It’s Just an Elm

27 01 2014

It’s Just an Elm

by Rebecca Chapa

I knew you when I was younger girl it’s been a long long time

Your leafy branches shading me as I took names from the line

On sunny days we would sit together waiting for the rush

You said goodbye on that fall night rustling your leaves in the cold hush

 

I never knew when I‘d return but thankfully I did

I was glad to see you once again and thought you looked quite big

But now they plot to cut you down and I am overwhelmed

To hear them saying casually, “Well, it’s just an elm”

 

Were you there to watch the whaling ships return once more to shore?

Peering towards Easy Street climbing as tall as widow’s walks soar

Did I dream I met you lifetimes ago or is that reality

To me you are my oldest friend, so much more than a tree

 

I thought we had a lot more time, to grow old and settle down

Things won’t be the same without you towering over the town

Just know that you will be missed by many more than me

I pray they leave your stump for us to sit when we grow weary

IMG_3474 IMG_3473





Last Minute Holiday Gifts

21 12 2013

Happy Holidays!  Merry Christmas and Happy New Year and thanks for all the support in 2013!

All my love to you and yours this holiday.

Rebecca

Need a last minute gift?

Winter Wine Wednesdays at Nantucket Vineyard in 2014!

Support your local winery!

Join Certified Wine Educator Rebecca Chapa for her

“Winter Wine 101” series held at Nantucket Vineyard


Whether you are just starting out or a pro, this fun and informative series will prime your palate.  Expand your wine vocabulary, and discover how your individual sense of taste works. Tasting our wines in this educational setting will enhance your overall appreciation of wine.  Enjoy drinking our Nantucket Vineyard wines and some camaraderie with friends new and old at our cozy winery.  Join us!  It’s the perfect recipe to cure the winter doldrums.  Plus students get half off their wine purchase the night of the class!

 

January  29 – “Tune into Your Senses”

Ever hear “wine people” rave about the bouquet of elderflower or fine saddle leather in a wine?  WHAT?  Learn how to detect flavors and aromas in wine and explore how your nose and brain work to decipher them. 

February 12 – “Taste the Place / Terroir”

Terroir is loosely defined as “Sense of Place”.  Learn how factors such as growing conditions and winemaking can enhance or detract from “terroir” as we share the unique story of Nantucket Vineyard wines.

March 5 – “Blind Tasting”

Blind tasting is the act of being able to decipher the origin, grape variety, sometimes even the year of a wine by using your palate to gauge its unique characteristics.  Not just a fun trick at parties, it also helps you understand your palate!

March 19 – “Spirits 101”

Nantucket Vineyard, Cisco Brewers and Triple Eight Distillery produce a plethora of quality libations, so any educational series would not be complete without exploring the unique distilled spirits we produce.  Learn how these classic spirits are made and discover for yourself our unique offerings as well as some recipes for winter warmers which combine spirits and wine.  A definite cure for winter woes.


NEW Price = $20 per class or $30 for two!  All classes held at Nantucket Vineyard at Cisco Brewers

                                    A great gift for yourself and a friend!

To Sign Up: Call Mike @ 415-548-0374 or email wineguy@ciscobrewers.com

But Tickets Here : http://www.eventbrite.com/o/tannin-management-2524391908?s=

Also consider visiting our Square Up page for fun crafts inspired by the ocean…

https://squareup.com/market/sand-dollar-dreams

???????????? ??????????????????????? Screen Shot 2013-12-11 at 8.26.03 AM Narwhal Signed_new





Barmen on the Bayou

10 10 2013

IMG_2863 IMG_2864

A group of Russian bartenders, Italian bartenders, American bartenders and one Japanese spirits writer walk out of a bar and onto an alligator farm…   And one nearly loses  a very important appendage.

I had met the amazing Harvey Kliebert before at Julio Bermejo’s home base, close to my home in the outer Richmond of SF, Tommy’s Mexican Restaurant.  For some reason it did not surprise me that Julio would know an alligator farmer, Julio knows everyone, and everyone loves Julio and his family’s great restaurant (and margaritas).  When Harvey showed up with a large skull of a gator in hand I was not that surprised.  For sure impressed, but not surprised!

Harvey is not small of stature and his attire is certainly straight out of central casting for Swamp People with his overalls and hat.  That said his son Mike Kliebert and grandson T-Mike (for Petit Mike) were on season one of Swamp People show.  Most of the Kliebert family has actually left the reality TV business to continue to focus on doing what they love to do… raising alligators and turtles for restaurants.  There was some familial dissent and debates amongst the family between the sides that want to capture the public eye and the 15 minutes of fame and those that want to just continue to raise turtles and alligators for food.

We were in New Orleans in July during the Tales of the Cocktail event to benefit from the sheer number of cool bartenders and spirits professionals who were in town from all over the world.  Julio and our friend Vince must have asked me twenty times if I was coming to New Orleans.  I kept declining since I had a big event (SF Chefs) looming on the horizon so could not justify it, but the promise of visiting the Kliebert alligator farm has always held great allure for me.  Then one night Julio came up with, “Well I could buy you a ticket with my United miles?”  And of course I said, “Well why didn’t you say that weeks ago?”  So at the very last minute we booked a 48 hour trip from SF to NOLA.  I love ANY excuse to get out to New Orleans but knowing that I could visit the farm with my friends was an added plus. Accommodations had been secured by Julio who had opted to find us a swank Airbnb place online that unfortunately had to cancel at the last minute.  While I was inclined to get a room at a local hotel or stay at my friend Andrew’s awesome Airbnb place in the Lower Garden (not big enough for the whole group), Julio was convinced that it would be most fun if we were all together, so me, Julio, Vince, Michael and Dave opted to rent a spot in the Bywater.  These guys are like brothers to me, so I wasn’t concerned until I showed up at 8:30am after my redeye flight to see Julio at the door saying, “This place is a XXXX-hole.”  Granted, I am a bit picky and my standards are somewhat high, but wow, it was a really special spot.  A shotgun house with three rooms, no doors at all mind you and matresses covering all open parts of the floor except where the bunkbeds were or where the one rickety army issue bed frame was next to a window with bars across it.  Julio left to shower (the bathroom luckily had a door but there wasn’t so much as a closet in the place), and within minutes I had secured a room at the Hotel Monteleone with early check in to boot.  I was out of the house in less than 20 minutes (only that long because I waited to tell Julio I was leaving.)  My luxurious room was well worth the money…

Soon after getting to the French Quarter I met up with Vince who had yet to see his accommodations, and we had some beignets and New Orleans style iced coffee at Cafe du Monde followed by a bloody mary. We met up with our crew to have not one but two lunches at Parkway Bakery & Tavern (po boys) and Willie Mae’s (fried chicken).  Then we headed off to Frenchmen Street to d.b.a. where we luckily ran into the Bon Vivants from San Francisco, Scott Baird and Josh Harris, who were just about to start a sangrita competition with Ocho tequila.  It was a fortunate coincidence since I had judged a regional round for them in San Francisco earlier in the year, so it was great to have a chance to taste the entries from the rest of the U.S.  After some really amazing and innovative sangritas and few cans of Tecate we headed back to the quarter to crash an Amaro party with the Italian bar folk including Francesco Lafranconi, Mauro Mahjoub (Germany’s Campari ambassador), as well as Salvatore Calabrese, The Maestro, known as Italy’s most famous bartender.  We hit Arnaud’s for a party with Absolut and a quick hug from Chris Hanna, famed barman at the French 75 bar, who had a few Chris Hanna impersonators working with him that night and then we made a quick dash to the Candlelight Lounge.  Salvatore and his wife were able to join us and we enjoyed the amazing music of the Treme Brass Band as well as some red beans and rice included in the cover charge.  Watermelon Abitas and some fun conversation with owner Leona (who by the way remembered me) made my night.  If you read previous blogs you may remember that Leona gave me a Zulu coconut the day after my first ever Mardi Gras!  If you go to the Candlelight be prepared to dance as the waitress will require it…   Still hungry and thirsty we headed back into the quarter for a burger and some tequila at Yo Ma Ma’s, which was my first ever peanut butter burger experience, and quite good I may add, but the baked potato stole the show.  An early evening, I was back at the Monteleone in bed by about 3 am. IMG_2733

The next day we were “scheduled” to leave NOLA by 9 am so that we could go to the farm, we had rented a car that would fit our group, but in typical Julio fashion the more the merrier.  Suddenly our international group was huddling outside the Monteleone Hotel interrupting the flow of traffic down the sidewalk.  The international contingent of bartenders, writers, etc. was amazingly chatty for being so hung over, or maybe they had never sobered up, but at any rate with a lot of back and forth logistics (it’s really expensive to rent a car apparently if you are from Russia, Italy or Japan) we got two more cars rented and planned to meet the rest of the group out at Harrah’s Casino.  Vince was put on patrol to try to herd the folks to the main valet entrance which as you can imagine was close to impossible what with the language barriers and large personalities.  With a few trips to Walgreens (for ice for the beers), numerous bottles, limes, avocados  and cups being moved in and out of vehicles and rearranging and distribution of tequila bottles and Trumer Pils between each vehicle and me handwriting directions for everyone we finally got all the participants close to ready by 10:30.  The caravan left Harrahs and headed toward the swamp in Hammond, LA.  In all the times I have been to New Orleans I’d never visited the swamp, and wow, the scenery was immediately different than anything I have ever seen.  I was immediately struck by how incredible it was, made me feel like the first time I had been to Arizona…  a sense of a uniquely wild part of our country with treacherous animals but completely the opposite, all about water and damp heat rather than desert dry heat…  The scenery was beautiful but there was a great level of distraction as we attempted to communicate with the three Russian barmen who were in our car.  One spoke English which was helpful, one was shy and understood most English but didn’t talk much and the third spoke no English, barely understood and was out of control talkative.  And of course he was sitting next to my friend Michael who was attempting to drive.  Vince and I in the far back cringed as the stories flowed faster as he drank more Tapatio Anejo and he became increasingly  animated.  He would speak in Russian and then hit his friend to translate and also hit Michael’s shoulder impoloring him to look at him.  Then a bit of sign language to which Michael would try to glance and smile while keeping one eye on the road.  This became particularly interesting as we entered a total downpour and began weaving back and forth over the lane markers…  Luckily Michael was sober and able to keep us on the road, but it was harrowing to say the least, and at the same time amusing. When we thankfully got to the farm we piled out and met T-Mike, grandson of Harvey.

Harvey was brought out to see us soon after and Julio introduced us all to him, and to each other.  Some of the greats of the bar world internationally were in our midst, and to Harvey it was a huge surprise that he would have visitors in town from as far away as Japan and Russia.  Julio would say, “Harvey, this is Salvatore Calabrese, from Italy,” to which Harvey would reply incredulously, “Italy?”  Julio presented Harvey with an amazing bottle etched with a note to him as well as a set of hot sauces that had their wooden crate branded with the names of all of the attendees.  All of us were also wearing shirts that listed the best things to do in New Orleans which included “Wrestle Alligator @ Harvey’s.”  We drank more Trumer and finally got hard at work making margaritas to take on the gator tour.  The Italians and my buddy Michael cut and squeezed all the limes in the classic Tommy’s fashion, the butts of the limes have to be removed so as to prevent bitter oils from the ends getting into the margarita.  With some expert shaking by Salvatore Calabrese and Mauro Mahjoub of Italy we had Tommy’s margaritas in the bayou.  We also whipped up some guacamole also after sending some of the gator farm team to the store for additional ingredients.  As a team we had muled the case of limes and some avocados with us from California. IMG_2748IMG_2774IMG_2768IMG_2783

After some more shenanigans and a recreation of a famous Russian statue (Worker and Kolkhoz Woman) by myself and Marat Saddarov of Noor Bar in Russia we headed out on our tour.  The farm houses a great number of turtles 100,000 in one pond alone along with the main attraction, the alligators.  T-Mike explained that Paw-Paw (Harvey) started this farm and it has been sustainable since he first brought the batch of eggs (about 250) there many years ago.  That means they do not have to go back into the swamp to steal eggs and the entire place is self contained.  We fed the turtles a bit of dry chow which they came at swimming vigorously, but T-Mike said they prefer spoilt meat and will lay more eggs when they get meat. IMG_2795

The gators were just incredible.  We went over to their pens but luckily stayed mostly behind the fences.  T-Mike brings them over by slapping a stick against the water at the edge of the ponds and they come very quickly through the weeds growing on the pond surface.  He and some of the other attendees threw marshmallows to them as well as some raw chicken.  The bravery that T-Mike shows when handling them is incredible.  We watched in awe as he neared a huge female who was guarding her eggs as well as one of the “Big Boys” whose name was Crush and who has a ridiculous amount of pressure, about 3,000 pounds worth, when he bites down.  T-Mike explained that gators can’t see right in front of their faces and demonstrated by putting his hand in their mouths, which was extremely unnerving, but they don’t snap down until he touched the tips of their snouts.  The sound of that impact was amazing though.

IMG_2825IMG_2833IMG_2842

After the demos with the bigger gators we had an opportunity to hold a smaller one whose mouth was taped.  At a certain size and weight they become difficult to hold since they can writhe their bodies in a rolling motion and have an incredible amount of strength as they grow to a certain size.  This gator was really sweet and really felt incredible in my arms.  His skin was bumpy but had a strong smoothness to it and was surprisingly enjoyable to hold.  After I was forced to give the gator back I also met a cute pot-belly pig named, of course, Glitzy.

You might think, wow things have gotten pretty tame by this point, our margaritas were mostly consumed and our very animated Russian friend from our ride was surprisingly missing.  Earlier in the day while waiting to go on tour he had been adamant that he wanted to actually wrestle a big gator.  A very interesting exchange occurred between him and Harvey with our friend Dave Stoop (from the US) who happens to be able to speak Russian.  Watching Dave learn how to wrestle a gator from Harvey and then translate that into Russian was quite amusing to say the least.  But until we made it to the snapping turtle pond our gregarious and fearless Russian was missing.  He had gone on ahead with Harvey so we just assumed he was back at the picnic tables probably drinking more…  We were in for a surprise when we hit the snapping turtle pond.  As I was watching T-Mike hold a medium sized snapping turtle out to the crowd I also saw out of the corner of my eye the Russian present the turtle with a small object which I quickly recognized…  As a turned away quickly in awe that he had just presented this important appendage to the animal, according to reports from the rest, the turtle reached its neck out significantly and took a big lunge and snap to try to get the object, missing by mere inches.  Pretty amazing, it would have been interesting to see what would have transpired had the turtle made its mark, but it would have probably resulted in some of us missing the amazing shrimp boil and gator that we had for lunch.

IMG_2887IMG_2896IMG_2894

After some more drinking, eating, some pickled quail eggs and a visit to the rotting meat truck we had pretty much expended all our energy and it was time to bid the farm farewell.  Their hospitality was just incredible and it was really a magical day.  I promptly fell asleep on the ride home to be reinvigorated and be able to go out again once we hit New Orleans.  We headed back to the French 75 bar to see Chris and have a cocktail and then on to Vaughan’s to see Kermit Ruffins perform after grabbing some shrimp po boys (undressed with butter and pickles) from Verti Marte.  I also enjoyed watching the tambourine lady.  With trips back and forth from BJ’s (where there’s air conditioning) and Vaughan’s we enjoyed the show and even got a chance to meet up with my friend Desier who saw me checking in on Foursquare!  Ended the night with slushy mudslides at Erin Rose and another stop to grab some food at Yo Ma Ma’s, all in all an amazing day.

IMG_2911IMG_2910

Vince and finished off the trip by feeding our tired bodies at the Bon Ton Cafe where we met up with my friend Kristian, what could be more appropriate and satisfying than turtle soup?  And we had Sno-Balls on Piety Street, I had to have two, one natural Kaffir Limeade and one totally unnatural, Wedding Cake which tastes like almond and vanilla and is extremely decadent especially as I had it topped with condensed milk, but yummy.  Kristian dropped me and Vince off in the quarter where we made the most of our last hours in NOLA with a few Pimm’s Cups at the famous Napoleon Bar so we could ease our way out of the city.  New Orleans is always incredibly generous with me and offers me some of the greatest experiences I could dream up.  Thank you to everyone that lives there for your welcome and I can’t wait to get back there!

To visit go to http://kliebertgatortours.com/Home.html 

IMG_2900





A Sanctuary across the Golden Gate, The Marine Mammal Center & Headlands

2 07 2013
IMG_2425

Some of the items found in sea lions and seals

IMG_2393

Docents show pelts of seal (left) and sea lions to exhibit the differences

GhostBelow

Netting from a sperm whale, The Ghost Below

IMG_2432

Volunteers use wood boards to control seals while teaching feeding behaviors

Most summer tourists visiting SF set out on the Golden Gate bridge wearing shorts and t-shirts and only make it halfway across due to the whipping wind and fog that blows in off the ocean in the summertime. That is a shame because they never get to experience the incredible Marin Headlands just a little further across.

Taking a car is recommended as you will have the opportunity to explore this incredible area of California. The Marin Headlands is part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and has its own incredible history. Known for the Miwok Indian tribe that inhabited the area, military activity and a NIKE missile site created to protect the United States from attacks from the west, the history is rich, but the history goes back well before humans discovered this beautiful pocket on the coast. This incredible area was formed millions of years ago. The beauty of the California coast was created by violent earth movements. Millions of years ago this area was where the Pacific Ocean plate and the North American plate connected in a process called subduction. The heavier Pacific plate ended up being pushed below the continental plate and creating an area of geothermal activity further inland. While this was happening layers of ocean sediments were sheared off of the oceanic plate and deposited on top of the continental plate leaving the remnants that created this incredible land mass. If you drive up the headlands just next to the Golden Gate Bridge you will start to climb quickly until you are at a height above the bridge. To your right along the road you will see amazing orange/red striated layers of rock. This is radiolarian chert, the deposits that were once at the bottom of the ocean. Pretty incredible to imagine as you look down the cliff. There are also deposits in the area of pillow basalt that was created by the volcanic activity of underwater vents.

Driving around the headlands you will see great places to stop and have a picnic, gorgeous vistas of the bay and San Francisco and unparalleled views of the Golden Gate Bridge.  It’s worth taking the time to visit the 15o year old Point Bonita Lighthouse, take a hike and hunt (but don’t pick!) wildflowers and view the annual raptor migrations.  A great friend of mine, Peter Palmer, has a website called the Headlands Report, check out his site for some fun hikes and advice on hiking.  http://theheadlandsreport.blogspot.com

Another great activity to pursue is a visit to The Marine Mammal Center.  I can’t believe that I have been in San Francisco since 1996 and only recently made my first visit to this amazing site!  The Marine Mammal Center exists to care for ill, abandoned or injured seals and sea lions.  When animals are brought to the center they are cared for by an incredible crew of 1,000 volunteers that spend time doing everything to rehab these animals.

One of the more pungent jobs is in the fish kitchen where meals are prepped for the animals almost constantly.  Visitors have the opportunity to learn about the perils that humans pose to sea life (such as nets, plastic bottles, and trash), view the seals and sea lions and watch volunteers teach feeding to juvenile animals, there is even an autopsy room (it is an optional area of the center and protected so that if it’s not your thing you don’t have to visit).  I was very intrigued and was able to watch an actual autopsy live.  Visits to the center are free, but I recommend a docent lead tour, the docents have a wealth of knowledge to share.

Support of the center with donations is very important, this year there has been an incredible increase in injured and abandoned animals along the California coast.  The center has had a large influx of animals brought in his year.  The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has reported a “unusual morbidity event is occurring for California sea lions in Southern California”.  Over 1,000 malnourished weak sea lions were rescued this year off the California coast, but in 2012 the number was 100.  This year the Marine Mammal Center has twice its normal tenants, 165 seals and sea lions.  Animals are often malnourished or emaciated (stranded by their mothers for reasons unknown),  or suffer from human interaction such as ocean entanglement or even gunshot wounds.  Sadly cancer is also rampant among the population of sea lions autopsied here.  Amazingly the studies conducted at the Marine Mammal Center can help the world investigate marine mammal health, effectively a harbinger for our own health.  The center holds more than 25 years of tissue samples and cells in a deep freeze bunker with a back up generator to ensure that this information is not lost.

Many of the displays at the center help raise awareness as to how fragile the marine environment is, and how easily humans can harm marine mammals.  Packing straps can confuse animals as they play with them, possibly eat them or become strangled in them, and plastic bottles and discarded bags can easily injure or strangle seals and sea lions.  A very striking exhibit called The Ghost Below shows how ghost netting discarded or lost in our oceans can injure sea life.  These nets can float for years.  Richard & Judith Lang created the exhibit with just part of 450 pounds of ghost net and trash that were found inside a dead sperm whale.  Their new interactive exhibit, Indra’s Net, was recently installed and allows messages of hope to be left for animals in distress.

Seals and sea lions are considered the canaries of the ocean, meaning that when we affect their subtle ocean ecosystem they show us very clearly a lot about the health of the ocean…  The hope is that through education we can better care for our oceans, learn more about recycling and restricting our use of plastics that can harm animals, and change our eating habits.  These small steps can make a huge impact.  With our help we may have a chance to save some of these very important animals.

How to help:

Visit the center, leave a donation and buy something (a shirt, a tour, a magnet!)

Volunteer at the center

Adopt a Seal or Sea Lion

http://www.marinemammalcenter.org/HMS-adopt

Run for the Seals August 17

Support America’s Cup Healthy Ocean Project by dining at one of their recommended restaurants that supports sustainable seafood

http://www.americascup.com/en/healthy-ocean-project/restaurant-challenge

Think about what you eat and download the Seafood Watch app

http://www.montereybayaquarium.org/cr/seafoodwatch.aspx

If you find a mammal in distress call 415 289- SEAL (7325)

http://www.nps.gov/goga/marin-headlands.htm

 





A Night On the Rock-Alcatraz Overnight

31 01 2013

While most people that were sent to Alcatraz wanted nothing more than to get off “The Rock” surprisingly when I was offered the chance to actually be stranded there overnight I jumped at it!  I first heard about the trip when I was working the annual Make-A-Wish® Wine and Wishes® event last year and thought it sounded amazing.  I remembered that the first time I’d heard the auction lot announced I remarked to Amy Currens how much I’d give to be able to spend a night on the ROCK.  It just goes to show what a simple intention can accomplish!

I have always loved Alcatraz from afar.  I went once as a child, but hardly remember, and ever since moving to San Francisco in 1996 I’d been meaning to visit.  It took until May of 2012 for me to do so when my brother Omar and his girlfriend Jess were in town.  We took off on a Wednesday to visit and really enjoyed a gorgeous sunny day on the rock visiting the sites and even taking what I thought was an amazing audio tour of the cell house.  I entered cell #9 in D Block, an isolation cell and said to my brother, “Oh my God, can you imagine spending the night in here?”  Clearly fueled by my addictive viewing of shows such as “Ghost Adventures” and formerly what was one of my favorites, “Fear” from MTV, all I wanted to do was head out and perform my own investigation.

Later in the year I was out and about visiting accounts trying to collect some information for Wines of Chile when I saw on Facebook that my buddy Hoss Zaré, Chef of Zaré at Fly Trap was around the corner from where I was enjoying a glass of wine (Bin 38) so I zipped on over to A16 and busted in on his dinner to enjoy some delicious wine and pasta.  At the end of dinner he said, “You wouldn’t want to be my sous chef for a dinner on Alcatraz would you?  It’s for Make a Wish®!  We get to stay the night!”

I could not believe my good fortune!

I rushed home from A16 completely elated to wake my husband tell him the great news!  His immediate reaction was, “Why?  Why would you want to do that?  Oh my God I would never do that!”  It had never even crossed my mind that someone would decline this once in a lifetime opportunity!  So although I was still extremely excited there was of course a bit of fear and nervous anticipation involved as well…

The next few weeks were spent bragging about my upcoming journey and doing some research!  I never knew how little I actually knew about the island I see so often from San Francisco’s many vantage points.  I found a great signed copy of Eyewitness on Alcatraz by Jolene Babyak all about Life on the Rock as told by the Guards, Families and Prisoners.  It gave me some great perspective on the prison and a unique vantage point.  As a fun picture book I bought Alcatraz History and Design of a Landmark by Donald MacDonald and Ira Nadel.  I also read and re-read the instructions from the National Park Service.  No alcohol (WHAT!?), no Sharpies (HELLO?  Two of my favorite things?!), bring a sleeping bag, no power, bring a headlamp.  Also Hoss told me to bring my guitar so I could play a song!

So the day of the journey I was scheduled to judge wine at the San Francisco International Wine Competition, but I zipped out early to be sure I wasn’t going to miss the boat.  Alcatraz Cruises does not wait on anyone whether you have reserved regular tickets or are on a special event.  Best parking for Alcatraz is Pier 29 next door (but the pier suffered a fire less than a week after our event, so check to make sure it’s operational again…)  I got to the dock in time to meet a fun group of the three chefs, Hoss and co-chefs Peter McNee from Poggio and Eric Arnold Wong of E&O Asian Kitchen and their sous chefs (actually legit sous chefs unlike me…although I can set a table and pour soup and whatnot).  Also attending were a group of mostly families and their kids, kids had to be at least nine to come and the families were all really excited with all their gear and sleeping bags and such.

Soon after we gathered we were met by Ranger John Cantwell.  Google the guy and you’ll find out how important he is, he’s worked on the island since he was a teen.  He rolled up on a bicycle relatively sweaty and boasting that he’d just rolled in from Monterey.  In our nervousness we believed him for about a half hour.  He immediately straightened us out by telling us he wasn’t there to offer up ghost stories, my impression is that he knows way to well how miserable it could be dealing with scared kids and adults overnight on the island, he likes his sleep.

There was quite a bit of loading onto a private ferry out to the rock.  We headed out and the day was sunny and gorgeous with some light wind, but overall a very warm day for June in San Francisco.  The journey was a short 10-15 minutes after which there was an equal amount of off-loading.  When we arrived the last daytime guests were leaving the island, there were about 600 more guests on the way for the night tours, but we felt special as they commented on our gear and sleeping bags.  We stored all the food at the dock area under the “Indians Welcome” sign and headed indoors for a short movie about the island.  As soon as it was over we loaded our sleeping gear into the Ranger’s truck, there’s no food allowed in your gear due to rats and mice that they’re careful to keep out of the cell house.  We started the long walk up the rock’s steep paths to the area by the lighthouse.  Our gear was taken into the cell house D Block, the area known for the worst prisoners, where we were told we would spend the night but choose cells later.  I expressed that I wanted #9, an isolation chamber aloud, just sayin’!  We hid our stuff on the upper levels of the block so as not to have it visible to the night guests and the group set out on our community service project to clean up the yard (originally the overnights started as a Boy Scouts program).  We picked up little pieces of paper and tried to avoid all the gull feathers (they gave us gloves luckily) and then John gave us a tour of the gardens and viewed some of the bird sanctuaries.  After our walk the group headed out for the audio tour of the cell block while the chefs and sous chefs ran down the hill to try to get the charcoal started so we would have dinner ready for them when they returned.

You can’t tell three ambitious top chefs from San Francisco to grill hot dogs and burgers, so for the group of 35 the chefs had some pretty extensive dishes planned, thinking we had something a bit bigger than the teeny grill we were presented with.  The grill was made by the last group of prisoners on the Rock.  Luckily the team are professionals and made it work, but it wasn’t the ideal condition to make an extensive meal!  Peter McNee made “Jail Birds” (quail in little cages grilled over the charcoal) served with fresh red cherries, arugula and almonds, and he even went on to make an amazing hot chocolate with whipped cream and a zabaglione atop strawberries for dessert!  A huge challenge and a lot of effort to do over a charcoal fire.  Arnold Eric Wong had amazing pulled pork with a selection of great sauces and fresh herbs served in traditional steamed Chinese buns.  The amazing thing is that they were steamed on location, once again over the open fire.  He also made a great Kombucha that paired perfectly with all the dishes and provided a great alternative to sodas.  Chef Hoss provided a selection of amazing pickles, white strawberries, fiddleheads, etc. and then presented a cold yogurt soup with raisins, nuts, rose and herbs.  The kids in the group were eager sous chefs asking for jobs at every turn, and even tray serving soups!  Then Hoss brought out his lamb shank meatballs, aka the “Ball and Chain” and he had dressed the part in black and white stripes!

While we enjoyed dinner we noticed the last boat leaving, all the workers, every last one, except for the one security guard and John were gone…  When dinner was done I grabbed my guitar and was invited to perform my “Pork Song” and then an encore of “You Gotta Go to Sea”, which was so fun, the Ranger held up a microphone for me and said, “Live from Alcatraz, Rebecca Chapa!”  Hoss provided cheesecake and then everyone milled about until we could clean up.  The greatest part was that the entire group cleaned up together, such an amazing group, we were all in this together, rather than workers and guests.  In a way, we had become a family!

Ranger John gathered us together and we set off on our special tour of the island and it’s normally off limits areas.  We visited the tunnel, industries area, the Morgue, Officer’s Club, Theatre, I think we really saw everything.  He had us traipsing all over the entire property on what was a pretty rigorous journey.  We ended at the Hospital where we were able to go into the isolation areas, rooms with floor to ceiling tiles and not much else but an observation window and a hole in the floor.  We also saw the Birdman of Alcatraz’s cell.  It seemed quite spacious in fact.  By this time we were all totally exhausted, I realized I hadn’t sat down for more than twenty minutes all day.  We gathered up our sleeping bags and gear and each of us took possession of a thin foam mattress pad to sleep on top of…  Folks began scrambling into the cells on the second and third floors of the cell block complete with lights, metal bunks that came out from the walls and in close proximity to each other.  I still had my sights on cell number 9 but was starting to reconsider, after all the talk of rats and mice and god knows what other creepy crawlies I didn’t love the idea of setting myself down on the floor in a room that was wall to wall metal with nothing to protect me and my foam mattress placed directly on the floor.  I edged over to cell number 1, still a floor away from the others but with a bunk and a light switch and also right next to the spiral stairs that lead to my friends in case I freaked out.  I was about to place my foam mattress down on the metal bunk when I noticed a puddle of water.  It seemed weird to me considering we were the only folks on the island since about 9 and it was 2 am, and it hadn’t rained in weeks.  So I took it as a sign that I was meant to stay in cell #9.  As I was arranging my bed on the floor of my cell a few of my cohorts came by to take my photo and tell me how crazy I was to want to stay there.  Ranger John came by and was really surprised that I had taken up residence there and so I told him about the water.  He was a bit flabbergasted when he saw it and then he just said, “Well someone must have spilled water and tried to dry it with his boot and walked away.”

Despite all my intentions to go roaming the cellblock and the island (which John said we had carte blanche to do) I got a bit freaked.  I imagined running into that security guard and losing my mind.  I was also totally exhausted physically from the strenuous day, so I lay down and asked the spirits to just let me stay there without being bothered.  It was weird because it really wasn’t a slumber party type atmosphere when we hit our cells despite all the kids, no laughing or boisterous talking, and all of a sudden just a lot of LOUD snoring.  I’d heard reports of this on the accounts of others who had stayed there, it just seemed to permeate the entire place, there is a ton of echo in there, but it was hard to tell if it was just our group’s snores.  The gulls are also really loud and make really weird sounds and then there is a constant drafty rattling of the windows and weird hisses, clicks, scratches and creaks continuously.  I ran my tape recorder for a quick bit and asked the spirits to let me know they were there if they wanted.  I told them I wasn’t going to listen to the recording now and to please not visit me that night.  I listened to it the next day and found that there was a loud laugh audible just after I said that.  And then nothing else.

Falling asleep after getting used to the noises was pretty fast due to my level of exhaustion, but I did awake at about 4 in the morning with terrible agonizing stomach pain.  I willed it away as I was not about to get up and go anywhere and was pretty much laying there petrified in what was almost total darkness, the reflection from the lights in the cells above providing only limited light at the front of my isolation cell’s open door.  After about a half hour of trying to calm my body and work through the pain I was able to get back to sleep.  7 am came quickly without any more interruptions and I was surprised to see the sun already well up in the sky, I had wanted to wake early to see it rise  We quickly went  through our morning routines and got ourselves gathered at the base of the lighthouse where John had told us to meet.  He did a once over of the cells (apparently there are occasions when overnight guests are too scared to use the restrooms outside of the cell block and dirty their cells, in which case he makes them clean them…)  All was AOK and John announced our special surprise which was that we could walk to the top of the lighthouse!  We had to take turns at the very top as it is really small and John was sure to warn us that the railing was pretty much rusted through so not to touch it. He didn’t have to warn me as I had my back plastered to the wall of the lighthouse the entire time and sidestepped my way around…  I was honestly more frightened up there than I was in cell #9!  They convinced me to climb a small ladder so I could touch the red light at the pinnacle of the island on top of the lighthouse and then I gladly scrambled back down to terra firma.

After a quick breakfast we were presented with our badges that commemorated our overnight on Alcatraz!  As we prepared to get on the ferry back to the mainland we saw an elderly gentleman being guided off the boat to the dock.  It was clear that he was someone special, both from the way that people reacted to his presence but also just from a great energy that he had.  Ranger John introduced us to Frank Heaney.  Heaney was hired in 1943 and was the youngest correctional officer ever on Alcatraz.  He worked for the infamous Warden Swope and during his watch no one ever tried to escape the rock.  His watch on the island ended during a stint in the Korean conflict as well as time spent working for the Albany Fire Department but the allure of the island would not leave him and he ended up returning as a National Park Ranger in 1974.  You can meet Heaney the third Saturday of each month in the bookstore where he is present for book signings of his book “Inside the Walls of Alcatraz”.

The entire journey was incredible and I returned to the wine judging somewhat filthy and pretty tired from my night on the rock but with fun stories for everyone.  Now when I look across the bay I feel a sense of recognition for the magical island that is so close yet so distant at the same time.  Alcatraz is a fun place to visit but I sure wouldn’t want to live there.





A Grateful Harvest: Scalloping in Nantucket

14 11 2012

So here I am in San Francisco waiting for Dungeness crab season to start tomorrow, but I really wish I was out east, in Nantucket to be precise.

I would like to call myself a scalloper… HA!  I have been scalloping exactly twice on what were sure to be the two nicest and warmest days of the season, so although I do appreciate the grueling nature of the industry there is no way I really understand the extent of the cold days with freezing icy wind gusting as the loyal scallopers trudge away to get scallops on your table.

My mother loves scallops, but as a kid I was never a fan, I found them chewy and mostly flavorless.  Most of the time you see scallops in a restaurant they are breaded, overcooked and way too big.  I was not intrigued by them until I worked at Rubicon and Jardiniere with Traci Des Jardins.  Des Jardins is famous for her truffled scallop dish, a heap of creamy and buttery mashed potatoes in the center, that relies on some amazingly flavorful tubers, surrounded in a delicate yet hauntingly flavorful truffle nage and finally garnished with a ring of golden seared scallops.  A “nage” by the way means “in the swim” how amazingly appropriate right?  Anyway the dish was and is absolutely delicious.  Another thing I learned about scallops around the same time was the term day boat, meaning that the boats harvesting the scallops return each day to port to offload them.  It’s a pretty important distinction as scallops do not live as long as clams or other shellfish once caught.  They must be shucked while live and either kept on ice of flash frozen which of course changes their delicate texture.  Having quality scallops as an ingredient of course makes the dish that much better.

Fast forward to last year, December 2011, when I had the opportunity to scallop with my friend Bruce, a commercial scalloper on Nantucket!  Nantucket Bay Scallops are famous internationally due to their very delicate texture and pure sweet flavor.  I find other scallops to be more neutral in flavor and with less of that fresh salty tang of the ocean.  With wine we talk about terroir, but oyster and shellfish purveyors and writer have now coined the word (not sure who to attribute it to, but it’s clever!) “merroir” meaning that oysters, clams and of course scallops taste distinctly different depending on where they originate.  Just like wine the maritime “weather” and climate have a lot to do with how the shellfish grows, the microorganisms, sea life and micro-elements and minerals in the water also affect the flavor in ways hard to define.  Since bivalves filter water to eat they are conduits of flavor even more than grapevines.  They really are made of the fine mixture of what the sea diffuses into them more than any creature I can think of!  As a result of the unique characteristics of Nantucket, Nantucket Bay Scallops garner a higher price per pound due to the limited supply.  The price varies annually but this year’s season opened paying scallopers $10/lb with retail prices ranging from $14-$17.95.

Nantucket regulates scallop fishing in order to preserve the next year’s harvest.  Many consumers actually scallop with their families but there are strict guidelines as to days allowed, quantities and permits are needed.  Also every scallop harvested either commercially or recreationally must have a raised annual growth ring to show it is one year minimum in age or fit a size requirement.  This ensures a healthy population to spawn for the next season.  Recreational scalloping starts October 1 annually.  During the season you will see entire families in their waders working the shallows with inter tubes that suspend wire baskets, raking in up to a bushel a week.  The commercial season begins November 1 and runs until March 31.  Scallopers can harvest up to five cases per day, which can bring in about $400 for that type of haul.  That said, the scallop season is what many commercial scallopers rely on as their only source of winter income, and there are days that are easy and scallops are plentiful, but there are days that are rough both in terms of weather and the catch.

Our day began very early as I was picked up before dawn to get out on the water.  It was unseasonably warm for December 2, which was also the first day of the annual Christmas Stroll.  We headed out in a truck with a big rusted out flatbed, no stranger to seawater.  I was outfitted in Grunden’s orange pants and some waterproof boots, a heavy sweater and Carhaart jacket, orange waterproof slicker, glove liners and large orange gloves and a warm hat as we set off from Nantucket harbor just before dawn.  Scallopers have to wait until 6:30am to start scalloping, so most like to be at the area they plan to dredge by then.  The cue to start is the horn of the first Steamship ferry as it leaves Nantucket for Hyannis at 6:30am.  The whistle blew and we started working.  The process is relatively simple but time consuming and takes a good deal of strength.  The dredges are released behind the boat in groups so as not to get tangled up and the boat moves slowly along as these weighted nets scrape the bottom of the harbor.   When it seems enough time has passed they are cranked up onto a sorting table and emptied of hopefully scallops.  When the first heaping dredge full of the sea came up and was dumped on the table it included everything imaginable, sea stars, eelgrass, rocks, clams, fish, mud all writhing around and soaking wet.  And the most amazing thing, as the first haul was emptied onto the sorting area, a heap of scallops chattered away as they snapped open and shut repeatedly in the early light of dawn.  It was my job to help sort through the mess and retrieve the scallops, all at the same time while checking to be sure they had the growth ring and were old enough.  I had trouble believing that normally Bruce does all of this solo, it’s a lot of work, and quite honestly having me there was more of a hindrance than help as he had to coach me quite a bit.  “Is this one old enough?  How about this one?”, I’d say to which he’d reply, “Make a decision!”  Master of efficiency, he commented that I should never have to touch one scallop twice, it either goes in the basket or over the side.  We took a pause after we had reset the dredges and he shucked one for me.   He turned the scallop smooth side down.  The smooth side is the one normally resting on the bottom on the sand, so it’s clean of algae or muck.  Grabbing the scallop knife from in between some of the worn wooden boards on the boat, he stuck the scallop knife between the hinges of the shells, slipped the knife all the way around while pressing it up on the top of the shell to unhinge the muscle as cleanly as possible, popped up the shell and discarded the ring of eyes around the edge, scraped off the internal organs and finally removed the bottom part of the muscle.  It was amazingly fresh and delicious, almost magical.  It could not have been a more perfect bite and moment.

We scalloped until about 9:30 which was not that long considering we were able to fill our 5 permitted boxes.  We headed back to the dock, unloaded and then headed to get a coffee and deliver the scallops to Nantucket Seafoods.  They have a small market but generally the scallops we harvested would be shucked that day and sent next day air to restaurants around the country.  Part of our batch was actually going to San Francisco!  I got home exhausted, took a nap, showered and headed into town for the festivities of Christmas Stroll.  The streets were aglow with lighted trees and every store was decked out for the holidays.  Scallop shell lights were hung all over the town and strands of them were for sale for about $100-$199 a strand!  I sat down at a wonderful upscale restaurant called The Pearl to get some dinner in the midst of a boisterous crowd of adults on a Santa crawl wearing hideous holiday sweaters.  On the menu there was a local Nantucket bay scallop trio of ceviche/crudo.  Remembering my first sweet taste of scallop that morning, I was mesmerized.  These could very well be the same scallops that Bruce and I had harvested just a few hours ago!  So I had to order them although they price made me cringe with a pang of guilt.  They arrived and had been handled in the most delicate way, taking care in all three preparations not to overshadow their texture or flavor.  I savored every morsel of what at most must have been four or five good sized scallops.  As I sat there fully engaged with the meal, I was struck by my incredible day, full circle from harvesting scallops that morning to sitting here with my glass of Gruner Veltliner and enjoying these delightful morsels in elegance.  $10 a pound and a lot of exhausting work for Bruce who was just at the beginning of a long and arduous winter of scalloping with many cold days ahead.  And here I was savoring a small dish costing if I recall correctly about $22-25, but crafted with the utmost respect and care.  I could not have been more thankful to enjoy both sides of the spectrum.  After I was warm with wine and my palate sated by scallops and other delicacies, I asked for the check.  After all my concern about the money I was spending after on my first humbling day harvesting scallops, I was told that some revelers I had befriended (not in ugly sweaters) had secretly paid for my entire meal and had already left.  So this Thanksgiving I will be toasting the fisherman and farmers who work tirelessly to bring food to our tables, all of those chefs and cooks who respectfully prepare those ingredients to give us great pleasure, and all of those who understand and remind me when I least expect it, that every moment of life is a gift.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

To watch a video of scallops snapping

To watch a video how scallops are harvested

To order Nantucket Bay Scallops http://nantucketseafood.net/  

More info on scallops http://www.nantuckettodayonline.com/novdec09/scallops.html

What to drink with scallops?  With lighter preparations scallops are great with crisp whites.  I would love something like a Gruner Veltliner from Austria for a scallop crudo or ceviche, or a Chilean Sauvignon Blanc if you are making something spicy or citrusy.  If the scallops are caramelized with a slightly sweet preparation try an off dry aromatic white like the Schlossgut Diel Riesling Classic from the Nahe in Germany.  The great thing is with richer preparations (think mushrooms, truffle, red wine beurre rouge, etc, you can even pair scallops with Pinot Noir.  I am hoping to find some good options this Friday at Farallon’s Pinot Fest!  The consumer tasting is Saturday for tickets and information http://www.farallonrestaurant.com/pinotfest.html





Dave’s Killer Bread

21 07 2012

The most random things show up at my house…  My husband hollered, “Were you expecting a box of killer bread?”

I went over and took a look and started laughing…  Looking back at me was a very unique and interesting logo on the box of “Dave’s Killer Bread.”  The label sported a swarthy and burly looking man drawn holding a guitar with a dark black mustache, a bit retro, Tom Selleck-esque with long wavy black hair.  Random indeed.  But I wasn’t about to throw it out!  So I opened up one package of four different types of bread.  At first it seemed basically like an upscale supermarket loaf but when I looked more closely there was a lot more to this bread than just that…

This bread was not white, each type was seeded and whole grain in different blends and actually when opened smelled great and very fresh and nutritious.  Powerseed was my favorite.  The breads are made from organic whole grains and all four were great, it just depends on your preference.  When I realized they were all good, and some of them great, I started to read about the company.  Apparently it started at the Portland Farmer’s Market and took off like wildfire.

The back-story behind the bread immediately drew me in…  Founder Dave Dahl has a goal, “to make the world a better place one loaf of bread at a time.”  You may at first think this is a marketing ploy, or that Dave is a hokey small town baker made it big.  Although Dave’s parents were bakers, he has not lead a quiet life behind the hearth, his path could not have been more different.  Dave shares his intimate story of being an ex-drug dealer turned entrepreneur and baker with anyone who will listen (his other tagline is “Just say no to bread on drugs!”).  Dahl spent over a decade and a half in prison recovering from drug addiction and serving for drug dealing, but found redemption in the art he was taught as a youth by ultimately returning to baking.  Dave’s family (brother and nephew) embraced his return as Dave now embraces those who have been formerly incarcerated by providing jobs for them at the company, over 25% of his 200 plus workers are ex-cons in fact.

There’s a great video on his site, “The Good Seed”.  Although the company has grown dramatically since the days at the Portland Farmer’s Market, and Dave doesn’t bake every loaf, if you believe that food can be imbued with good energy and positivity then you will want to try this bread.  Dave’s story is as inspiring as the bread is comforting.  If you don’t want to wait in line at Tartine or bake your own it’s a bread you can feel good about buying.

Available at Safeway

Follow Dave on Twitter @Killerbreadman

http://www.daveskillerbread.com/daves-story/video.html 

DavesKillerBread.com 503 335-8077








Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 32 other followers