tasting time

IMG_2232Hall is one of those small-scale wineries that make tasting your way through the Napa Valley so enjoyable: intimate, artisanal, organic, they produce fourteen-odd varietals each season, two of which you might find in your local liquor store – if you’re lucky. Because they’re such a diminutive producer, the majority of their wines sell out via subscription. Which means to taste the breadth of their fabulous Cabernet, you really need to visit the St. Helena estate vineyards. Though currently in the throes of constructing a major new guest experience facility – of which I’ll tell you more later – I still got the chance to relax in the dappled sunlight of the tasting garden and sip my way through a handful of choice bottles. Cabernet is like the Chardonnay of reds: people either love it or loathe it. If your palate falls into the latter camp you might be surprised, however, by the pure and vivid flavors Hall achieves. Unfined and unfiltered, these wines are layered, expressive, and totally delicious.


beyond the lanai

sopheap pich 3

Sculptor Sopheap Pich lives in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, working primarily in rattan and bamboo, constructing and weaving organic and plant forms which are at once solid and ethereal. His sculptures – currently installed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in a disappointingly offhand and rather ragtag display – move between abstraction and representation: the open weave construction allowing the free circulation of air in and out of the forms. Rattan and bamboo are ubiquitous to Cambodia, especially thriving in the wild mountains, where harvesting it is both difficult and dangerous. These natural materials are integral to life in Southeast Asia – from housing and baskets to fish traps and waterwheels – and the artist’s use of such demanding, difficult-to-tame media speaks to a generation that came of age under the Khmer Rouge-led government of Kampuchea. Combining the visualization of a painter with the spatial conceptualization of a sculptor, Pich literally draws in space with these materials, creating three-dimensional objects which consciously evoke the spirit of a very personal, poignant place.

sopheap pich 1

sopheap pich sculpture

sopheap pich 2


seed the soul

In pre-Columbian times the Maya and Aztecs revered chia seeds for their amazing energy and natural healing powers. One tablespoon of the seeds was considered capable of sustaining a warrior for 24 hours. A component of both societies diets, the ancient grain played a prominent role in religious ceremonies, too. Today, chia is the force behind the famous long distance runners, the Tarahumara Indians of Mexico’s Copper Canyon. Chia seeds come from the desert plant Salvia hispanica, a member of the mint family, which grows in North and South America. Consumed as early as 3,000 B.C., chia seeds were eaten as a grain, mixed with water, ground into flour, mixed into medicines, and pressed for omega-3 oil. As anyone who has followed my capricious dietary peregrinations since the start of this site knows, these extraordinary seeds offer a complete nutritional profile of omega-3, balanced dietary fiber, complete protein, antioxidants and minerals – chia really is one of the world’s healthiest whole foods.  Now along comes Mamma Chia, a new all-organic beverage pairing chia seeds, fruit juice, and a light touch of agave. With flavors like Blackberry Hibiscus, Cherry Lime, Raspberry Passion, Coconut Mango, and Pomegranate Mint, it’s official: chia has gone mainstream. Which is a good thing, really, because I’m addicted to the funky viscosity of these little super seeds.


live blog: cheese, please

Anyone who loves to eat will be quick to notice that the artisanal food movement has taken quick and firm root in Ireland. Perhaps it started as a reaction to the mad cow blow up a number of years ago, but now coupled with the current angst over genetically modified products entering the food chain you can’t hardly throw a rock in the countryside without hitting a small purveyor of singular handmade, hand reared, hand farmed, or hand grown accountable-to-the-consumer food. Suffused with a history of dairy-farming, the first great agricultural idea to prove itself in Ireland was cheese and today Irish Farmhouse Cheese is practically an appellation or D.O.C unto itself – traceable not just to a region, but to a small valley, even to the slopes of a mountain. That unique character – plus a distinctive flavor – is what has brought such acclaim to St. Tola, Siobhan Ni Ghairbhith’s award-winning small-batch goat cheese made in Inagh, near Co. Clare’s wild Atlantic coast. As the only organic goat farm in Ireland, the cheese produced here reflects the clean environment. From a young, fresh Crottin sprinkled with salt to a creamy, mature log coated in ash, the curds are imbued with suggestive flavors of the sea and undertones of peat. In short, this is cheese that tastes gloriously of its terroir.


jasper’s tap and corner kitchen

Appearances are deceiving in San Francisco: the distance between two points on a map, for instance; or that funny looking nun with a mustache. It’s true of restaurants as well. Elegant facades can belie inferior eats. And gritty basement boîtes often bubble up with tantalizing flavors. File Jasper’s Corner Tap & Kitchen under the latter. In the harsh light of day the restaurant’s visual charms are all but washed out - like one of those Tenderloin tender traps I’d normally studiously avoid. Yet I’d heard there were interesting experiments going on behind the bar – as well as in the kitchen – and felt it my duty to check things out. I’m glad I did because Jasper’s – despite an anodyne sense of design – is no ordinary “corner kitchen,” but the latest in a wave of cocktail bars and speakeasies that are marking the City by the Bay as a town that takes its tipple seriously. I start with a classic, the Negroni, which Jasper’s happens to keep on tap. You read that right: gin, Campari, and sweet vermouth in an ideal 1:1:1 ratio on tap. Frisco apparently has a penchant for lip-smacking aperitifs; the Negroni proved so popular that a second herbaceous cocktail recently joined the tap: a mix of gin, sweet vermouth, and fernet dubbed The Hanky Panky. Mixologist Kevin Diedrich is the mastermind behind the clever idea, as well as a dozen-plus seasonal cocktails, like Rhubarb Mule (a mix of bourbon, orgeat, rhubarb syrup, ginger ale and bitters) and a Wiessen Sour (bourbon, lemonade, orange marmalade, house-made bitters, and white beer). Plus, there’s also what might very well be the perfect summer concoction: house-bottled carbonated Pimm’s cup, muddled with strawberries and mint. Even better, there’s the kitchen in Jasper’s Corner Tap & Kitchen, which under chef Adam Carpenter has it’s own seasonal sensibility. If this weren’t laid-back San Francisco, you might even call it a gastro-pub. (But it is, so you won’t) Even so, the constantly evolving menu has been crafted to complement the strongest stout to the most subtle ale. I order a handful of small plates to see if works with various cocktails: salty Shishito peppers, a trio of deviled eggs, briny brussel sprout slaw and house-made sausage bites, and a warm soft pretzel with smoked gouda fondue. It does. Then I squirrel away the fondue, knowing it will be heaven for dipping with French fries. If you want to go “full gastro” The J Burger is a monument to the humble pub burger of yore; griddled Lucky Dog Ranch beef, English blue cheese, bacon onion marmalade, and frisee salad on a baguette bun. You won’t finish it, but apparently few people do. A lighter alternative is an equally flavorful filet of Scotch salmon atop a bed of organic black lentils. Sated, sedated, and just a little bit intoxicated, I’ve no room for coffee, let alone dessert. Before I head to the door GM Matthew Meidinger makes a point to tell me how at first people came to Jasper’s for Diedrich’s drinks. Then I finish the thought for him: now they stay for the food, too.


live blog: more juice, please

There’s a threshold you cross on day three, as the cleanse part of the experience lives up to the promise inherent in its name. Yesterday I couldn’t imagine doing this for more than three days, yet today – despite the intestinal discomfort that comes from three days of spinach, celery, lemon, parsley, beet, carrot, chard, kale, green apple, ginger, and cucumber juices – I almost wish I had signed up for five or even seven days worth of juice because I feel pretty awesome, inhabiting a space somewhere between delirium and euphoria. What’s even stranger is that my food cravings have mostly fallen by the theoretical wayside. I’m like a bromeliad, content to subsist on what the breeze brings. I received an email this morning from Organic Avenue as I have every morning. It begins with an affirmation. For two days I’ve mocked it as hackneyed pap as I downed my shot of chlorophyll, but today I read it with clear eyes: I am Happy, I am Joyous, I am Free. If somebody crossed my field of vision with a basket of warm bread I’d probably tackle them for it, but other than that, yes, I am happy and just a little bit free of the obsessive behavior I continually find myself battling when it comes to food. That alone is cause for celebration.


live blog: still nothing but juice

There’s a certain puritanical joy that comes from feeling hunger. We are so often full, or worse, overstuffed, that it takes more than a minute to wrap your mind around the conceit that perhaps the obverse of that state can be equally pleasurable. It also takes some serious convincing for the body to get on board with the reality of that bit of philosophical musing. Your calorie consumption is substantially reduced on a cleanse. So, too, is your fat and protein intake. For any reasonably active person that translates into an almost constant state of hunger. For example: last night I went to bed hungry; this morning I woke up hungry. It’s only work or being engaged in a hive of activity that distracts your mind from the constant “eat something” signal your body relays to your brain. (Writing this has suddenly turned into torture: I’m basically taking a time-out from my hunger distraction to remind myself that I’m really quite hungry.) Earlier today, when I was conveniently distracted and Zen-like about all this, I can truthfully say that I felt a distinct lightness of mind, as though my brain was hovering detached from my body, relishing the control. Coupled with a buoyant spring in my step, it felt like my whole being was enjoying this purge on some cellular level. Now that I’ve been reminded of my hunger, it’s all I can think about. I know that’s part of the process of this cleanse: listening to your body, recognizing your hunger, living with – not ignoring – it. But I don’t think I’ve evolved quite that far. Yet.


live blog: nuthin’ but juice

Like the beginning of a new diet or exercise regimen – or good adventure story – the first day of my Organic Avenue LOVE Deep cleanse is imbued with hope. LOVE is an acronym for Live Organic Vegan Experience and you can just feel the healthy goodness to come, right? Over the next three days I’ll be consuming 113 ounces of fresh-pressed vegetable juice daily and nothing else, save water. If that sounds difficult, well, it is. I did a three-day Cooler Cleanse a few months back and it proved to be a challenging test of mind over matter. I never posted about it because frankly I wasn’t sure I’d actually see it through to completion and the shame of public failure was too much for a virgin cleanser to shoulder. However, this time I’ve opted to go public and live blog my way through the experience – even though LOVE Deep looks to be substantially more hardcore than my previous cleanse.  Oh well, here we go.  First up: a breakfast shot of alfalfa grass chlorophyll.


in a pickle

What to do with a ten-pound bad bag of organic carrots?  Well, after using them in a stew, chopping up matchsticks and coins for a week’s worth of snacking, adding a handful into a pumpkin soup, and setting aside enough for a carrot-ginger soup of their own, I still had a good five pounds remaining.  How about a “winter pickle?” Julienned strips of carrot packed into a mason jar with a few cloves of garlic, salt, sugar, a dash of cumin, white vinegar, and the secret ingredient there on the left – watermelon radish.  By the time the snows hit this week I’ll be ready for a picnic.



Tucked away on the quiet banks of the Chattahoochee River is Canoe, one of Atlanta’s most acclaimed restaurants. The inviting interior blends wood, brick, ironwork and a wall of windows to create a casually elegant atmosphere. Settle into an overstuffed booth and take in the artistic touches, like Ivan Bailey’s hand-forged iron vines and creatures that wind their way through the restaurant – or the furniture art, created by Dwayne Thompson.

Balanced by culinary expertise and natural aesthetics, it’s a unique setting  – from the bustling exposed kitchen to the ceiling that resembles the inside of a canoe. Of course, the best is yet to come, so take your time perusing the seasonal menu from Executive Chef Carvel Grant Gould, a seventh generation Atlantan. Her sophisticated Southern style is a fundamental part of the Canoe experience.

Over brunch the other day, I know I wasn’t the only one paralyzed by the menu choices:  the savory and sweet scones with house made preserves or the buttery Georgia pecan sticky buns?  Oh hell, why not both. And since we’re indulging, bring on the house smoked salmon, which comes on a crispy potato pancake with goat’s cheese.

The excess of baked goods and potatoes negated the need for a proper starter  so I regretfully passed on the enticing descriptions of she-crab and African squash soups, but settling on a main course  still proved daunting.  “Duck & Eggs,” a pair of sunny side up eggs with a toasted sage biscuit and duck ragout? Brioche french toast with banana-mascarpone? Chicken and grits, with shiitake mushrooms and cipollinis?  I opted – finally – for the fried green tomato Benedict, which combined velvety hollandaise, smoky ham, and perfectly poached egg into a delirious contrast of textures and flavors, elevated by a surprise bite of tomato.

Stuffed to the gills, I jokingly mentioned dessert.  But when I heard the house specialty was popcorn ice cream on a bed of caramel corn, I was too curious too resist.  Of course, in for a penny, in for a pound, we might as well throw a cobbler in there, too – this is the south after all.  When two giant plates of dessert arrived at the table, I found myself unable to control the intractable pull of yumminess, which kept calling me to have just one more bite – all the while shuddering at the human body’s ability to overindulge against all good sense.  More to the point, my body – and it’s near-Olympic lack of restraint.

After brunch, Chef Gould took me for a tour around the grounds.  The river rolls past a tranquil waterfront enhanced by a natural, manicured landscape.  The colorful gardens, crisp white special-event tents and meandering walkways are the perfect spot for a postprandial stroll – or a nap. “It’s a very rustic, organic, warm feeling restaurant,” she said when I asked her to describe her food. “Finding the freshest ingredients, respecting their flavors and applying solid cooking techniques in the kitchen is how they come to life.” She hems and haws as I prod her into defining her style of cooking, before reluctantly settling on simply “contemporary American.”  I find it interesting that she neglects to include the word Southern in there and I call her on it.  “I’m 7th generation,” she says, “I couldn’t be more Southern.  But I just cook what I like.”


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