Friday, August 7, 2009

Backyard Butterlies and Wine Country

These two beauties are Eastern Tiger Swallowtails. The yellow one is male and the black one is female and they spent the whole day in our backyard at our aptly named butterfly bushes. They're the state butterfly of South Carolina, Georgia, Virginia, Alabama and Delaware. We have a few pairs of cardinals, the state bird of Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia and West Virginia, that visit the feeder right outside of our sunroom window. They always remind me of Ohio, and they're not afraid to hang out at the feeder when the squirrels are around. They do, however, fly off when the woodpeckers arrive.

This is a glass of Barefoot Bubbly from California. At about $10 per bottle, it's weekday worthy. We bought a few more bottles today because drinking sparkling wine feels fancy. It comes in brut, which is the driest, extra dry, and a version made from Pinot Grigio grapes. We like all three.

When we have cucumbers fresh from the garden, I love them sliced on open-faced sandwiches with a shmear of mayo, s&p, and some slivered basil. Tastes like summer. Their crunchy juiciness are so refreshing.

We marinated the chicken breast for the Caesar salads for two days in brown mustard, garlic, Worcestershire, and thyme, then grilled them. Two of the three were sliced for the salad (after a couple of minutes of resting time), and the largest one was reserved for another meal, which was tonight's Fettuccine al Limone. I forgot to take a photo, but it was downright delicious. The cooked chicken breast was sliced, then warmed in the sauce, which was made of butter, lemon zest and lemon juice, and half-n-half.

Taking a wine country vacation is absolute bliss. We went a few years ago: flew into San Francisco, picked up our rental car at the airport - at a great price by using Priceline, the only category for which I'd use them since I typically have a specific place I want to stay or times that I need to arrive or depart from a flight - and headed north over the Golden Gate Bridge after a good night's sleep at a hotel near the airport. The drive, while beautiful, can be harrowing as the other drivers seem to be in an awful hurry and a bridge, like a tunnel, leaves one little wiggle room (and the fear of going over the side). Luckily we made it off of the bridge without a scratch, and, hearts pumping, all the way into the Russian River Valley in Sonoma County and the cozy opulence of the Farmhouse Inn in Forestville.

Our room was one of eighteen cottages available on the six-acre site, most with fireplaces and saunas. Gnome especially enjoyed the jacuzzi tub with the picture window that had a view of an upward-sloping landscaped hill (except for the time that the landscaper came marching by with a garden hose, which was a bit startling). The bed was so tall I think I had to jump onto it, and it was dressed very swankily in fine linens. There are also rooms in the main house and in the renovated barn. The inn's restaurant is Michelin-rated and definitely worth the splurge. It was lovely to walk back to our room afterward and to not have to drive. Gnome had chef Steve Litke's signature dish Rabbit Rabbit Rabbit, which consists of applewood smoked bacon-wrapped loin, roasted rack, and confit of leg. I don't recall what I had, but I remember the heirloom tomato and buffalo mozzarella tower, which is now in regular rotation at our home in the summer.

The inn has an inground, unheated pool that was too chilly for us even during the heatwave they'd been having in the low 100s. Behind the pool lies the spa, where we enjoyed our first couples massage, the low light of dusk adding to the dreamy state it put us in. Two-course breakfasts, different each day, were savored on the patio with visiting pets at our feet.

We hit the wineries early in the day, with Cline or Schug as our first stop, at around 10am. Each tasting room was different, as were the grounds. Most memorable were Gundlach Bundschu, where we were taken on a cave tour, Cakebread Cellars, where we enjoyed a private tasting with a very entertaining and informative staffer, and J Vineyards & Winery, where they paired food with each wine. It was my first taste of caviar. I haven't had it since, but I liked it. We also enjoyed a California-esque lunch on the stone terrace of Korbel, surrounded by giant redwood trees.

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