Sunday, March 28, 2010

Breakie in Wine Country

Spring is in the air, and I am hungry. My gurgling and growling stomach woke me up bright and early this morning. I never used to wake up hungry, but lately it’s the first thing on my agenda, right after caffeine. Where to go in the beautiful Napa Valley? We decided to try Fremont Diner located on Highway 121 in the Carneros. As stated in previous posts, the Tea Drinker and I are fans of going out to breakfast. Okay, we admit it, we are fans of eating. Period. Our favorite local breakfast joint, Boon Fly Café (also located in Carneros), is where we usually go, and gobble down our stand-by orders of “eggs in a hole” and "Green Eggs & Ham”. Today, however, we decided to venture a bit further down the road, and give the Fremont Diner a try.

This diner used to be named Babe’s, a sort of run down place, where they served up up shakes, burgers, and fries. We went there a few times, and snuck home afraid we would be caught with grease dripping down our chins. The new owners of this diner have done wonders with the ambiance, and created a cozy, comfortable southern-style restaurant nestled in wine country(this blog has great photos). As you approach the Fremont Diner, you feel as though you stumbled upon a secret treasure; it fits in nicely amongst the vineyards and cow pastures.

A small building with a screen door welcomes you to step right up to the window counter(outlined with a chalkboard menu) to place your order. While you wait in line, there is plenty to look at- a lot of nice touches that make a statement about thought, care, and supporting local goodies. The counter is lined with homemade pastries, jellies, and preserves. We passed this time around, but plan to come back and sample them soon. Sit at the brushed steel counter( there are about four stools) and view the open kitchen. There are plenty of magazines and newspapers to read, or just enjoy your meal and watch the action. We opted for one of the antique tables, and watched the many hungry souls enjoying their morning. Looking around I assumed that almost everyone in the restaurant was on a getaway weekend to the wine country. They looked happy as they filled up on biscuits and gravy before heading out for another day of sampling wines or fighting the traffic back to San Francisco. Either way they looked content. The restaurant also has picnic tables out back, if you want to take in the fresh air.

The menu supports many local farmers and companies. It seems to be their motto. On the breakfast menu choices range from Shrimp & Grits, Black Pepper Brisket Hash, French Toast, Ricotta Pancakes, and an Egg breakfast. I attempted to order the Rancho Gordo yellow eyed beans, with sage and chili salt, and a fried egg on top. Alas, they were sold out. The man in charge suggested that I ordered the grits(stating, "they will be the best I will ever have"),with a fried egg and grilled asparagus stalks. Sold to the highest bidder! I thought the grits were pretty darn good, but then the Tea Drinker reminded me about the shrimp and grits that we had at brunch one year after the Atlanta High Museum Wine Auction. They were made by Chef Rathbun; I really should reach out for him and get that recipe. But, I will state that the fried egg in this dish was perfectly cooked, and probably the freshest tasting egg I have ever had. Absolutely delicious. Oh, and what did my lovely husband order? The Tea Drinker loves breakfast sandwiches. Eggs, Meat , Cheese, Bread. No need to elaborate here!

Now onto the rest of our day, where we will be tasting lots of loose leaf teas(Assams and Ceylons), and then heading out for a bike ride. Put a spring in your step with fresh ingredients at every meal, and support your local purveyors. Now what’s for lunch?

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Run Tea Drinker, Run!

A picture is worth a thousand words. Check out the photo of me about ready to cross the finish line at this year’s Carneros Vineyard 10K Run, which benefits the Carneros Volunteer Fire Department -Station 10. At that precise moment, I was happy, proud, and feeling great. I was also extremely proud of my fellow runner friends(see below). The Tea Drinker was there to cheer us on and document our success. He is my number one cheerleader without the pom poms. My husband greeted me bright and early this morning with an energizing snack of peanut butter on whole wheat toast, and a tall cup of one of my all-time favorite teas, Red Peony. Then came the pep talk with words of encouragement, such as, “Think of that glass of wine you will be handed once you cross the finish line(we are in Napa Valley, after all), and the pancake breakfast prepared by fireman”. He was right, I believe I have run more than 6.2 miles before for a glass of wine.

Before the race, I stretched, foam rolled(a tortuous boot camp apparatus), sipped on loose leaf tea, and visualized crossing the finish line. And what a vision it was: a race set in the heart of Carneros (with a perfect running temperature of a cool 48 degrees) surrounded by rolling hills filled with mustard and grapevines. As you can see, I proudly wore my Napa Valley Adventure Boot Camp t-shirt. I would not have attempted this run without the support and encouragement of my workout mentors, and friends. They got me here today, and continue to help me accomplish my goals. Hooray for Boot Camp! Here I go again…gushing about Boot Camp.

I am now back home still wearing my race bib number while drinking Clouds & Mist. I can’t think of a better way to celebrate! Drink loose leaf tea and let your imagination run wild.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Happy Birthday Tea Drinker!

It’s the Tea Drinker’s birthday week! This tradition of celebrating for a week was implemented by yours truly many years ago. The rules are simple. The "birthday person" chooses when their special week begins and it ends seven days later( it must include the actual birth date). Being your birthday you get to choose the lucky recipient to coordinate and organize your every whim. This person is usually a spouse, significant other, or a best friend (who else would put up with this type of behavior?). Sound fun? Well, it can be, if it is your birthday.

How does one officially kick off the birthday week? Believe me, you will know exactly when the festivities begin. For example, our week began with something like this: one early morning the Tea Drinker rolled over and proclaimed, “Honey, can you get me a cup of tea?” I replied, “I am in the middle of something-sleeping.”. The Tea Drinker's rebuttal, “Birthday week”. Simple, no arguments. I lose. He wins. Let the games begin.

The key to a successful birthday week is to mix it up. Keep your partner in suspense. Food, wine, tea, exercise, fun activities, and etc. all sound like a normal week for us. But, this is where you are wrong. Only one person is deciding this agenda. For example, are you always the one to take out the garbage? Clean the kitty litter box? Feed the fish? Not this week, it’s your birthday. Are you craving Mexican food one night and barbeque the other? No problem. What can I get you? I think you get the picture.

The Tea Drinker’s birthday week involved many things that we both enjoy: going out to eat, drinking great wine, planning our upcoming trip to Japan, and a plethora of tea tastings for Drink the Leaf . We accomplished all of this without any disagreements. Of course, what's to argue about when it's your birthday week! Give it a try. Your loved one will thank you. The key is to remember to be very careful in what you ask for during your week, because "birthday paybacks" can be hell. Since, this birthday week is not our first rodeo, things are going smoothly.

Well, I have to run. The Tea Drinker has an itch, and I have to scratch it.

Happy Birthday, Honey! Lots of Love. XOXO

Sunday, March 7, 2010


Gyokuro, Sencha, Genmaicha, Matcha, and Kukicha. Again. Gyokuro, Sencha, Genmaicha, Matcha, and Kukicha. The Tea Drinker repeatedly took me through these steps today. He urged me to study, memorize, steep, taste, and savor the flavors of Japanese green teas. He begged me to put down my habitual cup of caffeine-loaded black loose leaf tea, and open my eyes to the wonders of the world. I fretted. What would the toned down version of me look like? Calm and serene ? Impossible. I promised to drag myself out of this rut to drink more Oolongs, White tea, even the Herbal variety, but venture more into green tea? The Tea Drinker was putting his foot down, and told me, “Today, you begin a new adventure: Japanese Green Teas. Get your passport ready”.

Japanese Green Tea 101:
Tea drinking was brought to Japan from China around the 9th century, and was destined to be forever immersed in this culture. The highest quality Japanese green teas tend to come from the Yame region of Fukuoka Prefecture and the Uji region of Kyoto. Japanese teas, like all teas, are made from the lovely coveted camellia sinensis plant. Green teas are unique in that they are “un-oxidized” or undergo minimal oxidation. In Japan, tea leaves are steamed, as opposed to being tossed in a hot pan(the process in China). Steaming the leaves produces teas that are fresh and delicate. They tend to be bright green in color, complex in flavor with aromas of fresh cut grass and toasted nuts. Overall, green tea is low to moderate caffeine(sigh), very full of antioxidants, and receives the most recognition for its health benefits. I guess I could use the extra health boost.

Before steeping, be sure to have the water temperature just right, as you do not want to scald those poor little teas leaves. Yes, Master Tea Drinker.

Sencha- A common tea in Japan, and very popular worldwide. Made from leaves that are exposed to direct sunlight, harvested, steamed then rolled. The resulting tea has a natural sweetness, and is packed with fresh herbal flavors. Try the Kawane -it brews a beautiful dark forest green liqueur, has vibrant aromas of fresh cut grass, nuts, and Nori seaweed. It will bring spring right to your front door.

Asahina Gyokuro- A premium Sencha using only new shoots of the leaves that are cultivated in the shade before harvest. “Gyokuro” refers to the color of the infusion(“jewel dew”). This tea is of the highest quality. The leaves are almost aqua-green in color with intriguing aromas: a hint of citrus and fresh cut grass, with a mild flowery note. On the palate it's smooth with a natural sweetness. Flavors of toasted hazelnut or Nori seaweed comes to mind. I was so wrapped up in the sensory overload of this tea that my most cherished black tea almost became a distant memory.

Genmaicha- Enter: Sencha or Bancha green tea combined with popped corn and roasted rice. This tea was historically consumed by the less fortunate of Japan. However, today its enjoyed by all facets of society, and considered to be quite chic. “Popcorn” tea is just not for Friday night anymore. Treat yourself anytime of the day. It’s slightly grassy and nutty, like me.

Next week: Matcha, the powdered green tea essential in Japanese tea ceremonies and Kukicha, a tea made from twigs, stalks and stems. Hmm.. I may have to brew a strong cup of Keemun to get me through this next chapter.

Venture out in life. Do I see a trip to Japan in my near future? Hai!