Category Archives: Uncategorized

Sardines, a hidden delicacy

When most people think of sardines, they think of the canned variety. Devoid of much taste except a pungent fishy one, they aren’t too delightful. But what about fresh sardines? Because it is such a lowly fish, most Americans give little thought to this fabulous treat. But throw a little sea salt on a few fresh sardines, maybe a spice rub, throw them on the grill, and you have a wonderful, flavorful dinner. In Portugal, grilled sardines are eaten as street snacks and are quite popular.

Why eat sardines? Other than the fact that they are quite delicious when served just off the grill, they are very healthy for you. Sardines provide an excellent source of:

  • Vitamin D (to protect your bones)
  • Omega-3 Fats (to protect your heart)
  • Vitamin B-12 (for your brain and nervous system)
  • Selenium (to prevent cell damage)
  • Co-Enzyme Q10 (thought to be helpful in fighting heart disease)

In addition, because sardines are tiny little fish, they are low on the food chain. They have lower levels of mercury and other fat-soluble poisons than other big fish like tuna.

Now, for the tricky part. Where to find them? Most Whole Foods stores will actually get them for you if ask for them on special request. Not too long ago, a customer at the Petaluma Whole Foods asked for several pounds and the boyfriend and I were lucky enough to be able to score some extras. Just ask the fishmonger. You can also try asking your local supermarket or checking the Asian supermarkets near you.
For more inspiration, check out this post on sardines galore on!

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Posted by on April 9, 2010 in Uncategorized



Why a tax on sodas would reduce obesity

Tell a cigarette smoker that smoking causes you lung cancer and he’ll probably blow smoke in your face. Add several dollars of taxes to his cigarettes and he might put down the cigarette.
People very quickly respond to money — particularly when it is being taken out of their wallet.
Nobody likes taxes. It’s true, and it is unclear as to whether people would vehemently reject a tax on soda. But we now have clear evidence that making it more expensive would decrease the consumption of the sugar-laden drinks.
According to a large study by researchers at the University of North Carolina (from the LA Times):
“with every 10 percent increase in the price of a two-liter bottle, people consumed 7 percent fewer calories from soda. They also took in fewer calories over all.”
What was even more impressive was that:
“When people faced an even larger increase — $1 for a two-liter bottle of soda, comparable to a proposed tax in Philadelphia — they consumed 124 fewer calories a day, the study found. The lower soda intake was associated with a drop in weight of more than two pounds — and a lower risk for pre-diabetes.”
The study looked at over 12,000 young adults for 20 years and studied food consumption patterns.

The lesson learned here? A tax would most certainly work. There have been other suggestions that making healthy food cheaper would work just as well, which is something I certainly agree with (for instance, water bottles could be the cheapest thing on the menu), but would it be enough?

There is no question that sodas, particularly those with high-fructose corn syrup, are bad for your health. So let’s get taxin’!

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Posted by on March 16, 2010 in Uncategorized


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Does Labeling Wines as “Eco-Friendly” Hurt Wineries?

Consumers generally flock to “organic” and “eco-friendly” products, but when it comes to wines, “eco-friendly” and “organic” wines fare worse than wines that do not put these types of green labels on the bottle.

A study published in the journal Business and Society found that wines priced over $25 with an eco-friendly label commanded lower prices than similarly rated wines without “green” labels. Check out this US News & World Report story by Meg Sullivan for complete details about the study.

Why would this be?

Consumers are still wary about “organic” wines because for a long time, wines that were labeled as “green,” “eco-friendly” or “organic” were thought to be produced by hippies who didn’t focus on quality. The majority of consumers who are purchasing wines over $25 are still more conservative folks who are primarily interested in one thing when purchasing a bottle that is expensive: quality. They may be wary of a product that is “eco-friendly” because they may think that quality may have fallen by the wayside.

Excellent producers who have always been organic, such as Sanford Wines, keep their organic practices mum. I applaud them for helping out the environment without greenwashing, but I do wish that more consumers would reward environmentally friendly wineries.

One interesting place where this is also the case is in bottle selection. In general, more expensive bottles of wine tend to have thicker glass and be heavier, giving the consumer the impression that they are worth more. But heavier bottles also require more fuel to ship, and are therefore less eco-friendly.

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Posted by on March 9, 2010 in Uncategorized


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Another reason to make your own food

Salmonella in packaged foods like dips, chips, salad dressings, sauces and more. From the Vancouver Sun:

OTTAWA — Canadian consumers can likely expect an avalanche of food recalls after an ingredient used in thousands of processed foods was found to be contaminated with salmonella, government investigators said Friday.

The popular flavour enhancer hydrolyzed vegetable protein (HVP) is added to a wide range of processed foods, including dips, salad dressings, chips, sauces, hotdogs, soups and frozen dinners. Already, 56 products in the United States and two in Canada — chips and veggie dips — have been recalled this week after salmonella was detected in the flavouring ingredient produced by a Nevada company.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency on Friday said the recall net will probably widen as it continues to work with the Canadian clients of Basic Food Flavors, Inc. and importers of processed foods containing the ingredient.

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Posted by on March 8, 2010 in Uncategorized


Great Consumer Direct Tips for Wineries

For some excellent consumer direct tips, head to the Free Run blog over at Juice Box | Direct, a company that specializes in direct-to-consumer sales in the wine industry headed by Kristi Taaffe. Some examples?

1. Update your customers’ contact and credit card data with a simple phone call.

2. Get to know your club members and surprise them on birthdays or anniversaries.

3. When calling your customers, conduct a simple survey to get feedback on your wine club program or tasting room.

Check out her blog for more great tips!

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Posted by on March 3, 2010 in Uncategorized


Sonoma County – Should it be on your wine label?

Sonoma County wineries are currently buzzing with whether they would eventually be required to put “Sonoma County” on the label, much like Napa and Paso Robles require wineries to put those counties on the label in addition to the AVA.

According to the Sonoma County Vintners, the organization that is interested in pursuing the legislation, adding “Sonoma County” would help retailers AND consumers recognize the wines from the region and would help sell wines from more obscure regions like Green Valley and Chalk Hill — AVAs that your average beginner wine drinker doesn’t really know about.

People from Sonoma Valley and Sonoma Coast think it would be redundant — after all, they say, do consumers really need to see Sonoma Coast AND Sonoma County on the same bottle of wine? We’ve had lots of discussions here in the Petaluma Gap and some vintners think it is silly to have the double “Sonoma” label.

But as any marketer (and psychologist) knows, the more people see something, the more they like it, so seeing Sonoma over and over again isn’t a bad thing.

Steve Heimoff over on his blog thinks that people should just make good wine — that is doesn’t matter what it says on the label — but sadly, I disagree. I wish people would just buy wine because they know a lot about what they are buying, but the truth is that people buy brands they recognize. And Sonoma, like it or not, is a brand that really needs to be sold.

Everyone has heard of Napa, but fewer people worldwide have heard of Sonoma. So if there are millions upon millions more bottles of wine that have the word “Sonoma” on them, how can that possibly be a bad thing?

What do you think?

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Posted by on February 19, 2010 in Uncategorized


Great Wines Under $25

I am often asked by friends and family as to which are my “favorite” wines. The answer is that it depends on what I’m in the mood for and what I’m going to drink. And it also depends on the occasion. I’m not going to open up a $60 bottle of wine for a weekday meal night. But here are my personal favorites for under $25. Please add your favorites in the comment section!

Michelle’s Great Wines Under $25.00

General Tips:
Since it is not always easy to find a particular wine at a store, here are my recommendations for browsing…

  • Wines from Argentina, New Zealand, Chile, Spain are great buys right now
  • Cheap California and French wines tend to be questionable. In general, CA/French wines under $10.00 should be avoided.
  • Look for little-known varietals for good buys: Cabernet Franc, Viognier, Torrontes, Petite Sirah, Vouvray, Carmenere
  • Hot California regions right now: Mendocino, Paso Robles, Lodi, Monterey (St. Rita Hills), Santa Cruz, Santa Barbara
  • Stainless-steel (or “unoaked”) Chardonnays pair well with a variety of foods and are easy to drink

White Wines

How to read:
1. Varietal
2. Producer
3. Region/Country
4. Descriptors
5. Price

Chavignol, Domaine Vincent Delaporte
Sancerre, France
Crisp, tangy lemon, grapefruit, granite, excellent white wine.

Crios de Susana Balbo
Salta, Argentina
Intensely floral, lavendre, mandarin, honeysuckle, long finish

Sauvignon Blanc
Picton Bay
Malborough, New Zealand (South Island)
Tropical flavors, pineapple, pear, twist of lime, fresh and zesty
$10.00 at Trader Joe’s

Roussane, Marsanne, Viognier
Anglim Cameo
Paso Robles, USA
Spicy finish, lower acid, minerality, aromatic, floral

Red Wines

Cabernet Franc
M. Cosentino Cab Franc
Napa Valley
Rich, chocolate, lush, ripe

Red blend
La Loggia Barbera D’Alba
La Loggia
Barbera D’Alba, Italy
Beautiful acidity, blood orange, tart, juicy, pomegranite
$6.00 at Trader Joe’s

Catena Zapata ** Excellent all-around producer
Mendoza, Argentina
Dark stone fruits, lush, chocolate, cherry

Petite Sirah
Bogle Vineyards ** Excellent all-around producer
Lodi and Clarksburg, USA (East of SF Bay)
Leather, nice full body, dark prune, plum, tobacco, orange rind

Petite Syrah, Zinfandel, Mourverde blend
Phantom, Bogle Vineyards
Lodi, Clarksburg, Amador, USA
Dark, earthy, leather, blackberry, plum

Ben Marco
Mendoza, Argentina
Leather, dark plum, blackberry, blueberry, smooth, low acidity

Pinot Noir
Chalone Vineyard ** Excellent all-around producer
Monterey County, USA
Fresh raspberries, orange rind, cranberry juice, light tannins, red stone fruits

Mendocino County, USA
Rich, almost sweet, relatively light body, tannins nearly absent, easy to drink on its own

Pinot Noir
Morton Estate White Label Hawkes Bay
New Zealand
Well-balanced Pinot Noir with sweet cherry, licorice, earthy, mushroom, long finish.

Fuerza Winery/Laurel Glen Vineyard
Mendoza, Argentina
Chocolate, coffee, cassis, nutty, hazelnut
$5.00 at Trader Joe’s

Santa Barbara Winery
Santa Barbara, CA
Fragrant berry aroma, dark blackberry, coffee

Red wine blend (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Montepulciano)
Trentatre, produced by Santini Wines
Montepulciano, Italy
Lush, rich, ripe, rich plum
$6.00 at Trader Joe’s

Casillero del Diablo (Concha y Toro)
Rapel Valley, Chile
Complex, fruity, long finish
$9.00 at Trader Joe’s


Posted by on September 6, 2009 in Uncategorized


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The Real Mendoza

While browsing through my Twitter feed, I came across this article in the San Francisco Chronicle on Mendoza, the primary wine region in Argentina. Like many foreign visitors, reporter David Armstrong portrays the region as the Southern Hemisphere’s Napa or Sonoma: beautiful wineries flanked by fruitful vineyards, with nearly no mention of what ails this region. Armstrong stayed in one of the fanciest hotels in Mendoza, the Park Hyatt, and was shuttled to and from the prettiest wineries in the region by a private car. He describes his visits to Catena Zapata, Salentein, Zuccardi — “gleaming, modern wineries”– but fails to mention that many of these behemoths are only accessible by dirt roads. No, not rustic dirt roads. Rough, rocky dirt roads because the regional government has no money to pave them.

Armstrong talks of the smooth ribbon of macadam that is the Route 40. There is little mention of the stray dogs (many of whom have not survived the highways and lay dead and gutted on the sides of the roads), the shantytowns (nearly right next to the vineyards he so glamorizes), the buses spewing diesel exhaust, the construction factories. Ladies and gentlemen, if you are expecting a wine country with rustic hotels and beautiful scenery at every turn, you will be disappointed. This is no Napa. The “gourmet ghetto” that is Chacras de Coria, a nearby suburb of Mendoza sold as a foodie haven, is a settlement of wealthy homeowners who live in gated, guarded homes lined with unpaved sidewalks. We left our car outside for five minutes outside of the gated confines of our hotel and were immediately told that it was unsafe to do so.

The saddest part, however, is that this reporter failed to get the true story about Argentina’s wine economy. One winery owner I talked to said he had little interest in investing any more money in Argentina. “You never get paid and you have to sue people and spend 10 years in court waiting for your money,” he said. “The political situation here has made it inhospitable to businesses.” Security, after the barrels, is his biggest expense. Every winery has a guard and a gatehouse to keep unwanted visitors — and it isn’t just for show.

Yes, there are wonderful wines being made in Mendoza. But many investors have left the country (Ruca Malen used to be owned by Kendall Jackson. KJ decided to pull out because of the terrible business conditions and the winery is now owned by KJ’s lawyers) and with the current economic crisis, times have only gotten worse. Tourism in Mendoza crashed this year, a result of the global crisis and the swine flu. Most hotels were under 50 percent capacity (funny, Mr. Armstrong, how you never mentioned this) and tourists were a rare and lonely sight. Times haven’t been good in Argentina’s wine country and they aren’t getting better.

Is it worth it to visit this wine country? Obviously tourism would bring badly-needed capital to the area. I hope that Mendoza’s wealthy wineries band together to bring economic development to the area. Poverty, infrastructure and crime all need to be addressed. For now, tourists need to be well informed before visiting. Read past the glossed-over accounts of Mendoza and learn the true story before you visit.

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Posted by on July 31, 2009 in Uncategorized


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Preserved Lemons: Easy and Delicious!

Preserved lemons are incredibly easy to make, are perfect housewarming gifts and add a wonderful savory touch to Moroccan & Mediterranean cooking. If you have a friend with a lemon tree (or you’re lucky enough to have one yourself), this is a perfect way to deal with a bounty of lemons.

Easy Preserved Lemons

1. Start with about 4 to 5 lemons, well-washed (ideally organic). Cut them into quarters.

2. Pour a good amount of sea salt (not treated with iodine) into a large Mason jar.

3. Pack the lemons tightly inside, sprinkling with salt as you pack each layer in. Add a couple of bay leaves and a sprinkling of peppercorns into the jar.

4. Pour distilled or filtered water into the jar until about an inch off the top. Make sure none of the lemons are peeking above the water. Pour a small layer of olive oil over the water to prevent mold.

5. Close the jar and place in the fridge. In about two weeks, your lemons will be ready!

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Posted by on April 22, 2009 in Uncategorized


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What would you do if a waiter confronted you about your tip?

I just finished reading “Served: The Ballsy Waitress” on by Hannah Howard. This new waitress is encouraged by her staff to confront a group of customers when they leave her a small tip.

“You should feel free to say something,” T., the fromager chimed in. “Just go up to them really sweetly. Say, ‘Is this what you meant to leave? Just wanted to make sure there wasn’t a mistake or anything, and that everything was OK.’”

I followed her advice. Verbatim. It was a little awkward, but I played it pretty cool. I definitely made them uncomfortable. They huddled together and recounted their cash.

“Um, I don’t get it?” One of the women in the group asked me after their pow-wow, “Is something wrong?”

“Well,” I said, “You guys left less than five dollars gratuity on a 66 dollar check. That’s less than ten percent, and I wanted to make sure everything was OK.”

What would you, as a customer have done in this situation? I’ll tell you what I would have done, I would have been pissed off. Tips are earned, not guaranteed, and if for whatever reason they felt like being cheap, that’s their problem. To confront a customer about such a matter is rude. I’ve been in several cabs where the taxi driver made me feel bad because I didn’t leave enough tip. Well, the music was turned up loud, the cab stunk, and the driving was terrible. So I left what was appropriate.

Look, I’ve worked as a waitress. I’ve dealt with lousy tippers. That’s just the way it is and by confronting people, you’re just going to encourage them to eat elsewhere. Treat your good tippers particularly well and they will keep coming back. That’s the way it works.

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Posted by on April 20, 2009 in Uncategorized


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