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California - Part 4

San Francisco’s in the rearview mirror and we’re headed north to the Napa Valley, where we’ve rented a house with a dozen or so friends so we can spend a week arguing over which winery is the best and whether the wine tastes like apricots or blackberries with a hint of citrus and a finish of aged oak. Just kidding—to me wine tastes either pretty good or not very good. I’m concerned that if my friends find out what a heathen I am, I may have to sleep in the Jeep.

Damn, they grow a lot of grapes here. Everywhere you look, you see rows and rows of grape vines all lined up like perfect soldiers. Suddenly, there are multiple wineries coming at us, one after another: Sterling, Silverado, Stag’s Leap, Grgich Hill (no, that’s not a typo; that’s actually how they spell it). Even a philistine like me has heard of some of these. There are others too. Small family wineries you’ve probably never heard of. It seems that a lot of houses grow grapes in the yard instead of a lawn. Well, why wouldn’t you?

Arriving at the house we’ve rented, I decide I can stay here no problem. The picture with this blog is the view from the terrace around the back of the house. My house has a deck; this house has a terrace. Louise would say it’s very posh, and it is. Good thing we’re splitting it fifteen ways.

To stock up on supplies, we make a trek into town. Louise and her friend want to go to Trader Joe’s to get some food. I go with them and discover that Trader Joe’s doesn’t really have any food. They apparently don’t believe in fresh meat, and I’m trying to make meatballs for an army. Next door, I see Whole Foods and decide to try my luck there instead.

Whole foods isn’t much better. I do find a meat section however, and while I’m looking, the meat guy asks if he can help. I ask for two and a half pounds of ground beef.

Him: Grass fed?

Me: Don’t they all eat grass?

Him: Antibiotic free?

Me: No thanks; I want to know that he didn’t have any germs.

Him: Organic?

Me: You mean he ate organic grass?

You can imagine the looks I’m starting to get, so I ask for the “best damn beef you got.” Two pounds of ground pork and two pounds of ground lamb and I’m on my way.

As I’m wandering through the store unable to find anything, a female employee takes pity on me and asks if she can help. I ask if they carry breadcrumbs, because I can’t find any. “Where do you think the bread crumbs would be?” she asks. Uh, near the bread? “No, silly, it’s next to the salt.” And sure enough, there it was, right where it was supposed to be, next to the salt. They do things differently in California.

$188.00 later, I’m ready to make spaghetti and meatballs for fifteen. I buy several loaves of Italian bread only to discover that Louise has also bought a few more loaves. I also want something to nibble on with cocktails, so I go looking for some Cheez-its, one of my favorites. Apparently Cheez-its are forbidden in California, because the nearest thing I can find is Annie’s Homegrown Cheddar Squares, made with organic wheat. The box also says No Artificial Flavors, Synthetic Colors, or Synthetic Preservatives. Cheese from cows not treated with the Growth Hormone rBST. I don’t know what these things really are, but they ain’t Cheez-its. I haven’t opened the box of Annie’s Cheddar Squares, but I am curious to find what’s really in the box. Maybe I can even eat it.

Okay, I know California is supposed to be different from the rest of us, but I’m already starting to feel unnaturally healthy and I’m not sure I’m comfortable with that.


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