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Category Archives: Wine

Napa and Sonoma

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I think if there was one place that we would love to live, and that we loved visiting, it was California wine country. For me, the combination of agriculture, culture, climate and activities made it one of our favorite vacation spots.

It depresses me to see it burning out of control.

We spent 10 days there, a decade ago. Rented a house. Visited wineries. Cooked. Grilled. Strolled through amazing farmer’s markets. Ate at awesome restaurants.

Chateau St. Jean. In the news now for the damage to their property.

It was one of the first places we visited. Picnic in the gardens while enjoying a glass of wine.

We went to over two dozen wineries that trip. Some of them were known because of our wine dinners at Iron Bridge.

Like Corley.

Family owned. Transplants from Virginia. We still get wines from their wine club, and we hope they are doing OK. They are between the Silverado Trail and Highway 29, fairly far north in the valley.

We first met them at a wine dinner in 2005. Out there, they remembered my husband and were so nice to take us everywhere on the property.

We made other friends out there. One, St. Helena Olive Oil. I would order their oil on line to be delivered here. They lost part of their production facility, although Peggy posted that her house was spared.

The impact on all of us. The loss of produce and fruit. Sonoma was a humongous producer of vegetables and fruit, for the US market.

US olive oils. Hopefully, those old, heavy producing olive trees survived. Otherwise, it could be years before production comes back to normal.

Avocados. Nuts. Citrus. Berries. The melting pot in Sonoma.

Makes me nervous when Florida and California have losses in citrus. Between the hurricane and these wildfires.

Add to it all, the disruption in income when all these businesses can’t open. For them, and their workers.

It’s been a crummy year here in the US, hasn’t it?

Watermelon Gazpacho

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Really. Excellent. Gazpacho.

All because we had it at The Turn House last week, so I had to try my own.

My first visit there, and review.

It’s a locally owned, farm to table menu. They graciously told us what was in the gazpacho, so I came home and tried my version of it.

Recipe: 4 cups watermelon, two large tomatoes, peeled and seeded. Equal amounts of red wine vinegar and olive oil. I used a couple of ounces of them. Half a cucumber, peeled and seeded. Your choice of how much hot pepper and sweet pepper. Two garlic cloves, minced. Salt. Pepper.

Make it to your taste. Your liking. I just throw things in a blender, and adjust.

Perfect for Buy Local Week. What’s not to love around here? It’s watermelon, cantaloupe, tomato and corn season in Maryland. They star in most of our meals. After all, the tomatoes are winning.

Five pounds today. They are making me work hard to preserve them.

Like these. Tomatoes, onion, garlic, pepper, olive oil, salt, pepper, a splash of sugar. Roasted. To put in the freezer to make winter that much more tolerable.

Dinner tonight.

The gazpacho. Cornish hens with local basil and butter. A potato from my CSA. A very good Virginia Viognier.

Buy Local Challenge nailed.

Summer Sizzle

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Yes, baby, it’s warm outside. Time to fire up the grill. Buy locally at the farmer’s markets. Look for refreshing light beverages to serve for dinner. Like craft beers.

Do you have a local liquor store that sells growlers full of light, interesting craft beers? The Wine Bin in nearby Ellicott City fills our growlers with locally produced beers, just right for dinner on the patio.

Maybe a step above. Like a daiquiri or a Dark and Stormy. Made with locally produced rums. From places similar to Lost Ark. Who, by the way is helping us at the Howard County Conservancy with a summer program “cocktail party” with famed Bug Man Dr. Mike Raupp. Stay tuned to see about that August program. In the meantime, check out their rums.

Yep, rum drinks with little umbrellas are awesome, but for us, the best summer drink is either a homemade Sangria, or a locally produced  rosé.

I stumbled upon a great blog post, listing a very large amount of Maryland dry rosé wines, which will help you find a perfect match for your summer sizzle meal. Here is the link.

Tame that summer heat. Don’t heat up the kitchen. Grill and chill.

In Vino Veritas

Spring came to our area last weekend. It doesn’t seem to be leaving anytime soon. It was a perfect weekend for a winery trip, and we didn’t even have to leave the state.

Maryland has over 60 wineries now. When we first got married and interested in local wine, there wasn’t much out there. Byrd, Boordy, Basignani, Fiore, Elk Run, Linganore, and Montbray are the ones I remember. Back then, we were looking to buy a few Maryland wines to have with our wedding anniversary dinners. Knowing that most of the wines weren’t made to age for decades, we focused on whites for the first few years. We also looked for those specially made reds, or dessert wines, to get us through our second decade of marriage. Byrd made decent reds in 1980. So did Elk Run. Not much else. Cabernet Sauvignon wasn’t widely planted in the state. Now, it’s different.

On the Maryland Wine website, I see that we’ve visited 14 of the 68 active wineries. Quite a list to ponder future destinations.

For this “trip”, we went to two of the closest wineries to our home in Central Maryland. Black Ankle and Old Westminster. We have been to these wineries before. I have written about their wines in my local dining challenges, and just in my locavore posts.

Why were we visiting wineries this weekend? Black Ankle, because it was wine club pick up weekend. Old Westminster, because the weather was gorgeous and we hadn’t seen the new tasting room, which opened last year.

If you have good local wineries where you live, you might want to consider their wine clubs. There are many different models. Look into them, you may find one that fits your budget, and your desired types of wine. Also, compare, some clubs are extremely flexible about exchanges and substitutions.

The clubs are very popular. They also give you special events, and small lot wines not available for general purchase. We belong to three in Maryland. Big Cork, Black Ankle, and as of yesterday, Old Westminster.

Why these three? Convenience of pick up, flexibility, and quality/consistency of product. There are quite a few excellent wineries in the state these days. For us, it came down to location coupled with selection. We enjoy the events at the local wineries. We tend to take picnic lunches or dinners with us when we go to get our quarterly allocation.

All three of these wineries allow you to bring in food, and have ample space for you to picnic on their grounds. I finally figured out what drew us to this model. It was simple. Feeling as if we had returned to the days where you could pack a picnic, spread out a blanket, listen to good music, eat good food and drink good wine. We lost that model in our communities and our parks. Restrictions on alcohol, due to liability issues, mostly.

But I digress. We had a lovely weekend around here. It warmed up enough on Friday afternoon for us to take a small cooler with some salads, fruit and yogurt and head out to Mt. Airy. Black Ankle is open from noon until 8:30 PM on Fridays.

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Every Friday night they have live music, year round. Winters, they are indoors. In good weather, they set up out front and tables, chairs and picnic blankets cover the lawn.

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Second Saturday nights, every month, are member only music events. After the winery is closed to the general public. Black Ankle has over 2300 wine club members, so there is always a crowd. A much younger crowd than what we used to see at wineries. Which I think is a great thing. A few decades back, we would only encounter people older than us at winery events. Nice to see the resurgence in interest in good wines. Black Ankle’s wines are pricey. But worth it. Consider a Friday night there as a better choice for dinner and music. Yes, the wines begin at $28 a bottle. They are a bargain compared to spending that much in a chain restaurant for a bottle that retails for $6-10. They are also very well made. All of them.

Yesterday, we headed up to Old Westminster to visit that new tasting room.

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So did many others as seen in the picture taken as we were leaving, just before closing time at 5pm. The building is sleek, clean lined and there is adequate space to host events for the over 1000 club members here. A relative newcomer to the Maryland wine scene, Old Westminster began selling wine less than 5 years ago. They make very, very good sparkling wines. One of only a handful of wineries in our state that make sparklers. It’s the reason we joined their club. Limited numbers of their premium wines.

We will be getting our first trio of wine in March. Looking forward to it. Also interested in food truck Fridays at the winery. They should be fun. Coal fired pizza with wine, anyone?

Stay tuned this spring and summer when we wander the state to see what else is out there.

Simple Indulgences

Just in time for Valentine’s Day. A compilation of some of our latest simple meals. Made with high quality local items and consisting of less than six ingredients (not counting salt and pepper).

I will be cooking at home again tomorrow to avoid the overcrowded restaurants. It will be simple also.

You can easily make these at home.

I did parsnip fries the other day. I loved them so much we will be making them tomorrow again.

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Baked in a 400 degree oven. Just cut the parsnips, lay them on a baking sheet with olive oil, salt, pepper, rosemary. Mix them before putting in the oven. Roast for about 12 minutes. Put them on a paper towel to drain. We had them with a yogurt based dressing for dipping.

I will be making halibut, maybe on the grill like I did these a while back.

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The weather here is going to be close to 50 degrees tomorrow. It’s time to check out the grill and move things back outdoors, as spring isn’t that far away. This grill method is very easy. Minimal seasoning. Brushed with oil. I used some of my pesto cubes from the freezer for this meal, but you can always buy a small jar of good pesto. Or, just whirl some parsley or basil in the processor with olive oil, salt and pepper.

We will have assorted cheeses from my CSA, and do another of our comparison wine flights, like we did here with two local Sauvignon Blancs. These were from Virginia. Glen Manor is made in a New Zealand style. It has that pineapple-y citrus-y taste. It goes well with seafood, and with omelets, and of course, with cheese. The Linden Avenius, made more in a French style, flinty and with a bit more acid on the finish. We served these wines with a mushroom omelet. And with an aged Gruyere cheese.

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Tomorrow, I am thinking of serving two Viogniers for comparison. More on our final decisions when I post again, after Valentine’s Day.

You may want to try a simple meal at home, instead of going out. Take your time. Dine by candlelight. Make something with just a few ingredients.

Change is Hard

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First of all, Happy New Year! I have been fairly busy with the painting around here, and haven’t kept up the blog. At least I remembered to change the copyright notice date to the current year. Hopefully, I can remember to write the correct year on all these checks we keep writing.

As for the past, current and future, I admit, not sorry to see 2016 go away. To us, 2016 brought Medicare, Social Security and lots of other reminders of getting older. Like realization that bad weather is worse when you aren’t a spring chicken anymore. Last year’s blizzard and tornado proved to be problems for us. In minor ways, but still problems.

We learned that we had to change things. Make things more accessible. Eliminate possible accident sources. Update bathroom, kitchen and other interior spaces. All these things are disruptive. Sometimes I think even more so because we are retired and here most days. We didn’t get to run away to the office and come home to the chaos only at night. Or, have the luxury like those on-HGTV people who could stay elsewhere while their houses were under renovation. I understand why people resist doing renovations. It can literally stress you out to the point of wanting to give it up. Yes, the results are nice, but living in complete disarray gets to me.

Every item from my pantry is in bags and boxes on my family room floor. Cooking is difficult.

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Add to it, the sheer shock factor of going to a bright yellow.

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Let’s just say I really like it. My better half? He’s still adjusting to the major color change.

We at least had New Year’s Eve dinner even while working around it all. I have to say that this recipe is a keeper, and it was a simple meal served with an excellent bubbly.

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Emeril Lagasse’s Oyster Stew. Recipe from online. Oysters from the Jessup Seafood Market. A side salad. Champagne savored from beginning of cooking through to a glass just before we gave up and crashed around 11:30. Yep, we couldn’t make it until midnight.

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Here’s to a better brighter 2017! At least my kitchen will be bright and cheery.

One. Perfect. Weekend.

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I don’t know where to begin. Maybe it’s the fact that weekends like this one are the reason we don’t move south. Those absolutely breathtaking weekends, with foliage, crisp temperatures, sunshine and beautiful places to visit.

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My weekend began out at Sharp’s Farm, for a Conservancy sponsored event. Denise Sharp, who is absolutely amazing and passionate about her farm, and farming in general, led 43 people on a tour of the farm. It was an event we asked her to create and lead.

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It’s the third time that I know of, where the Conservancy sponsored an off site event. This time, the premier event showcasing Howard County farms. It also was created to use the off site due to the construction at Mt. Pleasant.

I had the pleasure of partnering with Denise, setting things up and leading the scavenger hunt. Denise, she got the fun job. Taking them on a hayride through the farm, including a creek crossing.

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Off they go, to tour the property.

My favorite part of Saturday morning, watching the children feed the animals.

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They fed the goats, the chickens, the cows and the bunnies. And they loved it.

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So did the farm animals. All that attention and extra food.

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After all, when was the last time you got to pet a cow.

This weekend was the last one at the farm. Just like Larriland, who closed today. And, I believe, Clark’s. It’s the end of the season, except for the local wineries. That’s the other thing we did on this perfect weekend. Headed out to Black Ankle to pick up wine.

Along with hundreds of others, we sat outside and enjoyed the view and the wine. Didn’t even take the camera. It was just a lazy afternoon surrounded by fall foliage.

Every year this early November lovely weather, accompanied by the changing leaves, makes us love the state of Maryland even more.