Slow to get moving, we had a cup of hotel coffee that wasn’t entirely unpalatable and then a walk on the overcast beach before pointing the car towards the hills where more vineyards awaited us.
Having driven this coastline before, I remembered a little sandwich shop called Sandy’s Deli & Café in Cambria where I once stopped with my mother. Since it was already getting late in the morning, we skipped breakfast altogether and went straight for lunch.
Ric proclaimed his California Turkey the best sandwich he had ever eaten and my Mother Nature Veggie was truly a vegetarian’s delight. Cruising up through the hills with the sun shining down through the sun roof, munching on our messy sandwiches and sipping some very earthy freshly pressed juice, we were reveling in our California experience.
Top of our Paso tasting list was Brochelle Vineyards. While I love their killer Zinfandels, Brochelle’s Syrah is very near and dear to my heart, not only because of its deep rich flavor, but because it played an important part on my second, very romantic date with my husband who had carted a bottle from Maryland to San Antonio. With a label that describes their 2007 Syrah as, “A VOLUPTUOUS WINE, OOZING RICH OPULENT FRUIT…”, really, how could he go wrong? I was sold, on the wine, and the man.
Relaxed and informative, our wine and cheese tasting with Shelbi was a great time. She was engaging and very knowledgable about not only Brochelle but also the region in general and suggested we visit some of the smaller, more unique wineries in the area.
Of course we left with more wine in hand – by this time, there was a constant rattling coming from the back of the car from all of the bottles clanking together.
From Brochelle we made our way to Lone Madrone, set in a beautiful rustic venue, I was so taken with the garden that I took my time wandering about before going inside.
They had a lovely tasting room…
What do ya taste? Saddle leather, strawberry jam, asphalt? ….more wine please.
Wisteria and sunflowers everywhere, goats, chickens and horses out in the pastures that were tucked between the rolling hills lined with rows of grape vines.
Having added a few bottles of Lone Madrone to our collection, we drove south towards the Santa Ynez Valley, apparently, the home of pea soup (at least that’s what the big billboards along the way said). We didn’t try any soup, but we did have a fabulous meal at Brian Ogden’s Root 246 in Solvang where we shared some blistered Japanese peppers and a delicious vegetable ragu.
The next morning we woke up to the smell of sea air and eucalyptus. At night, the ocean fog rolls up through the canyons and cools the grapes, slowing the ripening process. For me, that salty fog carried with it a blast of childhood memories of growing up on the beach and horseback rides through the hills that were covered with eucalyptus trees. It’s amazing how evocative aromas can be.
So many vineyards to choose from…
We dropped by Fess Parker Vineyards which was gorgeous…
And then we rounded a corner and stumbled upon this vision. A field of bright orange marigolds with the mountains in the background and the fog just lifting to reveal stunning blue skies. What really tickled me were the two guys blasting down the road on their Harleys who came to a screeching halt, turned their bikes around and came rumbling back so they could take pictures of each other with their bikes in the marigolds. Harleys, leather chaps and marigolds…why not?
Creamy Polenta with Spicy Summer Vegetable Ragu
For the polenta:
4 cups water (I like to substitute 1/4 -1/2 cup of liquid with white wine – and only use wine that is worthy of drinking or skip it)
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 clove garlic, minced or put through a press
1 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon butter
1 cup polenta (not quick-cooking) or yellow cornmeal
Bring water to a boil with salt in a heavy saucepan, add polenta in a thin stream, stirring with a wire whisk. Add the garlic and continue to whisk. Cook over moderate heat, stirring for 2 minutes. Reduce heat to low and simmer polenta, covered, giving it a good stir every 5 minutes. Cook for 10 to 15 minutes adding a bit more water if it gets too thick. Remove from heat, stir in the cheese and butter and serve warm.
For the Spicy Vegetable Ragu:
2 tablespoons olive oil
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 medium onion, chopped coarsely
2 cups zucchini and yellow squash, sliced in 3/4 inch rounds
1 small carrot, cut into thin rounds
1/2 red bell pepper, diced
1 14-ounce can of crushed or diced tomatoes
3/4 cup water
1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes
A few sprigs of fresh basil and oregano
Pinch of sugar
Salt & pepper to taste
In a medium saucepan, add the olive oil, garlic and onion and sauté for 2 minutes over medium heat. Add the squash, carrots and red bell pepper and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in the tomatoes, water, red pepper flakes and a few sprigs of oregano. Cover and lower heat to a simmer. Let the ragu simmer for 1 hour.
To serve, place a large scoop of the polenta in the center of a plate or bowl, spreading it out and creating a depression in the center of the polenta where you will place the ragu. Put a ladleful of ragu in the center of the polenta, sprinkle with a bit of Parmesan and garnish with fresh basil.