Sunday, June 19, 2011

Banana slugs in Napa

Napa County banana slug

On Saturday morning members of our Rotary Club were invited by one of our members to hike in the Moore Creek Preserve in Napa County.  This is a piece of property that will be part of the Napa County Open Space District.  The creek drains into Lake Hennessey, the largest water supply reservoir for the City of Napa.  The lake is located in the eastern hills of the valley near Conn Creek Rd. and the Silverado Trail, off of highway 128.
Very unexpectedly, we came across banana slugs.  In 2009 we had a delightful hike in the redwood forest of Santa Cruz County - but Napa County is not a "coastal" county in California.  And our remnant redwood forest is predominantly on the west side of the valley, with a stand of redwoods near Angwin that are reputedly the easternmost redwoods in California.  Banana slugs seem to live in conifer forests.  While there are some second growth fir trees in the Moore Creek Preserve, this is not a redwood habitat.

It is beautiful country, with a still running creek in the bottom of the canyon, heavy oak/madrone/maple and fir forest - surrounded by steep hills covered with oak savannah.
The trail is rough and not quite finished.  The park will open next year - we hope in the spring.  The trail we took is partly an old logging road which crosses the creek a half-dozen times.  My feet were damp after the second crossing.

 Some of the banana slugs we saw were spotted like old, overripe bananas.  Their color was muted, not the pure electric yellow of the ones we saw in Santa Cruz at Big Basin Redwood Park.  Still, they are a sight I never expected to see on this little hike.

I also did not expect to see wildflowers, but a few clung to the edges of the trail and to the rocks of the hill.  Ferns filled the low areas next to the creek. 

There seemed to be some seams of serpentine rock, and a wild mix of trees that included gray pines - which like serpentine soil.  We missed the presence of Craig and Millie, birders who could identify all the birds we heard.
We had a jolly crew on the hike.  I had a weird realization today as I sat down to write.  I think I was the eldest member of the group. 

I'm sure this earns me no special distinction, but I was winded on the steep sections of the trail and obviously need more conditioning before setting out on a major hike.
John kept me company as I gradually started to fall back in the group.  I could always use "taking photographs" as an excuse for slowing down, but actually started to feel pain in my repaired hip.  

Thanks to John our host and guide for homemade oatmeal cookies when we got back to our vehicles.

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Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Nocino part 2

A year ago I made some Nocino, or Liqueuer de noix - green walnut liqueur.   The traditional time to harvest the green walnuts is next week on June 24.  The previous blog post explains the method.  Making Nocino requires patience, just like making wine. 

We tasted the Nocino on Saturday.  It has been resting in the dark in the cool basement.  I actually forgot where I had stored it and had to do a search in the special rare foodstuffs (liquors) area of the cellar. 

At the time I bottled it, the Nocino had a bitter, bitter taste.  So bitter, it seemed like it had crawled out of a bile duct.  I questioned whether the bitter flavor would ever go away.  Now the Nocino has a complex spicy, nutty, tannic flavor and still has a somewhat bitter edge.  It needs a little more rest, but has become very promising.  Visualize this deep amber liquid poured over fresh vanilla ice cream.  Surely it will be worth the wait.

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Sunday, June 12, 2011


Meyer Limoncello is one of the ways we use up some of the hundreds of lemons produced each year on our old Meyer lemon tree.  I had the tree moved about 15 years ago to make way for the deck and re-built dining room.  While the backhoe was here doing the footing excavation, I had the backhoe operator scoop out the already root-pruned tree and placed in a large new hole near the garage.  The tree may be over 40 years old and is extremely vigorous. 

This recipe has evolved over the three or four times I have made it.  The original recipe I used had zest of 20 lemons. This was not enough.  I next tried 24 lemons, and had a better batch.  This last time I used 30 lemons and have a really great color and lemon flavor.  It may be that you can use as much lemon zest as you can cover with the vodka.

Meyer Limoncello
1.5 Liter bottle 100 proof good quality vodka
30 (or more) lemons, zest only, no white pith
Combine vodka and lemon zest in a large glass jar with a tight fitting lid. I use a glass jar with a metal bail and rubber gasket. Place in a dark cupboard, take out and stir or shake every day for at least 40 days.
simple syrup:
4 cups sugar
5 cups water
Simmer 5-7 minutes, cool.  Add to the liquor mix.  Let rest another 40 days+/- in the same cabinet.  Filter through cheesecloth into bottles with metal bails with stoppers or with tight fitting lids. Store in the freezer.

We still have many, many lemons, so stop by to pick some up for limoncello, preserved lemons or lemon marmalade. 

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Sunday, June 5, 2011

after dinner music

Ludwig van BeethovenCover of Ludwig van Beethoven

It appears that scribefire, a blog editing tool, is not supporting youtube video clips. Back to the onboard editor for this post.

Yesterday was an eight hands/two piano session which turned into a marathon of sorts, beginning at noon and lasting till ten in the evening. There were breaks early for lunch, for afternoon refreshment, then for dinner - but the pianists continued after dinner.

Music for the afternoon included Haydn, Mozart, Liszt, Joplin, Beethoven (two complete symphonies, including all repeats), and Wagner. In honor of my recent concert at the Napa Valley College where we had a chorus of over 100 singers plus orchestra performing the final movement of Beethoven's 9th symphony, John and friends played the entire symphony.  Launching into the chorus section prompted a choral outburst from at least two pianists - "Freude!"

For dinner we had southern California style tacos courtesy of John, Rancho Gordo beans, a fresh vegetable platter, guacamole, and olive oil citrus cake described about a year ago. After dinner, another light piece by Wagner:

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