Friday, June 16, 2017

Hidden Temecula Wine Treasures

Last weekend, Dr Desert Flower and I drove out to Temecula to hang out with DDF's friends and former co-workers Matt & Justin who have memberships to several Temecula wineries and who live in near-by Rainbow.  Now, having grown up and gone to school in Indiana and driven past places like Oliver Winery North of Bloomington for years, as well as having tasted Western North Carolina wines, some Washington and Oregon wines, and some experimental Arizona wines, I was understandably skeptical that a small region like Temecula might be "less than delicious" ... but I with-held my judgement until after I had a chance to taste the actual fruit of the vine.

We began at Peltzer Winery in Temecula, where Matt and Justin met us, wine glasses in hand.  I'd tasted a double magnum of what I Thought was Peltzer several years ago at a work function, and I did not recall finding it to be very memorable nor delicious.  My first glass of Sauvignon Blanc at Peltzer last weekend was delicious, flavorful, refreshing, and delightful.  Being the designated driver, I kept it to one glass while DDF bought 4 bottles of the vintages she enjoyed.

The 2nd winery we visited was Masia de la Vinya, which Justin and Matt (of course) had a membership to as well, so we enjoyed the member's only entrance, glasses, and prices.  Another remarkable white wine, over-looking 10 to 15 miles of picturesque valley as we sat on the hill top at Masia de la Vinya.  Truly pleasant, delightful.  "This does not suck" was mentioned several times.

Matt & Justin have 2 other memberships to other wineries, but after a good 3 hours of tasting Temecula wines, our five-some was already pretty well saturated and in need of more substantial food than just tasty wines... so we'll have to go back another time, to visit the remaining two preferred wineries.  It's not even an hour's drive up I-15 to get there!

Live-a-Little, Nah

At my local Sprouts, when I am there getting several pounds of Boar's Head high quality meats, I tend to look over the wines that are local, organic, sustainable, in a perpetual (but futile) attempt to find a gem in the rough.  My latest unsuccessfully story is the Live-a-Little South African wine.  "Wildly Wicked White" was what is was called.

Well, our bottle tasted / smelled like a combination of isopropyl alcohol reagent, mixed with asparagus and celery.  Now, I Love celery, but an over-whelming taste & scent of it in a wine is less than desirable.

I am not condemning all Live-a-Little wines... nor all South African wines.  This bottle however, was undrinkable, and after tasting one glass, and offering DDF a taste as well, the rest of the bottle went down the Carlsbad sewer system, and eventually made it to the ocean.

Perhaps it was "Vegan Friendly" but it was Not taste bud friendly.

Les Portes de Bordeaux Sauvignon Blanc

Trader Joes has carried the Portes De Bordeaux French wine line for many years.  I've mentioned several of the varietals here in the past, but since my shift to white wines last year I have not had an opportunity to talk about the 2016 Sauvignon Blanc.  It is a "Gran Vin de Bordeaux", the bottles are serialized, and the quality is consistent and good.

If you're looking for a sour, grape-fruity, scrunched-up face New Zealand style Sauvignon Blanc, then you will bot be satisfied here.  If you Are looking for a crisp, slightly citrus, smooth finished, very drinkable white wine that sells great at $6 a bottle, then this is for you!

Much like the red Bordeaux, the Rosé, or the Haute Medoc, this Sauvignon Blanc does not let down the drinker.  We keep several bottles in our wine fridge, across the calendar year.  Come visit DDF and I, and you can enjoy it as well.
Back Drop is our back yard, near sunset.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Breadless Meat Loaf

In my on-going quest to avoid bread, grains, carbs, and everything that drives a weakened pancreas towards being fully diabetic, I began experimenting with ground Bison meat a few months ago.  Costco sells these 2-packs of ground Bison for ~$8 a pound or so, and the meat is good quality, grass fed, hormone free.  If you've ever seen a Bison in the wild, they're not very "manageable" as far as fences and enclosures are concerned.  They're HUGE, and they go where they want to go, knocking down fences at will and wandering wherever they feel the best grass may be.  Basically, they're magnetic, huge, dumb, indigenous walking meat bags.

150 years ago, herds of millions of Bison used to graze across the Great Plains, and their droppings fertilized, their hoof prints created the hard soil, and their appetites kept the grasses at manageable levels.  Then the European settlers came in, and corporate America w=in collusion with he Federal Government intentionally wiped out the herds of indigenous Bison that the native Americans relied upon for their food, clothing, and way-of-life, in order to "open up the West for development".  In the last 30 years or so, Bison herds have healthily bounced back to the point where harvesting them for food production is now viable, practical, and (since the white man developed all of their natural range) necessary to contain the population.  So I feel good about eating Bison once or twice a week.  They've been around since the last ice age, and will probably be around after all of the homo sapiens wipe each other out in the future.

My favorite use of Bison currently, is to make a bread-less meat loaf.  It's easy to make, and delicious.  Ingredients
- about 2 lbs of ground Bison
- 1/2 a head of organic celery, washed and chopped, no longer than your thumb
- At Least a Quart of organic portobello mushrooms (also available at Costo), chopped
- a 1/2 pound of diced, grass-fed "stew meat" (usually Top Sirloin, that the butcher counter has on sale)
- a Large pinch of lemon peel
- a pinch of chili powder
- 3 all spice balls
- a pinch of thyme
- as much home grown oregano as you have or want
- as much home grown rosemary as you have or want
- tons (2 or 3 cups) of ground up dried garlic (we have an old quart container that is [I believe] losing its potency)

In a large non-stick pan, heat up the bison in large "chunks" using a wooden spoon (it's a quality non-stick pan, remember) on the largest burner your stove has, until it is not blood red (but if you brown it, you're ruining it).  Heat up the stew meat until the outsides of it are no longer read.  Add the first round of garlic until the top of all the cooking meat is manilla colored.  Stir / mix the meat and let the seasoning intermingle.  Add in the chopped mushrooms, and stir until the mushrooms are immersed in the meat & juices coming from the meat.  Cover, reduce heat, and simmer for as long as it takes you to wash and chop the celery.

Note: at this point, you COULD add carrots or onions or cauliflower or other veggies if you want to, but I didn't want this to be high caloric (no carrots) nor highly cruciferous & gas producing.

Add the rest of the seasoning.  Mix it in.  Then add in the celery.  Mix further.

If you want to, you CAN add ground organic flax seed, to "thicken" the mix and soak up the residual juices... and I've done that.  Approximately 1 to 1.5 cups of ground organic flax seed can be added... BUT... it makes the final dish less savory in my opinion, and when making seal-able containers for lunches, the flax-seed laden mix "plops" out more as a solid mass, than a savory, mouth watering meal.

The total meal I described above makes two LARGE dishes the first night, and 2 large lunches for later int he week, as well as a small side-dish for your significant other who doesn't really like mushrooms as much as you, and picks them off her plate.

Bison as large as a 12 person passenger van, in Kelly Wyoming

Trader Joe's Petite Reserve Sauvignon Blanc

Trader Joe's Petite Reserve Sauvignon Blanc was on an end-cap display last week at my local Bressi Ranch Trader's Joe.  It was $7 a bottle, which is 2 dollars more than the regular Trader Joe's Sauvignon Blanc I normally get.  Why not try it?  - I thought.

So I bought a bottle, brought it home, chilled it, and opened it last Friday night.  Dr Desert Flower and I tasted it, and her face immediately crinkled up in a grimace: "Where's this from?"  "Washington"
"Oh, that explains it"

It was not that bad.  I actually like the regular Trader Joe's Sauvignon Blanc better, but the Petite Reserve was ok.  It had more citrus notes to it, and was not quite as buttery as the normal Trader Joe's S.B., but it was very drinkable and not at all unpleasant.

"Horse Heaven Hills" ... though I hope no horses died in the making of the wine.  And is there really an equine heaven, if there is a heaven at all?  Maybe that's where the unicorns live?

Sunday, June 4, 2017

$400 Washers / Circlips

Several weeks ago, back in April, Dr Desert Flower and I drove down to South Point beach in her Volvo C70 convertible with the top down, as it was a beautiful Southern California day.  When we arrived at the Point State Park parking lot, I pressed the center console button on the car to put the top back up, so that
a) no birds would poop in our car
b) no opportunist miscreants would steal the $150 parking hang tag from the rear view mirror

As I waited for the roof to emerge from the trunk, and un-shuffle itself in a truly remarkable "transformer-esque" unfolding (it's so cool to me, as an engineer, that I try to wait for small children to be walking by when I initiate the sequence outside a store in a parking lot, so that the little kids point, and I tell them with a smile "this car knows Bumblebee" as I get out, and they're amazed) ... the roof Suddenly Stopped!  The unfolding / un-shuffling stopped, and Would Not go up, not down, 1/2 way through the sequence.  Merde.  This was not good.  You can't drive the car with the roof 1/2 way up.  I could hear the servo motors whirring, but there Was No Motion.  The roof was stuck.

As a good engineer, the first thing you do is "read the manual" and hope that the manual was written by someone who had English as a first language.  As I got out and inspected the 1/2 way retracted roof, looking for anything obvious that might be jamming it, like debris, leaves, a branch, a broken linkage, and also sniffing for any smells of burnt plastic, cooked lubricant, or any odiferous by-products of extreme friction, DDF read the manual.
She found an instruction for the convertible roof, that was really straightforward:  'If the roof ceases to retract or deploy, hold down the roof actuator button and continue to hold it for 2 minutes.  You'll hear a beeping sound. Depress the button as the beeping sound continues.  Do not release the button until the roof is completely up.  Have the roof serviced immediately.'  So I held the button, listened to the beeps, and continued to do so until FINALLY the roof actuators over-came whatever was preventing their progress.

I already knew that Hugo's - who has done my oil changes, brake & suspension work, and tune ups since we moved to San Diego County - in Encinitas did not service convertible roofs, and deferred that to the dealer.  So Monday morning I reluctantly called the dealer and schedule my Volvo to be brought in the next day to have the roof actuator mechanisms serviced.

Late the next afternoon, I get a call from the Volvo Service manager, with an accusation as his first words: "Who has been working on your car?"
"No one has touched the roof since I bought it" - which was the truth.
"Well, we found some washers inside the roof liner; I had my best man on it, and he nearly didn't see them, but after we'd gotten the whole roof apart we found them all magnetized and bunched up together on the sensor.  I saved them for you, in a small box. You can have them when you pick it up this afternoon. It'll be $400."

So I rode my bicycle down to the Carlsbad Volvo dealer, were they are 2 blocks from the coast, and 350 feet elevation lover than my home, so the net ride, though there were two 100 foot hills to climb, had an appreciable positive potential energy differential.  When I got there, I was handed the little box of "washers" pictured above.  I would not call them "washers" as I was taught, back in the late 80s when Matt T and I began working at Michelin Tire that these were called "Circlips" or "External retaining rings", used to hold a clevis in place on a trunnion, or to keep a shaft from moving axially (google search "circlip" and you can see multiple examples).

According to the senior technician who found them,  all of these little circlips had bunched up, and found their way to the magnetic sensor near the rear view mirror in the center of the windshield's frame that detected when the roof was fully up, to tell the control system to stop putting power to the actuator, since the roof is assumed to be "fully in place".  They were wedged BETWEEN the cloth head liner, and the metal roof, and over-time, they had become magnetized (clumping together).  "There are not supposed to be any of these in the roof assembly whatsoever" the head of the Service Department told me in his Scottish accent, hence his insistence that someone had put them there.
"Could they have come from the factory, where accidentally, in Belgium, someone had dropped some?" I inquired?
"Doubtful...  but... maybe" was his incredulous reply.

If they didn't come from the factory by accident, then someone "sprinkled" or "wedged" broken retaining clips (circlips) between the roof panels and the elastomer seals... but that kind of sabotage would take patience, time, and access to the car with the roof down... something we don't ever allow, because of avian excrement and the possibility of thievery and mischief.

While the circlips themselves are probably worth about 10 cents each, extracting them from the roof assembly, and then re-assembling the entire roof in an "as new" condition, without tears, dirty finger prints, or any cosmetic indications whatsoever, was worth a few hundred dollars, as it was something I could not have done with finesse or without frustration.