Thursday, May 3, 2012

Living in the Napa Valley

I'm starting out this post by apologizing for not having any photos. In our TV cabinet are thousands of photos. Diving in proved to be an exercise in futility and opened a can of worms. One would think that in this 15 cubic foot space I have some hardcore evidence that we do, in fact, reside in the Napa Valley in the form of photos, but no. Not one... save for our wedding photos and who's to say we didn't have a destination wedding? I did try to pirate some off a friend's hot air balloon company website but that didn't work. So, sorry. You'll just have to take me at my word. Here truly begins my post...

Ah! This is my second favorite time of year here in the Napa Valley – springtime! The hills are still lush and green, just a few weeks ago the mustard was in full bloom, the vines are now leafing out, and my chest allergies of fall and winter have switched to sinus allergies (I’m trying to look on the bright side…). Soon summer will be upon us, those green hills will turn golden (I prefer that to calling them brown) and the vineyards will be heavy with fruit.

The city of Napa is my hometown. I was born and raised here. I live about eight blocks from my parents who still live in the house I grew up in. My brother lives down the street from them in the house his wife grew up in. The Captain, who also spent most of his formative years here, and I have many more family members, four generations worth, who live in less than a three mile radius of us. How lucky are we?

Most people we meet who are not from NorCal assume that we own a winery, or that our family does, or that we at least work at one. So not true. The Captain and I have both worked in the tourist industry; in fact, that’s how we met. He was flying hot air balloons and I was doing group sales and marketing for the same small company. However, after years of working weekends, the schmoozing, and dealing with local ballooning politics, we both got out – and have stayed out. I’ve since been offered jobs at boutique hotels and spas by friends, which I have respectfully declined because I don’t want to put in the odd hours, schmoozing, and tours and wine tastings on my own time that really don’t interest me. Selfish? Yes, but that life style doesn't fit the needs of my family. Now, I love driving up valley through the tiny towns of Yountville, Oakville, Rutherford, St. Helena, and Calistoga when we’re on our way to the Sonoma Coast or The Captain’s sister’s in Humboldt County. The scenery is breathtaking year round, it never gets boring, but the wineries and wine aren’t what interest me.

Beside my family -- it’s the food.

Over the years traveling outside our little valley, The Captain and I have realized how incredibly picky we are where restaurants are concerned; it took us a while to figure out why. To be frank, even the dives in Napa Valley have to be remarkable – even if it’s just remarkably cheap (like one of our favorite hole in the wall Mexican food joints). When The French Laundry is ten minutes from our front door, The Boy’s Cub Scout Den Leader is a James Beard Award winning chef and teacher at the Culinary Institute of America’s Greystone campus in St. Helena, there are more amazing restaurants per capita than just about anywhere in the world, we have to lower our standards when we leave home. In a word, we’re spoiled – and, shall we say, big-boned… Yes, let's go with that.

It doesn’t help that we both love food. We love to cook. We love to eat. We watch the Cooking Channel and the Food Network (The Boy loves Cupcake Wars and Chopped, which just cracks me up). We subscribe to two culinary magazines – and devour them cover-to-cover. The Captain’s father published a cookbook in the 70s and was no stranger to the garden either, one sister is a personal chef and caterer, another sister managed a restaurant at Silverado Country Club, her husband is a former restaurateur, and The Captain himself is fearless in the kitchen. He bakes and decorates all the family birthday cakes (or dessert in my case since I don’t like cake), he is the master of the BBQ (charcoal, please, no gas grill for him), he bakes bread that I could eat an entire loaf of in one sitting, and his homebrewed beer and root beer are fantastic. Did I mention the ice cream, chicken stock, and spicy brown-butter chocolate chip cookies? Yeah. I have to fight for kitchen time. The Captain and his siblings, my brother’s wife, and I all seem to compete, good naturedly, to bring our best to the table. Living where we do, we have a lot of inspiration and lot to live up to. 

Not to mention a LOT to work off… which is not an easy task when one thinks exercise is a four-letter word. But that’s another post.

Having lived in the Midwest and Southeast Asia and spent a vacation in Cabo San Lucas at a house where we shopped and cooked for ourselves, I know the produce (especially), seafood, and meats we have available to us in the Napa Valley is also exceptional bringing about the ability to create great food. Our farmer’s market is located between the (now closed) Copia Center for Wine, Food, and the Arts opened by Robert and Margrit Mondavi and the Oxbow Public Market, which features one of my favorite gourmet pizza places with the best roasted veggies I’ve ever tasted and Ritual, the best latte in town, and, among others, organic ice cream and Model Bakery made more famous by the Food Network. It is not uncommon to see chefs in their white coats at the farmers market or Whole Foods picking out their own produce. It has to be great in this food mecca.

More next week...

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