Having a wonderful. Wish you were.

by Lorin Michel Saturday, March 16, 2013 9:47 PM

I was born and raised in the Northeast. The furthest south I got was Maryland where we lived for my freshman year of high school. We spent almost a year there, but it wasn’t far enough south that we didn’t get snow. In fact, if memory serves, we got quite a bit of snow. One of my closest friends still lives there and she regales me with snowdrift tales on a regular basis.

Most of high school was spent in New Hampshire, and by the time I went to college, I was starting to get a bit tired of the brutal New England winters, which of course explains why I went to the University of New Hampshire. UNH is located in the small town of Durham, in the southeastern part of the state, nearly on the border of southern Maine. We spent many nights and weekends playing in the bars of Portsmouth, the gateway into Maine, and a lovely little town. It’s often called the San Francisco of the northeast. It’s right on the Atlantic, has hills that rise and fall – though none as steep as those in the City by the Bay – and has fabulous places to eat. Many days were spent on the rock-crusted, cold-even-in-summer beaches.

My winters at UNH were spent trying to keep my boots dry and my feet warm as I trudged through snow and slush to class, slipping on hidden ice and generally cursing whatever gods were responsible. I graduated on a Saturday in May of 1984, with a Bachelor of Arts in English, Creative Writing, and left exactly one week later to drive myself across the country.

All my life I knew I wanted to be out West, so I pointed my 1979 Toyota Celica hatchback in the direction of Southern California. It didn’t occur to me to go anywhere in between. While I wanted to get out of New England, I didn’t want to be too far from an ocean; I just preferred an ocean that lapped at a warmer coastline.

I have a soft spot for the last remnants of waves as they spill onto the sand after first crashing with authority onto the water just off shore. That part of the wave is angry, but all of its bluster is gone when it finally inches onto land where some of it sinks into already saturated sand and the rest is pulled back out to sea. It’s one of the most soothing sights and sounds on this earth.

Recently I was invited to post some of my past blog meanderings on the Dwellable travel site. It was there that I discovered their new app for iPhone and iPad, of which I have both. So I downloaded it for fun, not expecting much other than the usual type-in-what-you’re-looking-for-and-wait-for-the-site-to-find-it, if it exists. I touched the icon on my iPhone and immediately I was treated to lapping waves on the sand, spilling clear and beautiful, one after the other. I smiled. This app had me at hello.

I’m not much of an app fiend. I only download the ones that I think I really need, like a flashlight app and Houzz, though I can’t say I absolutely positively need Houzz. It’s more of a fun app. With Dwellable I also have a very cool app, one that travels the country much like I once did.

For years now, whenever we go anywhere, Kevin and I find a house or condo to stay in rather than a hotel, with few exceptions, Chicago being one. We always stay at The Fairmont. I have nothing against hotels; I just like having a kitchen. Also, I like the quiet of a house versus shared, noisy hallways at 2 am. When Justin was young and we traveled to Hawaii (twice) and Mexico (twice), we found condos to rent. Our reasoning was simple: it was easier and cheaper to get up in the morning and make breakfast “at home.” We could also easily pop back for lunch and snacks. When we went to Maine several summers ago with my sister’s family, we rented cabins. When Kevin and I have gone wine tasting, up to Napa Valley as well as to Paso Robles, we always rent a house because we taste wine all day, which is tiring. The last thing we want to do is go out for dinner, so we buy food at the local grocery and cook. It’s the perfect night to a perfect day.

Dwellable offers homes, condos and guesthouses for rent in cities and towns from Maine to San Diego, even Hawaii. Their new app allows for finding those dwellings even when you’re on the road. It couldn’t be easier.

Atop the lapping waves is a simple search box that asks “where are you going?” Type in a destination and see what they have available. I put in Napa Valley since I was in the mood for a little wine and a number of offerings instantly appeared, neatly organized, with a picture, a price and rental name. I clicked on one called Wine Taster’s Estate because I’m a snob and I got a new page with pictures, amenities, a phone number and a website to visit should I require more information. The app has a dateboard to show availability for where and when you want to stay, a photo link and a map feature that shows exactly where your rental choice is located within the city/area you’ve chosen.

Unfortunately, Dwellable doesn’t have maps for all locations. They also don’t have a dateboard for all locations, especially for those that are new. It would be nice to have that feature, but at least the app is contrite about it, saying “Sadly, we don’t know the exact map location for any of these rentals.” It is sad. But not a deal breaker.

It’s easy to navigate and very fast. I kept touching Home just so I could go back to the waves. My only wish was that there was sound. Oh, well. Maybe on the next version. Still, it made me want to go somewhere, anywhere, to get away. Maybe back to Maui, something on Wailea, where the turquoise blue water fades to clear as it kisses the white sand. I have a rum and pineapple in my hand, the sun is warm, the breeze tickles and the Pacific is endless.

Having a wonderful. Wish you were … 

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Evidently 350AD was a good vintage

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, February 26, 2013 10:25 PM

I am a wino. There. I said it. I’m not at all ashamed; in fact, I’m proud. Wine to me is art and magic and creativity and wonder, all swirling in a glass. I’m partial to red, will drink the occasional white and rarely even sip a rosé to taste. However, rosés aren’t what they used to be which was White Zinfandel or worse. Sickeningly sweet to the point of gagging is how I found most of them. Lately, there have been some interesting experiments with rosés, including a rosé Malbec that we tried last week. It was dry and smooth. Not wonderful enough to entice us to buy a bottle but nice enough for a taste. I still prefer that my wine have all of its color.

Which leads me to the subject of today’s post. Evidently there is a wine at the Pfalz Historical Museum in Germany that was discovered in 1867, buried with a Roman noble near the city of Speyer. It is dated to the year 350AD. It sort of looks red though I can’t be sure. Those in the know say it is white. Who knows how old the bottle is but the wine is over 1650 years old. It was sealed with wax and contains wine-type liquid. Some in Germany are debating whether or not to open it; the museum’s wine department has said that they’re not sure the liquid could stand the shock of fresh air. A wine professor named Monika Christmann has indicated that “micro-biologically it is probably not spoiled.” But she doesn’t think it would bring much joy to the palate.

Perhaps the splash of olive oil included has helped to keep it from turning to vinegar. After all, oil and vinegar don’t mix.

I wonder what would happen if actual wine was found in the world’s oldest winery believed to be more than 6,100 years ago. Discovered in the caves of Armenia, by archeologists from the University of California, jars and drinking cups carved from animal horns were found. They believe that the Copper Age vintners stomped grapes with their feet, just like Lucy did in I Love Lucy goes to Italy. The Ancient Armenians fermented the juice in huge clay vats, all of which was found along with fossilized grape seeds and skins. Interestingly, there is a site nearby that is believed to be a place of burial suggesting that early wine making might have been part of the funeral proceedings, perhaps dedicated to the dead, or maybe inspired by the dead.

There were also bodies discovered in the Armenian wine-making cave, eight to be exact, including a child. The thought is that mourners may have sipped wine to perhaps honor the dead, or maybe to appease the spirits. Wine may have even been used to sprinkle on the graves, but that seems like a horrible waste of good grape juice.

When I come across stories like this I am forever amazed that the more things change the more they remain the same. Sixty one hundred years ago, ancient peoples were making and drinking wine. At the beginning of the calendar, in 350AD, people were making and drinking wine. In our garage right now we are making wine that we will one day be drinking.

Maybe that means that one day, in the far off future, archeologists will be excavating the earthquake-created faults where there was once Southern California. They’ll find small barrels of French and American oak, or at least the remnants of, and glass carboys. They may find a bottle but probably not, and they’ll discover a label, old, tattered, buried in the rubble of what used to be Oak Park. After painstakingly restoring it, they’ll find that it say Michel Cellars and they’ll know that once, long ago, when there was a California, there were people who made wine in this small suburb.

Meanwhile, in their ocean front property in Tucson, Arizona, nestled up against the cliffs of the Catalina Foothills, the descendants of the Michels will raise a glass and toast to a very good vintage. 

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Every coat, jacket and zip-up hoodie I own has a plastic bag in the pocket and other observances from Wednesday

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, January 23, 2013 8:15 PM

One of the many joys that come from once again being owned by a dog is the constant presence of “the bag.” As in “do you have a bag?” A regular question Kevin and I ask each other each morning and evening. It usually happens as we’re putting on a coat, or a jacket, or a hoodie, like this morning. I was walking Cooper alone since Kevin was on deadline and I started by putting on my black jacket. But I wasn’t sure of the temperature even though the day was rather gloomy, and gloomy in January usually means cold. Zipping it up, I stepped out onto the back patio, hands in my pockets. An orange bag that once housed the Los Angeles Times filled the left one. The temp was warmer than I anticipated, so back inside I went, tossed the jacket and the bag onto the bed to hang up later, and reached into the closet for my new hoodie. I slipped it on, zipped it up and stuck my hands in the pockets. Yep. A bag. Actually two. Ready for anything that might befall us.

Here’s what else I know today: There are an awful lot of blue colors of cars out on the road. Powder blue, navy blue, flat blue, metallic blue, a periwinkle Mercedes, a slate blue Range Rover, a sky blue Camry. Some clean, some dirty, some new, others old. One with a smashed-in bumper; a Honda with new dealer tags.

When the sky is heavy with clouds, condensing the sound, and a jet flies over on its way to LAX, it rumbles like thunder.

A tuna melt is better on rye bread but it’s not horrible without bread as long as there are olives, onions, fresh celery and a bit of fresh jalapeno all chopped up finely, mixed with some mayo and topped with melted Havarti.

I miss potato chips as a side dish.

I wait for the mail to come every day and yet there’s rarely anything in it that’s worthwhile. Most of it seems to be solicitations for supporting a various cause, usually animal related. As much of a sucker as I am for helping animals, I simply don’t have the money to support all of them, and sometimes it seems as if all of them are asking.

I wish I could.

As much as I like doing things online, buying postage to send a publishing contract back to London is not one of them.

I miss having a big tub of Red Vines.

I don’t miss having a big tub of Red Vines because I can’t stop eating them.

Wednesday is Prince Spaghetti day and so I’m going to make pasta for dinner. It’s not Prince sauce or spaghetti but the sentiment is the same, and hopefully the food will be even better. I could eat pasta every day of the week.

It is difficult for someone who has never had trouble with her weight to suddenly have trouble with her weight. I’m just saying.

I think Hillary Clinton is absolutely brilliant.

The lady who lives over on Evanswood who used to have a Bouvier des Flanders now has a Golden Doodle puppy named Victor Hugo and he looks like a big moppy bear rug but with infinitely more energy, very sharp puppy teeth and feet the size of coffee mugs.

I haven’t seen the Squire around lately and I’m starting to get worried.

Kevin’s debit card got hacked today and Bank of America caught it before we did. As bad as the banks can be, I’m happy they’ve all put mechanisms in place to catch this kind of stuff before it gets out of hand. Several years ago, he got torched for about $7000 and we were the ones who caught it, though the bank made good.

January is almost over. It’ll be Christmas soon.

Justin’s tuition is due. And ouch.

Argo was excellent.

My dog talks in his sleep. On a related note, I love the fact that the Earl on Downton Abbey has a dog and that the dog’s butt is the first thing we see on the opening credits. There must be a metaphor in there somewhere.

It’s supposed to rain this weekend.

There is a wine barrel in our entrance way. It does not yet have any wine inside.

I’m living it out loud. 

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Dreams of my ...

by Lorin Michel Saturday, October 20, 2012 10:42 PM

On this late, groggy Saturday night, I’m reclined on the love seat in the great room, my slippered feet stretched out over the edge, my body wrapped up in sweatpants and an oversized flannel shirt. My laptop is on my lap, living up to its category, and I am listening to the sounds of sweet jazz and the remnants of rain, leaves heavy with moisture dripping down onto one another and finally to the ground. The skies are cloudy. From my perch I can’t see them but I can feel them, the heaviness of the sky invades the backyard and oozes in through the sliver of the sliding glass door that’s open and inviting the fresh damp air.

It’s been a long day. The grapes were pressed this morning and we now have nine gallons of syrah grape juice. The fermenter and various pieces of equipment are clean and stored; the juice sits in glass carboys on the workbench in the garage. It will sit there for several days before entering the next phase of its young life.

Once we returned from our pressing journey, we showered, changed and went out again for a phone bank for Organizing for America, calling people to urge them to continue their support of President Obama. My friend Connie went with us. For three hours we dialed phone numbers on provided sheets in the hopes of someone picking up on the other end to speak to us nicely, without malice of interruption, without having decided to vote to the right. It was an interesting atmosphere. The building we were in was a call center by trade. Each day, dozens of people sit at the same desks we occupied and call people to try to sell them, convince them, connive them into buying something they’re not sure they want or to support something they’re not sure of. The irony was not lost.

I found myself drifting into daydreams several times as I waited for someone to answer a number I had dialed. In my dreams, I saw the rolling desert of Tucson, covered with Saguaros as they reached for the sky, and Kevin and I in our new home, waiting for the wonder of an encroaching thunderstorm, enjoying the anonymity of our home on the hill. I saw my niece at her Halloween party last night, dressed as a flapper and enjoying herself with her girlfriends. I wondered what she looked like and sent a text to my sister between phone calls. She promised to send photos.

I let my mind wander to my family, so many of whom are no longer with me, with us, and I wondered how they would see the world these days. The anger, the resentment, the entitlement, the hope. My grandmother, my dad’s mom, who died in 2001 at 93. I wondered if she was a democrat and decided she probably was; she had been a teacher. My great aunt, my dad’s mom’s sister, who died just a couple of years ago, also in her 90s. I wondered how she saw the world when she was still in it. My grandmother, my mom’s mom, who died several years ago as well, at 91. I wondered if she had ever really enjoyed her life. I wondered if any of them had.

My thoughts drifted then to my dad, who died in 2002, and who would have absorbed the news of the day with hardly a mention of how it made him feel. I admired that in him, and yet, I think keeping all of that in – his joy, his anger, his hurt, his dreams – contributed to him dying at such a young age.

How had any of them dreamed of … ? Had they dreamed at all?

Today I dreamed of grapes and wine, of rain and wondrous gloom, of phone calls to strangers who became instant friends, albeit virtually, and co-conspirators in this 17 days until the election. I dreamed of spending time with friends, of sharing wine and cheese and politics and more wine and funny stories. I dreamed of my future and my past, of my father, my grandmothers, others lost, those still living and full of love. My mother, my sister, my niece and nephew, my brother; my son. I dreamed. They dream.

“With our eyes closed, we uttered the same words, but in our hearts we each prayed to our own masters; we each remained locked in our own memories; we all clung to our own foolish magic.”

The quote is from page 163 of the book Dreams from my father by Barack Obama. I don’t know if it’s foolish to dream or foolish not to. But I do believe in magic, and I will cling to it as long as I have dreams.

On this Saturday night when the weather is drifting and the air is chilled and fine, I am dreaming of so much.

I am dreaming of … 

Que syrah syrah

by Lorin Michel Friday, October 19, 2012 6:53 PM

Our syrah grapes are five days old today. We thought about celebrating by sticking five lit candles into the cap that has formed atop the fermentation but decided it was probably not a good idea. As wonderful and strong as the grapes appear to be, we doubted seriously they could blow out their own candles. Instead we stood quietly and thought the tune “Happy Birthday to you,” or at least I did.

Five days ago, our grapes were clusters on stems, ripe, round, small and firm. They had a sweet taste with just the slightest hint of attitude. After the stems were removed and the grapes were crushed, their color was more angry. Still deeply purplish blue but with strong hints of magenta.

We brought them home from the crush and wrapped them in their new onesie, an old bed sheet cut into a nice neat square that fit over the top of the fermenter, put them to bed next to the Range Rover, turned off the light and let them sleep. On Monday, the fun began. We added the yeast and suddenly, these babies were having a party. Snapping, crackling, popping and physically trying to separate themselves, with the juice pushed down and the skins rising to the top to form a cap. Each day, we’ve dutifully taken their temperature. They’re not sick, but they do tend to get feverish when fermenting. We did our best to keep them around 75º. The two nights when they threatened to get warmer and topped 80º, we dropped a couple of frozen bottles of water through the cap to great fanfare. It was like a miniature wine bomb. But in the morning, the temps had returned to normal.

Que Syrah Syrah, oil on canvas, by Jennifer Evenhus


Each day we punched down the cap, pushing the 3 to 4 inches of grape skins back down into the juice, forcing them to play together. We did this about five times a day.

We also read the sugar content. On Monday, it started at 24.5 and the goal was to get it to drop to 0. When it reached 0, the fermenting process was essentially over and it was time to get schooled, or at least pressed. Today, after five days of rocking, rolling and snarling in the garage, it has calmed down. It’s so quiet it’s almost eerie. The cap is less now than it was, and not as heavy. It’s as if it has finally been tamed. It’s ready to make another drive so that we can feed the skins through a wine press to squeeze out the last bit of juice. Then, we start the rest of the process. Racking to clarify, testing pH levels and finally aging.

The next week or so will be fairly mellow, at least compared to the last five days.

And then, syrah’s baby brother arrives in the form of cabernet sauvignon and the late nights, the not wanting to sleep, the rising temperatures, the purple cradle cap will appear again and we will react accordingly.

But that’s next week. Today is all about the five-day birthday of our syrah grapes – I feel like they should have a name, something macho but with a tender side, like Butch. We’re very proud of all they’ve accomplished this week. Soon they’ll begin to age and grow into the fine wine we know, and hope, they can be. We’ll be with them every step of the way, listening when they need listening to, taking charge when authority is needed, keeping them on the path to grapeness. It’s their destiny, it’s what will be.  It’s the journey to maturity, shown in a clear, deep, inky syrah wine known to family and friends as Butch, from Michel Cellars.

Where whatever will be, will be wine. 

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Doing the MOG

by Lorin Michel Sunday, October 14, 2012 7:56 PM

We embarked on a new journey this morning, during which time we engaged in an age-old tradition known as ‘doing the MOG’ (pronounced mawg). Actually, I don’t know if it’s age-old or not. I’m not even sure it’s a tradition, and I’m fairly certain that doing the MOG is my own little ditty. There is, however, something called MOG. It’s an acronym for Matter Other than Grapes, and while you may think that means I’ve finally decided to like something other than wine, it’s actually just the opposite. When one engages in MOG, it is part of an elaborate process of picking sticks and leaves and bugs and anything else out of several tons of grapes as they are moving along the shake table toward the crusher and de-stemmer.

Grapes rolling off the shake table and into the crusher. Kevin is in the back on the left.

Ladies and Gentlemen: Introducing Michel Cellars. Kevin and Lorin’s new endeavor. Yes, we have another project, this time making our own wine. Today we picked up our first 110 pounds of syrah grapes and as I said in the first paragraph, helped to ready them for the crush. We ordered them several weeks ago from a vineyard up in Santa Barbara county. They were picked yesterday and arrived at a facility in Camarillo last night. We went up this morning and found them all nice and snug in big white totes covered with white sheets. Full clusters of grapes, small, tight, blue with just a tinge of purple, surprisingly sweet to the taste, and just waiting to be taken apart.

After everything was crushed, we got our “grapes” which basically consisted of grape skins and pulp. We poured our designated amount into our fermenter, got our yeast, somehow got the tub into the back of the Range Rover, tied it down and off we went.

Tomorrow we add the yeast and the fermentation process begins. The wine will bubble and nearly boil. It gets so hot, just from the fermentation, that we have to watch the temperature closely. Three times a day we have to punch it down, meaning push all of the air out of the cap, or the skins that rise to the top and keep rising. We mix it up, keep it moving in order to keep it around 75º for the next week. Then once the wine is “dry,” meaning all of the brix (also known as sugar) has converted into alcohol, it’s time to press. There will already be a lot of juice, but there is more still trapped in the skins. You basically squeeze them to get as much juice as possible.

Once we have grape juice we start to age it in new oak barrels. 110 pounds of grapes reduces to just over eight gallons of liquid. Our barrels will each hold about 5.3 gallons. We’ll keep excess in glass to top off as some evaporates. The barrels need to be full at all times. We’ll be able to do barrel tastings as we go along so that we can make sure to not get too oaky. Then we’ll transfer the wine into glass carboys for a little more aging without the oak flavor. After which we’ll bottle, cork, label, foil, and drink. In a year or so, we’ll be the proud vintners of somewhere between 24 and 36 bottles of 2012 Syrah.

Next week our Cabernet Sauvignon grapes are supposed to come in so we’ll get started on our second batch. Same process. Same amount of grapes. Same finished amount of wine.

Kevin has been wanting to do this for a while and finally decided this year that it was time. We’ve experimented in the past, making not very good wine from not very good juice. But if you start with good grapes, and do everything yourself, you have more of an opportunity to make some very good wine. Roy and Bobbi designed a label for us years ago when I bought him his first wine-making equipment, some of which we’re still using for this new project.

Eventually, we’d like to plant our own grapes. When we move to Tucson, we’d like to make use of some of our 4 acres and string up some vines. We’ve already started to research what types of red varietals will grow there. What doesn’t, we’ll simply purchase and have shipped.

It’s fun, this wine-making process. So much to know, so much to do. So much potential. It’s why we got up early this morning to do the MOG. We like to think of it as a new kind of dance. The Native Americans had the rain dance. We have the wine dance, and that, my fellow wine lovers, is always worth celebrating.

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Of wondrous desktop images and savvy screensavers

by Lorin Michel Monday, August 27, 2012 8:28 PM

In May of 2009, we went to Napa Valley with Roy and Bobbi to celebrate Bobbi’s birthday. We had been there previously, and had stayed in the quaint town of Yountville, inside the valley itself. This time, we decided to do something different. We rented a house. It would be so much easier to rise, shower, meet for coffee and bagels in the kitchen before heading off to wineries, returning sometime after 4 to relax, maybe in front of a fire, while we cooked our own meal and ate it in a homey setting. The last thing any of us wanted to do after a day of tasting would be to go out to dinner.

Our criteria was simple: two bedrooms, two full baths, a nice kitchen, private and near the Silverado Trail. The Silverado Tray is where all of the high-end red wine producers are located. Wineries like Heitz Cellars, Chimney Rock, Silver Oak and so many more. We spent much time on the VRBO website and discovered an incredible house atop a hill just off the trail, surrounded by 25 acres of grapes. According to the pictures, it was spectacular, complete with a baby grand piano. And the price would be less than we paid to stay at the Yountville Inn. We decided to go for it.

My Mac desktop photo, from Napa Valley

The pictures did not truly do the place justice. It was beyond spectacular as to border on exquisite, incredible, earth-shatteringly fabulous. We couldn’t believe our luck. The house was so amazing we almost didn’t want to leave it to go wine tasting. I said “almost.” From the road, a long drive wound through some farmland, past a big gray cow who would stand near the road and simply stare as we drove by, and up the hill to where the house awaited. From the front of the house, vineyards stretched further than our eyes could see. From the back of the house, the farmland and valley would be seen. Inside, were two bedrooms, each with its own bath. There was a bar, a living room complete with aforementioned piano, a huge kitchen, attached great room with high ceilings and a fireplace. It was perfect, as was the entire trip. It will probably go down as one of my all time favorites.

I see the vineyards every day, the early morning sun drifting through the trees to alight the thick-with-grapes vines. It’s my desktop image on my Mac. It brings me peace; it makes me want to open a bottle of cabernet sauvignon, perhaps a syrah, and sit back, relax, listen to some music and transport myself back in time, up to that house on the hill.


On my PC, my desktop is a huge picture of my beloved Maguire, lying on his rug in his sphinx position, his front paws crossed – he was always such a gentleman – his beautiful brown eyes alert and looking directly at me, his nose wet. I can almost feel how cold it always was. The sign of a healthy boy.

I think the images we choose for our desktops as well as for our screensavers say a lot about us. They define us. Computers come with a number of photos and background colors from which to choose. Wet pebbles in a stream, a beach at sunset, deep space, a distant landscape. The flat colors are turquoise, orange, red, blue, purple, the colors of the rainbow and beyond. I’ve never been interested in just having a boring desktop with a pre-determined photo. I look at this computer screen all day and into the night. I want it to be an extension of me. It is; both are.

When my Mac has been sitting idle for more than 10 minutes, the screen simply goes black. A touch to the track pad and the sundrenched vineyard reappears. On the PC, the screensaver is a 3-D high-chrome apparition of Microsoft Windows. A touch to that track pad, and my beautiful boy is back.

Screensavers began in the late 1980s because the tubes used to light computer monitors were vulnerable to damage when the same pattern was displayed in the same position for extended periods of time. These monitors were called CRT screens for cathode ray tubes. Some thought the image on the screen, whether it was words or graphics, would be burned into the monitor; others said that portions of the screen would gray out. In actuality the whole process was caused by phosphor compounds illuminating when hit by high-speed electrons. Manufacturers originally developed screensavers that made the screen totally black but in 1989, the “Magic Screensaver” was created. Developed by Bill Stewart and Ian Macdonald, it showed images and patterns interchanging and overlapping, changing constantly in order to keep the screen healthy.

My beautiful, beautiful boy as he appears on my PC desktop

The screensavers of today are even more complex, with animations and multiple settings for control. They’re created by programmers who often design and build them for the sheer joy of the creativity. I say, bravo.

But I’m still partial to the black screen of the Mac that eventually returns me to Napa. It’s a bit like time travel, which could be the best screensaver ever. I’ll have to talk to someone about that. We could all go back to Napa, to our house on the hill, and this time, we’d take Maguire, and his healthy wet nose, with us. What’s a wine house without a dog, right?

Now this is sweet

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, August 21, 2012 8:30 PM

I am not a sweets fan. In this way, I did not take after my mother, a woman I’m fairly certain would be happy to live her life eating nothing but pastries, cookies and chocolate. My sister likes sweets much better than I do; not sure about my brother. I think he’s more neutral. I much prefer salt. Neither is supposedly good for you, but according to some recent evidence one may actually be better for you but only if the sweet you like is chocolate.

Evidently, chocolate helps reduce blood pressure. It can also improve cognitive function. Researchers in Australia studied 856 people over the course of up to 18 weeks. Within two weeks of eating chocolate on a daily basis, their blood pressure dropped by 2 to 3 points. Not significant necessarily but still nothing to hang up your Hershey bar over. Another study conducted at the University of L’Aquila in Italy, used a group of 90 seniors who were suffering from mild cognitive impairment. They were split into three groups with one receiving a high concentration of flavonoids, a chemical substance found in dark chocolate, another group receiving smaller amounts and the third group receiving almost none. The seniors were tested after eight weeks, performing mental acuity tests like figuring out mazes and recollecting words. The group that received the highest concentrations of flavonoids was able to complete their tasks in an average of 38 seconds. The lowest-flavonoid group took 104 seconds.

Flavonoids are found in a number of foods. They’re plant-based, so they’re natural, and they help reduce inflammation, keep arteries healthy, and may even protect the mind against the ravages of dementia, Alzheimer’s and even certain cancers. Fruits like apples and blueberries are high in flavonoids, as is cabbage and capers. Not a fan of cabbage or capers. Flavonoids are high in red grapes and red wine (yea!) and in dark chocolate and cocoa.

Cocoa beans were first grown in 1500 BC by the Olmec Indians. The Mayans were the first to consume the beans in an unsweetened drink, though it was restricted to just the society elite. By the year 600, the Mayans had migrated into South America and established the earliest known cocoa plantations in the Yucatan. The Aztecs soon started drinking it, calling it xocalatl, meaning warm or bitter liquid. In 1502 Christopher Columbus came upon a trading canoe carrying cocoa beans and confiscated it, and the Spanish explorer Hernando Cortez wrote of cocoa being used in the court of Emperor Montezuma. Cortez introduced it to his country, and the Spanish soon began adding cane sugar and vanilla to sweeten their cocoa beverages.

Cut to 1657 when the first chocolate house opened in London. It was called The Coffee Mill and Tobacco Roll and it sold cocoa at 10 shillings per pound, about $.70. In 1732, Monsier Dubuisson invented a table mill to grind the beans and in 1795, Dr. Joseph Fry decided that a steam engine for grinding the beans would lead to greater production on a factory scale. He was correct. It went on from there, with famous names like Richard Cadbury creating a heart-shaped candy box and Daniel Peter and Henri Nestle creating the Nestle Company.

So sweet was the fine mill of the cocoa bean that it was coined theobroma, the Greek word for food of the gods, a term that seems even more appropriate today. [I would normally say ‘food of the dogs,’ but chocolate isn’t good for dogs.]

In my third paragraph I mentioned some things that are high in flavonoids. Chocolate, of the dark persuasion, was amongst them. While my mother prefers milk chocolate, I seem to remember her also using BAKER’S chocolate when baking brownies and cakes, and when making icing. I suspect she still does. All of this almost makes me wish I had more of a sweet tooth. Almost. Luckily, I don’t necessarily need a sweet tooth in order to get the benefits of high concentrations of flavonoids. You’ll recall I also I mentioned a favorite beverage of mine: wine. My sweet, sweet wine. With blood pressure at 120/72 and most days being fairly cognitive, I think it’s working just fine.

When I visit my mother in September, we’ll share our low blood pressure and improved cognitive function over some stimulating conversation. She with a chocolate bar; me with a glass of red wine. Now that’s sweet.

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live out loud

W(h)ining as art

by Lorin Michel Friday, May 18, 2012 1:11 AM

It’s date night, and we went to a wine tasting at the Wineyard. We’re creatures of habit. When we find something we like, we tend to frequent said something. It becomes comforting, welcome. Like seeing an old friend on a regular basis. Thursday night, in addition to being date night, is also tasting night at our favorite haunt. Each Thursday they invite a winery, often fairly local, to come to the store, pour some wine, talk to the patrons and maybe even sell a little. It’s not an expensive evening out and we’ve been introduced to some fabulous wines, wines we wouldn’t otherwise know about. It was a tasting at the Wineyard that introduced us to Niner, one of our new favorites. We’ve also discovered wineries like Adelaida, Zenaida, and The Sum made by TB Wines in St. Helena. Tonight they were tasting Beckman, a good but not great winery in Santa Ynez, where our precious Zaca Mesa also grows and bottles wines. In fact, they do some of the same wines: Grenache, a Cuvee blend, and of course, Syrah.

Zaca Mesa knocks them both out of the vineyard, or Wineyard, as the case may be.

So we tasted, mingled with the usual crowd. Nodded to Paul, noticed neighbors from down the street, talked with owners Lisa and Stacy and Stacy’s husband Steve. The husbands are usually there on Thursdays to help with the crowd that can grow to be fairly large, though it’s always well-behaved if not sometimes loud.

We came home, ordered some food, had another glass of wine and watched the season finale of Grey’s Anatomy. It’s more habit than anything else at this point but that’s OK. It was actually good. A little gorier than usual but interesting nevertheless. The plane crashed and they were all hurt. Sorry to see that whoziewats died. Maybe if they’d had some wine to help them feel better there wouldn’t have been quite so much angst. Maybe it would have kept them warmer.

Maybe I’ll suggest that to the writer’s for next year’s season opener. I’m sure they’re all waiting around for casual watchers such as myself to give them plot suggestions. I just don’t see how wine can hurt any situation. In my experience, it helps almost all.

It can break the ice in an otherwise awkward meeting. It can make a really horrible date go a little bit better, but still not good enough to justify a second date. It can be the perfect punctuation on a week that’s been hectic, filled with good news and bad clients, bad clients and good news. It can simply soothe away any day, in moderation of course.

Wine is like the finest of art. It’s subjective but it can’t be ignored. It fills the room, it speaks to us, it makes us feel both better and worse. Wine is life.

I’m a big advocate of w(h)ining a little almost always. It soothes my soul, touches my palette, opens my mind, and allows me to relax. And then there’s this: if you have wine, you can also have wine foil art.

Such art, embossed lithographs, has been created using the neck foils of Grand Cru wine from France. Artist Gerard Puvis, who never met a heavy wine foil he couldn’t make more beautiful, molds them into magical figures. Figures that have become one, literally, with wine. 

My kind of people.

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live out loud

In which Lorin discovers her best reason yet to drink wine

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, April 25, 2012 10:26 PM

I was doing a little reading today when I was supposed to be doing a little writing. This happens often when I’m tired. I can spend hours not writing. I can find any number of reasons to continue not writing. I start laundry, I make phone calls, I surf the ‘net. I send out emails that do entail some writing but it’s minimal allowing me to get through them fairly easily, though each one takes me longer than it otherwise would. At 1:30, the doorbell rang. Usually my first thought is: go away. If someone is ringing the doorbell it usually means they want to either sell me something (religion; magazines; girl scout cookies) or want to sell something for me (real estate agents who want me to list my house). Either way, I’m not buying and I’m not selling.

When Maguire was alive, the doorbell used to be cause for not-wanted sales people to run away quickly. Nothing says go away better than an 80 pound dog bounding to the door, feet flying in all directions, ears fully forward, tail straight out, fur standing straight up, seen through the window, barking his fool head off. I used to stand at the top of stairs and laugh as the bell-ringing offender scurried off. Even in his vintage puppy days, he would still amble toward the door, nothing really flying, but ears still fully forward, fur standing somewhat up, barking his deeper, wisdom-filled, get-off-my-lawn bark. People were still intimidated but not always as scared.

Today’s ringing doorbell only brought me to the door. I wasn’t running with limbs flying, though my ears were somewhat alert. My hair wasn’t standing straight up and my tail – well, let’s just leave my tail out of this. Also, no barking. The only reason I even ambled, and I did amble, to the door rather than ignore it entirely was because I needed a break from all of my not-writing, and I knew it was the delivery guy from the California Wine Club. Each month we get a delivery from the club, red wines from many boutique wineries, usually in the state but always from the west. They come right to the door, announced by the doorbell. The previous day, they are announced by an email that says to expect the shipment. This is good because one has to sign when one gets a wine delivery.

I signed my name, took the box, bid the delivery dude adieu, or hasta la vista, and ambled to the kitchen to open it up and see what delectable delights awaited my palette. It was wine from Tobin James of Paso Robles. Since we only get red, we got four bottles of Titan Hills Fiasco, a reserve red wine from 2008. It’s a blend of Syrah (55%), Zinfandel (25%) and Barbera (20%). I have no doubt we’ll be trying it shortly.

Since I needed to get back to my non-writing, I grabbed the newsletter that always accompanies each shipment, and headed upstairs. It’s called Uncorked, and its main story was “It’s a party in your glass at Tobin James Cellars.” I settled back into my desk chair and started flipping through, stopping when I found an article about the health benefits of moderate wine consumption. Turns out they are numerous. For instance, 1,379 people in an Icelandic study who drank moderately were 32% less likely to get cataracts. In the European Journal of Neurology, Belgian researchers posted their study of 1,431 people with multiple sclerosis and their findings that the ones who enjoyed wine also enjoyed less inflammation.

Wine, according to the University of Spain, can help keep you skinny, or at least “lower the risk of obesity.” It can protect the body against some cancers, due to the phenolic compounds, or antibacterials. It can also reduce the chance of stroke.

But the biggest news I found was this, and I quote: “There are major findings like reduced mortality for moderate drinkers…” If I drink wine my chances of mortality are reduced. Pause for effect.

I won’t die if I drink wine. If that’s not cause for celebration, I don’t know what it is.

Honey? Pour me a glass.

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