Today is my birthday.

I started celebrating yesterday and intend to continue through tomorrow. 😀

Yesterday, Carolyn and I had Spa Day (she had a facial while I had a 30 minute massage followed by a manicure and we finished with pedicures together), then mid-afternoon wine and cheese. We came home, dolled up and went out for dinner to Piedmont, a wonderful farm-to-table restaurant in Durham.

We started with d’Arenberg Winery “The Hermit Crab” 2014 Viognier/Marsanne from MacLauren Vale for Chuck, Reynolds Family Farm 2012 Chardonnay from Napa Valley for me and a Coon Rock Farm Spritzer for Carolyn made with grapefruit mint (I never knew there was such a thing), vodka, lemon, grapefruit and soda. It was delicious and refreshing.

Appetizers were Coon Rock Farm’s mixed greens salad, wild green onions, Loaf Bakery rye bread, chioggia beets and a sprinkle of Anson Mills’ benne seeds, a kind of hummus made of caramelized summer squash, chickpeas and smoked paprika with lavash crackers, and Coon Rock Farm’s heirloom tomatoes with basil sorbet, olive oil, pickled and fried okra and chia seed crackers.

The tomatoes were perfectly ripe and the basil sorbet was amazing. Concentrated basil like I have never encountered before. The paprika on the hummus was heavy enough to be a flavor rather than a garnish and it was wonderful. The chiogga beets were sliced very thing, so that they added a hint of flavor, but didn’t overpower the rest of the salad.

Chuck and Carolyn both had the vegetarian dish for their entrees. It was preparations of local eggplant prepared 4 different ways, heirloom tomatoes, housemade ricotta, sungold tomatoes, shaved radish and pea tendrils. I had crispy Carolina mackerel with warm gazpacho, leeks, cucumber, shiso and pepper.

I love how we share forks around the table.

Because we couldn't decide on just one

Birthday cake!

(middle) NC peaches, pecan caramel, blueberry sorbet, white chocolate brittle, vanilla sponge cake

(bottom) chocolate chip fritters, cherry gastrique, kheer ice cream, pistachios

(top) green tomato tart, shortbread, lemon basil, green tomato marmalade, basil-buttermilk ice cream

We were shocked to find that the tomato tart was the most interesting,  Tomatoes just don’t seem to led themselves to a dessert.  But, BOY! were we surprised. The basil ice cream was subtle and smooth and perfect. The white blob on the chocolate chip fritters on the bottom was kheer ice cream with a strong cardamom flavor. The blueberry sorbet had a stronger blueberry flavor than simple blueberries. It was a hell of a finish.

Today, I’m finishing a batch of sweet pickles, going to the gym and going to a wine tasting followed by sushi for dinner with my loving spouse.

Tomorrow, we will celebrate with dinner at Mez, a “contemporary Mexican” restaurant, on the way to a Punch Brothers concert at the art museum in Raleigh.

After a restful Friday, I go back to work on Saturday.  My co-workers are plottin’ and schemin’ something.  But, I don’t know all the details, yet.  I know there is a Triple Chocolate cake from Ketchie Creek Bakery involved.

Jeannie doesn’t call it the Festival of Kitty because I celebrate in half measures. 😉

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Wine and cheese

This post is for the amusement of avincie and annmeeker.

My loving husband got me a wine club membership. It is at the Cork And Cow Wine Bar at the mall near my job. We found the place by accident when we had time to kill before a movie and went in for a wine tasting.

Their tastings are offered on Tuesdays and Wednesdays every week and cost $5. YOu are given 2 crackers, a bite of cheese and tastes of 4 wine that are generous enough to be the equivalent of a glass of wine.

The club membership is $99 for the first 3 months and $40/month thereafter. It provides you with your name engraved on a Riedel red wine glass that stays there for your use when you come to taste, one free tasting every week and 2 bottles of wine chosen from the wines tasted on the first week of each month. If/when you cancel your membership, you take the glass home with you. the club wine prices range between $20 and $40 each month.

This is a fun thing for wine drinkers and I rarely go in for a tasting without spending “extra” money on tapas. And sometimes another glass or bottle of wine. Everybody wins.

Now, the Cow part of the menu. They have nice cheeses. I can easily find 3 to put together one of their cheese plates. And the bite they give you with a tasting can stretch to a nibble with each sample of wine. It changes each week, with the wines, so that can be its own adventure.

And, of course, I lost the little list of what was served the first week of this month. That was the week that the cheese was manchego.  This is a sheeps’ milk cheese.  And I usually like it.  But, I found it to be an interesting combination with the wines.  Because I hate goat cheese with the heat of a thousand suns. OK. Maybe not quite that bad. But, goats’ milk and its cheeses have a musty flavor that I find very unpleasant.  Most people I know don’t taste it whatever that particular molecule is.  I can’t avoid it.  It cannot be hidden or covered up.  My sister has tried.  And 2 of the 4 wines turned the usually pleasant sheep cheese into goat cheese on my tongue

I found that to be a fascinating example of wine and food working together.   Or not working.

I am repeatedly intrigued by how our physical perceptions differ and change.  That one was pretty dramatic.

Ruining a steak

I saw this graphic on FaceBook this morning and it made me think of my grandmother:

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Kate grew up in the country. Her father was a farmer with a third grade education. They didn’t always have a lot of ready cash, but they were never, ever hungry. It was kind of a shame that she didn’t like “vegetavles,” because they were abundant. She was a bread-and-meat kind of girl. And, when she was old, she enjoyed going out for dinner to a steak house.

I took her to a Western Sizzlin’ or whatever equivalent was in Morganton, NC, one time, and freaked out the guy taking our order when she asked for a filet mignon cooked well done. He said “It will be a charcoal briquet if we do that.” She insisted that was always how she had her meat cooked. He found his manager to deal with her because he was at a complete loss for what to do. The manager said, “We can butterfly it and cook it that way, but a filet is too think to make it well done and still be edible.” I said that would be fine.

When it came to the table, she was delighted. It was the best steak she had ever had.

Sometime after that, I took her out for dinner, again, and, again, she ordered a filet cooked to death. The server got this appalled expression and started to say something. I stopped him, smiling, and said, “Just have the kitchen butterfly it and cook it that way. She will be delighted with it.” He kind of shook his head and wrote down the rest of our order.

And she was delighted. I was, too. It made me happy to have the ability to make her happy and de-stress the people who were helping me do that.

Matters of taste

When my son was 3 or 4 years old, he couldn’t understand why I didn’t like the same foods he did.  He would say “You liked it when YOU were my age!” frustrated that sharing wasn’t working.  But, he was appalled by some of the things I put in my mouth, too.

One day, I found an article about taste buds.  It said that in the variety and fluctuations that are our bodies, we get a whole new set about every 5 years.  And that what tastes lovely to us now may get a completely different reading in 5 years.  I told Christopher about that and we figured that I am 6 taste bud cycles ahead of him.  That made sharing tastes, and not agreeing about them, more palatable, so to speak.

Several years later, I learned that a dear friend has a recessive  genetic trait that causes cilantro to taste like soap to her.  My husband adores cilantro.  He adds extra to his salsa, tacos, salads.  Clearly, he doesn’t have the recessive gene.  I taste the soap if there is a lot of cilantro.  I suspect that I am heterozygous.

Another instance of taste bud variations involves cardamom.  Chuck keeps me supplied with granola.  Since he makes it, it is exactly how I like it.  He was making it for himself, too, when we weren’t living together.  He likes cardamom and added it to his batch.  I was visiting and tried it.  I was completely overwhelmed by the cardamom.  The next time he made it, he decreased it significantly so that I could taste it, but not be overwhelmed.  The problem with that was, he couldn’t even tell it was there.

The upshot of all this taste variation awareness is that our response to “That’s too sweet” or “Ew. You have all of that.” is to laugh at how different bodies are.

Tomato sandwiches

My husband is from West Virginia and he says he never heard of anyone eating plain tomato sandwiches until he moved South.

I find that astonishing.

I come from a place where people argue about the correct condiment for a tomato sandwich. Duke’s mayonnaise or Hellmann’s? Or are you a complete heathen and use Miracle Whip? Is pepper too much of an addition?

For those not from around here, Miracle Whip is “salad dressing,” which is mayonnaise with added sugar. Southern cooks are infamous for adding a pinch of sugar to just about everything and this is a commercial variation on that theme. I loved it when I was a child but lost my taste for it 20 or 30 years ago.

Some friends and I had a conversation about tomato sandwiches, recently. I was amused to hear the voices from the Midwest and Northeast talking about tomato sandwiches with bacon, smoked turkey, cheese or other plants like mushrooms, avocados or onions.

No.

Just, no.

That is not a tomato sandwich. That is a turkey sandwich with tomato. Or a BLT. Or a vegetable sandwich. Or a cheese and tomato sandwich. All delicious and delightful. But, NOT a tomato sandwich.

I acknowledge that to purists, the occasional sprouts and celery salt I enjoy are pushing the envelope. So is mayo made with basil infused olive oil. While they are very tasty, they are treading the razor’s edge where a tomato sandwich becomes Something Else.

If you are from some other part of the world, pick (from a garden, not a grocery bin) a tomato that slices like this:

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A small one that requires several slices to cover the bread is fine, but this is a perfect sandwich tomato, minus the center cut I just ate.

Your bread may be toasted or not, mayo on one or both sides, salt and pepper are optional. You will need to stand over the sink to eat it because the tomato juice will drip from a truly ripe fruit.

THAT is the flavor of a Southern summer.

Weaver Street Wine Show and Sale – Spring 2014

Iché Les Hérétiques, 2012. Old vine Carignane. $14/$8 We bought 2 and went back for another case after I had a bottle at home.

Los Dos Grenache Syrah, 2012. $12/$6.75 2 for me.

Michael David Winery 6th Sense Syrah, 2011. $20/$12.50 2 for me.

Joseph Cattin Pinot Blanc, 2012. $17/$11 4 for both of us. My note is dotp, dangerous on the porch. It’s one that will just disappear of of the bottle in the summer.

Le Campuget Frenache-Voignier, 2013. $12/$8.50 2 for Chuck

I really liked Warre’s Optima 10 year-old Tawny Port. $33/$23. But, couldn’t justify another bottle of port when I have so much open and unconsumed.

Indiana Roadtrip

I spent the end of last week driving to Nashville, Indiana to visit friends.  I met Patti at her sister’s house in Forest, Virginia and left my car there.

We took Patti’s car through the coal fields of southern Virginia and Kentucky, finally getting a hotel room in Campton, KY when the snow got so bad we gave up on making it to Lexington that night. The only place to get dinner was a Mexican joint that had a Mexican man cooking and an Anglo girl waiting tables and no other customers.  The waitress all but begged us to come back the next day.  She had come to Campton to be near her mother, she didn’t say why, and, in her words, no one does anything there except drugs.

We got coffee breakfast at the Kentucky Coffeetree Cafe in Frankfort.  It is in the funky part of the city with lots of interesting shops nearby.

Dinner Thursday night was at Jan’s house.  She made a lovely marinara spaghetti with meatballs on the side.  Ken chose a very nice Italian wine to go with it.DSC01534 DSC01543

Friday night, I made Crab bisque for dinner and Ken chose a Washington state chardonnay as accompaniment.  It was only mildly oaked so it worked well.

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On Saturday, we went out for dinner in a bar that is trying to become a restaurant.  The choices around the table were varied and Ken chose a very smooth Malbec.  Trying to be quick, my photo is a little blurred.

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I would have any of these again.

We took a northern route home on Sunday, stopping at Jungle Jim’s International Market to pick up snacks for supper in our hotel and generally entertain ourselves wandering around the Ikea of food stores.  I got my son a bottle of Scotch bonnet hot sauce, picked up a Star Trek: The Next Generation Pez dispensers for a coworker and got a bottle of Plungerhead old vine Zinfandel from Lodi, California for myself.  Happily for me, they have it at Total Wine.

It was a fun trip.  I loved seeing unfamiliar landscape, prowling around Nashville, walking in Jan’s woods and visiting with my friends face to face rather than via the internet.  Traveling with Patti was delightful.  We looked for peculiar church names and looked up places worth noticing on my Roadside America app.  But, I am very glad to be home, out of the car and sleeping in my own bed next to my sweetie.

Talbott 2012 Kali Hart Chardonnay

On Friday, December 6, we took Carolyn to Oakleaf in Pittsboro to celebrate her birthday, which was actually Wednesday, December 11, but Friday was when we could conveniently go out for the evening.  Oakleaf is wonderful.  The food is always excellent, portion sizes are rational and the service is perfect.  It is a local-in-season place that makes food art and delight.

Carolyn and I both like the oakey Chardonnays.  We think that if you are going to use stainless steel you should just go for another grape.

One of the nice things aboujt Oakleaf is that no matter what wine you are considering, they will let you taste it if you are unsure about a choice.  Because is was a celebration, we expected to have more than a glass of wine each so we just went for a bottle.   And, oh my god, it was lovely.  Enough oak to give a nice flavor, but not so much that it interfered with the flavors of the food.

I looked it up when I got home and found that the particular wine is available from the vineyard, but not from any local stores.  There is a variation at Total Wine that I may give a try, though.

 

 

 

Wilmington, NC for Halloween, All Saints’ and All Souls’ Days

Our vacation plans this year were inconvenienced by my surgery in early August.  And we had discussed taking a weekend to go to the beach before I went back to work, but, instead, went to see my parents.  I don’t remember why.

My darling husband hadn’t forgotten the plan to head east, though, and a couple of weeks ago suggested going to Wilmington during the first weekend in November.  I had thought of having a Day of the Dead party for All Souls’ Day, but never really worked up any enthusiasm for putting it together.  But, I had reserved the time off from work. So, the time was available.

Did you know Venus Flyrap is native to North Carolina?  And only  grows wild on our coast?

Metal and glass Venus Flytrap sculpture on the Riverfront

We stayed at an AirBnB apartment in in the middle of downtown. This meant we could park our car when we got there and not drive again until time to leave.  We wandered into shops all over the area and had some truly excellent food.  Unfortunately, we learned that there is no off-season for the bar under the apartment.  It vibrated the floors until closing time.

Dinner on Halloween was at the Tidal Creek Co-op, where we picked up snacks and breakfast supplies.  Friday, I had breakfast at Port City Java before we hit the streets.  Lunch was at the Dock Street Oyster Bar and dinner was at The George with dessert at Perkeo Wine Bistro.  Saturday we had brunch at the Cobblestone Cafe and dinner at 9 Bakery and Lounge.

We had some truly excellent wines at both dinner restaurants and at Perkeo and, yes, I took notes.

Promis Qous White (at The George)

Butternut Chardonnay at Perkeo

Sokol Blosser Pinot Gris at Perkeo

Protea red blend from South Africa at Perkeo  (I can’t find a decent link for that)

Simple Life Chardonnay/Viogner Blend at Perkeo and Pinot Noir at 9

The Ned Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc at 9 (which we had tasted at the Weaver Street Wine Show)

d’Aurenberg Hermit Crab (Aus.) 74% Marsanne, 26% Roussane  at 9

Peirano “The Other” red blend at 9.