Sunday, September 27, 2009

Loose Leaf Tea & Boot Camp- a healthy match

Brace yourself. I am now going to gush over Napa Valley Adventure Boot Camp, again. What brings this on? Yesterday, yours truly, completed Napa River Rock & Stroll 6K charity run within 40 minutes. This is the same person who less than a year ago was unable to run around the block without stopping. Back to boot camp, this outdoor fitness program is owned by Jeff and Tiffany Larson; two individuals that are completely dedicated to each other, their family, and the boot campers. Once you get over the fear of exerting yourself to near exhaustion at 5:30am in the morning with 30 other men and women, you realize that you can’t live without this fitness program. It’s one-stop get fit shopping: amazing, knowledgeable fitness instructors, nutritional advice, workout variety, fresh air, inspiring fellow boot campers, and the sweet taste of success, as you reach your goals.

After years of declaring to those around me, “I am going to the gym; do not mess with me”, I discovered that it was time for a change. My old M.O. was to dive into various classes that involved grunting and sweating (spin, kickboxing, personal trainers, elliptical torture machines, Pilates, free weights, you name it), however, I found that I still wasn't committed. A familiar pattern of working out like a mad woman, then moving into a complacent half-assed routine, and finally the inevitable—abandoning ship. What is IT about yo-yoing through life when it comes to working out? Maybe it’s as simple as not over thinking it. After I survived my first four week camp one year ago, I realized that it was a lifestyle choice. Simple, I know. Sometimes the right choices are the hardest to put into place.

Today, after making that choice to focus on the enjoyable aspect of working out (who have I become?) and finding the right fit for me, I am eager to share this experience with others. If you live in Napa, please join. If you live elsewhere, Google boot camp in your city or reach out for us, and we can help you find a reputable program near you. Put your health first, and everything else will fall into place.

Next up, I am working on getting the Tea Drinker to join me in this adventure. I am constantly challenging him to do push ups, racing him around the block, showing him my latest moves (recall the broken toe episode), but yesterday might have sealed the deal. Some of my fellow Boot Campers stopped by the Napa Valley Farmer’s Market after the race yesterday, and enjoyed Iced Cold Citrus Rooibos, the ultimate healthy re-hydrating beverage. Hmm…tea & boot camp, seems like a perfect match to me.
**remember to always consult your doctor before starting an exercise program

Sunday, September 20, 2009

A Balancing Act- Eat More Cake

Traveling can be challenging-- packing, setting the alarm for the crack of dawn, fighting the morning traffic, endless security lines, the mad rush to find bin space on the plane to stow your luggage, sitting next to an annoying person, then finally dying of thirst while hailing the attention of the flight attendant who's engrossed in the latest Enquirer. Like I said, challenging. Now, imagine adding to the mix, the amazing feat of having to do all of the aforementioned, while carrying a California Mission Fig and Blueberry Torte. Yes, I have truly lost my mind. The steps I'll take-- to not disappoint! How could I say no to the nice lady I met in the suburbs of Chicago? I was stunned by her generosity and genuine enthusiasm for life!

After a whirlwind week of early mornings, too many late nights yelling about Napa Valley at the top of my lungs (don’t ask), hoards of rich food and wine, my hour train ride out to the suburbs was a nice respite. Peace and quiet. Me, and my book, Julie & Julia. I was looking forward to a day without hustle and bustle. And, my wish came true: a civilized, successful and enjoyable day. It’s always revealing when you step off the merry-go-round of life, and see that serenity actually can exist. Enter, Ambrosia Euro-American Patisserie , located in Barrington, IL. Stopped in for caffeine, ended up enjoying bite-sized sweets, and chatting with the owner, Debbie, about life in general, and Napa Valley wine. Debbie and her family are celebrating 25 years of owning this exquisite pastry shop, a definite meeting spot for locals. As we said our goodbyes, she thrust a white cake box into my hands. I exclaimed, “What is this? I can’t take this!”. Debbie rebutted, “No, you must. It’s a California Mission fig tart mingled with Michigan blueberries.” We went back and forth, "But, I am travelling, no can, do.” Debbie replied, “ Oh, sure you can. The tart does not need to be refrigerated, and besides you said you were on your way to visit your family. You have to bring this to your Mom.” Okay, this is where Debbie sucked me in. She was right. What a cool gift to bring home to my family all the way from Chicago. I am nuts, for sure.

Envision: exhausted, worn out Wife of A Tea Drinker, sitting in the back of a taxi on the way to the airport, staring at a white cake box beside her. Hmm, maybe I should give it to the nice taxi man. He had giggled while he watched me heave my 500 pound computer bag (stuffed to the hilt) into the back of the cab, while balancing a cake box. Nah, I am not giving it to him. Instead, I sat there and planned my next step--security line. Having never travelled with a Mission Blueberry Torte before, would I run into trouble? I approached the lines, viewed my options, forged ahead with my computer bag slung over my aching shoulder (white cake box in hand) dragging carry-on luggage behind me. I stared ahead, stood up straight, exuded confidence, and attempted to make myself invisible. Impossible. Everyone wanted to know what was in the box. Would I share? Was I on my way to a party? Could they take a peek? Little old ladies smiled at me endearingly, bringing me back to why I was doing this in the first place, bonus points with the family. Okay, onward. As my torte exits the x-ray machine, the TSA security man yells, “Bag Check!” And rattles off some procedure that he would need to do (sounded like an ABTAB). I began to sweat. I am an idiot. I am an expert traveler, and here I am trying to smuggle a torte onto the plane. I looked up and the security man was laughing. "Ha. Ha. Just joking, give us a slice and we will let you through". I was not amused.

Next up, bathroom. As I was careening through the masses of Friday travelers, I muttered to myself, “I have to pee like a race horse”. I did not realize I was saying this out loud until those endearing looks of admiration turned to shocked stares. I hurried to the bathroom. Now, how the heck was I going to do this? Prioritize: computer bag goes into the stall with me; perch the cake box on top of my luggage right outside the door. Then, I narrowed my eyes and glared at the women in line, “This cake better be here when I get out!”. They snickered. From the stall I heard them conjecturing about the contents of the cake box. Was it a coconut cake, or maybe almond? Damn, I had to hurry it up-- these women were NOT to be trusted. They had sugar and carbohydrates on their minds. I had to move fast.

I won’t bore you with the details of boarding Southwest, but as I heaved and struggled down the aisle trying to find a safe place for me and my torte, no one offered to help, but several people threatened to steal my cake. I finally got settled; but was afraid to fall asleep. The flight attendant circled and the man next to me leered at the box on the seat between us. I placed my hand on top of it, and kept one eye open. I arrived in Buffalo in one piece, and was relieved when I saw Mom pull up immediately. As I gingerly and dramatically placed the cake box onto the front seat, I stated proudly that "I made it!". Mom did not seem the least bit surprised that I had a cake box. No comment. I had to laugh. I love Mom, never fazed or rattled by the unexpected. We enjoyed the torte later; it was delicious and tasted of marzipan, which is so comforting. Today, we are looking forward to our mid-afternoon slice and a steaming cup of Drink the Leaf tea.

Remember when the going gets tough, always bring cake.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Hit me with your best Shot! Fire away!

This song, "Hit me with your best Shot" has been ringing in my head all day, along with a slight headache left over from last night’s libations. Yep, yours truly and the Tea Drinker mingled with Pat Benatar and her husband, Neil Girlado, last night. Well, not exactly. But we did go to a premier wine tasting, sampled delicious tidbits from Cyrus, watched Patricia belt out tunes from her past before an intimate crowd of about three hundred people, and then sat down for an Italian dinner under the stars prepared by Perbacco. Not soon after, my friends and I had our picture taken with Pat Benatar. Good stuff. Our dear friends invited us to this affair even though they know that I can’t whistle a tune nor could I identify a famous musical artist's lyrics if it jumped up and down in front of my face, and yelled, “I am a rock star, and have won a gazillion grammys, god dam’it!” Lucky for me, my friends are mostly amused by my ignorance or are just in plain awe that I grew up under a rock.

Much to my husband’s surprise, I confidently rattled off Pat Benatar’s songs to him on the way to the event. He gaped, wondering who stole his wife. I did not have the heart to confess that I actually looked up her songs on the Internet, beforehand. Pathetic, I know. I stated to my husband, "of course, I remember who Pat Benatar is- she’s famous and was on MTV". Dancing around, skinny in black jeans, with bounds of energy. How could I forget, I also owned a black leather jacket, wore tight jeans, lots of blue eye shadow, and had wild hair, too. It was the 80’s, after all. However, for the life of me, I could not name one of her songs, even if I stood to win money. Therefore, I was looking forward to seeing her in person, and catching up with the rest of the world; we were not disappointed.

What brought Pat Benatar to Napa? A music festival hosted by Staglin Family Vineyards benefiting research for mental illness. Tickets for the whole chibang ran anywhere from $750 to $5,000 a person. Did I mention that we have really great friends? Thank you! The Staglin Family Music Festival for Mental Health is in its 15th year. Over 57 million Americans live with mental illness. Staggering. The Staglin family has raised nearly 90 million dollars for brain research. Staggering again. This research is very personal to the Staglin family, and their story is inspiring. Brain diseases come from biochemical changes in the brain, and people who live with these disorders and those that love the afflicted, are in deep emotional pain and confusion. I applaud the Staglin Family for bringing this very important issue to the surface.

Today as I reflect back on the great time we had with our friends, I am grateful that we live in a community that gets involved and supports great causes. Many Napa Valley wineries donate thousands of dollars, wine, and time to countless meaningful charities nationwide. It feels great to be a part of this industry that makes a difference.

Be the first this week to order Drink the Leaf teas, and receive Pat Benatar's Summer Vacation 2001 Live CD. Please note "Fire Away" in the comment section.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Time to Light the Barbie

As the Dog Days of Summer come to an end, we are cherishing this holiday weekend by relishing in each other’s company(wine helps), languishing in the backyard, and feasting on BBQ. Like most days, the hot topic always seems to revolve around food. We usually start with a theme, and then build from there. This weekend’s theme was all about lighting the grill, and enjoying barbecue. In hindsight, I should’ve documented our scrumptious meals and posted photos, but our stomachs took charge, and all that was left before us were empty plates. Success!

It’s not too late to squeeze in a couple more weekends filled with barbecue. Here are a few ideas for your next grill fest, and of course, tea suggestions to start your day off right!

Friday- Started our day with Huang Jin Gui Oolong

Homemade Pizzas on the Grill
We made a basic pizza dough in our bread maker. However, store bought pizza dough works fine, too. We like the Trader Joe’s brand. The best part of planning a pizza party is choosing the toppings. We like to make two pizzas, each choosing a pie, and taking it from ingredients to grill. The Tea Drinker made our favorite ‘order-in’ stand by, a traditional cheese pizza with black olives and onions. I took a stab at creating Pizza Azzurro’s spinach, garlic, red chilies, and ricotta pizza pie.

Our number one advice is not to be afraid! Grilling pizza can be fun.
· Heat Grill- either brush grill lightly with oil or coat with a non-stick oil spray
· Roll out dough right before it goes on the grill- Don’t worry if it’s not round- the shape does not matter.
· Brush dough with olive oil, and place the oiled side down on grill. Sometimes it’s easier to just flip the dough from the sheet pan right onto the grill. Grill for 5-7 minutes until crusty. Oil the other side, flip, and repeat!
· Remove dough from the grill and decorate with ingredients. Place back on grill, turn down the heat, close lid and grill until cheese or ingredients meld together.
· Slice, and serve with a crisp salad. Butter lettuce wedges topped with creamy blue cheese dressing worked perfectly for us.

Saturday- Started our day with House Ceylon
Barbeque-braised Thai Chicken Legs
with a lemongrass glaze consisting of green curry paste, lots of scallions and ginger, served with side of spicy Thai noodles, and sweet and sour cucumber salad.

This recipe is compliments of Fine Cooking magazine. I am totally convinced this is how to grill chicken. It’s a bit of project, but well worth it. Just pour yourself a glass of wine, and enjoy the outdoors while grilling. You can basically use this technique with any type of meat. The steps involve starting a dry rub base, then searing the meat quickly on a hot grill. Next, braising the meat in liquid which also can be done on the grill, then finishing back on the grill for final cooking while basting with a glaze. The chicken was so moist and layered with flavors. We found that a gas grill works best, since you can control the temperature. I can’t wait to make this again. Try it, you will not be disappointed. Total cooking time about an hour, after marinade.

Sunday- Started our day with White Peony
Baby Back Ribs- slow cooked on a charcoal grill, served with Mac-n-Cheese, baked beans, and corn on the cob. Holy cow, what a feast! The Tea Drinker has been experimenting with ribs all summer long. He is attempting to perfect the ultimate Drink the Leaf house style. The key is in the rub and cooking the ribs over low heat for a lengthy period of time. Read here: have lots of cold beer on hand. Today, he chose Gary Wiviott’s rub- an aromatic mixture of dried ingredients- garlic, cayenne, paprika, thyme, chipolte, ancho and guajillo chili powders. Dash of salt and pepper, too. We made ours from scratch, but if in a pinch order on line at Baste the ribs with a high quality barbecue sauce towards the end of cooking. Also, serve some of the sauce on the side. Fall off the bone, finger licking good…

And for inquiring minds, I enjoyed a grilled Portobello mushroom "burger", and had extra helpings of mac-n-cheese.

Monday- Labor Day- Start day with Kawane Sencha
What to barbecue? Heck, forget that, we are going out to dinner, we're exhausted!