In the past, stainless steel wine tanks for fermentation and storage of wines required Nitrogen gas be pumped into the headspace between the surface of the wine and the interior top of the tank to blanket the wine from oxygen, and special gas outflow venting.

David Coleman, eccentric genius winemaker and founder, with his wife Ayn, of Adler Fels Winery, is credited with inventing the adjustable top fermentation tank while at Chateau St. Jean in the 70’s.

Coleman’s tank lid design allowed for variable volume of wine to be fermented or stored without harmful oxygen in the headspace. Coleman felt that pumping Nitrogen into the tank was rougher on the wine than necessary.

David Coleman’s tank design featured a lid that was lowered down the inside of an open top wine tank and held in place on top of the wine surface by means of a chain and pulley system.

The next major innovation in stainless steel tanks was the floating lid. Amity Vineyards claims the first wine tanks with a floating lid in 1981.

Like Coleman’s original adjustable top fermentation tank, the floating top tanks allow variable capacity without exposing the wine contained inside to air and oxygen via a tank lid that can be lowered by means of a chain and pulley system onto the surface of the wine, then sealed against the tank sides my inflating a tube contained within the lid’s side. The main improvement comes from a lid that floats and does not require a chain from the lid to a structure above the tank to hold the lid in place on the surface of the wine.

Recently, I unfavorably reviewed the Vacu-vin wine saver wine preservation pump and stopper system. The Vacu-vin was shown not to work over and over again in laboratories, did not maintain wine flavors any better than the old cork in blind tastings, led to wines suffering an aroma stripped nose, and didn’t maintain the marginal partial vacuum created. The product was a complete and total failure.

In response to my Vacu-vin evaluation and review, Shannon Essa, who I worked with at the Wine Appreciation Guild, asked me if I was familiar with Wine Preserva, and offered to send a couple of samples for me to test. Elliott Mackey of the Wine Appreciation Guild did the sending, but my thanks go to both Elliott and Shannon.

Made in Melbourne, Australia by inventor Barry Rees, the Wine Preserva is a flexible disc that floats on the surface of wine in a bottle. The makers claim of Wine Preserva claim its use protects wine from air and oxygen in between glasses, lengthening the time that a wine may be enjoyed, up to five days.

Available in packs of 6 or 50, each Wine Preserva comes in its own protective packaging. The protective individual Wine Preserva wrapper can be opened in the center of the top and bottom, and a fork provided in the 6 or 50 pack can be used to move the Wine Preserva from its wrapper into the wine bottle to be protected.

It took me three bottles to develop a proficiency, I was not initially deft getting the Wine Preserva into the bottle from the wrapper without touching the disc with my fingers. I am not the most graceful or patient person, but I have mastered the action required.

Here’s a link to a “how to” video:

http://www.winepreserva.com/howitworks.html

The disc is a circular clear plastic disc. the center utilizes bubble wrap type bubbles to ensure floatation, and the outer edge is radial cut to provide a flanged adjustable surface allowing one Wine Preserva to fit a variety of different bottles.

I bought some inexpensive wine from the grocery store to use to test the Wine Preserva. I opened twin bottles of a 2008 FoxBrook Cabernet Sauvignon, California, made by Bronco in Ceres, CA. Although the same price as Charles Shaw, $1.99, I can not say it was as good.

The wine at opening was a bright burgundy red in color, and showed youth. The nose had notes of dusty cocoa and dark blackberry fruit. The wine was light, thin, with a little tannin and was a little green with not quite ripe blackberry and cherry flavors in the mouth, with a plummy finish. with 12.5 alc, it was wine, it was unremarkable, it was not bad, it just was not particularly good either, it had no wow. After getting baseline tasting notes upon opening, I poured 1 cup from each of the two bottles (which i used to marinate a pair of tri tip roasts). I inserted a Wine preserva disc into one of the bottles, and put the original cork back in each bottle. I stored both wines in the back corner of a dark closet for 96 hours.

I opened a bottle of 2008 Rodney Strong state Vineyards Russian River Valley pinot Noir, Sonoma County, $13.48. Having tasted the FoxBrook made me want to taste a wine I liked. A deep garnet in color, this wine had quite a bit more body and complexity. 14.4 % alc, it had a nice round rich mouthfeel, medium bodied, spice, cherry and rose petal and pefume nose, floral rose, herb and spice, leading to oooh candy cherry in the mouth, and a long lingering tapering finish. I did pick up some green notes of youth, and will happily go back to the 2007 vintage and let the 2008 age a bit more.

I had one glass of the Rodney strong Pinot, and put a Wine Preserva into this bottle as well – for a full 5 days.

Okay here’s the results:

After 4 days, the FoxBrook Cabernet protected by the Wine Preserva disc had maintained the dusty cocoa and fruit nose, and there was still fruit evident in the mouth. The Foxbrook Cab sealed with the cork alone was nothing, the nose was lighter and the mouth was spent and off putting, making me want to wipe my tongue off.

After 5 days, the Rodney Strong Pinot was still drinkable, the aroma and flavors maintained and still present and lively.

Available at the Wine Hardware stores in Sonoma, Walnut Creek, St. Helena, and South San Francisco, or online at http://winehardware.com/ for $5.99 for a 6 pack or $29.99 for a 50 pack; I can report they work as advertised and add only $0.60 – $1.00 to the price of a bottle of wine while allowing the wine to be enjoyed at a maintained drinkable quality for days. While many people laughingly say, “I always finnish the bottle,” this is a great and inexpensive tool for those who drink more for flavor than effect. Wine doesn’t come with a funnel to aid in immediate consumption for a reason; and Wine Preserva allows the 6th glass in a bottle to taste like the first glass in a bottle, days after the wine is opened, at an additional cost of just $0.10 – $0.17 per glass for home use.

The Wine Preserva is a simple, elegant, logical wine preservation device. It works in a wine bottle exactly like a floating lid works on a stainless steel wine fermentation and storage tank.

“Greenies” will appreciate that Wine Preserva is both recyclable and biodegradable, and can be left in the bottle, and does not alter a bottle’s recyclability. Packaging materials are made from recyclable paper and plastic as well.

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Yesterday, the mailman brought a sample copy of Randall Grahm’s book “Been Doon So Long.” Thanks to Amy Cleary at UC Press; as I revere Randall Grahm, I will be getting into this beautiful book very soon.

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Disclosure: the Wine Preserva discs evaluated in this review were provided by the Wine Appreciation Guild.

It is silly, but the FTC requires these ridiculous disclosures by online wine writers at the risk of an $11,000 fine. I am not required to make the same disclosure if this article appears in traditional print media. This week, it was suggested that Gwyneth Paltrow does not have to disclose gifts she writes about in her online blog, because celebrities can’t be bothered to keep track of all their gifts. It appears the rules only apply to online writers who do not make money or have fame.

I am not paid to evaluate or review anything sent to me, I do not benefit from sales of anything I recommend. If I received a sample, and didn’t like it, I probably wouldn’t write about it. If I receive a sample and I do like it, you’ll probably read about it.

No promises, no guarantees, full disclosure. Greater transparency, and I think honesty, than most wine publications that take money from the people they review. I’ll try never to violate the trust I ask you to place in me when you read a review or evaluation from me.

Last weekend, I worked in Pomona. When news of a Tatiana Nicole show at the Whisky a Go Go broke on an online forum I am a part of, and the date was just two days earlier than I needed to come to southern California anyway, a plan for another mini vacation began to take shape.

A month before the trip, I booked my flight into LAX for the morning of Tuesday, December 1, booked a mini van I would need for load out after my weekend’s work, booked two nights in Hollywood and three nights in Ontario, near Pomona, arranged for my co-worker to fly into LAX Thursday where I would pick him up and for him to fly home with me late Sunday night after our work. I booked a park and fly stall near SFO.

With travel logistics taken care of, I let my forum friends know that I was coming to Hollywood for the Tuesday night Tatiana Nicole show at the Whisky. Two of our L.A. area forum members, Scotty and Sean, were going to meet me and see the show with me.

With Wednesday being an off day for me, I contacted my good friend from high school, Ron Pipes. Ron does make up for television and movies. Ron works a lot, has a great reputation, an Emmy award, and is Hell to pin down for a get together. I have traveled as much or more than anyone I know and my work brings me to southern California fairly often. If we could get together, it would be after three years of trying.

On the day before my trip, I traveled to my business partner’s house to pull together the last few items for my last work weekend of the year. Half way to the airport, I didn’t want to return home, and stayed at my son Charlie’s grandparent’s home for the night. I have a good relationship with my ex-wife’s parents, and was grateful for the opportunity to spend the night.

Tuesday morning, up early, I drove to San Francisco, gave up my car, caught a shuttle to my terminal, checked one bag, breezed through security, and boarded my flight at the front of the queue.

After arriving in L.A. and collecting my bag, I walked out to the curb just as my rental car shuttle arrived. I was quickly whisked to the rental car corral where I was given a nice Toyota Siena. The great news was that both the front and rear bumpers showed signs of having been used often, so I wouldn’t have to worry about incidental contact.

My phone is an iPhone, and it quickly provided GPS directions to my hotel. I followed them and found my hotel with no difficulty.

Okay, I have to confess, when I booked the room in Hollywood, I got a great deal, but I thought the room would be horrible. I was willing to save a little money, I was by myself, this wasn’t for work, no one would judge me based on where I would stay. I was prepared to suffer a bit, I was expecting a terrible place.

Oh, was I happily surprised! My room at the Travelodge, Hollywood on Vermont was really nice, the entire property was clean, cheerful, and nice. I was so lucky, just thrilled.

I went for a little walk, and within a couple of blocks, I found myself standing at the corner of Vermont and Hollywood, the Hollywood sign visible on the hill, and the delicious aroma of food coming from a Fatburger franchise on the corner. I ate a delicious King with egg and cheese in the warm sun and read a book. I was pretty happy.

After posting messages of my happy arrival on facebook and twitter, I contacted Ron about our meet up the next day. We agreed to a late breakfast, planning to talk again at 10 AM Wednesday.

My forum mates, Scott and Sean, connected with me through facebook, twitter, and finally phone calls. We would meet at the Rainbow on Sunset, just up the block from the Whisky, at 7 PM for drinks and food.

I got a call from Scotty saying that he was running late, and asking if I could be sure to get to the Rainbow on time and look for Tatiana; she would be joining us and Scotty was running late because of a flat tire.

My iPhone told me I could cover the 6 1/2 miles from my hotel at Vermont and Sunset to the Rainbow on Sunset in just 12 minutes; maybe you can at 4 in the morning. I am thrilled I built in “idiot factor” to the trip and left at 6:15 PM. It took all 45 minutes to get to the Rainbow and park. I walked into the Rainbow at 7 PM exactly, did a quick tour, didn’t see Tatiana, Sean, or Scotty, so I went to the bar to order a drink.

I am old enough to know what I like, but I am terrible at bars. When it comes to mixed drinks, out of the millions of possible combinations, I don’t really like that many. I really would be quite happy with a tropical drink with an umbrella, but it isn’t very manly outside of an island resort bar. I like gin. Gin and tonic, or…Martini! “Excuse me, I’ve decided, may I please have a Tanqueray martini?”

Nice big up glass, two olives, lots of crisp, delicious gin. Yum.

I went outside, to the outside bar, and saw Sean as he was coming in. After a brief introduction, we got down to business. I got Sean a Martini – they cost an extra dollar at the outside bar, hmmpf – and Sean handed over his pack of cigarettes. This would be the third night I would smoke this year. The first long drag hit me like a train. More yum.

The Rainbow cooks a good steak for about $30, but puts the same steak on a piece of bread, calls it a sandwich, and sells that for about half. An order for two steak sandwiches, medium rare, both with salad, one Italian, one blue later, and Sean and I fell into easy conversation.

A mutual friend of ours from Australia has been trying to get Sean and I together since April this year, I don’t know how you can just know two people would get along great. Outside of our shared forum interest, we don’t really have much in common, but our friend was right. I like Sean tremendously, and am incredibly comfortable in his presence.

Scotty showed up next. Scotty has the feel of New York about him. Faster, tougher, maybe a little dangerous. Kind of like a mobbed up, wisely, goodfella. Now Scotty isn’t bent nose. Look at my last name, and you would be right to guess I was raised in an Italian home. I’ve seen Italian, and I’ve seen mob. Scotty is a good guy, but he has that flavor – maybe it is the east coast thing, I don’t know.

Scotty ordered a pie. Pizza pie.

We talked and talked, we ate, we talked, we drank, one more round please, we talked. Interestingly, Sean and Scotty are both from the same part of New York, out on Long Island. While I would never question where Scotty came from, I was surprised to find that Sean wasn’t a native Californian.

Scotty said that Tatiana was running late, was heading directly to the Whisky, and we would meet her after the show.

I just came down to see her. Meeting her was unnecessary. Don’t get me wrong, I would love to meet her, but I really came to hear her rock the house.

Most of you, at this point, do not know who Tatiana Nicole is, unless you have googled her. Tatiana is better known by her full name, Tatiana Nicole del Toro, and rose to some level of fame when auditioning for American Idol last season.

Tatiana Nicole was the best singer on the show last season, and was used over and over, throughout the auditioning rounds of season’s beginning, through to the awarding of dubious distinction awards at the finale at season’s end. Tatiana was the girl with that laugh. She was the one that cried. She was the one seemingly self-possessed to the exclusion of anyone or anything else.

I saw her completely differently. I heard her sing. She had the best pipes of the season. Girl could sing. Big. Amazing pitch. Great control. Whitney? No problem.

The clothing? Chosen to stand out in a crowd and get her noticed by the producers. The seeming over-emotional personality? A combination of reality, giving the producers what they ask for, and editing.

Sean and Scotty and I are members of a forum that saw through American Idol’s manipulations, and saw Tatiana Nicole as the best, most entertaining, contestant of last season.

The week before the Whisky gig, I listened to a pod cast of an interview Tatiana did with another forum member, Aaron, for his internet radio show. Tatiana was lucid, articulate, funny, endearing, a competent self-promoter. Tatiana also revealed that her Whisky gig set list would include lots of AC/DC.

I thought she was kidding.

We walked down to the Whisky, passing Scotty’s vintage Cadillac, took care of the door, went in and got some beers. On stage was the opening band, Controlling All Dilemmas, a quartet of teens, technically competent but needing seasoning and lacking a captivating or engaging quality. Nice, even good, but not great. They’re young, there’s time for them.

After CAD finished, and during a short break, Tatiana Nicole’s band began to set up. During the break, we noticed that Kristen McNamara was in the house to support Tatiana.

Kristen McNamara is from my neck of the woods, in neighboring Napa county, and played Konocti in Lake County. Kristen is practically a hometown girl. I introduced myself, and shared where I was from. Kristen graciously came and met Sean and Scotty, and promised to talk with us more after the show.

Kristen McNamara was on both Nashville Star and American Idol, and is as cute as a bug.

Tatiana Nicole played with a bass player, guitar player, and drummer; and the AC/DC promise became a reality, as Tatiana ran through a set that relied heavily on classic AC/DC and a couple of songs from Led Zeppelin, Black Dog and Whole Lotta Love.

Dressed in painted on black sequined pants, a black and gold sequined sleeveless top, black and gold fingerless gloves, and black high heel boots; hair and face looking beautiful, a perfect combination of features, Tatiana Nicole was a gorgeous rock Goddess, a life size porcelain doll come to life, sexy as hell, strong.

Did I mention earlier that the girl has pipes? Tatiana went through a blistering set with plenty of high notes, some low sexy growling, and an endless array of perfectly delivered notes.

Fun and driving, Tatiana Nicole and her band delivered.

At one point, Kristen was at the front of the stage, and I snapped a pic. Cute black dress, gold pumps, glittery bracelet. Tons of blond hair, gorgeous legs. Nice backside. Hey, I’m a straight guy, and you would have to be blind to not see Kristen is a cutie.

After the show, Tatiana sweetly joined me out on Sunset in front of the Whisky for a picture, and then another picture in our booth along with Kristen.

Kristen, by the way, wants to be known as KMAC. KMAC sounds sort of like a gang member handle; amusingly, she is flashing her gang sign in her picture with Tatiana and me.

KMAC asked me to fly back down for a January 29 SIR showcase, and also said she is sharing a place with both Tatiana and Normund Gentle from American Idol 8. Reality show, Three’s Company style, anyone?

I had more fun than I could have imagined. Thanks to Scotty, Sean, Tatiana, her band, and KMAC. I hope to see you all again.

Wednesday morning at 10 AM. Uggh. I have not had a night with two large martinis and several beers in many years. Although awake, showered, and dressed on time, I was thrilled when Ron suggested we meet later, between 2:30 and 3 PM. I went in search of breakfast. I drove down Sunset to Echo Park, found the Bright Spot, went in and had a breakfast of bagel and lox, with cream cheese, capers, tomato, cucumber and onion slices, and sprouts, along with coffee.

I didn’t feel great when I walked in, but the perfect breakfast made with deliciously fresh ingredients fixed me right up. I felt great walking out.

Ron picked me up in the afternoon and we drove to the original Farmer’s Market in L.A. on Fairfax for a late lunch at Du-par’s. I ate an okay only Patty Melt, honestly nothing special, although the fries were good, and the coffee was alright. Mostly, Ron and I just caught up on classmates who either came, or didn’t come, to our 30 year high school reunion two months earlier.

Ron took me on a tour of the Farmer’s Market. Oh My God! So much incredible produce, and an incredible variety of proteins. Specialty items, foie gras, truffles, uni, caviar. Sur La Table, an incredible kitchen store. I want to live here. Dayum, I love the Farmer’s Market.

After out Farmer’s Market tour, Ron took me on a tour of an adjacent outdoor mall, and we visited some of Ron’s favorite shops including Crate and Barrel and Nordstrom.

Our visit together was only a few hours, but it was perfect. It was really nice seeing my good old friend.

Wednesday night, I was back at Fatburger for some dinner burgers. Some television, some reading. Second great day in Hollywood.

Thursday morning, upon waking, I showered, dressed, and packed to leave. After check out, I went back to the Bright Spot for a leisurely breakfast, eaten while reading.

In time, I drove to LAX to pic Art up. After collecting Art, we drove to the Fairplex in Pomona and set up my last booth of the year for the Pomona Harvest Festival Original Art and Craft Festival.

Work is work, nothing super exciting, or dramatically different than previous weeks, although this is a very good show, and was less affected by the economic downturn. We drew big crowds, and they bought big multiples for year end holiday gifting.

On Saturday, Art had some show food, a Philly Cheesesteak. Saturday night, Art spent the entire night hurling his cheesesteak and another stomach contents into our Ontario hotel room toilet. Art poisoned himself with show food, got no sleep, and was looking really bad Sunday morning.

Sunday, our plan was to work through to show’s end, pack up for shipping, borrow a hand truck to load out to our mini van, drive to a 24 hour Fed Ex Kinko’s on the way to the airport, ship everything home, drop off the van, get a shuttle to the airport, check two bags, and catch an earlier than last flight out standby flight back to San Francisco. Once back in San Francisco, we would collect our bags, collect my van, drive north to Santa Rosa, drop Art off at home, then I would drive to our business partner’s home, spend the night, take care of accounting, write myself a check, and drive home to Ukiah, and spend some well earned time off with my son, Charlie.

We were able to execute the plan flawlessly, Sunday went perfectly, except for Art feeling sick, weak, and hurt, and it was nice to see Art smile as I dropped him at home.

I had another great week.

Thanks for reading.

John


In 1996, I flew with a friend, Fern, to England, where we met up with Kevin and Margaret, friends of Fern, and then all four of us flew to a Greek island in the Ionian Sea, Corfu.

Most of the famed islands of Greece are in the Aegean Sea. Corfu is a little neglected island tucked away between the mainlands of Greece and Italy. There is much influence of Italy in the architecture and food of Corfu, but at no time will you mistake where you are for anywhere but Greece. The national colors, blue and white, decorate many of the buildings, the views of the towns and of the water are often breathtaking, stunning in their beauty.

We arrived at the hottest time of the year, temperatures seem cold when described as a mere 41-43 degrees, until a quick conversion from centigrade to fahrenheit scales gives you a number above 100 degrees.

I had spent a few days in England and had come to love a pint at the pub, while learning to loath the unimaginative food offerings; so faced with the furnace blast upon deplaning, we went in search of a beer before checking into our hotel. Our only options at the airport were Heineken or Amstel Light, neither a beer I like the flavor of, but I drank away some of the lingering effects of the flight, and the heat, with a Heineken.

Out hotel was basic. We were shown to our two rooms, next to each other, by Stephen(os). Stephen, an enormous Greek, was our clerk when we checked in, and our bell man. Stephan easily handled the luggage of four people without the use of a cart. Our 2nd floor rooms each had two bed bedrooms, a bathroom, and a balcony. From our balconies we could sit and see the Ionian Sea, blue beyond the bluest blue imaginable.

In 1996, I drank; that is to say, I still maintained my ability to over drink. I had picked up 2 bottles of Jose Cuervo gold tequila duty free for my week. Kevin had picked up two bottles of Pernod. I don’t remember what Fern and Margaret picked up, but let me assure you, they each picked up 2 bottles for the week’s holiday. We consumed those eight bottles of alcohol in shots, with water, with mixers; we drank on our balconies, we drank by the pool, we drank at the beach; we drank. In less than half a week, we had emptied our 8 bottles of assorted alcohols. This was a vacation, every one of us was a well practiced drinker, and we were maintaining a constant state of lubrication.

Mind you, we were consuming lots of liquids, water, Heineken or Amstel Light (these were the only two beers I found on the entire island in the whole week we were there), coffee. It was hot, and the heat meant lots of fluids were called for.

We also ate. I love food. The food in England had been uniformly boring and horrible. Remember, England is the country where the best chef in the country is Gordon Ramsey, a Scotsman.

Corfu, it turns out, is largely a holiday island for vacationing English and German tourists. Our hotel was in the town of St. Georges, and it seemed our entire town was populated with English holiday goers. Fern and I were the only Americans I saw on the entire island in the week we were there. Breakfast at the hotel each day was an English breakfast. Each morning, our waiter and busboy was Stephen. Stephen would bring out 4 plates with eggs, sausage, tomato, beans and toast, along with tea for the English and Nescafe instant coffee for Fern and I. Before our week was done, I had Stephen bring Fern and I an American breakfast; sadly, I didn’t have a single decent cup of coffee during my entire European vacation (bring your own!).

I would snack each mid day on lighter fare; often having Tzatziki, a yoghurt, cucumber and garlic dip, usually scooped up with torn pita, light, tasty, refreshing; or Xhoriatiki, a Greek salad with lettuce, tomato, cucumber, onion, feta, olive, and herbs; or both. Limited in choice, I usually washed it all down with either a Heineken or Amstel Light. Stephen acted as both my snack bar attendant and beer-tender.

During the days, we traveled by bus to the only real city, conveniently named Corfu; or to the most beautiful town and harbor, inconveniently named Palaiokastritsa. We visited the olive orchards and farms in the hills, and spent time on the beach below our hotel.

To get to our beach, we walked out the front doors of our hotel, waving to Stephen, down a path past the pool, across the beach road, and down a steep and narrow path cut into a hill side cliff. On one side of the narrow path, rebar had been hammered into the hillside to keep it from falling, and remained dangerously exposed; on the other side of the path, a cliff offered a sheer fall of over 50 feet to the beach below.

At the beach, bottled water, sodas, beer (Heineken or Amstel Light) and alcohol helped fight the heat of the sun and the cold of the sea, I thought that the Mediterranean Sea would be warm. Perhaps is is, at least in some places. The part of the Med around Corfu, known as the Ionian Sea, is not warm. Not so cold that swimming is impossible, it could definitely be warmer; it was a bit uncomfortable.

I travel often, and often by myself. I am almost always in charge of myself when I travel. I was not used to traveling with others, being forced by politeness to do what others want to do, to have to listen to the often drunken ramblings of others. I’m good, I can handle quite a bit of it; but I couldn’t handle it 24/7. Each day when the sun was at it’s hottest, and we four were gathered on our balcony, shaded from the sun, and drinking; without warning or comment, I would get up, walk to the railing of out balcony, climb over it, hang from the other side, and drop to the ground below. My companions could not follow my example, and I would walk to the beach and swim alone for a bit each day. I found great comfort in my daily alone time.

Each night at midnight, I would do the same thing, except the beach was always deserted. Being the only one swimming at midnight, I shucked my clothing on the beach and swam nude under the moonlight, feeling incredibly free.

My first Corfu beach memory is of a food vender who wandered up and down the beach with a stick. Impaled on the stick was a stack of giant doughnuts. What I remember best was the shouts of the vender. It has been said that sex sells. This vender must have heard that as well because her shouts of, “sexy doughnuts, come and get your sexy, sexy doughnuts,” still makes me smile in amusement.

At night, seafood seemed an obvious island choice. unfortunately, fish was awfully expensive. I ate Sofrito, an Italian style tender veal dish featuring white wine, garlic and herbs over rice; and Mousaka, fried eggplant and beef, topped with a béchamel (basic white; butter, flour, milk; often including veal, onions, thyme, pepper, clove, nutmeg and/or salt) sauce.

Cheaper still were Souvlatzidika, kebabs made into gyros by wrapping them in a toasted pita with salad and tzatiki. It didn’t matter what meat was used, beef, veal, chicken or fish, as the marinade made it taste the same anyway. Tasty, but cheap, I ate many Souvlatzidika and liked every one.

Dessert, or a pre midnight swim snack, usually involved Baclava, honeyed filo puff pastry with chopped nuts; or yoghurt with honey, nuts and fruit; or, again, both.

The two big local alcoholic beverages were Retsina and Ouzo.

I love wine. Retsina, in theory, is wine. Retsina, in reality, is a Christmas tree in a bottle; a pine sap resin smelling and tasting wine. I found it horrible. I tried several different labels, from different producers; hey, I’m a wine guy, i wanted it to be good. Kind of like Pineapple wine from Hawaii, Retsina (or at least every one I tasted) is horrible.

Ouzo, on the other hand, is a tasty anise based, licorice flavored, thickly sticky sweet alcohol. It is similar to Italian Sambuca or French Pernod in flavor, but completely Greek.

One evening, out of tequila, I decided to drink ouzo. I started out sipping this thick licorice liquor from shot glasses, moved to drinking double shots from rocks glasses, and finished off the night drinking chimney tumblers full of ouzo. I think it is safe to say, conservatively, that I consumed at least an entire bottle of ouzo that night.

During my drunken evening, I won a slot machine jackpot and filled my pockets with foreign coins, and I took part in a trivia contest that I swear I knew all the answers to but the tavern owners claimed they couldn’t read my written answers.

At midnight, like a mechanical bird exiting a Swiss clock, I jumped off my bar stool. Drunk though I might be, I was heading down the road to swim at my beach – right up until the bush swallowed me.

In fairness, the bush that fronted the tavern I was exiting was no ordinary bush; it was large and shapely. It was very hedge-like. Perhaps it was a hedge. All I know is that as I tried to pass it, it leaped out at me. It certainly felt that way to me at least.

My friends report that as I got up to leave, on my way out, it appeared that I leaped into the hedge.

I extricated myself from the hedge, breaking off bits of it in my clothing, and continued down the road, staggering drunkenly toward the beach.

Let me be clear: at no time did I experience falling. I did, however, experience the ground rushing up to meet my face several times.

Over and over, the ground slammed into my body, my head, my face. I had no idea from which direction it would come at me next. Still, I moved toward my beach.

I have no idea how many times I fell on my way to the beach path. I knew intellectually that I was falling down drunk. I had never before experienced this. In spite of the novel sensations of having the Earth rush up to smash me and hedges reaching out to swallow me whole, I wasn’t having as much fun as you might imagine.

Getting to the beach had become a quest, my own Grail quest. Perhaps a swim would sober me (ignorantly unaware that I would likely drown). With my first step on the narrow path down to the beach, the earth smacked me in the head again. I lay against the path, unmoving, thinking. I probably lay on that path ten full minutes. I realized that with exposed rebar on one side and a sheer drop on the other side, this path would surely result in my death if I stayed on it. I turned around, without standing, and crawled off the path back to the roadway.

Stephen told me the next day that my path from the road to the front of the hotel involved a series of dives, head first, into the road, gravel path, and bushes and trees along the path.

My last pitch was intended to be through the doors of the hotel. Knowing I was going to fall, I squared myself up, and started running for the door, hoping to fall through it, into the lobby. I was very surprised when all of my motion was instead backward, away from the doors, and deep into another bush.

At this point, Stephen picked me up out of the bush, carried me to my room, opened the door while holding me pinned to the wall with one hand, then depositing me fully clothed in my bed to pass out.

I awoke to a horrible smell. Fern, who came in while I was passed out, had thrown up in her bed while asleep. I pulled her bedding from under her, wadded it up, and threw it outside, and over the balcony.

The next morning Fern realized with horror that the terrible smell in the room was her. Her hair had collected a bit of her stomach’s contents as she rolled when I took her bedding off the night before.

Fern, after cleaning herself, invited our friends to come view me in my passed out state. My bed had bits of trees, bushes and hedges scattered from my previous night’s battles; coins from the previous night’s jackpot were also scattered about the bed, some stuck to my body.

For the rest of the trip, I was known as Johnny Ouzo; the merest whiff of it, could produce the most severe nausea.

Fern was lucky, she got rid of her over indulgence of alcohol on her bed. I wasn’t sick; all the alcohol was still in my body the next day, and the most painful hangover of my life lay ahead of me.

Sitting hungover when the temperature is over 100 degrees is not a good way to spend a day of a Greek vacation. Getting sunburned while hungover may be the only way to make your day worse.

The tavern owners gave me a consolation bottle of (Retsina based) Champagne (sparkling wine) for my previous night’s attempt at the trivia contest. I didn’t drink that, or any ouzo, while in Greece. I did get back to being able to drink, if not enjoy, Heineken or Amstel Light.

I had a great time in Greece. I was ready, after a week. to leave Corfu and return to England to continue my vacation.

My son was born the following year; I have not taken overseas vacations since (Hawaii doesn’t count). I’m looking at a trip to Melbourne, Australia later this year (about 50/50 likelihood). I might enjoy some local Yarra Valley Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, but with 12 years as a father, I don’t have to worry about drunken battles in the outback with Dingos.


I just finished re-reading a few chapters of Anthony Bourdain’s book, Kitchen Confidential, while sitting outside of my nearby Starbucks, sipping a large coffee with cream and three raw sugars, enjoying the feeling of the warm sun, dressed in shorts, a loose buttoned tropical shirt, and flip flops. I am happy.

__________

For the last half dozen years, I have golfed in an annual tournament called the Wine Country Golf Invitational. The charity that is supported by the tournament is a ridiculously wasteful exercise in vanity on the part of the charity’s creators, the money could be used to achieve the same purpose more effectively; but any good is better than no good, and hey, I’m really just about the golf anyway.

Yesterday, feeling tightness in my back, as I ventured from my warm house into cold and drizzle, I thought about the tournament. When my back seized, I dismissed thoughts of golfing.

Today, feeling great, I received a call from my business partner, asking, pleading, cajoling, and finally convincing me to golf in the tournament next week.

I am among the world’s worst golfers; I don’t have a golf swing so much as a baseball swing tilted to a more vertical plane. I have seen my swing on video once, something I vow never to see again. Stephen King’s clown Pennywise from the book IT is less disturbing than my swing.

In spite of my swing, the little team we field each year for the tournament has taken second place three of the years we’ve competed.

We could come in last, and I would still love the day. We are treated to a terrific lunch, there are kegs of Sonoma County’s best micro brewed ales conveniently situated on the course, different holes have different snacks waiting from fresh baked cookies to BBQ oysters, and after the golf there is both a wine tasting and buffet put on by local restaurants and wineries AND a sit down multi-course meal. Oh, and we golf. And the kids win, it’s all about the charity.

__________

I was looking at a Qantas sale on flights to Australia. I really wanted to go, but I passed on the opportunity.

Today, I found that United is running the same sale; the big difference: I fly United and can use the frequent flyer miles, and United is offering an additional 10,000 flight miles for this special.

After my last booked holiday art and craft show of the year, in December, I am looking to fly from San Francisco to Melbourne and return just before Christmas.

Melbourne is Australia’s destination for “foodies”, I have friends in Melbourne, and I have extended family in Melbourne.

In a year when I have decided that I deserve to gift myself without justification, this may be among my best gifts I give myself.

__________

My son’s mom asked me today to help her create a resume. I am thrilled to do anything I can that will help her find gainful employment. It may seem small, but this is a good thing.

My son and his mom will get to spend some time together this weekend as they will visit with her parents, my son’s grandparents, in Sonoma County for the mother’s day weekend.

I will be taking a solo holiday, not leaving my home, but enjoying some alone time to read and nap.

__________

I called Charlie’s mom at her boyfriend’s house to tell her how to score some “mom of the year” points with her son. She is buying movie tickets for the premiere screening of the new Star Trek movie here in Ukiah.

Charlie will get to stay up super late on a school night, then spoil the plot for his schoolmates at school tomorrow. 12 year old boy Heaven.

__________

I am bemused that my blog has readers. I write because I have to write. I am doing it for me.

I read someone else’s blog entries. I look forward to each new entry. She lives a very different life than the one I live. She lives in a foreign, but not too foreign, country. She is fantastically talented, but questions her self worth; I wish I could express how much I care about her and her life. Her writing is the only connection we will ever have. She is young, I am old. She eats veggies, I love meat. She lives there, I live here. We will never meet; but her writing is so good, so revealing, so honest, so brave – it is as if I know her. I definitely look forward to each new posted entry she writes.

It is because her writing is so good that I try to be a more thoughtful writer, to be a better craftsman.

Re-reading Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential, I am again confronted with superior word-smithery. Another goad, I have to strive to be better at this writing thing.

The last four words of Bourdain’s that I read: “Shut the fuck up.”

With that, I will for today.

__________

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Edited to Add:

I just returned from the new Star Trek movie and logged on to say I thought it was really enjoyable.

It was also great to see my high school friend Ron Pipes’ name in the credits at the end of the movie. Hurray for Ron!

__________

Golfing, we came in second again, good for 36 teams.

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