So Sous Me

Good heavens, all that talk about moosen and bears and salmon has got my entire system in a paralytic state of fear. Look, I don’t care what anyone says, I would survive for approximately three weeks in Alaska, and then I would probably die of seasonal affective disorder, even if a wild animal didn’t catch me. So let’s write that off, okay? I don’t want to have to have a long distance relationship with my husband, while he shacks up with an arctic wolf (do I mean the animal? Or is that what they call Eskimo women in their forties who wear Bebe Sport sweatpants and hanker after younger men?)

In order to self-soothe, a technique that I have only recently learned, despite all the baby websites who say I should have learned this at 4-6 months, I have chosen to review a location that has some very obvious merit.

Napa Valley.

I’m getting ahead of myself. There isn’t an Air Force base IN Napa Valley. It’s actually just outside of Fairfield, CA. I don’t really know anything about Fairfield, but when I Googled it, two of the first three results had the word “ghetto” in the tagline.

An aside: When I was in culinary school, I did a presentation on a restaurant that was in the ghetto part of San Antonio. When I said so, I was immediately greeted with the shrill, harpy voice of an older woman in my class, notifying me that “ghetto” is all kinds of inappropriate and offensive and blahblahblah. I disagreed, and still do to this day. A ghetto is an actual thing, and this restaurant was in a ghetto. Whatevs.

But after consulting a map, I noted that Napa Valley is 45 minutes away from Travis AFB, and if you think that I’m living near some ghetto-ass military installation when I can live in Napa Valley, then you are clearly smoking drugs and should probably share with the class. I feel strongly that Chris could make a 45 minute commute each way so that we could live somewhere pretty. I’ll even buy him an electric car, so as to minimize the affect of such a commute on the environment.

The benefits of living in Napa Valley are myriad. The weather is gorgeous, there are mountains close-by, there is ocean close-by, there are wineries coming out the wazoo…I mean, it’s a really, really nice location.

And there’s the food. Oh Lord, the food. Farmer’s markets and organic groceries galore! Upscale food boutiques and CSAs and pluck-your-own-grape-a-thons, I could go on and on. On any given morning, I picture myself tromping outside, breathing glorious, semi-dry, temperate air, and plucking a caprese salad off of my caprese bush in the backyard. There are no fire ants in Napa, and the obesity rate is next to nil. Everything is fresh food and health and exercise and beauty. And Michael Doucharello, but I’m pretty sure I could convince Chris to help me TP his house.

The restaurant scene is inSANE down there. I’d be living 30 minutes away from Thomas Keller’s storied restaurant, the French Laundry. A quick commute could land me on the steps of Chez Panisse, Ubuntu, Bouchon. Honestly, it’d be a life of multiple foodgasms on any given day. Drawn out, tantric food sex. My blog would flourish, my abs would flatten, and my hair would always look fantastic (it’s like Narnia up in that mothah).

As for housing, well, you definitely get less for your money. It wasn’t terrible though. $415,000 will buy you a 4 bedroom, 2 bathroom house with just shy of 2000 square feet. The kitchens seem very nice across the board, if a little small. The backyard is green and gorgeous and fenced, and there’s a pretty little garden plot for my dog to destroy. 2000 square feet seems just about right for Chris and me. It’d be much more manageable than the monster we have now. There’s a bedroom in our house right now that has ONLY a Norwegian flag, a small cabinet of blankets, and two 5 lb weights. And a room just for Chris’s transformers. And a man cave for Chris to play video games. You get the picture. It’s a waste of space and air conditioning, but was necessary to get a decent kitchen down here.

Overall, it’d be lovely. But there are some DEFINITE cons, and some of them are deal breakers. The biggest of which being that it’s STILL not Colorado, and I still can’t be there for my family. Which I hate.

But before I list my pros and cons, I did make a meal that seemed fit for a house so close to Thomas Keller’s empire. Thomas Keller is the sous-vide king, so I made a meal that was pretty much all sous-vide, all the time. I’m not going to include the recipe, because most of you don’t do sous-vide cooking at home. The flavor profiles, though, were quite nice, and I think you could recreate them for the most part using traditional kitchen equipment.

The main course was a sous-vide Hudson Valley moulard duck breast, cooked with a nice tawny port, salt, and pepper.

The raw duck breast, halved and scored.

Salted nicely and ready to go in the bag with the port

After 3 hours sous-vide, at 135 F (Keller’s recommended temperature), after which I removed the fat cap, rendered a bit of it down, and then seared the breasts on each side for color and caramelization factor.

See how the meat is cooked perfectly all the way through? Not a morsel of the duck was overcooked, and that makes it really worth the time and effort. My breasts (HA!) cooked while I was at the gym.

I also made a little baggie of garlic cloves in my “good” olive oil. This went into the water bath along with the duck, giving it 3 hours to infuse the oil with lovely, assertive garlic flavor.

The final dish was a creamy polenta, drizzled with garlic oil, draped with gorgeous slabs of duck, bathed in a port wine and duck stock reduction, and paired with artichokes (I used frozen, and didn’t regret it one bit) that had been tossed with that same port wine and duck stock before it reduced into a syrup. The flavors in this dish were incredible.

Dessert was a final experiment. While I played video games online, I allowed a sliced apple to sit in the sous-vide with a few slabs of butter, brown sugar, cinnamon and a touch of salt. The texture of the apples became almost like a firm pudding, but without any mealiness or loss of flavor. Really a nice surprise. I reduced their cooking liquid into a caramel butter of sorts, and drizzled it over the apple. The final touches were a dollop of mascarpone whipped with sugar and vanilla bean and a smattering of miniature amaretti cookies. Mmmmmmmmmmmmm.

I could eat like this every day, were I to live in Napa Valley. So I’ll leave you with a list of pros and cons.

Pro: Napa is gorgeously situated between mountains and the ocean, and has a great climate.
Con: Travis AFB, known as “The Gateway to the Pacific” will soon be the “Ramp into the Pacific, because I am 100% certain that California is going to fall into the ocean soon. It’s like one big natural disaster waiting to happen, and I have a serious fear of natural disasters. Do not talk to me about Yellowstone.

Pro: It is a wealthy, healthy community of beautiful people and beautiful amenities
Con: I would not be able to afford many of these amenities, because, while I am a baller in San Antonio, I would be considered dirt poor in Napa. Keeping up with the Joneses would be basically out of the question. Also, I think I would probably be considered ugly in Napa, unless Chris finds a way to provide me with a plastic surgery budget.

Pro: The access to great food is unparalleled by anything I’ve experienced, including Colorado.

Con: No family and friends to share it with.

Pro: Chris and I would have lots of fun adventures with each other, touring wineries and cycling through meadows and shit.

Con: It’s a much larger military installation, meaning Chris will have to a) go back to being on call occasionally, b) help manage pain-in-the-butt family practice residents, AND c) is at a greater risk of deployment or TDY (which is like a temporary deployment to a different military base, rather than a war).

Pro: Lots of other young, stay-at-home gals.

Con: None of whom would likely “get” my personality.

Pro: When I googled “Wal-mart Napa” to see if I could list “no Wal-Mart” as a pro, the second result (swear to God) was a review of Napa Wal-Mart that began “I was helping a family collect bunny rabbits for Easter to give to children that have cancer…” It’s really sweet if you can get past the glaring grammatical error.

Con: There was actually a result for “Wal-Mart Napa,” instead of Google giving me an error message saying “Uh, WTF? We would never allow such a store to exist in our verdant pasture of a town,” which is what I was hoping for.

Pro: I could probably be happy in Napa, despite all of the cons

Con: IF my family and friends were there. But they’re not. So that’s a big FAIL.

14 thoughts on “So Sous Me”

  1. Travis AFB is a beautiful installation and the people who live, work and defend your freedom there are beautiful people. Perhaps you should pick another target for your spite. There is a base tour program if you are interested in learning more about this crown jewel of Air Mobility Command. The Public Affairs Office can be reached at 707-424-2011.

  2. Yes, but I have a feeling that your friends and family would be much more willing to move to Napa Valley than they would to Alaska.

    plus they could visit any time of the year and not just between the months of June and September.

    Also, I love that Anonymous apparently thinks that the military personnel at Travis AFB are somehow better than every other military person in the US and overseas. Intriguing. I thought the military was supposed to be one big happy, albeit sometimes dysfunctional, family.

  3. Central Valley, Summer 2007, 118 degrees
    Most cities couldn't handle the power surge from the ACs and there were massive outages resulting in a lot of heat related deaths. Also, is that 2000 sqare foot house a total shit hole, because 700 sq ft condos there are over a million. California is nice to visit but truly horrid to live. The worst three years of my life. I'd chose Alaska.

  4. Katina: You haven't heard? Everyone at Travis is thin and gorgeous and teeming with benevolence. It's like America's Next Top Model meets Oprah's "Save the Children" television special.

    Kristen: The houses I saw were very pretty. Maybe we're discussing different locations. I'm talking the side of Napa that is closest to the military "installation."

    And Anonymous: *sigh* I sincerely hope you're just being an asshole and aren't actually offended by this post. Because if so, you've got some nasty realizations coming should you continue to read previous posts. This may well be the most friendly, two-sided post I've ever written. Ever. Did you like the part where I acknowledged the nice parts of the area? Because that doesn't happen often.

    The bottom lines are as follows:

    a) This is a humor blog. It's specifically designed to cause consternation. If you don't like it, might I respectfully submit that you fuck right off.

    b) I have nothing against soldiers. My brother is a marine officer, my parents were both army officers, and I'm…MARRIED to an Air Force officer. Given my genetics and my choice in men, rest assured that I KNOW some soldiers are "beautiful people." Unless you mean "beautiful on the inside," in which case there's a word for that. "Nice."

    c) What I do take issue with, however, is the military separating me from my family when they need me. Had you read the entire post, rather than letting your general vagina-ness get the better of you two paragraphs in, you might understand that. My dad, a retired veteran, passed away a few years ago, and I'm needed at home. So take your scorn elsewhere.

    d) "Crown jewel of air mobility command?" If anyone ever said those words aloud, and they weren't being ironic, they would probably be either kicked in the junk or ostracized beyond repair. It's that bad.

    Finally, it's people like you who give the military a reputation for being soulless, mind-fucked automatons. I've met plenty of great military people. Chris's coworkers are a group of caring, friendly people whom I enjoy immensely. But that doesn't mean that every military person is happy with, or agrees with, the military itself. Make some room for difference in opinion, and you'll find yourself happier, and also less likely to experience that not-so-fresh feeling.

  5. "Oh noes, please don't throw me in that Napa Valley briar patch!"


    And you cut the fat off!?! Score it much more finely and give it a good sear in a pan after you pull it out of the bag. It'll render off a lot of fat- which you then strain and save and use for everything- and then you eat the crispy, fabulous part that remains. Duck fat is love.

    Gotta run- my mobile crown jewels have to go defend their freedom to teabag.

  6. Sheesh – Anonymous must get over him/herself. I thought this was a VERY positive posting. You definitely were very fair. And you totally said you get over all of that and most likely be able to live in Napa Valley and be happy and healthy and fine.

    Anonymous needs more fiber in their diet, I think.

  7. Peter: OF COURSE I rendered the fat. I just didn't want to leave the duck attached to it long enough to possibly affect the doneness of the meat. The fat cap was really, really thick, and would have taken quite some time to melt. Long enough to keep cooking the breast itself. Once I took off the fat cap, it was slowly rendered and saved for further use.

    Also, you're missing the point. I think Napa Valley is GORGEOUS. I just really want to go home. Surely you understand that.

    Charisse: Perhaps they should start including Benefiber in the MREs, you know, for any potential bowel-slowing in the upper ranking officials.

  8. Napa would undoubtedly be better than Sac, but it's no less hot (WAY hotter than Texas) and the people no less rude. They're just richer and closer to the earthquakes. Out of all the cities in the area, Davis was my favorite because it was friendly-ish college town.

    With the house thing, my point was that in Sac, which is the "cheap" housing market, our friend's POS house that was 1400 sq ft was $600k. So in Napa, it's hard to imagine anything decent being under a million. I'll have to check out the one you found. You may be able to get decent deals right now because the California economy is in such horrible shape.

  9. Also, the whole "not getting your personality" thing… I got a lot of shit for not being PC there and I considered myself a pretty PC person when I moved there. It is VERY trendy to be overly PC there about EVERYTHING and also to be "open-minded." Except that they think everyone from the midwest is a ignorant, republican, casserole eater, so I guess it's only important to be open-minded about trendy things like adopting African babies and being gay.

  10. Ha ha ha, I love humorless internet commenters, especially knee-jerk defensive ones.

    And most particularly ones who suggest that you "target" a different air base. Because using that kind of language never gets a person in trouble.

  11. Ok, that house you found is definitely nice for the price there. It may be a short sale or something. At least if you have to move there you're moving during a time when you can get a good deal on a house. That one is really pretty.

    Also, you said Phoenix is possibly one place you'll get sent, right? It has definitely been less horrible than I imagined it would be and there is an interesting culinary scene here.

  12. You mention biking, wineries, and goodlooking women… Sounds like a place I should visit.

    Sounds better than other options. Although, there is serious Snowboarding & Skiing in AK.

    I want duck waffles… mmmnnnn.

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