Showing posts from 2014

It's all about the eggnog . . .

I'll admit it, I cannot have Christmas without eggnog.  This is not, however, store-bought eggnog -- you know, the kind that comes in the cardboard quart container that is so thick one can barely swallow it.  No, the eggnog of which I speak is reminiscent of fluttering angel's wings (like that?), like accumulated snow atop the hills.  It is Christmas.

So what (you may ask) is someone aspiring to achieve great heights in winemaking doing making eggnog?  Well, since you asked, I will just say that until eggnog is made, Christmas bells cannot chime, elves cannot get to those Christmas lists, Christmas trees cannot be dressed, and the halls cannot be decked.

Yes, yes, like the geeks that we are, eggnog has been thoroughly researched.  I will pass along a link on the history of eggnog:, and a factoid that a journal from 1796 cites travelers stopping at an inn in Philadelphia mentioning eggnog, "a mixture composed of new mi…

2014 Olive Harvest!

Our harvest this year was a little like the folk tale about stone soup.  A tired traveler makes small talk with a woman at a farmhouse.  After striking up a convivial conversation, the traveler offers to make stone soup out of virtually nothing but rocks if he was lent a pot.  The stone soup story always ends on a happy note.

After bringing in a beautiful crop last autumn, issues beyond our control affected our oil.  The new year brought new blossoms to the trees -- hope springs eternal, and all of that.  Just as soon as that phrase was spoken, one of the only rain storms hit our area and threw in some hail for good measure.  Just in case there were a few blossoms left on the trees, the area suffered hot, dry and sustained high winds for a month or two.

Dejected and discouraged, we vowed that we would try again next spring.  We expected nothing from our trees, but as the year wore on and the olives changed from green to black, it became clear there were more olives than we thought. …

Autumn Recipe - Sweet Potato Pecan Pie with Olive Oil Crust

Rancho AyO Sweet Potato Pecan Pie with Olive Oil Crust 

Makes 1 pie
Preheat oven to 325 degrees

For the crust: 1/3 Cup olive oil 1/4 Cup water 1 Cup unbleached flour 2 tsp. baking powder 1/2 tsp. salt
Place oil and water in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil.  Add your combined dry ingredients and stir quickly until a ball of dough is made.  Place in a pie pan and press.
Sweet Potato Filling: 1 large sweet potato (enough for one cup) cube, place in Pyrex with a little water, cook until fork                     tender;  1/4 Cup packed light brown sugar 2 Tbsp. sugar 1 small egg, beaten 1 tsp. heavy cream 1 Tbsp. unsalted butter 1 Tbsp.vanilla 1/4 tsp. salt 1/2 to 1 tsp. ground cinnamon (to taste) 1/2 to 1 tsp. ground allspice (to taste) 1/2 to 1 tsp. ground nutmeg
Combine all ingredients in a mixing bow.  Beat on medium speed untill batter is smooth.  Set aside;
Pecan Pie Syrup: 3/4 Cup brown sugar 3/4 Cup dark corn syrup 2 small eggs, beaten 1 1/2 Tbsp. melted butter (salted) 2 Tbsp. of…

Tuscan Breakfast Strata

Since everyone is busy with fall activities, I thought this might be a nice recipe to revisit and try since it is the prettiest time of year and it would be great to start a weekend day with a delicious Tuscan Breakfast Strata, some fruit salad, some muffins, and perhaps a little pumpkin coffee.

This recipe is courtesy of Celest Carducci of McClelland-Priest Bed & Breakfast Inn.
Tuscan Breakfast Strata Serves 10 Preheat oven to 375 degrees Ingredients: 2 loaves French bread 1 dozen eggs 3 cups of 2% milk 8 oz. shredded cheddar 4 oz. of Monterey Jack or Parmesan 4 oz. can sliced green olives 4 oz. can sliced black olives 1 small can pimentos Chopped Italian parsley 1 sliced green onion 1/4 tsp. garlic powder 1/4 tsp. Italian herb seasoning Olive oil for drizzling Optional:  Chopped Italian salami, ham, bacon, (or AyO's twist, baked prosciutto)
Oil large baking dish; line bottom with 10 pieces of sliced French bread (cut off crust); layer bread with shredded cheddar, then a layer of…

"If the olive trees blossom in April, you'll have enough to collect them with barrels; if they bud in May, you'll have enough to fill a small measure; but if as late as June, you'll only be collecting handfuls." (Sicilian Proverb)

Using the Sicilian proverb as our guiding principle, we should have barrels of olives this year -- barrels.  Our drought produced a decent enough growing year that we had a decent budding and a beautiful blossom, but then we received only our second storm of the year, and it was at the end of April, right when all the blossoms were on the tree.  We even got hail, right when we didn't need it, and then there was no more rain this year.

Sadly, the next day, we saw all of the olive blossoms laying on the ground under the trees and came to the sad realization that we would probably not have any olives this year.  So this was the way it was going to be.

Meanwhile, we attempted to manage a very ambitious construction schedule, tend to our table and wine grapes, get last year's olive oil bottled, labeled, make our spring and summer jams and jellies, get the grapes netted in July, and keep things moving forward.

If you read this blog, you may remember an epic war we waged with the …

“If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.” ― Henry David Thoreau, Walden

For those of you following our escapades and adventures, the rancho has been attempting to oversee and manage the remodel the ranch house, whilest the management occupy outer buildings, nurture the crops, net the grapes, determine adjustments due to the drought, and begin harvesting, picking, and processing one of our earliest crops, the table grapes.  We've learned how to dehydrate fruit and have actually produced some rancho raisins, and over 100 jars of one of our fan favorites, our Tequila Pepper Grape Jelly.

In the meantime, we've also been attempting to create some new recipes -- some have been winners and some have been not-so-great.  For some great recipe ideas to use with our products or just some foodie inspiration, check out the Rancho's Pinterest page, and click on the Recipes folder

In the meantime, we are hurdling toward the wine grape harvest, although we're not certain we have enough Petite Sirah and Zinfandel …

2014 Harvest Kickoff begins with picking the table grapes!

We have been waiting with baited breath for harvest to begin.  The drought has caused challenges to a grower of anything.  This is the first year since 2005 that we have not had cattle grazing the property.  We lost most of our olive blossoms during a late April storm, and lost most of the Zinfandel in June due to the incredible onset of heat and heavy, hot sustained winds.  The workhorses of the ranch, however, are the Petite Sirah and Cabernet, which were looking amazing -- so amazing, in fact, that we sewed the nets shut.  We were concerned that animals desperate for food would go after them -- and go after them they did.

Despite the netting, our Petite Sirah began disappearing at an alarming rate, so it was suggested by other farmers to purchase electric netting.  It is, however, a race against time to get the netting delivered.  In the meantime, a game camera was set up to attempt to capture (of only by photo) the culprit.  It was coyotes, and so cunning are these coyotes that …

“Busyness is not a reason for not getting other things done. It is an excuse for not claiming your true priorities.” ― Alan Cohen

It would really be nice to say that there just isn't time to get things done because the construction of the ranch house is ongoing, but the grapes and all things growing at the rancho did not get that memo.

We are cruising into August with all things colliding.  The new and improved rancho dwelling is slated to finish up, and movers have been scheduled for Labor Day Weekend?  Will it finish on time?  Wouldn't it be nice to think that?  It seems unlikely, but we'll err in favor of optimism.  So while we are all busy working on final "To Do" lists for the rancho construction, we are spending every other waking hour working on the grapes and tending to the olives.  As we reported earlier in the year, due to a storm in April, we lost most of our olive blossoms and we will not have a large enough crop for olive oil this year, but that does not mean we will not be picking and brining olives for eating, come October-November.  The 120 new little olive trees are doing…

"You learn to cook so that you don't have to be a slave to recipes. You get what's in season and you know what to do with it." ~ Julie Child ~

Just thought I'd share a variation on pesto that I've devised for you to dip some bread or rolls in, to accompany that summertime BBQ.

Arrugula/Parsley Pesto
1 garlic clove 1/4 tsp. lemon juice 1/4 cup parsley 1 cup arrugula 1/4 to 1/2 cup of olive oil (preferably Azul y Oro's) pint of sea salt parmesan cheese pine nuts
Place garlic, lemon juice, sea salt in blender (or food processor or use emulsification blending stick) and pulse, just to get the ingredients mixes.  Add parsley and arrugula, pulse again.  Begin to drizzle in olive oil until it begins to achieve a pesto-like consistency.  Add parmesan cheese and pine nuts.  Pulse once or twice more.
Serve with warm, crusty bread for dipping.

"The best ideas lose their owners and take on lives of their own." ~ N. Bushnell ~

As followers of our blog have realized by now, so far, this is not our year.  We have experienced numerous roadblocks thrown in our way, from working around our existing construction to different standards of excellence on the part of those we've chosen to work with us in achieving our goals.  However one views it, there has been a lot going on at the rancho, and yet, our focus remains on completing the construction of the ranch house, nurturing our newly planted 120 olive trees, continue to nurture our existing vines and olives, and moving forward with our business plan.

The latter is the most difficult goalpost.  Weather does not cooperate.  When weather cooperates, pests do not, and worst, still, people one depends upon do not cooperate.  My father always said, the moment can defeat you or define you.  We have chosen to let this year define us, not defeat us.

To that end, amidst all the chaos and rubble, we are announcing the release of several new products, which we are very …

Food for thought: "You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take." ~ Wayne Gretzky

During a recent marketing discussion, a person asked me how we got into the condiment business.  The condiment business???  I must have missed the point with my marketing approach.

"No," I replied, "we're in the olive oil business."  The conversation continued.  "You produce oil, right?"  Yes. "You're producing flavored oils, right?"  Yes. "You produce vinegar, right?"  Yes.  "You produce specialty seasonings, right?"  Yes.  "You produce jams and jellies, right?"  Yes.  "So you're in the condiment business."

As we are preparing to roll out -- yes, you guessed it -- an entire line of specialty seasonings and flavored oils, that thought has been reverberating in my head repeatedly.  Are we in the condiment business?  I suppose we are.  We hadn't intended to be.  How did this happen?

Here in wine country, the first thing the dreamers start with, of course, is wine grapes.   Very quickly, tho…

"The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing." ~ Walt Disney

We're taking Walt Disney's advice to heart and have begun doing.  What is it that we're doing?  Well, after three months of diligent effort attempting to obtain our Construction Permit for the renovation of the ranch house, it was finally received on Friday, March 21.  Couldn't you hear the shouts for joy from there?
While we waited all winter for rain, it seemed the rain waited until the construction permit was issued. Progress has been swift, though.  The entire two ends of the home have been deconstructed, about 21,000 pounds of concrete and stucco have been removed, and numerous architectural, construction, and decorative details have commenced.

One might wonder, "Isn't it awful for the ranchers to reside there during the construction?"  The simple answer is yes -- but we are ranchers, so like all ranchers accustomed to adverse conditions, we have moved to The Barn (did you really expect me to say we were living on the Range or Prairie?).  We then to…

"Even when they have nothing, the Irish emit a kind of happiness, a joy" ~ Fiona Shaw

Today is the day to celebrate all things Irish, so in that spirit, I thought I'd add a modern spin on a recipe made in my family for probably over 100 years.  True, this Irish lass has reverted back to her farming roots, although we may be farming a different crop and drinking wine, not beer.  My ancestors would find the humor in the solid limestone rock in which our grapes and olive trees are planted.  However, we do honor our heritage daily and are extremely proud of the strides made by generation after generation.  So without further adieu, here is our take on an Irish favorite:

Irish SODA BREAD featuring oLIVE OIL Ingredients: ·1.5 cups flour ·1 cup buttermilk ·1.5 tsp of baking soda ·1 tsp salt ·1 sprinkle sea salt ·1 Tbsp of  Rancho AyO olive oil ·1 tsp of rosemary Directions ·Preheat oven to 425 degrees F; ·Mix dry ingredients together: flour, baking soda, 1 tsp. salt and rosemary; ·Add buttermilk and olive oil; fold into the flour mixture; ·Dust counter with flour and form ball of doug…

"In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt." ~ Margaret Atwood

It was just two weeks ago that we could not walk from the house to the barn due to a severe storm that came through.  Even last evening, as we awaited sleep (one of us waited longer than the other), and the winds were so strong, it shook our interim residential quarters.  This author could not help but wonder, will anything grow this year?  And as morning broke and the sun rose, all of a sudden, it seemed as if the rancho was resplendent, courtesy of Spring.

Due to the current remodel construction at the ranch, the grounds manager and the product manager are both severely behind.  But didn't you get everything done during your niece's visit, when you powered through so much?  That was then, this is now.

So what's on tap, you ask?  Labeling the 2011 Cabernet, racking all of the 2013 and 2012 wines, bottling the 2013 olive oil, fine tuning and introducing some new and exciting rancho products -- which also need labeling and packaging, restocking all the products that were …

"There is no education like adversity." ~ Benjamin Disraeli

2014 has started out with a bang -- and not a great bang, more like a devastating explosion.  It's been a month of a great many challenges, leaving us feeling dusty and worn out, much like the boots in the photo.

The plan is to remain focused and positive and to correct and resolve the issues.  That is one easy sentence to write, but not always easy to execute.  Needless to say, with respect to this blog's quote, we are feeling highly educated.

In an optimistic spirit, however, there are a great deal of positive things going on, such as a banner holiday season for the ranch online, our first entree into e-commerce, and at year-end, we were nearly sold out of everything.  A serious bout with the flu also provided the opportunity to get to work making more soap, sachets, bath salts, and there is great resolve to get back to work on the Tequila Pepper Grape Jelly.  My trusty companion spent a good portion of January traveling far, far away, came back, got in the car and drove t…

“The greater the obstacle, the more glory in overcoming it.” ~ Molière

This is one of those very demoralizing days of being a farmer.  Most people publish their blog posts when history is being made, when awards are being given, milestones met -- and we've done that, as well -- but very few publish posts when everything that could go wrong does go wrong.  It is probably because one doesn't want to actually put it down in writing, so that it's out there for the world to see.  It could be that their very soul feels crushed and they just can't go there. 

We have chronicled our good, bad, and ugly throughout our adventure, so since we're having an extreme moment of coyote ugly currently, it seems to be somewhat cathartic to post on a day when it seems as if we've worked so very hard to get it right, yet every email, phone call, and piece of mail brings bad news.  Maybe it will just help another realize they're not the only ones having bad days and feel better about things.

We do have things in perspective, we still have our healt…