Sunday, November 17, 2013

Wines and Wineries - Our Weekend Dash Through Sonoma County

Okay, wow, where did September and October go? I had every intent to post this soon after returning from our California trip, but yeah, life got busy, I released a novel, and I had two of the busiest weeks ever at my private practice. Although I've been drinking plenty of wine, there hasn't been much time to write about it. I do intend to tell y'all about the vertical Claret tasting we did today at Wolf Mountain winery, but I'll do that next weekend.

Sonoma County will always have a special place in my heart because that's where we went in May, 2005 for my "Holy crap, you're finally done with school!" trip. Although I wouldn't officially graduate with my Ph.D. until August, we partied like I was already a doctor. Wine -- it's medicinal, right?

This September, after two whole days of PowerPoint Slides at the APA Work and Well-Being Conference in San Francisco, I needed some wine. The conference was good, but I have a low PowerPoint tolerance.

We started out from San Francisco on Saturday morning after having stopped at Molinari's Deli and gotten sandwiches. Here's a picture from inside the Deli, which is on Columbus Avenue. Yes, this is where Italians get to stop by on the way to Heaven if they've been very good:

After navigating through a bunch of traffic, we finally made it up to Healdsburg and Unti Vineyards, where Hubby went inside to go to the bathroom and came out with a bottle of 2012 Rosé (83% Grenache, 17% Mourvedre) and a couple of glasses. We enjoyed a late picnic lunch with the sandwiches. We discovered Unti on one of our previous trips to Healdsburg because they do wines with Italian grapes. Annoyingly, my notes wandered off between the end of the trip and now, but the wines were just as good as I remembered, and the 2011 Barbera came home to Georgia with us. 

We checked in at the Haydon Street Inn and wandered into Healdsburg for more wine. Of course we had to stop by Selby Winery because we're in their wine club. Their big, fruity reds are a must for chilly nights with hearty dishes. Highlights on this tasting trip included:

2012 Sauvignon Blanc:  Yay! More floral and tropical fruit aspects than grass, but still with good structure.

2012 Rosé of Syrah: With a "kiss of Grenache," this one is nicely balanced.

2008 Cabernet Franc:  Nice and fruity without the harsh tannins sometimes found in Cabernet Franc.

2008 Petite Syrah: This grape can sometimes come across with grape soda flavors, but not this one, which is very nice and elegant.

2009 Old Vines Zinfandel:  Yes, Selby does Zin very well.

2010 Bobcat Reserve Zinfandel:  Always a favorite.

Next stop was Roadhouse Winery, which had some decent Pinot Noirs and a good Zinfandel, but nothing spectacular. To be fair, I'll admit that by September, I'm pretty over Pinot Noir because it's a go-to summer red. Next year I've got to follow through on that perpetual vow to drink more French and Italian reds to find some other light-bodied options for summer.

We went to the Topel Winery tasting room next, whre we tried both the Red Flight and the Winemaker Special Flight. A lot of the grapes came from outside Sonoma. I don't have detailed notes, but the highlights included the following:

2010 St. Helena Battuello Vineyard Gamay:  Not Beaujolais Nouveau by any means.

2007 Mendocino Estate Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon

2009 Mendocino Estate Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon

2009 St. Helena Battuello Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon

Finally, that evening at the B&B, there was a tasting with wines from Portalupi. Three out of the four got a "Very Good" rating from me, the 2010 Pinot Noir (Russian River Valley), 2010 Barbera (Shenandoah Valley -- the West Coast one), and 2011 Old Vine ZInfandel (Dolinsek Ranch, Russian River Valley). 

We met some very nice people and even shared some of our Unti rosé with them after the tasting. We finished it up later by the fire pit:

Sunday morning, we drove town toward the town of Sonoma itself and hung out with our friend Ed Thralls, who works for Flowers Winery and is now making his own stuff. His first vintage was promising, and the Pinot Noir we tasted from him this time around was very good. He's going to be one to watch. He also has an awesome view from his back door. No, his wine isn't that light in color, it's just how the light is hitting it.

We didn't do much tasting in Sonoma itself, just stopped into wine bars and explored the town by the glass. The night ended somewhat randomly when the sound of jazz lured us into the Erick James tasting room, where the winemaker himself as "Sonoma Satchmo" and his band played to a small crowd. It was random but fun.

If you're wondering about my book, it's an urban fantasy mystery featuring werewolves with a scientific twists, and it's available in all ebook formats. You can get the details including summary, excerpts, and links to buy it at my author website. Yes, my characters eat and drink well. It's also very helpful during harvest and while sampling Malbec grapes:

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Know Your Saints: Saint Maurice

September 22 marks the feast day of Saint Maurice.

Some people call him Maurice.

Why ever is he here? Read on!

Monday, September 16, 2013

Central Coast California: Day Three

I'm taking advantage of the free wireless at Eno Wine Bar, which is off Union Square in San Francisco, to post this, the last report from Paso Robles. Later this week, I'll be sharing our adventures in Sonoma. I'll also be doing that from a computer, so I can get my links embedded beyond the first picture, which just isn't happening on my iThing. The events below happened on Tuesday, September 10.

Any day that starts with a hot tub and massage is a good day. Yes, this was the day we spent the morning at a spa.

We decided to mosey on after our relaxation-fest to Hug Cellars, where we enjoyed talking to Raquel. She also has a nifty reference book collection and gave us some great recs for when we return to San Francisco. Seriously, though, I could definitely stay in Paso Robles for a while. Because they have fried Mac and Cheese (at Pappy McGregor's):

Okay, back to the Hug wines. We liked all of them. We joined their wine club. No, this was not under the influence of hot springs and massages, they were just that good and highlighted how good Paso Robles winery do Rhone blends.

Then we moseyed on to Eberle (, which we'd been wanting to visit since a friend of ours discovered their Zin at a wine bar in Atlanta. As we expected we liked their big reds the best, but some of the whites also surprised us, specifically:

2012 Estate Chardonnay:  Although it had a hint of smoke on the nose, it was mostly tropical fruit and green apple on the palate.

2011 Mill Road Vineyard Viognier

2010 Barbera:  Came back with us, didn't last the afternoon

2010 Steinbeck & Wine Bush Vineyards Zinfandel

2009 Cabernet Sauvignon/Syrah

2010 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon

We only bought one because they have a lot of distribution, including to our area, and the guy we were talking to gave us the contact info for the distributor. We'll likely be reaching out to them once we get to big red season. They also had the nicest views so far:

Then we went on to Pear Valley Estate ( I liked:

2012 Viognier: very nice, especially on the finish

2010 Zinfandel: no comments, just yum

2009 Inspiration: 59% Syrah, 32% Grenache, 9% Mourvedre
Yes, another GSM. I'm telling you, they know their Rhone grapes here.

2009 Syrah: see Zinfandel

And that was it for the wine tasting for us. We were insane to tackle eight wineries the day before, so we decided to chill and write blog posts for the rest of the afternoon. This occurred in an Irish/Scottish pub, so we felt right at home. Now if we can only get The Marlay House, our Irish pub at home, to start doing fried Mac & Cheese...

Saturday, September 14, 2013

More Tipsy Musings -- California Central Coast, Day Two

I wrote this on Tuesday and am posting this from our hotel room in San Francisco. We're headed north today to Healdsburg, and then to Sonoma tomorrow. I really did mean to post this earlier this week, but I was busy being a psychologist rather than an oenophile. Okay, I was drinking wine as well -- in San Francisco, how can you not? -- but wasn't in the blogging frame of mind.  Due to a glitch in the Blogger app and some disagreement in the browser, some of the links are embedded, and some in parentheses after the places.

Back to the show...

When you're tasting wine in Paso Robles, there's only one number you need to know:  46, as in California Highway 46. On Monday, Hubby and I headed down CA 46 West for some tastings.  Eight to be exact. When we told people afterward, they weren't sure whether to congratulate us or put us on a liver transplant list. How much of the wines from the last few vineyards did we taste? Who knows? I got cute cat pictures, though.

We started at Turley Vineyards, home of the Zins. It seems like Zins should have an adjective in front of it like "Fighting," but let's be real -- Zin, in all its fruity glory, is a lover, not a fighter. In hindsight, it was probably not the best idea to cuddle up to a 15+% wine first thing in the morning. Granted, we'd had a good breakfast and had even stopped off for Pringles because we couldn't find a freaking grocery store anywhere -- seriously, what do you Paso Robles people do for groceries? Grow them yourselves? If that's the case, we're totally raiding your Triscuit trees next visit. Those are our wine tasting starch of choice.

Anywho, we ended up with one of the "younger" Zins, younger defined as the vines being 50 or fewer years old. Then we moved on to Red Soles, where my favorites were the 2012 Flop Flip Viognier/Chardonnay blend and the 2011 Kick-Off, a nice smooth Zinfandel, Petite Syrah blend. Since we tend to run short on whites, we got the Flop Flip.

Hubby decided we needed a breakto move on to somewhere a little farther away, so we ventured out to Tablas Creek (, which several people had recommended to us. This was where we discovered how well Paso Robles does Rhone grapes. I liked a lot of their wines, the highlights of which were:

2010 Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc:  60% Roussanne, 35% Grenache Blanc, 5% Picpoul Blanc
Okay, so first, kudos for planting the Picpoul, one of my favorite whites. This one had nice, light fruit with honeysuckle overtones. Trust me, I'm from Georgia, where honeysuckle pops up in the middle of one's garden completely uninvited. If I say it's nice, it means it's nice. This one is named for the estate in France they have a partnership with.

2011 Mourvedre: It's a 100% Mourvèdre, and no, we're not sharing the bottle we bought.

2010 Esprit de Beaucastel: 45% Mourvedre, 30% Grenache Noir, 21% Syrah, 4% Counoise
Is it just me, or does talking about Counoise make one feel slightly dirty? Seriously, it sounds like a French euphemism for something naughty. Either way, this was a lovely blend with a little more tannin but still very good.

Then we moved on down the road to Oso Libre (, which translates to "free bear." We didn't see any bears, but they do raise black Angus cows. I couldn't help but envision a pre-emptive pairing:

The Oso Libre tasting room is a refreshing change from the somber wood, glass windows to the barrel room style of most California rooms. They blast country music (okay, I wasn't so much into that part) and have a sort of diner-themed motif:

The wine highlights included:

2011 Volado Viognier:  good and fruity balanced out by nice floral notes

2005 Jovis Sangiovese:  great smooth fruit

2005 Revolucion Syrah:  velvety and fruity

2011 Carnal GSM: very good and smooth

NV Primoroso, Winemaker's Blend:  interesting layers of flavor

We bought a bottle of the GSM.
One thing that's imperative to know about Highway 46 West is that apparently the county has cracked down on wineries serving food, so alas, most of the places listed with food on the wine country map don't have food at the moment. This includes Grey Wolf and Cypher. 

We did taste at Grey Wolf (, where we were served by an elderly lady whom Hubby decided reminded him of John's Grandma in the Garfield comic. In other words, she's got plenty of attitude and might ride a Harley home. I didn't get a picture of her but did get one of Jake the cat, who was not interested in me or much of anything:

The wine highlights there included:

2011 Pretty Girl Pink, a nice rose blend of Cab, Zin, Grenache, and Syrah.

2011 Barton Simple Man Zin:  nice and fruity but not too heavy

2010 Lineage:  a nice blend of 60% Cab Sauv, 15% Carmenere, 15% Malbec, 5% Merlot, and 5% Cab Franc.

We took a Pretty Girl home with us. Wine, you pervs. We're not into that kind of thing.

Then it was seeking food, for realz. The only place allowed to serve food on the 46 West corridor is Aron Hill Vineyards ( Luckily they're pretty cool and have a nice tasting room. I particularly enjoyed:

The PrimRose. It's not a white Zin, it's a dry white Primitivo. Totally different!

2006 Primitivo:  this was a dry year, and something nearby burned, so there's a little smokiness to it

2009 Cabernet Sauvignon:  lighter than they would have liked, but still good.

We didn't buy anything there -- room is getting scarce in Bertha the wine safe. Josh and Nicole in the tasting room were great, and he gave us some recommendations for the rest of the day. He also had me sign one of my book postcards and took a picture with me for his website.

Then it was off to Peachy Canyon ( because, being from Georgia, we had to make sure they were indeed peachy. I'm not sure if they're truly Peachy, but they were definitely Zinny. I particularly liked the 2011 Snow Zinfandel (not Snot Zinfandel, which my iThing just tried to make it), 2011 Mustard Creek Zinfendel, and the 2012 Rose. I also enjoyed petting the cat Peaches, who was slightly more awake than the aforementioned Jake:

Our final stop was Cypher Winery (, which had also been recommended to us. They also had a cool red, black, and white tasting room:

The highlight for me there was the Freakshow "Peasant" GSM, which should actually be an MGS to reflect the percentages of grapes in it.

By that time, our palates were fatigued beyond belief, as were we, so although we had time to hit a few more, we opted to head back into town and meet up with Matt and Annie Browne. Matt tweets as Matthew Liberty (, and he was instrumental in guiding us to the best wineries for us among the 200+ in the area.  He and Annie were also online "on call" for other questions for us while we were here, and I can't express how much we appreciated their advice. We even found a new wine club to join, but more on that tomorrow.

We met up with Matt and Annie at La Cosecha (www.lacosechabr), a cute Spanish/South American restaurant and had drinks since we were still stuffed from our 3:00 lunch at Aron Hill. Then Hubby and I headed to La Cosecha's sister restaurant, an Italian place around the corner from our hotel called Il Cortile ( We'd been told to try the beef carpaccio, which we'd never been brave enough to do before. It was served with a creamy truffle sauce and shaved truffles. Then I enjoyed the beef cheek tortelloni and finished up with the chocolate lava cake. We sat outside, and the lighting wasn't right for photos. We also shared a bottle of Terry Hoage red, but the wine list crashed the web site, so I can't tell you which one.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

California Dreamin': Central Coast Trip, Day One

My brain is weird. I never have stress dreams about work during the week, but just let me have a long weekend or vacation, and three to four nights in, I'll have work-related dreams. Typically it's some sort of scheduling problem, like three new patients show up at once, or like this morning, a particularly difficult patient has been scheduled for every Tuesday at 12:30, which is a two-fold problem because I have a regular patient scheduled for noon on Tuesday, and my appointments are an hour with 1:00 being my lunch hour. Yes, I get really pissy when people mess with my lunch. In general, it's like my little overachiever Type A mind can't let go of having to do something or be somewhere. Seriously, brain, chill!

I'm writing this post in a hotel room in Paso Robles. Hubby scheduled a couples' massage for us this morning at the River Oaks Hot Springs Spa. I was expecting the massage, but he surprised me with an hour in a hot springs hot tub and mimosas. Yes, ladies, you may be jealous now. I'm also very relaxed and drinking Eberle Barbera out of a hotel water glass, so I apologize in advance if this post is a little discombobulated. Hey, at least I'm drinking water out of a hotel coffee cup to hydrate and balance things out:

Random fact:  apparently the Milwaukee airport has a Recombobulation Area just beyond security, but no one is ever in it because Americans suck at vocabulary. A friend who flies for Delta told me that.

We flew into San Francisco on Saturday. The best part of the flight was finally getting to see the most recent incarnation of The Great Gatsby. Holy crap, airplanes still show movies sometimes! It was definitely a Baz Luhrmann film, but eh, whatever, he gets better with every movie IMHO. I like Tobey Maguire, and I always wondered about the character of Nick Carraway, the narrator of the book. Hubby, who grew up in Montgomery, never read the book because my MIL hated F. Scott Fitzgerald. She also hates me, so I'm in good company. Maybe my books will be shown as airplane movies someday.

Wow, this first post in a while is rambling. Perhaps I should get to the wine...

Our first stop off CA Highway 1 down the coast, which may or may not be foggy, so you may or may not get to see stuff, was at  Beauregard Vineyards. Admittedly, we saw a sign pointing to a winery down Bonny Doon road and thought we were going there, but happened upon Beauregard instead. This was a happy happenstance. The highlights for me were the 2012 Metallique Chardonnay (yes, a Chard -- there are people fainting at this right now) and the 2010 Merlot Zayante, which got a gold medal from the vaguely named Beverage Institute. I have a beverage institute. It's called my kitchen. Anywho, we started our California trip by getting the f*cking Merlot. Take that, Pinot!

It was at lunch at the West End Tap & Kitchen in Santa Cruz that we got the news our diabetic cat was in a bit of a crisis with multiple accidents and growling at the cat sitter. This is normally a very mellow, if bossy, cat, so we knew something was very wrong. Hubby understandably didn't want to get out of cell signal range until he could coordinate care between the cat sitters, emergency vet, and possibly our regular vet, who is closed on Sundays. So, we stopped in Monterey, which is where I now want to retire with a view like this:

We even saw a wild seal, who was not very graceful maneuvering the rocks. I tried to get a picture of it, but it's hard to get a good shot through an iThing when you're not sure what rock you're aiming for. Okay, we might have been drinking at the time. Really, did you expect otherwise? This was actually a good stop because the wines are from grapes grown in a cooler climate, so they set up a nice contrast for the Paso grapes.


2010 Cambiata Albariño: This was a gorgeous white, big with a lot of fruit and a mineral finish.

2008 De Tierra Merlot:  Grape stem nose with nice cedar overtones.

2011 Parsonage Syrah:  Smooth with a nice balance of fruit and spice, chewy texture.

In general, I've liked the cooler-climate grown syrahs better than the desert ones this trip. As we were told, the cooler weather gives them a better balance of fruit and spice. The fog in this region is incredible, sort of like the Smoky Mountain plumes but extending for miles in gray clouds that carry their own little bits of coldness. You can see the clouds in this picture taken over Monterey Bay when Hubby and I were kicked back with glasses of that fabulous Albariño, which we also got a bottle of:

Okay, will post more about the Paso Robles wines tomorrow.

Oh, and the cat is fine. She likely had a hypoglycemic episode and is now boarding at her vet. 

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Product Review: NewAir AW-181E 18 Bottle Wine Fridge

When we were first approached in January about reviewing the NewAir AW-181E 18 bottle wine fridge, Hubby and I had two reactions:

1.  Is someone really going to send us a wine fridge?

2.  How the heck does one review a wine fridge?

Well, the answer to the first one was yes, rather quickly, and all I can do is apologize for the delay.  As I mentioned in my previous post, I got a book contract at the end of January and have been very focused on that.  The wine fridge box arrived and hung out in the kitchen for a few months, and we finally just got into it last weekend.  At least it gave me time to talk to people and figure out what they look for in a wine cooling device.

As you can see, the unit itself is sleek and attractive, and it fits well in the narrow space we have for it in our little Craftsman bungalow, where all the storage is pretty much in narrow spaces.  Seriously, you should see our closets.

The big selling point of this wine fridge is the thermoelectric cooling system, which keeps the wine at temperature and "doesn't rely on coolants or chemicals that can harm the environment."  We have a thermometer in there, as you can see, and it has confirmed the set temperature.  The wine has also tasted at cellar temperature, although we haven't measured the wine itself.  It's a definite improvement over our usual experience, which, in our aforementioned drafty old house, requires us to use the counter top wine chiller to get our reds to temperature.  This can take quite a while during the summer.  


It looks nice and fits well in a tight spot.

It's super quiet.  We can't even hear it running unless everything else in the house, including our ancient refrigerator, isn't.  It has also not "traveled" in the week we've had it going, which considering our not so straight floors, is evidence that it is, as promised, vibration-free.

The shelves slide in and out easily.

The unit cooled to the desired temperature quickly, and the temperature display seems to be accurate.


The racks are a little too close together such that you actually have to pull them in and out to get the bottles out.  There are also no catches on the back to keep the racks from sliding out completely, so you have to be careful not to pull them out too far.

While it fits the Bordeaux-style bottles just fine, the Burgundy-style bottles will only fit on the bottom or top.  They're too big for the middle racks.  Sparkling bottles won't fit at all unless shelves are removed.  We don't have any at the moment, but I suspect storage of Rhone-style bottles would also be limited.

Overall impression:

A nice wine refrigerator with a couple of design flaws that would be fixed by perhaps changing the spacing between shelves, which would reduce the number of bottles it holds but would make Pinot and Syrah drinkers happy.  It's definitely a red wine fridge with its minimum temperature of 54 (maximum 66), so the sparkling bottle limitation may not be relevant, although it would cut down fridge cooling time. Luckily for us, Pinot and Syrah doesn't hang around for very long and isn't the majority of our collection.

It's quieter and more convenient than our counter top chiller and more accurate than putting the bottles in the fridge.  I'm definitely looking forward to having it this summer so that my red wine drinking will be a matter of instant gratification.  We may even keep some whites and roses in there so they'll take less time to cool in the fridge.

Disclaimer:  This unit is a sample that was received free of charge from NewAir.  This did not influence our impressions or review.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Pasta Project Parts 2 and 3: It's About More than the Dangly Bits

I'm making turkey lasagna tonight.  We ended up with a little extra homemade sauce and not much room in our freezer for it, so the next logical step is, of course, to turn it into something yummy.  I have a confession, though…  I will be using boxed noodles.

"What?" you say.  "You were off to such a great start with your pasta attachment!  What happened?"

All I can say is that it was a classic case of success leading to cockiness and then my downfall.

The second time I pulled the pasta maker out was to make spaghetti.  I figured I'd give the filled pasta a rest and focus on something relatively simple:  noodles.  I think the dough sensed my heightened confidence, as it first decided to cower in fear in the bowl:

Then it huddled among other objects on the counter as it rested:

The sheets emerged from the rollers beautiful, long and silky.  The recipe said to let them rest for a bit, which helped to dry them out. 

Then came the harder part, sending it through the noodle cutting apparatus.  However, again it went smoothly, and I ended up with gorgeous long spaghetti noodles.

The spaghetti was in anticipation of my birthday, which was at the end of February and a couple of days away, so badass me even made calzones from homemade dough that night:

Yeah, I was rocking the kitchen.  I didn't get a chance to blog it for other reasons, which I will get to, but I was feeling confident.  My spaghetti making had gone without a hitch, and I now had a full set of lovely two ounce nests in my freezer.

Then, mid-march for Hubby's birthday, I decided to try the ravioli again.  I adjusted the recipe a little according to directions from Marcella Hazan's Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, adding a tablespoon of milk to the dough and allowing the eggs to come to room temperature so the dough wouldn't be tough.  I also made some of her Ricotta-Parsley filling for inside the ravioli.  The pasta sheets came out lovely and silky, and I made them a little thinner this time, taking the rollers to 5 rather than 3, which had made them too thick the previous time.

I had my pasta and filling.

I had my strategy.

I even had a blog post planned out in my head titled, "It's all about the dangly bits."  I was going to be witty and clever and compare pasta making to writing romance and the importance of a certain kind of chemistry between characters. 

That's where it all went wrong.  No, I don't have any pictures from this process.  It was too gruesome.

In an effort to make the ravioli not come out thick and tough, which they were edging on the first time, I overcompensated.  Once I fed the dough into the ravioli press, the weight of the remaining dough on the sides caused it to stretch, and therefore only the middle row of ravioli (of three) ended up being completely sealed.  The outer two rows were pitiful half-raviolis that oozed filling.  The second sheet went a little better, but by the time I got to the third, it had dried out too much.  Stubbornly, I pressed on, but it mocked me, and I had very few keeper ravioli.  The fourth sheet got turned into fettuccine.  Here's the final result.  As you can see, there are many fewer usable ravioli than with my first attempt:

I still succeeded in my carb production efforts with a lovely focaccia, though:

And dinner turned out fine:

So yes, I could make pasta dough tonight.  Lasagna sheets would be easy, but I'm a bit demoralized.  I'm obsessed with the ravioli, my little square nemeses, and should I proceed with any kind of homemade pasta, the idea of ravioli would be taunting me.  The rollers would whisper, "We're over here!  Ravioli filling and lasagna filling is similar.  Just make a little extra and try again."

Oh, I will attempt them again with fewer recipe tweaks, thickness 4, and perhaps only two sheets so they won't dry out as quickly, but not tonight.  See?  This is why it's a bad idea to mix perfectionism and pasta.

However, red wine and pasta always go well together, so tonight, Hubby and I will be partaking of the Mettler Cabernet Sauvignon.  It's a good wine for those who love fruity and well-balanced reds, and this cool snap is the perfect opportunity to visit those big reds one more time before we shift to whites and more heat-friendly reds.

And yes, I will remember next time that when it comes to writing romance and pasta, it's about more than the dangly bits.

Note as to why I haven't been posting much this year:

Remember how when you were a kid, and there was that one toy you wanted so badly you felt like you needed it?  And then how when you got it, you couldn't play with anything else for hours, you were so enamored of it?  Well, we have the same strength of desire as adults, but we often don't admit what it is we really really want.

I got it at the end of January when I got THE EMAIL (in this modern age, you don't get THE CALL anymore) that a publisher was interested in one of my novels.  I made some minor edits they suggested, signed the contract, and since then have been hard at work on the sequel.  I just sent the sequel proposal to the editor, and I'll be getting my major edits for the first novel soon.  

So that's where my writing energy has been going.  There hasn't been a lot of energy to spare with work being super crazy with major personnel issues, and honestly, writing the sequel has kept me sane.  I will get to the samples and wine fridge I need to review soon and will try to post more often.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

The Great Pasta Project: Attempt One

When making pasta, be sure to have plenty of booze on hand.
For those who are wondering, being half Italian does not automatically confer pasta making skills upon you.  My first couple of tries at fresh homemade pasta resulted in thick lumps of chewy dough with sweet potato in the middle that I euphemistically called "ravioli."  The problem wasn't necessarily the recipe, but rather that I couldn't get the dough thin enough by hand, not even with a tapered rolling pin, so the texture was off.

I'm a perfectionist, so this failure to make good pasta by hand really irked me.  I determined that the fault was not mine, but rather my inferior tools, so I hinted at Hubby that I would like a pasta making attachment for my Kitchenaid mixer.  This was my Christmas present:

Yes, he likes pasta, too.

Rather than start with something easy like long noodles, I decided to dive right in with butternut squash ravioli based on this recipe from Cooking Light.  Instead of using wonton wrappers, I made my own pasta dough.

So, first step, make the dough itself.  The Kitchenaid recipe that comes with the ravioli maker is simple enough with just four ingredients:  flour, eggs, water, and salt.  Mix for a bit with one attachment, then for a while longer with the dough hook.  The pasta dough, not being in an agreeable mood, attacked the dough hook like sentient swamp ooze on a tourist:

Um, yeah, I know what that kinda looks like.  A geoduck!
It's resting...and plotting.

I rescued the dough hook and took over the kneading by hand.  The dough took a lot of flour before it became tacky rather than sticky, or so I thought.  I let it rest and made the ravioli filling, then grabbed the pasta rolling attachment.  I fitted it to the Kitchenaid on the first try.  My first roll was a bit short, but okay.  The second one came out perfect:  long, lovely, and silky.  I put it on the cutting board, which I thought had enough flour on it, and covered it with plastic wrap.  Then I did the third and fourth sheets, also pretty, but not quite so much.

I let the sheets rest for the requisite ten minutes, switched out Kitchenaid attachments for the ravioli one, and read the directions twice.  This is where the dough really started messing with me.  The first step is to take a sheet of dough, fold it in half, put the folded end in the ravioli maker, turn it a little to catch the dough, and then allow the two ends to drape gracefully over the sides.  I did that with the pretty second sheet and got as far as folding it in half and anchoring it in the ravioli maker.  Then it wouldn't unfold.  Crap.  Lesson learned:  when they say to dust the dough with flour, they're not kidding.

This is supposed to make it easy.

That sheet ended up being rolled out again.  I attempted the ravioli with an adequately dusted pasta sheet, which anchored and draped as it should have.  I started cranking, and the dough started laughing at me.  Okay, not literally.  The directions say to make sure the ravioli are coming through but don't have any tips as to what to do if they don't.  The attachment should make a ravioli sheet of three across, but only one came out, and I swear it looked at me like a good kid with two naughty siblings:  "See?  I'm doing what I'm supposed to do."  I figured out that the ravioli had stuck to the roller closest to me and gently released them.  They didn't turn out pretty, but they did have stuff in them.

So those were the first ravioli.  I managed to fix that sheet before it got too messed up, and then, overconfident, I proceeded with the second.  This is where I really screwed up, or maybe the dough got smart.  I watched the roller closest to me, but unbeknownst to me, the ravioli got sneaky and decided to stick to the other side.  By that point, I was in pasta-making denial:  "I can't really be screwing this up that badly."  But I was.  Half of that sheet turned into a squashy, doughy mess before I figured out that you have to gently fondle the dough as it comes out of the machine to make sure it's passing through and dangling as it should.  If I can offer a euphemism to my romance writing colleagues, you could refer to…  Never mind.
At least they're tasty.

I salvaged enough dough to roll another sheet and ended up with about sixty little ravioli.  Approximately a quarter of the dough and a fifth of the filling were a loss.  By the time I finished fighting the dough, cooking it, and making the pesto, four hours had passed from my initial optimistic mixing of the dough to dinner.  Hubby, being the wise man that he is, didn't say anything other than it tasted good.

So, here's what I learned:

Use flour liberally on the pasta, on the ravioli maker, and pretty much on anything that doesn't move fast enough in the kitchen.  Okay, maybe not the cat.

Watch the pasta dough at every step.  It's sneaky and defiant.

The ravioli attachment has plastic guides for the ravioli that open for cleaning.  Watch out, they bite.

Choose and pour cooking wine ahead of time.  Yes, I did all this without wine.  Maybe that was my problem.

I think I'll make pappardelle next time.