That brings me to my "hobby": food. I like to cook. Correction: I love to cook. Not enough to do it for other people--except on an occasional basis--but enough that it's been a major hobby most of my life. I'm also blessed with an excellent palate, a curious soul, and a large collection of cookbooks, so I'm not boasting when I state that I'm a very good cook. My kitchen is lined with framed culinary awards , and I've taken just enough (mostly professional) cooking classes that I can turn out everything from a cozy dinner for two to a sumptuous banquet for two hundred. I also have a great place to "play:" when the house was turned from a duplex into a single-family home, the downstairs unit's kitchen and bath were demolished to make way for a large (12'x18'), eat-in kitchen and a tiny downstairs bath. After living here nearly ten years, I designed a complete remodel of the kitchen and adjoining mud room, and we spent about 10 months creating efficient, comfortable storage and work spaces. It's pretty nice: I have a walk-in pantry with access to the dye yard and the grills; lots of cupboard space (something sadly lacking before the remodel); an 8-foot island with electrical outlets and a small "breakfast bar" for meals; good appliances that can handle my style of cooking; and a French country theme. We have a dining room, but we eat most of our meals in the kitchen.
At this time of year, the kitchen takes center stage. It begins as the weather changes from October's heat to November's crisp days and cold nights. Like a squirrel preparing for winter, I take stock of what's in the pantry, and what I'm going to need to turn out pies, cakes, cookies, savory delights of all kinds, two large meals (Thanksgiving and Christmas), and the food for our annual "open house" cocktail party. There are lists, and lists of lists, and cookbooks and recipes spread everywhere as I design menus and look for bargains on ingredients. By early December, the pantry cupboards, pantry freezer, and the kitchen refrigerator are crammed, and extra bottles (and cases) of wines and spirits litter the dining room sideboard and window seat.
The week of Thanksgiving marks the start of the holiday cooking. This year, Thanksgiving was just the two of us, so I cut back a bit on the preparations: a brined and roasted game hen, paired with roasted new potatoes, and Brussels sprouts with chestnuts and pancetta. Some appetizers before, and a mince pie (with hard sauce, of course) after, all washed down with a lovely wine (Saintsbury 2006 Brown Ranch Chardonnay), and we had a fine feast.
|The old press house, Napa Valley Olive Oil Mfg. Co. |
in St. Helena. The old olive press is now used for
displaying flavored olive oils.
After a stop at
|Shackford's. The best place for kitchen stuff in the Bay Area.|
|Sometimes, I talk to grapes. Tast-|
ing among the casks of Pinot Noir
and Chardonnay at Saintsbury.
So here we are, with a well-stocked pantry, spice cabinet, freezer, and wine cellar. I'm ready.
Places I mentioned:
Napa Valley Olive Oil Mfg. Co. 835 Charter Oak Ave., St. Helena. (707) 963-4173.
Taylor's Refresher/Gott's Roadside. 933 Main St., St. Helena. (707) 963-3486.
Dean & Deluca. 607 St. Helena Hwy (Hwy 29), St. Helena. (707) 967-9980.
Trader Joe's Market. 3654 Bel Aire Plaza, Napa. (707) 256-0806.
Shackford's Kitchen Store. 1350 Main St., Napa. (707) 226-2132.
Oxbow Public Market. 610 & 644 First St., Napa. (707) 226-6529.
Saintsbury Winery. 1500 Los Carneros Ave., Napa. (707) 252-0592. (Wine tastings by appointment only, so call ahead.)