Life in California, part 5: Newfound popularity, food foraging and meeting James Laube

(Last Updated On: 07/10/2011)

Taylor and James Laube

This is Part Five in a series of several posts discussing Taylor’s transition from her life in Florida to working in the wine industry in California. A long strange trip… part four, part three and two.

It’s amazing how popular you become when you have a house in northern California. Even one with pink carpet and hideous rose-print wallpaper. I actually underestimated the power of a second bedroom in wine country. Out of the 60-something days in June and July, we have hosted (and will host) 18 nights with various guests, mostly from Tampa. And we love it…it’s like having a little dose of “home” away from “home.” It hasn’t sunk in that we live here yet. Could be a combination of the beautiful weather, the fresh farmer’s markets, or the nice people. Or maybe we’re just too busy enjoying the hell outta this place. The word “vacation” comes to mind, not real life, when I’m driving to work alongside vineyards. Surreal.

Growing Green
In the hopes that we’ll have better success growing vegetables in a climate cooler than the hell of Tampa’s summer,we’ve gone hog wild planting a garden. Ten different herbs, lemon cucumbers (which I had never heard of or seen but they’re supposed to be the bomb), three heirloom tomatoes, arugula, green beans and six different hot peppers. Crossing my fingers that the various bugs/maladies/other critters don’t discover them. The weather, so far, seems to be cooperating, with the exception of one cryptic bout of late June rain which f-ed up a ton of vineyards and quite a few tomatoes plants. One of my little guys has already succumbed to blight, a fungus that pretty much kills the tomato vine.

But we’ve discovered a host of other fruit trees in our front and back yard. You know how when you visit somewhere and everything that you don’t have at home is super cool/awesome/amazing? I’m a bit ho-hum when it comes to citrus and strawberries which practically grow wild in Florida. But figs, plums, blackberries, grapes and apples? All of these super cool/amazing/awesome fruits grow on our little rental house lot. I’m surprised our landlord didn’t parlay that into a rent increase. But she’s from California so the coolness factor is likely lost on her.

Shake Your Groove Thing

With the warmer summer weather comes so many events, you could go out every night to a festival. Tuesday nights are music on the square in Healdsburg and me and my new wine geek buddies congregate there, buy food from food trucks and open bottle after bottle great wine. It’s almost a competition for who can bring the most obscure, yet tasty wine. I haven’t competed yet. Wish me luck… it’s a tough crowd. But the other night, I did a first: Participated in a flash mob at this festival. It wasn’t a huge “mob” of people mind you, maybe 15, but we strutted our stuff in sync on the dance floor in front of about 2,000 people. Check it out, but keep in mind, California has put a few pounds on me.

Sierra Morel and Liberty Duck Risotto

Foraging for Food
One night before we moved, Scott and I were channel surfing and found Andrew Zimmern’s Bizarre Foods on the Travel Channel. Among other stories about dumpster diving to feed the homeless, he also featured an organization called Forage SF (I wrote about their current plight here). A guy named Iso Rabins hosts “Wild Dinners” —  multi-course meals served at “underground” locations in San Francisco, created with ingredients that Iso forages from around the Bay area. He dives for the sea beans, hunts for the morels, scouts out wild nettle and watercress… all in the hopes that people will realize that edibles exists everywhere around us. Not just at the grocery store.

I immediately fell in gastronomic lust with the concept. When a dinner featuring fresh morel mushrooms arrived in my inbox, I clicked, plonked down $90 each for the dinner (hey… will work for good food).

The key to the underground dinners is not revealing where they’re held until the day of… that way, the health department can’t descend and muck up all the fun. The location for the dinner ended up in a, ahem, questionable partof San Francisco at a couple’s huge loft apartment/building. We arrived, BYOB in hand, had our tickets scanned and walked up a steep, non-ADA compliant flight of stairs to a massive room set for about 80 people. We’d arrived early and had our pick of seats. With eight courses of food ahead of us, the wrong tablemates could equal a bad episode of the Captain’s table on Love Boat.

We chose wisely. I’ve maintained contact with every single ballsy food lover we met that evening while munching on wild nettle galette, Sierra morels and wild caught surf trout (aka “smelt”). It was an evening I won’t forget for a long time. We also shared numerous bottles of wine, including  a bottle of Foppiano Petite Sirah, marketing ho that I am.

Celebrity Sighting
I was feeling pretty bad-ass when I landed the hottest invite in wine country my first year out: The Wine Spectator Magnum Party. Held in Healdsburg (about 15 minutes north of where we live and five minutes from where I work), it’s the ultimate schmooze-a-thon. And a hard ticket to land. The winery where I work spent some advertising dollars with the Wine Spectator last year and with that investment comes this Golden Ticket. Every winery invited brings a magnum (1.5 liter bottle) that  gets shared with the guests… maybe 60-70 different bottles to sample. I got drunk with just the thought of it, but reality was even better. Held at the glitzy Healdsburg Hotel, the food paled in comparison to the wine, which seemingly got better with every glass. Or that could have been the juice talking.

But the coolest part was elbow-rubbing with the Spectator writers, especially James Laube. This guy represents the influential echelon of the wine world… the California wine critic people love and hate… the one I’ve read for years. I don’t exactly want his job but he likely loves it.

From across the room, I spied him, thinking, “Oh my god, that’s James Laube,” like a schoolgirl at a Justin Bieber concert. I mustered the chutzpa from I don’t know where (but  liquid courage comes to mind) and introduced myself as a wine writer and now working for a winery. Like a good rock star, he mumbled something about good luck and to email him, and he agreed to take his picture taken with me. A new memento of life in wine country.

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