Stuffed grape leaves for dinner

Every time I go through the vineyards I think about picking some of the leaves the next Spring from the ends of the rows where they are typically more abundant than the grapes that will hang in that area; I have yet to make time during the Spring to do so.  Having Greek and Lebanese friends (but not grape vines) most of the other places I lived there seemed to be an endless supply of these heavenly little delicacies and I decided I wanted some.  I purchased a jar of preserved grape leaves (originating in California but packaged in Vietnam – go figure) last month to make dolmas (stuffed grape leaves).  It is about time I learned to make these for myself since they aren’t much different from making the cabbage rolls I make all the time.

Under a small stream of water from the kitchen tap I carefully unrolled and teased apart the individual grape leaves, rinsing the brine from the leaves and straightening them out with the help of the water.  Laying them vein side up along the counter with the stems facing me I removed the small stem from each leaf with a pair of scissors; pinching between my finger nails worked for the largest leaves, but not for the smaller, more fragile ones.  Some of the leaves were torn, so I left them aside.

My filling was a mixture of ground lamb, uncooked white rice, and seasonings; the recipe is below.  More moist than the filling for my cabbage rolls and needing so much less per leaf; I used a spoon to place some at the base of the grape leaf, where I clipped the stem.  I provided you with a handy-dandy picture showing you how to roll the leaves for best results.  Not too tight as the rice has to have a bit of room to expand inside the wrapping.

I oiled the bottom of my wide, shallow, heavy saucepan and placed the wrapped dolmas in two flat layers.  Lemon juice from one lemon, another tablespoon of olive oil and broth to cover the layers in the pot finished the preparations.  Once the broth is beginning to simmer, lower the heat to keep them from jostling each other and opening.  Maintain the simmer for about an hour, being sure to cook the meat and rice all the way through.  If you see there isn’t enough liquid to cover the grape leaves, add enough to just cover and finish cooking.

Tzatziki made with my sheep-milk yogurt, grated cucumber and the juice of half a lemon will accompany these delightful dolma and falafel for supper.  There were enough cherry tomatoes and fresh basil to make Hubby a Caprese salad as well.

Dolmas

1 8 oz jar of preserved grape leaves, drained, rinsed, stem removed, vein-side up

1/2 pound ground lamb

1/2 cup uncooked long grain white rice

1/4 cup olive oil

1 tablespoon fresh mint leaves chopped

1 tablespoon pinenuts

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

1/4 teaspoon dry oregano

1 egg

juice of 1 lemon

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 cups broth or water

Prepare the grape leaves first, spread them along the counter with the vein-side (back) of the leaves up; clip off the stem.

Mix together the lamb, rice, olive oil, pine nuts, seasonings and egg.  Drop by tablespoon full onto the base of each leaf.  (Note: larger leaves can handle a bit more filling while smaller leaves need less.)  Using the photo to guide you if you haven’t rolled grape leaves before: 1) start with the basal sections and fold them up over the filling, 2) bring the side sections toward each other over the filling, attempt to fold the top leaf section to fit the size of the packet if necessary, 3)roll the covered filling toward the tip of the leaf.

Lay the filled grape leaves seam-side down in an oiled heavy pot, if there are torn leaves, you can lay them on the oil before neatly placing the rolled packets on top.  Add a second layer if there are too many to fit in one layer in the pot.  Pour the lemon juice over the layers, pour the broth in and add water to cover if necessary.  Watch the pot to be sure the broth simmers but doesn’t boil, dislodging the rolls.  Reduce the heat and maintain a simmer for about an hour to fully cook the lamb and rice.  If the liquid disappears below the top layer add water to ensure the rice has enough moisture to continue to cook.

Remove from the pan to a serving plate with a pair of tongs.  Be gentle as the leaves are fairly fragile.  Serve with tzatziki.

Falafel

1 cup prepared falafel mix (chickpea flour and seasoning based)

1/2 cup hot liquid (water or broth)

2 tablespoons lemon juice

Lightly stir the juice and liquid into the dry mix with a fork. Let it rest a couple of minutes while your frying pan heats with olive oil.  Drop the falafel as small balls or patties onto the hot frying pan and flip as soon as cooked on the bottom side.  This is a very quick process.  If you like, you can finely chop onion and garlic, toss into the dry mix and then add the hot liquid and lemon juice.  Serve with tzatziki.

Alice May Brock‘s famous quote has been one of my favorites for years due to the credit she gives garlic – I feel the same way. Have you noticed how much garlic goes into everything I make?  In case you aren’t familiar with it:

‘Tomatoes and oregano make it Italian; Wine and tarragon make it French.                           Sour cream makes it Russian; lemon and cinnamon make it Greek.                                         Soy sauce makes it Chinese; Garlic makes it good.’

And what wine to pair with such a delightful, Mediterranean meal? I would choose a Zinfandel or Primitivo for the lamb and seasonings, but we were headed to the airport for a night flight right after supper; eight-hour minimum wait after consuming alcohol before piloting a plane, so no wine with this dinner.  Cheers!

11 Vineyard Visits

Monday dawned gray and wet over our house, yet the weather forecast was for mid-80’s and sun.  Optimistic, I pulled on my shorts, put sunscreen on, grabbed my sunglasses and pulled on my sweatshirt to begin the tour of eleven vineyards from which we source all of the grapes for Locati Cellars and Lagana Cellars, 12 varietals in all.  We were dry but Walla Walla got hail and rain for a short while, we watched it move East over the town (our rain gauge said we received 0.5″ that day).

Our sampling was relegated to tasting; presently most of them taste like the very best of their table grape counterparts, which means they aren’t ripe.  The Sagemoor Sauv Blanc is the closest, already super delicious!

Breezy Slope Vineyard: Pinot Noir: Lagana Cellars

Les Collines Vineyard: Primitivo: Locati Cellars

Patina Vineyard: Syrah: Lagana Cellars

Patina Vineyard Syrah for Lagana Cellars.
Patina Vineyard Syrah for Lagana Cellars.

Jon Cockburn Ranch Vineyard: Dolcetto: Locati Cellars

Jon Cockburn Ranch Vineyard: Chardonnay: Lagana Cellars

J&S Vineyard: Cabernet Sauvignon: Locati & Lagana Cellars

J & S Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon for both Locati Cellars and Lagana Cellars.
J & S Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon for both Locati Cellars and Lagana Cellars.

Mission Hills Estate Vineyard: Sangiovese & Barbera: Locati Cellars

Minnick Hills Vineyard: Syrah: Lagana Cellars

Minnick Hills Vineyard, just northwest of the Walla Walla Airport, Syrah for Lagana Cellars.
Minnick Hills Vineyard, just northwest of the Walla Walla Airport, Syrah for Lagana Cellars.

Reed Vineyard: Pinot Grigio: Locati Cellars

Reed Vineyard Pinot Gris for Locati Cellars.
Reed Vineyard Pinot Gris for Locati Cellars.

Bacchus Vineyard: Riesling: Lagana Cellars

Bacchus Vineyard Riesling for Lagana Cellars.
Bacchus Vineyard Riesling for Lagana Cellars.

Sagemoor Vineyard: Sauvignon Blanc: Lagana Cellars

Sagemoor Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc for Lagana Cellars.
Sagemoor Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc for Lagana Cellars.

Lonesome Springs Vineyard: Orange Muscat: Locati Cellars

Lonesome Springs Vineyard Orange Muscat for Locati Cellar's dry white table wine.
Lonesome Springs Vineyard Orange Muscat for Locati Cellar’s dry white table wine.

You have read about netting the vines to keep the birds out of the grapes, but I don’t think I have ever shown you ‘netting’ as in the process:

This was a fabulous way to do a Monday, especially since it really was a nice, mid-80’s day.  I hope you are looking forward to 2016 Crush as much as I am. Cheers!

View of Bacchus Vineyard, the Columbia River and Red Mountain AVA in the distant left.
View of Bacchus Vineyard, the Columbia River and Red Mountain AVA in the distant left.
Note: Some of the websites wouldn’t cooperate for linking and the Evervine site out of California provided errors, so if they are up and running later in the day, I will try again to link them for your convenience.

The pay-off for hard work

Monday morning hubby and I both had to get up and get out of the house.  It was bottling day for Locati Cellars, specifically our 2014 red wines, at Locati Farm.  We had even more help than we did in the Spring when we bottled our white wines; many hands make light work proved itself true that day.  Rather than tell you about it, I have an opportunity to share a 3.5 minute video made by Gina Baltrusch.

It was the smoothest bottling to date in my experience: no broken bottles, minimal loss of wine, no problems with labels or closures, and a great bunch of people to help us through the process.

Hubby had to step through all of his hurdles on his own to update his instructional certifications for planes, instrument use, and gliders.  He has been studying and taking online tests most evenings after work; it has been a long time since he worked as an instructor, so he felt compelled to be sure he knew what had changed (e.g. digital age changes).  After a two hour flight from Walla Walla to Arlington, WA he had a four hour oral exam followed by a two hour practical exam.  The examiner was his instructor and employer many years ago so they knew each other well, W Neal Karman.  Hubby passed, no surprise to me, but a relief to him.  The two hour flight home, getting the plane away and our brief supper was almost too much for his fatigue; it was an early night.  This is another step in the direction we are going with our plane.  It was a pretty exciting day for us, hope you had a great week too!  Cheers!

Rose’, a sweet onion aptly named

I realize I am a bit of a sucker for Walla Walla Sweet Onions, but once you have them you know, without a doubt, they are the sweetest onions grown – anywhere!  This year a small number of Rose’ Walla Walla Sweets has been made available in our local Farmers Market by Locati Farms.  Handy tip: you too can have Walla Walla Sweet Onions, just hop online and order from the Locati Farms link above during the June/July season.  A few weeks ago I wrote to tell you about ‘sweet rose’ onions in the Netherlands; those onions are nothing like this.

Rose' and yellow Walla Walla Sweet Onions
Look, Rose’ Walla Walla Sweet Onions from Locati Farms!

Hubby and I sliced a yellow and a Rose’ Walla Walla Sweet to compare raw flavor: both wonderfully sweet, as expected.  Most red onions have a fierce bite from the Pyruvic Acid; most make your eyes water from the naturally occurring sulfur as you slice them.  The beauty of our local onions is their lack of both Pyruvic Acid and sulfur.  Of course, this very thing, coupled with the higher water content of the Walla Walla Sweets is what makes them tender and reduce their storage time.  You can dehydrate them to prolong storage like I do.

Locati Cellars at Locati Farms
Preparing to bottle 2014 red wines at Locati Cellars production facility at Locati Farms.

The history of the Walla Walla Sweet is closely entwined with the wine we make at Locati Cellars.  Michael F Locati, winery owner, is a third generation Walla Walla farmer, following his Grandfather, Joe Locati, and father, Ambrose, and uncle, Pete, along with his brother, Ambrose (Bud) Jr.  Wine grapes and onions, as well as asparagus, are what the family focuses on now.  Michael J Locati, nephew to Michael F Locati, has been patiently developing the red sweet onion over the last seven years.  By 2018 production of the reds will begin to reach commercial levels.  That means Northwest area grocery chains like Fred Meyer and neighborhood stores and restaurants along with the Walla Walla Farmers Market will have them.  The link above will eventually allow you to order Locati Farms Rose’ Walla Walla Sweet Onions.  Just think, you can experience these exquisite onions.  Thank me later as I have a recipe to share with you for these delectable onions.

Midsummer picnics, barbecues, and humble meals at home, whatever your reason, this potato salad combines the Rose’ Walla Walla Sweet Onion (or use a sweet onion you have access to) and roasted Yukon Gold potatoes (think really good french fries) with the savory notes of dill weed, celery seed and dry ground mustard in a creamy dressing to take this salad to another level!  It is based on my mother’s potato salad recipe but instead of boiling the cubed potatoes, I rub them with olive oil and roast them so they are slightly crisped on the outside and soft on the inside.  I was eating the salad warm  after making it and it was super tasty.

Roasted Potato Salad

8 cups Yukon Gold potatoes, cut into 1/2 inch cubes, rubbed with olive oil to coat

1 1/2 cups Rose’ Walla Walla Sweet Onion, diced small

6 hard-cooked eggs, chopped

1 teaspoon celery seed

1 tablespoon dill weed

fresh ground pepper and salt, to taste

2 teaspoons dry ground mustard

3/4 cup each mayonnaise and sour cream OR 3/4 cup each mayonnaise and Miracle Whip

Paprika, optional

Locati Cellars 2014 Dolcetto
Locati Cellars 2014 Dolcetto balanced the herbs and texture of the Roasted potato salad beautifully.

Hard cook your eggs while your cubed potatoes roast in a 350* oven until they begin to turn gold.  Let the potatoes cool a bit, chill to peel the eggs before chopping.  Combine the potatoes, minced onion, chopped eggs, celery seed, dill weed, salt and pepper.  Toss gently to distribute the seasonings.  Mix together your choice of dressing with the dry ground mustard; make sure the mustard gets well blended; add the dressing to the potato mix.  Fold until evenly moistened.  Sprinkle with paprika if desired.

We chose to maintain the Locati theme and pair this salad with Locati Cellars 2014 Dolcetto.  Meaning small sweet grape, this wine is deep purple and full of ripe fruit flavors.  The salad and wine paired beautifully bringing out the herbs and fruit in a nice balance.  Cheers!

Sunset in Walla Walla, no filter is necessary.
Sunset in Walla Walla, no filter is necessary.

A Joy Ride

For three years a friend, Jackie, and I have been talking about her visiting us here, but it just wasn’t happening.  I wrote her asking if she would like us to come get her in our plane and spend a few days; her response was instant and positive.  I hoped her time with us would be as exciting as she anticipated it to be.

Friday afternoon, as she was checking out the parking situation at Midstate Aviation, Bowers Field, a fire broke out in the CWU Flight Program’s maintenance hangar!

Saturday morning we flew into the windy Kittitas Valley to pick her up; the flight back was a bit bumpy but beautiful.

Wine was not on the agenda as she doesn’t drink alcohol – she is even more a light-weight than me!  No problem, Walla Walla has lots to do and see.  Nature and History provided the primary points of interest.  Wheat fields, vineyards, and Bennington Lake Reservoir and all of the pastoral charm of the Walla Walla Valley put on glorious displays of color and texture.  She and I spent an hour touring the Marcus Whitman Hotel’s second floor gallery of paintings depicting the history of the Whitman Mission before enjoying a wonderful lunch at T. Maccarone’s.

Bennington Lake, Walla Walla
Storms in the Blue Mountains looked pretty threatening over Bennington Lake.
Lunch at T Maccarone's.
Jackie and I enjoyed a delicious lunch and lots of talking at T Maccarone’s.

I met Jackie when I lived in Ellensburg with my children.  As my teenage son’s life seemed to unravel due to his Bipolar Disorder and other diagnosed mental illnesses I reached out to the local NAMI Chapter; Jackie was the point of contact.  Having local, personal, understanding was my saving grace.  All the professional care we had was as challenging as understanding my son’s needs.  She and several others helped me navigate and stay afloat during that time.

Our Tuesday evening flight to Bowers Field was more beautiful than Saturday morning.  We flew over the Yakima Valley and north, west of the Yakima River Canyon, into the Kittitas Valley.  So much terrain and alternating irrigated farmland and desert  meant some bumps were inevitable.  We just might see Jackie in Walla Walla again as she enjoyed her visit.

We don’t anticipate ferrying friends and family by plane, but we enjoy having visitors.  Hubby has been studying and practicing to renew his Flight Instructor Certification.  That is scheduled, weather permitting, as the next journey this plane has in store.  Just another step toward our dream.  Cheers!

Cast iron: the cookware that does it all

Cooking with fresh ingredients is all fine and good, but if you don’t have quality cookware, you just might be missing a significant part of the health and joy of cooking.  Everyone has their opinion as to what makes great cookware, the merits of each are all over the internet for you to make your own decision.  In our house cast iron is IT.  From the time I was learning to cook this has been my choice.  Hubby, never having cooked with it before meeting me, stepped up and excels at it.  Cast iron requires a bit of practice to understand how well the cookware holds heat and when to reduce the temperature to be sure your food doesn’t burn.  The biggest drawback is the weight of the pot or pan with food, the largest pans requires a Herculean effort for me to move them, but it is worth it!

Versatile, going from stove top to oven or grill and the perfect way to cook with a fire pit, making a main dish or dessert, means just a few pieces will go a very long way.  My first three cast iron pieces were old, well used and purchased at a flea market when my kids were very young: two wonderfully seasoned frying pans of different sizes and a deeper, long-handled pot that needed some TLC.  There were no lids for any of them but they were perfect to me (I still use them all).  And these are just the unclad (no enamel coating) pieces!

Silit pan on glass cooktop
Silit, enamel coated cast iron pots from Germany, are our choice of cookware.

Being foodies, when we married Hubby and I decided to replace the stainless pots that I brought to our communal home (they now reside with my daughter and are still used to make scrumptuous meals).  It took us a couple of years to find the just-right, we really want to cook in these pans.  Our choice? A line of German enameled cast iron pots, Silit.  Family and friends have Le CreusetLodge, and a myriad of off brands, but we really liked the modern, clean look of the Silit.  Do your homework and choose the pieces you are most likely to cook with as you don’t need a huge array of sizes and styles if you won’t use them.

Not sure cast iron can be used on a glass top stove? I have moved many times and used my arsenal of cast iron on each glass top range successfully.  Lifting the cookware rather than sliding, cleaning the glass surface regularly, and monitoring the heat of the pan so it doesn’t get too hot (yes, it can get red-hot); all things that should be done anyway to maintain the glass.

Cleaning enameled cast iron is, of course, normal soap and water cleaning, but ‘seasoned’ cast iron comes with a whole set of preconceived hurdles.  Iron rusts, minimize the exposure to water, dry the pan as soon as you finish cleaning it.  Scrubbing with salt, baking soda, or a scrubby pad; just make sure to get the food off of your pan (who wants microbes residing in the kitchen).  If you are truly camping (we glamp now), sand is an appropriate scrubbing agent.  Soap is even fine (we use it on occasion when we forget it is in the sponge already).  Rinse well no matter what you use and dry it immediately. Simple really.

Cooking sausage in a cast iron skillet
Cooking sausage, bacon or other fatty food helps maintain the seasoning on a cast iron skillet.

Seasoning a cast iron pan is not difficult or laborious.  If you cook fatty foods (cheesy bread or bacon anyone?) you are seasoning your pan as you cook.  Watch your heat though as fat does catch fire if too hot; keep a metal lid and baking soda within reach for emergency grease-fires.  Oh, don’t keep it over the stove as you don’t want to reach past the flames to get to your fire-retardant.  Needing to actually work at seasoning the pans? Turn the oven on to 350*, put a dollop of oil or fat in the pan(s) and set them in the oven to heat through.  With a hot pad remove one pan at a time, spread the now hot oil with a thickly folded paper towel all over the inside and top edge of the pan (if the bottom isn’t feeling nice and smooth, do the outside and bottom as well).  Put the pan back in and repeat until all of your pieces are seasoned.  Turn off the heat but leave the pans in the hot oven as it cools.  This should maintain the excellent cooking surface.

Frittata ingredients prepared before heating the pan.
Prep all of your ingredients before you heat your cookware.

Cooking in cast iron, as I said earlier, requires a bit of practice to get the pan hot enough (preheat) and then turn the heat down quickly enough during cooking to not burn your dish.  Of course, when you are searing a piece of meat, cooking cheesy bread (a family favorite), or stir frying you want the pan hot.  That is the beauty of cast iron: it holds that heat even when cold food is placed on it!  I prepare all of the vegetables, meat and seasonings before I turn the stove on as it allows me to focus on working with the pan and monitoring the heat.  Deglaze the pan with wine or vinegar or cook tomatoes in your dish, the cooking time with the acidic food isn’t sufficient to ruin the seasoning if you have kept it up.  Starchy foods (e.g. fried potatoes) will stick, that is the nature of starch, but if you are patient and careful, this food too shall come out truly yummy.  Use the utensils you have, use pot holders to grab handles as they heat up with the pan, use the best ingredients you can get your hands on and get cooking; use them!

Have you got a cast iron skillet you haven’t used?  This is one of our favorite cast iron skillet quick meals: a frittata.  I am basing the ingredients on a 12″ diameter frying pan for reference.  When my kids were little I would extend left overs this way, so feel free to use what you have handy:

Preheat the oven to 350*.  (I put the amounts of each ingredient below, prepare them before you heat the skillet.)  Pour a couple of table spoons of olive oil into the pan and preheat the stove element on high until the oil is hot (it begins to move in the pan).  Toss in 1/2 cup chopped onions and two cloves of garlic chopped fine, saute’ for two minutes before adding two small zucchini cubed, mushrooms cut to about 1/2″ pieces; continue cooking until the onion is clear and the zucchini browned.  Turn off the burner and remove from the electric element.  If the pan is almost dry, add additional olive oil at the edges of the pan and give it a quick stir.  Add a cup of shredded gouda cheese (or cubed precooked meat if you prefer), sprinkle a couple of table spoons of fresh thyme or a teaspoon of dry thyme and 10-12 eggs already shelled and gently scrambled with 1/2 cup of milk and salt and pepper to taste (I use water due to my allergies).    Place the pan in the preheated oven for 20-30 minutes.  Five to ten minutes before the pan should come out, spread 1/2 cup of shredded Parmesan cheese across the top. The frittata is done when the top is still a bit wiggly and the cheese is browned.  There you go, one pan of healthy, yummy goodness!

Frittatas are Italian, pair them with Barbera, Dolcetto, or Sangiovese, or focus on a strongly flavored ingredient and pair a wine with that ingredient in mind. I love taking left over frittata with me to work for lunch.  Cheers!

Reaching new heights

Cessna 182 keys
The keys to our 1957 Cessna 182; a dream come true for my darling Hubby! It is super exciting for me too.

As excited as I get about all things wine, that is how my Hubby is about General Aviation; this encompasses civil flight operations in small planes, gliders, balloons, etc.  As much as we decided to put off a purchase of a plane until next year, Hubby has been comparison shopping since January.  We discussed the pros and cons of each ship he shared with me extensively (sometimes repeatedly as nothing new came up for sale).  In May he discovered a plane for sale that seemed to meet all of the wishes we had in our ‘desired’ column; the owners flew the Cessna 182A to Walla Walla for us to fly.  Last month Hubby went to Tillamook, where the plane was based, to complete the ‘Annual’, a regularly scheduled maintenance check-up.  He helped dismantle and reinstall almost everything on the plane while conversing with the owners and the mechanic.  I was still in Walla Walla working in the Locati Cellars tasting room, waiting, as if for news of an impending birth.  Prior to this inspection I was certain we would be making an offer for the plane; whether or not the owners accepted was the unknown.  Hubby was more pessimistic, but hopefully so; maybe guarded is a better term.

Our Fourth of July became a ‘vacation’ to Tillamook, Oregon to pick up the plane!  When in Tillamook, you join the hordes of visitors to the Tillamook Cheese Factory.  I enjoy reading the history and data shared on murals throughout the factory.  It was running at minimal capacity on the 4th, but there were crushing numbers of people queuing for ice cream upstairs and meandering through the gift shop and restaurant down stairs.  My daughter traveled with us to drive the car home while we flew; this was her first visit, our second.  Walking Rockaway Beach, a bit of wine tasting, and getting to bed early as we had been up with the sun to get on the road and fatigue had the three of us nodding in our chairs at dinner.

At 8:00 AM sharp we were all at the Tillamook Airport hanger (also the Tillamook Air Museum).  The clouds were cooperating with a similar forecast for the next several hours.  But the coast can change rapidly, so we were a bit apprehensive.  Completing the paperwork, walking around the plane again and again, determining what documents they had that should stay with the plane, fueling up, and waiting for the banks to complete the money wire.  Good company, the prior owners were gracious and fun to hang with so the time was well spent. After a salad and pizza for lunch the money had been transferred.  Although we sold our wonderful trailer and Toyota Tundra to fund this, it was still a reality check to see the dollars disappear so efficiently.

At 14:00 (2:00 PM), with cloud bottoms 2,700 feet above the ocean, we taxied north on the  runway and flew above Tillamook, west, toward the bay.  We flew along the Oregon Coast seeing landmarks we had visited in the past from a new point of view.  Yup, it was thrilling!  I took pictures as Hubby got to know this bird better.  Although competent to fly the plane, each has its own quirks and unique qualities that the pilot needs to become familiar with.

The air was bumpy, like the ocean waves below us, the air currents were strong enough to rock the plane as we flew.  Rich seafood for dinner on the 4th, minimal sleep the previous two nights, jet fuel smells while at the airport and the bumps caused me intense motion sickness.  I played with the air temperature inside the plane trying to adjust it to help minimize my nausea and I closed my eyes, that didn’t help much, but I made it home without being sick.  Phew, the only mar in the otherwise great experience of the first day owning a plane.

 

We were alone at Martin Field, a sleepy little airport west of Walla Walla, when we landed, so we tied her to the ground (to keep her from moving around or flipping over in a wind).  The afternoon of the 6th we had access to the hanger we are renting and we put her inside, just fitting the available space perfectly.  She is a 1957 four-seater plane and has been shown at Vintage shows and  fly ins because she is in such good condition.  There are big plans for this plane, but for the time being we will fly her and proceed to build upon those ideas.  I will share them as they happen.

Millet and beet salad
Our welcome home meal to celebrate the safe arrival of our new RV is a spin-off of a friend’s ‘Glory Bowl’.

Once home we needed a quick dinner that wouldn’t be too heavy in my stomach after two hours of motion sickness.  Working on the premise of the grain salad I cooked millet, added chopped beets, lots of herbs, onion and garlic, and grated gouda cheese with a lemon and olive oil dressing for a warm, colorful, and tasty salad.  Paired with Helix Stone Tree Vineyard SoRho, a Rhone style blend, it was a terrific finish to the day.  Two hours after we flew into Walla Walla my daughter drove in; she left mid-morning with plans to walk Cannon Beach on the way home.  There is something to be said for traveling by air.  Cheers!

A local adventure

Coffee Group friends at graduation.
My ‘coffee group’ friends; I missed visiting again this year.

My garden supplies me with culinary and tea herbs I enjoy and share with friends.  It is a joy to sit outside and observe the bees and butterflies up close as they go about their business procuring nectar and pollinating.  So when a friend suggested we go to the Blue Mountain Lavender Farm  here in the Walla Walla Valley I was all for it.  We had hoped a couple other friends would join us, but that didn’t work out; they were sorely missed.

I hadn’t ridden in Carol’s Mini Cooper, so we decided to take that from my house to the farm.  We looked up the directions prior to leaving the house since the motorcycle rides my Hubby and I took didn’t show us where it was located.  As navigator I had my phone out, map open.  You know how they tell you that the maps aren’t always accurate? You know they tell you to check the accuracy before committing to following their directions? Well, when you are unfamiliar with the area and have no way to check the accuracy of the directions, you tend to follow them.  We did, for a silly adventure along a canal bank named ‘Mud Creek Road’.  The Mini Cooper is a low-clearance, small car with terrific handling and speed; not a typical off-roading vehicle.

Do you know how far two miles is? Do you know how far two miles in a Mini Cooper on a canal bank is?  They are not equivalent by any means.  Dutifully following the blue line on the map we kept heading toward the little red bubble. Close enough to the alfalfa seed fields that the bees were audible as they industriously pollinated the dark purple flowers.  The ditch was running with ribbons of Chartreuse algae across much of the top.  Laughing, and cringing as my fibromyalgia pain ramped up, we crept around the potholes and larger boulders to watch the blue line flip in front of us; we had made it to the next paved road!  Heaving a sigh of relief we stopped to put the address into the phones again to see if we would get a more accurate map.  The blue line of the new map showed us a short route, on paved roads. There were signs pointing the way on this route too!

In just a few minutes we climbed out of the abused Mini into the mid-day heat.  The charming farmhouse and grounds planted primarily to lavender, the gift shop, the covered outdoor craft space were not large, but they were immaculately groomed.  It was hot, already over 90*F.  Wondering through the fields, noting the names and descriptions of the different lavender cultivars for future reference, we made our way back to the gift shop.  I purchased a tin of Apricot Lavender tea that smelled heavenly and Carol purchased a couple of tea towels and sachets.  We packed ourselves into the Mini and drove away,  astound to see the turn we took toward the canal bank so quickly as the two miles on the road blinked by.  We headed to my house for lunch and wine to enjoy the rest of our visit in air-conditioned comfort.

Before driving to Walla Walla, Carol picked basil from her beautiful garden for me.  The next morning I made pesto, using some of it for a pasta dinner that night.  I typically don’t grow an abundance of basil due to confined spaces, but I do enjoy pesto so this was a wonderful treat.  There are a few containers in the freezer for future use and a bit out to enjoy now.

The recipe for Basil Pesto from Emelie Tolley and Chris Mead’s The Herbal Pantry:

2 cups fresh basil leaves, 1/2 cup parsley leaves, 1/2 cup olive oil, 3 tablespoons pine nuts, 2 large garlic cloves, peeled, 3/4 cup fresh grated Parmesan cheese, 2 tablespoons soft butter, salt to taste (I think the cheese adds enough salt, personally). In a food processor or hearty blender puree all but the cheese and butter. If you are freezing it, put it into your containers at this point.  Hand mix the cheese and butter into the pesto you are going to use.  If you have some to store in the refrigerator, put a thin layer of olive oil on top to preserve the bright green color.  Enjoy!

It is also time to start visiting the vineyards in anticipation of harvest. Lots of beautiful grape clusters, strong, healthy vines predict another fabulous crush season ahead. Cheers!

Patina Vineyard Syrah clusters
Patina Vineyard Syrah clusters are looking fabulous!

 

How to Make the Best Versatile Salad

When a friend visited a few weeks ago she came with a recipe for a salad that we hadn’t experienced before: Farro Layered Salad (I don’t know where this particular recipe comes from as it has no provenance). We were invited to a neighbors so our friend made this salad to take; it was the most popular dish at the Memorial Day BBQ!  If you are unfamiliar with farro, it is the Italian name for a species of hard wheat, in this case Emmer, the medium sized ancient grain.

Farro: Emmer
Farro, Emmer, an ancient hard wheat seeing a resurgence in popularity; cook just like brown rice.

Whole grain Emmer wheat is chewy and nutty; it isn’t gluten free.  It cooks like brown rice: 2:1 ratio of liquid to grains, 40-50 minutes covered cooking time.  I have read that soaking over night reduces cooking time and possibly increases mineral availability, but I am not usually that planned ahead.  My normal broth cooking liquid seemed too heavy for this summer meal, so I used water.

My go-to grain-salad dressing is lemon juice and olive oil (equal quantities) with salt and pepper to taste.  Whether tossing or layering, I enjoy nuts, cheese and fruit along with greens (vegetable and herbs).  In the recipe below, the first in the list of ingredients is what I used for last night’s dinner, followed by the equivalent in the original recipe and then other ideas that sound good to me.  If you have favorite combinations use them!  Let me know if something fantastic strikes you that isn’t on the possibilities list as I am always open to new ideas or combinations.

Farro Salad

Dressing: 1:1 lemon juice to olive oil enough to cover your salad, salt and pepper to taste (e.g. 4 tablespoons lemon juice to four tablespoons olive oil for a salad with 1 cup uncooked grain and vegetables)  On occasion, when I want a bit more zing to the dressing I will add grated garlic, horse radish or ginger and sugar, in equal amounts, for the zip desired.

Farro Salad fixings
Red onion, celery tops, parsley, peppermint, apricots, cucumber, red onion, pistachios and gorgonzola cheese for a cold Farro Salad.

Salad: Toss together 1 cup uncooked farro, quinoa, millet, lentils, etc. (pick one and cook el dente), 1 1/2 cups finely chopped red or sweet onion, 1 1/4 cup finely chopped parsley, mint, chives, dill, tarragon, fennel seed, thyme or other herb. If you are layering the salad, use half of the dressing in this tossed part of the salad and press into a 9×13 baking dish.  On top, with the other half of the dressing, or tossed into the mix with all of the dressing to coat, 3 cups of chopped cucumber, kale, swiss chard, collard greens, zucchini, shredded fennel bulb, shredded celery root, shredded jicama, etc. or a combination of greens.  Top with 1 1/4 cup gorgonzola, feta, chevre, asiago or other crumbly cheese, 1 1/4 cup toasted pistachios, walnuts, pepitos, pine nuts or other nuts, and two cups diced apricots, quartered red/green grapes, pitted olives, nectarine or peach pieces in summer, apple or pear in winter.  I tossed this into the salad as well.

 

We chose to pair this salad with Dolcetto, Locati 2014 Dolcetto to be exact. This light bodied, mildly spicy nose, with pie cherries and tart berries dominating the palate with a date-sweet finish was a wonderful accompaniment to the Farro Salad.  You could choose a  medium bodied white or light red that you like to pair.

Cheers!

Red, Pink and Yellow Onions

It is Walla Walla Sweet Onion Harvest here in our verdant valley.  These delectable, fragile onions are only around for a short time each year and have to be used promptly or preserved as they don’t store like the average yellow, white or red onions we are familiar with in the USA.  I will be getting my 25 pounds to dehydrate this weekend; it is Walla Walla Sweet Onion Festival weekend too.

Last November, during our tour through Germany we spent a day in Emmeloord, Netherlands.  (This a ‘polder‘ – land reclaimed from the sea.)  The perfectly flat terrain goes on for miles and miles where sheep graze and food crops grow with agriculture related businesses being the primary form of employment.  It is below sea level and the locals enjoy relating the marvel of their home as much as winery peeps in the Pacific Northwest (Washington and Oregon) like to expound upon the Missoula Floods that have  provided us with excellent soil for vinifera grape growing, amongst other crops.  Hey, we are all human, right?

One of the stops of the day was an onion packing plant; it was an excellent experience.  Set up like the one I have been through in Washington State: trucks backed in to unload, storage bins for the onions, long lines of conveyor belts sizing equipment and bagging/boxing.  What made it interesting to me was that my American perspective was large onions that are either in pre-weighed 5 or 10 pound net bags or loose in the grocery store is the norm.  From the Waterman Onion Packing facility yellow, red and pink (yup, just like wine: white, red and pink) onions the size of large shallots are packaged into net bags of about five onions for grocery store purchasers or graded and sized for bulk shipping to Asian and African nations.  Those destined for Africa were to be sold individually (pieced) as money and/or preservation are in short supply in many places.  Our American onions are less expensive too; sadly, we don’t see how well we have it most of the time.

The pink onions were touted as ‘sweet’ and, being from Sweet country, we had to try one.  A pocket knife was procured and layers were peeled for each that wanted a taste.  Although sweeter than the average onion and great tasting, they are not as sweet as our beloved Walla Walla Sweet Onions.

I had a blast going through the packaging plant while it was shut down for lunch. My white jacket was filthy in short order (I should not be trusted with white clothing) but none of the guys got dusty red jackets of out it…hmmmm.  Since we have been traveling through Washington during potato planting I recognized the huge bulk sacs for shipping at two places where I hadn’t  see them before.  The gypsy in me took advantage of some traveling opportunities while the geeky side is content with the new info.

By the way, feel free to mix and match your yellow/red/pink onions with your wines. Cheers!