Sunday, 26 August 2012

REVIEW: Ceja Vineyards

We visited the Napa valley and Sonoma this week and were very fortunate to be invited along to a private tasting at Ceja Vineyards. Being English, we had not previously come across this small, but perfectly formed boutique winery, in the sunny region of Carneros, but we soon learned that not only was the Ceja family taking the wine world by storm, but they would actually be appearing in this week's Wall Street Journal. High praise indeed. It was also not five minutes before we were presented with a copy of that day's Napa Valley Register, featuring a full two page article on the Vineyards and their small business success. We realised that this was no common or garden tasting that we would experience.

Ceja Vineyards was founded in 1999 and is dedicated to 'sustainable agriculture and the gentle handling of the grapes in the cellar'.

Ceja vineyard at Carnero
We were enthusiastically welcomed by Amelia Moran Ceja, one of the three founders and directors of the Vineyard. Amelia is a small, but seemingly boundlessly enthusiastic woman, talking with equal fondness about her grapes, her property and her marketing ventures. Taking us round the cool, simply decorated building she talks about the future plans to make a great winery building, with a fifty foot tower, reminiscient of that depicted in the artwork on the walls. Amelia is part of a line of great Mexican immigrant entrepeneurs, coming to America with little in their pockets and then truly making good by having a great idea and being bold enough to roll up their sleeves and work hard to achieve it.

Amelia Ceja: our gracious host

I am struck by her enthusiasm and the great number of projects that Amelia is personally involved with. In particular, the future plan to commit an acre of land to an organic garden, which will not only provide food to complement the wine tastings but also give local communities an opportunity to learn more about gardening and food production, educating generations of local children about where food comes from. Truly, this is the sort of endeavour that I have to whole heartedly support.

I also love the idea of Amelia's family online cooking show. I am looking forward to spending some time at home checking back over her videos about how to cook great food on Salud Napa. I am sure that someone who taught me so much in just a few short hours about wine could do great things to my culinary understanding. I certainly would like to learn to cook more authentically with Mexican flavours so I think I couldn't go to a better source for this information.

We tasted a large number of wines, but here are a few notes about some of my favourites:

2008 Ceja Chardonnay (Napa Valley, Carneros)
We tasted two white wines, the other being the 2009 Sauvignon Blanc, but the Chardonnay was definitely my favourite. It was crisp and fruity, having an almost apple-like taste to it. It has a creamy mouth feel, without being buttery like a standard Chardonnay. I am reliably informed by Lindsay Huntsman, of El Dorado Kitchen, Sonoma that this is because this wine has been fermented in the barrel with no moloatic fermentation. Due to this, it was possible (and indeed delicious) for us to taste this wine at room temperature. I know! It was delicious, but not chilled. I have never before experienced a white wine that could hold its own in these conditions.

2008 Ceja Vino de Casa - Red (Napa Valley)
This was the cheapest of the wines that we tasted, but I have to admit, one of my favourites. It had quite a deep red fruit feel but is still relatively light on the palate. With an alcohol content of 13.6%, like all the Ceja wines we tasted it matches really well with Latino spiced food, including fish, vegetable and pork dishes. It is light enough to go with these sort of non-red meat dishes but has a complex enough flavour that I think it would match with lighter beef dishes, like tacos rather than steak.

The outdoor kitchen for food matching
We went through all the wines, with Amelia closing her eyes and checking the quality of each one before pouring a taste into a Ceja Vineyard glass for us all to sample. I was fascinated to detect a very slight smokey notes in one of the 2008 reds, which was confirmed to me by Amelia as a consequence of the 2008 fires in that area. Because the grapes were still growing at this time, the smokey flavour penetrated the soft skins and can just be detected in the finished wine. It's little details like this that makes me want to know more about wine.

After we had finished, she invited us all to go outside to the outdoor kitchen, where we were served the same wines but this time with Mexican foods, to see how the wine complemented the delicate spiciness of the shrimp cocktail and the robustness of aubergine, beans or carnitas on tostadas. This was a really incredible experience that not only added to my understanding of how a lower alcohol wine (under 14%) can really be used in great harmony with spicier meals, but also gave us all a chance to sit around and chat further with Amelia about life, wine and everything.

Extreme Housewife meets wine tasting
She was really interested to find out everyone in the group's story and enjoyed finding out about my mosaics when that came up. I can only hope that the kernel of an idea about a wine-based mosaic comes to fruition when their great winery building is completed and launched. Seeing the ethos of Ceja, coupled with the hard work and passion of its directors, makes it really feel like a place where I could spend time. Plus the vineyard party stories sound legendary!


Silent Sunday

Saturday, 11 August 2012

Capture the Colour

I have been invited to enter the 'Capture the Colour' blogger competition. The idea is to have a rummage through old holiday snaps and find some pictures that represent different colours. I've enjoyed taking a trip down memory lane and finding some colourful pics!


This image was taken in one of the amazing wine cellars at the Chateau Smith Haute Lafitte which we visited in March 2011. I think that the clean walls, with their simple column and uplit decoration, next to the pale oak of the rows of barrels gently ageing, really gives a good feel of white - especially set off against the red of the floor. I remember the peaceful, cool feel of the cellar and the echoes of our footsteps as we were toured around the Chateau. You can see my guide to travelling on a budget in Bordeaux by clicking here.


Here I am, chilling out at the Hop Farm Festival in 2009. It was a beautiful weekend and I got to enjoy loads of bands from my teenage years, like Ash and Super Furry Animals. This beautiful blue sky with the blue tents in the background really feels like summer to me. Nothing beats camping!


I couldn't choose anything except the Amazon Rainforest for green. This is my absolute top spot on earth, I have such treasured memories of our 5 days in the jungle, canoeing down the Amazon, camping out in primary rainforest, fishing for piranha and trekking in the most amazing environment in the world. This is a picture of our cabin at the Cuyabeno Reserve jungle lodge. All those different shades of green together just creates the most beautiful scene.


I'd totally forgotten about this photo! It was taken in a Sports Bar in Bangalore, India in 2009. This crazy lit up bar was totally unique, as was the free basketball practice hoop activity in the garden! There aren't many accessible bars in Bangalore, except for along MG Road pretty much. The local beer is Kingfisher, which you can also get over here in the UK but it's not as nice in export! I think you can't really get a much more yellow picture than this. Love the action of The Boy dancing as well!


A great one to finish. This is the Boy trying on a Saxon helmet in the West Stow from 2006. I don't know why the picture came off so red, just the reflection from the display on the walls I guess. This was a really fun day, hanging around the reconstructed Anglo-Saxon village!

I nominate my 5 blogger friends at Making it Up, Brink of Bedlam,  7Hippopotamus, Mummy of 3 Diaries and Boo, Roo and Tigger Too to give this challenge a go for themselves!

Sunday, 5 August 2012

REVIEW: The Stamford Arms, Groby

I seem to have done a spate of reviews of local pubs recently, and when The Boy and I stopped for a meal at the Stamford Arms, Groby, last week to celebrate the last in our set of BootCamp classes, it seemed only polite that I celebrate such an enjoyable experience by writing a review.

The Stamford Arms is a comfortable village pub. It has a small terrace with picnic tables to both the front (which is on quite a busy road through the village) and the rear (which is more sheltered from local traffic). Inside the decor is quite traditional Everards pub - indeed, you discover when you read the menu that this pub was originally the home to the Everards, founders of the Leicestershire brewery. The exposed brick and wood lined interior is comfy and familiar and the usual array of alcoholic, non-alcoholic and bar snacks are available. 

We arrived to a very warm welcome from the bar staff who seemed pleased to see everyone and had plenty of time for a little smile and a joke with all the customers even though trade was brisk on the mid-week evening that we visited. On a Wednesday they offer a free bottle of house wine when you purchase to main meals, so we took them up on the offer. We thought that for that money, we would have a passable meal, but nothing special.

How wrong we were, the food was actually excellent. The Boy had the liver and onions served with mash and gravy. He said it was rich and meaty, cooked well and with nice creamy mash. He asked for French mustard, but they only had English, however the server was very apologetic. It was a mammoth portion and well worth the £6.99 price tag. He gave it a 9 out of 10 Hippy Points, sound praise indeed.

Clearly I only thought to take pictures once we had already started eating and realised just how nice the food was, so please excuse the half masticated appearance. I assure you the meals are better presented when you receive them.

I ordered the gammon steak, which comes with chips, peas, a fried egg and pineapple - although I refused the pineapple because we all know that putting meat and fruit together is the work of the Devil and every time you eat pineapple with gammon, the ghost of Elvis gives a puppy a papercut. This dish was also £6.99.

I was genuinely taken aback by the quality of this meal. The gammon was cooked to perfection, with great sear marks and just enough crisp on the fat that I could, for the first time ever, actually eat a little bit of it without feeling like I was going to throw up. Gammon isn't really something I eat very often, so I'm not sure why I ordered this meal really, but it was certainly the best I've ever had. The egg was nice, but just ever so slightly overcooked so there wasn't quite as much runny yolk as I would have liked. The chips were awesome, possibly triple cooked, possibly with some sort of semolina coating, making them extremely crispy and wonderfully soft inside. Not what you'd expect from chippy chips at all, but definitely a great restaurant experience. I'd give the meal 9.5 Extreme Points, with just a slight mark down for the egg yolk issue.

As I mentioned, the deal that we got was two main meals with a free bottle of house wine, so we paid £13.98 is total. This was an absolute bargain as the bottle of house red that we received was also delicious. It was smooth, easy drinking but with enough depth of body to keep me interested, even though I am a committed Shiraz drinker. It was a lovely little Sicilean number I think and I was mightily impressed. I can't quite remember properly, but I think that there was a sign saying the wine, if bought separately, would cost £8.95 per bottle, which is actually a bit of a bargain for a bottle of this calibre outside a supermarket context.

The Stamford Arms comes highly recommended by me. I look forward to returning to the friendly atmosphere and trying some more of the menu to see if they are all as nice as the meals we had. The pub also hosts two quiz nights a week as well as live music in its ample staging area. I think we might be putting in more appearances there as this pub would make a top notch local (if only it wasn't a four mile cycle away and at the top of a big hill....)

REVIEW: Dr Woods Soaps

After a little chat on Twitter, Dr Woods kindly sent me some of their products all the way Across the Pond for me to test. I have loved the Dr Woods brand for quite a while, you can easily get their stuff via Amazon amongst other sites, even though they make everything in the USA.

Dr Woods is one of the few brands out there that I genuinely get along with in terms of their overall ethos. Usually I don't get particularly attached to specific brands, as I enjoy trying new things and finding top quality, but Dr Woods focus on being both effective and sustainable - a rare combination.

The bar soap they sent me to try was the unscented Baby mild castile soap, for sensitive skin. It is a natural product with a low pH, blended with essential oils and organic shea butter. The first good thing you notice is that it genuinely is unscented, which scores a lot of points with me. I think that soap shouldn't make you smell like a wickerwork duck full of cheap pot pourri. It should make you feel clean. And this product really does.

 It has a very moisturising feel (presumably the shea butter there) and lathers up easily and well. It has a good clean and there is no drying out feeling on the skin when you rinse it off. I've been trying it for a over a week now and I think the only fault I can pick is that the bar I had (5.25oz) was a little big for my little hands to comfortably work with when it was new, so this might be an issue for children to use it too. It's so rich and moisturising that it is quite slippery!! I fully understand if people interpret that as a bit pedantic though!!

The second item I was sent was the Black Soap liquid soap. I had not come across the liquid soap section of the Dr Woods range before so I was excited to try this. The Dr Woods website describes what black soap is:

"Dr. Woods Black Soap also known as Anago Soap or Alata Soap, originates from West Africa. It has been used for centuries in Africa. It's methods and secrets have been passed down from generation to generation to keep the soap close to mother nature and avoid exploitation & imitations. Many have tried to create their version of black soap with all kinds of ingredients.

For centuries, Africans have used Black Soap to help relieve acne, oily skin, clear blemishes and various other skin issues. Black soap has also been used to achieve beautiful skin. Africans have also used this natural soap for bathing and washing their hair. Today people from all walks of life are benefiting from this amazing soap. Great for removing make-up. Dr. Woods Black Soap will leave your skin soft, clear and smelling delicious. This soap works against premature facial lines.

Black Soap comes from plantain skin. It is natural source of vitamins A & E and iron. (Plantain is a popular food in Africa, South America & other parts of the world."

Tantalising stuff! I love the smell of this product. If you put a cap or two into a running bath it gives you a great bath soak with a wonderful earthy smell that fills the whole bathroom! Again we've had this product on the go for a couple of weeks and The Boy thinks that it has really improved the skin on his back. I don't think it lathers up so well, but it certainly leaves you feeling clean and fresh.

Weirdly (but in an awesome hippy ethic), the label says you can also use the soap watered down four parts to clean surfaces! I gave it a go the other day. I saved up the bit of work surface in the bathroom underneath all of the bottles and tubes and didn't wipe them for ages to give it a challenge and as you can see from my before and after photos it did just as good a job as any chemical based bathroom cleaner. The only area I found that it didn't work for was cleaning the scum ring in the bath, which took cream cleaner to sort out! But for non-stubborn stains this product plus a little elbow grease is perfectly up to it.



If you are looking for a natural, organic soap that is suitable for the whole family, then this is a good line to choose. Their products are gentle, versatile and really live up to the bold claims they make. Their products are Vegan friendly and never tested on animals. You get a cleaner with a conscience. For me it's a clear 8 out of 10 Extreme Points for quality, effectiveness and value.

Sunday Weigh in: Week 4

This was one of the week's I was aiming for - the first weekend of wedding season 2012. So I'm giving myself the Sunday off the scales. Basically, this is all a bit cheat, because I know for a fact that I will have put a load of weight on for the following reasons:
* Eating lots of wedding buffet
* Eating wedding cake
* Drinking copious amounts of beer
* No exercise for the whole weekend
* Being cooked for by a very lovely and generous mother in law who makes us goodies like English Breakfasts and tasty, huge roast dinners.

So I'm not even giving the wii the satisfaction of shouting at me. On the plus side though, I wore 'the' dress for the wedding yesterday and received numerous compliments from my husband's family, many saying I looked really good and had I lost weight? Confidence boost all round, even though I know the fat belly is trying to make a reappearance!

What do you reckon? I'm pulling a bit of an odd position because we were being daft while this photo was being taken. The blushing bride is on the left and that's me on the right...

Congratulations to my Diet Buddy, Jane on her loss this week! Cheryl is still on holiday, so I hope she's having a lovely time!


Silent Sunday
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