Grief and Gratitude (Originally posted 9/11/12)

The remembering is so hard, the loss of so many, and for me one in particular who is still so dear.
A few years before 9/11 I lost two friends in a car accident. Jason walked with me through the mourning process and beyond. When there was something either of us were facing, we talked through it together. When tears came, he would literally wipe them. If there was need for comic relief, he would provide it. If not, he would just sit with you in the hurt.
When mourning his loss, no one could fill that void. His keen, kind perception is rare. He is missed and will always be missed.
I debated whether to share this again, but I heard an interview yesterday on NPR. They were talking with a friend of James Foley and keeping him memory alive through his poetry. Jason deserves to be remembered and honored, not just today, but every day. His example is one I will always cherish.

Grief and Gratitude (Originally posted 9/11/12).

Something to Celebrate-Odd Duck

It isn’t often that a restaurant experience hits every note.  That may not be fair to say.  We don’t go out often, so there aren’t many opportunities to impress.  But to ease the pain of another calendar year, we decided to hit a restaurant I’ve long been eyeing.

The Odd Duck began as a food trailer on S. Lamar and tongues began wagging, in every sense, as it opened.  Shortly after, Bryce Gilmore opened Barley Swine and his reputation swelled along with the crowds.  Since I am not one for crowds these days, I waited.  And waited.  But the lines never seemed to wane.

The same can be said for the reincarnation of Odd Duck in a brick and mortar, not far from its original location.  Chatting with Jason James between courses, it seems there is no end in sight.  From the moment we stepped in the restaurant, it was bustling.  During our dinner, it only slowed slightly.  James shared that, since they opened at the end of 2013, they haven’t seen the typical slow-down.  It is easy to see why.

The decor reflects the personality of the food.  And yes, this food has a personality.  Comfortable, honest, eclectic.  Take what could be common ingredients and turn them into something dazzling.  A pop of color on a bed of comfort.  A little heat to make sure you are paying attention.  Details with ease.

We started with a cocktail.  I’m not always one for bourbon but the addition of Lillet was too tempting.  Add some black pepper bitters and amaro and you will also remember the “Alamo.”  For appetizers we had the ceviche and pretzels.  It is a good thing there were only three.  Homemade ham and cheese pretzel sticks with a mug of mustard bechamel.  Talk about comfort.

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Jason helped us pick a wine that would pair well with our other dishes which was not an easy task.  The Cuvee Valentin Carignan/Grenache blend fit the bill.  A great balance of tannins and acid, black fruit and spice without being too heavy.  I will be looking for this one.

We moved onto the spiced butternut squash with yogurt, chimichurri, nicoise, and wild rice.  Super yum.  When I asked Jason if there was a dish we should have ordered, he said he had it taken care of.  It was our favorite of the evening.  A soft cooked duck egg with oyster and shitake mushroooms, pickled squash and hazelnuts.  This dish hit every note.  Decadence, crunch, acid.  Delicious.

We moved on to the Goat confit with coriander gordita and the Cavatelli housemade ricotta, mushrooms, walnuts and apple.  They were both delicious but we agreed that the goat came out slightly ahead.

How do you cleanse your palate when the canvas is so colorful and diverse?  Kaffir Lime panna cotta and watermelon granita.  Creamy comfort with bright fruity fun.

Locally farmed fare, creativity in spades, a festive approach and efficient service.  The flavors and textures played off each other in each dish.  The same could be said for the staff.  What more could you ask for in a dining experience? When my husband made the reservation, they asked about food allergies.  When we were seated, our super-enthusiastic server knew about the allergy and pointed out anything to avoid. As we finished our meal, we nibbled on the largest fortune cookie I have ever seen.  Inside was the following fortune:

“Growing old is mandatory, but growing up is optional.  Have fun and HAPPY BIRTHDAY!.”

From the moment we entered, we felt seen, welcomed, and like each course brought a new adventure.  When the front of the house is as seamless and inspiring as the food, you have a recipe for success.  Thank you, Odd Duck, for making “growing old” something to celebrate.

 

 

Touring in Style

Two weeks from tonight, I will be touring the world with about 500 other food and wine lovers in Austin at the 12th annual Tour de Vin.  The event, held at the W hotel features domestic and international wines paired with bites from of Austin’s best chefs.

The Wine and Food Foundation knows how to throw a party.  When I attended two years ago as media, I was truly impressed by the organization and attention to detail.  I am grateful for the opportunity to cover it this year.

Tickets can be purchased online through the foundation.  They are $100 for the general public, $80 for foundation members, and $20 of each ticket goes to support their 2014 beneficiaries.  If you purchase by this Sunday, September 7th, your wristband can be mailed to you.  No need to wait in a pesky line.  And if you’re heading that way from SW Austin, we can carpool.  Who wants to join me?  Anything to avoid downtown traffic/parking, right?

A Real Gem from #WBC14 for #Cabernetday

Yesterday was #Cabernetday in the wine writer’s world.  And as a way to support those impacted by last week’s earthquake, we were encouraged to open and highlight some of the world’s best Cabernets, those made in Napa County.

I’ve admitted before my frugality in all areas.  I have no problem splurging here and there but I am going to make sure I do so when there is time and space to enjoy said splurge.  A Thursday during the first week of school when there is the chaos of (re)establishing old routines and new bedtime is not the time.  So I chose to have a beer and highlight one Cab that I haven’t been able to stop dreaming of since I returned from the Wine Bloggers Conference.

I’ve mentioned that I was pouring for the Wines of Portugal event which meant a had a brief break to eat before finishing the event.  I grabbed a plate and sat down.  As luck would have it, I sat with a lovely couple.  They had just come in and told me a little bit of their story and that they were there representing their wine from Napa.

After traveling and exploring wines from all over the world, the decided to invest in a small property on the slope of Diamond Mountain.  The acre vineyard faces west and is in rocky white-ash soil.  It allows them grow the quality of grapes they wanted and be near family.  Win-win.

We met again the following day during the speed tasting.  This is not an event for the faint of heart.  I was in the weeds during the whites but a little better prepared for the reds.  I was feverishly trying to keep up with evaluating, note-taking, tweeting, photographing, but when they poured, everything came to a stop.  I sniffed. Wow.  Swirled. Oh my.  Sipped and realized that there was no way I was going to rush through this or put it in the dump bucket.  This wine deserved more time and I needed an extra glass.

The 2010 Vineyard 511 Cabernet Sauvignon was, for me, one of the stand-outs for the whole conference.  Aromatic with black fruit, spice, a dash of the “smoking library” notes.  Incredible mouthfeel.  Sturdy and smooth, silky and subtle tannins, huge fruit and many layers of yum.  This is a beautiful wine and one that will stick with me.

At the end of the evening, I was chatting with some friends.  My palate was shot, my mouth a little sore from the hundreds of wines we had sampled.  I said no, left and right, to pours.  But when Ed and Irene Ojdana approached with some leftover wine, I couldn’t say no.

A wine is always more interesting when you know the story, more enjoyable when shared with friends.  Wines are more memorable when you are able to chat with those who make it happen.  All of those elements came together with this wine, but I have a feeling it would have left a lasting impression regardless.  If you want to be this girl’s best friend, no need for diamonds, but I wouldn’t say “no” to some Diamond Mountain.

 

 

 

I Blinked and She’s Gone

SAHMmelier:

I wrote this last year but thought I’d reshape for all of you that are preparing to do the same. No, you’re not crazy if you want just one more year. No, you’re not crazy if you’re ready for the space and freedom. And no, I’m not ready to send her off again.

Originally posted on SAHMmelier:

I sent my baby to Kindergarten on Monday.

I sent my little girl to Kindergarten.

I sent THIS little bundle of love to Kindergarten.

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How is that possible?  It was a blink ago, I promise.  It’s not that she is really “gone,” obviously, but it is the first of many steps in letting go.  You hear it all the time.  Cherish each day; it goes so fast.  But when you’re in the middle of it, it doesn’t feel fast.  The lonely nights from 1-5 am, feel like they’re never going to end.  The hour before my husband gets home seems to drag with the kind of steady defiance reserved for acts like putting their shoes on when I am in a hurry or picking up their rooms, one lego at a painful time.  And yet I took my baby to Kindergarten Monday.

She has always operated at her own pace.  Although…

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A Practical Girl’s Ferrari

In my preteen years, we spent hours playing the game MASH. We fantasized about Ferraris, mansions in Malibu, and our passionate relationship traveling the world with Simon Le Bon. We let the spiral of fate determine our career path and number of children. Gratefully, my life looks very little like the best or worst of what MASH threw at me. I have no desire to tame a rock star and there’s only one kind of “Ferrari” that turns my head. I mean, honestly, where would the booster seats go?

I recently sampled Ferrari sparkling wines* which are produced in the Trento D.O.C. of Italy: Brut, Perlé, and Rose. Both the Brut and Perlé are 100% Chardonnay, the Rose has 60% Pinot Noir. Ferrari was founded in 1902 by Guilio Ferrari. It has been owned by the Lunelli family  for three generations. Ferrari sparkling wines are produced with grapes from the foothills of the Alps employing Metodo Classico.  Sustainable growing practices are a growing focus for the family.

Just because I don’t want to drive a fancy Italian car doesn’t mean I don’t have expensive taste. My favorite of the three wines was the Perlé ($38) which is hand harvested from the family’s own vineyards. Elegant and crisp, great texture, sweeping mid-palate with notes of green apple and integrated yeast. A classic sparkler and a fun alternative to Champagne. The Brut was tasty and I always love pink bubbles but the Perlé was the standout.

I am a Volvo girl. I’ve owned four which range from an ’82 240 to my current ’02 XC70 wagon. Practical, sturdy, safe: a mom car. Yes, I was driving mom cars before I earned the right. But you know what’s great about a wagon? Room for EVERYTHING. Strollers, a big black lab, and cases of wine. And although I can pretty much guarantee there will never be a shiny red sports car in my driveway, I will come home with a Ferrari or two.

*These samples were provided by Gregory White PR as media samples.  I recevied no other compensation and the thoughts and opinions are  my own.

Real Writers of SB County-WBC14

It was one part Survivor, two parts American Idol.  Throw in a little Top Chef, a splash of Amazing Race, and a dash of The Bachelor and you have the Wine Bloggers Conference 2014.  I returned nearly a week ago, and although I have yet to process fully, as I was reflecting on the weekend, it occurred to me that it had several of the pieces that make a great reality show.  Timed events, surprises, legends, even a spat among the panel.

Take the first event of the conference. Discover Portugal: Influences Around the World.  There were stations in each corner of the room with food and wine pairings from India, Portugal, Brazil, and Japan. The food that I had a chance to try was delicious but it was the wines that made a lasting impression.

The event made me think of the viral videos we have all seen.  A little girl comes on the stage, slowly, with her head down. The audience looks at each other, not knowing what to expect. Can she hold her own? But when she opens her mouth, jaws drop.

When people think about Portugal, they usually think about port. Maybe they have had a lower end Vinho Verde. But when I poured the wine, they all had the same look of surprise. They had no idea what to expect, but as they swirled, smelled, and tasted, their eyes lit up.  Mineral driven whites, bold savory reds, large range, low price points.  American Idol meets Top Chef.  Think of the ratings.

This is where we move to The Voice, or the Biggest Loser coaching portion.  Corbett Barr of Fizzle gave us the pep talk, the how-tos of blogging, work-life balance, opportunity and ways to support one another.  We left inspired, ready to take on the blogosphere.

We moved to the panel of Santa Barbara County winemakers hosted by Larry Shaffer of Tercero Wines: Richard Sanford, Ken Brown, Rick Longoria and Bob Lindquist.  Wine lovers go on “hometown dates.”  How did they choose SBC?  Why is it unique? Why do the wines from Santa Barbara County deserve to move on in the competition?  They all received roses.

Speed Tasting.  10 wines in an hour.  Kind of like the auditions of American Idol but there were no humiliating moments.  Some made us stand up and applaud and some showed enough to move on.  Regardless, trying to evaluate after one “song” was a challenge indeed.  The first day we evaluated whites, reds the next day.  In order to Survive these sessions, you need to be a pro-spitter (glad I practiced!) but even all the spitting couldn’t save my tongue from the perils of too many tannins.

We learned about how the pros taste with Steve Heimoff, Patrick Comiskey, and Joe Roberts.  This was a fun session.  I wish we’d had more time to delve in deeper, but I enjoyed it nonetheless.  I loved Patrick Comiskey’s idea of looking for purity in his wines, at Riesling in terms of quality of light.  I guess that part differed from most reality shows. We tasted three wines, one chosen by each panel member and a “mystery” wine.  I guessed Italian, as did the panel, so I didn’t feel too bad when it was a Grenache from Australia.  (Huh?)  I guess I failed the quick-fire challenge.

This is where we entered the Amazing Race zone.  Ten busses, ten different excursions, ten mysteries.  It was starting to get a little “Lord of the Flies” meets “Titanic” in front of the hotel.  Grown men and women shuffling and pressing to get on certain busses.  At first I tried to follow my new-found friends, but decided I’d just embrace the unknown.  Talk-a-Vino and I paired up and got on a later bus.  Again, more at a later date.

If Wines of Portugal was the timid girl belting out a new take on an old hymn, Syrah of Ballard County was the farm boy who stands up and performs an aria that makes you weep.  AMAZING wines.  The soil, the topography, and the dedication of these growers and producers combine to create unforgettable wines.  For a full review of this session, I recommend reading SoloSyrah’s take. Who better to critique?  Reruns, please.

The Professional Wine Writers session was filled with good information, inspiration, and more than a few catty comments.  Steve Heimoff, Mike Dunne, and James Conaway shared insights into good writing, journalism, and interview techniques.  There were some great insights and some comments that left more than a few in attendance scratching their heads.  At times it felt like there was a gap in the realm of teacher/student.  It was kind of like Cat Stevens coaching Eminem on storytelling in music.  Both are great at storytelling, but the motivation and the audience differ greatly.  There can still be a lot of good information gleaned, but you need to respect one another to do your best learning.  Take what applies, question your motivations, move forward.

Taylor Eason may be the next Ryan Seacrest.  When tensions got high on the panel, she knew how to diffuse.  A smile, some redirection, and order was restored.  And, boy, can the girl throw a party!  Still, there were moments that felt like watching any panel that Simon Cowell is a part of.  It may get uncomfortable but he is great at pushing performers past their comfort levels and isn’t afraid to speak his mind.  You may leave feeling intimidated, but it will likely make you a better writer/performer.

Officially the conference ended as any good reality show does: a few awards, some dirty jokes, and a big announcement.  Congratulations to all of the winners and to my home state of New York for snagging next year’s conference!  We had already planned a trip north next summer so I know that I plan on being there.

No program is possible without the hard work of all the behind the scenes producers, sponsors, and casting.  Being a Scholarship Recipient was kind of like getting one of the 10 final roses so I need to thank all of you that made it possible.

The Producers:

Zephyr Adventures

Vincent Group Consulting

The Judges:

Thea DwelleCo -Founder / Scholarship Chair / Ambassador

Megan Kenney – Co-Founder, Committee Member

Cindy Rynning - Committee Member

Becca Yeamans – The Academic Wino

Shawn Burgert – A Wandering Wino

Melanie Ofenloch – Dallas Wine Chick

The Scholarship Sponsors**:

Rodney Strong Vineyards

MalmComm

Wine4.Me

Enobytes.com

hellovino

Tercero Wines

Cornerstone Cellars

**For a Full List of Event Sponsors see the Wine Blogger Conference Website.

 

*For those of you that are true reality fans, forgive any comparisons that were not correct.  While I do waste brain cells watching RHof Everywhere while folding laundry, I have minimal knowledge of the other shows.  The allusions were for creative purposes only.*

 

Strong Silver in Solvang #rsv25

It is 6am and I am sitting in the hotel lobby at the Marriott in Santa Barbara. which means three things.
1. I made it to #WBC14!
2. I had so much to say that I couldn’t lay in bed anymore.
3. I had so much self-control last night with the great wine flowing that I was able to get up early!

What an amazing way to begin this trip. Mary Cressler of Vindulge, and I arrived at a similar time in LAX so that we could rent a car and drive up together. I had envisioned plenty of time to stop, enjoy the ocean view, maybe have a bite or glass of wine in Santa Barbara…

I did not envision the anaconda-like line weaving through the rental car lobby. We finally made it through, papers in hand, to go jump in our car and make a mad dash north, only to find….another mob in the back of the building waiting on rental cars that were nowhere to be found. Seriously, it was starting to get a little Lord of the Flies when Mary, our heroine, said, “Give us a car, any car!” It worked. We hit the 405 and made our way to the 101 in decent time. The bus was leaving between 5:30 and 5:45. We pulled in at 5:15. I’d love to tell you that we slid into the the parking lot, pulled the e-brake and spun out in dramatic flair. It would make a better story. But, come on. We’re moms now.

We did, however, make a quick turn around change and make it on the Silver bus! This year celebrates the 25th anniversary of the Klein family’s purchase of the winery. In honor of the occasion, the winery held an amazing dinner at a local Farm to Table restaurant in Solvang, Root 246.

Lucky for us, Rachel Voorhees of Rodney Strong likes to start and evening with bubbles so we sipped on Gloria Ferrar Blanc du Noir on route. We arrived to passed appetizers and Rodney Strong Sauvignon Blanc. After some time to mingle and meet, we were seated and began a family style dinner. Each course, perfectly paired. Each wine, vibrant and delicious.

We had roasted beet salad with the Chalk Hill Chardonnay. Beautiful fruit and minerality. The Kurobuta Pork Collar with the Davis Bynum Pinot Noir was the stand out for me. This wine was so alive, fragrant, red fruit and subtle spice. Just gorgeous. The Santa Maria Tri-tip and the Symmetry wine were both full of balanced flavors. Such a treat. The final course was a chocolate tart with smoked marshmallows served with the Rodney Strong port. Holy yum.

As outstanding as the food and wine were, they were outshined. What a privilege it was to be able to meet people I’ve followed, read, learned from. What a privilege to be here in this beautiful country, sharing meals and wine and laughter. I am, again, so grateful to the sponsors that allowed me to be here and my husband for picking up the slack while I am gone.

In a couple hours, I will be learning about and pouring wines from Portugal. And then about how the experts taste. And then? Wherever this adventure leads. Stay tuned for more! Cheers!
PS-Forgive my less than stellar formatting etc while I am out here. I am technically challenged at ALL times. Even more so posting from my ipad!

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Training for #WBC14

Tomorrow is the day!  I’m so excited to be heading out to Santa Barbara county to meet and learn from some of the top wine writers.  But, I’ve got to say, I’ve been feeling a little out of my league.  So what is a girl to do?  Well, some training, of course.  And how does a SAHM find time for training with the littles out of school?  Well, put them to work, of course.

This is how a SAHM prepares for Wine Bloggers Conference 2014. 

WARNING: self-deprecating silliness follows.  No child-labor was exploited.  No alcohol was consumed.  Just some packing procrastination.

 

 

Now, it may be a little late to join my training program, (my trainers are really exclusive) but I won’t judge your techniques if you don’t judge my video production skills.

Thank you again to the sponsors and those who generously donated so that could be a part of this.  I hope I don’t lose my scholarship/credibility.  Santa Barbara, here comes trouble! Cheers!

 

S.T.A.R. Wars-Sunday Samples

This was a banner weekend in our household.  We introduced our children to the wonders of Star Wars.  I wish I could’ve captured my son’s face better last night, wide-eyed wonder, a glow stick light saber.  Completely enthralled, completely happy. A parenting high-point, for sure.

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Of course, we had to continue with a little teaser of Empire today.  And since I’m feeling the pinch to get some sample reviews in before I leave on Thursday we are going to go with the theme.  I’ll battle through the asteroid field of distractions and get some writing in while they find out how to keep warm in the frozen tundra. Egad.

Here are a few things I’ve been sent of late:

S is for Scotto Family Reds

The Heavyweight Cab was a little heavy for me, but the N.A.P.A.  label Michael’s Red is more enjoyable.  Dark fruit, a little baking spice on the nose.  Moderate tannins and mouthfeel.  The blend is Cab Sauv., Sangiovese, Barbera, Syrah, and Merlot.  A little of this, little of that makes it versatile.  Priced at 17, totally doable.

T is for William Tell Pinot Grigio Hard Cider

Cider is growing in popularity.  It is generally something I typically enjoy in the fall, but the addition of 15% Pinot Grigio takes this one into summer.  It cuts the cloying sweet that some ciders have and makes it more versatile, fresh.  Thumbs up.

A is for Alto Adige

Ok, I’m stretching here.  Il’ Ugo by Mionetto is inspired by a cocktail from the Alto Adige region of Italy. It is a sparkling wine with elderflower blossom.  They suggest serving it with mint and lime.  I found it to be a nice apperativ as is.  Herbaceous, pear, citrus.  Something fun and different.

 R is for Jamieson Ranch Vineyards

Last Monday, some fellow wine writers and I participated in the WITS2014 tasting.  We sampled six wines and tweeted our thoughts.  They were all good wines, but the consensus on the stand-out was the 2011 Double Lariat Cabernet Sauvignon.  Gorgeous nose.  Rich, black fruit, nutmeg, anise.  Great mouthfeel, long developing finish.  Really great wine.  Since two of us received the wines, we split them up after.  I almost picked up my glow-stick light saber.

Now, let’s talk bad ideas.  I know I may be setting off Star Wars fanatics on this one, but I think the addition of the computer generated imagery into the FIRST, ahem, Star Wars was a bad idea.  Call me a purist, but half the fun of the movie was the “How did they do that?” sense of wonder.  Get your CGI out of my 1977 movie please.

Another bad idea.  Deciding to leave on a camping trip three days after I get home from the WBC.  Two, really, since it will be after midnight.  The fact that I’m publishing my “Sunday” piece on Monday gives you an idea of how behind I am.  So with that said, I’m signing off, and may the force be with me.