Pitching in at the warehouse

Easy does it

Easy does it

It seems we all need to do more these days than what our job description entails. At the newspaper, I’ve been helping out on the forklift. We use a lift to pull pallets of newspaper inserts off of delivery trucks. Under the patient tutelage of Matt our operations guy, I’ve become accustomed to using the machine. The trickiest part was the tight turning radius and the fact it turns from the rear wheels.

During my first training runs, Matt set up a slalom course of empty wooden pallets. I did fine going forward, it was reverse that I had a little trouble with.

Forks can be dangerous. When I worked at a winery in Napa I heard many a horror tale of accidents and close calls that came with lazy, rushed or incompetent forklift operators. Probably one of my favorites was the story of the disgruntled lift operator who was fired, then sneaked back onto the winery late at night. He took a forklift and rammed a 100,000 gallon wine tank, piercing it. By the time the first employees got on site in the morning the tank was empty. (Check out this forklift accident, watch the operator just manager to escape in time.)

I’m happy I gained the experience of operating a forklift and I’m glad I can help out a bit at the newspaper. (One of the paper’s photographers, Jen, snapped these photos of me. Check out her blog, New Vintage Photography, it’s in my link section.)

Get it lower, that load should be at minimum ground clearance.

Get it lower, that load should be at minimum ground clearance.

What I’m drinking …

A perfect summer change up.

A perfect summer change up.

The word of the day is caipirinha.  I think I butcher it every time I say it, but the pronunciation is kai-pur-een-ya. This is reportedly the national drink of Brazil. I wish I had been to Brazil or knew some native Brazilians to confirm it.

I do know from field research and trials at home that this is a great drink. The base of a caipirinha is cachaca, which is rum made from sugar cane. You can find several different types at BevMo, but I was able to get a bottle of Leblon at my local S-Mart. Leblon, which seems to be making the most focused marketing push in the states, ages its cachaca in vintage cognac barrels for two months.

The preparation of a caipirinha is simple. Take limes, or really any other fruit, and muddle it with a tablespoon of sugar. Add 1.5 ounces, or a generous pour of cachaca on top and then add in cracked ice. The rum has enough flowery and almost citrus like characteristics that it holds up on its own quite well. I had these prior to a tasty grilled tri-tip steak for dinner and it really is a nice change of pace for summer cocktails. It’s akin to a mohjito, and it seems like it could be the next fad cocktail like mohjitos. Just based on taste alone though, I think cachaca is a spirit that deserves more recognition.

The fox that dances

Owner and winemaker Greg Lews discusses his wines.

Owner and winemaker Greg Lewis, left, discusses his wines.

Christine and me had been hearing the buzz about a new tasting room/winery/restaurant/bakery/cheese factory in Downtown Lodi so we decided to check it out during the long weekend.

I always have doubts about places that try to do too much, and The Dancing Fox seemed like it could be one of those places that offers a lot but delivers little. However, Greg and Colleen Lewis, owners of winery and bakery, do deliver. The wines are straight forward and have the ripe, full flavors you’d expect from the Clements area where Lewis grows his vineyards. We found the Syrah to be particularly good. Dry, clean and with none of the out of control tannins I’ve tasted in other Lodi area Syrahs.

Greg said they still have plans to make cheese; starting with fresh mozzarella for the pizzas they plan to sell. I’m looking forward to it because it appears they know what they’re doing and do it well.

The original artwork and exposed beams gives the Dancing Fox a rustic feel.

The original artwork and exposed beams give the Dancing Fox a rustic feel.

After sampling the wines at Dancing Fox we walked over to the Lodi Beer Company where we had some Lodi Lite lagers with salt and lime. Most times I opt for the brewery’s IPA, but during the summer there are few better beers in Lodi than fresh Lodi Lite with lime. Many people don’t realize there’s no secret taste to Corona, almost any light lager can benefit with a little spritz of lime.

Lodi Beer Company's vintage looking tap handles.

Lodi Beer Company's vintage looking tap handles.

It’s great to see that despite the economic downturn Lodi’s downtown is still a vibrant destination for good food and drinks. The best part is that we can ride our bikes and not worry about driving.

Thankfully there was no oncoming traffic.

Thankfully there was no oncoming traffic.

Double chop good life at Wine and Roses

Every wine region seems to have its signature hotel and restaurant. In Lodi, it’s the Wine and Roses. Located in a rambling farmhouse that has been converted into a hotel and spa, Wine and Roses is emblematic of Lodi’s growth as a wine region.

Anticipating a great meal.

Anticipating a great meal.

Tall redwoods provide shade for the lush landscaping at Wine and Roses.

Tall redwoods provide shade for the lush landscaping at Wine and Roses.

Christine and I visited the restaurant on a sumptuous weekday night. As we sat down at our table on the patio, a strong Delta breeze was cooling off a day that had reached into the upper 80s. It’s the kind of day Lodians always try to describe to Bay Area folks who think Lodi is somewhere around Bakersfield.
We started off with a glass of champagne, followed by salads with white wine. Christine’s beet salad with pecans, bleu cheese and vinaigrette was delicious and paired well with a Voss Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc from Napa Valley.

What I love about Wine and Roses is that executive chef George Bertaina has crafted a menu that has generous portions that aren’t too heavy. This is food that tastes sophisticated but isn’t prepared with a minimalist’s approach.  I had the double cut pork chop with a vanilla apple “gastrique,” an almost glaze like sauce that accentuated the pork’s natural flavor. The pork was cooked through yet still had a delicate tenderness. Christine opted for grilled New Zealand lamb that had a robust wine reduction sauce.

Rubbed with sage and served with potatos and asparagus, the double cut pork chop.

Rubbed with sage and served with potatos and asparagus, the double cut pork chop.

A 02 Paso Robles Petit Sirah opened up after a little aeration.

A 02 Paso Robles Petit Sirah opened up after a little aeration.

Our efficient and pleasant waitress informed us we had to try the warm chocolate molten cake with vanilla ice cream. She said the dessert was the invention of the restaurant’s new sous chef Fabrice who baked brioche that was the best she had ever tasted in her life. Fabrice’s dessert was delicious too. Christine and me ate in about 10 minutes.

What I’m drinking …

Cocktails make liquor fun.

Cocktails make liquor fun.

After a few shots on a hot day, you get a little tired of just slugging back straight booze. You need something calmer, more meditative. Cocktails. Tasked with mixing some mixers with some party fixers, I improvised with cranberry juice, Kiwi Strawberry Snapple and Skyy vodka. Everything tastes better chilled down and shaken up. The trick is to keep it simple and just go with flavors that you know mix well. Vodka+citrus=good times. Fresh is key too. After mixing it all and pouring the drinks into iced martini glasses, my friends and I thought they tasted OK, but a little flat and a little too sweet because of the Snapple. I said I’d love some fresh lime juice to really give the flavors some “pop,” and they said, we have a lime you pretentious schmuck. I sliced the lime up into wedges and gave each drink a spritz and then rubbed the rim with the lime slice. The result was just fantastic, the acid killed much of that clingy sweet taste and gave the flavor profile a whole new dimension.

Many people get caught up in cocktail recipes and making the “perfect” martini or margarita or whatever. I say, just get a few good ingredients a booze you really like and experiment. Keep the experiments to two shots maximum and you should always come up with a drink that will be new and easy to enjoy. If one of your guests don’t like, you can always add more mixer or just pour them a shot.

So this week, it’s three parts cranberry, one part Kiwi Strawberry Snapple and 1.5 parts vodka.

A great spot in Calistoga

One of my favorite places in Napa Valley is the Calistoga Inn. Located in downtown Calistoga, the inn is a rambling old hotel with a gorgeous patio situated alongside a creek. I recently went there with my friends John and Heather and we all had a great time.  I had a roasted turkey sandwich with brie cheese and an olive tapinade. Heather found the tapinade a little overpowering, but as I’m a huge fan for olives I loved it.
The inn has a bar and a brewery and the beer is really some of the best in Napa Valley. We enjoyed pints of the delicious pilsner that had a nice light body, perfect carbonation and flavored with soft, flowery German hops. I tried a wheat too but found it a little on the malty side.

The Calistoga Inn, one of the best spots in north Napa Valley.

The Calistoga Inn, one of the best spots in north Napa Valley.

Next to the outside dining area, the inn has another garden area with picnic tables and a horseshoe pit. Unfortunately for us, it was a little too hot for throwing horseshoes. After lunch we ambled over to Susies, a locals “dive” bar on the main drag in Calistoga. Weekend nights can be rowdy, but we found a mellow crowd of older gents and a chatty bartender. We ordered up some beers, and I got a shot of chilled vodka that was just perfect on a warm day.
Refreshed we got back in the car and drove back to Napa for some cocktails and dominos.

Too hot for horeshoes during our visit.

Too hot for horeshoes during our visit.

Chilled Coronas and a dark bar, what better way is there to spend a beautiful day?

Chilled Coronas and a dark bar, what better way is there to spend a beautiful day?

Domino castles are as sturdy as a house of cards. But they do look cooler.

Domino castles are as sturdy as a house of cards. But they do look cooler.

Emergency vet visit

Around 6:30 on Sunday evening, I was drinking a Coors and watching the Giants battle into extra innings with the hated LA Dodgers. I was making tacos and had some flank steak marinating in the fridge and was about to apply my spice rub to some chicken. The only concern I had was if I should have another Coors or make a margarita. Christine, however, was a little worried about our lab CoCo. He had a big fat bloated stomach and was just laying about the house not doing much. I figured he had just eaten something weird (he’s prone to cat feces, dead animals, sticks, etc …). Worried, Christine checked the Internet and soon found that “bloat” is the second leading cause of death in dogs, and that a bloated stomach can indicate the serious condition of a “flipped stomach.” After she read the symptoms, I started to get a little worried myself and we ultimately decided to rush down to the emergency vet clinic on Hammer Lane in Stockton. A half hour and $250 later, we had learned the CoCo had just gorged himself on food. And sure enough, when we got back home and checked the container in which we keep his food, there was a cone like depression in his kibble where he had carved himself out a feast. CoCo’s little repast gained him 10 pounds (bringng him to a hefty 95 pounds) so he’s on a diet of just his two meals and no little treats, or as I tell him, “no snackies for fatties.” Words that I could take to heart myself.