Monday, November 2, 2009

Romance in Red

I’m sorry, but I’m not really a fan of baby showers and wedding showers –although I think weddings are lovely, babies are lovable and steamy showers are great anywhere. As a result, I’m always looking for alternatives to the traditional female-only shower. For some dear friends’ impending nuptials I clearly needed a plan. It had to be at night – my favorite time — had to go with red wine, since we already had a lot of that, and had to lend itself to pictures. It was a memorable season for everyone involved, and both bride and groom love the spotlight, so photos/video seemed obvious.

This is our idea: feel free to steal all or part.
A Spanish Tapas party. Semi-dressy, for adults, with party-goers encouraged to wear red, white or black and to bring a tapa (Spanish appetizer). It was tomato season, so the food also turned out to be largely red, white and black (thanks to the olives). The food table was stunning and the men looked outstanding in black dress shirts, especially near twinkly lights and romantic candles. The women in their red lipstick and black-and-white cocktail dresses couldn’t possibly be the same pals in jeans at coffee that morning, could they?

Foodwise, the Spanish potato omelete (or ‘tortilla’) was the real score of the evening, as were the heirloom tomatoes with fresh basil, Spanish cheese, olives and capers. I link below to some simple recipes.
Some rich, energetic Pinot Noirs and Zinfandels were the backdrop for the fun. Flamenco music and tunes from the Gipsy Kings and a local duo (the Seydlers, very steamy) provided the sounds.

In all, it was a creative and unexpected shift from the Italian, Mexican and California gatherings that Wine Country is known for. Bride, groom, family and friends were feted and photographed in a striking fashion. Memories were made.
And I got out of another shower.

Here’s links for tapas:

Links for music


Saturday, August 22, 2009

Twisted Sisters -- My Favorite Blogs

As promised, here are some of the communities that capture my fancy when I'm cruising around the Web.
You can click on links to each of them on the left side of this blog under the title "LIVING THE DREAM'

Cranky Fitness
This is a health blog written by Crabby McSlacker and Merry Sunshine. If you like upbeat inspirational advice about how easy and fun it is to eat healthy food, lose weight, and stay in shape -- this is NOT where you would find it. One of the founding principles of Cranky Fitness is: Healthy Living is a Pain in the Ass. Which is so true most of the time--which is why it is more fun to think about wine, friends and fresh eating.
You'll find a twisted take on general health, fitness, nutrition, personal development, disease prevention, aging, and whatever else the authors happen to feel like whining about on a given day.

Divine Caroline
This is hub of forums and essays about life in the female lane, with a splash of sass. My favorite section covers home and food -- no surprise there. A particularly good forum is "A Girl's Gotta Drink," in which people opine about memorable cocktails and other beverages. For instance, one member writes,"I really love a bourbon Manhattan, I think it is one of the classic cocktails of a past sophisticated age when people drank Martinis, Old Fashioneds, Gimlets, Tom Collins, Side Cars and Screwdrivers."
I couldn't agree more.

Fitness Insights by Jamie Atlas
This is a blog by a trainer and regular guy who is gallantly trying to make sense out of all the "Health and Fitness" lecturing out there.
Jamie is just cool and totally reasonable. He won me over with advice for the inevitable back and knee pain that comes from working in an office. Hey, we've all been there.

Now, let's go outside enjoy the sun.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Getting Creative, Getting Healthy

Often I think that being healthy is the really same thing as being creative. It is putting all the pieces together.
And studying the rules will not get you there.
Recently the University of California asked me to ponder creativity for a UCLA project and what I found went far beyond the classroom. It seems to apply to artful eating, drinking and exercise as much as to anything else. See if you agree with me.

"Creativity is a restless spirit. It is always on the prowl for change, disruption. It is happiest when it is the most needed -- when new ways and new thoughts are a necessity and old habits and assumptions are easily dismissed. When we feel anxious and uncertain about the future, creative souls, including the creativity in your own soul, are smiling. The imagination loves to solve an interesting problem.

Which means creativity has a pretty important job in the 21st century. In this digital age, when technology is taking center stage, and newspapers, banks and other institutions are struggling for survival, the very essence of creativity is being tested.
Some see the digital screens –of computers, videogames, phones, iPods – as the death knell of imagination or originality. It feels like the pure volume of raw, random data and messages is drowning us. But look again. Thanks to those screens, the 21st century creative process has gone public, with access to practically anyone. It has also become fast, fragmented, collaborative, cross-disciplinary and impatient.

Which leads to the irony of our age. As we shift into a fully Web-connected world, our biggest creative challenge is how to harness the power that fuels our creativity—the tidal wave of data the Internet is sending our way. Rather than a life raft to protect us from this monster wave, what we really need is a surfboard to catch the ride."

The Shapely Grape and other offbeat online communities -- I'm gathering a handful to share with you soon -- are glad to be your surfboard.
Happy surfing,

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Voodoo Magic

I bet you assume I spend much of my time reading and writing. You’d be wrong. Mostly what I do is sweep. Actually sweep, mop and vacuum. Blame it on Voodoo-the-dog, a black dalmatian-mix who sheds like you can’t believe; Waldo-the-cat, who is huge and fuzzy; and a family fixation for renovating furniture, gadgets, barbecues, decks and whatever. My light-colored floors ALWAYS need work.

But get this—over time I’ve found the sweeping motion has become a therapy for a back and shoulders aching from the computer crouch. Plus, the Cajun jazz I play during the task (in honor of Voodoo) seems to refresh my buzzing mind. How ironic, that I used to pay a housekeeper to come every week to do the exercise that is helping me keep flexible. Now I can spend that housekeeping money on more projects and building materials that make even a bigger mess—Yikes!

But lots of projects also mean plenty of topics to hash over during leisurely suppers with wine on the refurbished porch or the new deck. (“What is the easiest way to paint that vintage medicine chest after we knock a hole in the wall to install it?”) It’s best if a sizable part of the supper comes from our raised-bed garden – another project. Swiss chard is my latest garden success. Stir-fried with garlic and strips of lean pork, (or a new local hit, Morningstar’s fake bacon.) Cook the fleshy stems first, then add the leaves at the end. Great tossed with angel hair pasta – or Asian bean threads. Sprinkle some chopped walnuts or peanuts on top as you serve it. My old fave, Cabernet is a worthy foil to the chard’s peppery flavor and the sweeter pork. Or if Cabs are too assertive, maybe a polite Pinot Noir that dances around the edges. If you are using just a little meat for flavor, try a sparking white or sparkling dry rose to balance out the chard’s strong character. Enjoy in good health.

BTW, what is up with the odd little ads on this blog? Maybe it’s because I don’t stick to a particular genre, but Google doesn’t seem to know what to do with the “Grape”. Ads pop up for all manner of things -- from a crane accident lawyer in NY, to a broker who sells restaurants to a distributor of rabbit repellent. The funnier ones tend to be at the very bottom of the blog—scroll down. Who knows, maybe this time I’ll get a New Orleans pig farmer. Cheers.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Playing in the Dirt

Everybody is crazy for gardening around here. It started even before Michelle Obama’s victory garden, and it seems to be gaining steam. This morning at coffee folks were actually talking about how paying $120 for tomato cages is a good deal.
It is rather romantic and patriotic to think about the good food you can get from the soil under your feet. We care about the soil the grapes come from for our wine, and we hear it is healthier to eat organic fruit and veggies grown locally. So veggie gardens in our yards, instead of water-hungry lawns, seem like an ideal summer project. The trick (as always) seems to be how to keep it simple – hence the heated discussion over tomato cages. And that’s before you even get to the war against snails and earwigs. I have a darwinian approach; no designer equipment or pricey sprays. The toughest will survive. But admittedly, we have a pretty fancy watering system.
The best news is that gardening is darn good exercise, especially the bending over and digging. Personally, I love the digging. It is therapeutic – digging down to the essence of the thing, beyond the surface. Yes, I’m odd. But a publisher friend loves the rototilling part — exposing all the soft, fertile earth, getting rid of the rocks.
You can find your own favorite part of the garden experience.
It might be the wine, goat cheese, fruit and crackers you enjoy as you rest your back and savor the results of your labor. For some reason, a gentle wine—maybe a sauterne or chardonnay seems to do the job.
Cheers to tomorrow’s tomatoes!

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Frugal is Cool?

Hey, did you hear alcohol in the home is a big trend for this recession? Hello Wine Country BBQs. Also big are vintage clothes and durable, non-disposable stuff (that is also more green). Sure, recessions are hell. We are all working more for less. But on another level, it’s like being young (and thrifty) again. Less shopping, more socializing. Frugal is back to being cool.

In our household we try to figure out every possible way to make travel cheaper – so we are still on the move despite the cash crunch. For gifts for our hosts we bring along some good boutique wines, with good stories. Or we ship them ahead of us, even better. A consistent winner is Davis Family wine around the corner from our home office, made by winemaker-baseball fan Guy Davis, the Dodgers foe who travels the world for wine. His Pinot and Zinfandels rock. Other friends do the same with local cheeses or microbrews. All are good beginnings for parties with faraway pals when we are on the road.

Speaking of core values (friends and food) brings to mind exercising our cores, which is modernspeak for our midsections. Walking, cycling and lifting heavy things don’t do it. Pilates does, but is a bit specialized and your need the outfits. Here’s my tip. After hours on the computer, stand up and stretch a bit. Then lay flat on the floor with your feet up on your chair and your arms outstretched. Add some jazz. After you wake up (it’s veeery relaxing), try some simple crunches. With feet still up, slowly lift your head and chest up straight and then go back down. Next, cross your legs and turn from side to side as you lift. It’s a start -- there are lots of other easy core exercises, including this one from my sister, the pro:

Monday, February 23, 2009

Rosemary and Lemons

We’re happily watching as the rain soaks our town – and floods the backyard garden patches that I’ve been diligently ignoring – and I’m wondering how my pooch and I are going to get enough exercise. But when we do manage to get out on short, soggy walks I’m struck by how well the lemon trees and rosemary are thriving in the older neighborhoods. It’s not just me. An arty couple we know from Nebraska (yes, I know it sounds like a contradiction) bought and fixed up a Healdsburg cottage as a winter respite from the snow. They planted the entire backyard with a few patches of lawn and a stunning design of lemon trees and rosemary bushes. Talk about low maintenance art.

In that spirit, I’ve been cooking a lot lately with lemon, rosemary and Savignon Blanc—soups, stews, rice. My favorite is simple roasted chicken or game hens with lemons slices and sprigs of rosemary in the cavity, tucked under the wings and legs and mixed with potatoes in the roasting pan. Splashed with wine before, during and after the cooking. Served with a generous glass of Sauv Blanc or Fume Blanc, local greens, apple slices and sourdough. Anyone could do it.

But back to the exercise problem. Here’s two tricks that help. First, I rented a documentary from NetFlix about the history of Broadway musicals. Now, it’s easy—and interesting—to get up and move to the tunes while I learn about Fanny Brice and George M. Cohan. Probably any film about music would work as well. Second, for those boring (but important) floor exercises and stretches, I go for sensual over the practical. A fluffy white sheepskin on the floor in front of a crackling fire in a dim room – makes all the difference in the world.
My pooch is on her own.
Cheers, Joan

Friday, January 16, 2009

New York New Year

This is what I've learned for 2009. Champagne goes very well with barbecued gourmet sausages and mustard no matter how cold you are.
Our tradition is to celebrate "New York New Year" at the hangar where we keep our little airplane. What this means is that a small group of us get bundled up enough to be outside for hours and hope it stays above freezing. We use our summer BBQ to cook some snacks, which we munch on with sips of deep red wine. Then we break out the bubbly at 9 p.m. when our pals in NY are celebrating and hug and kiss with frozen lips and numb hands. Next we tell jokes to get sober and are home enjoying the hell out of our warm beds when the rest of Calif. greets the next year.
It's a good time for hardy --or crazy-- folks.
I'm thinking this year we are all going to have to be a little more hardy. Crazy may help too. Champagne & sausages, I'm not kidding.
On the fitness front, my Christmas shopping this year led to some neat ideas for using a bike instead of a car for errands. Turns out, the bum-around-town bikes are called beach cruisers and they've become a cottage industry far beyond beach towns. You can get baskets and bells for them and even cup holders for your latte. And it's impossible to take yourself too seriously on a cruiser. A good site to get started is
Now, not to rub it in for those outside of California, but it's sunny and 60 outside so I've got to go.....