Thursday, February 6, 2014

A Toast to my Grandfather

Today would have been my grandfather's 90th birthday.  He passed away last August, and left behind him a legacy of winemaking.  His passion for wine is the sole reason that Plain Cellars was born.

Floyd never wanted to live past 80; he told my mother once to just push him off the end of the dock when he got to 83.  But 83 came and went, and he just kept on living the good life.  He truly enjoyed his life and found happiness and contentment in the little things.  Food was a huge joy for him.  And wine.  Every year that we had helped him bottle his new barrels of wine, I could always rely on him proudly boasting, "I think this is my best wine yet!"

Floyd sorts the grapes during the crush
Those who knew Floyd as I did later in his life, could only think of him fondly.  Those who only knew him as a younger man, probably thought he was a bit of an ass.  Only Floyd could be proud of this.  He got wise in his old age.  He learned to let life happen to him and really cherished the small things.  He would probably even tell you about it.  And then you would hear the same story again some time later.  He loved telling his stories, and you couldn't bear to interrupt him.  He was such a good storyteller that it didn't matter how many times you'd heard it.  And if you were a good listener, every once in awhile, you would hear a story you'd never heard before.  Or a new detail would unfold.  Either way, this would always be told over a glass of his red wine.

It didn't matter what time of day it was or what obligations you were tied to afterwards,  you had to have a glass of wine when you visited my grandparents' house.  (I also think that it was a good excuse for them to start drinking before 5 o'clock.)  My grandfather liked you to pour him just a small glass, but everyone couldn't help but notice that he asked for his glass to be refilled quite often.  Though nobody would ever accuse him of that!  The fact that Floyd lived to such a long age (and survived both a triple bypass and diabetes) could have something to do with his joy of life and his red wine consumption- but mostly the wine consumption!  I plan to follow suit.

We somehow always found ourselves doing work (in this case bottling wine)
after having been offered a few glasses of wine.
My grandpa Floyd and grandma Muggs at their winter home in the Baja

Let's remember Floyd in this manner.  Pour yourself a glass of red wine (a small glass, just refilled often), eat a good meal, and tell a fond story that gives you laughter wrinkles.  Repeat daily.

Cheers to you Floyd!  You are greatly missed, and the same old fond stories about you will be retold often.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Riesling and Razor Clams

Plain Cellars wants to wish everyone a happy 2014!  After the Christmas rush was over, we took some time away from the winery to ring in the new year at the Washington coast.  It was the first time since the winery had opened last summer that I could get my parents away from their busy lives.  (Their passion for winemaking has had them adding an extra day to their normal five day work week and only having Sundays to relax. (My mother's idea of relaxing is cleaning the tasting room.))  So needless to say, my parents were in desperate need of some R&R.  My husband and I took them out to Copalis Beach to the Iron Springs Resort.  This resort has recently remodeled cabins with beautiful views of the coastline, their own private access to the beach, and the best part is they are dog friendly!  I think our black labs Moxie and Jackson (who are regulars at the winery) love the beach even more than we do.  It's so nice to see the trend in dog-friendly businesses like ours on the rise.

This winter has been an epic season for razor clam digs.  The clams have been great in number and there have been lots of low tide opportunities for digging that the WDFW (Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife) has approved.  Check out their site for upcoming digs! During the fall and winter months, the lowest tide for the day happens in the evening.  Usually when this is the case, we strap on our head lamps and with lanterns in tow, we make our way out to the water's edge.  The first time I partook a night dig, it was near Halloween, and it happened to be one of those beautiful Northwest fall nights.  The ocean was glassy, and the night sky was clear; you forget how many stars are actually in the sky when you live in the light-polluted city.  I remember seeing lanterns of fellow diggers dotting all up and down the coastline.  Their lights reflected in the newly exposed sand as the tide continued to go out.  Simply beautiful.  It was a night to remember, and from then on, I was hooked on razor clamming.

On this most recent excursion, we had the good fortune of meeting our evening low tides during the last little bit of light for the day. This makes spotting a "show" so much easier, and I highly recommend anyone wanting to try razor clamming to go on a spring dig when the low tides occur in the morning hours and during the daytime. The clam "shows" are what you will be looking for when you want to find your razor clam. They will be fairly close to the water's edge during low tide. (You'll see where the other clammers are; just follow the crowd) A show consists of three types: a keyhole, a dimple, or a donut. I prefer to go for the donut type holes or a large dimple show. As a general rule of thumb, the bigger the show, the bigger the clam. This is not always the case however! A good size clam shell is considered about 5"-6" long. Since you must keep the first 15 clams that you dig, it is nice to have a larger size average so that you will have more clam meat to take home.

Digging for your clams is truly the best part of razor clamming (except for the eating part), but then you have to clean them.  This can seem like a daunting task at first, but once you get the hang of it, you really don't mind it.  After all, once they are clean, you will be that much closer to dinner!  Nothing is better than a meal of fresh clams after an exhilarating dig.  When you clean your clams, you first separate the shell from the body by dunking them in a pot of boiling water for about 10 seconds & then cool them off in some ice water.  This stops the cooking and ensures that your clams will not be too chewy.  The shell should come off fairly easy after this.  You can simply use a pair of scissors to clean the clams.  You essentially are splitting the clams open and removing any part that is not white.  The white meat is what you want.  Make sure and rinse your clams well, and if you are not eating them right away, just freeze them in ziploc bags with the air squeezed out.  I put about six clams per quart-sized bag.  Here is a video that we made so you can see the cleaning process:

So at this point in the blog, you're probably wondering how this relates to wine.  Well, I'm getting around to it.  One of my favorite ways to make razor clams (besides panfried) is a clam linguine.  And as any good cook knows, cooking with wine always makes your food taste better.  (And makes the chef a little happier when he or she needs to "sample" the wine for quality control).  This linguine is also great when you find yourself with the rare problem of leftover wine.  Although the wine leftovers aren't always great for drinking the next day, they are fantastic for cooking with.  Here is a good recipe to try:

Razor Clam Linguine

linguine noodles (fresh is best, but box variety is just fine)
4 pieces of bacon, chopped
pad of butter
2 shallots chopped (or 1/2 an onion with 2 cloves garlic)
1 - 1 1/2 cups white wine (I used Plain Cellar's Riesling)
1 Tbsp. dried oregano
crushed red chili flakes (to taste)
1 1/2 - 2 cups chopped clams (I used 9 clams, but 6 would do fine)
fresh bunch of parsley, chopped
grated parmesan cheese (preferably freshly grated, but use what you have)

Start a pot of water boiling for your linguine noodles.  Add the noodles once boiling and cook to al dente doneness, drain (reserve a cup of pasta water), and set aside.  Meanwhile, chop your bacon and saute until crispy; set aside to drain on a paper towel.  You can leave the bacon grease in the pan (or just remove some of it) and add a pad of butter as well.  (I didn't promise a low cal meal here).  Saute your shallots until translucent.  Add your white wine, oregano, and chili flakes.  Go easy on the chili flakes at first, you can always add more later.  I put in just a pinch, but you can add more if you like it spicy.  Simmer until your sauce reduces.  Add your chopped clams and cook until the clams just start to turn opaque.  This won't take long, and you don't want to overcook your clams.  Add the noodles to your pan and give everything a good stir.  cook for just a bit longer until your noodles are done to your liking, and if the pasta needs a bit more moisture, you can add a bit of the pasta water to the pan or drizzle on some olive oil; (I added in some sun-dried cherry tomatoes that I had stored in olive oil from last summer).  Throw in your chopped parsley and a good amount of grated parmesan.  Toss in your bacon crumbles, pour yourself a glass of wine, and enjoy an awesome Northwest meal.