I'm always in search of new adventures, both big and small, local and further away, and while living in Napa, Putah Creek and Lake Berryessa, in a remote pocket of Napa Counties' Eastern side, just west of Winters, is a delightful spring paradise of hiking that makes a good day (or half) trip. Managed by the University of Davis, this small wilderness is home to a colorful display of wildflowers, wildlife, rugged topography, small waterfalls, inviting creeks, stunning views, and a challenging network of trails climbing up and down ridges, offering a 5-mile loop to enjoy the bulk of it; however, there are many side trails that one (including myself), can wile away a day with. This hike would be much too hot in summer, but it made for a perfect early season hike, all the better for the seasonal spring wildflowers as well as milder temperatures. If you feel like staying, there is a small motel, resort, RV park and some camping at the base of the trails, offering handmade pizzas and a small store (that needed to be stocked with more natural/organic products for my shopping taste). Happy hiking!
Growing up in Oregon, you can't help but to know about the famous Shakespeare Festival of Ashland. Running from late Winter through the Fall, it's one of the Nation's legendary destinations in the theater world. Blending classic with contemporary, Shakespeare with non-Sheakespeare performances, it's a showcase for many of the most talented theater actors who come from across the country to study and be a part of the legend. ( http://www.osfashland.org/plays/index.aspx )
For whatever reason, I had not yet made a pilgrimage to visit, even though I had studied acting, theater and film most of my life (yes, I'm embarrassed..). Well, I finally made it on a beautiful early summer day as part of an overall Ashland study that has included historic hotels and resorts, restaurants, breweries, art and of course, the theater. So in part 1 of the of my blogs on Ashland, let me tell you how wonderful the Festival is:
It lives up to the hype. The first show my partner Lynn and I went to was Animal Crackers. As a longtime fan of the Marx Brothers, I was suspicious as to how anyone could duplicate their style and personality. Cast as Groucho Marxs' character Captain Spaulding, Mark Bedard is surprisingly brilliant. I say surprisingly simply because it just seems so impossible to capture the unique person that Groucho was. Brent Hinkley as Harpo's The Professor captures the childlike and physicality of Harpo Marx with a beautifully theatrical perfection, while the fun casting decision of the Asian-American Daisuke Tsuji as the Italian Emanuel Raveli that was played previously by Chico Marx, complete with in-joke references to the unusual casting in relation to the Asian play The White Snake was brilliant and shows the fun playing of the Ashland group of thespians. The remaining cast all did splendidly in playing with the classic characters, well-staged and sometimes elaborately choreagraphed slapstick sequences, and ensuing hilarity, with many actors pulling double and triple duty as various characters. The Angus Bowmer Theatre framed the display well, and allowed some wonderful interaction between stage and attendees incorporated into the play. Runs through November 4th, Directed by Allison Narver, whose history included work in New York and Yale.
Second up was Henry V, Shakspeare's heroic narrative that focuses less on battles than on personal forward thinking by the lead of Henry, played with both powerful drama, intercut with dry humourous notes by John Tufts. Showcased on the outdoor Elizabethan Stage (a sight to behold), the story unfolded with a brilliant intensity, featured a live percussionist, and thoroughly kept my attention for the 3 hour duration, unlike a previous small college production of the same play that I had seen several years previous. In the former, I had been unable to wait until the play was over, but in the beautifully staged and well directed hands of Joseph Haj (who has among his credits, an interesting staging of Henry V in a maximum security prison in LA!), it was over before I realized it, and applauded in a standing room only theater. Henry runs through October 12th.
I look forward to returning to the theater world of Ashland to revel in more of the artistic theater world that I miss, in a place as idyllic as any, and to learn more of the inner workings at a backstage tour that is offered most days at 10am (and is most often sold out), and to enjoy some of the many other interesting and diverse plays that the theater has to offer, as well as dive deeper into the wonderful, scenic and arts-filled world that is Ashland!
Visit http://www.osfashland.org/plays/index.aspx for more information
This is always the question I ask myself towards the end of my work week. Especially in Northern California, even more so during mid-summer, there's just so many options. Mountains, amusement parks, wine countries everywhere, famous restaurants, new brewpubs, climbing,boutique hotels, hiking, boating and rafting are among many options. Always eager to visit new places and adventure in new ways, there's no telling where I might go and I love the spontaneity and the joy of doing what I do with such a willing and joyful partner in Lynn. Tomorrow will see such a new adventure, and you know all those things you've wanted to do..? You should do them, too. Life is precious and God has given us all gifts and a beautiful world to enjoy and take care of. Cheers and blessings :-)
Today welcomes the premiere of my new cocktail list for Mankas Tapas and Steakhouse in Suisun Valley just north of Fairfield. Inspired by what local and seasonal, as well as twists on classics, I've brought my own sense of distinctive, unique and tasty cocktails to the world in Sonoma County, Napa Valley, cocktail competitions, and now to Solano County. Featuring 16 libations, they include drinks made with house-infusions (such as tequila infused with roasted padrone and jalepeno peppers and vanilla bean), fun non-alcoholic refreshers (such as vanilla-thyme lemondade), and cocktails perfectly crafted to complement the restaurant's famous steaks (such as the peppery, basil and bourbon based My Suisun Vice, picture below). As I prepare to launch the list today and train the fellow bartenders on the new bar program that is the first of it's kind in the County, I will launch a more extensive preview here on my site in the next couple of days. Cheers!
Authorized Certifications from recognized collectives area a great way to show prospective employers and peers of your general level of knowledge. It's definitly no replacement for experience. In my case, I had many years of experience in restaurants before ever attempting any kind of certification or formal education, being a learner from travel and experience. But, I've learned its great to have both, and the goals you set to study and pass the various levels of exams discipline you to focus and learn beyond your box.
After passing the Intro level (1 of 4) several years ago through the Court of Master Sommeliers ( http://www.mastersommeliers.org/ ), and the Certified Beer Server through the Cicerone Certification (1 of 3, http://www.cicerone.org ), I'm excited about continuing my education and certification levels, next up being the first step of the USBG (United States Bartenders Guild, http://www.usbg.org of which I'm a proud member) Master Mixology Certfication, which is a 3-step process, from Certified Sprits Professional, onto Advanced, finishing with Master Mixologist. Put together from a wealth of the industry's elite and experienced, this promises to be a new standard for knowledge and testing in the field. This is one of the newer Food and Beverage certification programs, and one of the most exciting to me, since I've worked as a bartender and mixologist since 1997, and it continues to be my favorite profession, no matter where I've worked around the country, in the restaurant and resort industry. I recently purchased the first level test, but have not taken it yet. I'm giving myself a couple weeks, as I'm currently enjoying the encyclopedic "The Ultimate Guide to Spirits and Cocktails" from Andre Domine, Ken Burns' 6-hour documentary Prohibition, and maybe a couple of additional distillery visits.
Following this, I've decided to take the leap into my Certified (2 of 4) Sommelier test, a 1-day, 3-part series of exams focusing on wine and service from the most recognized authority, aforementioned. I'm looking at August for the exam, probably in Omaha, NE or Southern California somewhere, based on money and time. I'm long overdue on this, wish me the best!
Lastly, but certainly not least, there's Sake. This is a beverage I've long enjoyed, in particular with Sushi, but have only recently ventured into the formal education and certification world. It seems there are multiple options, and I'm exploring the best route. Stay tuned...
I'm thrilled today to be sharing a link I came upon today that shares the 2 Billion dollar victory from Brazilian farmers against the evil empire of Monsanto. As a person who values clean, natural food and farmers, it has destroyed me over the years to witness the greed and irresponsibility of these people. I encourage everyone to fight as I have against the company that has brought us DDT, Agent Orange, Round-Up and GMO food (among other sins) and always tries to convince is of its safety every time it tries to poison us and alter and control our food and family farmers. I've been saddened to learned also that Whole Foods and Organic Valley have given in to Monstanto and are in bed with them, which means I will never, ever support them again. Whole Foods of all people, has had so much influence in the Nation buying organic, and instead of using that power positively, has half-assed it over the years by only partially stocking organic produce and local products, and now to learn of their new partner...shamed...In the name of God, fight the good fight!
After several years of hearing phrases like "it's out of the way, but if you ever get up to Etna, you should visit Etna Brewing", today was the day. As Lynn and I travelled back from Ashland to Napa, we veered over to Hwy 3, skirting the remote, rugged and stunning Marble Mountain, Russian, and Trinity Alps wilderness areas. Etna is a small town of 737 nestled amidst mountains and grazing cows, and the middle of the standard shops and occasional motel sits the small but charming, award-winning Etna Brewing. As is my custom at a new brewery, I ordered the hearty sampler and shot a 2 minute video of the tasting in both 1080 HD (top) and 720 HD (bottom) Cheers!
As Lynn and I head to Ashland, Oregon for 2-3 days, I'm thinking of our previous trip through in February. As a native Oregonian, I was embarrassed I had never really spent time in this destination town. The discovery of the arts, food and brewery scene there, the walking around, the cute stores-all reminding me of the familiar that I've one to love over my years of travel and working in so many destination and tourist areas. Yet it's also unique and and it's own. So as we head back for a re-visit, I excite about exploring and profiling what we missed the first time: The famous Shakespeare Festival, boutique hotels, restaurants and artisan cocktails that seem highly in abundance in a town so small (like my old haunt Healdsburg). And a revisit to the Ashland food co-op and the 2 fabulous breweries is in high order. And if all goes well, an organic distillery, the famous Rogue Creamery, organic artisan bakeries and..well, did I mention there's a lot of cool stuff here..? Stay tuned, a full report and videos to come..
Thomas Keller is one of the world's most famous Chefs, and his reputation is known throughout the foodie and culinary stratosphere. In Napa Valley, his name is synonymous with the now-legendary Yountville restaurant culture. With his purchasing of The French Laundry in 1994, he ushered in a new wave of dining in the sleepy wine country town (that was most known for it's large Veteran's Home and not much else) that is now home to the highest concentration of Michelin Stars per capita in the country.
Since TFL, Keller has opened the 1 Michelin Star Bouchon (1998) and a few years later, it's companion Bakery next door. In September of 2006, he opened Ad Hoc, orginally meant to be a temporary community restaurant that magically transformed into a popular permanent restaurant where, every night, a different 4 course meal is served family style for $52, with optional wine pairings for $34, and usually an optional additional 5th course addition.
Before yesterday, I had only been into Ad Hoc for drinks, and after dining at The French Laundry in 2009, Bouchon and it's Bakery several times over the last couple years (mostly while bartending at Yountville's now-gone Cantinetta Piero), Ad Hoc had been high on my list of restaurants to dine at for some time.
Last night felt like the night to do just that, and I had no better person to dine with than my lovely partner Lynn, and as it was a spontaneous trip, did not have reservations (which are highly recommended, especially this time of year). The good news is that they managed to fit us in onto a nice patio seat just before sunset after a nice sit at the bar for a starter glass of wine. Sporting a diverse and accessible wine list, choices were many, but with the nights menu (vegetarian option for us), I felt the dinner would be matched best by some floral white wines. I opted for the Meulenhof Riesling Kabinett, an off-dry Mosel wine of peaches, nectarines, honey and good acidity that we enjoyed with my first course of chopped lettuces, pickled red onions, red beets, hard boiled hen egg, pea shoots and an orange vinaigrette that started the meal beautifully, as well as our second course, a flavorful and rich spring risotto with baby artichokes and english peas, acommpanied by a dish of butter beans and greens (note: this was not the normal entree course, but Ad Hoc does provide an unlisted vegetarian option every night-the normal menu entree for the night was a spiced beef hangar steak). Lynn had a glass of dry, slightly effervescent Muralhas de Monaco Vinho Verde from the Minho region of Northern Portugal, made from native grapes such as Alvarinho, Arinto, Avesso, Azal, Batoca, Loureiro, and Trajadura.
After the hearty entrees, we moved on to the cheese course, presented with an Italian raw-milk Gorgonzola Dolce with peppered flatbread and blackberry jam. By this time, a beer sounded good, and I spotted a Bavarian Aying Dunkel Weizen, a classic style of the region (Lynn sensed a German theme in my drinking), amber colored, mild in alcohol and full of aromatics such as clove, banana, caramel and cinnamon.
Finishing the evening were a duo of desserts, as they were in the transition from 1 dessert to another, and so we got to enjoy both the Rocky Road Sundae with chocolate ice cream, roasted marcona almonds and marshmallow fluff (yummy!) and a bowl of coconut and strawberry sorbets with shorbread cookies (also yum!!).
With an excellent service staff that was attentive, fun and knowledgeable (led for us by our server Daniel, who was a pleasure to talk to), and taking classic dishes and styles and doing great wonders with them, I finished with a higher impression than I expected, and had wished I had dined here sooner. The seating outside was delightful, and we enjoyed great conversation with a U.K./Australian couple, bathed in the good weather, and enjoyed the most loverly of dates in a region that always offers up culinary and romantic delight, and proves that even with living and working in an area of such spoiling beauty, that you can always be surprised and have new experiences to revel in and get excited about. Cheers!
Woo-hoo! After many years of wishing and pondering on making beer, and after many weeks of first brewing, then doing all the necessary follow up work (tasting, nibs/vanilla bean additions, kegging, etc.), the 4-year veteran of homebrewing and friend of mine, Jeff Patterson, who helped me brew my first beer in Pleasant Hill, CA and myself finished up the process and bottled a Robust Chocolate Porter (with hints of vanilla). The whole process has been amazing, and has taught me firsthand that making beer is mostly about sanitation (think: "Glorified Janitor" as job description), with a generous dose of waiting, sprinkled with as liberal-as-practical amounts of beer drinking and rapping about our favorite beers and breweries, and then somewhere in there is a light fairy dusting of actual brewing and fermenting the beer itself..(oh, and the shopping for ingredients! Much fun in and of itself-like when you were a kid planning your big adventures on paper..).
So how did it turn out? We were pleased. It was a beer that I would want to drink myself, and that's what I wished for at the beginning. It was as good, if not better, than I expected. Ten gallons were brewed, and we each took half. Jeff will be bringing the beer to the 34th Annual National Homebrewers Conference (www.ahaconference.org/) June 21-23rd in Seattle, WA; wish Jeff the best with it! As for public reaction so far, I've sampled it for my co-workers at my restaurant (Mankas Corner in Suisun Valley, where I'm behind the bar), as well as for my partner Lynn, and the response has been very solid and positive. It's rich, dark, chocolatey and tastes great by itself, and with some good dark chocolate! We look forward to brewing this beer again soon, but first will be tackling an organic, caramel-amber Rye, with some mild aromatic hops to it. Looking forward to that. Cheers!
Man of many passions and gifts from God