Sunday, 19 October 2014

My plans for #NextHalloween

We are excellent zombies
Halloween is coming! I get mardy every year because we never really do anything, so last year I decided to make a change. I started to build up a Halloween box in the sales after Halloween, and now it lives in the attic next to the Christmas decorations. I nearly have enough for a party, and so a party I will have! I'm still toying with ideas about exactly what will happen, and I am about to start sewing my costume - but I can't write about that now because I know people who will come to the party will read this and I don't want to spoil the surprise! However, I don't have everything I need, so I've been trawling the web looking for fresh ideas and great decorations to make my party everything I hope it can be!

The Party Stash
At the moment, the stash has some decorations; balloons, window stickers, table centre and the link. I also have all my tableware, including my giant black cauldron which will make an excellent punchbowl. The basis for our punch will be the fruit wine we made using this year's collection of homegrown blackcurrants and redcurrants from the garden. You cannot go wrong with a bit of homegrown punch.

The Pumpkin Harvest
I also have the plans in place for a pumpkin carving competition. The Extreme Housewifery has really come to the fore this year when it comes to pumpkin growing. I certainly have enough for teams to carve their own, which is great, as last year we only grew one! We have also grown The Behomoth, which is seasoning nicely on the side in the kitchen, just waiting for me to do something epic with it.

I have never carved a pumpkin before, and I've seen some great things on the internet. One friend who came round suggested that it would make an excellent Cinderella carriage. I wholeheartedly agreed, which led me on to thoughts of how I could make an RSPCA friendly cat harness, and hook it up to actual wheels so the kitties could work as a team to pull it. When I mentioned this to The Boy, he pointed out that there is actually no RSPCA friendly way to do this and if I went any further with this idea I would be a terrible person, so I have had to explore new avenues.

Picture from Morguefile
I love that people are so creative with pumpkin carving. I'll admit that I have never done it before, so I think I should not be too ambitious, but I would love to make a tableaux, rather than a face. We'll see how I feel on the day. What I do know is that I will be making some most excellent pumpkin treats with the flesh. And there will be a lot of flesh.

I would like sweet treats as well as savoury party foods. So here is my top 5 pumpkin party recipes from around the net:

1. Pumpkin Nook's Pumpkin Streusel Muffins
2. Taste of Home's Black Cat Dippers with Pumpkin Pie Dip (the prepared pumpkin can easily be substituted for fresh puree)
3. BBC Good Food's Sausage and Pumpkin Roast (I actually took inspiration from this using last year's pumpkin, took me ages to blog it though)
4. Better Homes and Gardens Melt-in-your-mouth Pumpkin Cookies
5. Kidspot's Pumpkin, Spinach and Feta Rolls

I have been looking at some great fun ideas for other treats. I have a tonne of marshmallows in already so I have been looking at all the funky ways people decorate marshmallows, including the cutest Oreo bats (check out I wash, you dry for more great ideas). 

However, my marshamallows are small and thin, so I think I'm just going to make the traditional marshmallow voodoo dolls with a bit of decorative icing and a does of good humour. I will also make some dipped marshmallows using for handing out to neighbours kids when they come a-knocking!

I have also put in a request with The Boy that I receive a pair of these skeleton feet slippers from Next ready for when I am doing my Halloween preparations. They will get me in the mood and keep my feet toasty when I am in the kitchen! They say they are for older boys, but happily they come in my size and will get me right in the spirit of things.

FInally, this party has to have a suitable playlist, and as we will be kid-free, we can make it super hardcore. If you've watched any horror movies you will know that plenty of metal is the way forward - White Zombie is a must. However, I'll also be mixing it up with Ghost Town by the Specials, Come to the Sabbat by Black Widow (an excellent tune and no mistake) and of course This s Halloween from the Nightmare before Christmas.

I have to end this post on an appropriate note and for me the father of the zombie flick and the unsurpassed master is George Romero. So here is my favourite tune, from admittedly my second favourite Romero film. Click play and feel the fear... Mwah ha ha ha haaaa....

I am submitting this post to the #nexthalloween competition 
to try and win more goodies for the party.
Wish me luck!

Learning to sew: The ukelele case

We went to Hawaii, I came home and bought a ukelele. Yes, it's all a bit predictable isn't it? But it did not have a case, coming off Ebay for a fiver as it did. So this was the perfect opportunity to put some of my new sewing prowess to the test and to learn some new techniques.

This is not a tutorial, I will quite happily admit that the bulk of the pattern I used was inspired by this lovely tutorial at Mommy by Day, Crafter by Night, which is excellent and has some easy to follow instructions.

I changed it a bit - I used a medium wadding instead of duck cloth, had a different zip arrangement, with patches to secure the open ends of the zip, and I also added an additional layer of padding under the lining given that my ukelele case is intended to see a certain amount of outdoor travel.

And of course, it is patchworked. Mmmmm, love my collection of vintage patchwork squares that I inherited from my mother.

That said, it means that this blog post is a gratuitous excuse for me to post endless pictures of my new ukelele case because I am so made up with it. I have tried new things - it was my first delve into quilting, something I would like to take forward. I added an additional layer of plain fabric on the quilted sections to stop the wadding from catching.

I also made my own bias binding (in RAINBOW fabric you'll note) and had a go at piping, so there are lots of new skills to take forward there. Hopefully you can see that it also has purple and white polka dot fabric as a contrasting lining. I am pretty pleased with the hand sewn lining, it is neater than I would have hoped.

It's not perfect and I've learned a lot that hopefully I can take forward, but practice is perfect right? It's taken me ages, but rightfully so. I think I've gained a bit more confidence in having a go at trickier projects now... Bring on the Halloween costume!

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

REVIEW: The Stables at Turtle Bay, O'ahu Hawai'i

Gratuitous Hawai'ian sunset picture
 We recently visited the Turtle Bay Resort in Hawai'i. I can't be bothered to review the hotel, suffice to say you can stay on O'ahu for a lot cheaper and I have no doubt you'll get better service and have to follow less restrictive rules! However, the North Shore is absolutely beautiful and a complete must visit. The absolute highlight of our North Shore experience was taking a trail ride through the stables at Turtle Bay.

Horse Bum

Nestled down by the beach, alongside Turtle Bay itself, where I saw my only Honu of the trip, are these delightful little stables, which have a really American, really homely feel. We took the 45 minute trail ride which is completely simple and relaxed - perfect for those who haven't ridden before. You ride along the beach and then into a stunning patchwork of slightly more inland locations - through the sugar cane fields that were so pivotal in 'Lost', near the Banyan Tree from Pirates of the Caribbean, through woods and near rainforest feeling forest and back out through palms, ironwood trees and a whole host of other natural delights. It feels like the scenery is literally entirely different every 100 yards! You also ride by the bay where the second Hunger Games was filmed and the whole area is apparently where Jurassic Park was filmed. It is the location of Hollywood choice it seems.

Look at our massive heeeds!
The horses are kept in beautiful condition and are happy animals. We were warned about their snacking habit, wanting to stop and eat grass whenever they got the chance. The Boy's actually decided to take a break and bite a chunk of bark off a tree! But who can blame them, they work hard and who doesn't get peckish when they're exercising! After every trail they are watered and fed, to cool them down as well as to make sure they are well hydrated and hunger-free.

Special thanks go to our guide, Vera. She was a true natural around the animals and was exceptionally knowledgeable about the local area, the flora and the fauna. She made our tour a real delight with her friendly manner and fascinating facts about the horses. It is always such a pleasure to meet someone with a real passion for their work and she was truly exceptional. Thank you Vera!

Sunday, 12 October 2014

REVIEW UPDATE: Sones Cellars, Santa Cruz, CA

We had the great pleasure of returning to Santa Cruz this summer and bumped in to Michael Sones, owner, at the Capitola Art and Wine Festival (more on that in a future post). It was a happy coincidence, because last year when I reviewed Sones Cellars, we sadly missed the opportunity to meet Michael or his good lady wife, Lois. I asked Michael if it would be possible for us to pop by the tasting room on Ingalls Street and try the latest batch of Hedgehog Red, Sones' unique creation of a refillable bottle taken from a blended barrel at the winery, just for comparison to last time. He was completely welcoming and so, having popped in for a tasting at Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard (also more on that in a future post) and before meeting friends at Santa Cruz Mountain Brewery (we would like to think we're practically locals now) we swang by Sones unannounced to see if we could pilfer a snifter of the latest Hedgehog Red blend.

The last blend we tried was #12. It was 75% Petite Syrah and 25% Zin and I was all over it at the time, most enjoyable. I don't know exactly what number they are on now, but I was particularly interested that the blend had been developed by Sones wine club members at a special event. Their palettes had settled on a blend that was half Petite Syrah, 25% Zinfandel and 25% Merlot.

I was a big fan. The wine had a deep colour. It was light on the nose, but had a full, yet medium bodied flavour on the palette. It was medium on tannins but heavy on the finish, with overriding fruit flavours, possibly of blackcurrant, definitely black fruits but also a hint of plum too. Delicious and apparently, more popular than ever. I wait patiently for the time when there are enough wineries in the UK for me to become a wine club member with a local business where beautiful, local wine like this is made available at such a reasonable price, but in the meantime I am so pleased that Sones have pioneered such an excellent, sustainable and delicious concept in the Hedgehog Red.

We were also fortunate to be offered a taste of a couple more of Sones' offerings. I must confess I had worked my way through the bulk of their current offer in Capitola, but I was pleased to try their Fashionably Late Zinfandel from 2011, which had a huge smell of booze fruit, and then a super sweet punch on the mouth. It was, as a guide at one Santa Cruz tasting room once said to us in her characteristic local drawl 'totally jammy' - but still totally light on the palette with a veritable dance of blackburrant flavours. Delicious and something I will hope to try again.

And finally, there was the Sones' interpretation of Sack. This wine could not have more of an influence from Michael's British heritage - an attempt, in partnership with Shakespeare Santa Cruz, to recreate Sack - the white wine of the traditional Elizabethan table, and the drink of choice of numerous Shakespearean characters, most memorably Falstaff. Now given my recent brush with Shakespeare, albeit a slightly obtuse one, I was extremely happy to try this as medieval history still looms large in my professional life. A fortified wine from the Canaries, this was something like tea with brandy - sweet, and sort of dry - an excellent drink. And with my long pedigree of trying concoctions made by experimental archaeologists, I was surprised how nice this was. A great bit of fun and a wonderful way to round off our return to Sones. I sincerely hope it is not the last time we get to stop by and pass the time of day, this is a truly wonderful example of a small winery making truly excellent wine.

A good sherris-sack hath a two-fold
operation in it. It ascends me into the brain; dries me there
the foolish and dull and crudy vapours which environ it;
apprehensive, quick, forgetive, full of nimble, fiery, and
delectable shapes; which delivered o'er to the voice, the 2695
which is the birth, becomes excellent wit. The second
your excellent sherris is the warming of the blood; which
cold and settled, left the liver white and pale, which is the
badge of pusillanimity and cowardice; but the sherris warms
and makes it course from the inwards to the parts extremes. 2700
illumineth the face, which, as a beacon, gives warning to all
rest of this little kingdom, man, to arm; and then the vital
commoners and inland petty spirits muster me all to their
captain, the heart, who, great and puff'd up with this
doth any deed of courage—and this valour comes of sherris.

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

REVIEW: Byron, Proper Hamburgers - Highcross Leicester

There's nothing that helps you settle back to being in the UK after a month in the States like an email inviting you to taste some 'proper hamburgers'. Byron Hamburgers had snuck into the Highcross, Leicester, while we were away. They arose from founder Tom Byng wanting to bring back the great hamburgers he had experienced on the west coast of America - doing a simple thing well. I cannot fault the logic and I could not have been more pleased, having just experienced the wonder of the Snooki* at burger. Santa Cruz, to have the chance of a decent burger on my own doorstep.

*A Snooki is a chilli burger with two grilled cheese sandwiches instead of a bun, in case you were wondering.

We arrived on a relatively pleasant October evening and were greeted by a brightly lit, but cleanly decorated facade. Inside, the restaurant has the industrial feel that harks straight back to the East Coast. It is comfortable and chic, and clearly already attracting the crowds in Leicester - the Friday evening that we attended it was absolutely rammed the entire time. Seems everyone is after a proper burger.

We were greeted warmly by the hostess and seated with menus - one for food and one for drinks. They do have an excellent selection available, even though they have clearly purposefully kept the food menu small and select. Our server for the evening, Paris, came over full of friendliness and enthusiasm. She was an absolute asset to the place, full of energy and great product knowledge. She was definitely one of those waitresses who can upsell to you and leave you just feeling like you've just taken menu advice from a trusted friend. She convinced us that having some nachos from the 'While You Wait' section of the menu would be a good idea, and since we know from long experience that it takes us approximately six million years to ever choose what to order, we agreed.

As promised, the nachos were an excellent choice. They were just the same as the ones that you would get (for free) in a taqueria in California, or as an appetizer (which you'd pay for) in a pub-restaurant. Home fried tortilla chips served with a light, slightly watery salsa which shows that it is made inhouse from good, fresh tomatoes - just the right consistency to take the edge from the fry of the chips. We also had the guacamole which again had all the hallmarks of the homemade - a real nod to the Californian here and a great thing for us as the rest of the styling was so very East Coast.

We sampled a range from the drinks menu during our visit. The Boy was particularly excited because they had a 'Craft Beer' section which actually contained craft beers! It sounds strange, but so many places are selling random mass produced beers as 'craft', because they're American or sometimes, seemingly, just because they're not Carling. Byron's selection is very different. 

The Boy tried the Founders All Day IPA (top notch) and the Odell IPA (even better - order this beer). He was also tempted in to a boilermaker by the super-nice manager, Justin. Justin is a great guy and knows exactly why a boilermaker is so named. Go and visit and ask him to tell you, I can't give away all the good material here. However, while the bourbon was excellent, sadly the Byron Pale Ale was a big letdown for him. I think that this is because there are very, very few UK breweries that are getting American style ales right just now. Hopefully the tide will turn on that one. Anyway, according to the website they'll be changing their beer menu every six months, so let's hope that we see some Lagunitas Little Sumpin' Sumpin' Ale down there soon. Or anything from Lagunitas really, they are excellent.

I tried the Malbec from Mendoza, which was fine, and also the Cabernet Sauvignon from Domaine Grauzan, Languedoc Rousillon which really was surprisingly enjoyable. Sadly I don't know the year as it wasn't on the menu - but this was a deep coloured, heavily fruited nose wine with a warming, tannic and slightly tart flavour. It was full of dark fruit and also the slightest whiff of strawberry, but without any sweetness at all. It had great body and was all in all totally French - no aromatics at all just straight wine and barrel. Nice if you like a good mid-range, but super drinkable French red.

Gosh, I've talked a lot and haven't even started to talk about burgers yet. Where are my manners?

The Boy ordered the signature Byron, with bacon, cheddar and the signature Byron sauce - their take on the classic American burger sauce. Byron's burgers are made with good beef sourced from Scotland and they are served medium. And it shows. The burgers are full of flavour, juicy and really nicely cooked. You'll never want a cardboard McDonalds frisbee again. You shouldn't want those anyway - they're not even food. The buns are squishy and have a shiny brioche top. Served with a slice of pickle on the side, they are gargantuan bundles of deliciousness. The Boy was tres happy. He also ordered monterey jack cheese and jalapenos, to give a bit of additional kick and flavour. You can add lots of toppings to make your dream burger.

And so to my order. I had the Smoky. Smoked cheddar, smokey bacon, crispy fried onions and a chilli BBQ sauce. Also delicious. I added emmenthal and sliced avocado, which is why it ended up so massive. I'd happily request medium rare next time as the meat is so good and the toppings are all fresh and full of flavour.

Look at that mass of goodness. Well cooked, definitely not overly greasy. I can truly agree that this was a proper hamburger. And in the background you can see we ordered a selection of sides, mainly because we wanted to know what they all were (we took a lot home in a box and ate it with dinner the next day, we wouldn't waste food.) I loved the homemade skin-on chips - slightly chunky, really nice and crisp and excellently seasoned. The Boy was after the french fries, which were perfectly acceptable (I don't know what's good or bad to say about skinny chips, they am what they am and these were cooked fine). We also got the macaroni cheese to test its calibre against the American offerings (for sure my favourite side in the US) and it was delicious - a smooth, thick sauce with perfectly unctious mac, covered with a gooey cheese topping, it's fab. I could probably go and just eat that to be honest, if for some weird reason I wasn't in the mood for a burger. Finally there were the courgette fries - thick cut strips in a light batter - also delicious and definitely not a healthy option - hurrah!

I have to say at this point, while the food was excellent and our server was wonderful, there are clearly some teething problems with the communication between the waiting staff and the kitchen. There were what I would term 'significant' mix ups with our order. I shall try to explain in bullet point form:
  • We both ordered an extra specialty cheese to top our burger, and these toppings cost £1.25 each. However, we received our additional cheeses instead of the cheeses advertised with the burger and not as well of. I missed out on the smokey cheddar (gutted).
  • The jalapenos were put on my burger, not The Boys. I am not a fan of spicy jalapenos and once the problem was discovered there was much pulling apart of burgers and swapping of ingredients.
  • I asked our server if I could get a tiny pot of the fried cheese, which currently features on the Shady burger (awesome, a super special burger which changes every few months). However, it was not served separately, but put on my burger, in place of the fried onion bits. Tasted great, but means my experience of a true 'Smoky' is actually limited as half the ingredients were missing.
  • I think the request for a tiny pot of fried cheese, for blogging purposes, caused more confusion than we realised, as we were also brought 'an extra fries', which I think may have been a misreading of the ticket. We already had 4 sides between two people, we definitely did not need more fries!
To emphasise again, this was definitely not our lovely servers fault. We gave a complex order and she repeated it to us with every detail absolutely spot on, even repeating some elements to ensure she had them down correctly. It definitely wasn't the kitchen's fault, or the waitress that brought our food to the table - everything was certainly for our table and was cooked to absolute perfection. There must just be some teething issues with how orders are received in the kitchen, not irresolvable by any means and definitely not anything that spoiled our enjoyment of the evening.

Finally, we had to try pudding. It would have been rude not to and without dessert I wouldn't have been able to give you, dear reader, a full account of the menu. The chocolate brownie was rich, dark and waaaaaarm.... served with chocolate sauce and a beautiful vanilla ice cream. Drool. Drool.

Then there was the white chocolate cheesecake with blueberries. It was barely set and absolutely melt in the mouth but still with a lovely texture from the base. The blueberries were just scalded and they gave a wonderful contrast to the smooth cheesecake topping which had just the right amount of white chocolate for you to be able to taste it perfectly without it being at all sickly. Until we were really, really, really full, then it did taste a bit sickly, but that was our own fault.

A wonderful evening was had. This little East Coast inspired joint does everything it does on the tin - excellent, yet simple ingredients, cooked to perfection. A great drinks selection, which just had us wishing that they had a little fabricated bar in there to sit at instead of just tables. Wonderful staff, who can answer any menu question with confidence and will make you feel like they have been reunited with an old friend. Thanks so much to Justin for finding me a 'Proper' tshirt. As someone who grew up in the north west and said proper far to much as a teenager, I shall wear it, and it's Byron branding, with pride. In fact, we've already been going on about Byron's to all our friends far too much. So happy to have found a small part of the American Dream right here, in little old Leicester.

What I saw in Hawai'i

It is taking me ages to get blog posts written at the moment - possibly because I'm writing in loads of detail and messing about with photos too much. So while you wait for the next exciting installment, I thought I'd share a video I took whilst on O'ahu in Hawai'i this August. Enjoy!

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

REVIEW: Big Basin Vineyards, Saratoga, CA

We've done it again, we've skipped off to California and had an absolute whale of a time. This time we mixed it up a bit and skipped across to Hawai'i as well, but more on that later. You've got to love a good competition win, there's nothing like it for providing a holiday of a lifetime. Anyway, you may remember that previous trips to California have spawned a whole series of wine blogs. Like this, this or even this. There are more. I'll leave you to browse.

You'll be happy to know this trip was no different. Much wine was consumed and some of it made it into my little wine notebook. Look out for a few boozy posts coming in the next few weeks. The first of those posts is based around a lovely little tasting room for Big Basin Vineyards in Saratoga, CA.

Saratoga is a cute little historic village in Santa Clara County just north of Santa Cruz and west of San Jose. We'd never visited before and I was glad I'd popped by to visit this vineyard. The highway 17 drive from Santa Cruz is bendy and mountainous which is a lot of fun and there are some beautiful views of the Santa Cruz mountains, nestled in which are some of the vineyards Big Basin use for their grapes. The village itself has some quaint buildings, beautiful views and, for some reason, an absolute abundance of hairdressing salons. There are a decent numbers of local area tasting rooms as well, so a great place to stop if you're enjoying a splash of enotourism.

I really wanted to try Big Basin's wines because I have not had the opportunity to try so many wines which are so unashamedly from the area of California that I love - the Santa Cruz Mountains, and around the beautiful bay of Monterey County. On the whole they did not disappoint.

The first thing you notice about Big Basin Vineyards, in their chic, yet still comfortable and homely tasting room is the phenomenal artwork on the walls. This is all the product of Matt Jones, a live painter who has created some work of beautiful depth and complexity that is featured on the walls of the tasting rooms and, more importantly, on the labels of the bottles.

A very exclusive bottle. More on that later.
We were warmly greeted by our host, Assistant Tasting Room Manager, Chris Spangler. If we didn't still have the memory of Xavi, of Cal Feru relatively fresh in our minds, he might be described as the nicest guy in wine. He definitely can be counted as amongst the most passionate and knowledgeable guys in wine. Like all his colleagues, he's not just tasting room staff (not that there's any just about a role like that), he's also inextricably involved in the winemaking process, from collecting the grapes right through to giving the benefit of his wisdom to the Wine Club members right at the other end. Big Basin is by no means a quiet tasting room, it was buzzing with groups of visitors right through our visit, both walk-ins and members, and I am pleased to say that I could see that every single one of them was getting as friendly and personalised a service as we were pleased to receive.

Chris started us off with a generous pour of the Wirz Vineyard Riesling 2012, whilst we watched a short video introducing the winery. In fact, why don't I go right ahead and embed that video from YouTube so you can enjoy it for yourself? It'll give you a lovely sense of how beautiful this area of the world is.

As well as having the best scenery ever, this video explains admirably how the folks at Big Basin aim to create sustainable, organic wines which reflect the landscape that created them - a true experiment in terroir. They harvest in small sections when the grapes are perfectly ripe, sometimes following down the lines of vines, day by day, to ensure a premium product. This means that yields are lower, but of course instead you can read 'exclusive' here instead. 

Wirz Vineyard Riesling 2012
Cienega Valley 

A crisp apple nose with a very light, slightly creamy floral, this wine is big and dry, tasting of that delicious crisp apple. With a dry, almost abrupt finish, this is a very complete flavour. Super refreshing and aged in light oak, there is perhaps a very light hint of mandarin in here. This crisp flavour reflects the grapes, which grow in one of the highest vineyards in Monterey County.

Only 43 cases were produced, and at the time we visited I believe there were only 5... Ooops, no 4 bottles left. Better get in quick if you want one of these, it should age excellently.

Coastview Vineyard Pinot Noir 2011

Grown at an unusual elevation, which is risky for the thin skinned pinot noir, this wine is surprisingly sunny and astringent on the nose, with just a hint of cut wood. It is flavoured with a floral and rich cherry with good, medium body. The elevation shines through this wine, it smells of the mountains and mellows out to a short finish with interesting aromatices. It has a lighter, more clouder colour for a Pinot. Not my personal favourite of the bunch, but certainly an interesting flavour that I have not tasted before and worth a go for that hint of mountain alone.

Alfaro Family Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012

From a rare south facing vineyard which overlooks the Pacific (near Watsonville apparently - we've been there, to the County Fair!) this Pinot is slightly deeper in colour than the last. It is brighter, with more fruit than the last, but less aromatic too - no mountains here, but more tannins and oak. It disappears in the mouth leaving just a light bitterness. Much more berry than cherry, perhaps even strawberry, this is a pretty easy going wine.

Homestead 2012

Your host's recommendation for a 'Tuesday night wine', this blend has a vibrant colour and was a surprising pick for me. Sweet and homely, it has deep tannins and decent body. There is a slight tannic smell that is cut with a hint of cherry, complemented by an interesting mineral quality on the nose and a taste which is bold black fruits. It has a longer finish with a clear alcohol flavour, again a product of the conditions in which the grapes grow and ripen on the 112 year old vines at the Wirz Vineyard.

Paderewski Vineyard GSM 2012

Named for the pianist, composer and first Prime Minister of Poland who owned the land originally because of his love of Paso Robles, this vineyard uses the local heat to stretch the vines causing more sugars, a higher alcohol and a much deeper flavour. This made it my favourite of the bunch,  with its zinging red colour, real alcohol sting on the nose and that authentic smell of the California sunshine which I have never been able to define any further, but is something that I look forward to whenever I get over to the US because those sunny wines just don't seem to make it to the UK.

This wine is round and soft and changes character in the mouth. With great body, it has flavours of plum and is a deep savoury flavour but still full of sunshine. And on the finish, you taste a hot pepper spice of firewater. Delicious.

Coastview Vineyards Syrah 2010

This wine has a deep, dark colour with a nose that is light touch, but full of hefty fruit. I found it surprisingly light on the palette, with violets, lavendar and the natural dash of sourness from fresh picked blackberries which  lingers on the finish. There is some of the tannins you would expect from a Syrah but it is actually relatively light. This was definitely more to my taste than the Pinots, but that said I was ordering Pinot Noirs again after my visit to Big Basin Vineyards, having fallen out of love with them somewhat previously.

Estate Reserve Syrah 2009
Frenchie's Ranch

Named for Frenchman, Justin Lacau who tended the vines on the land after prohibition that Big Basin Vineyards calls home today, this was a very special treat for us to try. Deep and intoxicating on the nose, this is a big, savoury, oaky wine.

It changes all the way through the experience - as you lift it to your mouth, your senses detect a complex new aromatic, full of granite and oak and the taste is punchy and without fruit or sweetness. Despite this huge sensory experience, it fades to a whisper at the end. And then, as you set your glass back down on the bar, there is deep sense of freshly cracked pepper which lingers on, reminding you of the great time you had with this great wine.

Many thanks to Big Basin Vineyards for being so welcoming and letting us share their beautiful wines. I absolutely love the Californian winemakers' passion and enthusiasm. While the French want you to earn their wine, the Californian's delight in sharing what they have achieved. And what a privilege it is.

Monday, 15 September 2014

REVIEW: Ca'puccino, Heathrow Terminal 2

The newly reopened terminal at Heathrow, terminal 2, is clean, fresh and quietly efficient. This is great news for travellers and even better, they have some fine new restaurants for you to kick back in. Thanks to a slightly longer journey through airside security than we were expecting (it's just big, it wasn't a hassle) we didn't get to spend as much time at the new Ca'puccino as I would have liked, but we saw enough for me to really, really like it.
 As you walk up you see the clean lines and understated, but contemporary décor that sets out this company as an Italian start up. We were particularly enamoured by the giant touchscreen menu card that greets you as you wait for a table. This is a clever little idea that allows not only one customer to browse while they wait for a table in this busy, but well run little café but also gives passers by a taste of what is on offer. We saw it encourage more than one group to enter for a morning snack.

The friendly staff really made our visit. Courteous, without being cold, they all greeted us with a genuine smile and you really got the impression that they were all dedicated to making each customers visit as pleasurable as possible. Conscious of both customers tastes and the need for often speedy service in the airport environment, the staff were efficient but also knowledgeable enough about the menu that they would readily offer menu recommendations, their own thoughts on the food and which dishes would suit your tastes and level of hunger.

The menu is compact, but varied, meaning that Ca'puccino can cater to all tastes, at any time of the day. Happily the breakfast menu was particularly tempting, perfect for our 8.30am arrival. The Prosciutto di Parma DOP con uova e pesto Genovese looked particularly tempting, however, as we had a 10 hour flight looming ahead of us, there was really only one choice to go for - the full English breakfast option. There are also a wide range of continental breakfast offerings to choose from if you fancy something lighter - delicious crespelle dolci, yoghurt and fruit selections and amazing looking croissants with a variety of flavours and fillings.

Our food order arrived within about 10 minutes and looked absolutely divine. Well presented, freshly cooked and made with quality ingredients, this was a dream start to our trip. The Focaccia Tostada that accompanied the meal was fresh, crispy, but also soft and pillowy within and well seasoned. The Italian pork sausage was by far the highlight of the dish but the bacon was also thick cut and well cooked. The croquettes had a great texture and our eggs to order were both great - I felt that the scrambled was the better choice, as they were just the right end of soft and deliciously creamy. This was an excellent portion and really helped to start our engines for the day.

The real highlight, as you would perhaps expect, was the coffee. Ca'puccino offers a range of authentic taste experiences from around the different regions of Italy and the speciality coffees are particularly excellent. I would recommend trying the Moka, if you have the time to wait for it to brew to order, this is an intense coffee experience. The cappuccinos are also excellent - both rich and creamy with an absolutely heavenly caffeinated bitterness to them that is usually a rare find in an airport concession!

In fact, the only downside of Ca'puccino for us was the lack of time to sit, enjoy the Italian style and fashion books, or to try the delicious looking pastries that made up a veritable rainbow in the display counters. This place truly has authentic Italian style and taste at the very heart of what it offers and it took me back to lazy mornings wandering through the square in Matera, looking in the windows of small, family run bakeries and cafes, when we visited a couple of years ago to make some giant art.

They are also kid friendly, and have a children's seating and activity area, which is particularly helpful for those travelling with the full brood. Airports are hard enough so being able to offer a quiet, playful area away from the crowds should really draw a huge amount of people. In fact the whole restaurant feels like a little oasis of calm, even though there are no walls and so it isn't really that separate from the hustle and bustle of the rest of the terminal. I would happily recommend a stop here. You'll get great food, at a decent price for an airport, and be made welcome by happy staff in pleasant surroundings. And that sort of experience is priceless just before a flight.