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Thursday, December 20, 2012

Beach Boys Landmark & Brick Brothers Forever

Brian Wilson Secret Handshake Club Co-Founders
You don't have to be a fanatic of The Beach Boys to appreciate their music and get an occasional smile on your face when one of their iconic songs comes on the radio. I was at the perfect teen age in the sixties and living in California to have been completely captivated by their sound which depicted the golden state as a mecca of sun, surf and young love. As their music matured and I grew up I never stopped listening to the band even though they lost some of their audience when they graduated past just the surf and car songs that had vaulted them to the top of the charts. In 1983 I heard about a Beach Boys Convention taking place in Oakland, California. This era was a particularly low ebb for their popularity so I knew I had to be there with other like minded fans of the band. One of the shows creators was a guy named Les Chan who turned out to become one of my best friends in life. Fast forwarding to 2004 Dick Clark and the Roll Hall of Fame were among the ardent supporters for a monument dedicated on the site of the home where the Beach Boys grew up in Hawthorne, California. The Beach Boys Historic Landmark was granted its official status as California State Historic Landmark No. 1041 and dedicated on May 20, 2005.

The monument itself sits at the edge of the Century Freeway whose construction cut through the middle of this Hawthorne neighborhood in the mid 1980's. Among the supporters of the project are many fans who had the opportunity to sponsor a brick in the facade. I was thrilled when my good friend, Les Chan, asked if I would like to co-sponsor a brick with him. Les is the quintessential Beach Boys fan.

Beach Boys Historic Landmark in Hawthorne, California

Brick Brothers celebrate their love for California music and the band that made it famous.
I call Les Chan the quintessential Beach Boys fan but it has nothing to do with an official fan club or other organization. Les Chan simply connected so many people together coast-to-coast and even in other countries. I say "simply" but I'm not talking about connection in terms of just swapping business cards or e-mail addresses. Les Chan genuinely loved people and the feeling was mutual. He engaged everyone he met everywhere. From a popular radio station air personality to the girl serving Hawaiian shaved ice at the local Maui kiosk Les engaged everyone. Some people might even call Les a stalker because he approached celebrities and common folk alike. The difference was that Les Chan was genuine, sincere and completely ernest. He was a photo fanatic and wanted a picture with absolutely everyone. He could warm up a room full of strangers like no one else I've ever known. Les loved the Beach Boys music so much that he just HAD to befriend the band and it became obvious that the feelings were mutual. Becoming part of the Beach Boys inner circle brought significant privileges. Some people spend their whole lives dreaming of a backstage pass. I joked that when you look up the term "ALL ACCESS" in the dictionary you'll see a picture of Les Chan. However, all of these privileges posed a constant dilemma for Les. He could only take a limited number of people along with him and he had an unlimited number of true friends.
Concert Security Pass Chart for the Beach Boys 50th Anniversary Tour
Even though the Beach Boys were my introduction to Les Chan our friendship grew into so many other dimensions. We both shared a passion for Hawaii and in particular the island of Maui. We were blessed to have several family vacations in paradise together. It did not take me long to realize that the sometimes nebulous and intangible "Aloha" spirit was manifested in everything that was Les Chan. Les spread love everywhere he went and has left a significant trail of it so extensive that it is practically untraceable. Knowing Les Chan confirmed my belief that everyone and everything is connected.

Another one of Les Chan's passions that reached almost the level of obsession was Disneyland. I am going to divulge a long time secret of his that really exemplifies his sense of humor. On his Facebook profile he shows his birthday as July 17th. Les was actually born on December 8, 1954 but his passion for everything Disneyland led him to list is birthday as July 17th which was the day the park opened in 1955. I thought it was hysterical when he received so many birthday wishes on Facebook in July. Les had a sense of humor that endured forever. Here is one of my all-time favorite photos of our families celebrating at the Magic Kingdom. Beginning in 1956 he has been to the park for what must be some kind a record of 70+ times with most visits for one week or longer. When we went to Disneyland with him he would be the first in line at opening. Then after mastering the lines and fast pass system all day long most of us were pretty well spent but Les would grab some dinner and return until midnight or closing. This park was built for kids or anyone like Les with the true heart and spirit of a kid.

Happy Times at the Happiest Place on Earth
Sadly, my dear friend, Les Chan, just passed away suddenly one week after his 58th birthday from a heart attack. His inner health was not nearly as robust as his incredible outer spirit. I am so blessed to have shared thirty of his fifty-eight years on earth. I am saddened like so many others who loved him but we all learned great life lessons from just knowing him. My next photo is a close up of our brick. Les insisted that the text was laid out just as seen here. I am both honored to share this brick and a bit embarrassed that my name is first. If anyone deserves top billing as a Beach Boys fan, it is Les Chan. But putting others first was just the way he rolled. I am forever grateful to have had Les Chan in my life. I am extremely proud to say that he was my dear friend and Brick Brother.

Brick Brothers at the 50th Anniversary Lake Tahoe Show  July 2012

Monday, September 10, 2012

Fresh Spring Roll Wrapping Party - It's How We Roll!

I love Fresh Spring Rolls but can never seem to get the wrapping technique down as well as they do in a restaurant. Enter my friend and professional makeup artist, Giao Nguyen, who really knows how to roll. Giao brought a major batch of fresh spring rolls to a July 4th party a couple of years ago at the brand new home of Andy Mark and Lisa Whalen. After stuffing myself gracefully I told Giao that I just gots-to-know how she rolls so perfectly. So two years later we finally got together for a spring roll wrapping lesson and celebration of these tasty tubes.

Giao is a perfectionist and makes everything from scatch so my kitchen quickly came alive with sous chefs prepping like crazy. This first shot is almost the whole gang slicing and dicing away.

Left: Romona Synder, Giao and her husband Thai Mai.   Right: Elley Ho and Andy Mark
Speaking of scratch Giao prefers using fresh water chestnuts for stuffing her Ground Turkey lettuce wraps. I had never seen them before. They are about the size of walnuts and we peeled them with a paring knife. Here Giao demos how to remove their tough outer layer to prepare them for dicing.

There is no shortage of garlic in Giao's Ground Turkey stuffing for the lettuce wraps and she moved gracefully through many cloves here turning them into a perfect mince. Elley was amused, Ramona was amazed and Thai was focused on dissecting heads of lettuce.

Giao's other choice for protein stuffing was pork.  She simmered it in a broth and then Thai carefully sliced it to a perfect thickness for wrapping.

Covering all the bases were jumbo shrimp cooked to perfection and then sliced lengthwise making them thin enough to roll up with the other ingredients. Giao scoops out the shrimp and Andy continues to work the turkey saute.

Giao helped solve the mystery of the popular peanut dipping sauce. Her recipe use simply peanut butter and hoisin sauce. We were all eager to learn her secret to this favorite stuff in which to dunk our rolls.

Giao uses plain smooth peanut butter out of the jar to create a very tasty peanut dipping sauce.
My contribution to the feast was Pineapple Mango Green Tea and a spicy Thai Cabbage Salad.

Pineapple Mango Green Tea on tap
Thai Cabbage Salad with Serrano Chile Lime Dressing and Peanuts

When we were good to go we covered the dining table with all of the ingredients because these wraps are all custom made by the guests. It's a like a like a taco or ice cream sundae bar where you stuff them as you please and roll your own. The list of stuffing choices included pork, shrimp, rice noodles, mint, lettuce, bean sprouts and avocado. This format promotes customizing rolls and keeps everybody happy.

Although we had free reign on our choice of stuffings Giao made it very clear that there are rules to rolling. It all begins with a rice paper sheet that is perfectly moist. She came armed with a simple device for just this purpose. You just lower in a sheet vertically and make one complete rotation in the warm water. It wets the sheet but not overly so and in moments you are ready to roll. This gadget is a single tasking kitchen device but one that makes wrapping spring rolls a breeze.

Giao surprised everyone when she told us that this clever gadget was invented by a teenager. It even comes complete with a slot to stage the sheets ready for dipping.

Here is Giao's no miss step-by-step method of rolling the perfect spring roll. Note that she starts with the ingredients at the edge of the wrap closest to you and not in the middle. You then roll away from yourself. The pink side down on the shrimp makes for a nicer presentation as their color will be visible through the opaque roll.

Step 1. On a perfectly moistened sheet lay the shrimp pink side down and/or slices of pork.
Top the proteins with lettuce leaves. Omit lettuce ribs as they can tear the wrappers.
Add a few fresh bean sprouts for a nice crunchy texture.
Mint leaves layer another whole layer of fresh flavor.
Soft Rice Noodles give the rolls body and make them very satisfying.
The three keys to a successful roll are as follows:
1. Use both hands and roll slowly 
2. Continue to tighten the roll as you fold 
3. Half-way through tuck in both ends and then roll to completion

Giao displays her perfectly wrapped roll
Remember that these rolls are best served immediately. If they sit too long the wrappers, they will dry out and become tough. A wet paper towel and plastic wrap cover can help keep them soft longer. Professional wedding photographer and friend, Elley Ho, certainly did not come empty handed but rather surprised us with our first of two desserts for the evening handmade by her friend, Michelle Ng.

Peach • Black Sesame • Sakura • Mango • Pistachio • Dark Chocolate Macarons from Michelle Ng

As we sat around and enjoyed this Asian delicacy I kept marveling at all that rice has to offer to the culinary world. It is inexpensive, low in calories, flexible in use and highly non-allergenic. Even the uncooked dry noodles are fun to munch on like chips. We tried sprinkling them with some flavored salts from I was given recently from Salt Farm in San Diego. This handful had a splash of their #35 Bruschetta salt for an Asian/Italian mash up. Move over popcorn!

Speaking of mash ups we traditionally conclude our parties at the fire pit. No matter how full we are there is ALWAYS room for S'mores. Enter the improv Chef Carl. After extolling all of the virtues of rice paper I decided to mash these beauties with S'mores. Why not? I am a firm believer in both finger food and wrapping anything. The marriage of these two foods made perfect sense to me. So I started with a nicely done S'more and then gave it rice paper jacket.

What's not to love about this East meets West treat?
Andy did the honors and put my Spring S'mores to the flame.
This Asian version is even less messy as it captures all of the melty goodness from escaping.
My parting shot is a tribute to fusions and mash ups of all kinds. After all, this kind of hand held food is all about freedom of choice.  Just like burritos, wraps, pita pockets or any other devices for stuffing. They are limited only by your creativity and imagination.

A huge thanks goes out to Giao and her husband Thai for being so generous with the groceries and sharing their expertise at our first ever Fresh Spring Roll University. I truly love the way you roll!

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Small and Large Wineries Along The Wine Road in Sonoma

The Wine Road in Sonoma is not on any maps but rather a collective of over 150 wineries and 50 places to stay in the wine country. When they invited us to a blogger's retreat there in May I had no idea of what was in store for us. One of the biggest surprises for me was the wide range of wineries we visited that were all part of the Wine Road group. We visited a husband and wife winery all the way up to the famous Kendall-Jackson Estate and many others in between.

From the cover of Sonoma County Vol. 2 - Photos by Robert Janover

Our tour of Northern Sonoma included the three appellations or regions of Alexander Valley, Dry Creek Valley and Russian River Valley. The smallest of the wineries we visited was the Russian River Valley husband and wife run Lauterbach Cellars. Pictured here is Dr. Stewart Lauterbach who is truly the CEO, chief cook and bottle washer. Winemaking just doesn't get any more grass roots than at Lauterbach with Stew and his wife, Barbara, having their hands on literally every step from soil to foil.

We were mesmerized listening to Stew's candid and unassuming tales of making wine at this hand crafted level. This photo below is the bulk of his entire one room operation.

Stew fields questions from a barrage of bloggers.

Lauterbach Cellars specializes in Russian River Valley Syrah and Pinot Noir.

For "dessert" we were also treated to Stew's 2008 Syrah Dessert Wine or late harvest Port as it is sometimes known.

Our thanks to Stew Lauterbach for the most up close and personal experience at this little winery. Generally, up to 5,000 cases a year is considered the "Boutique" level of winemaking. Lauterbach Cellars only produce about 400 cases a year so you need to get it before they sell out. By the way tasting hours are by appointment only so don't just drop by but please do let them know you are coming. Stew and his crew of family and friends even do their own bottling/corking/foiling because mobile services normally have a 500 case minimum. Congratulations to the Lauterbachs for putting so much care into their craft.

Every winery we visited seemed to have a uniqueness to it. One of my favorites of the entire trip was the highly environmentally conscious Quivira Vineyards and Winery.

Quivira was founded originally in 1981 by Holly and Henry Wendt who began restoring Wine Creek which runs along and through their property. The creek is crucial to fish spawning and the Wendt's concern for this important conservation project has been kept alive by current owners Pete and Terri Kight who bought Quivira in 2006.

The Wine Creek at Quivira Vineyards and Winery

Quivira takes the now commonly used term of "Green" to a whole new level. They are certified as biodynamic farming which is a spritual-ethical-ecological approach to agriculture, food production and nutrition. Biodynamic farming creates a diversified ecosystem that strives to generate as much fertility as possible from within the farm itself. I have never seen a winery with so many different crops growing at it. Many of these crops are grown in raised gardens. The yield from these plants provide food for events at the winery as well as sources for local restaurants. As more than just a casual home chef I could really appreciate the variety and size of these plant gardens.

Plants are not the only thing raised here that contributes to the diverse ecosystem.

Oh yeah, and I forgot to mention they make wine at Quivira too. :) We enjoyed their 2011 Rosé which was dry, refreshing and a perfect warm weather wine.

Diversity was the theme at Quivira and also of our agenda. Our final destination was the very established and more formal Kendall-Jackson Estate and Gardens Like many others I am quite familiar with the Kendall-Jackson brand but I had never seen their facility which was full of great surprises.

Meticulously manicured grounds greet you upon arrival at Kendall-Jackson Estate

K-J wasted no time getting the hospitality going as were immediately served a glass of their new Chardonnay called AVANT which was introduced early last year. Our welcome began in a gazebo right in the heart of their vineyards.

The first surprise was the massive gardens that serve multiple functions. They supply food for their food and wine pairings as well as cover crops to attract the beneficial insects and birds thus avoiding the need to use pesticides. Part of these gardens were designed by the world renowned horticulturist, Adrian Bloom, for Kendall-Jackson in 2002. What an appropriate name for a plant person.

The foodie in me was once again in awe of four special gardens one each for French, Italian, Latin/South American and Asian cuisines. Can you imagine just stepping outside to pick the fresh herbs you needed for cooking in any of these styles! And speaking of food we we treated to an incredible food pairing right in the heart of what they call their "Interactive Wine Sensory Gardens." It is also more affectionately known as their "Scratch and Sniff Garden" because they encourage visitors to touch the plants, grab a leaf and take in all of the wonderful senses that fresh produce offers. Surprise number three was the incredible food pairing that awaited us. They really walk the walk at Kendall-Jackson when it comes to food. This table is surrounded by the same gardens that yield the foods you enjoy paired with their wines so it just doesn't get any closer to farm-to-table dining that this. The best news is that Kendall-Jackson makes these pairings available to anyone with just a little advanced notice. Every thing you need to know about these food and wine pairings can be found just by clicking here.

Al Fresco Dining in the middle of Kendall-Jackson Gardens for superb wine and food pairing
So what surprises were on our menu? Here are just a few close up shots of our food and wine pairing.

Stone Ground Grits from Old Mill of Guilford and Micro Greens
paired with 2006 Highland Estates Trace Ride Cabernet Sauvignon
Tofu Slider with thinly sliced cucumbers and Syrah BBQ Sauce
paired with 2006 Highland Estates Alisos Hills Syrah
Mushroom Arincini with Scottocenere Truffle Cheese and Pinot Noir
paired with 2007 Highland Estates Seco Highlands Pinot Noir
Kendall-Jackson turned out to be nothing but delightful surprises including my favorite one of our entire retreat. Turns out their Estate Manager is a long lost friend of mine from her days at San Jose Red Lion Inn. I had not seen Robin in over twenty years and our reunion could not have taken place at a more inviting setting. Thanks to Robin and everyone else at Kendall-Jackson for the warm welcome and incredible hospitality.

For more information about Kendall-Jackson contact Estate Manager Robin Calkins