A Joy Ride

For three years a friend, Jackie, and I have been talking about her visiting us here, but it just wasn’t happening.  I wrote her asking if she would like us to come get her in our plane and spend a few days; her response was instant and positive.  I hoped her time with us would be as exciting as she anticipated it to be.

Friday afternoon, as she was checking out the parking situation at Midstate Aviation, Bowers Field, a fire broke out in the CWU Flight Program’s maintenance hangar!

Saturday morning we flew into the windy Kittitas Valley to pick her up; the flight back was a bit bumpy but beautiful.

Wine was not on the agenda as she doesn’t drink alcohol – she is even more a light-weight than me!  No problem, Walla Walla has lots to do and see.  Nature and History provided the primary points of interest.  Wheat fields, vineyards, and Bennington Lake Reservoir and all of the pastoral charm of the Walla Walla Valley put on glorious displays of color and texture.  She and I spent an hour touring the Marcus Whitman Hotel’s second floor gallery of paintings depicting the history of the Whitman Mission before enjoying a wonderful lunch at T. Maccarone’s.

Bennington Lake, Walla Walla
Storms in the Blue Mountains looked pretty threatening over Bennington Lake.
Lunch at T Maccarone's.
Jackie and I enjoyed a delicious lunch and lots of talking at T Maccarone’s.

I met Jackie when I lived in Ellensburg with my children.  As my teenage son’s life seemed to unravel due to his Bipolar Disorder and other diagnosed mental illnesses I reached out to the local NAMI Chapter; Jackie was the point of contact.  Having local, personal, understanding was my saving grace.  All the professional care we had was as challenging as understanding my son’s needs.  She and several others helped me navigate and stay afloat during that time.

Our Tuesday evening flight to Bowers Field was more beautiful than Saturday morning.  We flew over the Yakima Valley and north, west of the Yakima River Canyon, into the Kittitas Valley.  So much terrain and alternating irrigated farmland and desert  meant some bumps were inevitable.  We just might see Jackie in Walla Walla again as she enjoyed her visit.

We don’t anticipate ferrying friends and family by plane, but we enjoy having visitors.  Hubby has been studying and practicing to renew his Flight Instructor Certification.  That is scheduled, weather permitting, as the next journey this plane has in store.  Just another step toward our dream.  Cheers!

Cast iron: the cookware that does it all

Cooking with fresh ingredients is all fine and good, but if you don’t have quality cookware, you just might be missing a significant part of the health and joy of cooking.  Everyone has their opinion as to what makes great cookware, the merits of each are all over the internet for you to make your own decision.  In our house cast iron is IT.  From the time I was learning to cook this has been my choice.  Hubby, never having cooked with it before meeting me, stepped up and excels at it.  Cast iron requires a bit of practice to understand how well the cookware holds heat and when to reduce the temperature to be sure your food doesn’t burn.  The biggest drawback is the weight of the pot or pan with food, the largest pans requires a Herculean effort for me to move them, but it is worth it!

Versatile, going from stove top to oven or grill and the perfect way to cook with a fire pit, making a main dish or dessert, means just a few pieces will go a very long way.  My first three cast iron pieces were old, well used and purchased at a flea market when my kids were very young: two wonderfully seasoned frying pans of different sizes and a deeper, long-handled pot that needed some TLC.  There were no lids for any of them but they were perfect to me (I still use them all).  And these are just the unclad (no enamel coating) pieces!

Silit pan on glass cooktop
Silit, enamel coated cast iron pots from Germany, are our choice of cookware.

Being foodies, when we married Hubby and I decided to replace the stainless pots that I brought to our communal home (they now reside with my daughter and are still used to make scrumptuous meals).  It took us a couple of years to find the just-right, we really want to cook in these pans.  Our choice? A line of German enameled cast iron pots, Silit.  Family and friends have Le CreusetLodge, and a myriad of off brands, but we really liked the modern, clean look of the Silit.  Do your homework and choose the pieces you are most likely to cook with as you don’t need a huge array of sizes and styles if you won’t use them.

Not sure cast iron can be used on a glass top stove? I have moved many times and used my arsenal of cast iron on each glass top range successfully.  Lifting the cookware rather than sliding, cleaning the glass surface regularly, and monitoring the heat of the pan so it doesn’t get too hot (yes, it can get red-hot); all things that should be done anyway to maintain the glass.

Cleaning enameled cast iron is, of course, normal soap and water cleaning, but ‘seasoned’ cast iron comes with a whole set of preconceived hurdles.  Iron rusts, minimize the exposure to water, dry the pan as soon as you finish cleaning it.  Scrubbing with salt, baking soda, or a scrubby pad; just make sure to get the food off of your pan (who wants microbes residing in the kitchen).  If you are truly camping (we glamp now), sand is an appropriate scrubbing agent.  Soap is even fine (we use it on occasion when we forget it is in the sponge already).  Rinse well no matter what you use and dry it immediately. Simple really.

Cooking sausage in a cast iron skillet
Cooking sausage, bacon or other fatty food helps maintain the seasoning on a cast iron skillet.

Seasoning a cast iron pan is not difficult or laborious.  If you cook fatty foods (cheesy bread or bacon anyone?) you are seasoning your pan as you cook.  Watch your heat though as fat does catch fire if too hot; keep a metal lid and baking soda within reach for emergency grease-fires.  Oh, don’t keep it over the stove as you don’t want to reach past the flames to get to your fire-retardant.  Needing to actually work at seasoning the pans? Turn the oven on to 350*, put a dollop of oil or fat in the pan(s) and set them in the oven to heat through.  With a hot pad remove one pan at a time, spread the now hot oil with a thickly folded paper towel all over the inside and top edge of the pan (if the bottom isn’t feeling nice and smooth, do the outside and bottom as well).  Put the pan back in and repeat until all of your pieces are seasoned.  Turn off the heat but leave the pans in the hot oven as it cools.  This should maintain the excellent cooking surface.

Frittata ingredients prepared before heating the pan.
Prep all of your ingredients before you heat your cookware.

Cooking in cast iron, as I said earlier, requires a bit of practice to get the pan hot enough (preheat) and then turn the heat down quickly enough during cooking to not burn your dish.  Of course, when you are searing a piece of meat, cooking cheesy bread (a family favorite), or stir frying you want the pan hot.  That is the beauty of cast iron: it holds that heat even when cold food is placed on it!  I prepare all of the vegetables, meat and seasonings before I turn the stove on as it allows me to focus on working with the pan and monitoring the heat.  Deglaze the pan with wine or vinegar or cook tomatoes in your dish, the cooking time with the acidic food isn’t sufficient to ruin the seasoning if you have kept it up.  Starchy foods (e.g. fried potatoes) will stick, that is the nature of starch, but if you are patient and careful, this food too shall come out truly yummy.  Use the utensils you have, use pot holders to grab handles as they heat up with the pan, use the best ingredients you can get your hands on and get cooking; use them!

Have you got a cast iron skillet you haven’t used?  This is one of our favorite cast iron skillet quick meals: a frittata.  I am basing the ingredients on a 12″ diameter frying pan for reference.  When my kids were little I would extend left overs this way, so feel free to use what you have handy:

Preheat the oven to 350*.  (I put the amounts of each ingredient below, prepare them before you heat the skillet.)  Pour a couple of table spoons of olive oil into the pan and preheat the stove element on high until the oil is hot (it begins to move in the pan).  Toss in 1/2 cup chopped onions and two cloves of garlic chopped fine, saute’ for two minutes before adding two small zucchini cubed, mushrooms cut to about 1/2″ pieces; continue cooking until the onion is clear and the zucchini browned.  Turn off the burner and remove from the electric element.  If the pan is almost dry, add additional olive oil at the edges of the pan and give it a quick stir.  Add a cup of shredded gouda cheese (or cubed precooked meat if you prefer), sprinkle a couple of table spoons of fresh thyme or a teaspoon of dry thyme and 10-12 eggs already shelled and gently scrambled with 1/2 cup of milk and salt and pepper to taste (I use water due to my allergies).    Place the pan in the preheated oven for 20-30 minutes.  Five to ten minutes before the pan should come out, spread 1/2 cup of shredded Parmesan cheese across the top. The frittata is done when the top is still a bit wiggly and the cheese is browned.  There you go, one pan of healthy, yummy goodness!

Frittatas are Italian, pair them with Barbera, Dolcetto, or Sangiovese, or focus on a strongly flavored ingredient and pair a wine with that ingredient in mind. I love taking left over frittata with me to work for lunch.  Cheers!

Reaching new heights

Cessna 182 keys
The keys to our 1957 Cessna 182; a dream come true for my darling Hubby! It is super exciting for me too.

As excited as I get about all things wine, that is how my Hubby is about General Aviation; this encompasses civil flight operations in small planes, gliders, balloons, etc.  As much as we decided to put off a purchase of a plane until next year, Hubby has been comparison shopping since January.  We discussed the pros and cons of each ship he shared with me extensively (sometimes repeatedly as nothing new came up for sale).  In May he discovered a plane for sale that seemed to meet all of the wishes we had in our ‘desired’ column; the owners flew the Cessna 182A to Walla Walla for us to fly.  Last month Hubby went to Tillamook, where the plane was based, to complete the ‘Annual’, a regularly scheduled maintenance check-up.  He helped dismantle and reinstall almost everything on the plane while conversing with the owners and the mechanic.  I was still in Walla Walla working in the Locati Cellars tasting room, waiting, as if for news of an impending birth.  Prior to this inspection I was certain we would be making an offer for the plane; whether or not the owners accepted was the unknown.  Hubby was more pessimistic, but hopefully so; maybe guarded is a better term.

Our Fourth of July became a ‘vacation’ to Tillamook, Oregon to pick up the plane!  When in Tillamook, you join the hordes of visitors to the Tillamook Cheese Factory.  I enjoy reading the history and data shared on murals throughout the factory.  It was running at minimal capacity on the 4th, but there were crushing numbers of people queuing for ice cream upstairs and meandering through the gift shop and restaurant down stairs.  My daughter traveled with us to drive the car home while we flew; this was her first visit, our second.  Walking Rockaway Beach, a bit of wine tasting, and getting to bed early as we had been up with the sun to get on the road and fatigue had the three of us nodding in our chairs at dinner.

At 8:00 AM sharp we were all at the Tillamook Airport hanger (also the Tillamook Air Museum).  The clouds were cooperating with a similar forecast for the next several hours.  But the coast can change rapidly, so we were a bit apprehensive.  Completing the paperwork, walking around the plane again and again, determining what documents they had that should stay with the plane, fueling up, and waiting for the banks to complete the money wire.  Good company, the prior owners were gracious and fun to hang with so the time was well spent. After a salad and pizza for lunch the money had been transferred.  Although we sold our wonderful trailer and Toyota Tundra to fund this, it was still a reality check to see the dollars disappear so efficiently.

At 14:00 (2:00 PM), with cloud bottoms 2,700 feet above the ocean, we taxied north on the  runway and flew above Tillamook, west, toward the bay.  We flew along the Oregon Coast seeing landmarks we had visited in the past from a new point of view.  Yup, it was thrilling!  I took pictures as Hubby got to know this bird better.  Although competent to fly the plane, each has its own quirks and unique qualities that the pilot needs to become familiar with.

The air was bumpy, like the ocean waves below us, the air currents were strong enough to rock the plane as we flew.  Rich seafood for dinner on the 4th, minimal sleep the previous two nights, jet fuel smells while at the airport and the bumps caused me intense motion sickness.  I played with the air temperature inside the plane trying to adjust it to help minimize my nausea and I closed my eyes, that didn’t help much, but I made it home without being sick.  Phew, the only mar in the otherwise great experience of the first day owning a plane.

 

We were alone at Martin Field, a sleepy little airport west of Walla Walla, when we landed, so we tied her to the ground (to keep her from moving around or flipping over in a wind).  The afternoon of the 6th we had access to the hanger we are renting and we put her inside, just fitting the available space perfectly.  She is a 1957 four-seater plane and has been shown at Vintage shows and  fly ins because she is in such good condition.  There are big plans for this plane, but for the time being we will fly her and proceed to build upon those ideas.  I will share them as they happen.

Millet and beet salad
Our welcome home meal to celebrate the safe arrival of our new RV is a spin-off of a friend’s ‘Glory Bowl’.

Once home we needed a quick dinner that wouldn’t be too heavy in my stomach after two hours of motion sickness.  Working on the premise of the grain salad I cooked millet, added chopped beets, lots of herbs, onion and garlic, and grated gouda cheese with a lemon and olive oil dressing for a warm, colorful, and tasty salad.  Paired with Helix Stone Tree Vineyard SoRho, a Rhone style blend, it was a terrific finish to the day.  Two hours after we flew into Walla Walla my daughter drove in; she left mid-morning with plans to walk Cannon Beach on the way home.  There is something to be said for traveling by air.  Cheers!

A local adventure

Coffee Group friends at graduation.
My ‘coffee group’ friends; I missed visiting again this year.

My garden supplies me with culinary and tea herbs I enjoy and share with friends.  It is a joy to sit outside and observe the bees and butterflies up close as they go about their business procuring nectar and pollinating.  So when a friend suggested we go to the Blue Mountain Lavender Farm  here in the Walla Walla Valley I was all for it.  We had hoped a couple other friends would join us, but that didn’t work out; they were sorely missed.

I hadn’t ridden in Carol’s Mini Cooper, so we decided to take that from my house to the farm.  We looked up the directions prior to leaving the house since the motorcycle rides my Hubby and I took didn’t show us where it was located.  As navigator I had my phone out, map open.  You know how they tell you that the maps aren’t always accurate? You know they tell you to check the accuracy before committing to following their directions? Well, when you are unfamiliar with the area and have no way to check the accuracy of the directions, you tend to follow them.  We did, for a silly adventure along a canal bank named ‘Mud Creek Road’.  The Mini Cooper is a low-clearance, small car with terrific handling and speed; not a typical off-roading vehicle.

Do you know how far two miles is? Do you know how far two miles in a Mini Cooper on a canal bank is?  They are not equivalent by any means.  Dutifully following the blue line on the map we kept heading toward the little red bubble. Close enough to the alfalfa seed fields that the bees were audible as they industriously pollinated the dark purple flowers.  The ditch was running with ribbons of Chartreuse algae across much of the top.  Laughing, and cringing as my fibromyalgia pain ramped up, we crept around the potholes and larger boulders to watch the blue line flip in front of us; we had made it to the next paved road!  Heaving a sigh of relief we stopped to put the address into the phones again to see if we would get a more accurate map.  The blue line of the new map showed us a short route, on paved roads. There were signs pointing the way on this route too!

In just a few minutes we climbed out of the abused Mini into the mid-day heat.  The charming farmhouse and grounds planted primarily to lavender, the gift shop, the covered outdoor craft space were not large, but they were immaculately groomed.  It was hot, already over 90*F.  Wondering through the fields, noting the names and descriptions of the different lavender cultivars for future reference, we made our way back to the gift shop.  I purchased a tin of Apricot Lavender tea that smelled heavenly and Carol purchased a couple of tea towels and sachets.  We packed ourselves into the Mini and drove away,  astound to see the turn we took toward the canal bank so quickly as the two miles on the road blinked by.  We headed to my house for lunch and wine to enjoy the rest of our visit in air-conditioned comfort.

Before driving to Walla Walla, Carol picked basil from her beautiful garden for me.  The next morning I made pesto, using some of it for a pasta dinner that night.  I typically don’t grow an abundance of basil due to confined spaces, but I do enjoy pesto so this was a wonderful treat.  There are a few containers in the freezer for future use and a bit out to enjoy now.

The recipe for Basil Pesto from Emelie Tolley and Chris Mead’s The Herbal Pantry:

2 cups fresh basil leaves, 1/2 cup parsley leaves, 1/2 cup olive oil, 3 tablespoons pine nuts, 2 large garlic cloves, peeled, 3/4 cup fresh grated Parmesan cheese, 2 tablespoons soft butter, salt to taste (I think the cheese adds enough salt, personally). In a food processor or hearty blender puree all but the cheese and butter. If you are freezing it, put it into your containers at this point.  Hand mix the cheese and butter into the pesto you are going to use.  If you have some to store in the refrigerator, put a thin layer of olive oil on top to preserve the bright green color.  Enjoy!

It is also time to start visiting the vineyards in anticipation of harvest. Lots of beautiful grape clusters, strong, healthy vines predict another fabulous crush season ahead. Cheers!

Patina Vineyard Syrah clusters
Patina Vineyard Syrah clusters are looking fabulous!

 

How to Make the Best Versatile Salad

When a friend visited a few weeks ago she came with a recipe for a salad that we hadn’t experienced before: Farro Layered Salad (I don’t know where this particular recipe comes from as it has no provenance). We were invited to a neighbors so our friend made this salad to take; it was the most popular dish at the Memorial Day BBQ!  If you are unfamiliar with farro, it is the Italian name for a species of hard wheat, in this case Emmer, the medium sized ancient grain.

Farro: Emmer
Farro, Emmer, an ancient hard wheat seeing a resurgence in popularity; cook just like brown rice.

Whole grain Emmer wheat is chewy and nutty; it isn’t gluten free.  It cooks like brown rice: 2:1 ratio of liquid to grains, 40-50 minutes covered cooking time.  I have read that soaking over night reduces cooking time and possibly increases mineral availability, but I am not usually that planned ahead.  My normal broth cooking liquid seemed too heavy for this summer meal, so I used water.

My go-to grain-salad dressing is lemon juice and olive oil (equal quantities) with salt and pepper to taste.  Whether tossing or layering, I enjoy nuts, cheese and fruit along with greens (vegetable and herbs).  In the recipe below, the first in the list of ingredients is what I used for last night’s dinner, followed by the equivalent in the original recipe and then other ideas that sound good to me.  If you have favorite combinations use them!  Let me know if something fantastic strikes you that isn’t on the possibilities list as I am always open to new ideas or combinations.

Farro Salad

Dressing: 1:1 lemon juice to olive oil enough to cover your salad, salt and pepper to taste (e.g. 4 tablespoons lemon juice to four tablespoons olive oil for a salad with 1 cup uncooked grain and vegetables)  On occasion, when I want a bit more zing to the dressing I will add grated garlic, horse radish or ginger and sugar, in equal amounts, for the zip desired.

Farro Salad fixings
Red onion, celery tops, parsley, peppermint, apricots, cucumber, red onion, pistachios and gorgonzola cheese for a cold Farro Salad.

Salad: Toss together 1 cup uncooked farro, quinoa, millet, lentils, etc. (pick one and cook el dente), 1 1/2 cups finely chopped red or sweet onion, 1 1/4 cup finely chopped parsley, mint, chives, dill, tarragon, fennel seed, thyme or other herb. If you are layering the salad, use half of the dressing in this tossed part of the salad and press into a 9×13 baking dish.  On top, with the other half of the dressing, or tossed into the mix with all of the dressing to coat, 3 cups of chopped cucumber, kale, swiss chard, collard greens, zucchini, shredded fennel bulb, shredded celery root, shredded jicama, etc. or a combination of greens.  Top with 1 1/4 cup gorgonzola, feta, chevre, asiago or other crumbly cheese, 1 1/4 cup toasted pistachios, walnuts, pepitos, pine nuts or other nuts, and two cups diced apricots, quartered red/green grapes, pitted olives, nectarine or peach pieces in summer, apple or pear in winter.  I tossed this into the salad as well.

 

We chose to pair this salad with Dolcetto, Locati 2014 Dolcetto to be exact. This light bodied, mildly spicy nose, with pie cherries and tart berries dominating the palate with a date-sweet finish was a wonderful accompaniment to the Farro Salad.  You could choose a  medium bodied white or light red that you like to pair.

Cheers!

Red, Pink and Yellow Onions

It is Walla Walla Sweet Onion Harvest here in our verdant valley.  These delectable, fragile onions are only around for a short time each year and have to be used promptly or preserved as they don’t store like the average yellow, white or red onions we are familiar with in the USA.  I will be getting my 25 pounds to dehydrate this weekend; it is Walla Walla Sweet Onion Festival weekend too.

Last November, during our tour through Germany we spent a day in Emmeloord, Netherlands.  (This a ‘polder‘ – land reclaimed from the sea.)  The perfectly flat terrain goes on for miles and miles where sheep graze and food crops grow with agriculture related businesses being the primary form of employment.  It is below sea level and the locals enjoy relating the marvel of their home as much as winery peeps in the Pacific Northwest (Washington and Oregon) like to expound upon the Missoula Floods that have  provided us with excellent soil for vinifera grape growing, amongst other crops.  Hey, we are all human, right?

One of the stops of the day was an onion packing plant; it was an excellent experience.  Set up like the one I have been through in Washington State: trucks backed in to unload, storage bins for the onions, long lines of conveyor belts sizing equipment and bagging/boxing.  What made it interesting to me was that my American perspective was large onions that are either in pre-weighed 5 or 10 pound net bags or loose in the grocery store is the norm.  From the Waterman Onion Packing facility yellow, red and pink (yup, just like wine: white, red and pink) onions the size of large shallots are packaged into net bags of about five onions for grocery store purchasers or graded and sized for bulk shipping to Asian and African nations.  Those destined for Africa were to be sold individually (pieced) as money and/or preservation are in short supply in many places.  Our American onions are less expensive too; sadly, we don’t see how well we have it most of the time.

The pink onions were touted as ‘sweet’ and, being from Sweet country, we had to try one.  A pocket knife was procured and layers were peeled for each that wanted a taste.  Although sweeter than the average onion and great tasting, they are not as sweet as our beloved Walla Walla Sweet Onions.

I had a blast going through the packaging plant while it was shut down for lunch. My white jacket was filthy in short order (I should not be trusted with white clothing) but none of the guys got dusty red jackets of out it…hmmmm.  Since we have been traveling through Washington during potato planting I recognized the huge bulk sacs for shipping at two places where I hadn’t  see them before.  The gypsy in me took advantage of some traveling opportunities while the geeky side is content with the new info.

By the way, feel free to mix and match your yellow/red/pink onions with your wines. Cheers!

W2 June Food Truck Night

What do you do in Walla Walla when the temperatures soar to over one hundred during the first week of June?  Well, if it is a Monday, we go to the Port of Walla Walla Incubators for Walla Walla Food Truck Night!  Usually it is crucial to get there right at 5:00 PM to avoid standing in long lines waiting for food and hoping to find a seat in the shade.  This week it was 101* at that hour, the parking lots were still pretty empty and there were no lines at any of the food trucks.  We also had friends ‘saving seats’ at Burwood Brewery, so we were fairly certain of eating in the shade.

When it is so hot it is hard for me to choose food.  We walked the line of trucks, debating the merits of each before making our decision: Wing & a Prayer BBQ ribs for Hubby, 1/4 chicken for me and Mediterranean Cuisine salads paired with Burwood’s beers. It was slow enough that Mediterranean Cuisine made me a special salad without olives; I thank them profusely!  Our beer choices were Pennypacker, an altbier style lager, that complemented the barbecue beautifully and an IPA for my Hubby to pair with the hot evening weather.  We drank lots of water too as staying hydrated can be tough on such hot days.  As we were leaving lines were beginning to form.

I had enough left over chicken to make myself a salad for dinner (solo, so perfect amount) the next night and share a bit with my very spoiled ten year-old cat, Dragon.

Locati Cellars 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon
Seattle Wine Award gold winner, Locati Cellars small production of 2013 Walla Walla Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.
Celebrate Walla Walla Valley Wine: Cabernet Sauv 2016
Don’t miss out on the festivities of Celebrate Walla Walla Valley Wine the 16-18th of this month!

Happy to have a hot evening without cooking this week as we prepare for WWCC’s newest Enology & Vit grads to party in our backyard this coming weekend!  The following weekend (16-18) is Celebrate Walla Walla, focusing on Cabernet Sauvignon. Locati Cellars is participating with our small production of 2014 Kelly Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon.  It won gold in the Seattle Wine Awards this year.

Walla Walla Sweet Onions are here!
Walla Walla Sweet Onions are being harvested! Best make some time to get mine to dehydrate.

At the same time the Walla Walla Sweet Onion Festival will take place (18-19th)!  Sample delicious Walla Walla Sweet Onion recipes, purchase onions fresh and in things like mustards, compete to eat a fresh sweet onion in record time and then go wine tasting.  How can you beat a weekend such as this?  It isn’t looking like it will be as hot that weekend; what more incentive do you need? Make your plans, come visit me in the tasting room and bring home your onions!  If you bring home lots, dehydrate them.

Cheers, stay cool!

How to Help The Nose Know

For many years I have been ultra sensitive to smells, aromas, odors (what ever you want to call them) and this has been fantastic in my new life making wine.  Working, years ago, in the Art Department of a medium size University meant there were some pretty interesting days when I wanted to run out of the building as an overwhelming stench seeped into  my office.  Walking through campus on my lunch break I could usually find a haven in the small gardens in the crooks of buildings, protected from the wind and sun, where the abundance of flora calmed my nerves, relaxed my muscles and reminded me that there are smells worth pursuing.  In fact, aroma therapy helps me with fibromyalgia flare ups to some degree for just that reason.

During our crazy floor remodel last month we drove by a mass of yellow flowers along a road two blocks from our house.  My Hubby stopped, backed up telling me that I HAD to smell these flowers.  The cement wall we were on top of is pretty high before the ground slopes away from it into a large pond; the flowers were at road level.  They looked like wild mustard on steroids and smelled like buttered popcorn.  With his love of buttery, oaky Chardonnays, this plant reminded him of this and he wanted another opinion of the smell.  There is one house beside the pond, more across the street, but nothing close enough to dominate the fragrance coming from the plants and yes, in fact, they do smell like buttered popcorn fresh out of the popper.  Our curiosity aroused, I set out to determine what this oddity could be.

The most information came from Texas, where apparently this plant is very invasive and is considered a non-native, noxious weed: Rapistrum rugosum more commonly called Bastard Cabbage, turnip weed, giant mustard among other similar names firmly puts it in the Brassicaceae (Mustard Family).  Nowhere did I find anything referencing the smell this plant has, odd as it seemed, despite that being OUR driving reason to identify the plant.

Whether your nose is super sensitive or you can hardly smell at all, there are still aromas that you like and others you don’t.  When you plan to go wine tasting or out to a nice meal, tone down the fragrance you put on or leave it off completely (perfume, cologne, lotion, etc.) because although you may love the smell it will interfere with your ability to smell the wines you are tasting or drinking.  There is the possibility that you will also prevent those around you from appreciating the aromas in their glass.  Our tasting room is off of the lobby of the lovely Marcus Whitman Hotel where guests aren’t necessarily visiting to wine taste.  There have been visitors that I smelled coming through the lobby from the opposite side of the hotel. Before the Spring tourist season gets in gear the hotel deep cleans everything; the chemicals they use permeate the place for days making me wish I could bolt from the tasting room as I wanted to bolt from my office years ago.  When the City repaved the roads around us the smell of asphalt was too strong for me to work.  I am not tasting, but I feel for those who are.

Wine Folly's Wine Aroma/Flavor Chart Wheel
Wine Folly’s Wine Aroma/Flavor Chart Wheel can help ID that elusive aroma or flavor as you taste wine.

Whether you are a newbie to wine tasting or an experienced pro smell is an integral part of enjoying wine.  You can just sit back, sniff, sip, savor and repeat or you can determine all that you recognize in the wine; enjoyment comes in many forms.  Consider this as you prepare for your next round of tasting or your next dinner with wine and those around you will appreciate it. Cheers!

Lost in translation – Not

We had lots of craziness involved with construction for the last two weeks as new floors and molding went into the whole house.  The tired  (pink) carpet with no pad beneath it, the bold (pink) entry tile and shrunken (pink) linoleum were unceremoniously ripped out in clouds of dust and debris to make way for the new laminate floors we chose to replace them.  The three guys that were doing the work had limited English and my multi-lingual skills were too rusty to allow coherent non-English sentences.  But this reminded me of our visit to Eichbaum in Mannheim, Germany when we shared a table with a long time resident of Mannheim that hadn’t spoken English in the many years since his wife passed away.

The Mannheim Water Tower
The Mannheim Water Tower on a gloomy November day; it finally stopped raining enough to stop and take a picture.

We were a few days shy of leaving Germany and in need of dinner after a cold, rainy November day touring Heidelberg Castle.  Eichbaum came up as a restaurant so we made our way there around 5 PM.  There were basic pub foods to choose from which made the decision fairly quick.  The flight of beers on tap made their way to us promptly, but the food took some time to emerge despite it being a slow night.  So, when our new friend asked to sit by us while he drank his beer we didn’t mind.  Our server gave him a glare when he sat down; we might have taken that as a sign, but no.  We managed to eat between questions due to the time it took to comprehend what he was asking.  When he whistled for another beer the server berated him for his rudeness; in his defense, his glass was empty for quite a while and she didn’t come by to check.  She glared at the back of his head another time or two.  It was clear that he loved the time he spent in America many years ago as much as he loved his deceased wife and was super lonely.  His little apartment a few blocks away meant he was a regular customer from way back when.  Like an old uncle that doesn’t know when to leave, the server chided him and tolerated him.  We had a good time chatting while we ate and drank, we certainly won’t forget him as that evening was a lot longer than we anticipated.

The beers were good, but not exciting; no need to translate taste thank heavens.  As one of the oldest breweries in the Baden-Wurttemberg region we were impressed with the huge, modern facility we arrived at.  Now knowing how large they are and how far they distribute, makes sense.  Apparently it was a popular college student haunt when the University of Maryland University College (1995-2005 in Mannheim) had a campus there.

The experience was humbling, we didn’t speak German well enough to communicate with this man, but we could understand his German enough to answer in English which was apparently ok.  The vast majority of Germans speak impeccable English; we should be better prepared to participate in the world we travel in.  Of course, back at home, we were poorly equipped to converse with non- to minimal-English speaking people.  They did great work and we are so happy to be moved back into our home.

Have a safe Memorial Day, keep those that defend us (past and present) and all that they give up for us in mind this weekend.  For my family, friends and for those that I don’t know personally that still are and have served, thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Cheers!

Blind tasting

In Ephrata, for Brix & Stone during 2010-2013, we did blind beer tastings.  I had a wonderful time leading groups as large as 25 through tastings.  Sometimes we had novices and there was a lot of education and discussion, other times we had a die-hard group of regulars that knew their stuff and wanted to blast through the tasting to know what they were going to take home with them; very fond memories of these evenings.

During my time at WWCC’s EV program we did many tastings, blind and otherwise.  Repetition and frequent discussion expanded my vocabulary and my ability to provide names for flavors and sensations.  Of course, tasting wheels for beer and wine are fairly common; good tool to have around.

It is important to realize that each of us needs to accept and enjoy the wines (or beers) we favor without feeling like we have to get the 92 point or Platinum winners; unless you find you really like the wines that a reviewer gives high points and excellent reviews to the information is purely subjective.  Never let someone make you feel less for your choice of beverage if you really enjoy it; it is still bullying and unacceptable.

Walla Walla Rose' blind tasting.
The first round of six Walla Walla Rose’s poured for comparison.

With Spring’s arrival came the 2015 Walla Walla wines and the Third Annual Rose’ Tasting.  Hubby and I participated in the non-industry tasting last month.  The night before wine-industry people gathered for a tasting of the same wines.  Naturally, there are a lot of wine industry people who didn’t fit into that first evening, so we signed up for the second night.    From those tastings a smaller group of us signed up to taste the 12 most preferred Rose’s to determine the ‘top’ three.  Two rounds of six glasses narrowed to six total wines and the last round of six ranked.

The anticipation was high when we arrived for the Finale this week.  Grabbing our six glasses (rented for the occasion) and a spit cup (important for lightweights like me) we organized ourselves and labeled our glasses A-F for organization.  Once the first round was poured I noted the color and the aromas (strong/weak included) of all of them before proceeding with tastes.  There is no guarantee in a blind tasting that there will be a good order for tasting, and this helps me to get an idea of what I am in for.  Swirling, swishing and really getting details of the wine to put in my notes and spitting each wine.  Repeating, I use smaller sips the second time, two if they seem too close to call.  Then I ranked each one for preference.  Sitting beside my hubby as we did this was interesting as our palates have diverged considerably since we began our Wine Odyssey and we sometimes contradict each other.

 

 

Some Walla Walla Rose wines.
Some of Walla Walla’s 2015 Rose wines revealed post tasting last month; all excellent.

There are a lot of Walla Walla Rose’s.  To be part of the tasting the current year had to be bottled with tech sheets provided (i.e. Locati Cellars 2014 Rose’, 2015 wasn’t bottled in time for these tastings).  All of the Rose’s are excellent wines; I have been known to tell customers in the tasting room that Walla Walla is very competitive and you have to be above average to stay open here.  I preferred the fruity, dry and acidic wines; green pepper and lots of residual sugar being less pleasing to me.  Hubby likes less blatant acids and more green pepper.  We both appreciate a well-balanced wine with ‘complex’ aromas and flavors (means more than one smell and flavor) and a nice finish.  Notice these words are pretty vague? I encourage YOU to take notes of what you taste and see where your palate takes you.  Use this: blindtastingsamplesheets to help you get started with your tasting events.  One for beer and the other for wine.  When organizing a blind beer tasting plan to provide some basic information as you unwrap the containers.  For wine tastings, most wineries provide tech sheets (sometimes under ‘Trade’) that you can print.

A huge thank you to Mike for planning and executing the Annual Rose’ Tasting and hosting the finale. The ‘after party’ was a bon fire and dinner off of the grill with the rest of the Rose’s (despite the rain). Cheers!

Bonfire and dinner post wine tasting.
Grilled chicken, roasted asparagus, seasoned cauliflower and salad to pair with rose’s of our choice and a fire.