Thursday, May 8, 2008

Better Butter

In an effort to avoid trans fats we had switched from margarine to a soft spread that was loaded with omega-3 fatty acids – long before this became the prevailing nutritional wisdom. That the spread also had loads of omega-6s didn’t mean much to us - until I found information that omega-6s actually produce more inflammation in the body, which could possibly lead to increased incidence of blood clots.

Then I noticed there were far more omega-6s than omega-3s in our soft spread, which didn’t sound good because a family member had previously undergone heart surgery. Butter looked like a better option all the time, especially since we wouldn’t use a lot of it, but refrigerated butter was difficult to spread and butter left at room temperature might grow rancid.

Enter the butter keeper, a small crock that you fill with a little water before upending the butter-filled inner piece of the crock into it, to form an airtight seal. Change the water every two or three days, keep it closed unless you’re using the butter, and the all-natural spread remains sweet, fresh and, most of all, highly spreadable.

It was the best $10 I had spent in ages.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Albuquerque Flight Pattern

There's nothing like bubbly and donuts after your first hot air balloon ride. Our 'driver,' Brooke, offered both as he distributed flight certificates and lapel pins, and read the Irish Balloonist's Prayer aloud:

The winds have welcomed you with softness.

The sun has blessed you with his warm hands.

You have flown so high and so well that

God has joined us together in laughter and set us

gently back into the loving arms of Mother Earth.

A whoosh of hot air and whisper of breeze had ushered us into the early morning sky outside Albuquerque. With arm muscles bulging, Brooke deftly adjusted heavy-duty synthetic ropes that secured the rainbow-striped balloon to the passenger basket, and the burner that helps change the air pressure and balloon shape. Cameras clicked and whirred in every direction.

A smaller balloon to our right shimmered silver and blue against wispy clouds. The Rio Grande snaked below us, across the fall-colored landscape, and beneath a highway bridge where passing cars resemble ants. The balloon nearly skimmed the river’s surface before it rose to the treetops and traveled within several yards of upper branches.

Fifty-five minutes, three ground miles, and 1,700 feet in elevation later, Brooke slowly allowed hot air to escape through a vent in the balloon's crown so it could land in a field near where we started. We gently touched ground and departed the basket. Several passengers helped the crew squeeze air out of the spent balloon and then the festivities began.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Tasting Sonoma

Beginning in the late 1800s many Italian immigrants settled in the Sonoma Valley, which reminded them of their home country, and transplanted their wine making expertise to their new country.

Since that time, dozens of wineries have sprung up across the verdant valley where much of the wine experience is about small operations, small batches, and a family’s dedication to producing the best wine possible from one generation to the next. Today, travelers may visit hundreds of wineries throughout the region, for experiences that are as diverse as the wineries themselves.

Morning sun warms my face as I savor a heady Cabernet and watch the pruning of the vines, on a dew-kissed hilltop at Passalacque Winery – a fourth-generation operation. At Seghesio Family Vineyards, I taste and purchase a crisp and rare white Arneis from the Italian Piedmonte grape, as spunky matriarch, Rachael Ann Seghesio, tells the story of the family operation, which began five generations ago in 1895.

At Bella Vineyards and Wine Caves, owned by Scott and Lynn Adams, I sip a full-bodied syrah in manmade caves amidst 400 oak barrels and a rock-walled tasting room. At Dutcher Crossing the ’05 Merlot combines a weedy nose with soft tannins. Although I’ve barely scratched the surface my brief trip has ended, leaving plenty more tasting opportunities for my next visit.