Posts Tagged ‘wine’

Antigua to Panajachel: Part II

12 March 2010

We stayed in Antigua until Friday when we drove to Panajachel on Lake Atitlán. On Thursday, we went to Philip and Christina Wilson Finca el Pintado organic coffee farm to retrieve the truck and camper. In the morning, I had intended to go to the Santo Domingo Hotel/cloister/church/museum, but we stopped at too many shops along the way so it was too late to visit the museum by the time we got there if we were to meet Philip at 1:45 as we had agreed.

We met Philip at the Texaco station at the south end of town and he drove us to the Finca. The coffee harvest was near its end and they were picking everything, including the green berries. Philip told us that the harvest was about 35 per cent down from the previous year. Although there was a slight increase in prices it did not compensate for the reduction in harvest. We had an excellent lunch with Philip and his mother. Philip’s father had been in the oil industry and they had lived all over the world. His mother now lives in Washington DC.

The last of the beans

The talked ended up on the Canadian health care system: Mrs Wilson asked us how we liked it. We, of course, replied we loved it. She was sceptical of state-run health care after her experience in England when she would have had to wait for three weeks to see a doctor, but when she agreed to see the doctor privately, all of a sudden he was available the next day. She asked us what the waits were like in Canada. We had to correct yet again the many lies spread by the Republicans in the States. We told here that there was no wait for urgent procedures, but some elective surgery could wait as more urgent cases took precedence. Essentially, I pointed out, that one’s doctor acted as one’s advocate with the hospital system. She asked us whether there was no private system. I explained that until recently, at least, a doctor was either in the system or out of it. But if he was out, he had no access to the hospitals which are all non-profit institutions run by community boards (none are for-profit).

Coffee bean waste being partially composted

Philip gave us a tour of his worm farm: 24 million worms who turn the waste from the coffee processing into fertilizer. The finca is also planting legume trees so that they can fix nitrogen in the soil.

Worm farm bins (note bird netting)

Ecofiltro filters being painted with colloidal silver

We then visited the Ecofiltro factory run by Philip. The Ecofiltro is a low technology water filter that can be used to purify drinking water. It consists of a flower pot shaped ceramic and sawdust filter impregnated with colloidal silver which fits into a plastic or terra cotta container. I think it would have many applications in many places in Canada (mining camps, outfitters, First Nations communities, Walkerton and other places that depend on privatized water inspection services, etc.). Anyway, it is something worth exploring. We retrieved our truck & camper and drove it to the hotel parking lot.

Luigi cradling Malbec bottle

On Thursday night, we went to a rather fancy parillada (steak house grill) restaurant. Marilyn ordered the filet mignon and she got—get this—two tournedos at least one inch thick wrapped in bacon. And they came rare rather than medium as she had ordered. They do not stint on the meat in this country. She was not able to finish them & I had to help her. On the waiter’s recommendation we had an absolutely superb Norton Argentine Malbec. Actually we had two bottles, one in honour of Deb Pitt who asked me to have a glass of vino for her.

The next morning (Friday) we visited the Casa Santo Domingo museum, a former Dominican church and convent that included a number of crypts, a broken down earthquake-damaged church, a regular church under a tent, and a number of museums all within the precincts of a hotel, not to speak of a patio full of parrots. We found all quite interesting, especially a museum of ceramics and glass which compared modern art glass with Mayan ceramics. Each exhibit juxtaposed Mayan art with glass art work from all over the world (but mostly from Sweden, France and Canada). There were sections on different animal representations, human figures, plants, etc. Really cool and well done. There was a museum dedicated to contemporary Guatemalan art, one with painted religious statuary, and another on artisanal work. All very well done and we appreciated having a guide. It is quite impressive that the hotel manages to do this.

Fruit offerings with flower carpet above

We had a very bad lunch of tacos (the second worse after Mexicana Airlines) and then went to Jocotenango just outside of Antigua where they had made a flower carpet on the floor of the church. The flower alfombres are a typical Lent activity in the Antigua area. Quite attractive and there were a lot of food vendors outside. We bought some mangoes and sweets but could not find coffee. It was really stupid of us not to have waited to eat and being subjected to the barely edible tacos.

Jocotenango church

We then drove back to the Pan-American Highway on a narrow twisty road and turned towards Whitehorse – the Alaska Highway is theoretically part of the Pan-American. We turned off the highway and drove down another even narrower and twistier road to Sololá and then another 10 klicks to Panajachel. By that time I was pretty burned out and stopped at the first decent looking hotel we saw, the Rancho Grande Inn. It actually turned out pretty well, with a fairly cheap room with fireplace and bath, a gorgeous garden, and a great breakfast with one-inch-thick perfectly-cooked pancakes. We could not have the nicer room because it was already reserved for the Saturday night.

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California is the place I oughta be, loaded up the truck and drove to …

1 December 2009

Fort Bragg. OK, not as sexy as Beverly Hills. California! Where it seems so many things in our western culture get their start: Hollywood and stars and celebrities, Disney and Mickey and Yogi, surfing, expressways/freeways/motorways and the automobile culture, blondes in convertibles and hot tubs, fast food and McDonald’s, Haight-Ashbury and hippies and massive recreational drug use, Berkeley and the peace movement, fern bars and sushi and fusion cuisine, varietal wines (the point that now even the venerable burgundies are putting “Pinot Noir” on their labels, as if they could be anything else), JPL sending us into space and Silicon Valley into cyberspace, etc.

27 November, Highway of the Redwoods to Fort Bragg

Got up fairly early & drove down the curvy and twisty Highway of the Redwoods to Crescent City on California’s coast, not without occasionally stopping to admire the big trees.

I stopped at a Home Depot to buy a crescent wrench for the propane tank and took a look at the lumber. I was appalled: “construction quality” doug fir full of loose knots, waney edges, rot pockets. I won’t speak of the unspeakable “Whitewood”. That stuff should have gone into the chipper to make ass-wipe or termite puke board, not construction lumber.

I had a bad smoked salmon omelette in Crescent City and continued along the curvy and twisty coast road.

View from Crescent City dock

Vista from Crescent City dock

I managed to piss off quite a few Californicators in their sports cars with my slow driving. Par for the course, revenge for these Californian old farts in their bus-sized RVs who are always slowing us down on the Alaska Highway and who don’t bother to pull over. Maybe we need signs like they have in California telling slow traffic to pull over at pull-outs to let others pass.

I got to Fort Bragg around 4:00 PM. Lymond Hardy took me to the College of the Redwoods http://www.crfinefurniture.com/ woodworking school where I met a number of his fellow students as well as Brian the man responsible for their amazing stash of wood. For those not familiar with wooddorking, the woodworking school at the College of the Redwoods is probably the best school in North America and notoriously difficult to get into, so it is quite an accomplishment for Lymond to just getting accepted. The school was made famous by its founder and inspiration – http://jameskrenov.com/ James Krenov – who died recently. While I am not a particular fan of his designs – they look spindly and unbalanced – I recognize Krenov’s incredible workmanship.

Lymond and Brian

Lymond and David Welter

Lymond is making a blanket chest for his first project: coopered sides and top, held together with dovetails. Its mass and solid look make it decidedly un-krenovian and respects Lymond’s style: he is into mass.

Lymond's chest

Lymond's chest

Both of us were to tired to cook that night, so after drinking the bottle of bad lambrusco and some even worse Sangiovese (which will get turned into vinegar, shouldn’t take long), we went to a French restaurant where we had the mushroom tasting menu and crab cakes. It was OK, not bad, maybe even pretty good but we were nevertheless disappointed.

28 November, Saturday, Fort Bragg & Mendocino
Finally, sunny t-shirt weather! Well over 10 degrees Celsius! I am in California!!

After a lazy morning, we drove to south to Mendocino where we bought a bottle of California sparkly to celebrate Louise’s (Lymond’s mother’s) birthday. They were having a party back in Whitehorse. We also visited a furniture gallery full of furniture made by graduates and teachers at the college of the Redwoods. Nothing really grabbed me except for an Ash chair made by a woodworker who is to teach next semester. We also went into a place that has massive wood slabs, mainly of local reclaimed wood (redwood and cypress),  some of it old growth.Luigi with curly redwood slab

We had lunch outside in the sun where I actually started sweating even though a guy next to us had a fur hat and quilted jacket and most people wore jackets. We Yukoners are tough!

We then went to a winery right on the coast: http://www.pacificstarwinery.com/ Pacific Star. Lymond had previously met the owner, Sally Ottoson, and talked about me and how I was disappointed in the quality of the grapes I was getting and the wines I have been making in the past few years. She said she wanted to meet me and might help in finding grapes.Pacific Star winery

Anyway, there were a lot of people when we got there and Markus, her partner who used to be a chiropractor, was hard-pressed to keep up.

Pinot noir on the shore

Pinot noir on the shore

We did try a number of wines and she does use a couple of grapes I have never heard of: Roussanne—a white from the Rhône—and Charbono—a red from Savoie but also used in the Val d’Aoste. The wine is also aged in barrels which are left outside, to be exposed to the sea air. And it is aged in barrels for a long time, like up to 8-9 years. This is pretty impressive, I would be very fearful of barrels going bad in that time.

The wines I really liked were a white Viognier-Roussanne, the Barbera, Petite Sirah, and Zinfandel. I have to note that Lymond is a bit of a Zin addict: he started drinking wine when he was about 10 or 11 when I fed him my Zinfandel cut with ginger ale. So he has been more than partial to Zins ever since.

As there were still a lot of people, we got a bottle of 2002 Pinot Noir and went to drink it by the sea. I also had a piece of cheese I had bought in Seattle: a cheddar with the consistency of Port Salut. So we cut off the mould and had that with the wine. I also lent a sweater to Lymond as the wind made us decide to give up on our northern tough guy act. The Pinot noir was quite disappointing when we first tasted it, but it greatly, massively improved with time, so that by the end of the bottle, it was excellent. It needed time to air out. I finally got to talk to Sally after almost everyone had left, and jokingly complained that she should have opened the Pinot Noir a couple of hours before we got there. She got us to try a Charbono-Barbera, which was excellent. I then remembered I had some Vidal ice-wine in the camper, so I went to get a couple of 200ml botlles. We tried one and it was disappointing, not as good as I had hoped. I think I’ll have to let Lymond in our wine cellar at Christmas time and bring Sally back a really good bottle of ice wine.

For those not in the “know”, ice wine is quite appropriately a Canadian specialty made with grapes frozen on the vine. The grapes have to be harvested when it’s at least -10 or -12 Celsius and immediately pressed at low temperatures to extract the freeze-concentrated juice. It was originally a German thing, called eiswein, made in special years when it got cold enough. But in Canada, we can do it consistently as it always gets cold enough.

After that we went home where Lymond cooked up an excellent meal: abalone wrapped in prosciutto, battered lightly and deep fried. Superb! I also had some raw abalone, equally excellent. But it does require a serious beating. Lymond had invited two friends, Doug a colleague at the College of the Redwoods and Jennifer, his girlfriend.

29 November, Fort Bragg to the Central Valley.

I took it easy in the morning, updated the blog and had a few cups of coffee. Tim, Lymond’s roommate, came back from visiting his family in Marin and we went out for a coffee.

Lymond and Tim

Lymond and Tim

I got ready to leave and needed to get some stuff in the back of the camper. A total mess! One of the hatches had opened and a bottle of olive oil had spilled all over. Yuck!!! I had to go buy a mop with Lymond and cleaned up the camper. The floor is now cleaner than it’s ever been since Marilyn last went at it. Lymond made lunch of home-canned albacore on toast. Excellent as usual, his room-mates sure do appreciate his cooking. He gave me a can of albacore and I gave him a pound of Yukon Midnight Sun coffee and a can of my sauerkraut, which he had never tried.

Finally got going around 1:30. Drove through southern Mendocino and northern Sonoma county on highway 99. The countryside reminded me very much of Italy, with low hill, vineyards and the narrow autostrada, except that the cars were going at 140kph. Not surprising that Italian immigrants found the place so congenial. The pictures I took through the windshield don’t do it justice.

Got stuck in traffic around San Francisco. I really wanted to spend time there, but I do have to get to Cancun to meet Marilyn and time is getting short. Continued south, stopped for a subway sandwich and then went into a Best Western Motel Apricot, where I crashed out after quick call to Marilyn.

30 November, San Joaquin valley and LA traffic.

Had breakfast at the Apricot restaurant, French toast smothered in apricot syrup with canned apricots on the side. Went down the San Joaquin valley, which reminded me very much of central Spain: the dry almost desert flat plain with the Sierra Nevada in the background. Saw a number of signs on empty fields saying “Congress created this dust bowl”. Apparently, there is a shortage of water due to some smelt in San Francisco Bay or the delta of the San Joaquin/Sacramento Rivers. The one farmer I talked to was slightly incoherent ranting about environmentalists. While we can blame politicians for any number of things, I don’t think dustbowls are one of them. They are usually caused by farmers planting inadequately drought resistant and inappropriate crops.San Joaquin valley view from hotel

One thing I found interesting in the San Joaquin was the intensity of plantings: fruit trees 10 feet apart, intensively panted vegetables all obviously dependent on massive irrigation, next to fields of sagebrush and other desert vegetation. What clinched it for me was seeing pear cactus growing at the end of an orchard. When I drove through Spain many years ago, the fruit tree and vine plantings were much further apart and adapted to the amount of water available.
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Anyway, I bought some fresh fruit at one roadside fruit stand (persimmons and grapes) where I got to speak Spanish, and mandarin oranges, almonds and pistachios at another. The fruit and nuts were my lunch. I was surprised to see a skiff of snow at the Tejon pass, near LA, which went up to 1,400 metres according to my GPS.

I got stuck in traffic twice around Los Angeles, and probably wasted a total of four hours. I got there around noon and did not get out of Riverside until 5:30. I then stopped at the Best Western Date Tree Hotel in Indio, just past Palm Springs, in the desert, where I am writing this.

T-day: It never rains in California

29 November 2009

26 November, Thanksgiving Thursday , Dayton OR to Grant’s Pass to California.

Today is the most important American Holiday. Just a four day weekend spent eating Turkey, giving Thanks and Travelling. No gifts, no commercialism until Black Friday (the US equivalent to Boxing Day, but they start shopping at 6:00AM). The day is spent with family and friends, and maybe watching football for the guys. Much more significant than our early October Canadian version, where we get a long weekend and eat turkey, maybe.

As Americans cannot stand the thought of anyone spending Thanksgiving on their own (much to their credit), I got two invitations. The first was from Larry Jaques in Grant’s Pass, Oregon and the other by Lymond Hardy’s friends in Fort Bragg, California. I ended up accepting Larry’s invite just because it was more likely that I would get there in time. And I also wanted to finally meet a wrecker friend for the first time in person. For those of you not in the know, wreckers are participants in the rec.woodworking Usenet group. It’s also available on Google Groups. I have been participating in this group since 1995, and have made many virtual friends, including Larry “C-less” Jaques (never spell the name with a “c” – he gets annoyed – which is very difficult for us with a francophone background; it’s even worse than spelling Georges without an “s”). Larry and I, among many others, have been trading barbs, quips, and ocasionally actual woodworking information and insights and all kinds of other information in the rec.woodworking group. We two go back to 1995 in the internet’s infancy.

I-5 in the Willamette Valley

So I had to get to Grant’s Pass by 1:00 PM. Larry had also asked me to get an apple pie, preferably sugarless for his diabetic neighbour’s father. I left at 7:00 AM in the rain. It cleared up eventually in the southern Willamette Valley. I stopped in Eugene to try to find a pie. I found a nice bakery, but their pies had sugar. They directed to another bakery and a grocery store (Market Choice). I found sugarless apple pies there and also some organic Bonaterra wine that Marilyn had like in Whitehorse. Oh, and a bottle of cheap Riunite Lambrusco. Riunite, which was made by a Communist cooperative in Italy, was the best-selling wine in the US in the 80s. I like fizzy reds, must be genetic.

On the way, there were hardwood forests that looked like oak, but all the trees were covered in moss. Larry had warned me about fog and the possibility of snow in the passes before Grant’s Pass. I told him (I should say wrote) that I did have some experience driving in snow. It started raining again as I gained altitude, but no snow.

It stopped raining by the time I got to Grant’s Pass and i finally met my first wrecker in person. I embarassed myself by not reccognizing a maple in his front yard, thinking it was an oak, but all the bark was covered in moss. Larry also has a giant tree in his back yard which i first took for a cedar, but it’s actually a coast redwood. My first view of a real redwood, I should have taken a picture of it. It’s unfortunate that it, along with its doug fir neighbour will have to come down as they are destroying his foundation.

We eventually had our birds, yams, salad. I contributed some pickled beets I brought from home and the apple pie. We also had long talks about woodworking, our current lives, the US health care system, and totally disagreed about climate change.

Larry

I left around 6:00 PM to try to put on some miles so I don’t get to Fort Bragg too late. Raining heavily most of the way on the Highway of the Redwoods, US199, a curvy narrow road with giant redwoods on both sides of the road. I crossed over into California and finally found a campground in the Smith River National Recreation area.

In the clutch of a slipping clutch (groan!)

22 November 2009
Pioneer Square, Portland

Pioneer Square, Portland

22 November

Took it easy this AM & cleaned up the camper a bit. I left around 11:30 to go to the tourist information office in Portland to get details on a wine tour. Of course, it’s Sunday and it’s closed.

Nevertheless, I had checked things out on The Oregon government tourism site . I had a big sushi lunch in anticipation of imbibing a bit and not wanting to get drunk, even though I intended to spit most of the wine I tasted.

Ponzi Vineyards

Ponzi Vineyards

I first headed to Ponzi Vineyards but my clutch started slipping. Ponzi had a great Chardonnay, some good to excellent Pinot Noirs. I bought a few bottles and a magnum and then headed to an RV park in Wilsonville to while away the day.

Maybe I’ll go on an organized winery tour tomorrow while the truck hopefully gets fixed.

From Seattle to Portland

21 November 2009

November 21

I couldn’t leave Seattle right away, I had to go back downtown. I was going to the cell place in Chinatown but it did not open ‘til 10:00AM, so I went downtown to look for a camera first, and bought a nice little Nikon coolpix. Works a lot better than the old POS. Here is a picture of the sales clerk who sold it to me, the very first picture I took with it. I should have gotten her name.

I then went back to the Pioneer Square area to check out the Woodworking coop I saw yesterday. Some pretty amazing pieces at the (Northwest Fine Woodworking ), and it’s nice to see they manage to sell them at decent prices.

<rant>which might seem very high to all you non-wooddorkers at $1k per chair, but if you know the amount of time and effort and love that goes in producing one of these  rather than the cheap Chinese-made Ikea/Sauders termite puke (i.e. particle board) crap that ends up in the landfill in no time but not before it has had a chance to spew out copious amounts of formaldehyde and other pollutants in the meantime. </rant>

Fine Woodworking Coop Store

Fine Woodworking Coop Store, Jackson Street, Seattle

They also have an annual box-making contest that anyone can enter. Because of the depression, they have had to lay off some of their staff and they haven’t been able to put up all the pictures. Anyway, I voted for a box that looked like to old leather-bound volumes, done in different veneers. Beautiful work, but there were a lot more examples of beautiful work. We’ll see who wins on their web site.

Then I went to the cellular phone place in Chinatown and got a WiFi capable cell. The current number, while I’m in the USA is 206-390-8104. Please only use in case of emergencies. It will change when I get to Mexico.

A couple of final observations about Seattle: there is little traffic downtown: I can cross most streets easily and can find parking spots relatively close to where I am going. I don’t know whether it’s Seattle or the depression. One thing that is clearly a result of the depression is the number of people– mostly young men of all races: white black and oriental – who accost you begging for money or a meal. It is pretty shameful for a country that is supposedly the richest in the world. And supposedly is also the most religious and Christian of all the advanced economies. So much for the Sermon on the Mount and Christian charity.

Drove to Portland and arrived immediately after 5:00 PM. The tourist information office had just closed. I looked for a wine store & tried out a number of Pinot noirs (5 actually). None overly impressed me, but I bought two bottles of the one I like most (2007 Cameron Ashleys Leap). Maybe I should get some for David Ashley.  I then drove back to an RV park on the Columbia River.

Tomorrow the Willamette, tonight the risotto with porcini and truffles.

//

More wet and windy coast

19 November 2009

Vancouver November 18. Got the truck back this AM and bought a digital voice recorder and six small bottles of ice wine. Also had the muffler and tailpipes replaced this afternoon. Not bad, the originals lasted 20 years, so I can’t complain about having to replace them. So there, all you FoundOnRoadDead fans! (or boy sheep fans, although I do have one waiting for me in Whitehorse)

Left Ariel’s place around 4PM, tanked up at a Shell on Knight Street and got stuck in Vancouver traffic. Very high winds and rain led to a number of ferries being cancelled. Got to the border around 5:15. The border guard was not very friendly and commented “There are economists in Whitehorse?” after I answered his question about what kind of work I do. Anyway, he let me go through no problem, didn’t even look in my camper in case it was chocko-blocko full of wetback terrorists, which is what Canadian customs usually do. Got on the I-5 and I had forgotten how easy driving is on those expressways.

I thought I would make it to Seattle by 7:30 or so, but then decided I wanted the cozy feeling of staying in the camper rather than a motel. I thought of what to have for supper as I had given away all my fresh food to Ariel, but decided on canned soup. I found a sign for Wenberg State Park about 10 miles from the I-5 north of Everett. I figure I’m only about half an hour from Seattle, so I will visit tomorrow & stock up on fresh foods from the Pike Street market.

My umbrella is falling apart, so I’ll have to get one tomorrow and figure out how to use the voice recorder I got at the Metrotown Source store.