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Sunday Night Dinner – January 21, 2007

Many of you know of the Sunday Night Dinners. When I wasn’t working (and suddenly had a life) this summer, we were doing them all the time. Now it’s down to about once a month, but has become a team event and sort of a tradition at my house. Kinda makes me feel like I have family out here, even though my real family lives on the opposite side of the country. Anyway – we had lots of first timers this time and quite a crowd mixing with the regulars. Hopefully my new guests will become regulars too. The more the merrier, I always say. I was a little tired getting started though, after a tough bike ride (for me, anyway) that morning with the VeloGirls & Lunachix, in preparation for the Cinderella.

So the food theme was exotic pizzas / quesadillas. For one of my coffee boys, this conjured up images of pizzas in a Victoria’s Secret catalog or perhaps dancing in a dark bar, but then again – I collect a group of out of the box thinkers. Turns out that the theme was a hit. See the list below for what we whipped up:

Pizzas:
– Butternut Squash, Caramelized Onion and Roasted Garlic on Cornmeal Crust, loosely based on this recipe from Epicurious. (Photo: from Self, by Minh & Wass. Don’t want to violate anyone’s intellectual property rights…)
– Pepperoni and Sausage on a Boboli crust, using Lunardi’s marinara, mozzarella cheese and mix of pork based sausages (mostly mild Italian from Lunardi’s and Whole Foods, plus a Garlic and Basil – also from Whole Foods
– Wild Mushroom & Truffle Oil on Cornmeal Crust – loosely based on a recipe from Fast Appetizers. I just drizzle a little truffle oil over the gruyere before topping with the sauteed mushrooms. BTW, Whole Foods has a frozen mix of these that’s a great shortcut.

Quesadillas:
– Spicy Shrimp, from Fast Appetizers
– Chicken Cheddar w/Tomato and Corn Salsa, from this recipe, also at Epicurious. Mary made these and became an expert quesadilla flipper in the process.
– Mango, from my Mom – not sure where she found the recipe. Really easy – mexican blend cheese with diced peppers, onions and mango

Desserts:
Apple cinammon pizza on phyllo crust
Brownie pizza topped with cream cheese, whipped cream, white chocolate, cocunut and raspberries
(courtesy of Gail, who couldn’t attend because the boys were sick, but delivered dessert anyway!)
Wine poached pears & dipping biscuits with this great anise taste, courtesy of Carol
Leftover cake from last week (that was the cake that you couldn’t make a dent in now matter how many people you shared it with)

Of course, we drank lots of wine too…Qupe Bien Nacido 2005 Cuvee Chardonnay-Viognier, Stephen Ridge 2002 Syrah and a few others. Thanks to everyone who contributed wine to the party. What we didn’t consume Sunday, we’ll have for the next one – presuming I don’t get too thirsty in the meantime.

Special thanks to all those who do a lot of work in the kitchen – Cindy, Mary, Rich (who made his famous guac) and Maryann – who brought these fabulous spinach and artichoke spiral thingys (maybe she’ll post the recipe in a comment. Hint. Hint.) Anyway – we’ll be thinking of the theme for the next dinner, which will likely be towards the middle or end of February, as we have a guest coming to visit us from Shanghai for the next few weeks.

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I’m back…and tasting syrah

Mary and I finally held the Syrah tasting last night. Joe was here, with Britta & Aaron and his parents, and was commenting on how I wasn’t keeping up with my blog. So true. What was funny about the timing of that comment was that I had taken my camera on the Cinderella training ride that morning so I could pick this up again. I thought those rides would be something fun to chronicle and get me back on track.

Anyway – the tasting was fun. We did it blind – 12 wines, listed below. The consensus winner of the evening was Martin Ranch, with both their 2003 & 2004 at the top of many people’s lists. Kathryn Kennedy was next (special thanks to Marty for the contributions!). And, a surprise entrant on the favorites list was the River Star 2003 that I had picked up in Cayucos this fall when spending a long weekend down there with Molly and the puppies. The Australians didn’t fare too well this evening. Funny – both of those wines I read about in Robert Parker’s column in Business Week (did I get the year wrong when shopping? Will have to check…) and the Shoo Fly came highly recommended by the guys at the Wine Club over the holidays – but it was probably the least liked of all. Of course, there wasn’t anything that was a bad wine – just some we liked much, much more than others.

As always we had plenty of food. A good thing because at one point Mary and I thought we were going to cancel the evening. Only Rich and Debra had replied yes to the eVite. But then Adam’s parents could make it and brought a friend. And Joe’s mom & her husband were in town. Val returned home from Manhattan. Suddenly we were a crowd again. Rich made his signature guacamole. Had some appetizer sausage, mustard and crackers that came from one of our Coffee Boys (thank you, Victor!). We had the Silver Palate Good Times derived veggie chili – yet another meal that would not have happened without Mary’s considerable efforts – chopping, sauteeing, and having to take direction from a frazzeled hostess who keeps her mods to the recipe in her head.

And then there was the cake…the Chocolate Blackout Cake from Serendipity’s “Sweet Serendipity” cookbook. It’s a four layer cake that I thought would be a rational size because the recipes said the cakes would collapse while cooling. The picture in the book looked a little bigger than a normal height cake, but not by much. The thing is a foot tall. And when I picked it up to take it to the fridge for storage, it felt like it weighed 10 pounds – with 1/3rd of it eaten. Britta also brought the roll cake, but I think that will be dessert tonight.

All in all – another fun evening with great friends. Look out for Sunday night dinner next week. Jennifer will be up from SoCal and we’ll have some other first timers. Need to start thinking about the menu.

As promised…the wine list:
1) Kathryn Kennedy 2004 Syrah (SC Mtns)
2) Ursa 2003 Syrah (El Dorado)
3) Kathryn Kennedy 2003 Reserve Syrah
4) Martin Ranch 2004 Syrah (Therese Vineyard, SC Mtns)
5) Tablas Creek 2004 Syrah (Paso)
6) Montes Alpha 2004 Syrah (Chile – Alpalta Vineyard, Colchagua Valley)
7) Kathryn Kennedy 2003 Syrah (SC Mtns)
8) Woop Woop 2004 Shiraz (South Eastern Australia)
9) Martin Ranch 2003 Syrah (Therese Vineyard, SC Mtns)
10) Sedna 2003 Syrah (Napa)
11) River Star 2003 Syrah (Paso)
12) Shoo Fly 2004 Shiraz (South Eastern Australia)

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Tectonic Jade

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Boldhead Road

After lunch in Whataroa, and the virtual climb, Karsten wanted us to try riding on a small, unpaved road he’d heard about, but hadn’t been down before. Hwy 6, which is the main road up the west coast does a get a little busy in spots, there’s not much shoulder sometimes, and thus not the most fun to ride on. Karsten wanted us to try this, which runs along the coast for a few miles. We all piled out of the van…and headed out, except for the Iron Woman – she decided she wanted chocolate and a rest. It was a good call on Karsten’s part.

There was a horse in the pasture where the road started. And the ride was bounded on the other side by more cows, that also clustered together when we stood around looking for them. Catherine did eventually join us, on a quick sprint. I can’t tell you why…I promised – just know that if I could, it’d be a great story. But when she zoomed past me, I thought for a minute she was showing off – and was a little annoyed. Catherine’s really not like that though…had a great time with her on the trip.

I know Karsten was hoping we’d get to see the sea while we were riding, but I only caught a quick glimpse. There were nice pastures, a pond, farmland along the way, but there was this large burm bordering the road between it and the ocean pretty much the whole way. Kept seeing signs warning about the school bus, and when we got to the end of the road, we saw the school “bus” pull in – more a van than a bus. We all hung out at the end, waiting for Karsten to bring the van back…enjoying the notion that we were once again herding cows. The rain was starting…little did we know that this was the last riding we were going to get in on the trip.

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Lunching in Whataroa

When we landed in town, it was – of course – time to eat again. There was little park with a playground, picnic tables, and a restroom in the center of town – which by west coast standards, was pretty close to a major metropolis. We could get a latte across the street. The general store there had a little restaurant attached, that was doing a bustling business. At one point, while sitting at our lunch table, we noticed a pair of white wellis parked at the door (very considerate, I suppose – not traipsing in whatever might be on the bottom of them into the shop). I went to get a photo of the standalone wellis, but by the time I got a hold of my camera and was preparing to take the picture, the owner (a woman) came out and gave me a strange look as she snatched them up.

While Karsten and Jenny were laying out the spread, I went to visit the local art gallery, Kotuku. There’s a white heron sanctuary nearby, which is where the gallery takes its name from and the town displays on its flags. The owner of the gallery, a Maori man, and his daughter were there – really nice and helpful people. It had some beautiful things – jade, whalebone, paua, and I of course did some shopping. This is where I got my carved whalebone with paua inset koru necklace that I’ve worn almost every day since getting home – the bone has been tested and is supposed to be over 3400 years old. I also bought some pieces for decorating my guest bedroom, which is destined to have a Polynesian/South Pacific theme now…some items coming from Tahiti, some from NZ.

After lunch, while cleaning up, Imogen, Catherine and I had some fun playing with a little girl who was visiting the playground. Brought back memories of spinning around at Beach 2 in White Meadow Lake, where I grew up. I remember, as kids, going to that playground and trying to get someone to spin the “merry go round” as fast as possible and see how long we could hang on. I could tell similar memories were going through my companions heads as they spun the little girl ’round and ’round. Not sure who was laughing harder – the little girl in the bright pink fleece coat or us. After lunch, it was time for more cycling, but only after the virtual ride over Mt. Hercules – which everyone felt was better done in the van.[inspic=4,,,0][inspic=5,,,0][inspic=7,,,0][inspic=6,,,0][inspic=8,,,0]

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Kiwi Cubed

On the way to Okarito, we passed this kiwi crossing sign. No kiwi birds, though. But, on the way back we had our kiwi girl and kiwi fruits…so now we have kiwi cubed. Jenny, who’ve I written about before, was one of our awesome guides from Adventure South. Always fun, always helpful, always knowledgable, and just an all around amazing person. I told her I hope she’ll come visit me in the States when she visits and I meant it. Karsten too. We were really lucky to have such great leaders on our trip.

We drove back out to the main road to continue our ride to Whataroa (pronounced “fataroa”), where we’d be stopping for lunch. It was a nice, easy ride past lots of beef filled pastures. More amazing scenery. Actually, I think Lake Wahapo kicked off this stretch of ride, rather than being on the last one. It had this cluster of dead looking trees towards the one end of that I didn’t stop to photograph, but they were eerie looking. Did find a post card of them in town though – for my physical scrapbook – that maybe I’ll start if I ever finish the blog postings of the trip ;-).

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The Camping House

The campground in Okarito had this campground with this cute little house…inside were couches, chairs, and tables for eating. There were nice paintings on the ceilings – reflective of the terrain and culture. And there was a ton of information available about happenings in the “area” – much of the west coast. There was an old fashion washing bin with an attached windup wringer outside that Dave found. I have blackmail photos if you need them, Helen!

Anyway – it was a comfy spot for morning tea, and seemed like it would be a nice place to camp out – if you do that sort of thing. It’s run by the Okarito Community Association.

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Two Degrees of Separation, Before Riding to Okarito

Before heading out that morning, I hit the internet kiosk at the backpacker place next to our motel. It was a fun atmosphere. Had to check on the food company deal in the UK, but it was when I received the email from my dad the confirmed the world really is very, very small. When Catherine and I were talking earlier in the trip I had mentioned my father’s from Ireland. The usual, “What part?” question came up and I gave my usual reply, “This very obscure town in the west called Ballahaderreen.” She answered, “I don’t know many Irish people, but I think the one woman I know pretty well is from there.” We keep talking and establish that this woman’s father’s name was Victor Moran. So I had sent Dad an email asking if he knew him. Turns out he was his dentist until my Dad left in the late 50s to come to the States. If my old boss, Jeff, ever reads this, he won’t be at all surprised. Seems to happen to me all the time.

Anyway – the day was cold and overcast again, but there was no rain. So we all bundled up and headed out of Franz Josef for a nice ride to the town of Okarita, which is on the coast. Just outside of town, Malcolm was stopped with his camera out. If you looked back, you could get a pretty clear view of the glacier coming down between the mountains. The whole glacier thing is just very cool, but you’ve read enough about that already. We kept riding…past a reindeer farm. So strange to see groups of those guys looking out at you from behind fences. The riding was nice…streams and more lakes alongside almost the whole way, including Mapourika and Wahapo. I think this is where, if I hadn’t mentioned it already, we were all starting to get a bit jaded about the scenery and deepening that yet another mountain, yet another lake attitude. By the end of the trip, lakes, waterfalls, snow capped peaks around the next corner were just expected.

We had to turn off the main road to go to Okarito. Long downhill, which always scares me because it means you have to go up again. There was this river flowing alongside for a long time, then we made a hairpin turn over a bridge that led up a hill. At least it was one that I could get up. After that I rode for awhile – lots of campers coming by – through the woods. Then you came to this estuary leading out to the ocean. Looked like you could do some nice kayaking through there. Kept riding and eventually came to town. Booming metropolis – even had an airstrip with this sign warning me I might get hit by a plane landing or taking off as I rode across to see the beach and more of the wild Tasman Sea. Beach was that dark grey sand again. There were some cool looking houses perched off the hills up the beach – pretty isolated. Since it was pretty windy, I turned back to the campground where we were meeting up for coffee…I mean morning tea.

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Staying in Franz

Both Franz and Fox are basically in existence for glacier tourists. Not much there but tourist shops, motels. hostels, internet places with the coin kiosks, and a few restaurants. The Blue Ice Cafe had an upstairs bar advertising happy hour from 9-10, but we skipped it because we figured there were no locals there as interesting as the ones in Haast.

We were staying at the A1 Rata Grove Motel, my least favorite of all of them in terms of what the rooms were actually like. The guy who ran the place was really nice though. The others were mentioning that they only got one towel apiece in their rooms, but I always had my two, because I was staying alone (one for my body, one for my head). But here, they knew there was just me and there was only one towel. I asked the man who ran the place if I could have another and it appeared in my room before I even noticed. Catherine said her room was huge and cavernous, but the place just had a little run down feel, especially after our neat little Scandavian design rooms the night before. I don’t think there’s much to choose from there though.

We ate dinner at the Landing (pictured, although from another website, not my camera) that night. It had an outdoor pool table, which struck me as strange with all the rain they get over there. They must have a quick tarp or something to throw over it, because you weren’t going to move it anywhere quickly. The portions of food were as huge as Catherine’s room. Jenny and Karsten joined us that night, which was fun. The only problem was that Dave and I ordered the same thing, but prepared differently. The order went in as one with both preparations noted. So – his food never came. We were all mostly done with dinner before Dave’s came. At the end of the evening when we figured out the tab, we had a mystery guest who paid and too much money. When I got a look at things, I figured out that for the same reason Dave’s dinner didn’t show, Dave’s dinner didn’t get charged to the table.

Despite the large portions, everyone wanted dessert. Or, “pudding” as I was corrected by my friends. Now to me, pudding is a subset of the entire dessert range. But no, I was told that puddings have been being made forever, so that’s what we were choosing from – “puddings.” All I know was that I ordered the Pavlova, with fruits and ice cream, wasn’t anywhere near as good as the chocolate Pavlova I made for Sunday Night Dinner a few weeks before. It was more like a giant marshmallow.

After dinner headed back to the hotel. Everyone was a little tired and we were planning to be up early, hopeful for a day of riding ahead…

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