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Grilling Chilling and Tilling

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Those three words sum up the weekend here. Ten hours in the garden. Three dinners from the grill. A couple of really nice wines and some kick back evenings watching movies.

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I did perfect those grill marks, didn’t I? A couple of very nice filets as an add on a few weeks back from Friends and Farms. A simple marinade of vinaigrette. A screaming hot grill. Baby rose potatoes from my last CSA basket. Carrots from Friends and Farms. Lettuce too. The tomatoes. Those were Hummingbird Farms hydroponic picked up at Roots. The same place I picked up this.

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Did you know Salazon chocolate is made just up the road in Carroll County? They used to have a shop in Sykesville, which unfortunately closed. All their dark chocolate bars have sea salt in them, and lots of flavor combinations.

Perfect to go with a duo of very old, very special local wines.

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1998. Yes, you read that right. Two of our favorite old local wineries. Allegro has changed hands since the Crouch brothers ran the winery a couple of decades ago. Their wine. Still absolutely drinkable, soft and great with the filets. As for the Hardscrabble, it still has tannin and can continue to age. Who knew? Almost 20 years old. They could compete with lesser growth Bordeaux, when it comes to matching your meals. We compared the two with dinner and later savored them with that awesome chocolate.

As for the garden, we did quite a bit of work the last two days. I finally got the onions planted, and the seeds for arugula and bibb lettuce under the row cover.

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My better half tilled the three rows I will be using for my community garden. One row, tomatoes will dominate. That middle row, greens and onions. A third row, cucumbers and squash. The already established fourth row is full of this.

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Asparagus. I have been carefully working around the tender spears that are emerging. I will probably add a few herbs to this bed, once I get it cleaned up.

And, for that final chilling part of the post, check out our resident killdeer, back and laying another four eggs.

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I took this from really far away and thankfully got to crop it without distortion. I hope to soon see the babies chasing mom and dad all over our community gardens.

Grazing Meals

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Simple to set up. For those times when maybe you want a leisurely dinner, or you don’t want to cook very much, or you just want to try something different without a major commitment to one item.

Tonight, we did that. Overwhelmed by all the running around to get ready for this week’s projects in house repair and renovation, I just wanted something simple, yet really nice to eat.

Roots Market, Harris Teeter, my CSA, my freezer, and a couple of local wineries came to the rescue.

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I’m not sure if anything is as decadent as the contributions from Roots. Their mushroom pate. And their “Indian Candy”, a luscious smoked salmon. These two items were the inspiration today.

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The mushroom pate, vegan, made with walnuts, tamari, maple syrup, olive oil and thyme was perfect on their rosemary pistachio crisp breads.

The salmon, served with onion, lemon, capers, and fresh dill, on last week’s bread from She Wolf, courtesy of our CSA. Last week’s bread was a caraway rye.

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A plate of raw vegetables, the highlight being one of those watermelon radishes that Lancaster Farm Fresh has delivered twice now in our winter CSA.

Finally, fresh kielbasa from Pennsylvania. The last of the kielbasa purchased a few months ago on a trip to the Pittsburgh area.

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The fun part of the meal. Taste testing and comparing two local wines from Virginia. The latest offerings in Sauvignon Blanc from Linden Vineyards, and Glen Manor. Two of our favorite vineyards. Totally different styles. Glen Manor makes theirs in the style of New Zealand. Citrusy. Tart. 2014 was a good year for local wines. Then, there’s the Avenius single vineyard selection from Linden. Shari’s vineyard is situated on flint, giving her grapes the characteristics of a Fume Blanc. With those mineral notes, and much more austere.

It was interesting to compare and contrast how they paired against the three choices for dinner. You can’t go wrong with either wine with the salmon. The Avenius was a better match to the kielbasa. The Glen Manor to the mushroom pate.

If you want a great date night meal, find a couple of bottles of the same varietal wine. Pick up two or three things that go well with that varietal. Have your own grazing meal, relaxing and taking the time to savor the experience.

Spirits

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The alcoholic kind of spirits. Like this.

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On my mind because of our cabin fever escape up to Bistro Blanc last week, after being snowed in. Their cocktail list is amazing. It all started last summer with that ginger peach mule, but Tuesday night we wanted something that reminded us of summer.

The Denise. Not sure of the origin of the name. But, loved the cocktail. Made us forget there was two feet of snow out there.

We decided to check out the origin of the cucumber vodka. Found a site that identified an organic one. Immediately thought of RED as the place to go to find organic spirits.

Up the way from Roots, Bark, Nest and Great Sage. Our little local corner of mindful buying. The people behind RED were smart. Put an organic, biodynamic, sustainable product business next to all those Conscious Corner businesses.

Interestingly, we had never stopped there. We mostly buy wine, from the local sources, or from our tastings over at Iron Bridge. I’m not a huge beer drinker, but RED has growler choices I find intriguing. From Local brewers like Manor Hill, Jailbreak and Flying Dog.

I went there on a mission to find cucumber vodka.

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They had it, and the elderflower liqueur as well. I just needed to add those mixers to it. Now we have some amazing cocktails for those date nights I just blogged about.

If you live around here in Howard County, check out RED. You won’t be disappointed if you are looking for unique spirits, wine and beer.

Date Nights

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With a local and small business influence. Do you do date nights? You know. Dinner and a movie. Or binge watching your favorite TV series. For us, we go out infrequently in the winter. Don’t want to deal with slick roads and deer.

We also find it interesting to put together a special meal. Maybe tapas. Maybe home cooked, but always using some of our favorite local foods.

Besides, we can put together one awesome meal at a fraction of the cost of eating out.

Take this week. Snowed in, for the most part. Many things to do around here. Not particularly the best time to head off across town.

We like to pick a special local wine. Like this one.

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You can build a meal around a very nice local white or red. Your preference. For us, we have four “go-to” wineries. Linden. Big Cork. Black Ankle. Old Westminster. We’ve always found their wines to be excellent. Yes, they are a bit pricey. All of them, but putting it in context, a bargain compared to buying wine in restaurants.

Consider this. A glass of house white may cost $7-$9 for a five ounce pour. Two glasses each over the course of dinner. $30-$40 before tax and tip. I can buy lovely wines like that Linden Hardscrabble for less than $30 after discount. At $30, a restaurant bottle of wine may be in the $10-12 retail range.

I start with a chosen wine. Build a meal around it. Our latest date night used 100% purchased foods. No cooking. No fussing. Just a couple of quick preparations. And I used small local sources for most of the food. I felt like I had created one of those small plate dinners like we enjoy at Pure Wine.

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This was it. Mushroom pate and spring rolls from Roots. I have tried to make my own pate and it’s OK, but not as good as Roots makes. The salmon. From Friends and Farms. Offered on a fresh catch special recently. That lovely watermelon radish. From our Lancaster Farm Fresh winter CSA. The bread, from Harris Teeter (only because we were told our CSA bread shares were victims of the blizzard). The bread was a Limited Edition Russian Black bread, made by their bakery.

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Sipping that big buttery Chardonnay while enjoying small tastes of fresh foods. Not a bad start to date night.

Total cost. Less than $60. Much less than going out.

Challenge yourself some Friday night. Pick a favorite local wine. Head over to Roots or Davids and see what looks good. Or, just pick up a rotisserie chicken. A few local cheeses. Maybe some chocolate for dessert. We love to have a red wine with dinner and finish off with a locally made chocolate like the ones from Salazon, made just north of us in Carroll County.

And rent a really good movie.

They Say It’s My Birthday

Or at least it was, yesterday.

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My better half even remembered to get the card, the flowers and a tiny box (just the right size, 6 truffles) of chocolates. He is pretty good about remembering dates, and almost as good at getting the little things that make it special.

Sixty three years old. I have to admit, I think there is some truth to how quickly the years seem to pass as you get older. I am amazed at how fast I feel that 2015 went by.

We have lived in this house almost 11 years. I realized it is the second longest time I spent at one address, in my entire life. The 23 years in our Columbia townhouse is significant. I wonder if I will spend 12 more years here, until I am 75. Who knows? It certainly is peaceful and lovely out here.

I grew up a city girl. Twenty two years. Then, 30 years in suburban Columbia. Commuting elsewhere after the first year of living there. Eleven years now a rural route resident.  Almost half that time as a retiree.

Reflections of why we did what we did in life. And speculation about what we want to do in the future. Those things always seem to come up on birthdays and anniversaries.

A few highlights of our dinner and evening.

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A very simple appetizer. Homemade bagel crisps (easy, just thinly slice a Wegmans plain bagel, then toast it). Served with Firefly Farms chevre and housemade smoked salmon from Bardines Smokehouse in western PA. The smoked salmon was picked up on one of our day trips. To Petrolia PA to buy some tower accessories for my husband. He gets to go look for radio stuff. I get to stop at someplace to indulge my locavore and small business habit.

We were actually there looking for fresh kielbasa. Theirs is award winning and we have to compare it to the homegrown style in my husband’s PA birthplace. It’s good. It’s close, but not as garlicky as what his hometown favorite is. For us, we have to have that homemade kielbo for New Year’s.

I can’t let the opportunity pass to say something about this wine. It is a six year old Chardonnay from my favorite VA winery, Linden. If you closed your eyes, or covered the bottle, you would not know it to be a VA wine. It tastes just like a good white Burgundy. Not premier cru, but up there. A perfect mate for the tartness of the chevre and the richness of the smoked salmon.

Dinner, too, was fairly simple, yet elegant. I put beef short ribs over a bed of white beans, onions, Brussels sprouts and mushroom gravy. Slow cooked it for six hours in the oven.

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Not the best light for pictures. I served lightly glazed carrots with the beef. A yellow one, a white one and an orange one. CSA carrots come in all the colors of the rainbow around here. I am working my way through that full root vegetable drawer since the end of the fall CSA. Good thing carrots last a long time.

The splurge for my birthday dinner. The 2012 RdV Rendezvous. Just released in October. Quite an austere wine. In the manner of a Bordeaux, it does best when paired with food. The beef short ribs did OK as a match. This wine needs a few more years to mellow. Still, it’s a lovely balanced wine. Who would guess it’s from Delaplane Virginia.

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We finished this wine later in the evening with one of those truffles, while watching the Kennedy Center Honors. As for the Linden, here’s hoping the half we didn’t drink survived a night in the fridge. That’s the thing about older wines. They don’t tend to hang in there for the next day.

This birthday, like many of ours, was spent here at home. Leisurely. Relaxed. Full of great food and wine. Easy to make dishes. I really enjoy putting together a make ahead meal, and spending time just having uninterrupted conversations with my better half. While also enjoying locally produced beef, vegetables and wine. Not a bad way to turn 63.

 

Sixty Five Years Young

Yesterday. My better half’s very significant birthday. Normally, I cook. We open a special bottle of wine and have a leisurely dinner at home.

This year, we celebrated in a bigger way. With a dinner at Bistro Blanc.

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Paired with wines from our cellar, and a few from our friend, Raj Kathuria, who has always made Bistro Blanc a favorite place for us to dine. We had friends from radio, and friends from wine dinners join us. “Marrying” his two favorite hobbies.

Chef Diego met with me last week to put together a menu. Using many local items. Very small plates. Paced so we could talk and laugh and enjoy the company. I only took the phone out to record the very last course. The small treats finishing the meal.

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Peanut butter and vanilla macarons, and bourbon toffee bonbons. The dessert courses were accompanied by one of our very old bottles of vintage port.

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From the year we were married. Bought decades ago at Wells Liquor in Baltimore, from the liquidation of the wine cellar of the Brentwood Inn. On very special occasions like anniversaries and birthdays, we have opened four of the six bottles we splurged on in the early 1980s. Back when we started putting wines under the steps in our town house basement. Most of what is here now is local. Good stuff from Linden, Black Ankle, RdV, Glen Manor, Barboursville and more.

This was the first time I ever put together a private dinner party. Bistro Blanc did an incredible job. We used the private dining area that holds up to sixteen people. We have been in that room a number of times for their wine dinners.

Thanks to all our friends for the pleasure of their company and for the thoughtful gifts and cards given to my husband. It was a memorable birthday in so many ways. Now, he just has to finish signing up for Medicare. Does that make us officially “old”?

The Thanksgiving Wine Decisions

From the local perspective.

I always try to serve local wines with our Thanksgiving meal. Since I go to the trouble of getting a local fresh turkey, and I have local organic CSA vegetables around here, I like to make the whole meal local. Sort of like those original Pilgrim meals. Food from near where you live.

I will be picking up my turkey at Maple Lawn this year. Why? I don’t know. Maybe I feel like being part of that tradition, or really, just maybe I want to get a few other items to put into the freezer for later this winter.

As for the wine selection, I am slightly changing my candidates this year.

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I am leaning towards serving the Ankida Ridge Pinot Noir. We have yet to make it down south of Charlottesville to visit this winery, but we have bought their wines at Early Mountain, north of Charlottesville. I will probably take the Linden to my brother’s house, as it is light and refreshing.

I considered that dry Petit Manseng.

For red wine drinkers, the Big Cork reds aren’t that heavy yet, as they still have younger vines. Their Cabernet Franc is light enough to match with turkey.

Big Cork is a Maryland winery. Another good local Maryland winery to pick from, is Old Westminster.

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They are one of the closest wineries to our home. They make some lovely wines, like their white blends. You can buy them at the Wine Bin in Ellicott City.

No matter what you choose, pick one or two local wines to serve. Make it a real Maryland Thanksgiving.

The Antietam Highlands Wine Trail

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Something to do on these lovely autumn days.

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Fall foliage season is fast approaching. I picked up this brochure at Big Cork a few weeks ago. The offerings interested me.

Like the Meadery and Ciderworks.

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Filed away to try out on a weekend soon. But today, the first sunny day in a long time, we ventured out to taste at Knob Hall.

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Just west of Hagerstown. They were harvesting red grapes and sorting, when we got there.

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And, you know what? They make some lovely wines. Not very expensive. But, really well done. The tasting room is in a 200+ year old bank barn. They make one awesome cheese and charcuterie plate. We enjoyed their Chambourcin Reserve for a late lunch.

For those who love good wine, this is a very nice place to check out.

We will be heading back out there to try out the other offerings just west of Frederick. Who can resist the pull of the Appalachian mountains in the fall?

The Best Of

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Those lists. The best this. The best that. I take them all with a grain of salt. So when I saw a Facebook feed from Black Ankle about the “101 Best Wineries in the USA” I thought, OK, another popularity contest.

Seems this list is a bit more than that. They use chefs, wine writers, sommeliers, wine experts and more to pick wineries of good value, consistency and great taste.

We have enjoyed wines from at least half the wineries on this list. They really did a good job of picking places that make wines of distinction, and their write ups are spot on. Yes, Black Ankle makes one awesome Syrah.

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It made us open one for our final night of the Buy Local Challenge. Served with a lamb loaf and local veggies.

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Sunday night dinner.

The wine is simply elegant. If you haven’t had the chance to head out to Mt. Airy and visit Black Ankle, you should. Besides the syrah, they make some interesting whites, like Albarino and Gruner Veltliner.

A perfect place for a Friday night picnic while listening to the music. Take a basket with you, or buy from the winery. Buy a bottle to compliment your meal. Enjoy!

@mdsbest

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The Buy Local Challenge. Coming next week to our area. Are you taking the challenge? Will you be eating a local food at least once a day for the nine days of the challenge?

This year they have included the Farm to Table restaurants in the challenge. If your local restaurant features local foods on the menu, you can help both the farmers and the independent restaurant owners.

Every day until the challenge is over, I will be giving tips on where and how to eat locally, and to buy locally produced items.

I mean, it can be really easy. How about wine, beer or ice cream? A glass of local wine or beer a day. How easy is that? Or, ice cream from the local farms around here. Like Baugher’s. Or the eight dairies on the MD Ice Cream Trail.

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Hmm, a nine day event. Nine places to eat ice cream. Sounds like a plan to me.

Beer!

Head off to Victoria’s GastroPub for Manor Hill draft beers. Brewed here in Howard County. Four of them available.

Head up to Black Ankle. Or Elk Run. Or Sugarloaf Mountain. Or Old Westminster. Or Big Cork. All local wineries making wines with grapes grown in Maryland.

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Every day. A different local beer or wine.

Yep, you don’t have to buy vegetables to excel in the Buy Local Challenge.

Oh, I forgot cheese. There are many local cheese makers in the state. More on them tomorrow.

But, if you are into veggies, Wednesday through Sunday, the county has seven farmer’s markets. If you want to do something different, head out to Larriland to pick berries.

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No excuses. Eating locally is easy.