Vino Notes ..... Open That Bottle!

Tonight is "Open That Bottle!" night. OTBN is a tradition created by Wall Street Journal wine aficionados Dottie Gaiter and John Brecher. The premise is to open a bottle of wine you have been saving for a special occasion. We have all done it - put a bottle away that we keep thinking we will open on a special day. Then a few years go by - maybe 20 - and the bottle is still in the wine cellar. Open it Up! With that said, I have bottles of wine that I will probably never open - they mean too much to me. I'd rather go have a look at them once in a while - pick them up and admire them, and put them safely back. And tonight - I'll open something up - just not sure what yet.............................................
Photography By: Ryannan Bryer de Hickman
Copyright: Sotto Il Monte Vineyards


Vigneta Cucina ...... Chef Us Balmer

Chef Us Balmer

is a Swiss born, James
Beard award winner.
He was formerly the
Executive Chef at
Spencer's in Palm
Springs and has now
moved on to be the
Executive Chef at
"California" the swanky
restaurant at the newly
renovated Sheraton
Universal Hollywood.

The first ~ A classic Tomato and
Mozzarella Salad
Insalata Caprese

1 ripe red tomato
1 ripe yellow tomato
3 ounces Buffalo mozzarella
1 ounce extra virgin olive oil
1 ounce balsamic vinaigrette
cracked pepper & kosher salt
1 ounce frisee lettuce
1 tsp chopped chives

Slice tomato and mozzarella. Arrange on plate, one tomato slice, one mozzarella
slice to form a circle. place frisee lettuce in the middle. Drizzle with oil and
vinegar. Sprinkle with chives and season.

Chicken Salad

6 ounces chicken breast
2 ounces mixed greens
1/4 grapefruit, in segments
1/4 orange, in segments
1/2 papaya, sliced
1/2 avocado, sliced
2 ounces citrus dressing
1/4 tomato, finely diced
1/4 tsp finely chopped chives

Grill chicken breast. Place the
segments of grapefruit, orange
and slices of papaya at one side
of large plate. Toss the salad
greens in the dressing and set
alongside the fruit. Place the
chicken on the salad, shingled
with slices of avocado. Garnish
with a little chopped tomato and chives.

Citrus Dressing
1 egg yolk
2 tablespoons Pommery mustard
1 cup citrus reduction
1/8 cup cold water
1/2 cup salad oil
1 tablespoon orange zest
1/2 teaspoon grapefruit zest
Zest of 1 lime

For citrus reduction: Mix 2 cups orange juice,
1 1/2 cups grapefruit juice and 1/2 cup lime juice.
Simmer until reduced to 1 cup. Let cool
In a blender or food processor, blend the egg yolk,
mustard, water and citrus reduction. Drizzle in the
oil with the machine running. When the mixture is
as thick as cream, salt and pepper to taste.

Portobello Mushroom Salad

1 cup baby spinach
1 Portabello mushroom cap
3 fried red onion rings
1/4 ounce bacon bits
1 ounce truffle vinaigrette
Grill Portobello mushroom cap and slice. Toss spinach in truffle vinaigrette.
Place on 10" salad plate. Put onion rings and bacon bits on top. Scatter
mushroom pieces around and on salad.

The Insalata Caprese was very good. Our favorites were the Chicken Salad and the Portobello Mushroom Salad. The Chicken Salad with the citrus dressing was refreshing and all those flavors together Oh-la-la! The Portobello Salad was incredible. A tad more work, to be sure, I don't always have truffle vinaigrette on hand, but what a substantial salad. It almost tasted like steak.
Us Balmer was terrific to work with ~ a true artist in the Cucina.

Photography By: Ryannan Bryer de Hickman
Copyright: Sotto Il Monte Vineyards


Gardening Boots ....... Roses

Roses ......... I love them!
It was my intention to enter this post
on Valentine's Day ....... however I was
driving across the desert that day, heading
back to the coast. Late to the party, as usual.

The roses above were a gift to me
from my sister-in-law. She is such a lovely person and so generous, always giving
thoughtful gifts. These are from her garden in Ventura County ~ California.

More California roses below ~ Roses from a Montecito cutting garden ~ Wedding bouquet from my favorite flower shop in Santa Barbara ~ A rose in the garden at the Carmel Mission.

Santa Fe Roses ~ An arrangement by Interior Designer Jane Smith ~ Roses along an adobe wall

More Montecito Roses
Roses in my kitchen at Sotto Il Monte.................... and the last ~ a close up of June's Roses

Photography by: Ryannan Bryer de Hickman
Copyright: Sotto Il Monte Vineyards


Vigneto Cucina.......Salmon a la Genevoise

Salmon with a Genevoise Sauce & Haricots Verts

I'm just back from a ten day work trip to Tucson and Scottsdale. Interior Design and Architecture was the main focus with some food and fashion shots thrown in the mix. I photographed some beautiful houses in Scottsdale. The interiors were done by a very talented Interior Designer ~ I'll do a post on those at a later date.

The trip was fun and exhausting. Dinner last night had to be light and easy so I made Salmon Genevoise. Easy because I had some Genevoise sauce in the freezer. Genevoise Sauce takes a while to make - but worth the effort. This particular recipe is from the Julia Child cookbook, which I can't seem to locate at the moment, must be at the other house. I will post the recipe later. Some roasted vegetables, a nice New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc ................. and carrot cake.

Photography By: Ryannan Bryer de Hickman
Copyright: Sotto Il Monte Vineyards





Two beautiful friends of mine ran away to the
Cayman Islands to get married.

They invited me along................................................

I arrived in George Town after a 12 hour journey, mostly spent in airports. It was dark and heavy rain was falling. Hurricane season. Gustav had narrowly missed Grand Cayman just a couple of weeks earlier. It was only five days after Hurricane Ike slammed into Houston and wiped parts of the Galveston area off the map. My flight originated out of the
Intercontinental Airport in Houston -- it was nearly the only place in the city that had power. The rest of Houston was in the dark and would be for weeks to come in some areas.

Anna and Rob, the bride and groom, picked me up at the airport. Rob had planned the entire wedding. It was to be the next day. Anna was beautiful and serene. It wouldn't rain on her wedding day. It didn't. The next morning brought an absolutely gorgeous day. We were staying in a house in Mahogany Cove. The house had a full length terrace that overlooked a pristine beach with a dock stretching far out into the turquoise waters of the Caribbean.

The neighborhood...... lemon & lime

A dock Anna would walk down later that day to marry her handsome Prince.....

Barefoot ~ in a long white gown.............................................

There was lots of laughter and a few tears ................................

The sunset was beautiful as was the bride......................................

It was a magical day.................

The who's who of the island invited us to a party ....................

They popped the cork on Veuve Clicquot Champagne and some amazing scotch was offered up by one of the guests...............
Johnnie Walker Blue Label King George V Edition - around $500.00 a bottle!

We dined on Filet Mignon, local island fare and lobsters, caught and prepared
by a gourmet chef.........

There was dancing in the sand..........................

I hung around a few more days. Photographed them like I was the paparazzi..........

We drank Pina Coladas, played in the water, soaked up some sun...........

Then I left them to their honeymoon......................

Photography by: Ryannan Bryer de Hickman
Copyright: Sotto Il Monte Vineyards



I'm always curious about how interior designers design their own homes. Barbara Wiseley's Santa Barbara home- featured below -does not disappoint. The monochromatic color scheme is done as well as I've ever seen - without appearing sterile. The interiors have a "collected" feel. Her use of natural materials appeals to me. I would love to be able to pull this look off. Despite all the color in my blog header - my house is mostly neutrals. White Linen furniture and drapes, floors the color of limestone - the plaster on the walls - just a shade lighter, limestone fireplaces, French gray bistro table - white cabinetry in the kitchen, etc. Even though I start out with a neutral palette - color always finds its way back in. All the dishes I've collected in Italy, Pots and bowls from Provence,
the Le Jacquard Francais tea towels, books on the shelves in the library. Guess I'll have to start editing.

Photography By: Jonn Coolidge