Sunday, November 6, 2011

Freinds of the Grape - Nov2011

Last night the Madison Friends of the Grape gathered for our fourth meeting for the purpose of expanding our wine palate, enjoying great food, and generally reveling in the camaraderie of new friends joined in mutual admiration of fermented grapes.

Our group was slow to get started, what with the first gathering held in October of 2010. The next in September 2011. Then October. And now November, aka last night. We’re on a roll now! The Friends: (last names omitted to protect reputations and careers) Nancy, Jerry, Kevin, Rick, Bob, Christine, Jenny, Scott, Jon, Beth. And yours truly DakotaDiner and her husband, The Farmer-Architect.

Last night we met at Jon and Beth’s barn. It’s a barn, but only in the very loosest sense of the word. There is planned space for horses, but the remaining space is made over into a warm and cozy gathering place complete with overstuffed couches, flat screen TVs, and a well-appointed kitchen primed for gourmet cooking. Well – lacking a stove and oven – but that’s a minor detail. The decorating theme reflects an life in the great outdoors spelled out in warm earth tones, hunting prints, and touches of equine memorabilia.

The weather paired perfectly with the wine: Cabernet Sauvignon. A big robust and lusty wine in keeping with the gusty, windy South Dakota night. Armed with an outdoor grill, two crock pots, and a roaster, Beth turned out an exquisite dinner to complement wine and weather featuring South Dakota pheasant, seasonally acquired by Jon (OK – I won’t dance around reality – the pheasants were hunted, shot, and dressed by Jon on the opening day of pheasant season three weeks ago.)

The Menu
Pheasant Poppers
Green Salad with Feta, Toasted Pine Nuts, and Dried Cranberries
Pheasant Rustica
Wild Rice
Butternut Squash
Chocolate-Raspberry Torte

Up first in the blind tasting of ten bottles, Bottle #1 everyone agreed was a nice wine, although a little lightweight for a cab. Great cab nose and flavors of cherry and plum, well-balanced, not too tannic.
2008 Ghost Pines Winemaker’s Blend, 68% Napa, 32% Sonoma
Notable quote: “After tasting all ten, it’s still my favorite,” (me)

#2: More body than #1, nice legs, young, some heat in the finish
2008 Chateau St. Michelle – Columbia Valley
Notable quotes: “I enjoy it,” Jenny; “It grows on you,” (Christine)

#3: Big nose, nice color, too cold (OK – who forgot to take the bottles out of the car earlier?), bit peppery, more a traditional cab type
2007 Big Vine Napa
Notable quotes: Beth liked. “I’d push that guy off the bridge,” (Kevin – in reference to the movie It’s A Wonder Life. Can’t remember exactly how this came into the conversation, but it seemed notable at the time)

And then –just in time - the Pheasant Poppers were served…..

#4: Totally different than the first three, smooth, fruity but with more body than #1, an excellent pairing with the Poppers that consisted of pheasant, a slice of water chestnut, a slice of jalapeno, wrapped in bacon and finished on the grill
2009 Two Vines – Columbia Crest
Notable observation: Jenny likes this the best so far

#5: Cold – again; different from all the previous bottles; thin mouth (me); A mouth as full as we’ve had (Farmer-Architect); do we observe a lack of consensus on this bottle?
2009 Columbia Crest Horse Heaven Hills
Notable quotes: “Bizarre,” (Christine); “Jenny – you’re behind!” (From the group on observing Jenny still savoring #4)

#6: Leggy, no tannin, well-balanced, best cab nose so-far, a classic cabernet
2008 Pedroncelli Dry Creek Valley
Notable quotes: “You want to drink this out of a fish bowl with a long stem,” (Kevin); “This is the wine you take home to your mother,” (Bob); “It’s excellent,” (Scott); “Yes you are eating too many poppers – OMG, here’s the evidence.” (Jenny to Scott as she holds up a handful of toothpicks)

#7: Little nose, but great body and good flavor, vanilla, a little clove, a little smoky, lays nice on the tongue
2009 14 Hands Washington State
Notable quotes: “I’m feeling vanilla all over the place,” (Scott)

#8: So – now Jon brings out the aerator, with just two bottles yet to go. Aerating didn’t help this one, odd, kind of harsh; Scott says benign, Gary says lightweight, Bob says immature
2009 Fat Basterd Thierry & Guy France
Notable quotes: “It tastes better with the pepper jack cheese,” (me); “But I love the name,” (Kevin)

#9: Really deep, dark color, prominent nose, makes you sit up and take notice, the taste meets the expectation of the nose, some think not as good as #5,6,7; little flat and sour in the finish
2007 Bogle
Notable quotes: “A spontaneous purchase – on sale for 8$ at Lewis Drug,” (Jon); “Reminds me of Dirty Diaper Salad,” (Jenny) (Note - A possible pairing? I’ll try to get the recipe.)

#10: Cold again, medium cab nose, fruity, yet odd; something medicinal, sweet and yet a metallic taste
2006 Clois du Bois- North Shore
Notable quotes: “Something in the middle of the taste I just don’t like,” (me); “Tastes like polio vaccine,” (Kevin) But how would he ??? --- don’t even ask!

It was a perfect evening – the barn, the food, the wine, the friends. We have the date set for next month’s tasting and planned a brunch gathering in a couple weeks, to feature a scone bake-off.
I’m not sure how I ended up as official scribe to this group. But it’s an honor I intend to live up to. In doing so, I must give recognition to the first Wine Group I belonged to in Morgantown, West Virginia. I dedicate this blog post to the great memories they created and what they taught me about great wines. Sante, Rena, John, Jeff, Ted, Chris, Jay, Chris and Adam.

Cooking In My Daughter's Kitchen

For fourteen years I was a single parent of Elizabeth. I look back upon those years as the Trifecta of my life. At the same time I was parenting, I was building my career in research administration and going to graduate school. When all was said and done after those fourteen years my daughter had a high school diploma and was successfully launched into her freshman year of college, I had a master’s degree and a Ph.D. in political science, and was the director of sponsored programs at Frostburg State University. In Elizabeth years – that was age 4 to age 18.

Clearly during those years, I didn’t spend a lot of time in the kitchen. Although I enjoyed cooking, a ‘from scratch,’ home-cooked meal for the two of us happened only sporadically. On rare occasions I’d host a group of friends and pull out all the stops for a sit-down dinner party – soup to nuts to elegant dessert with wines matched to each course.

I learned during those years that it was possible to instill concepts of good nutrition even when dining out regularly, but I was always concerned that Elizabeth wasn’t learning proper cooking techniques and meal preparation. The one exception was our ‘Monday Night Menu’: fish sticks and Kraft macaroni & cheese with green peas. Elizabeth excelled at macaroni and cheese from the box. This meal was our Monday night special that followed my weekly aerobics class and was accompanied by the latest episode of Anne of Avonlea on PBS. I consoled myself with the thought that across town my friend Audrey, also a working single parent and graduate student, was serving her daughter beans and wieners while watching Jeopardy. I thought my dinner was nutritionally superior. As I look back now - it’s hard to see the distinction.

Earlier this summer, I spent vacation time with Elizabeth and my son-in-law Nate at their home in Charlotte, NC. We were eating dinner one night and I reminded her of the time she had her best friend at our house for a sleep over. I made from scratch lasagna for their dinner. As I was dishing it out of the pan, Elizabeth informed me that she didn’t like home cooking. I paused for a moment and considered that instead of three hours making lasagna in our postage-stamp sized kitchen, I could have been spending quality time with the American Political Science Review and working on a paper that was due in two days. Nor did I mention the grant that was due the following week that had yet to have the budget complete and the evaluation section finalized. My reply to her: “This is dinner tonight. Bon app├ętit.” As I left the dining room to go attend to my computer, I turned and said, “Oh and by the way we’ll be having lasagna leftovers three nights this week.” Elizabeth did not remember this incident.

These days, both Nate and Elizabeth are immersed in building their respective careers. So one day, during my vacation in Charlotte, I decided to fix dinner for them. It was a week night and they both had left early that morning and were coming home late. I had a happy maternal feeling knowing that they would come home to a nice dinner on a weeknight. And I remembered how much I would have loved if someone had done that for me during those Trifecta years.

About the time that Elizabeth was moving out of our house and prepping for dorm life, I was remarried and getting ready to join Gary (my farmer-architect) and his fully equipped kitchen in Ohio. Much of my Elysian Avenue kitchen was packed away for the day Elizabeth was ready to set-up housekeeping. Now eleven years later and newly married, Elizabeth’s kitchen reflects Martha Stewart, Crate & Barrel, Calphalon cookware, Mikasa flatware and Riedel stemless wine glasses. The latest and greatest and most up-to-date gourmet-equipped kitchen.As I poked around Elizabeth’s kitchen looking for pots and pans, measuring spoons, and mixing bowls, I kept happening onto remnants of our Elysian Avenue kitchen. The all-purpose stainless steel bowl (passed from my mother to me) that was magically always the perfect size for whatever needed to be mixed from cole slaw to cake batter to homemade play dough. The two piece plastic bowl with nested strainer I purchased for $3.95 on a trip to Pittsburgh’s Strip District (a shopping area catering to restaurantuers and kitchen supply houses). I used that constantly, as Nate and Elizabeth said they do now too. A single glass left from the set of six orange embellished juice glasses stands assertively by the oversize stoneware mugs, and the West Virginia University commemorative cups, which no doubt began their life filled with beer at Mountaineer Field.

During the Trifecta years I despaired of Elizabeth ever having the desire, let alone the ability, to eat right and cook healthy. Yet, here she is now a menu planner, a thrifty shopper, and training to run her first marathon. Son-in-law Nate, as an elementary school physical education teacher, models good eating habits and proper nutrition, and regular exercise. On their bookshelves you’ll find the red and white Better Homes & Gardens cookbook standard next to Martha Stewart, Rachel Ray, and the Barefoot Contessa. Interspersed with these contemporary classics are her grandmother’s well-worn and frequently consulted reference cookbooks including the American Carpatho-Russian Cookbook compiled by the Russian-Orthodox Church in Johnstown, PA., reflecting the Russian and Polish heritage on her paternal side. I still have the cookbooks and recipe collections that reflect the English heritage of her maternal side.

I am always moved by the simplest and homeliest kitchen utensils, dishes, pots and pans. Those are usually the first items I hone in on at auctions and estate sales. They speak to me of daily triumphs and challenges that make up our lives. Seeing the odds and ends from our home in West Virginia, now living side-by-side with things fresh from the bridal registry, I felt a bit made me homesick for those good ole’ days crammed with multiple pressures, competing demands for my time and attention, ongoing financial worries, and struggles to excel in the office and the classroom. At the time it seemed a difficult life, but as is usually the case when you look back, I see a life punctuated by the satisfactions of accomplishment, the miracles of growing up, and the reflections on a life well-fed.

To you, Elizabeth, on the threshold of your life, Bon Appetit!