Category Archives: Discussion

Quick Bites – Enjoy the Solitude of a Table for One

Does dining solo give you the jitters? Follow these tips and master the art of eating alone.

**listen to the episode on Spotify – the link is below.

“Just one?” “Yes” I say smiling. “Please.” “No one will be joining you”? “No, but thank you for asking.”

As the world re-opens and we begin dining out more, I am prepared to answer these repeat questions. Solo dining is no longer regarded as a lonely venture. So why do people still seem surprised when we take ourselves to lunch in the afternoon or out to dinner for the evening?

If this is your year to begin dining alone, don’t be embarrassed. The number of single diners is increasing and as the world opens up again we all would really love to get out of the house. If you’re nervous, bring a smart device, a book or a book ON your smart device. Catch up on reading, the news, trending articles and simply enjoy your quiet time and space.

7 Simple Tips

  • Make a reservation.
  • If this is your first time and you feel self conscious, consider asking for a seat at the bar.
  • Stand your ground on seating if you prefer a table to the bar.
  • Don’t get stuck in your emails, enjoy the culinary experience.
  • Bring a book, magazine or notebook to jot notes.
  • Be a little adventurous and enjoy yourself.
  • Most importantly, don’t care what people think.

Solo dining while on business travel

Gone are the days of taking meals only in the room. After a day of corporate training or meetings, it’s now not uncommon to show up solo for lunch for dinner with a tablet or other smart device, as sometimes it’s the only chance during the day to catch up on emails, family or simply the news.

Slow the pace of the day – A table for one means having the opportunity to slow down, take a moment for ourselves, enjoy deliciously prepared cuisine and a spirited beverage. It forces us to unplug and simply enjoy the moment.

Be a little selfish – Enjoy yourself. Catch up on the things that make you happy, sample the menu, taste the wine and enjoy the solitude.

Listen to this episode on Spotify!

Safety First: Risky Drinking Can Put a Chill on Your Summer Fun

Up to 70% of water recreation deaths of teens and adults involve the use of alcohol.

Here at basil & salt we post a lot of cocktail recipes for our readers. While we enjoy delicious libations, we also advise moderation, safety and of course, that alcohol consumers be of legal drinking age.

Summer is typically a wonderful season for outdoor activities and spending additional time with family and friends. For some people, these activities include drinking alcoholic beverages. In light of the coronavirus pandemic as well as the negative consequences associated with drinking, it is particularly important this summer to take measures to protect your own health and that of your loved ones.

Swimmers Can Get in Over Their Heads

Alcohol impairs judgment and increases risk-taking, a dangerous combination for swimmers. Even experienced swimmers may venture out farther than they should and not be able to make it back to shore, or they may not notice how chilled they’re getting and develop hypothermia. Surfers could become overconfident and try to ride a wave beyond their abilities. Even around a pool, alcohol can have tragic consequences. Inebriated divers may collide with the diving board, or dive where the water is too shallow. 

Boaters Can Lose Their Bearings

Photo by Rachel Claire on

The U.S. Coast Guard reports that alcohol consumption contributes to 19 percent of boating deaths in which the primary cause is known, making alcohol the leading known contributor of fatal boating accidents.

  1. A boat operator with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08 percent or higher is 14 times more likely to be killed in a boating accident than an operator with no alcohol in their system. Reaching a 0.08 percent BAC would require about 4 drinks in 2 hours for an average-size woman (171 lbs) or 5 drinks in 2 hours for an average-size man (198 lbs). It is important to note that the odds of a fatal crash begin to increase with the first drink.
  2. In addition, according to the U.S. Coast Guard and the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators, alcohol can impair a boater’s judgment, balance, vision, and reaction time. It can also increase fatigue and susceptibility to the effects of cold-water immersion. If problems arise, intoxicated boaters are ill-equipped to respond quickly and find solutions. For passengers, intoxication can lead to slips on deck, falls overboard, or accidents at the dock. 

Drivers Can Go Off Course

The summer holidays are some of the most dangerous times of the year to be on the road. When on vacation, drivers may be traveling an unfamiliar route or hauling a boat or camper, with the distraction of pets and children in the car. Adding alcohol to the mix puts the lives of the driver and everyone in the car, as well as other people on the road, at risk. 

Dehydration Is a Risk

Whether you’re on the road or in the great outdoors, heat plus alcohol can equal trouble. Hot summer days cause fluid loss through perspiration, while alcohol causes fluid loss through increased urination. Together, they can quickly lead to dehydration or heat stroke. 

So What’s In That Drink, Exactly?

Summer cocktails may be stronger, more caloric, and more expensive than you realize. You may be watching what you eat so you can fit into those summer clothes, but watching what you drink can keep you safe. NIAAA’s alcohol calculators can help you assess calories, drink size, alcohol spending, blood alcohol levels, and the number of standard drinks in each cocktail. Visit

Source: National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD. For more information, visit (PRNewsfoto/National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism)

Protect Your Skin

Sunburns can put a damper on summer vacations. People who drink alcohol while celebrating in the sun are less likely to wear sunscreen. And laboratory research suggests that alcohol lowers the amount of sun exposure needed to produce burns. This is all bad news, as repeated sunburns increase the risk of skin cancer. Whether drinking or not, be sure to slather on the sunscreen to maximize your summer fun! 

Stay Safe and Stay Healthy

Be smart this summer—think before you drink. Practice measures to avoid the spread of the coronavirus to yourself and others. Avoiding alcoholic beverages while piloting a boat, driving a car, exploring the wilderness, and swimming or surfing can also help keep you and your loved ones safe. If you are a parent, understand the underage drinking laws—and set a good example.

it’s all in the timing

Spring has sprung yet it came in with barely a whisper. With so much going on in the world, did any of us really even notice spring’s entrance this year? All of the changes over the past couple of months have brought uncertainty to the forefront as we wait for  the world to turn again. What we do know is, everything had changed seemingly overnight and as businesses open and life begins to take shape again, our new normal will not be the normal we once knew. At least not for a while.

social distance illustration IIWe have seen what happens when the public panics, when our basic supply chains are threatened and when the medical community, local and federal governments all disagree with each other. The fallout lands on us, and we the public are unsure how to navigate these new waters.

Turn off the noise
Social media can be an amazing tool for connecting with your community, knowing where to donate and pickup goods, where to buy items in stock and for getting tips and tricks for learning new skills. It can also trigger depression, anger, fear, anxiety and panic. There is a fine line between staying positively informed and becoming over-saturated with chaos. Take control of your newsfeed and shut off the noise.

Old “new” trends
What’s going on during social distancing? Comfort foods are trending! Breads, quick breads, chicken soup and stews have been at the center of family meals these past couple of months. According to google, the top 10 recipes or recipe ingredients searched online have been:

  1. baking illustrationBanana Bread
  2. Pizza Dough
  3. French Toast
  4. Chocolate Cake
  5. Whipped Coffee | Dalgona Coffee
  6. Chicken Breast recipes
  7. Carrot Cake
  8. Ground Beef recipes
  9. Fried Rice recipes
  10. Chocolate Chip Cookies

What’s trending on Pinterest, April 2020

  1. Health and Wellness
  2. Parenting
  3. Food
  4. Beauty and personal care

It’s all in the timing
grandma in the kitchen illustrationAs children, many of us remember our grandmothers chiding us for being wasteful. She taught us basic skills like growing our food, putting up the harvest and cooking from scratch. She told us to teach these basics to our children because one day, we will need these skills for survival. How well did we listen? Well we are listening now.

Over the past year, Basil & Salt has undergone quite a few changes. We shuttered for a bit and regrouped with the assistance of Designing A Simple Life and now we are rolled into one complete package and our timing couldn’t be more relevant.

Where Basil & Salt previously resided in tasting rooms and salons, our focus for almost a year has been about designing that simpler life and becoming more self-sufficient. This past winter we were asking you to slow down, spend more time with family, gather and cook together. While this current scenario isn’t quite what we had in mind, I hope we will find and hang on to good things that have come out of this.

First let me back up and say I know people of have lost family members to this virus. Communities have lost leaders and first responders. There have been haunting and horrific scenes all over the world and the economic vibrations will be felt for years to come, both on personal and business levels. I do not wish to diminish these facts by talking about moving forward and embracing the positives.

What I would like to point out is, through tragedies and hardship, the human spirit is resilient. We have always grasped hope and used it as a corner stone for rebuilding. Yes, things have changed, and we will all move in a different way than we have before, but we will move forward.

Basil & Salt Magazine 
We wish to bring you outstanding, relevant content. In our new issues we talk about:

  • livestock illustrationGrowing your own food
  • Putting up your harvest
  • Gourmet recipes
  • Growing, harvesting, drying and cooking with herbs
  • Making butter and cheese
  • Cooking outdoors
  • Interior and exterior DIY
  • Cocktails and mocktails
  • Wine tasting and great brews (yes! Even how to make your own!)
  • Travel
  • …and more!

I would love to hear from you and discuss any ideas you have for future articles or broadcast topics. Please feel free to send me an email at:

As always, I am raising a glass to you.

Karie Engels




‘Genesis Project’ Raising a Glass to New Beginnings

True Story.

GenesisProjectOne afternoon about two years ago I received a life-changing email.

A gentleman from a national media firm mentioned he thought I would be a perfect fit for a Seattle company they had in their portfolio. It had the same focus as my online site and they were looking for an editor for a term of 6-months minimum and liked my work enough to bring me into the family. I informed him I wasn’t looking for a job and he tossed out a rather decent dollar amount which had me reconsidering this small point. We chatted a couple of times on the phone, set an interview date with the local office staff and away I went.

Set in the heart of down-town, even the sidewalks were vibrating with the energy of the Seattle’s people. My mood was on hi-beam as I entered the building.

I arrived early, checked out the hip, colorful lobby, chatted with the receptionist and noticed a few employees who wandered in and out of the kitchen. All of them young, in jeans, and one was barefoot with her hair tossed messily on top of her head looking like she just popped in from a pajama party. Cheerily chatting, they pulled lunches from the fridge and headed back to their desks. I noted this was a comfortable, casual atmosphere laden with happy, fresh talent.

After a bit of a wait, I was taken into a small downstairs room to meet with the company videographer. He tossed around the names of a couple Food Network chefs that he had been assigned to in the recent past and all in all seemed pleasant while at the same time just a bit condescending.

He went over the guidelines, walked me through company policies and circled back to my site and my resume. He then looked me directly in the eye and said, “this is good work and this all looks great, I just didn’t expect them to send me someone with so much…experience.”

There it was. That moment. That first realization that I was too old, too seasoned, too experienced to land a job in today’s market. The worst part? I hadn’t been looking for a job. Yet I polished my resume, spent a total of 4 hours’ in traffic and paid for parking to have someone tell me I was too old for a job I didn’t even apply for.

Admittedly I was humiliated and a bit angry, but more than anything it was a wake-up call to self-renewal and reinvention. That one moment became my Genesis Project.

Change can happen quickly and more often than not life takes a turn in the opposite direction we were headed. Re-gaining control of our daily lives is not something we can wait to do. Read my story and take your life by the reigns. Make life your genesis project.  Pre-order for yourself or a gift for the holiday season. $14.99 Pre-order

profile picKarie Engels is an author and founder and publisher of Basil & Salt Magazine. She enjoys a quiet life in a small town in Washington State with her children and two troublesome cats.

She decided to write ‘Genesis Project’ when she realized society thought her too old to be a viable cog in the workplace. Raising a glass to New Begninnings.

Cooking for a Tibetan Lama: A Singular Experience

Chinese Buddhism

The photograph is from a web page titled “Chinese Buddhism.” The caption reads: “Gonpo Tseten Rinpoche transmitting the Yeshe Lama, Forestville, CA 1981” I’m almost positive this photograph was taken on the ranch that summer.

During the summer of 1981 I was living on a ranch in Northern California working on a writing project, which ultimately proved unsuccessful, however that’s a story for another time.

I rose early each morning to write before the heat of the day and would sit with my notebook, pen and typewriter on a screen porch off of the front of the house.

I had to abandon my little writing area by noon because of the heat and I’d spend the afternoon writing short pieces in any cooler nook I could find. I’d try selling these smaller pieces to magazines. While working I’d watch my daughter by the swimming pool.

There was a large barn on the ranch that the proprietor rented for events and receptions. The owner of the ranch approached me one morning during my coffee break in the kitchen. “We’re going to have a group of Tibetans here soon.” “Tibetans,” I asked? “Yeah, some Lama guy will be here for a retreat with his students.” “A Lama?” “Yeah, he’s apparently coming from somewhere like Tibet or India or Nepal. One of them countries over there,” he said point east, instead of west. “Cool,” I thought, “Tibetan Buddhist students,” and left it at that.

Soon the group began to roll in. Ten, twenty and twenty more. The final one to arrive was the teacher who came in with his translator. The first day or so I’d bump into them on the property and we would greet each other with smiles and palms folded together and that would be that. I thought, they’re nice people.

One morning while I was having my coffee in the houses’ kitchen, I overheard a couple of people of this group having what seemed to me to be an urgent conversation. Well, nosy me. I began listening in. The gist of what they were discussing was the Lama’s cook failed to show up for the retreat. Obviously no one to cook for the Lama was a crisis. “I’ll cook for him,” just rolled out of my mouth like warm honey out of an open jar on a hot afternoon.

“What?” they exclaimed together. “I said, I’ll be glad, actually honored, to cook for your teacher.” “Well, thank you…” “Paul.” “Yes, thank you Paul but cooking for him, well, it is considered something very special.” I continued to jump right in. “I’m a very good cook,” I said, maybe stretching the truth a bit. Well, all my friends had told me I was. An intense conversation between the three of us followed. It finally came down to that they would need to check with the core group of “disciples” yes, that’s the word they used, and they would get back to me.

I didn’t hear anything from them that same day but the next I was approached by his senior students. “This is very important, Paul, cooking for our teacher.” I replied, “Yes, I understand that.” “No one outside our tradition has ever cooked for him. Ever.” “It would be my honor.” “Alright, let me talk to Lama Gonpo and I’ll get back to you.” This was, I was to later learn, Gonpo Tseten Rinpoche, an artist, author, and renowned Tibetan Buddhist teacher of the Nyingma School of Tibetan Buddhism, and someone venerated by thousands upon thousands throughout the world, and I had just volunteered to cook for him.

The word came down later that I was to cook a trial meal for him that evening. I asked what he liked and was told he liked barley, beef, and vegetables in a rich stew. I replied that I would go shop after lunch. “What time does he like to eat?” I asked. An important question. “Five o’clock I was told.” Okay, I’ll have everything ready by quarter to the hour. “Oh, and there’s one more thing.” he said. “He likes desserts.” “Desserts?” “Yes, something sweet.” “Okay, I can do that too.” And so it began.

I shopped that afternoon, sparing no expense for the quality of the beef. I purchased a locally raised Porterhouse steak and when I returned began cooking the barley, slowly adding vegetables. While the stew was simmering, I walked out to the barn and corralled one of the cows. “I know it’s a little early but I need some milk, Libby.” After about twenty minutes with a Libby who definitely knew that was not the usual time, I had enough milk for my recipes.

Returning to the kitchen, I strained the milk in a cheesecloth and poured a portion of it in an electric blender. A short time later I had butter and added to the simmering broth. I patted down the steak, added salt and pepper and placed it back in the refrigerator. Finding the garden strawberry patch, I harvested a baker’s dozen of the fattest, ripest berries I could find, returned to the kitchen,  cleaned, sliced and stirred in sugar. I made a graham cracker crust for the pie with the left over butter, baked it for about ten minutes,  poured in the strawberries and let it all set.

By quarter till the appointed hour, I had a rich  beef, barley, vegetable stew and a strawberry pie with a mound of fresh whipped cream laying gently on top. I walked up the hill to small house where Lama Gonpo was staying, gave the stew to one of his disciples and the pie to another. He was settled there with his translator, a young woman who was seated on his right. I was introduced and he said something, which was then translated for me as a greeting and thank you.

I closed my palms together thanking him for being here and left. I was informed later in the evening that he had asked for seconds of both the stew and the pie. I was also told in so many words that I had the job.

Each afternoon I cooked a rich stew for Lama Gonpo, varying the ingredients, vegetables and cuts of meat, and included a sweet, delectable dessert.  In the  following days  I was told how much he enjoyed what I had made and thankfully, the community reimbursed me for the cost of the food.

Rigpa Wikki

From Rigpa Wiki on the web. The caption reads: Lama Gönpo Tseten Rinpoche, photo taken circa 1979-1980 in the U.S.A. I remember seeing him as in this photograph at the conclusion of the retreat.

Soon the time came for the cooking adventure to end and I was informed the retreat would be over the next evening . I would not be needed to cook dinner on the last night. I was instead invited to their closing ceremony.

Upon entering the room, I immediately understood why I didn’t need to cook. There was a mountain of food, both fresh and prepared near where Lama Gonpo was seated. Wine beer and other beverages were plentiful as well and I was informed these would be consumed at the conclusion of the retreat. I sat there listening to he and his students chant. It was mesmerizing. Then someone who I believe was the senior student stood, and gave a brief talk about how I had stepped in to cook. There was applause and Lama Gonpo motioned for me to come forward. I did and he put a silk scarf around my neck. Once again, I folded my hands and bowed, walking slowly backwards to where I was sitting.

Shortly after the celebration began, I excused myself and went to my writing nook where I jotted down as much as I could remember about what had transpired as his cook. I saw him once again years later in Berkeley, California when he again came to visit his students in California. We had a brief exchange where he remembered me and again expressed his gratitude. He passed on a date that he had predicted in 1991.

Paul Rest lives in Sonoma County, California. He has been enjoying California wines and foods since arriving in California. He can be contacted at

Written by Paul Rest / Edited by Karie Engels Giffin





The Bon-Vivant Girls’ Tips and Tricks to Enjoy Eating Out

by Nathalie Botros

We all know how to lose weight: “eat less and healthier, exercise more”. So how come we keep failing?

_G9A0396It isn’t because of lack of strength and determination, but because we try to lose the weight with a “diet”. The minute we say the word “diet”, our brain translates it to “restriction”. Which means we are forbidden to eat what we want. In human psychology, when we are forbidden to do something, we right away want to do it. Remember Adam and Eve; God told them they could eat from any tree, except one. And of course, Eve ate the forbidden fruit from that tree…

Until ten years old, I lived in Turkey; I was on a Mediterranean diet. Then my parents sent me to a boarding school in Switzerland; I was on cheese and chocolate diet. After finishing my studies and working in Switzerland, I moved to Italy; I was on pasta and pizza diet. Finally, I moved to the United States; the fast food, delivery and TV ads diet.

Although I started dieting at an early age, I became a professional dieter when I moved to the United States and gained 40 pounds. I have tried all the good ones, the bad ones, the trendy ones and the desperate ones: low carb, high protein, low calorie, vegetarian, and alkaline just to name few. I have even tried the controversial HCG diet, where you inject yourself with HCG hormones which are pregnancy hormones.

Some worked for a little while, some others not at all. I have even gained weight with some. Depressed, angry and desperate, I have decided to stop the diet and start the lifestyle. A “diet” means “restriction”; a “lifestyle” means “the way we live”. It was the birth of The Bon-Vivant Girl.

Translated from French, “bon-vivant” means “well-living”. The Bon-Vivant Girl’s lifestyle is all about living to our fullest potential, being happy and healthy and losing weight without a diet and our appetite for life. Instead of asking you to stay home cutting or counting your food intake, this lifestyle encourages you to go out and socialize.

Nathalie BotrosSome people “eat to live”, some others “live to eat”. I am the happiest when I am around a table with friends and family. To incorporate my philosophy, I have created some tips to follow at a restaurant without feeling restricted. You can follow most of these tips at home as well.

–    Choose the right restaurant:

Always opt for a spot where you can enjoy your lunch or dinner. Not a fast food restaurant, where everything happens in 10 -15 minutes, served by an unhappy person, who cooked your food with no joy. This is your time of pleasure, so why to spend it eating miserable food prepared by unhappy people.

–    Check the menu before you go:

We all have access to restaurants’ menus nowadays, why not take advantage of that. It is a good way to have an idea about the food you will eat. You can prepare yourself accordingly. For example, if you have chosen an Italian restaurant for dinner, and the pasta dishes looks amazing; don’t eat pasta for lunch.

–    Share your food:

Sometimes we are attracted to more than one dish on the menu, so why to not share our food with the others so we can order more options. It is an excellent way to taste more dishes and not feel obliged to finish our plate as someone will be helping us.

–    Don’t order all your dishes at once:

Why hurry and order everything at once, when you are out to enjoy your time? Don’t place all your orders at once, order your appetizers; once done, decide your entrees. It is a great trick to avoid ordering too much food and making the wrong choices. After each course, you can see if your table is still hungry and what you are craving for.

–    Start your meal with a “less naughty” dish:

You can order everything, no restriction. Although, if you start with a healthy choice, you have chances to fill fuller before you get into the “naughty one”. For example, if you start with a salad as it contains a lot of water, you will feel satiated faster.

–    Take your time to eat:

Remember, you are not eating fast food, so you can take your time to enjoy every bite. Eating slowly will reduce the amount you eat, making it better for digestion you’ll feel satiated faster. In other words, give time to your body to send “I am full signal” to your brain.

–    Ask always for the sauce or dressing on the side:

It won’t change the taste of your food. You can always pour it into your dish or salad. But having them on the side will automatically make you eat less of that rich sauce or dressing.

–    Taste your food before adding salt:

Restaurants are supposed to have the right amount of salt on the dishes, so try your food first. I am sure it has enough salt. You might lose few seconds, but you avoid eating too salty.

–    Add ice to your drink:

It works very well with champagne and white wine, and it is fashionable in St Tropez. It is called “piscine”, which means “pool”. It works so well that some champagne companies created bottles, especially for that purpose. If you feel like a cocktail, ask without sugar. And don’t forget: For each glass of alcohol, you need to drink at least one glass of water.

The most important tip when you are eating out is to enjoy your lunch or dinner with no guilt!!!

You can find more tips and tricks on the Bon-Vivant Girl’s book: If you are what you eat, should I eat a skinny girl?

Follow the Bon-Vivant Girl on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter


New Orleans: Friday to Sunday, Food for the Gods

By Paul Rest

Well, obviously no gods were there, at least not any that I could see. But there was some magic that happened weekends in thousands of households in the Greater New Orleans area that made one feel as if one was transported to a heavenly realm of gastronomical delights.

It started like this: On Friday morning, the man of the house would leave for work a little early. He would then go to where he had placed (or in some cases hidden) his rowboat. Flipping it over, he would launch the boat and row to a favorite spot. There he would drop traps in the murky waters of the bayou. The bait would be pieces over-the-hill sandwich meat or other similar pieces of something or another, the more rotten the better. These would be dropped in the traps and left there until later. He would then row to shore and push his boat to its safe place.

seafood crabsThat afternoon after work, he would grab a six-pack of his favorite ice-cold beer and return again to his rowboat (this was usually made from aluminum, better to deal with elements), flip it over and re-launch it to where he had set his traps. This time however, he would have his fishing rod and bait with him.

Sitting in his boat, on a late Friday afternoon, before mosquitoes showed up, he would pop open a can of beer, bait his hook and begin casting. It usually won’t take long. Various catfish, maybe a Black buffalo, a bass (Largemouth especially), and trout would be pulled in and carefully detached from the hook. The fish would be placed in a metal canister that looked like a basket with holes scattered along the side. This was placed in the water and secured to the boat. Another beer would be opened. The hook would again be baited and the line cast in the water. Soon, another tug indicated another fish had gone for the bait (usually a worm, a night crawler).

When the bucket beside the boat was full and teeming with fish, the traps would be pulled up. These would be full of crayfish and crabs. These critters would be removed and placed in another metal basket. And another beer would be opened and slowly consumed as he rowed back to “his” spot on the bank of his favorite bayou. The baskets would be drained of water while placed on the bank while fishing gear was stowed in the car. The boat was again flipped over and the oars stored under the boat. (It seems folks there did not mess with other’s boats. You just didn’t do it!) All his catch would be placed in a foam (or something similar) container for transportation.

The man would arrive at home where his family, and in this case, a guest, me, were waiting. He would be congratulated on his catch and then the work began. One assembly line would be cutting potatoes that would go in iron skillets filled with hot oil to begin frying. A different assembly line cleaned the fish. (This was messy work but I enjoyed doing it. In fact, I became quite efficient at cleaning, scaling and filleting fish.) A third group prepared the crayfish (or crawfish, depending on how you pronounced it) and crabs.

seafood crayfishThe crayfish would be put in a “crayfish boil,” basically a bag of special spices dropped in a pot of boiling water. The crabs would also be boiled in another pot. And the fish fillets would be dipped in buttermilk and breadcrumbs and then dropped in another skillet filled with hot oil. Timing was everything. We were like members of a symphony orchestra all moving together towards the finale. No one wanted to arrive too early, or too late. The great orchestra conductor Gustavo Duhamel (Los Angeles Philharmonic) would have been impressed!

Since my cleaning task was done after washing my hands, I was assigned the next step. Dishes were placed on the table after I covered it with layers of newspapers. It was also a way I could quickly catch up with any local news I missed as I quickly scanned the pages of the Times Picayune. The table set, the food was taken from the stove and placed on the table. The crayfish were drained and simply thrown in a pile. The same happened with the crabs. The fish fillets and fries were served on a platter. And of course, there was plenty cold beer to wash every morsel down.

A feast for the gods. I remember that first meal. I was speechless, a rarity for me. I wanted to hug everyone at the table. I really couldn’t thank my dad’s grad school buddy enough for inviting me to join his family’s Friday evening meal and allowing me to become one of the family. “Wait till Sunday, Paul,” he said with a smile on his face.  What was left over became lunch on the Sunday table. It was and is called “Gumbo” which was a new word to me. Rue would be built and then more magic would begin. The leftovers would be stirred in (every cook in New Orleans had her or his own recipe for Gumbo, often a closely guarded family secret passed down from generation to generation). It would be served over rice or rice would be added.

The smell that filled the house when I arrived was different from anything I had experienced before. Following my nose, I ended up in the kitchen. We soon adjourned to the formal family dining room table. There we bowed our heads and after grace we, well, dug in. I discovered okra for the first time. And, probably other spices that were unfamiliar so I didn’t know their names. Needless to a say, I asked for seconds, and when I saw there was some left after that, like Oliver, I humbly asked, “May I have another.” My hostess, her face beaming, “Of course Paul, have another. I’m so glad you like my Gumbo.” My god, like it? I would have married her on the spot for cooking like that. (That obviously was out of the question, as my host and hostess had already been married for over twenty-five years. But you get my point.) And I was invited other times. I don’t know whether it was my enthusiasm for their table (food), or they simply didn’t want to deal with any leftovers?

As I met other people, I realized this was a local ritual that began Friday mornings everywhere in the Greater New Orleans and throughout Southern Louisiana that has its conclusion with the Sunday Gumbo. Well, maybe in other households other than my dad’s grad school buddy’s home there were leftovers from the Gumbo? I don’t know. But what I did know was my education about food was in full swing in this classroom called “New Orleans.”

Food for the gods, and us mere mortals too who were allowed to sit at the same table.

Paul Rest lives in Sonoma County, California. He has been enjoying California wines and foods since arriving in California. He can be contacted at You can read more of Paul’s food stories here

Written by Paul Rest / Edited Lightly by Karie Engels Giffin

In the Bleak Midwinter: Food stories from my youth by Paul Rest

snow-and-treesBy the time February rolled around, winter’s firm grip in our area meant the implementation of different menus. Meals changed from those during the late autumn and early winter months and often included wild game, nuts and lots of canned vegetables from the basement cellar.

Vegetables served for meals were canned or flash frozen and found in one of the freezer food sections at our local markets. To be truthful, the taste between the fresh vegetables and those from cans or frozen, well, it was night and day. My mother would attempt to add some zip to peas, string beans, carrots and the like by adding (I hate to say this) margarine. Melting a bit of margarine on top was her answer to the dull gray string beans, mushy peas and the like. Farmers would occasionally drop a slab of butter by but that was put aside for baking or meals with guests. My brother and sister and I were victims of the myriad butter “substitutes” available. We had no voice in the family food choices other than on our birthdays. That was it.

Fresh vegetables that time of year were slim pickings. Translucent iceberg lettuce, funky looking carrots and beets with wilted leaves. Of course, there were potatoes, onions and cabbages. Other “fresh” vegetables came wrapped in or packaged in cellophane so you really tell what it would taste like. It is probably what you would see now in the tiny vegetable section of your local mini-mart. Slim pickings indeed.

In the morning we would often begin our days with “pigs in a blanket,” which were sausages placed in the center of a pancake. This was served with apple butter and whatever sweet syrup was on sale at the local I.G.A. Sometimes mom would pick up a bottle of “Blackstrap Molasses.” This was a thick, dark syrup which was a change from the usual syrups. For those of you who haven’t experienced this, well, maybe you’ve missed something and maybe you haven’t. Br’er Rabbit was on the bottle. He was a figure in the racist “Uncle Remus” stories of the Deep South.

When not at school, lunch in those freezing months was made to fill our bellies. I’m not sure of the nutritional aspects of these meals.  But the filling the bellies part worked. We would often be served chipped beef with a rich gravy on white bread. The military has another designation for this so for you who are not familiar with this, the abbreviation for chipped beef, gravy on bread is “SOS.” We would be given a glass of milk and maybe the last of the Christmas cookies, now stone hard and needing extensive dunking in the milk to get them to a state other than having to make an emergency trip to the dentist. The “vegetables” served were usually pickles.

Years later, when visiting my parents, this is what my mom served for a lunch. I still got a glass of milk. They drank coffee as usual. I don’t know if this was in honor of my visit, or her just wanting to get lunch over with? I dutifully as the good son (which I marginally was) ate what had been put in front of me without nary a complaint. Thankfully that was the only time she placed that in front of me. The next day, my parents suggested we go out for lunch. At that time they were living in New Braunfels, Texas, a food paradise known world over for the area’s tradition of hickory-smoked meats. Oh boy, was I ever excited. Innocently, I asked, “Where we going dad?” “Your father’s favorite,” my mother answered. “Sizzler.” They loved that you’d get an entrée, salad, baked potato and dessert, then all for $9.99. All I can about that was that it was a meal that I wanted to forget about the moment my plate was put in front of me.

It’s not that they were cheap. Well, maybe a part of them still had thriftiness from growing up during the Great Depression? Even more so, they liked value. It was only after my father passed away that my mother (now gone too) would she open what was in her mind that Pandora’s Box of eating good, and eating what she liked. But more on that later.

Dinner at our family table this time of the year was often from a can. Chef Boyardee fulfilled that role perfectly. We ate his Ravioli, Lasagna, Beefaroni and Spaghetti. He became a regular addition to our family meals. Looking at his image on the can, Chef Boyardee looked like a nice guy. And I, in my innocent young years, concluded that all Italian men must look like the way he looks: mustache, toque, smile on his face, laboring in his kitchen just to make these “real” Italian meals to cheer us up. The food did look happy. Others notables showed up at our table too. Those nice ladies who made Campbell’s soups (as seen on TV and in magazines) were often a visitor. Soup was served with Nabisco saltines. My brother and sister and I would pile the crackers on, and I mean pile them on, partially I think to stretch the meal.

The basic reality here was at this time for where we lived: you ate at home. There was a Foster Freeze that opened in the late spring and stayed up until around the beginning of October before the creek flooded that whole part of town. When we’d drive to Saint Louis, there were hamburgers, fries and milk shakes at Stake n’ Shake. The then black and white interior reminded me of a barbershop. That was cool but what was the most cool were the yummy smells from frying burgers and fries cooking. To say I was in heaven is an understatement. My young brain was in overdrive, thinking that this would the perfect job for me. Here in Hamburger Heaven, flipping patties wearing that neat uniform with the paper hat.

The trips to St. Louis were sadly only twice or so a year events. My gastronomical vocabulary during this time of the year was short based on what I have written above. Oh, there were occasional cakes and pies and puddings. But the joy of food, with one or two exceptions, now resided mostly in my imagination and not my taste buds.

Paul Rest lives in Sonoma County, California. He has been enjoying California wines and foods since arriving in California. He can be contacted at

Written by Paul Rest / Edited Lightly by Karie Engels Giffin


After The New Year – Sharing from the year before by Paul Rest


A Cold January Evening / Paul Rest

When I was growing up, the New Year began with a culinary change. Sadly the remaining Christmas tins were slowly being depleted of their delicious, sugary contents. Outdoors, the weather was often below zero with overcast slate gray skies and the streets a mess with slushy snow, now sprinkled with a coating of coal dust. When the Christmas tree came down on Epiphany, the “season” was officially over.

But then interesting things revolving around food began to happen. My mother would discover a jar of canned cherries from two years before, now extra delicious and syrupy, perfect on top of an angel food cake.  Our next-door neighbor across the street would drop off a venison roast from his kill during the last November’s hunting season. A venison stew slow cooked over the course of the day would be our stick-to-ones ribs dinner that night.

Another neighbor would bring by a brace of freshly killed and cleaned rabbits. After being braised in a cast iron skillet, these would be put in my mother’s oval roasting pan with cut vegetables, her home-made beef stock, a sprig of rosemary and cooked until juicy and tender. This would be served on a dinner plate piping hot with potatoes, carrots and fresh dark bread from the German bakery in town.

Trips to our cellar under our house would then become an important part of our diets during these winter months. The truth be told, it was always a dark and mysterious place that scared the bejesus out of me more than once. There was only one low watt bulb that hung from the ceiling in the middle of the room, which meant the room was in a perpetual state of semi-darkness. The walls were brick and the floor was earthen. There were three windows, think small, very small, covered with so many cobwebs and dust it barely emitted any outside light. The far wall was lined with shelves which was where my mother put all the vegetables and fruits she canned during the summer and fall months. Apricots, peaches, pears, string beans, peas and other foods from our garden were canned in labeled Mason jars.

On the floor were stones jars containing pickles, beets and other root vegetables awaiting our winter table. At times, cases of a locally made soft drink would be stacked in a corner where boxes of apples and bushels of onions and potatoes would be stored. The air was filled with a heady mix of what was upon the earth (apples) and under the earth (potatoes and onions). A basket or two of walnuts would later appear, to be used for my mother’s future Christmas baking or set on the kitchen table as snacks to munch on during an afternoon visit from a neighbor.

Occasionally we would receive jars of olives from our neighbor down the hill who had a cousin in far off Southern California. Or, a whole hickory smoked ham would be brought by and then hung on one of the gigantic nails that had been hammered in the cellar’s crossbeam ages ago. And on occasion, bottles of homemade wine (usually terrible tasting stuff) would show up on the cellar’s shelves. A gift from the gruff man who had a garden in the lot down the hill. My mother usually used this ungodly potion for cooking, adding a little sugar (maybe, lots of sugar) to help it along. It especially helped when she pulled a sinewy cross rib roast from the deep freezer. The liquid somehow transformed the almost uneatable into something that with a knife and fork and a little work yielded some good pieces of hearty meat when dipped in the rich dark gravy.

With the fields now fallow and laying under a blanket of winter snow, the local farmers would then start appearing at our back door with gifts of bacon, pork roasts, chops, steaks, sausages and other farm products. These were “thank you” gifts to my parents. My dad, a minister, was “on call” twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. When someone became ill, after the doctor was called, the next call was for my dad. The phone was downstairs in the hallway and had this ungodly loud ring that would jar us all awake, no matter the time of the day or night. When those calls would happen, he would answer, quietly get dressed and leave, often for hours. Some times the crisis would pass and he would return early and other times there would be an announcement of a funeral at the following Sunday service. All of these visits he did were appreciated and not forgotten by the local farmers and tradesmen.

So the winter months, the beginning of the year, were months of hearty meat dishes for dinner, stews, casseroles and roasts served with potatoes, carrots and what the jars in our cellar would provide us and arrived from our neighbors and those in our small community. It was food that would keep our bellies full and our bodies warm until the days lengthened and we began to notice the crocuses and tulips popping their heads up through the last of the winter snow.

Paul Rest lives in Sonoma County, California. He has been enjoying California wines and foods since arriving in California. He can be contacted at

Written by Paul Rest / Edited, Karie Engels Giffin




Wine industry leads way on solar uptake By Nick Carne


An aerial view of one of the three solar arrays Yalumba is installing in the Barossa Valley.

DOZENS of wineries in Australia’s premier wine state are harnessing the sun’s power for purposes beyond growing grapes.

South Australian wineries are embracing solar energy at twice the rate of other business sectors, installers say.

Yalumba Wine Company in the Barossa Valley is just weeks away from completing one of the largest commercial solar system installations in South Australia and the largest to date by any Australian winery.

It will have taken more than three months to put the 5384 individual panels in place at three sites: Yalumba Angaston Winery, Yalumba Nursery, and the separate Oxford Landing Winery.

When fully operational, the 1.4 MW PV system will produce enough renewable energy to reduce Yalumba’s energy costs by about 20 per cent and cut its annual CO2 emissions by more than 1200 tonnes, equivalent to taking 340+ cars off the road.

“It is an exciting project and one that will deliver us significant savings, as well as being consistent with our corporate focus on sustainability,” said Managing Director Nick Waterman.


Yalumba is currently the leader of the pack, but it is an increasingly large pack.

No one keeps a detailed list, but wineries with systems in excess of 100kW include D’Arenberg, Seppeltsfield, Peter Lehmann, Angove, Torbreck, Wirra Wirra, Jim Barry and Gemtree. Many smaller wineries are installing smaller systems.

In the Adelaide Hills, Sidewood has flicked the switch on a 100kW solar system as part of a $3.5m expansion project at its Nairne winery. With the support of an $856,000 grant from the South Australian Government, the system will provide more than 50 per cent of the winery’s annual consumption.

Sidewood has also become the largest sustainable winery in the Adelaide Hills after receiving full Entwine Accreditation for all four of its vineyards in September.

There was a brief lull in solar installations after the current Federal Government scrapped the financial support provided under the previous government’s Clean Technology Investment Program (36 of the 80 projects funded in South Australia in 2012-13 were in wineries) but things are moving again.

David Buetefuer is Director of Sales and Business Development for The Solar Project, which has worked with a number of local wineries including D’Arenberg, suggests four reasons for this: the wine industry is starting to recover from a slow patch; the price of electricity is at an unprecedented high; the cost of solar is coming down; and there are new ways to get started.

Yalumba, for example, has signed a 10-year power purchase agreement with energy supplier AGL, which is installing and maintaining the system and will own the energy produced. This will be sold to Yalumba at a rate comparable or lower than its current per kilowatt hour rate.

Another alternative is a rental model under which, as Buetefuer puts it, the bank owns the system. In both cases, the winery does not have to find the capital up front and the system is off balance sheet.

“It’s an interesting time because all three models now work – power-purchase, rental and straight purchase – whereas not that long ago the only people buying solar were those who had the available capital and could justify payback times of five, six or more years,” Buetefuer said.

“It’s opened up a lot more opportunities.”

Buetefuer said the wine industry recognised the benefit of harnessing solar power at its most productive period of the year, which coincided with the summer to autumn vintage when the demand for electricity was at its peak in wine production.

“One of the defining features of the industry is the long-term planning that goes into establishing vineyards and infrastructure to support wine production well into the future,” he said.

D’Arenberg’s chief winemaker Chester Osborn agrees. He said one of the important things for the winery last year was reducing peak demand from the grid.

“A big portion of our electricity cost comes from our peak requirements which we only need for a couple of months a year, but get charged for every month,” he said.

“We have reduced our power bill by 40 per cent and we are hopeful that the advances in battery technology will lead to further efficiency improvements.”

D’Arenberg’s 200kW system in McLaren Vale was the largest in a winery in South Australia when installed at the end of 2013. The company made the investment so it could generate 20-30 per cent of its power from solar energy and reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 30 per cent.

Among the most publicly visible solar installations in South Australia are the two arrays that line the road to the Jacob’s Creek Visitor Centre in the Barossa. They not only produce all the energy the winery needs, they feature in quite a few visitor photographs.

South Australia is consistently responsible for about 50 per cent of Australia’s annual wine production, including iconic brands such as Penfolds Grange, Jacob’s Creek, Hardys and Wolf Blass.

There are 18 wine regions in South Australia, including the Barossa Valley, Clare Valley, Coonawarra, Adelaide Hills, Langhorne Creek, McLaren Vale, Limestone Coast and Riverland.

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