Monday, June 30, 2008

While The Cat's Away

Arriving home from my weekend away, I noticed an empty bottle of Eschelon Pinot Noir in the recycling. The grapes were grown in the Burgundy region of France but the juice was bottled in California. It is fast becoming our "everyday red".

Robin Garr recently re-posted the following Burgundy primer on his 30SecWineAdvisor.

WHERE: Most broadly defined, Burgundy runs north and south along the Saone river in France between the cities of Lyons and Dijon (plus Chablis, which is a good distance northwest of all the rest). The southern portion of Burgundy incorporates the Chalonnaise, Maconnais and Beaujolais regions; but when most wine enthusiasts speak of Burgundy, they are talking about the relatively small section around Beaune, just south of Dijon, where the hillside stretch called Cote d'Or incorporates the Cote de Nuits and the Cote de Beaune, where some of Earth's most favored vineyards grow.

WHAT: Called Bourgogne ("Boor-gon-yuh") in French, Burgundy wines are almost invariably made from only two grape varieties: Pinot Noir for the reds, and Chardonnay for the whites. There are a few exceptions, like the Gamay grape in Beaujolais and the white Aligote and Pinot Blanc. We'll talk about them another day.

WHEN: In terms of the length and texture of its vinous history, Burgundy is one for the books. Legend asserts that the ancient Romans found vineyards here when they conquered Gaul in 50 B.C., and vine growing has carried on without a break for more than 2,000 years since: by monks in the Dark Ages through Charlemagne's time, by dukes and barons thereafter, and by small farmers and entrepreneurs after the Revolution, when Napoleon's empire broke up the old holdings of the church and the nobility, a policy further complicated by inheritance to create a jigsaw-puzzle map of tiny properties that befuddles wine enthusiasts to this day.

WHY: What makes Burgundy so desirable? There is little debate that both Pinot Noir and Chardonnay reach their quality pinnacle in these relatively small places; and Pinot in particular, while one of the most challenging grapes to get right, is one of the most rewarding when it all works out. Two millennia of wine-making tradition and as much experience in selecting the best possible vineyard sites further contribute to the quality factor; and sheer rarity based on limited yields from tiny vineyards drives the supply-and-demand ratio for the most sought-after wines out of all proportion. Most of us will have little opportunity to taste the greatest Burgundies. But with a little effort and care, we can certainly enjoy some good ones.

Hope this quick reference helps to "de-mystify" Burgundy.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Family Reunion Salad

This weekend is filled with family, as was last weekend. First is a wedding reception for my nephew Rolf and his bride Wendy and Sunday is the day of our Family Reunion. We need to bring a dish to share and my choice follows:

Szechuan Chicken Salad


2 pounds boneless chicken breasts (3 large breast halves or 4 medium halves)

2 ribs celery, thinly sliced crosswise

12 ounces Napa cabbage, thinly sliced

4 scallions, white part and 1 inch of the green, thinly sliced crosswise

2 tablespoons cilantro, finely chopped

2 tablespoons light soy sauce

2 tablespoons rice vinegar

1 teaspoon granulated sugar

1 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper

2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil

1 large jalapeño, or 2 small, minced

2 to 3 cloves garlic, minced

1 to 1 1/2 tablespoons ginger, minced

1. Bring 2 quarts salted water to a boil. Add the chicken breasts. Cover, and return the water to a boil. Simmer 5 minutes. Turn off the heat, and let the chicken stand 20 minutes. Strain the chicken, and cool completely. Cut it into 1/2-inch cubes (or shred if using parts on the bone). Or buy a rotisserie chicken and remove the meat.

2. Meanwhile, combine the celery, cabbage, scallions and cilantro in a large mixing bowl. Toss and reserve until ready to use.

3. Whisk the soy sauce, vinegar, sugar, pepper and sesame oil in a small bowl. Add the jalapeño and ginger. Season with salt. Let stand 10 minutes.

4. Add the chicken to the reserved vegetables. Toss to combine, and let stand 5 minutes. Drizzle the soy dressing over the salad, and toss. Let the salad stand another 5 minutes. Toss, and serve.

Pair with a chilled white such as Domaine de Pouy 2006 Vin de Pays des Côtes de Gasgogne.

It has a clear, light straw color. The aromas and flavor are lemon-lime and green-apple with a subtle "grassy" character. Mouth-watering acidity joins a taste of lime in a medium-long finish.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

The Longest Day of the Year

On the Summer Solstice, which occurs on June 21, the Sun is at its highest path through the sky and the day is the longest. Because the day is so long the Sun does not rise exactly in the east, but rises to the north of east and sets to the north of west allowing it to be in the sky for a longer period of time.

This June 21st, was also my longest day and started with making eggs. More on that later, but speaking of eggs...

On the day of the Vernal (spring) Equinox, can you stand a raw egg on its end.

How it works:

Let's look at it from an astronomical angle: what is special about the Spring (also called the Vernal) Equinox that makes it different from any other time of the year?

The Earth's spin axis is tilted with respect to its orbital plane. This is what causes the seasons. When the Earth's axis points towards the Sun, it is summer for that hemisphere. When the Earth's axis points away, you get winter. The north end of the Earth's axis never points directly at the Sun, but on the summer solstice it points as close as it can, and on the winter solstice as far as it can.

Midway between these two times, in spring and autumn, the spin axis of the Earth points 90 degrees away from the Sun. Note that this happens twice a year, in spring and autumn. If you can stand an egg on its end on the Spring Equinox, surely you can on the Autumnal Equinox as well! Yet this always seems to get overlooked.

So on the first day of spring, the Earth's axis happens to be pointing perpendicularly to the direction of the Sun. Although it might seem like a special event, all it really means is that day and night have about the same length: 12 hours each, more or less.

Now, back to my longest day. It started at 7 a.m. with pancakes, eggs and bacon. What followed was lots of dishes, lunch preparation, gallons of gatorade and tons of cookies for the wood splitters, (hubby Glenn, brother Gary and nephew Seth) more dishes and dinner preparation.

The wood is stacked and drying for this fall and next, there were no accidents and everyone was sore but satisfied with the outcome. That in itself deserves a toast, to spring and family:

"Whenever the occasion arose he/she arose to the occasion"


Thursday, June 12, 2008

You Are Only Young Once

A big question for wine lovers all over the world, is whether a bottle is ready to drink, or ‘prête à boire’. Since wine changes with age, some excellent wines may be barely palatable if drunk too young. On the other hand, wait too long and you may find your wine lackluster, a pale shadow of what it could have been had you drunk it when it was at its peak.

It really depends on four main factors:

The grape variety used to make the wine. Some varieties will, as a rule, cellar longer than others. Sauvignon blancs are generally designed to be enjoyed young, for example, while a a top qualityPinot Noir may need many years to reach maturity.

The quality of the fruit. To make a top quality wine with the ability to develop in the bottle, requires top quality fruit, and top quality winemaking. That bargain bin wine from the supermarket is undoubtedly intended to be drunk now!

What the winemaker intended when they made the wine. Some wines are deliberately made to be drunk young, and some are designed to improve with a certain amount of bottle aging.

Your own personal tastes. Some people prefer to drink wines at an earlier stage in their development, while others enjoy the more mature flavors of a well-aged wine. As a rule, younger wines will tend to be fresher and crisper, with more obvious fruit character. Aged wines will be softer, more complex and have more 'bottle developed' secondary characters. A young pinot noir, for example will exhibit more cherry and strawberry fruit characters, while an older one will have more 'forest floor' flavors - mushrooms and savory characters.

Remember that wines need to be cellared with respect. Out of the sunlight and at a constant, cool temperature are the keys to letting your wine mature gracefully.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Opening Day Jitters

Sports stars sometimes experience opening day jitters. Things were kind of "nervy" for us on Saturday, the MN Muskie Opener. What? It's not on your calendar as a national holiday? In this household, it ranks a slight second to the Pheasant Opener in October.

Although we did not get on the water until after lunch, due to other commitments, we were successful in catching a 42" fat female muskie. There was lots of activity in the boat, battling the fish and scrambling for a tape measure, glove, camera and most importantly, a net. There was no champagne on board so a cold beer was used to celebrate.

Luck, and the force, were with us but later that same day, luck took a break. While fishing with only the dog, the plug came out of the boat. Glenn was so focused on getting another fish, he failed to notice the boat filling with water. There was over 12" on the lower deck by the time he tried to start the motor. They barely made it to shore but the binoculars and radio suffered.

Timing is everything. Mark Knopfler wrote:

One day you got the glory
One day you got none
One day you're a diamond
And then you're a stone
Everything can change
In the blink of an eye
So let the good times roll
Before we say goodbye, because

Sometimes you're the windshield
Sometimes you're the bug
Sometimes it all comes together baby
Sometimes you're a fool in love
Sometimes you're the Louisville slugger baby
Sometimes you're the ball
Sometimes it all comes together baby
Sometimes you're going lose it all

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Life's A Trip

Although there are no longer any small children in our immediate families, summer has traditionally been linked to the family road trip. It can be a time for bonding, a time for learning about each other's interests and points of view or a time to pull out every last hair on your head.

Here are some new ideas for games and activities for a trip that is long on smiles and short on frustration:

Contest Craze: Hold an official family spelling bee or trivia contest, using index cards to write down words or questions. Winners can earn trinkets, stickers, activity or coloring books, trading cards, food treats, or extra minutes of hotel pool time.

Journal Jotting: Buy cheap, but sturdy, journals and have kids write down and describe what they see along the way. Have them collect something small (a stone, a seashell, a flower, etc.) to glue into their journal, describing each stop and each location or landmark they pass. Bring along a stack of old magazines, and have kids cut out and paste pictures into their journals to illustrate some of what they've seen (i.e., cows, fire trucks, palm trees, deer, cars, etc.). Buy a disposable camera for each child, so that they can capture their own memories and place their very own pictures in their personal road-trip journals.

Window Gallery: Use washable window markers to make colorful creations that even passersby can enjoy, or to play endless, paper-free games like tic-tac-toe and hangman. Keep a cotton cloth or dust rag on hand so kids can keep the window fun flowing throughout the trip - just make sure the driver's view isn't blocked!

Word Play: Have kids write down various words they see as you drive along (from billboards, bumper stickers, roadside attractions and stores, license plates, signs, the sides of semi-trucks, etc.). Ask them to write a story, poem, or song grouping all of the words they see together. Have them read, perform, or sing their creation for everyone when they're done.

And when you arrive at your destination, remember that getting there was half the fun. Celebrate by opening a bottle of sparkling cider for the kids and make a fruity white wine and sparkling cider sangria for the adults.

1 bottle dry white wine, such as Vinho Verde or Pinot Grigio
1 cup fresh orange juice
Juice of 2 limes
10 strawberries, thickly sliced (optional)
Orange and lime slices
1 1/2 cups sparkling sweet cider

In a large glass pitcher, combine the first 5 ingredients and set aside to macerate for 15 minutes. Just before serving, add the sparking cider and ice. Stir well and serve at once.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Give Us An Inch

Once again, our little neck of the woods is in a drought. We were fortunate to miss the hail, high winds and even tornadoes that hit other parts of MN.

B.J. Thomas wrote about raindrops that kept falling on his head.

But there's one thing I know

The blues they send to greet me won't defeat me

It won't be long 'til happiness steps up to greet me

Listening to and smelling the rain through a window screen in the summer is one of my favorite things.

Oscar Hammerstein II penned and Julie Andrews sang of some other favorites:

Raindrops on roses,

And whiskers on kittens,

Bright copper kettles,

And warm woolen mittens,

Brown paper packages,

Tied up with strings,

These are a few of my favorite things

When the hot or dry weather makes you thirsty, try another favorite of ours, a vodka still works cocktail.

1 teaspoon Angostura bitters

2 shots chilled vodka

6 to 8 ounces ginger ale

Place bitters in a tall glass and combine with vodka using a cocktail spoon. Add ice to glass then fill with ginger ale and stir again. Serve with a straw.