Saturday, June 26, 2010

Nocino, or Liqueur de noix

This is a recipe I've been wanting to try since last summer at the Napa Home Winemakers Classic. A bottle of an intriguing brown liquid was brought out from underneath one of the pouring tables, and a small amount of an aromatic liqueur poured into the wine glass. I had never tasted anything like it. On reaching home, I started looking for recipes for "Nocino" and found several, including one for a "liqueur de noix" or "green walnut liqueur" by David Lebovitz, a favorite author and chef.

Unfortunately, this requires green walnuts, and by July the Napa walnuts were too mature to be cut. The shells had already formed. I made a mental note of the date for harvesting the green walnuts - June 24.

I picked the walnuts at my friend Cindy's house this afternoon and bought a 1.75 liter bottle of vodka for this batch. The gallon glass jar is one I use for making Meyer lemon "limoncello" - also an Italian favorite.

Because of the size of the jar, I decided to make one and a half recipes of the green walnut liqueur. A recommendation from several of the recipes is to use a heavy cleaver to cut the walnuts. Tap the cleaver into the side of the green walnut (keep fingers well away) and let the weight of the cleaver slice the walnut in half, then quarters.

I mixed the sugar, lemon and spices with the vodka before adding the walnut quarters.

The walnuts are still green and firm and the shells are forming but still papery. They looked just about right.

3 3/4 Cups sugar
1 1/2 Liter vodka
3 sticks cinnamon
15 whole cloves
1 vanilla bean split lengthwise
zests of two Meyer lemons removed using a vegetable peeler

Mix vodka, sugar, spices, and lemon zest in gallon glass jar. Stir till the sugar is dissolved. Add the walnuts. Close jar and let stand on the counter for two months, shaking the jar every day. (For limoncello I put it in the cabinet and shake it every day for 40 days, add the sugar syrup and shake it every day for another 40 days.)

When it's ready to bottle, filter the liqueur through cheesecloth and pour into clean bottles.

According to David Lebovitz, this liqueur de noix will keep for years in a cool, dry place. It can also be stored in the refrigerator. Supposedly good on vanilla ice cream. We shall see!

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Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Olive Oil Citrus Cake

Several people have asked for the recipe for this citrus-olive oil cake, so I am including it here. It is adapted from a recipe at "Sweet Amandine" - whose author, Jess - adapted it from the cookbook "Rustic Fruit Desserts" by Cory Schreiber and Julie Richardson. A photo of the cake I made is in this post.

At the Napa Rotary Club meeting last week we had a speaker from Round Pond who lead us through an olive oil tasting. The blood orange olive oil reminded me of this cake. The olive oil tasting may be a wonderful alternative for Napa visitors who are not big wine drinkers. We certainly had a great time at Rotary slurping and swallowing some spicy virgin olive oil and the much more delicate and mellow blood orange olive oil. Round Pond also makes a Meyer Lemon olive oil.

1 ¼ c. cake flour
1 t. baking powder
¼ t. salt
3 eggs, at room temperature
1 T. plus ¾ c. sugar, divided
Zest of 1 ruby grapefruit
Zest of 1 blood orange
Zest of 1 Meyer lemon
1 ½ t. vanilla extract
squeeze of lemon juice (optional)
1 c. fruity (not spicy) extra-virgin olive oil

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Using a paper towel, coat a 9 x 2 inch round spring-form baking pan with olive oil, then sprinkle it with the 1 T. of granulated sugar.

Sift the cake flour, baking powder, and salt together twice. Using a handheld mixer or stand mixer with the whisk attachment, beat the eggs, sugar, and zests on high speed for five minutes, until the eggs are thickened and lighter in color. Yes, you need to mix it that long. Add the vanilla and juice, if using. Turn the mixer down to medium-low speed and drizzle the olive oil into the batter, pouring slowly along the edge of the bowl.

Add the dry ingredients, and mix on low speed until just incorporated. Pour the batter into the prepared pan.

Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until the cake is golden and slightly domed in the center. Cool to room temperature in the pan.

Glaze (optional- I omitted this):

¾ c. powdered sugar
2 T. freshly squeezed grapefruit juice

Sift the sugar into a small bowl. Add the grapefruit juice, and whisk to combine. Pour the glaze over the cooled cake.

Wrapped in plastic, this cake will keep at room temperature for 2 to 3 days. Good luck with that!

Yield: 8-10 servings.

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Sunday, June 13, 2010

Mean girls

I was struck by the meanness and pettiness of Carly Fiorina's on-mic comments about Barbara Boxer. The linked film clip is 4:19 long - and also includes cutting remarks about Meg Whitman. The hair comments come after the hamburger homily.

( - Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images North America)

Why do I care? Why does anyone care about such trivial comments? Why has this caused so much commentary on blogs and editorial pages?

I think the meanness demonstrated is that of a "mean girl". One of our great fears as humans is being cast out, not belonging to our group or tribe. There are the "mean girls" of our early teen years, the even worse "mean girls" of our high school years - and as adults we see social and political cliques and cabals trying to rule many fiefdoms. In spite of these divisive elements, our human nature requires belonging.

As a child I belonged to the most stable and permanent kind of a group: a family with six siblings. These tight bonds shielded and protected us from bullies and mean girls. The feeling of having a real posse - two big brothers, their friends, plus mine and those of my younger siblings - gave me a feeling of invulnerability in any confrontation. It did not occur to me that I could get hurt in a fight before I could call in the cavalry. Just the knowledge that they were all available gave me a probably unwarranted confidence. The sibling bonds are strong ones.

BFF's - "Best Friends Forever" - do not always turn out that way. I wonder if the staged friendship of eMeg and iCarly will withstand the stresses of a campaign season?

There are some interesting facts on the Fiorina Facts website. She cut tens of thousands of US jobs, and shipped others overseas. This mayhem continued in a bitter and stormy environment until Carly Fiorina's job was cut by the HP board.

While Fiorina was CEO, HP sold millions of dollars worth of high tech gear to intermediary shell companies selling to Iran, despite trade sanctions against the country.

As thousands of HP employees lost their jobs and the company's stock value fell, Fiorina was compensated with more than $108 million, including salary, bonuses, stock, and a $21.6 million golden parachute when she was fired. She also acquired two corporate jets that cost $1 million per year to operate.

Politics may be a risky investment for some of those millions of dollars. "The trouble is, by and large, CEOs have turned out to be pretty mediocre politicians." According to the Washington Post:

Even when they manage to get elected, CEOs often are surprised to learn that their skills in the boardroom do not easily translate to the business of governing. Former Goldman Sachs head Jon S. Corzine discovered this when he was ousted as New Jersey governor last year. "You don't have the flexibility you imagined. There's no exact translation," Corzine, a Democrat, later told Newsweek.

I recently returned to my hometown for a high school reunion. My old friends are wonderful people - and were distance not such an impediment, could be great BFF's. They are my "high school heroes" list in facebook land. However, I did hear a few whispers from a "mean girl". All these years later, can it be that such behavior is a character flaw and not a stage of adolescent behavior? This is something voters will decide in spite of millions of dollars of carefully modulated messages. So, this little kerfuffle may have a larger significance.

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Sunday, June 6, 2010

Blue Oaks

We went on a little back road quest in Napa and Lake Counties - late spring - looking for blue oaks and quiet country vistas. Napa County is a magnet for visitors, but the vast majority of them crowd a small area of the Napa Valley floor along Highway 29. Most of the county - almost 450,000 acres - is oak woodlands, fir and redwood forests, and valleys that are unknown to visitors. All these lands are protected with agricultural zoning that prevents subdividing parcels smaller that 320 acres.

One of my step sons from southern California drove us on this little jaunt. We wended our way through Chiles Valley and Pope Valley, past the still slumbering Aetna Springs Resort and into northern Napa County. This part of the county has serpentine soils and has been the crucible for volcanic activity. Most of the mining and hot springs of the county are located in this area. One of the magnificent trees native to the area is the Blue Oak. In southern Lake County, near Guenoc (now known as Langtry Estate) - is this Blue Oak.

It was a perfect place to pull off the road. No traffic, just a quiet view of the lake full to the brim after a winter of rain. We shared a late afternoon picnic from the trunk of the Chevy Malibu. The serving table was a boogie board on top of a case of wine from Nichelini in Chiles Valley. If this doesn't make you yearn for a convertible, you lack a car gene.