear she did not agree. So I am concerned that Brix is changing, sad for us, but we pretty much agreed that on our next trip we might just skip it.

img_2462We had reservations for dinner Saturday at Dry Creek Kitchen in Healdsburg, CA, another fixture for us on our trips to Sonoma. Nothing but good things to say. I had the Spicy Crusted Liberty Duck, duck is right up there with flatbreads in my food addiction collection. It came with roasted peach, duck confit ravioli, and Swiss chard. I find my limitations as a food writer surface when I have an extraordinary meal, I focus more on the experience and it all becomes a kaleidoscope of flavors, all good but my vocabulary is just too limited, and metaphors elude me. “Deliciousness” is the pop term, but it sounds goofy to me, Tony Bourdain and others use the term “food porn” but that offends me. So just think of wonderful tastes, a bit of spice, but not chili or Thai, crispy crust, and perfectly pink meat. I smile just trying to write about it.

Sunday we tried a new place, Brava Tapas, in Healdsburg. We love anything with small-plates, and of course the Spanish invented the premier small-plate, tapas. In Barcelona, one of our favorites was tomato bread, it is so simple that it has evaded reproduction in our own kitchen, just toasted bread rubbed and topped with tomato; of course we started with that. We paired the bread with roasted potatoes and sautéed mushrooms. While we ate we watched a chef prepare Paella over an open fire, in a paella that was about six feet in diameter, great entertainment.

I finished off with Spanish Sardines, another Barcelona memory. Do not even think of the canned sardines available in the stores, check the photo.

img_2461

Completing the food part of the Sonoma leg of our trip were a few picnics, procured at the Oakville Market, the oldest continuing operating grocery store in California, opened 1881. It is an iconic place in Healdsburg. We ate well, and shock of shocks, did not gain any weight.

Quick trip to Rattlesnake Hills – the best plans are not planned

A winery dinner seemed like a good excuse to get away for the weekend, reservations made, a few things packed, and we were off.

Cowiche Canyon Kitchen + Ice House in Yakima was our first stop. There is a sign as you enter Yakima on I-82 that calls Yakima “the Palm Springs of Washington”, well most of us that know the city find that humorous – really? Yet Yakima has made a concerted effort over the last 10 years or so to improve its image and overcome its reputation as a major drug port of entry. The transformation is working, it really is a different city today, Cowiche Canyon is proof.cck-cowiche-canyon-kitchen=exterior-yakima-best-restaurant

The decor is contemporary, rustic, industrial. The staff are welcoming, friendly and professional –  it is clear that customer service is a priority. The menu fits the rustic decor, local as much as possible, grilled entrees, and creative offerings – perfect.

We started with a grilled artichoke, easily the best artichoke I have ever had. It was sliced in half, the “hairy parts” scooped out, then grilled with flaked sea salt. It was so good that I tried to do it the same way at home Sunday, came out pretty close, will keep working on it.

I had the steak frites with black peppercorn sauce, Tricia had an amazing omelet. The wine list is just right, not overwhelming, but with enough variety to satisfy, some local wines along with some from further afield. This was the perfect start for our weekend.

Our dinner was not until 6.00pm, so we had time to hit a winery or two. I had tried to visit Dineen Family Winery a year or so ago but it was not open, this time it was. Good wine, we bought 4 bottles, and I must get back to do a sketch or two in the future. Jenny, the tasting room manager invited me to do some artwork for their tasting room next spring, so I know I will be back.

The reason for the trip was a winery dinner at VanArnam Vineyards. I have been a fan of their reds and their Viognier for some time, so we were looking forward to a good meal in a nice setting. I make it a point to not embellish my disappointments at restaurants and events, so I will only say that I was hoping for something more than just an average paella, served with a salad of greens with a vinaigrette dressing. I know the weather forecast caused them to change the venue, sadly that produced poor acoustics which rendered the music superfluous. Allison VanArnam really does work to make everyone feel welcome, I am sure she had some disappointments as well. The highlight of the evening was the sunset, words won’t work, check the photo.IMG_2451

Sunday morning we stopped at Roslyn, remember the show Twin Peaks, we drank tea while wandering through the farmers market – another place on our growing list of must return places.

Again I am reminded that the best parts of most of our trips are the unexpected and unplanned. Plan enough to get you where you are going, then throw the script away and just see what is around the next corner, it just might be great.

Traveling on a Saturday morning, with tea

It has been less than two weeks since we got back from Japan, we have two more trips on the calendar, and are already talking about our next trip to Europe. Anticipation is as much a part of the journey as the trip itself.

timthumb.phpThe next trip is a quick jaunt to Eastern Washington for a dinner at VanArnam Winery. They are a small winery in the Rattlesnake Hills AVA, part of the Yakima Valley wine region. Unfortunately this area does not get the recognition of the Washington Wineries further East. The landscape is much more like the Oregon or Sonoma regions, more green and hills. The vineyards are interspersed with the fruit orchards, VanArnam actually started as apple growers and still do.

A week later we fly to Sonoma, a few days in wine country – sipping, eating, and hiking. Then we drive to Crater Lake National Park, more hiking and some painting. Then we drive home through Eastern Washington, just might need to make a stop along the way to pick up a wine club or two.

Next year though, Europe is on the radar. I have only spent 2 days in Italy, Tricia has not been there, so it is about time. Tricia has a friend who lives north of Inverness, I have a friend near Edinburgh, so Scotland is in the mix. There is a used bookstore in York, and San Sebastian in Spain is enticing. You can see there is lots of talk, web searches, and planning to come. Nothing like a glass of wine, some cheese, and maps to make for a perfect evening.

queenvictoria_self
A page from a Victorian Journal, possibly done by Queen Victoria herself

Personally I am on a quest for a Victorian Journal. I saw two on our last trip to Bath, England. Long before the days of recording life with photos and Facebook, people would have a journal that they would take when they went to visit friends. They would exchange the journals during their time together and each would make an entry in the others. Sometimes a paragraph, or maybe a poem, a sketch or a cartoon. These were treasured, a record of friends and family more personal than selfies on Instagram. The two I saw were at a book fair, for sale, but sadly not in the budget on that trip. So this trip we plan to hit used book stores and watch for book fairs.

We are always traveling, even on a Saturday morning like this, while sipping green tea made in the teapot I brought from Japan. I guess this is what they call wanderlust, a favorite pastime for theWinesketcher.

Our final days in Tokyo, Japan

We arrived back at our Tokyo hotel, the Hotel Niwa, mid-afternoon on Thursday. Settled in then headed out to revisit the Kagurazaka area and find dinner.

Friday morning we got out of town and IMG_2416headed toward Mt Fugi. There are plenty of things to do in Tokyo, but we like getting out of town, and we hoped to see Mt. Fugi. Thanks the the public transportation feature of Google Maps (I know there is a blog about that in the future) we planned our Metro and rail journey without a hitch.

Our destination was Kawaguchiko Station, and Kawaguchiko lake. Google maps lays out the trains and stations, estimates the time, and at the bottom tells you the price. The price is important because if you buy your ticket from a vending machine you need to know what amount the ticket needs to be, it’s all there in Google Maps.

I was hoping for a quiet mountain village, but not to be, Kawaguchiko must be the destination for half of the tour busses in Japan, and it is the staging point for groups hiking on Fuji. And since the lake sits downhill from the train station you can’t see Fugi from the lake. We ate lunch at an Indian resturant, we were the only people there, all the other places were crowded; curry is always a good choice so we ate well.

The train we took down the mountain was such a treat, a fully restored vintage train, with a wooden interior, freindly staff, and hopefully views of the mountain. Fuji, like Mt Denali in Alaska, has a reputation for hiding from visitors behind clouds; a reputation it lived up to when we were there, none of those pristine vistas one sees in guide books. Yet it was a memorable trip, and we did get a glimps of the mountain.IMG_2380

Saturday and Sunday we spent with Saori, doing some shopping, eating and visiting the Tokyo National Museum. I had to find Obi belts to go with the Kimonos that I bought in Kyoto.

IMG_0068

Monday night, Saori and Dijiro drove us to the Tokyo waterfront, a huge mall. We ate then wandered along the park taking in the Rainbow Bridge and the city lights of Tokyo. There are three Statues of Liberty from France in the world: New York City, Paris, and one that was given to Tokyo by the French.

JPEG image-57A38CAE5E3D-1

IMG_0077
Our last night in Japan

Tuesday we flew home, it is good to be back, but a piece of my heart stayed with Saori and her beautiful country; I am sure we will return

 

Reflections on Kyoto

 We are on the Shinkansen train back to Tokyo, a day early. Motivated a bit by the slightly, only slightly, cooler temperatures in Tokyo. Yet for me, as much as Kyoto was a wondrous place, I like Tokyo.
We arrived in Kyoto on Monday, hot and humid. Desiring a true Kyoto experience we went to the Man in the Moon British pub. They did have Kilkenny Ale, but the Cesar salad was more like a Cobb salad with blue cheese dressing. My fish and chips was far too fishy, not the sort of Cod flavor expected, but it was a good reminder that culture is geographic, so one must not be judgmental. The bartender and waitress were so kind, when we left they walked us to the door and said good by.

Tuesday was raining, serious rain. Like true Seattleites we were undaunted, yet we did take umbrellas, it was wet. We walked along the Philosopher’s Path, a pleasant walkway along a canal, our only companions the fish we watch din shallow water. Amazing how rain thins out the crowds.

The desire to find someplace dry, and the need for tea, coincided with us finding a tiny cafe. I had my morning matcha, a habit I am sure will continue, and we shared a breakfast set of hard cooked egg, toast, salad, and a sauce that was heavy in butter but not sure what else. The place was decorated almost British with classical music, and the most delightful couple attending to us.

We walked on through the rain, we ended up at the Silver Temple, Ginkakau-ji, words just don’t work. We got drenched, but loved every minute. I am reminded at the effort that people have used over the centuries to build beautiful monuments to the things they worship. It also makes me sad that in the current mindset so many Christians worship in converted warehouses, does not the God of creation deserve better?

Wednesday we ate at Le Flure, yes a French place again. We have eaten a ton of Japanese food, so don’t accuse us of seeking complacency, yet we do love French. This was one of the best meals ever, really. The service was impeccable, the view on the 15th floor, and the food, hard to beat. Highlights, cold artichoke soup, an egg crème appetizer, caramel ice-cream. 

I had steak, now for all of you American Cowboy folks, this was not like anything you have tried. First of all the size,  check the photo, it was two servings, each of 1 ounce, no 16 ounce monstrosity here. Each piece was probably more fatty than the America pallet likes, but each tiny bite was heaven, the foie-gras was a perfect seasoning, I can only think of one steak ever that came close. (Read my blog on Brimmer & Heeltap)

The Golden temple was nice, the rest of the food was good, but Tuesday was the highlight for me in Kyoto. Now it is back to Tokyo. Oh, and on Wednesday, we went back to the Irish pub for an ale and wine, both the bartender and waitress remembered us, walked us to the door, and waved good-by. Have I already said how much I love it here?

Monday, off to Kyoto

We are off for 5 days in Kyoto, but first some memories of the last few days.

Wednesday morning Saori brought Komonos fou us to try, worn most often for special occasions and festivals. I think we look great. We spent the day shopping, mostly at Shimboco Station, the largest in Tokyo. It is hard to believe how big it is, and the size of the shopping mall, bigger than anything in Seattle – all of the big names in fashion are here. We ate lunch in one of the food courts, common in basements of train stations and malls.

After lunch we went to the 45th floor of the Tokyo Government building, there is an observation level, and a cafe. So views of cloudy Tokyo and iced tea for the heat.


The heat and the along was taking a toll, so we called it a day, tomorrow would be a grand adventure. Saori and Digaro were taking us to some limestone caves.

We drove for a couple of hours out of Tokyo, after Saori welcomed us in our room with a Matcha ceremony. Matcha is ground green tea, that is whipped to a froth and drank out of bowls, a new favorite for me. Pictures say it best for the caves.


It was so good to get out into the mountains, small village – certainly not a place many tourists are able to see.

Saturday we went to Odawara castle, a quick ride on the high speed Shinkansen bullet-train. Lunch of raw fish, well at least for me and Saori, Tricia had tempura.


Good trip, more to come