Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Only the Dough Is Sour at a Bettina Bread Class

How hungry were our ancient ancestors, who looked at wheat waving in the wind and thought, “Yum, delicious!” I mean, the stuff looks like weeds. And to get the germ out you’ve got to mill it—quick, call, Thomas Alva Breadison to invent a machine to crush the stuff just enough! And then something invisible in the air has to make it ferment. Yeasts are the hungry magical Houdinis of the story. Finally, you have to learn to bake all of that glop you slop together—quick, call Bready Crocker!

OK, that’s a bit playful (and maybe overwrought), but so is breadmaking. So if you dare to wander into that deep water, it's best to have a very good guide, and there's none better than Brendan Smith, co-owner of Bettina with his wife Rachel Greenspan (that's them up top). The couple, who just celebrated the one-year anniversary of their fine pizza (and much more) shop, are offering sourdough bread baking classes every couple of months. If the ins and outs of bread interest you, there's no better way to spend a Sunday morning. Plus the event ends with a pizza and wine lunch included.

My front-and-back instruction sheet is so covered with scribbled notes I can barely read them all--that's a small hint at all the wisdom Brendan shares in the three hours you get to watch him discuss how to feed a starter and then turn that into a luscious loaf. You get a starter too, and by the end it's easy to feel it's like high school health class and you've been given a doll you have to pretend is your baby for the weekend (what a great course in birth control that lesson was, no?). It's a living thing, and you hope not to kill it, even if you keep dumping some of it to feed it (hey, friends, who wants starter? or who wants pancakes?).

Brendan certainly knows his dough. He couldn't even begin to come up with an estimate of how many loaves of bread he's baked since he gave up studying for law school, and inspired by Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything, made his first loaf for stress relief and instead found a new calling. After a year apprenticeship at Orchard Hill in New Hampshire he ended up at famed Roberta's pizzeria in Bushwick Brooklyn, where he met Rachel, then a fancy-food specialist, and the two decided to load up their lives and move to Montecito-y. (OK, they ran the mobile pizza delight Autostrada first.) Add it up, and Brendan guesses he's made 60,000 pizzas, at least. Which means if you ate one of the pizzas he's made a day, you would have had to start before the Civil War broke out. I mean, who forgets the Lincoln-Douglas debate that argues over pineapple on pizza....

Despite the class's length of three hours, he's actually condensing the process that would take eight hours in your own home--there's a lot of resting downtime so you can let proteins build necessary chains. Lots of proofing. And then there's all the new words you get to learn, like banneton (the wood/reed basket you proof in) and lame (the device that holds the razor blade so you can score the bread before it bakes). And while Brendan gets to use a pizza oven that cranks the red oak fired heat at a temperature higher than Ray Bradbury ever considered, he explains how you can cook at home in your own oven, using a Dutch oven to hold the initial steam (don't let that crust dry out at first bake!).

When you finish, you could end up with something like this lovely loaf Rachel is showing off. Or maybe you won't, but it's bread--even the "failures" taste pretty good. And teach you more for when you make that next loaf.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Sip This: Refugio Ranch Barbareño

This red blend’s name, a reference to one of the Chumash dialects, hints at how the wine is a native expression of the Santa Ynez Valley. With 75 percent syrah and 25 percent petite syrah — at least in this vintage (the 2015 is sold out and the 2016 just released, and those percentages are slightly different) — is big and bold, hale and hearty. There’s a lot of French oak, but it’s very well integrated.

Want to read the rest then do so at the Independent's site.

Monday, October 21, 2019

The Monarch and Silver Bough Abruptly Close

(A halibut dished served at the Monarch at a March 2019 wine dinner with Liquid Farm and Kings Carey.)

In a somewhat shocking case of burying the lead, The Santa Barbara Independent and other media outlets received the news Friday afternoon that Scratch Restaurants “will begin swiftly expanding in 2020 by opening additional outposts of Sushi|Bar,” one of which is housed in the Montecito Inn.

The buried lead is that Phillip Frankland Lee and Margarita Kallas-Lee — the husband-and-wife chef duo who own Scratch Restaurants — have pulled the plug on The Monarch (which recently won this paper’s Foodie Award) and the lavish dinner-as-spectacle Silver Bough. Both restaurants are not just closed; their spaces have in fact been sold.

Want to read the rest than do so at the Independent's site.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Index: Ain't Europe Grand (Tour) with Chryss and George

Thank you all who have read your way through our five-country grand tour along the Rhine, Main, and Danube, with a handful of days in Prague to boot (we were gone May 12 - May 30). To sum up, here's what was best about this Viking Cruise, beyond the wonderful company of Judy and Roger, our too kind benefactors:

  • Wonderful, personal, attached local guides
  • Great location-appropriate onboard food and drink
  • A chance to see so many places that only seem to exist in films or dreams
  • Our terrific, patient, funny and knowledgeable cruise director Stein Dyb, who stayed with us the whole trip even though we had to take two different ships
And to help you find all these posts, as the chronicling of the trip took 10x longer than the trip itself:

Prague, Czech Republic (flying and arrival) Day 1
Prague, Czech Republic (city touring) Day 2
Prague, Czech Republic (Sedlec, Kutna Hora) Day 3
Budapest, Hungary (bus trip, night cruise) Day 1
Budapest, Hungary (bus tour, friend visit) Day 2
Vienna (Prater, plus Slovakia sail through), Austria Day 1
Vienna (city tour and The Belvedere), Austria Day 2
Melk (and Danube sailing), Austria
Passau, Germany
Regensburg, Germany
Nuremberg, Germany
Bamberg, Germany
Wurzburg, Germany
Wertheim, Germany
Koblenz (castles, Marksburg), Germany
Cologne, Germany
Kinderdijk, The Netherlands
Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Monday, October 14, 2019

Sip This: Babcock 2016 Bright Fortune

Leave it to the mad — in the best of ways — scientist of wine Bryan Babcock to be one of the Santa Barbara producers eager to bring back cabernet franc after a virus wiped out most of this region’s vines in the 1990s. The new stock led to Bright Fortune, this ripe and delicious red there isn’t enough of.

Want to read the rest then do so at the Independent's site.

Ain't Europe Grand (Tour) with Chryss and George (Day 18)

Speak Double Dutch to a Real Double Duchess

Pardon the obscure Elvis Costello allusion, especially since it's from a song called "New Amsterdam," (hey, there's a video for it, who knew?) when we were briefly in the old one. See, obligatory canal photo. I will spare you the one of many many bicycles (a whole parking garage of them!) and one of realizing we were in the red light district as the amount of unwashed vomit from the cobblestones increased.

We didn't get to do much this morning as our shuttle to the airport was heading out at about 10 am. We got up, ate breakfast, cleared our stateroom by 9 as required, and said farewell to Judy and Roger, who were doing the extension in Amsterdam and taxied off to their hotel. Some of us, after three weeks off, had to go back to work, though. That's in America.

Still, Chryss and I had to walk about a bit, didn't we? Peek our heads into one Gouda store? Worry the oddly slanted building fronts might slide into us on the sidewalk? (Clearly not Californians worried about the Big Shake.)

It was drizzly, though, so that made a town of water seem even damper. We did find a neighborhood of cute cafes and shops we wished we had time to dawdle in. We were impressed by lots of brick, especially the imposing Beurs van Berlage, once a stock exchange, and now a spot for conferences and snacking.

The damp meant I didn't drag the camera around, and I guess the idea it was all over saddened me enough I didn't really take phone photos, either. We did wish that Viking figured out a way you got some actually time in Amsterdam and didn't just say, "Hey, we're docked--now get on that shuttle!" It seems almost a cheat to pretend it's part of the cruise itinerary.

As for the airport, and a somewhat difficult two flights home, I won't bore you. Let's just say it's tricky when one person's Global Entry arrives on time and the other's doesn't, and then he gets stuck in a ridiculous customs line. We both made our connecting flight somehow, though, if a bit anxiously.

Instead, let's focus on a surprisingly good Bloody Mary at the Amsterdam airport. That's always nice, no?

Or even better, the official Vali painting from our ship. What an artful run through Europe we had. Full, fast, and even with all these photos and posts, a bit of a dream.

Go back to Day 17 of Ain't Europe Grand (Tour) with Chryss and George

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Ain't Europe Grand (Tour) with Chryss and George (Day 17)

Ark, Who Sails There?

No, I had not had too much to drink early in the morning as we sailed from Germany--auf wiedersehen--to The Netherlands. For there really is a replica of the ark, not quite the full cubits as the "original," sitting there in the Rhine to indoctrinate folks into creationism. At least someone had some money to blow on it. Oddly, it fits 5,000 people, way more than the original crew. Did you recall Noah was five hundred years old when he became the father of Shemp, Moe, and Curly? Oh, I mean Shem, Ham and Japheth. I was pretty close without looking it up. I mean, why should I when most devout haven't read the book either?

There are other reasons to believe, like a blue day with puffy clouds and the ship's prow mist guard making magical reflections.

Or my wife, enjoying the sun and still cold. But she still rocks!

We are well past the land of castles at this point, with the Rhine from Cologne to eventually Amsterdam busy with other shipping and much of the shore looking a bit industrial. It's our last morning to sail under bridges, so I'm not going to miss the chance to shoot some photos of that. Always a bit thrilling-terrifying to consider the hundreds of cars zooming over us.

And trucks, too, of course. Go engineers!

So this region is largely a park area known as De Biesbosch, and this building says that, but it really doesn't seem like nature park central. Alas, I didn't get this confusion cleared up on the ship or on the internets. Sorry.

And soon, lo and behold, our first windmill!

We were going to sort of back in to get to Kinderdijk, our afternoon stop, but here's what it looks like from around the way, with a water tower that's evidently for sale--some have been turned into hotels, so if you're interested in the hospitality industry....

Like the Michel Legrand in Your Mind

The largest concentration of windmills in The Netherlands is in the UNESCO World Heritage site that is Kinderdijk. Nineteen are still preserved-restored and driving a Don Quixote batty. (Cervantes reference, check!) They are amidst the Groene Hart (Green Heart, but you probably got that on your own), an extensive peat landscape where all the Dutch cities you've heard of are--Utrecht, Rotterdam, The Hague, and Amsterdam. And while it's become a tourist destination, that doesn't make it a tourist trap. Don't believe me, just look at this.

That's one of the best shots I got. Maybe ever. But the mix of water, tall grasses, blue skies, skittering clouds--it was something. You did have to watch where you walked, as it as also a paradise for water fowl, which like to poop all over human paths. I think the clay spells "restroom" in bird language. But the birds were also beautiful too. It was easy to keep getting different perspectives, but I promise not to overdo these selections, just give you a sense of it. Feel free to listen to the best version of "Windmills of Your Mind" as a soundtrack to the photos (Paul Motian, Bill Frisell, Petra Haden, Thomas Morgan).

When we did our tour with the local guide, who had a super dry sense of humor (that's because her humor wore wooden shoes)

we even got to go inside one of the windmills. That's when things seemed too much full of tourists--cramped space, ladders of stairs more or less up and down the three stories. Amazing to think the one we visited had been home to a family of over 10 kids. I would think such a tiny home would be excellent birth control.

Oh, and then there was also , biking along amidst the tall grasses, unexplainable this. I so wish I knew this man's story, so hope he doesn't do it just to puzzle tourists like me, but has some greater deeper reason to perform his patrol.

Some of the folks about the windmills weren't so exotic, if definitely more dear.

One Last Day of the Big Feed

Sure, we would get breakfast the next morning, but this day was it, the last full day of cruise stuffing. Again, we couldn't have been happier with Viking food, and given they tried so much to offer the cuisine from where you were, I felt less gypped not having to find a perfect spot in all our towns. Plus--easier and included!

So for lunch you get three photos, starting with our second to last soup. Viking really nails soups, so don't pass on them if you ever cruise with them. Here's a potage garbure, Bearn style, and who doesn't want to feel the Bearn? It's a pureed vegetable soup--recipes vary, but there will be beans and probably cabbage--and this one was swirled with saffron aioli and dotted with croutons and made you want to lick the bowl clean.

I guess since the soup came from France, the pasta could come from Liguria, torfie alla Genovese*, with pesto, potatoes (double the starch, double the fun!) and green beans.

*Note I did not make a Kitty Genovese joke as that's too obscure and has little to do with pasta and is just sad.

I promise we got off lunch desserts as soon as we got back to the States, but the Netherlands isn't a U.S. possession, so here's something easing us back into our homeland's good graces, apple crumb pie with caramel sauce and vanilla ice cream. Hide it under a large enough mint leaf and it's a salad.

Dinner, of course, meant a returns to the regional specialties menu, but not for the appetizer as there was more soup--wild mushroom amped up with truffle cream--on the daily specials. Given wild mushroom soup was one of my few Slovak favorites that my mom made when I was a wee thing, this was both delicious and nostalgic--of my youth, of just a few weeks ago in Prague, which already seemed world's away.

My main was the exotically named "roast pork." I mean, it's our last night, Viking! Step up your game and wow me with some German! Seriously, it was a perfect plate, with, of course, the legal requirement sides of sauerkraut and boiled potatoes. Cumin jus gave it a bit if a different fillip and helped keep it moist--it's so easy to dry out roast pork.

Chryss, prepping for the trip home and a land where all cuisines belong to us, had the Thai green vegetable curry. Again, Viking did a fine job making things work out for a pescatarian.

And I opted to keep the doctor away twice that day, with another apple dessert, mostly because who doesn't want the word "appelflappen" in one's mouth? The only thing more luscious where the apple fritters themselves--think of them as fired red tomatoes, but adorned with vanilla custard sauce.

The First Night We Thought the Cruise Would End

It was hard to believe it was going to end, after being away for over two weeks, but here we were, with one last splendid sunset.

We had sailed legendary rivers, visited towns with centuries of history, ate and drank well, and even better met some fascinating new friends--here's the whole gang, with Steven and Carol (at left) and us at the last supper.

Chryss and I, of course, can't thank Roger and Judy enough. We cherished the trip, of course, but even more the chance to see the world with them. Thank you both.

There was, of course, one last drink treat, as the bar broke out some of the finest German brandy--of course there is such a thing, don't scoff. If you like brandy with a bit more of a bite, more caramel and oak, Asbach might be for you. On this night, it was spot on for me.

And so, don't ask for whom the Vali bell tolls, it tolls for our memorable adventure. I'll do a very short Amsterdam post (as we only were in the town for an hour--the airport much longer...). And then a wrap-up of highlights and what I hope will be a helpful index. But thanks for all your time on board this boat of a blog with me as it took me months to finish.

Go back to Day 16 of Ain't Europe Grand (Tour) with Chryss and George

Go ahead to Day 18 of Ain't Europe Grand (Tour) with Chryss and George