Saturday, September 30, 2006

Napa Valley, or "hmmm, is that a hint of grape I'm tasting in this wine? How quaint!"

Domaine Chandon
We thought it would be fun to explore some of the vineyards near our new home so we drove up to Napa for the weekend recently. Our first stop was the Domaine Chandon winery in Yountville, CA. Foodies take note: America’s top-rated restaurant, The French Laundry, is just a few blocks from the vineyard. At Chandon, we joined a tour, participated in a private tasting, and dined at Etoile, Chandon’s lovely restaurant (which locals say they prefer over "that French dry-cleaning place”).

Some neat facts about the vineyard:
* This is Moet & Chandon's American counterpart
* The winery released its first vintage in 1976 – the year we were born!
* When the winery was built, the architects took special care to preserve the natural landscape and managed to build into the location, cutting down only 3 trees in the process.
* They only grow three types of grapes - Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier – but are able to combine them to create a wealth of flavors.
* They practice sustainable farming.

Of the Wines we Tasted, our Favorites Include:
*Chandon Brut Classic - it was like biting into a green apple
*Domaine Chandon Chardonnay, Carneros - it had a vanilla/butterscotch aftertaste
*Chandon Reserve Brut - nutty, mushroomy, and cheesy

The tasting was fun but after about a dozen glasses, we were all so sick of trying to come up with new descriptions for each new wine. For the tasting, the docent pours a couple sips of wine into your glass, asks you to hold it up to the light, swirl the wine, smell it, describe the scent, taste it, describe the taste and texture. Wash, rinse, repeat. Fun for the first few glasses - not so much thereafter.

Etoile Restaurant:
For those interested in fine-dining, we highly suggest eating at Etoile. The fava bean ravioli is excellent and the striped bass on foie gras risotto is one of the best fish dishes I've ever tasted.

The Proper Way to Open a Bottle of Champagne (or Sparkling Wine):
1: Make sure the sparkly is cold, best served at around 45F
2: Loosen the wire cage but do not remove it entirely
3: Drape a towel over the top of the wire cage & bottle
4: Slant the bottle to a 45 degree angle
5: With one hand, hold towel end tightly; with the other hand, get a good grip of the bottom part of the bottle.
6: Slowly turn the bottle from the bottom while keeping the cork side still until you hear a gentle hissing sound – you should not hear a loud pop.
7: Voila – you’ve properly opened a bottle of champagne/sparkly

Other Napa Valley Trip Highlights:
Our tour guide recommended we also try the tour at the Miner Family Vineyards so we toured that vineyard (a smaller locally-owned vineyard) thereafter. We found the wines at Miner to be a mixed bag but eventually we found one we really liked - the 2005 Rosato, Mendocino.

On Sunday, we hiked through the redwood trees in the Bothe-Napa valley State Park. It was absolutely beautiful and the redwoods were truly ginormous. In typical Pearl fashion, I managed to navigate us off the trail and got us lost for about an hour, uphill no less. On the bright side we got to see more of the park, or so, that’s what I kept telling my companions!

It was a fun-packed weekend (aren’t they all?) and we can’t wait to do it again soon!

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

9/11 Meditations through the sounds of Kronos Quartet

Chris and I saw our first classical performance at the Herbst Theater on 9/11, entitled "Awakening: A Musical Meditation on the Fifth Anniversary of 9/11" written, arranged and performed by the Kronos Quartet. Consisting of 2 violinists, a viola player and a cellist, Kronos have been performing for over 30 years, expanding the range and context of a string quartet. Their work has been featured commercially (in films like Requiem for a Dream, 21 Grams, Heat) as well as the antithesis (one of their first works was Black Angels, a highly unorthodox, Vietnam War-inspired work that featured water glasses, spoken passages, and electronic effects). Over the years, they've worked with hundred of artists & composers ranging from Philip Glass, Wu Man, Thelonious Monk, David Bowie and so forth.

For Monday's performance, the Kronos Quartet played pieces originating from 14 different countries like Turkey, Iran, India (to name a few) by 9 varying composers like Terry Riley, Gustavo Santaolalla, Dmitri Yanov-Yanovsky. At times, it was one of the most powerful musical performances we've experienced and we've decided to share his-n-her thoughts on the evening:

Her: The music left me speechless: images of war, violence, sadness and death ran through my mind for most of the evening. I saw children attempting to escape the bombs that were dropping from the sky; I saw the innocent murdered; I saw bloodshed and the devil-incarnate himself. I was amazed by how powerful the music was to conjure up such traumatic images in my head. It was frightening and impressive all at once. It made me realize how much death and destruction fills every second of every day, and how far removed I am from such sorrow. The music filled me with shame, ashamed of the superficiality with which I (and most Americans) surround myself when there are so many suffering around the world. Despite all this pain, Kronos Quartet ended the performance with visual images* of peace and harmony which left me with hope -- perhaps someday we will be surrounded with less violence and left with more love.

Him: Let me preface this by saying that on the day of the performance I was laid up in bed with a fever, the chills and a severe cold; much of my energy during the performance was expended just trying not to cough, sniffle, sneeze or otherwise shatter the "fourth wall" for those around me. Pearl has gone on record saying how powerful and moving the performance was but in my sickly state the weight and emotion of concert was lost on me. I found the "story" very difficult to follow as I was unknowingly fading in and out of consciousness throughout the evening. That being said there were some very beautiful moments and some very unpleasant moments, some very thrilling music and some very bland music.

Here are the thoughts that bounced around in my head during the performance:

Story-based live performances are like operas in a foreign language. Even if you do not understand the language there are other ways the musicians can communicate the story.

War may be chaotic and atonal but good music is not. War is not easily captured using music, but Kronos did an excellent job capturing peace in the second half of the show with a combination of music, lighting and visual projections. They attempted something similar in the first half of the evening but the chosen visuals were not as effective. During the first half of the performance, there was too much reliance on the music to carry the story and it was largely - to my ears - unpleasant music, accompanied by hammers and power tools. Holding a belt sander against a metal plate makes for some fantastic sparks but also makes a terrible racket.

I felt the strongest parts of the show came when the quartet mixed other medias into their music (lighting changes, video projections). I especially liked the use of the prerecorded samples. This could be the start of an interesting new direction in string quartets. In a few years we’ll see the first crossover performers – the Hip Hop String Quartet. My money’s on Mos Def.

*There were no visual images of bloodshed that accompanied the earlier part of the night -- I saw all of that only in my mind

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Peaceful Saturday Afternoon…

Deeming ourselves “festival” people, Chris and I stopped by the POWER TO THE PEACEFUL festival out at Speedway Meadow in Golden Gate Park yesterday afternoon. Started in 1999 in support of political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal, the festival shows support for all prisoners on death row, and after the attacks of 9/11, now serves as a day of remembrance for lives lost in the tragedy as well as a call to end war around the world. Through music, dance, and art, P2tP reminds us that “the path to a less violent world starts from within.” Michael Franti of Spearhead sums it up nicely: "We can't change the world over night, but we can be a drop in the river that moves a mountain."

It was a wonderful way to spend the day. We skipped the morning yoga (they had free yoga classes from 9-11AM) but made it for the free outdoor concert, headlined by Spearhead. We also heard New Monsoon & Blackalicious, as well as speakers Rabbi Michael Lerner & 2004 presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich. Although it was a cold, wet day, we stayed in the park for a few hours, sampling the raw food selection the festival offered (it is a good day when you can go to a festival and get raw pizza and raw sushi) as well as the solar-powered organic snow-cones (honest!). There were also many people in costumes so we enjoyed people-watching while dancing to the music (people-watching in San Francisco is generally interesting). Most of all, we enjoyed watching the little hippie children running around with huge smiles on their faces, saying hello to everyone they passed.

All in all, a peaceful Saturday afternoon…

Monday, September 04, 2006

It’s a hippie day for Chris & Pearl

A friend of mine took me hippie-dancing in Central Park once, and I found it such a liberating experience, a wonderful release, so full of positive energy that I couldn’t wait to go again. When I heard about the weekly Drum Circle gathering (30+ year-old circle) in Golden Gate Park, I immediately put it on our SF-To-Do-List.

On Sunday, Chris and I decided to spend the day at Haight-Ashbury as we hadn’t been back since our first visit in 1998:

First stop: Amoeba Records. A number of people had told me recently that it was their favorite record store in the world, and after seeing it, I can understand why. For music aficionados, it *is* the store to be, simply because their selection is so comprehensive. I was especially impressed when checking out the Jazz section: not only do they have a huge CD section for each musician, the CDs are broken down by specific record labels.

Second stop: Thrift-store shopping. Every other store on Haight St is some form of a second-hand store. Fantastic deals are yours if the timing is right; last week, I bought a nifty coat for 12 bucks (though I must admit that the dry-cleaning costs were a whopping $9). One of my favorites on Haight & Cole, La Rosa Vintage, sells vintage wear from ‘20s flapper dresses to ‘50s circle skirts to ‘70s pimp suits. They also carry hats, shoes, ties, and scarves to complete each vintage look.

Third stop: Lunch. Chris and I lunched at Crepes CafĂ© on Cole – excellent sandwiches and crepes for a good price. A funny aside: we passed a church that had a large poster hanging above the entrance that read LIVE PRO WRESTLING EVERY SATURDAY. Yeah I know, only in Haight-Ashbury.

Fourth stop: Drum circle in Golden Gate Park. Chris decided that he’d had enough “hippie” for the day so he went home. I hadn’t had my fill yet so I picked up my hippie friend to go hippie dancing in Hippie Hill (whoa – there’s a lot of hippie going on there!)

Because it was a cold, gray day, the drum circle was much smaller than I anticipated. In fact, when Will and I first got there, there were only 5 drummers present with no one dancing in the circle. We watched the hula-hoopers hooping to the beat of the drums for a bit and discussed Buddhism (it seemed fitting!). After about half an hour, I convinced Will to get his drums and play with the circle. And upon our return from his apartment, we happily discovered that the circle of drummers grew to about 15 people. Still no dancers so I decided to start the dancing myself! I must have danced on my own for a good 45 minutes – so free! so liberating! so positive! I was completely lost in my own world – before I pulled in some random people to join me in the dancing. We stayed for about two hours, enjoying the beat and the energy. In the process, I made a number of friends whom I promised to see again next Sunday!

Wow – maybe I *am* turning into a hippie; I seem to be in the right city for the change after all. My deadhead brother would be proud!

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Salsa a la farmer's market

Our first f-m dish, all ingredients from our local farmer's market...

Gorgeous isn't it? Tastes hella* spicy too!

2 lg tomatoes, chopped (in this recipe, I used yellow & purple)
4 cloves garlic, minced
3 shallots, minced
2 yellow cajun peppers, minced
1/2 lime, juice
2 T coriander, minced
salt & pepper to taste

Mix all the ingredients in a bowl & serve (hella* easy!)

*hella: Originated from the streets of San Francisco in the Hunters Point neighborhood. It is commonly used in place of "really" or "very" when describing something.

The Fillmore is hella better than the Mission.
Thank God LA is hella far away.

Alternatively, hella can alert other prestigious NorCalers that they are dealing with a higher species much like themselves.

NorCaler: "That was Hella cool!"
SoCaler: "Huh? Wha? Hella? That sounds dumb."
NorCaler: "No sir. You sir are Hella dumb. Good day."
SoCaler: "Oh yah. You're...dumbererer. Keanu rules!!"

Farmer's Market every Saturday morning

One of the greatest perks about living right by The Embarcadero is the fact that we are walking distance from one of the coolest farmer's market in the nation, the Ferry Plaza Farmer's Market. A California certified farmer's market operated by the Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture (CUESA), the market is open four days a week, offering produce and flowers from small regional farmers and ranchers, most of whom are certified organic.

Today (Saturday) was our first chance to check it out, and boy did we love it! The fresh aroma of lavander filled the air, along with the wonderful smells of basil, berries, and lovely flowers. It felt so alive and so very green!

This morning, we bought ingredients for fresh gazpacho, salsa, and an organic breakfast of eggs (the tastiest eggs I've ever tried from a farm that lets their cocks (hormones raging and all, organic hormones that is!) chase after the hens, making for bigger appetites which lead to more food intake, thus leading to tastier yolks!*) and habanero & green chile smoked chicken & turkey sausage (yummy!).

We plan on going every Saturday, so for our lovely visitors, make sure your visit includes a Saturday (to experience the market & better yet, the meal prepared by yours truly from the fresh meats & produce)!

* Another great thing about farmer's markets is that you get to talk directly to the farmers and learn about the food you are about to eat!

Sake It To Me!!!

This past Thursday, Chris and I went to a sake tasting, THE JOY OF SAKE, the largest sake tasting event outside of Japan with over 250 different sakes to taste. Because "good food and fine sake are made to be enjoyed together," the sake tasting also included a food tasting provided by 16 San Francisco restaurants (like Betelnut, Hog Island Oyster, Hana, Memphis Minnie's, Kiku of Toyko, Kirala, Ozumo, Roy's, Sakae Sushi Bar & Grill, Sanraku, Sushi Ran) . That said, the Irish-Italian spent most of his time drinking while the Filipino spent most of her time gorging on food. How stereotypical!

Overall, we had a fine night out. The tasting was a bit overwhelming (who are we kidding? It was a whole lot overwhelming!): 250 was just too many sakes for us sake-newbies. We went to a sake tasting in Manhattan (at my favorite Japanese restaurant SAKAGURA) earlier this year that offered 60 different types and more guidance from the people who worked there, and we enjoyed that experience more, as we learned about each of the sakes we tasted. Nevertheless, thursday night proved to be a fun night for was an odd mix of aging hippies and beautiful Amerasian women in really fun, colorful outfits.

Have we told you we liked San Francisco much?