Sunday, November 30, 2008

Week 13 Bucs Post: Whew...

Wow. That game almost killed me... My heart can't take too many games like this. A lot of big moments for this defense (which struggled mightily against the pass for most of the day but was seriously solid against the run... Nice zero yards rushing there, Bush...) to seal this game. Barber had three huge passes defended on his stat sheet at the end of the day, the last of which he tipped to June for a CLUTCH interception in the endzone...
Clifton Smith had another huge day on kick returns. I don't have words for how happy I am that we found this undrafted rookie on our practice squad. 158 yards on 8 returns is no joke. Smith is a good kid.

Garcia, too, made me very very happy today. He didn't have a huge game in the air, but his 42 yards rushing were huge and he led this offense in a nearly mistake-free game.
Carnell Williams' first touchdown after coming back from what should have been a career-ending injury was pretty darned heartwarming...
... but possibly my favorite moment in this game was watching Garcia wind up and give Gruden a hard celebratory smack on the ass after throwing a TD pass to Bryant in the third quarter. Gruden seemed to get a kick out of it, and I was glad to see that those guys seem to love each other again after all the drama of a couple months ago...

The only thing putting a damper on my happiness right now is the report from ESPN that Monte Kiffin is abandoning the Bucs to go coach with his son at Tennessee... I don't want to believe that he would leave this team when the defense looks SO good and has so much potential for the future... (but I guess it would be pretty cool to coach with your son, too...) Sigh... Please don't leave us, Monte. I don't want to think about a future in Tampa that doesn't include you...

UPDATE: By the way, I followed Stanley's advice and watched this game at Peter's Bar and Grill on Fremont and it was fantastic. Affordable food (Eggs Benedict pictured below was $7) and microbrews (the Eggs Benedict plus fries and 7 beers for me and my dad came to only $31 before tip...), plus a smoke-free environment in the main seating area. Awesome. It lacks some of the trashy charm of The Wooden Chicken (my old Portland Bucs-watching haunt), but you also don't feel like you get lung cancer just by walking through the door and it's closer to my parents' house, so I'd say that's a good trade. I'll definitely be back there for Week 15 against the Falcons...

Friday, November 28, 2008

The Whole Point of Thanksgiving Dinner?

Leftover turkey and cranberries. Toasted sourdough bread. Arugula. Triple-cream brie. Mayonnaise and Dijon.
As far as I know, this sandwich is the best reason to go to the trouble of making Thanksgiving dinner in the first place...

Moving On and a Happy (and Lazy) Thanksgiving...

I had almost two full weeks in Santa Barbara but, especially as my flight back to Portland approached, that time moved incredibly fast. Santa Barbara still feels so much like home to me. I really enjoyed my life there, and every time I go back to visit it breaks my heart a little bit to leave. I know I'll have an awesome time in Boston and I'm excited about that, but for several months before I left Melbourne I thought I would be moving back to Santa Barbara rather than to Boston, which I think made the nostalgia hit me extra-hard this trip when the time came to leave. I know I'll be back to visit in the future, but still... sigh...
Anyway, we tried to make the most of my last few days in town. Steph and I had meals planned for my last two nights: one to help us take care of some Cab and Syrah that needed drinking, and one to take care of the insanely delicious Cotes de Tablas Blanc that we bought together at Tablas Creek in Paso Robles. Unfortunately (for the plans, not for me), my PhD advisor invited me to attend dinner at an awesome steakhouse with him and some lab buddies on Tuesday (my last night in town), so we had to improvise a bit.

Thus, on Monday night we needed to find a way to drink both an amazing white wine and a big hearty red. For an appetizer, we decided to throw together a white pizza to eat with the Cotes de Tablas Blanc. We topped the crust with ricotta, thyme, roasted red pepper, smoked ham, and goat cheese before baking, then topped it off with fresh baby arugula. With a sprinkle of red pepper flakes, this turned out to be pretty delicious and was a nice accompaniment to a wine that I cannot find words to properly express the awesomeness of...
Our main course was a classic Emily & Steph recipe: Grilled Rib-Eye Steaks with Blue Cheese Stuffed Mushrooms. This was delicious, as always. We tried both a Cab and a Syrah with this and found that the Cab stood up better to the mushrooms, which overpowered this particular Syrah (unlike the 2000 Curtis Crossroads Syrah, which was the wine that inspired us to make this dish so many times before... I taste these mushrooms and I immediately start wishing I had a glass of that Syrah with me...)
Tuesday night brought dinner at Lucky's in Montecito. I never understood why people would "waste" $50 on a steak until I ate at a good steakhouse for the first time. (My budget typically prohibits me from going to steakhouses unless invited for business dinners...) The steaks at Lucky's are very high quality and cooked to perfection, and pretty much everything on the menu is delicious. On this trip I went with Diver Scallops in Escargot Butter and a Charred Bone-In Rib-Eye with Horseradish Sauce (sauce not pictured):
We ordered several sides for the table, all of which tasted great, but I forgot to take pictures because by then I was focused on my steak, which was very much the star of the show. First, though, the scallops made me very happy. I'm such a sucker for fresh scallops, and I try to order them every time the opportunity arises... These were incredibly fresh and cooked to perfection. My steak, too, was perfectly cooked and so very very tasty. Mmmm... Steak....

After one last lunch at Super Cucas on Wednesday (I ordered the totally awesome Chile Rellenos but was too excited about eating my kick-ass lunch to remember to take a picture), I headed back to lab for a few goodbyes. I sat through the crazy 101S traffic (Santa Barbarans panic when it rains (as it did my last two days there) which combined with Thanksgiving traffic to make for lots of sitting in gridlock during my last two days in town) to get back to Steph's so we could say our goodbyes before she headed off to see her parents and I headed out to the airport.
My flight got me back to Portland at 1am, just in time to go to bed and wake up to sit around watching horribly boring football games while my wonderful mother slaved away in the kitchen preparing a feast. I'm such a control freak that I usually end up either being in charge or heavily involved in the preparations for such things, so it was a special treat (especially given how exhausted I was) to just sit back and let my mommy make me a bunch of delicious food... (Thanks, mom!)

Monday, November 24, 2008

Bottomless Bloody Marys, a Rock Star, and a Band Geek...

Sunday turned out to be a pretty darn good day. We started out over at Madison's for some football-watching. We each ordered a Bloody Mary, only to find out that for a mere $2 more we could make them "bottomless." It's sort of brilliant, in that the more you drink the better the deal becomes... This deal is not recommended, however, if you want to do anything remotely productive with the rest of your morning...
To accompany our beverages we ordered up some brekky. I got a seriously good Chorizo Burrito, (left) while Steph went with an egg and sausage sandwich with a pepper jack sauce (right)... That was one damn fine breakfast burrito...
After the Bucs finished making my day a happier place, we did a bit of sitting around (as bottomless Bloody Marys tend to make a person want to do) before hopping in the car to head to LA to see the totally awesome Ranchero Brothers in concert. We used to go to Largo pretty frequently when I lived in Santa Barbara, but they have since moved to a new location so this was a new experience for us. The plan was to get to LA a bit early, hit a Cuban restaurant for dinner, then hit the show. We were making good time, when it was pointed out to us by a neighboring motorist that we had a flat tire... Sure enough, we had managed to drive over a nail at some point in the last... week? I have no idea... Anyway, we called AAA and they came to put the donut on the car and we were on our way again, but now with only enough time to grab take-out from the restaurant. Behold the ambiance as we ate our Cuban sandwiches:
After dinner we made it to the new Largo, and the show was fantastic. (Stools where Rhett and Murry would sit shown below, since there was no photography allowed during the show.) When you see the Old 97s, it's easy to be distracted by Rhett (given that he is a freaking rock star) and forget about how totally and completely awesome Murry (the band geek) is. Rhett was having some throat issues during the show, making him a bit raspier than usual, but he still rocked it. Murry told some of the most hilarious stories I've ever heard and did some seriously impressive yodeling to boot. I was hoping to hear Up the Devil's Pay, but at least I got my yodeling fix in a different song and once they played Valentine I was content with whatever. They played a lot of the super-old material and some newer stuff, including the hilarious and awesome Jack the Necrophiliac as their finale, which brought the house down. Jon Brion came out to tear things up on the piano during the encore, which is always amazing to see. In summary: totally awesome show. So glad the New Kids concert got canceled so I could come see this...

Week 12 Bucs Post: Welcome Back...

You know, it would have made the Bucs seem like bullies if they hadn't spotted the lowly Lions 17 points before they started playing for reals... I thought that was a very kind gesture.

Not much that I'm in the mood to complain about this game (other than how much I wish Gruden would open up the offense before the Bucs are in a giant hole), but two people to welcome back, both of whom I was very happy to see...

First, a welcome back to Cadillac Williams. I was skeptical, and he still didn't look ready when he crashed into Garcia causing a fumble in the first quarter... but for a guy coming back from what could have been a career-ending injury, he didn't look too bad. With Graham out for the year (*sob*) it will be nice to have him bring us a bit more depth at running back, and the team was pretty fired up to get him back after 14 months...
Secondly, a big welcome back to Ronde Barber... The old Ronde, that is. I loved seeing him tearing things up out there. I'm not ready for him to be too old just yet... Awesome.
Awesome.
Awesome...
Awesome...
Awesome.

Here's hoping we see this Ronde (and an improved Cadillac) next week in the huge game against the Saints...

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Food, Wine, and the Joys of Spontaneity

On Saturday Steph and I decided to drive up to Santa Ynez to do a bit of wine tasting in my old stomping grounds. Unlike our usual method, in which we pack a picnic and plan out where exactly we want to go over the course of the day, this time we decided to go with a more spontaneous approach. I've been trying to embrace this "spontaneity" thing lately (which seems to have become much easier for me after my time in Malaysia and Thailand), and on Saturday it worked out quite nicely indeed. We didn't even know what we would be making for dinner when we set out in the morning (this would normally stress me out), but even that portion of the day ended up being awesome.
We started out at Curtis, where I worked in the tasting room for a few years when I lived in Santa Barbara. (The corner of the counter that I still think of as "mine" is shown below.) Most of the people I worked with there over the years have moved on, but there was a familiar face in the tasting room on Saturday and he poured us some really nice wines. From there we headed (far) up the road to Foxen for still more fantastic wine. Foxen is one of my favorite wineries in the area and I can't recall ever being disappointed with the quality of their wines. We drove over to Los Alamos next to stop at Bedford Thompson, where the fun is as much about great conversation with the winemaker as it is about the wine.
Our original vague plan (conceived on the drive up) was to head in to Los Olivos for lunch, but a winery in the opposite direction had just been recommended to us, so we instead went two doors down from Bedford Thompson to eat at the Quackenbush Cafe. With a menu of mostly sandwiches and salads (pretty much all of which look delicious) it was a great stop for lunch. I went with Dungeness Crab Cakes (plated atop on crispy wontons with a really nice coleslaw and served with a salad dressed in a nice balsamic vinaigrette), which were made pretty much entirely out of crab (minimal filler) and were seriously delicious. Steph ordered a smoked pork tenderloin sandwich with roasted yellow peppers and feta, which got good reviews as well.
After lunch we headed east on a dirt road. In theory, this road would eventually take us past Dierberg-Star Lane winery before intersecting with the 246 freeway. On the way we were treated to some breathtaking views of the mountains and valleys in the area (pictures below taken while our 90's station on XM radio was hilariously blasting "High Enough" by Damn Yankees), and eventually we arrived at the winery as promised. The wines here (particularly the Merlot and the Pinot) were pretty darn nice, though I found it funny that they gave separate glasses for Bordeaux and Burgandy varietals (which is good) but that neither glass had been properly cleaned (which is bad, particularly if you're implying that glassware is so important).
We intended to hit a couple wineries along the 246, but we didn't have a map (because we're too cool for such things) and ended up turning west (towards home) rather than east (towards those wineries), meaning we needed a new plan. We headed into Solvang at this point to check out Stolpman, where we hadn't tasted in a few years. After trying their wines again, I can't imagine why we stopped going for so long. I love everything they pour at Stolpman (their L'Avion Roussanne in particular kills me) and the staff are always extremely friendly and helpful.

We decided this was enough wine tasting for the day and headed back down the mountain to grab some groceries and cook up some yummy food. (Attempt at capturing the sunset behind us in the rear view mirror below...)
We knew we needed to make something to pair with a Syrah, since I had shipped almost a case of Syrah from my cellar in Portland to enjoy with friends here. In the end we pulled together ingredients for Grilled Tri-Tip with Roasted Onion and Blue Cheese Cream Sauce. We've made this a few times before, but we had to change things up a bit this time since our memory of the necessary ingredients was a bit inaccurate while we were grocery shopping... and it was te best the sauce has ever tasted. We are brilliant.
This was a really nice day with a mix of old and new. Today we're off to watch the Bucs game, then driving to LA for what promises to be an amazing concert. More on that later...

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Totally Awesome Awesomeness

I don't plan to start reviewing movies here, but I feel compelled to post about the movie we watched last night (which also gives me an excuse to post a picture of our awesome dinner)...

For those of you who don't know, Center Stage is one of the greatest movies ever made. For a couple years when we were housemates, Steph and I had each seen bits and pieces of this movie on TV and thought it seemed cheesy and fun, but it wasn't until we rented the DVD (including extended dance sequences!) that we realized how totally and completely awesome it really is. I would guess we've each seen this movie over 50 times, and I'm still not even close to being tired of it. Needless to say, we were both pretty psyched to hear that a sequel (Center Stage: Turn It Up) was being released. We won't be able to get the DVD until late January, but Oxygen aired a slightly edited version last week which Steph was wise enough to record on her DVR, so last night we got a sneak preview.
If I were to say that this movie was totally amazing I would probably be accused of stretching the truth, but I will say it was much better than I'd dared to hope. The acting is fairly sketchy since the cast members (other than Peter Gallagher) were chosen for their ability to dance, but I found the plot to be refreshingly unpredictable at several points. Sure, the movie was totally cheesy and clichéd, but it was totally cheesy and clichéd in a really fabulous way... Plus, we got to see Cooper and Jonathan again! I can't wait for the DVD release so I can get me some extended dance sequences...

Speaking of dancing, the movie finished up just in time for Dancing with the Stars, a show that I'd never seen before but had been curious about ever since I heard that my beloved Warren Sapp had joined the cast. I've gotta say, it warmed the cockles of my cold, cold heart to see Sapp out there dancing his ass off and charming the heck out of the crowd. I suspect he's over-matched by Lance Bass, but I'm holding out hope that he can win...
In culinary news, we had some fantastic ahi sashimi for dinner, thanks to the big hunk of super-fresh fish we bought off of the dude on the pier at Avila Beach. Served up on sushi rice with a sprinkling of scallions and toasted sesame seeds, then seasoned some spicy mayo* (bottom picture) and a drizzle of soy sauce to taste, this was some seriously good dinner (and it actually paired perfectly with the $5 Trader Joe's Viognier we drank with it, not wanting to open a fancy wine when there was so much spiciness involved). Good stuff...
*To make your own spicy mayo, combine mayonnaise with a hearty squeeze of Sriracha and a few drops of sesame oil to taste.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Emily's Totally Awesome 3-Day Weekend...

One great thing about being a woman of leisure is that you don't need to wait for a holiday to go on an exciting 3-day weekend, although it does help to have friends who are willing to take a day off of work and come with you on your adventure. When I lived in Santa Barbara, Steph and I (and assorted friends, varying from year to year) would go on annual 3-day weekend wine-tasting trips to Paso Robles. Since I'm not sure when I'll make it back to Santa Barbara, this visit seemed like a good time to go on one more Paso trip. Apologies in advance for the length of this post, which I anticipate will be somewhat excessive...

Friday: Remembering How Much I Love Syrah
On Friday morning we packed up the rental car and left the smoke-filled air of Santa Barbara to head 2 hours north to Paso Robles. Our traditional first stop (Mastantuono) no longer exists, so we went up to another that we usually enjoy to get things started. I'm won't mention the name here because the wine was pretty underwhelming on this trip. I was actually a little worried that 2 months traveling and not having any great wine had messed up my palate, but our second stop of the day, Booker Vineyards, proved me wrong. This is a small-production (1200-case) winery with absolutely spectacular Rhones. I met a Syrah there (which now resides in my cellar) that reminded me why I love Syrah so much.
After two more stops (at wineries that were good, but not mind-blowingly so) we stopped for a picnic at Castoro. After years of wine-tasting experience, Steph and I pack a mean picnic. The selection this trip included pate, Smoked Salmon Spread, a stinky delicious cheese, Port Salut, apples, rotisserie chicken, and pita chips. After lunch, we tasted at Castoro before heading on to 4 more wineries. Denner was another winery that made me very very happy, again with Rhone varietals. We also had fun wine-and-cheese pairings at both Jada and Sylvester, and caught a gorgeous sunset coming over the mountains as we drove home.
When we got back to the always-classy Motel 6, we prepared our traditional wine-tasting-trip aperitif (equal parts muscat and sparkling wine) to sip as we and got things ready for dinner. Our assignment for the wine-tasting day is usually to track down a wine to pair with diner, and for our rib-eye steak dinner on Friday (note the lovely Motel 6 bedspread backdrop...) we found a nice Petit Verdot at Midnight Cellars. We used to get strange looks and comments from people when we grilled at the Motel 6, but things went off without incident this time.

Saturday: A Reunion and the Quest for Something Good
On Saturday morning Mel came down from the Bay area to join us for our second day of tasting. I hadn't seen her in 2 years, so it was a lot of fun to hang out again, and by the end of the day it was feeling just the good old days when the three of us lived in the same city...
We started out at Adelaida (view from the tasting room pictured above), which is one of my all-time favorite Paso wineries. (It was an Adelaida Pinot Noir 4 years ago that was the first wine to ever really blow my mind, so they have a special place in my heart...) Their wines were totally awesome (as usual) and it was a great start to the day. After two average wineries, we found our way to a fairly new winery called Dubost and were quite pleasantly surprised. Everything they poured for us was fantastic, and the owner was totally awesome. From Dubost we headed over to Tablas Creek, a winery specializing in Rhone varietals. Steph and I had tasted there a few years ago and had been rather underwhelmed at that time, but on this trip we found it difficult to refrain from bringing home one of every wine they poured. I'm so glad we decided to give them another try. At this point the day was going fairly well, with 3 fantastic wineries and 2 average ones. After this point, however, things started going downhill.
We arrived at our next stop and opened the trunk to get the cooler containing our picnic lunch... only to discover that we'd left it at the hotel. This made us feel like freaking geniuses, especially since we'd opened the trunk several times already that day to put our wine purchases back there... We got back in the car and drove to the hotel, noting several times during the trip how absolutely brilliant we all are. We deposited our wine in the room (better not to have it in the trunk anyway) and retrieved our picnic, then headed back out to the winery where we'd planned to picnic originally. After our delicious picnic we did some tasting at the winery, only to find that everything was extremely mediocre. We went on to a winery that we'd enjoyed a few years ago and found that... everything was extremely mediocre (despite the presence of an adorable winery dog, pictured below). We then went to another winery that came highly recommended and that we vaguely remembered enjoying a couple years ago, where we found that... everything was extremely mediocre.
At this point Mel and I were getting a bit tired and cranky. I had no energy for more mediocre wine, but I didn't want our last day of tasting to end on such a lame note... Before our last mediocre stop I proposed the idea that, if this winery wasn't good (really good), then we needed to just get off the beaten path and drive out to Cass. So, after 3 straight mediocre stops and fears from Mel that lunch had somehow ruined our palates, we made it over to Cass and discovered that, in fact, our palates were just fine. We don't always make it to Cass when we come to Paso since it's not really on the way to anywhere else, but it's definitely one of my favorites. After our first sip of Grenache our spirits were lifted and we knew that everything would be OK after all...
Back at the hotel we again made a batch of champagne-and-muscat tasty beverages to imbibe while we did the prep work for our dinner of Indian-Spiced Chicken Salad. I love this dish, and it pairs beautifully with Viognier (in this case an amazing Viognier we found at Adelaida that morning). It may seem like a lot of work to prep nice, somewhat involved dinners in a Motel 6 room, but that's just how we roll.

Sunday: Pub Food and Football...
My original plan on this trip was to wake up crazy-early on Sunday and make it back to Santa Barbara in time for the Bucs-Vikings game. As we lounged around enjoying great food and wine Saturday night, however, this plan began to seem deeply stupid. We made some calls and found that Downtown Brewing Company would be showing my game on a big ol' HD TV and decided that a liesurely morning featuring brekky with Mel before she headed back up north made much more sense.

I won't get into the details of the game again, but the pub breakfast was pretty decent and it ended up being a fun morning. The pub is only open for breakfast on weekends, so the only two menu options were an egg sandwich:
or a breakfast burrito:
The beers ranged from delicious (Porter and Wheat) to pretty good (Red) to sort of gross (IPA and (Steph tells me from a previous experiment) Blueberry). We ordered some nachos and jalepeno poppers (below) around halftime of the game, and were reminded of why these foods are always a much better idea in theory than in practice...
Ah, well. The important thing was that the Bucs won and that I got to watch it in vivid crisp detail at a reasonable time of day rather than streaming a slightly-pixelated version at some ungodly hour... As much as I loved traveling, I'm so glad to be back in a country where such things are possible. (This is quite possibly my favorite thing about America, in fact...)

Steph and I stopped at Avila Beach (pictured below) near Pismo on the way home and picked up a gorgeous hunk of Ahi from a fisherman at the pier there, which will be our dinner tonight...
In summary, it was a totally awesome weekend and I'm loving being back in California... I'm trying not to think about the stupid laws in Massachusetts preventing these fantastic wineries from shipping me their wines after I've moved to Boston...