A place for me to share my love for all things cooking, wine and Bento.  The research for this blog is going to continually be grueling my friends.... ;)

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Our Wine Memberships: Sculpterra

I don't know a lot about wine. I may know more than some, but I am no expert. We started going tasting to get to know our local area and we have found that we really have only touched the surface. It did not take long however for our palate to develop and for us to fine tune what we liked.  That is really what we have found, one must go for what they like.  The price tag really means nothing unless it's something worth buying for YOU.  My husband likes wine almost more than I do so it's also something that we enjoy together and allows us places to get away from the daily routine. 

I have had people ask me though, who do know less than me, how we can afford to have memberships (we are not rich people ah, hem...we are not even close) and how they work.  I've been asked often what they cost.  I don't know about everywhere but I'll say what we have found and how we look at the wine membership. 

First we have requirements:

  • We try to limit our memberships to three for now.  Though memberships don't cost, they have buying commitments that have to be considered.
  • They have to be filled with perks.  They have to have a good discount.  I will tell more in the next few days what each one of ours does.  What I really mean by perks though are events. Release parties are the biggest way to really get a deal out of your membership.  We dropped one winery recently because there were NO events.  Release parties are usually free or at minimal cost to the member.  They have amazing food, usually music, and great ambiance.  When you choose your winery, make sure you like it's location and atmosphere because those events in that setting will be your future get away. 
  • They have to have friendly staff.  Every one of our memberships are a delight to visit.  Sculpterra is our favorite for many reasons, I'll tell soon, but each one has friendly people behind the counter.  Wine tasting, and wine in general is a social experience.  Rick likes to hear the history of the places, as well as the details about the wines.  You have to have people who seem interested to talk to you.  I've been to some places that make you feel like you are bothering them and that is NOT cool with me!  Or, they are snobs and seem to have you socially labeled the minute you come through the tasting room door.  You should be able to come in your jeans or your fine attire and be treated the same. If you enjoy this winery, you are going to be seeing these people a lot, so make sure they are people you want to revisit and who seem to want to see you again too. 
  • The wine must be amazing!  For our three membership's, we went down the tasting list and loved each wine more and more.  That is not what we find at all places.  Make sure you like it all because you will be getting all kinds of their wines at different times. 
  • For us it needs to be local. I know many people, including my boss, like memberships far away.  We want to take full advantage of our memberships and be able to visit our wineries often.  We have a home we are content with but we don't have a nice view, or a great yard etc so getting away has to be a usable benefit.  I have to say though that at every pick up we meet people from hours away who drive to make the party and enjoy doing that.

So, let me just skip to telling you about our memberships and why we like each of them.  I think you will see in the end that choosing a membership can be a great idea over all. 


   I first heard of Sculpterra from my boss.  We do the taxes for the sculpture artist out there.  He was telling me that I should head out there with Rick and check the place out.  We loved it right away.  The ambiance was nice for us getting away and still lovely for when we want to bring the kids.  In fact, we tested them out right away and asked if we could have our Easter egg hunt there for our kids amidst the garden and they let us!  That was so fun. 
The wine was amazing as we went down the list. Very fruit forward, which is what we like.  The owner is a local Dr. who use to partner with our MD growing up.  I even saw him once as a kid when I had strep throat and my regular Dr. was out.  He helped start a great ministry called His Healing Hands. You can find a book about the ministry there in the tasting room.  His son, Paul is the wine maker.  A graduate of Cal Poly, he is an amazing hard worker and it's paying off!  

 One of the other things we love about Sculpterra is that every Sunday from 1-4 they host Song Writer's At Play, the product of a local radio station THE CRUSH 92.5.  We have enjoyed many Sunday afternoons there either with the kids or on our own.  There are tables and we bring our food and buy a glass of wine. Through this venue I was introduced to one of my new favorite artist Sara Petite. It was really fun that she came again a few days after my birthday and played in the barrel room.  Our all time favorite afternoon however was the Celtic themed line up.  It was fantastic!

 Our first event there was the Greek Festival dinner.  It was their event for the Zin Festival which celebrates Paso Robles signature wine, the Red Zinfandel.  We both love Greek food and the event was free for members.  It was pouring rain but they put up some tents and it was complete with authentic singing and dancing.  It was a great way to start off our membership!
 We love that our membership obligation is just 2 bottles four times a year (they have other larger quantity options as well).  At member cost that averages $40-60 for each pick up of two bottles.  Each pick up has a party free to members with amazing food done by local cooks.  The food always blows us away.  The events have pourings the whole time, and always music. 
 This is a picture from the LOVELY summer evening party that had perfect weather!  Each party has been great and a family friendly atmosphere if you want to bring the kids.  We figure, with wine and food, the event is well worth the money plus, we take home two bottles of wine!  Of course on top of that we can do free tastings anytime on our own or with a few friends. We get discounts on all wines and member specials that change monthly and can be up to 30% off. 
 Other events, like the Labor Day Fiesta are amazing perks as well.  I believe this cost us $10 as members and included our food and a full glass of wine.  The events always last for hours so you can pace yourself and sit for a good long while.  The Dr. was there giving tours of the vineyard just before the end of picking season.  It was beautiful!  The band was a real Mariachi band in costume.  It was fabulous. Did I say yet that it was wonderful?? LOL
 On other, more daily basis, it's a great place to meet a girlfriend for a chat, a taste and a glass.  Both my girlfriends have memberships here so we love meeting up when we can.  We caught this great pic of my friend Michelle's baby Wyatt putting up with our girl time in the tasting room.
So, you're looking at four to six dates a year to get out and have somewhere beautiful to go and eat and enjoy great people having a great time.  It's well worth it. We have met some of the nicest people out there who are always a joy to go see and to run into on a regular basis as well.  They make Sculpterra even more of a special place than it all ready is on it's own.

Over the next few days, I'll come back and tell you about our other two memberships. 

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Olive Garden Get's Mocked

I think it's my favorite place, though I don't get to go much.  Technically I like the local expensive establishments better for flavor but if one were to add bargain with product, then it's my ultimate favorite.  Sometimes eating something good for a good price can make one happier than eating something awesome for the trade of a mortgage payment.

So, a few years ago we went and had a soup that I just loved.  It turns out it's called Zuppa Tuscana which means, guess what?  Yep you guessed it, "Soup of Tuscany".  How hard was that?!  It's no wonder I love it since I seem drawn to anything related to all that is Tuscany.  I had no clue at the time this was it's name but I was none the less, drawn in.

There are many mock versions out there but I'm kind of a perfectionist when it comes to getting mocks done well.  They all have a few variations of the same idea.  Some say it is supposed to have mild sausage, it's not.  Some say it's spinach, it's not.  So, here it is.

In your soup pot or dutch oven saute in olive oil:

One large onion chopped
2-4 fresh garlic cloves
 (depends on you love affair with garlic....mine happens to be passionate)
Add 1 lb. ground spicy Italian sausage
(Of course... if you have kids that can't do spice, do regular and spice up your own bowl) I used link Italian spicy sausage in my last bit which the picture was taken from but I did not like the texture of it as much.  I did however get it on a great deal! So, I told myself to cope and deal.

Add one carton of Trader Joe's Chicken Broth 

I'm specific  here because truth is THIS IS THE BEST chicken broth around.  Of COURSE, you can use what you have (I hereby give you my permission:) and I broke the rules even more on this batch and used what I had which was beef broth (* loud gasp*).  It still turned out good but is darker in color.  I prefer the chicken taste as well.

Bring to a simmer and add 3-5 sliced potatoes

I always slice mine too thin.  Most recipes say to do thin, I say 1/4 inch is best if you want to let this get real happy before eating it.

Let that simmer with the lid on for a good while (can you tell I'm not a specific cook!?) till the potatoes are near fork tender.

Add a couple hand-fulls of chopped Kale greens.  

Most places are selling these in pre-washed and chopped bags which is great because Kale can actually be priced a little high and you are going to get more in a bag.

Salt and Pepper (to taste)

Once the kale has wilted down into the soup....

Add one cup heavy cream (or light if you are having to be careful, but really?  must you?)

Let that warm to serving temp and serve!

I like to make a similar Olive garden salad and I hear there are mock recipes for the Italian dressing out there but you will have to do that homework.  Sorry.

It's so good, let me know what you think!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Halloween Food Ideas

Our annual Halloween party is this coming friday night. We host a party to invite the neighbors and the kids friends and have a fun time.  For the past three years I've done a scavenger hunt through our yard with clues hidden in different Halloween decorations resulting always in finding the loot of candy.  After three years it's seeming that it's time for something new.  So, we are putting together a spooky tunnel and having snacks.  I came here though to talk about the food ideas.  Since I tend to go overboard I'm making myself keep it to a few food things.  The kids invited are supposed to bring something to share also.

I'll be serving a few of these, watermelon brains (google image). You can make the white thin but it looks too bloody for me that way.  There is another google image showing that.  Most kids like watermelon and this is a healthy food for a change at a party! Yes, we will be slicing into the brain...

Going to make these I saw on Pinterest.  Bloody fingers.  Ew!!!!!!!Love nice and easy stuff.

Finally dirt and worm cups.  We will be serving ours in little white cups with ghost faces.  These are so easy to make and the kids have fun making them too.  We just get simple tiny dixie cups.  (all google images. I'll take pics of mine at the party).   I personally like the pudding to be green but the kids prefer the chocolate.
The green can be used as "slime".
I like to serve carrot sticks and olives (black and orange) and sometimes celery too.  This above is a cute dip bowl idea.  I've seen other ones where the hand looks more like it's coming out of the dip palm up too.

Some other black and orange simple snacks are:

  •  Take a plastic black bowl or cauldron and fill it with any orange snack.  Nacho Doritos  BBQ chips, Cheetos or cheese balls.  
  • I do have a plastic black cauldron but I like to put ice in it and some really orange pumpkin beers for the adults.  Especially from Shock Top since they have good orange color.  
  • You can do orange slices on a black plate.  
  • Last year I put blue (hey close) corn chips in an orange bowl. 
  • Black bean dip in a pumpkin bowl for chips
  • Orange cheese bites with raisins on toothpicks
  • Black bean and orange cheese nachos (throw some green in there with jalapenos) 

So, those are some ideas and some things we are doing.  Feel free to share some more ideas in comments! (oh, and for some reason the comments are not showing up as a link option at times. Every post should have a comment link.  If this happens and you want to comment go back to the main blog and open this post title in a new window).  

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Sharing Pics From Japantown and Today's Bento

This blog post is full of out of order pictures!  I apologize.  I don't have time to fix them all.  You will have to just go all over the place with me lol!

I wanted to share our pics from our trip to San Francisco this last weekend.  I took my girls up for the day to Japantown.  It's a 3-3.5 hour drive from us but it was fun to be in the car with them and listen to music and get Starbucks etc.  They had a blast.  The main reason was to go to two Japanease "dollar stores" for some Bento supplies.  I had been shoping online to compare if it was worth the drive and it was.  The outing of a fun day was a bonus as was the fact that my eldest is a big Japan anything lover.  It started with Anime but has developed into an over all cultural admiration. So, this post is going to take us there, and show some Bento from just this morning using some new wares.  At the end of the post, I will put my youtube showing our haul.  The girls got some fun things of their own like Japanease candy, stuff for Halloween and just little things they liked.  Dollar stores are fun as they are but a cultural one was even more fun.  
Can you imagine living in one of these gorgeous San Francisco homes!!?  They are so beautiful.  
The wall going into the East Mall in Japantown is a great colorful backdrop for a picture. 

Skipping all the way to the bagged up bento from this morning.  I hate that these are out of order....

Rick's Bento from this morning.  Asian noodles, shrimp, a sauce (made of soy, sesame oil and infused overnight with fresh ginger), asian pears, rasberries, carrots, mini cookies and Seaweed salad)

Another gorgeous building, and Emma trying to get in the shot. 

Emma at lunch in the West Mall.  She ordered some shrimp tempura that came with a bowl of Miso Soup

Close up of Ricks noodles.  I purposefully fork rolled four sets for presentation.  
While in SF, I saw some amazingly cute onsies that I wanted to get so badly for my friend's baby but they were $22 ea!!! My friend and her husband are our wine and sushi kindreds so she would have loved this. 

Victoria in the Kinokuniya Bookstore looking over all the Manga books!! It was hard to choose just two. 
The second main reason we went, Ichi Ban Kan.  This store is $1.50 to $2 for most things.  I look forward to going back here, they  had the best boxes in my mind. 

Victoria in accessory heaven. 

Okay...skippng to mommy's bento for today.  Seaweed salad may not be something I do again.  Not a fan.  I may have let it soak too long.  The shrimp, noodles and sauce was great though!  I took a very low portion of noodles (one because that's all that was left after making everyone else's but also for carb reasons.  I took the tops of the kids carrots that I'd cut off to make them fit in their bento.  
Japantown flag.  Need a better pic next time. 

Close up of Emma's bento for today.  I love the little berry buckets!  The mini cookies are at Trader Joes and work so well for Bento and portion control. I'm hoping to get better at the carrot flowers :&

Victoria by her Naruto themed Anime. 

I would not let the girls leave SF without seeing the Golden Gate for the first time.  We did not even get out of the car though it was so busy.  They probably have some better pics than me, I was at a traffic stop.  I of course got the usual question: "Why is it red if it's the Golden Gate?" :)

Unfortunately, this lovely Japantown fan is under a bypass and therefore in the dark!

Loved this mini structure inside the mall.

Emma loved the Sanrio (makers of Hello Kitty) store for it's candy.  They both would have loved this store in their Hello Kitty days.  They secretly admitted to still loving her. 

Close up of the new sauce squeezers.  They are so cute.  

Victoria holding one of her favorite Anime characters.  Mommy was documenting for gift ideas. 

Okay, I was in scarf heaven for a moment....I did not buy one but omg...kid in a candy store you know? 

One of our first pictures actually, arriving at Daiso Japan, the main reason for our trip.  Fabulously fun store!!! Amazing deals. 

All the kids Bento for this morning.  Shrimp on the bottom level, others on the top. 

Another great onsie I wanted to snag. 

Rasberry bucket close up.  Using the new food pics.  This is Caedmon's Bento. 

The poo onsies:  "Grumpy Poo", "Stinky Poo", and "Smarty Poo".  All supposed to be actual poo.  Ah, funny. 

Her first sushi lunch out from home.  

Close up of those adorable cookies.  The carrot shows you how mini they are. 

The assembled line up: Emma's, Caed's, and Victoria's .  Remember the bagged picture was further up in the blog post lol?  That should be the next one...oh, well. 

Winding down our day...

It was a blast! 
Hope you enjoyed our sharing.  We look forward to going back.  There is so much to see in life, it's a grand thing. 

Here is my amateur video of our Haul. 

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Our Date Day Tasting and "Helping" With the Local Harvest (Video Included:)

Every now and then, one must take a break from the rush of life and surround ones self with pretty, tastiness. One must take the one one loves, whatever state that love is in, and get away. Like a good nap, it's rejuvenating. We had a huge issue on the morning of our much anticipated date day. We both had been looking forward to it for a long time. Every six weeks, we get a Monday together for five hours or so while the kid are at school. This was our first of the year. Rick even had the opportunity to do overtime and he turned it down so we could have this day. The plan was to get out to Hearst Winery for a tasting. We are members there (being a member does not cost money, it just means you plan to buy so much wine through the year with perks of free tastings for you and your friends and events with Hearst Beef!) because we love the local history of Hearst. Visiting the castle is one of our haunts and we try to go on some of our Anniversaries. It's just north of our favorite getaway, Cambria. The tasting room is right by the pier at San Simeon State Park. IT's held in a quaint old wood floor building that also includes the old post office a small deli. The deli has the most amazing French Dip sandwich with Hearst beef, Au Jus, and horseradish (which you could ask to omit if you are not like us and adore it). Sadly, they are not open on Monday's however so we did not get to eat our yummy favorite with our tasting. We had lunch at a local Bar and Grill we had a BOGO coupon for, and it was OKAY.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.  I had a melt down before we could go have our beautiful day.  Our dishwasher has not been working and though the household is use to helping me with loading (Rick), unloading (Emma) and putting away (Caedmon and Victoria), if the machine stops no one seems to notice there is a problem.  I kid you not, I think EVERY dish in the house was dirty!  Rick was ready to go out the door but when I saw my kitchen I knew I could NOT come home to this (or if I knew I had to, I'd be tempted to ask for repeat tastings!!!) When I stuck my hand in and pulled up rice and egg shells and banana from four days ago, yep, I started to cry.  I made it clear I needed space, he went do something else, and I did dishes for an hour and a half.  I'm hoping everyone got the message when they saw how many were done by hand.  I hope. I'm the only cook in the house so it's tough on my psyche when there is a ton of clean up too.

Once that was done I knew I could actually enjoy our date time.  It was a gorgeous day on the coast.  The lighting coming through the tasting room door was magical to me with the coastal water in the background.  

I loved the close up even better and the blue of the sea is easier to see.

We enjoyed our treat of a Three Sister's Cuvee which is almost sold out.  It's named after three of the main old mountain tops east of the Castle.  I believe they are former volcanoes.  
To go with the lovely Cuvee I made a simple Fettachini version of Spaghetti.  I love the texture of Fetachini.  If find it a lot more pleasing to the palate.  I was thrilled to find frozen organic grass fed beef at the Grocery Discount for $2.99 (went back today and bought it out to save in the freezer because that is a fantastic price) and used that with some tuscan seasoning for the dish.  Yum. 

I'm skipping around in the day but... anyway.  We went in the afternoon to visit our friends recommended Ranchita Canyon Winery out east of us a few miles.  We got to help "make" some Syrah and Zin!  We helped plunge the mixture that was harvested a few days ago.  Harvest is in full swing around here!   In fact, I have a few fun You Tubes of us enjoying this learning process: 


Before we left we got an Old Vine Zin 2008 to save for the holidays. 

Earlier in our day of wine tasting we visited Edward Sellers   We had been given a free tasting card so it was no loss to try it out.  Let me say, I'm SO glad we did!  There were only a few to taste but they were really great!  I also loved their decor, it was so bright and lovely.  They are a newer winery in the area (about five years old).  We will have to go back there sometime!  

This was our favorite and we were lucky it had been on a Labor Day special of which I asked whether we could still take part in.  He said sure and we were happy with our Mayhem.  We will save this for a dinner with our friends who we think would love it there.  

So, it was a great day (after the dishes and working out real life issues...and may I say, my husband went and built a shelf when he got kicked out of the kitchen for me to cry and do dishes by myself.  I've needed that done for weeks, and I'm grateful) out in our great wine country back yard!!