There is a sense of transition this month; things coming to a close and others taking flight. Although I am still waiting on the final permits for The Bungalow, it looks like we will start the demolition and begin construction next week with the hope the actual permit is just around the corner. Actually, it is. The Napa Planning Department is just a few blocks to the left and one block in, on the right
My three-year stint with the University of California, Davis came to a successful close in mid-March. With the pause between the study and upcoming construction, Jeff and I got away for a couple of weeks to France. Last week, Jeff hosted a 420 event at the hotel in Humboldt County, aptly named the Humboldt Hoontenany.
This month’s “Company I Keep” highlights an American spring tradition, Opening Day.
At the end of this note, you’ll find a recipe to whip up for snacks, perfect for enjoying the spring sunshine with a glass of wine or a belated 420 party of your own.
March marked the end of a 36-month journey with UC Davis and their extension program for Viticulture and Enology, having completed the Winemaker Certificate program. This was squarely on the science side of winemaking and my head is still spinning with chemistry and biology that I haven’t used since high school.
Remember, I was a Hotel & Restaurant Management in college and skewed more toward the “winemaking is an art” side of things; however, this takes me from using a recipe (which you know I don’t mind my recipes) to an understanding of the scientific magic in the background. Chalk this up to “the more you know” category. I’m now a Certified Winemaker.
Earlier this month, Jeff and I spent a couple of weeks tooling around Paris, Lyon, and things in between. On a Saturday in Paris, I had the privilege of getting a private lesson in card magic and showmanship while in Paris with M. Jean-Pierre Crispin at the famed Le Double Fond. I have three new card tricks, no trick decks, just any ole thing you have around to astound. I have also been brushing up on my cardistry, dialing in the way I handle the cards like a pro. I’ve been flicking, shuffling, and shooting cards in all directions.
At this point, mostly picking my cards up off the floor.
Before departing on our voyage to France I needed recommendations on what to see, who to meet, and what to eat. I reached out to some tastemakers, those people in the know. Corvette Le Face, my tease of a friend and a talented burlesque performer, graciously replied. Her response was, “You MUST go to Crazy Horse.”
Crazy Horse (or Le Crazy Horse) was the inspiration for the movie Burlesque, starring Cher and Christina Aguilera. It is an all-topless review and the Crazy Girls are truly a class act: meticulous in training, athletic, and stamina to no end. I’d put them up against any professional athlete, even Jeff, and his CrossFit buddies.
We had a semi-private, back-of-the-house tour of the recently renovated theater a couple of hours before the show with Prima Analytic, a resident Crazy Girl from Ukraine. Our questions and her stories weaved through war, politics, dance, performance, and backstage protocol. Only females are allowed backstage where they dress and ready themselves. The performers are given a stage name after they complete their training or formation.
The Crazy Girls rotate who headlines and our night featured Hippy Bang Bang. Thanks, Corvette, I agree, this is a must-see.
Jeff, and occasionally Jeff and I, own and operate a small boutique, roadside motel in Humboldt County, the historical Motherland, or Fatherland, of cannabis cultivation, from California to the New York Islands 🎵 this land was made for you and me 🎶 .
Jeff pulled out all the stops on Wednesday, April 20 at The Redwood Riverwalk to host a celebration of local artists and vendors. Our band, Phat Ankle, was the headliner. Maybe not real bragging rights as there was no opening act so we performed the entire five hours. Nonetheless, the wine got us through the extended set. Surprise (or no surprise) our tip jar included more bud than buck. Mark your calendars for next year, you know the date. It is the actual name of this Federally unrecognized holiday, nonetheless celebrated.
Opening Day of Major League Baseball inspired this interview with AJ Hinch. I was introduced to AJ a few years ago when he and his wife Erin came to our home for lunch as guests of our other guests. AJ is a proud Gentleman Farmer Wine Club Collective member, has introduced me to many of his friends visiting the Napa Valley, and takes an interest in my monthly recipes (I think). He is also the manager of the Detroit Tigers and has a World Series win under his belt for 2017. When we met at our house, Jeff and I got to see the World Series parade video on his phone from his perspective, in the parade.
April 7 was Opening Day. In this interview, AJ takes us into spring with baseball wins, dinner with basketball and baseball royalty, pandemic smoking, and the love of Riley.
Joey Wolosz: The Tigers started with a win. Congratulations. How did you celebrate Opening Day?
AJ Hinch: Winning is always fun, but it is especially cool on Opening Day. I’ve been lucky because I’ve never lost on Opening Day as a manager. I’m always good for a celebratory glass of wine as I wind down after a big day.
JW: Friends and family excluded, who are two people you’d like to share a long and lingering meal with?
AJH: Great question. We just honored Jackie Robinson on April 15th by wearing #42. The more I learn about his life and his journey, the more I know I would have loved to have had a meal with him. I cannot fathom what his challenges were like when he created a path in baseball for so many. Another person I looked up to as a kid and would love to share stories with is Michael Jordan. His competitiveness and will to win was second to none and how he grew into one of the most iconic sports figures in my lifetime would be incredible to hear about.
JW: What would you serve? What do you enjoy cooking?
AJH: If I’m the one doing the cooking, it has to be something I can smoke on my smoker. During the pandemic, I learned to make just about anything on a smoker. I’d be most confident in my ribs, wings, chicken, or salmon. I’d probably make it all just to make everyone happy.
JW: Was there a moment when you first made a connection with wine and food?
AJH: I started getting into wine once I got married and was introduced to everything about it. I started out just knowing what wine I liked and what I didn’t like. Recently, I’ve tried to learn about the different ways it is made, how it ages, and when I should be drinking any given vintage. I’m still not well versed in pairing foods with wine, but I plan on keeping up my wine tastings.
JW: What is your spirit animal?
AJH: Without a doubt, my spirit animal is our dog, Riley. She’s a 2-year-old Boxer with a lot of energy, a kid spirit, some old soul, and plenty of loyalty. She’s my go-to walk/play partner when I need a good mix of aggressiveness and playfulness.
JW: And from the Proust Questionnaire, #35, what is your motto?
AJH: Do it right or do it again. My dad raised me to focus on every detail with everything from homework to washing the car to mowing the grass. Now my kids and my players have to do it right or do it again. It works!
The French have a knack for using everything. A French dictum is “Tout est bon dans le cochon,” or “Everything’s good from the pig,” meaning they use and eat everything from head to tail. You will see French chefs scraping the last of the egg white from the shell with their forefinger so as not to waste any. Fromage fort is another tasty French idea born from thrift. The name means strong cheese and I’ve heard that is due to the addition of garlic.
It is a way of using all those errant bits of cheese in your refrigerator and turning them into something special, spreadable, and good to the last cheese nub.
I was inspired to include this recipe when I sampled from this cheese chariot at a lunch in Lyon and also when contemplating the cloche covered fromage at my hotel breakfast. The variety was stunning and the cheeses were in relatively solid condition. The unsightly remnants are collected and repurposed. In our case today, to make fromage fort.
You can be pretty loose with this recipe, the only hard and fast rule is to bring it to the proper consistency. You will need a balance of soft cheese or butter to lend creaminess, essential for spreading on les biscuits. Other than that you can let your mind run free. To give you an idea of the varying softness and hardness of the cheese, the final test recipe I am doing now as I write is a mix of Brie, Gruyère, Parmesan, and Feta with creamy butter.
This freezes well if you’d like to portion it out and save some for another day. This recipe can easily be doubled or halved and is pretty forgiving. It is pretty tasty with a spring glass of rosé or Chardonnay; however, no harm if you pull out a red. It’s your soirée.