Grandma Gertie always said there's not a savory dish that can't be made tastier by just a touch of tarragon.

Tsunami and Me

Tsunami and Me
too big to escape now....

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Wine wherever? Right here! In the OC!

Orange Coast Winery Wins Ribbons at Orange County Fair

Still a delicious read.
Back in 2011 I agreed to edit Wine Wherever in California's Mid-Coast & Inland Regions for my friends, publishers Dahlynn and Ken McKowen. Not long ago, I recalled how, as I scrolled through the manuscript, I dreamed about the days ahead when I could follow in their footsteps.
 Alas, I have yet to take that trip. If I don't do it this year, I'll give it priority in 2018. Nonetheless, recently I thumbed through the book again, savoring vicariously the delights of visiting wineries.I was reminded of how the the McKowens did much more than pop in and
My new wine glasses.
sip as they traveled the region, gathering their material for this book. As they claim in their introductory paragraph, "As national award-winning travel book authors, each of us possesses an avid interest in history and in people...Wine tasting is a wonderful adventure, not only for one's palate, but for the mind and body as well."

Admiring the Orange Coast inventory...
I agree it's an adventure. And I didn't want to wait another year for another, as appealing as the Central Coast trip may be. I figured there must be some place where I could indulge in a wine tasting on a lazy Sunday afternoon right here in Southern California. So last month as I did my online Christmas shopping, I browsed Gruopon and came across an offer for a wine tasting for two that included a gourmet cheese platter and two souvenir Bordeaux-style wineglasses. I decided this would be an adventure my friend, Linda, and I could enjoy during the post-holiday January lull. I anticipated we'd likely need to drive to Temecula or at least to Laguna Canyon to take advantage of this offer...but then my eye fell on the location of the winery. Why, it's just a few miles away, in nearby Newport Beach! 

The last wine tasting I'd shared with Linda had been two years ago at the Italian castle of Verrazzano in Chianti, between Florence and Siena.  But this past Sunday I warned Linda as we headed out that we'd be in somewhat simpler surroundings this time around. Indeed, Orange Coast Winery calls itself a "urban boutique winery," with an entrance in the rear of an industrial park on a Newport Beach side street. I didn't spy any nearby vineyards.

Here's the explanation: At this self-described urban microwinery, vintners crush, age, and bottle their own vintages using local California grapes. Inside its capacious cellars, juices from grapes grown in regions such as Paso Robles, Napa, and Sonoma age in oak barrels. The resulting vintages are available for purchase onsite, online, or through a nearby genie, and also fill glasses Thursday–Sunday in the attached tasting room. There, patrons can meander through rows of barrels, stop to rest their glass on a granite-topped bar, and on nicer days, catch a salt-sprinkled breeze through the open warehouse door.

(Since I posted this I received this clarification from Debbie Wiens: Presently, we only source grapes from my husband's original vineyard in Lodi, along with several of his old friends and neighbors. We also source grapes from our Temecula vineyards. All of our grapes we use come strictly from vineyards that we personally own or directly manage. We're also open 7 days a week making it completely accessible to our members and the public!)
Doug and Debbie Wiens, owners

The Newport Beach winery opened in 2011, and showcases a variety of whites, rosés and reds. Our personal server (or genie) Carsten Coombs, provided us with the wine list, and suggested we begin with whites and progress toward the heavier reds as we each selected our six tastings. He made certain that our glasses never stood empty for long, and served us water from time to time so we could cleanse our palates.

Carsten additionally gave us the inside story on the winery, on how Doug and Debbie Wiens decided on this locale, and on each wine we selected. He even told us a little about each of the cheeses on our platter. Though it was hard to choose among all the varieties, tempted by their mouth- watering descriptions, I finally settled on a 2016 Pinot Grigio, a 2016 Endless Summer White Blend, a 2016 Rosé of Malbec (a Gold Medal winner at the OC Fair), a 2014 Winterfest Red, a 2013 Big Wave, and a 2015 Reserve Primitivo. Of the six, I'd rank the Winterfest as my's described as a "light-bodied wine containing notes of cranberry and orange with touches of holiday spice and oak. It pairs well with appetizers, cheese and fondue."
Linda and I linger by the sangria punch

Our artisan cheese platter included chèvre (goat) cheese with olive oil and rosemary, smoked Gouda, gorgonzola with clover honey drizzle, pecorino romano, marcona almonds and orange marmalade. For those with heartier appetites, the winery offers a variety of dips and spreads, flat breads, paninis, and even a platter of artisan cheese and cured meets, that includes pickles and mixed olives. Yes, there are gluten-free options.

The winery sponsors a couple of wine clubs, with complementary tastings and pick-up parties in a private club room. There's a "Sangria Sunday" punch also offered in the club room.

Though I still need to wait another year for the trip up the coast, I'll definitely be back to Orange Coast winery soon. I still have my eye on cozying up to 2013 Endless Summer Cabernet Sauvignon. If it lives up to its billing, I might take a bottle home. After all, who could resist a wine that's imbued with "herbal aromas of rosemary and eucalyptus with rich dark fruit and velvety finish?" Oh, and you'll never guess what the winery suggests pairing this baby with: Chateaubriand with mushroom sauce, grilled asparagus and vanilla bean crème brûlée. Now does that sound like a romantic supper or what?

You can learn more here:

Orange Coast Winery
869 W. 16th, Newport Beach, CA 92663
Entrance and Free Parking In Back
(949) 645-0400 
Tasting Room Hours of Operation
Monday-Friday: 5:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.
Saturday: Noon to  9:00 p.m.
Sunday: Noon to 8:00 p.m.

For delightful reading about California wineries farther north,  you can still buy Wine Wherever from the Publishing Syndicate website:

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Panicked? Think positive.

You'd think I'd welcome the beginning of this new year with open arms.  The last one ended with a series of unfortunate events, but hadn't been altogether too terrible for me. After all, I'd met a wonderful gentleman who shares my loves of literary pursuits, who dedicates his days to achieving social justice and who colludes with me in occasional outbreaks of silliness.

Nonetheless, since the long New Year's weekend, I've lapsed into my old childhood habit of awakening each morning, paralyzed by dread. I've relentlessly been playing that old "what if" trick on myself again.

Fortunately, a couple of days ago I received an email that's made me reassess what I gain about peering into the dark abyss of "what might be."
A woman named Maryann took the time to send me this note:
Good day. I am presently reading Chicken soup for the soul and just now read your excerpt titled Eighty-five Percent.
It was as though I was reading about myself! Thank you for sharing. I have been working for many years to change my life's habits. One step forward and one step back appears to be my motto. Insecurity rears it's ugly head at the darnedest times.
Once again thank you. I needed to contact you.

I hadn't thought of that story for quite a while. I opened my copy of the book it appears in, and reread it. "Oh," I reminded myself. "That's what I need to begin doing again." So now I'm starting each morning with thinking a positive thought...or three

Here's today's: Though my date, because of a bad cold, had to bow out of attending a concert with me tonight, my son and his lady friend will share the evening with me instead. And it's Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto 1 at the Segerstrom Center. How positive can you get?

Grateful, I emailed Maryann:
Thanks so much for writing and letting me know how "Eighty-five  Percent" from the book, Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Power of Positive, affected you. Yes, anxiety does paralyze us sometimes...and I learned so much from my late husband's advice. I try to remind myself every time I feel knots in my stomach that I may be worrying about something that is not going to happen. Ever.

Chicken Soup for the Soul's provided readers for over 20 years now with inspirational examples of how to address life's perplexing issues. I've been privileged to have 27 of my stories included in the series over the past decade. I realize how fortunate I am to have this platform to share what I've learned in my nearly 80 years of living. I value hearing from readers, and want you to know how grateful I am that you took the time to write to me.

Here's the story that inspired Maryann. May it aid you, too, if you feel paralyzed by doom and gloom.

Eighty-five Percent

Let us be of good cheer, remembering that the misfortunes hardest to bear are those which will never happen.
~James Russell Lowell

In my earliest years my older sister and I bounced from place to place. Our parents separated when we were toddlers, so we made the rounds, staying with Grandma,with our dad, with his friends, and then back again to Grandma’s.

As if these uncertain circuits weren’t enough to disquiet even a tranquil tyke, onetime I even lost the company of my sister, the closest thing I had to a security blanket. At age four I became hospitalized for several weeks with double pneumonia.

Then when we were five and six, an aunt and uncle adopted us. But my childhood continued to be peppered with predicaments. In addition to the normal childhood diseases of those pre-vaccination days -- measles, mumps, whooping cough, and chickenpox -- I also contracted scarlet fever, which kept me bedridden for weeks. I’d barely recovered when I had to be hospitalized again, this time for a tonsillectomy.

I became a nervous wreck. I realize now how frustrating it must have been for my adoptive parents, watching while I ran through the gamut of self-soothing behaviors. I covered all the bases. I chewed off the entire left collar of my red boucle coat. I sucked my thumb, even licking off the acrid iodine Mama painted it with. I rocked myself to sleep, banging the bed against the wall so violently that my entire family complained of  lack of sleep. And, most embarrassingly for Mama, I’d huddle under my bed, shivering in fear, if visitors showed up.

Nowadays, the average parent may be better educated about the impact of childhood trauma and might seek out professional advice. Back then, though, my family hadn’t a clue. Dr. Benjamin Spock’s book on baby and childcare wouldn’t even be published until I was nine. So bless their hearts… my adoptive parents tried every ploy they could dream up to deal with me, an abnormally anxious child, as I struggled to get through the days and the nights.

“What’s the matter with you?” Mama would demand, as I sobbed uncontrollably when she turned off the light at bedtime.

I was scared to death all the time. I didn’t know why. Nothing seemed to calm me down. Not promises of ice cream or bluffs to drop me off at a nearby police station if I didn’t like it where I was. No treat or threat succeeded in seducing or scaring me into tranquility.

In those days in our suburban Southern California neighborhood, people didn’t chauffeur children to school. We simply walked. We’d been warned to look both ways before crossing streets, and not to jaywalk. Nevertheless my heart began to pound every time I came to an intersection. What if I stepped off the curb and a car came around a corner hit me and I died? Thank heavens I only had to cross three streets to reach Bryson Avenue Elementary. If there’d been a fourth I might have made “Ripley’s Believe It or Not!” column as the youngest heart attack victim ever.

By the time I turned eight and my family moved to Oregon, I’d settled into a daily routine of waking up early to enumerate the dozens of imaginary landmines I’d be called upon to sidestep if I were to live until nightfall. “What if” became my dismaying morning mantra.

Then things changed. Miss Magee, my new teacher, decided I should skip third grade because of my high reading scores. She worked with me after school to catch up on long division and multiplication. She stared down the boys who called me “Terri Termite” because I chewed my pencils. She suggested to my parents that I be given a baton for Christmas because I’d had my heart set on one for years. She let me read every book in the little three-room-schoolhouse library. She praised my book reports, gently reminding me to write on, and not between, the lines.

Most of all, she helped me to distinguish between my negative and positive thoughts. She told me that as a child she’d been afraid, too, but at her Friends Church she’d learned to believe she had an Inner Light. This Inner Light would always lead her to find positive ways of viewing the world. So she suggested that when I awoke in the morning I ask myself what wonderful things I’d be doing that day, rather than wondering“what if.”

It was hard at first to change my thinking pattern. I’d grown used to viewing each new day as yet another struggle to avoid trouble. But Miss Magee would check with meat recess, and I had to be ready with an answer when she’d ask what positive thought I’d selected for that day.

“Picking crab apples in the orchard,” I’d say. Or “Reading Dandelion Cottage.”Or “Helping Grandma shell peas.”

If I fell back on my old habit of looking for the worst possibilities, Miss Magee would remind me that when I learned my multiplication tables I’d had to practice them a lot to get them right. Now I had to practice looking for positive possibilities, over and over, until it became automatic.

Gradually, I grew more comfortable around other children and even trusted a few enough to make friends. Of course I still encountered woes. Once I caught poison oak,and once I cut my foot stepping on a piece of broken glass while wading in a creek.Though these were uncomfortable experiences, somehow I’d grown mature enough to realize that minor rashes and gashes were only that... minor.

Now I realize that I had an undiagnosed anxiety disorder as a child. Its repercussions have remained with me for life. Now, though, whenever I lapse into dread,I force myself to think of what positive activity I’ll soon engage in: an hour with a Dickens novel, a walk with my dog, a dish of frozen yogurt… something wonderful.

When I married my late husband in 2000, he told me he could never understand worry. A man who spent his career in the gaming industry, Ken appreciated statistics and odds. Somewhere he’d read that eighty-five percent of the things that people worry about never come to be. And worrying can’t alter the final outcome of the remaining fifteen percent, he’d remind me. If I voiced what he determined to be unreasonable concern,he’d just cast me a baleful glance and murmur, “Eighty-five.” Gradually, I picked up his phrase.

Oh, I still have some telltale anxiety traits. I’m not a hoarder, but I like a well-stocked pantry, and probably have a dozen more cans of soup than I really need. I’ve never lost my keys in over fifty years, but I still check several times to make certain they’re in my purse before I leave the house. I still have that recurrent dream of not being able to locate the classroom where I’m scheduled to sit for a final exam.

Worry? Yes, but not excessively. Eighty-five percent of the time I’m thinking positive!

In 2008 with Ken Wilson, who'd remind me: "Eighty-five!"

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Still Got the Music in Me

Feast of Lights Saddleback College
It's been the most Christmasy Christmas I can recall since my childhood...thanks to holiday music. Frank and I have swung through a December of Sunday music. We started with Saddleback College's astonishing annual Feast of Lights, my first time, though it's been a holiday tradition there for 25 years. The choir's haunting "O Holy Night" brought me to tears.

We followed up a week later with a jazzy afternoon, a "Charlie Brown's Christmas," at the home of Luther and Vicky Gonzales Hughes. Luther, a world-bassist, who happens to own the late Howard Rumsey's instrument, hosts home concerts as part of the California Jazz Arts Society, which Frank and I joined several months ago. With Luther's accomplished friends at keyboards, drums, and vocals, the Sunday afternoons always delight...but this one was special, with
Becky Hughes. Late Bloomer
Becky Hughes and Dale Boatman interpreting the lyrics of old favorites. Becky, whose album is called "Late Bloomer," sprinkles a little sultriness on old standbys.

This past Sunday we went to my third Christmas singalong at the home of Barbara Smith, a musician and music teacher who decorates her home, herself and even her guests for the holidays. Yes, Barbara keeps a box of Christmas caps for everybody. And underneath each chair we each found percussion instruments so we all could become musicians, at least temporarily, in a rousing version of "The Twelve Days of Christmas.

I at last had a chance to hear the mighty William J. Gillespie pipe organ at Segerstrom Concert Hall this week, too, where the annual Christmas Spectacular featured Todd Wilson, from the Cleveland Institute of Music, with members of the Pacific Symphony. This concert included a singalong finale, so we chimed in with "Silent Night" and "Joy to the World."

William J. Gillespie organ
Tonight, before I head for Arizona for Christmas with my 7-year-old granddaughter (and her parents) I'll be going to a final Christmas music singalong at my apartment complex. When I get to Arizona tomorrow afternoon I'm going to ask Kendra to sing a few holiday favorites for me.

But the music isn't going to die when December runs out of days. Frank and I already have tickets for several Pacific Symphony concerts, and will be going January 12 back to Segerstrom for Tchaikovsky's First Piano Concerto. Billed as a "romantic tour de force," this piece brings me back to my childhood every time I hear it.

My friends know that my grandfather, Jesse Crawford, had been known worldwide in the '20s and '30s as "The Poet of the Organ," and "Master of the Mighty Wurlitzer." His two children, Jeanne, my birth mother, and Howard, my uncle, inherited the musical ability gene. My late big 𝄠𝄠𝄠sister, Patti, did, too. From an early age she excelled at both singing and piano playing. Professional musicians have told me she had perfect pitch. Perfect.
Grandpa Jesse Crawford

Though I sang in glee club, and danced with the Carpenterettes and Manual Arts High School's Pavlovettes, I couldn't master the piano. Somehow the musical ability gene skipped me...nonetheless, I inherited the appreciation gene, as did my son, Steve. I don't know if they play or sing, but I do know Patti's daughters, Spring, Dawni and Star, all also adore music and attend frequent concerts.

But, oh, how I always have longed to have my sister's talent, both vocal and piano. One of the earliest pieces I remember Patti playing...and we couldn't have been more than seven (me) and eight (her), was the Tchaikovsky piece I'll be hearing next month, the First Piano Concerto.

Sister Patti and her music-loving daughters, Spring, Dawni and Star
"Boston Globe critic Matthew Guerrieri commented that Haochen Zhang, Gold Medal winner of the 13th International Van Cliburn Competition, displayed “poetic temperament as much as technical power … [he is] a pianist with ample reserves of power whose imagination seems nonetheless most kindled by subtle delicacy,” artistic gifts that should serve him well when he tackles Tchaikovsky’s popular piano concerto. "

Here's Lang Lang with the wonderful Opus 23:

And here is Zhang: