Sunday, October 25, 2009

Making Zin in Sonoma!

My friend invited us up to make wine with her and her family. Her dad and his friend make wine together. They live in Sonoma county, in Healdsburg. My friend grew up there her whole life and I think they are so lucky to live in the heart of the beautiful wine country! It is especially gorgeous up there this time of the year...when the trees and vineyards are all the color of fire. Tons of reds, oranges and yellows. Super cool. They sell most of their grapes to Napa wineries, Clos du Bois is the main buyer, but some of the grapes they save for themselves to make their own wine and bottle for themselves. Seriously, is that the best way to retire or what?

We, of course, couldn't turn down a trip to the wine country and a chance to see the magic! After testing the sugar content of the grapes, her dad confirmed Saturday was a go. They had a crew out to pick all the grapes off the vines and then they stuck them all through a de-stemer. It's this machine that takes the first pass at sifting through the grapes and removing the debris and stems. Then, they had put the grapes in this huge plastic container (like almost as tall as me and big) and added an enzyme to the tub to make the skins super soft and it also started to start the fermentation process. At the point we arrived the grapes were mush, with most of the skins dissolved. Alcohol was already present as the fermentation process had begun.

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the men learning how the operate the wasn't a "stomp" like I love Lucy =)

Our job was as follows: take buckets full of the grape mush to the wine press, fill to the top, crank the press down and out flows the juice! Fast! We were running all over the place. At that point, two of us manned the bottom of the press and using strainers, strained the juice as it flowed into the ice chest. The ice chest was hooked up to a pump that pumped the juice right into these huge stainless steel tanks. Here the juice will go through malactic acid fermenting and turn into yummy Zin! The bottling process happens next, after they have tasted and tested the wine over several months to get it just right. (That's the next project we'll get to help out on.)

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Julie & me managing the straining process

We got our system down and were all running around making sure we captured every last drop of juice that was flowing out of the press. It comes out pretty fast as they really cranked the press down tight. We had to be quick on our toes and organized to make sure we strained everything going in the chest. The mush was a little extra "mushier" than they had planned and as we cranked down the press, sometimes, random chunks of grapes would come flying out of the top or side of the press.

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all the debris leftover in the press...grape skins, stems, clumps of seeds, etc.

It ended up getting Julie & me pretty good one time. It got me right in the face and was all in my hair and eyes. I quickly ran off to rinse my face because even though purple stained hands might be ok for work on Monday, a purple streaked face wouldn't be so cool. I found chunks inside my ears! We were completely covered with purple chunks by the time we were done. Luckily, Julie told us to wear all black or something that could get stained. We sported our "bank robber" outfits and were fine.

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Julie & me getting every last drip of wine pumped out of the ice chest into the tanks

Brian & Karl were working hard, lifting empty barrels and moving big things around. It was really fun seeing the magical process of turning grapes into wine. Definitely made me appreciate all the work and time that goes into it. Of course, the big vineyards have major equipment for this process and probably aren't using Bed, Bath and Beyond strainers to strain the juice, but our homeade version worked out well!

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The Sinclair's beautiful ranch and vineyard. Just some of their vines pictured here.

Her parents and their friends rewarded us at the end of the 4 hour session with a bbq in the middle of the vineyard. We were surrounded by huge, full vines, mountains and Mike's garden of all kinds of crops, on an absolutely perfect fall day. We drank their award winning Sauvagnion Blanc that recently won a Gold medal for best of class, as chowed down on BBQ. It was a great day! Later, he let me pick golden delicious apples from his apple tree since they had so many they wouldn't even get to them all. He had all kinds of crops- cabbage, pears, beans, tomatoes, artichokes, squash and even pumpkins. I chose two to take home for the front porch.

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Now, for the fun part--all the cleaning after we were done!

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did you know this is what artichokes looked like after they pass the point of picking? So cool!

At the end of the day, after cleaning every piece of equipment, bucket and tool, Julie's dad was very generous and gave us a case of their Zin we had sampled at lunch. Heck yeah! We'll work for wine anytime! Ah, the wine country. A perfect place to retire some day I think. And visit often in the meantime ;)

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Farewell, Oprah & Food Network!

I am officially a working woman again! On Monday I start working at one of my favorite companies! I am so thrilled and looking forward to working with a few former co-workers from my other favorite company. It will be a definite change in my daily routine of watching The View from my couch while sipping Starbucks, running errands in the middle of the day, working out whenever I wanted, watching Oprah & the Food Network, and day time drinking with my other unemployed friends, etc. Ah, at least I can say I enjoyed it while I could. In reality, I could only take being a stay-at-home-housewife for so long! I mean let's face it- without other living projects such as a pet or child, it was pretty boring. It was starting to get sad when the only people I interacted with in person each day were Home Depot employees and the mail man. I wasn't off too long since we've been back from our trip, only 6 weeks or so, but I was still getting very depressed with this job market. I know there are tons of people out there that have been looking alot longer than me and I feel their pain.

In preparation for my working woman routine again, I've started pulling out all the quick and easy, week day supper recipes. (Did that just sound really southern? Supper?) Anyway, we had one rainy, dreary day here yesterday and I got all excited for all the warm, comfort food possibilities. I've been wanting to make chili for a while so I thought this would be the perfect chance. Needless to say, as I headed out for the grocery, it was not cold out at all. Oh well, my chili was still delisshhh. Cold outside or not- you got to try it. The recipe is from the one and only, Joy of Cooking. I just grabbed it randomly out of my stack of many. Among a few other things, I collect cookbooks of all kinds and love reading through them to get new recipe ideas. It's so funny because every time I look through the Joy of Cooking, I always think of Rombauer Vineyard now. We were wine tasting in Napa a while back and in the Rombauer tasting room were shelves full of the the Joy of Cooking and I was really confused. Turns out, Erma Rombauer, one of the authors, is part of the Rombauer winery family! As a side note, if you haven't tried their reds you must! They are the most velvety, berries & cream reds we've ever had.

Ok, on to the recipe. So, this is Chicken Chili Verde. (Think inside yumminess of green enchiladas) It turned out amazing and so flavorful which is always a good thing. The other thing that I loved about it was how easy and quick it was to throw all these ingredients together. The grocery had all items except the canned tomatillos. My trick is this: grab a jar of green salsa at the store and substitute a cup of that in. (Turns out, green salsa is almost ALL tomatillos.) I just baked four chicken breasts in the oven while I worked on the other ingredients. The recipe "as-is" is not very spicy at all so throw in some chopped jalapenos if you want. I threw in a drained and rinsed can of white beans too. Corn tortillas would be perfect on the side like the recipe recommends, but I always serve soups, stews, etc with Karl's favorite- Crescent rolls. They really are heaven. What's so crazy, is that without even thinking about it, this is a healthy dinner too! (although, it kind of depends on if you down 3 crescent rolls on the side like we did.) I was thinking if you HAD to add something on top when serving it you could do a spoonful of sour cream and a sprinkle of white cheese of some sort. Ours was great as-is! Enjoy!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Half Dome hike at Yosemite!

Hello long lost blog! We're back from our trip around the world and I've been updating our trip blog lately with trip pictures, etc. so check it out! I've been adding our pictures on the right of the blog under "photo gallery".

In the meantime, we're back in the "real world" and getting settled in our new place. Karl has been pretty busy with school lately but has been getting to know some other couples that are new to the area. One of his new friends invited us to go to Yosemite this weekend and climb Half Dome with him & his girlfriend. Karl and I have lived here over three years and have yet to go to Yosemite so we were excited to finally go! Getting camping reservations for the park is extremely difficult and they open them up online each month and are completely booked in a matter of minutes. Our plan for the trip was to leave Friday after they got out of school around 2 and stay in a hotel in a town right outside of the park. The park's parking lot was an estimated 15 minute drive from the hotel and it would be about a 30 minute walk to the trail head from there.

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Half Dome in all its glory. My first thought: How are we going to get up that!?

I started reading more about the hike and what we should bring, etc and learned it was one of the most intense hikes in the park and round trip usually takes about 12 hours with a total of 16 miles of hiking! I had heard of a couple of friends who have done the hike so I thought- we can do it! This is not to say I was a tad hesitant as we've definitely heard of people falling to their death on this hike. (I think overall there have been around 5 deaths and supposedly these were people doing really stupid things such as the hike in the rain, hiking outside the cables, etc.)

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Snow on the ground!

The drive out of town on Friday afternoon was pretty stressful since Bay area traffic begins at about noon on Fridays. It took about 4 hours from our front door to the hotel. We stopped at this awesome hole in the wall diner for dinner and all pigged out in preparation for our calorie-scorching- 12 hour hike the next day. It was fun to have a guilt free dinner of burgers, fries and onion rings!

We were all putting off talking about the plan for the next morning and what time exactly this entailed us getting to the trail head. We finally decided to leave the hotel at 5 am and be at the trail head by 6am. We didn't want to be hiking back in the dark at all and sunset was around 7pm these days. We were guessing we could do the entire hike in under 12 hours and possibly even 10. We packed our back packs that night and made sure we had tons of water, some cliff bars, trail mix, sunscreen, etc. We dressed in layers we could peel off as we needed.

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first view of the cables and tiny people climbing up

Saturday morning's wake up call at 4:45am wasn't too bad since we had all gone to bed close to 10pm. The guys were joking that was more sleep than they got on some school days after staying up reading all night. It was early. We drove into the park and had a 3/4 mile hike to the trail head- in the pitch dark. Karl was thrilled to use our head lamps to light the way!

The weather turned out to be absolutely perfect- highs in the mid 70's at the warmest and upper 30's at the coldest. I never took off my track pants. The hike was overall pretty intense. We gained a total of 4800 feet in elevation to the top of Half Dome which is 8800 feet. What this meant for the 5 or so hours up to the base of Half Dome was it was all up hill. The hike up to the base itself is a deterrent for most people. The trail was clean and very well kept up. There was a slight threat of bears along the way but there was so much commotion with hikers, etc I doubt they ever come close to the trail. There were two gorgeous waterfalls pouring down these cliffs ending in emerald colored pools of water. Spring is supposed to be incredible in the park with all the waterfalls at their peak and flowers filling all the meadows. The only thing I can compare the hike up to would be doing the stairmaster for close to 5 hours. INTENSE. We stopped to eat a granola bar once and were drinking out of our camelbacks the whole time. We made it to the base of Half Dome around 10:45am. The final climb up to the base was the most intense and hardest in my opinion. It is essentially sheets of granite rock at a pretty steep incline, with nothing to hold on to.

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We did it! View from the top.

Approaching Half Dome was somewhat intimidating. It is literally a granite cliff wall with 2 steel cables hanging down from the top. Almost completely vertical. Karl's friend's girlfriend chickened out and didn't even come any closer to check out the cables. I decided to at least check it out a little closer up to see if I'd freak out. It still looked just a vertical up close but I decided to give it a shot. We had brought gloves to get a better grip on the cables. I figured this was pretty important, since we weren't harnessed in, and our grip was all we had. One slip and you're a goner. The cables are about 2-3 feet apart and anchored in by poles about every 5 feet up. There are tiny wooden planks placed every 5 feet as well. I was pretty nervous at first but got in my groove and just focused like crazy on the next plank I could put my feet on. Essentially, this climb is 100% upper body strength. You have to be able to pull yourself up the wall since it is almost completely vertical. While your legs obviously help some, it's mainly your arms pulling your entire body weight up . My shoes would barely be on the wooden plank, about 2 inches wide, for a 2 second rest and then it was time to go again. Karl was behind me and a guy who had done the hike a hundred times was in front. They both encouraged me the whole time and helped me focus and take it one step at a time. The granite in between the planks is obviously pretty worn and slippery from all the hikers that have made the trek. We had our hiking boots on and I was just praying the whole time they would grip and not slip. At this time of day (around 11am) there were other people on the cables but it wasn't completely packed. As if dangling from this cliff wall wasn't scary enough, there were people coming down at the same time! So, we would have to carefully tip toe over on our 2 inch wooden plank and hold on for DEAR life as they squished past us, sharing the plank as they descended. That part was nerve racking for me. You never look behind you or down, obviously. I just focused on the guys shoes in front of me and getting to the next plank. We finally made it to the top! It felt amazing to say I did it and my strength alone was what got me up there!

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the guys out on the "diving board" at the top of Half Dome

The top is actually huge. Think a huge somewhat flat, rocky football field. The 360" view was absolutely incredible and I can say now- definitely worth the scary climb. Only the strongest survive and make it to this point so I felt accomplished for sure and was very proud of myself for not letting fear get in the way. We sat down and enjoyed some trail mix and lots of water as we took in the views. We had views of the park down below, tiny streams, meadows, streams of waterfalls coming down other cliffs,etc. Our photos almost don't do it justice. I tried to show perspective in my pictures of how enormous these granite mountains surrounding us were. Karl and his friend just had to go step out on the "diving board." It is essentially a thin rock plate dangling over the cliff. I guess they were pretty sure it wasn't going to tilt or shift as they posed for pictures. We spent an hour or so on top taking pictures, walking around and taking in all the views. Then, I started getting nervous thinking, I bet going DOWN is going to be even scarier! When we descend we stare out and down the whole time so I can't forget how high up we were and how vertical this cliff wall really is. EEEK!

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What a view!

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Slow and steady and again, just focusing on the little wooden planks on the way down, got us down. By this time the entire cables were jammed with people. I took it one plank at a time and got down. What a sense of accomplishment- I did it!

We took more photos before we started our descent. There was actually SNOW on the ground near the base of Half Dome. It snowed up there last Monday and was still there! The cables are seasonal and were coming down today- Sunday. We were very happy to have gotten up there and even happier we started the hike alot earlier than most people.

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We did it!

We were physically exhausted by this point and still had about 4 hours of hiking out. Going down hill is almost more painful than climbing up! My shins started killing me and my knees were slowly giving out. By the end of the trek I was hobbling and my left knee just couldn't take another step. It was very interesting to see how our bodies held up after 10 1/2 hours of straight hiking. My hips and knees were the first to start hurting. We got back to the car in exactly 10 hours and 35 minutes from when we started. We were happy to have made it back in less than the recommended 12 hours! Whoo hoo! Go us! We peeled off our boots and socks and couldn't move. Recap: 10 hours and 35 minutes of straight hiking. 17.5 miles. 4800 feet elevation gained.

The drive home felt VERY long and I started having cramps right way. We were too tired to even eat dinner and passed out the second we hit our bed. Today, I can't walk and it feels like I've been in a major car wreck. My knees are barely working and my arms hurt just typing this. All that and it was TOTALLY WORTH IT! We can't to hop in our hot tub tonight.

(View all of our pictures of Yosemite here)