Asparagus!

I love asparagus, not just because it’s delicious and has lots of fiber, vitamins, and minerals.  I love it, because it’s perennial.  No matter how long and cold the winter has been, that dutiful spring vegetable is one of the first signs of life in my kitchen garden every year.  And, is it ever welcome! However, I must admit that I owe its presence entirely to my dad. Dad is the most talented and diligent gardener I know, producing picture-perfect vegetable gardens with enough corn, squash, beans, and tomatoes to feed a small country.  He started this little asparagus patch a few years before I moved back home.  He was gardening on the very same spot that my great-grandfather and grandfather cultivated years ago.  Dad really liked this particular area as it has about a foot of premium topsoil.  So, I have to say that he wasn’t overly excited when I requested that he relinquish it so that I could start my own kitchen garden.  He impressed upon me that I needed to take “good care” of the asparagus patch, because it was “QUITE an endeavor” to get it established:  first, a trench is dug deeply enough to protect the root system of the plant during the winter months; second, it must be kept clean–no weeds; third, don’t cut foliage down until after first frost (necessary for photosynthesis for next year’s crop); fourth, fertilize annually; and last, it takes about […]

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Got Merlot?

  Farmgirl in Saint Émilion (right bank of Bordeaux) November 2016   “You had me at hello.” A line made famous by Dorothy Boyd, the love interest in the film “Jerry Maguire.” However, if Dorothy had been a sommelier, she may have said, “You had me at Merlot.” And, with good reason. Merlot, French for little blackbird because of its very dark fruit, is naturally versatile, acclimating to different climate zones and soil compositions, which, over time, have made it the second most planted red grape on the planet, behind its brother from Bordeaux, Cabernet Sauvignon. Merlot can be big and rich, but also fruity and soft, without being overly high in acids or tannins. These characteristics make Merlot an elegant and easy choice to drink as well as pair with food. If that doesn’t spark your interest in Merlot, maybe this will.  You know all those famous red wines from Bordeaux? Wines that are considered some of the best in the world?  Well, they’re all blended with Merlot.  And, many are mostly Merlot—especially, on the right bank of the Gironde estuary in the Bordeaux appellation, where it’s the law that Merlot has to be the predominant grape.  Of course, the most famous Merlot wine is undoubtedly Pétrus (100% Merlot) from the Pomerol region of Bordeaux.  This highly collectable wine can fetch several thousand dollars, depending on its vintage. You may not be as familiar with Merlot’s positive attributes, especially post “Sideways”—a 2004 film […]

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Wine Basics: The Five Ss

Wine requires two assessments:  Subjective and Objective.  Just because we like a wine, doesn’t mean it’s a great wine.  One way to illustrate this point is with art.  You may not want to hang a reproduction of a Claude Monet painting in your home, but you agree that Monet is a great artist. So, getting to the point where you have both a subjective and objective opinion is one of the most rewarding stages in developing knowledge and comfort in wine; thus, allowing you to separate your liking of something from its quality. So, the point is this:  You can love a wine but understand that it’s not a great wine.  For example, I have weekly wines and weekend wines.  Weekly wines are inexpensive wines ($15-25) we enjoy with our simple evening meals; however, weekend wines are the special ones ($50 or more) we may take to a favorite gourmet restaurant that has a corkage fee. Most of us know what we like, but having an objective opinion means increasing our knowledge base. So, let’s get started! The Five Ss: –See –Swirl –Sniff –Sip –Savor All together, they’ll enable you to maximize your enjoyment of your next glass of wine. SEE A wine’s color can tell you a lot: Taste, intensity, condition, and most likely, its aromas and flavors. The best way to examine the color is to tilt the glass over a white surface, such as a white table […]

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All That Sparkles

I absolutely love fizzy and sparkling wines!  And, since New Year’s Eve celebrations are fast approaching, I thought it may be fun and helpful to share some information about Champagne and sparkling wines. Champagne: First, all that sparkles isn’t Champagne.  Sparkling wine can only be called Champagne if it’s from the Champagne region of France and made in the traditional method (méthode champenoise). The traditional method is a labor intensive, multi-step process (two fermentations) that contributes to the expense.  Champagne can be made from three grapes:  chardonnay and red-skinned pinot noir and pinot meunier.  Sometimes the label will use the terms “blanc de blancs” meaning the wine was made from white grapes, or “blanc de noirs” indicating that the Champagne is a white wine made from the dark pinot noir and pinot meunier varieties. There are also different levels of dryness/sweetness in Champagne: Brut Nature/Brut Zero:  Bone dry.  No residual sugar. Extra Brut:  very dry Brut: very dry to dry Extra-Sec or Extra Dry:  off-dry to medium dry Sec:  medium dry Demi-Sec:  sweet Doux:  super sweet *Special note:  More Champagne houses from France are opening vineyards in California: Roederer Estate (by Champagne Louis Roederer), Domaine Chandon (by Moët & Chandon), Mumm Napa (by G.H. Mumm), and Domaine Carneros (by Taittinger) are a few of the French producers in California. Sparkling Wines: Crémant:  French sparkling wine that is made outside of the Champagne region in France but produced using the traditional […]

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More Treat Than Trick: Sauternes and Sage Jelly

Growing up in the country and on a farm, it was commonplace to preserve as much of the summer’s harvest as possible. My parents and grandparents worked all spring, summer, and fall planting gardens, picking vegetables, tending fruit trees, picking berries, and then canning, freezing, and storing much of it for future use.  I can still see kitchen counters covered with Mason jars of green beans, tomatoes, and black raspberry jam, and the beauty of the jewel-tone colors as the sun shone through the glass and its hard-earned contents. It’s because of this seasonal tradition that I observed and participated in as a child that I appreciate the work that goes into preserving as well as the delight in enjoying something homemade. That’s why I love using a familiar recipe or even finding a new one each year to preserve something special to share. So, when I was leafing through epicurious cooking magazine recently and discovered a recipe for wine jelly–specifically, Sauternes and sage jelly, I knew I had to try it.  I’ve made fruit jams and jellies, pickles, and even chutney in the past, but I’ve never tried making wine jelly–until now.  The cooking magazine raved about this jelly, describing it as “sophisticated and subtle.”  It also stated that it was a delicious substitute to the green mint jelly that traditionally accompanies lamb. Actually, this sublime jelly is wonderful with any roasted or grilled meat and is a fantastic […]

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Pan-Roasted Pear Salad with Parmesan and Pecans

I enjoy salads all year long–mainly, because they’re healthy and don’t take too long to prepare. Salads with roasted vegetables and/or fruit are a favorite.  Roasting adds so much flavor and helps create a more satisfying meal. For this pear salad recipe, carmelizing the pears on top of the stove prevents them from becoming overcooked–as they do when oven-roasted.  The balsamic vinegar is used to make a fruity vinaigrette that accentuates the pears’ flavor.  In addition, a couple of extra tablespoons of the vinegar is stirred into the hot pan while cooking the pears, creating a glazy coating.  For the greens, a mix of crunchy, mild green leaf lettuce works well.  Add salty Parmesan to offset the pears’ natural sweetness and pecans for buttery richness.  And, you have a lovely autumn salad with lots of appeal! Finding a suitable wine pairing for salad can sometimes be challenging, especially when balsamic vinegar is involved.  However, this salad pairs well with sparkling wine or Champagne. Enjoy!   Pan-Roasted Pear Salad with Parmesan and Pecans: Serves 6 *Use organic ingredients when possible Ingredients: 1 1/2 pounds pears, quartered lengthwise and cored Salt and pepper 2 tablespoons olive oil 3 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar 1 small shallot, minced 1/2 teaspoon sugar 1/2 small head green leaf lettuce (4 ounces), torn into 1-inch pieces or loose mixed greens 1 cup shaved Parmesan cheese 3 tablespoons chopped pecans, toasted Method: –Toss pears with 1/4 teaspoon […]

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Tuesday Tunes: The Grapevine

Meadows of Dan, Virginia  Blue Ridge Parkway   Recently, Farmguy and I participated in the grape harvest at a local winery just off the Blue Ridge Parkway in Southwestern Virginia.  Located in the Rocky Knob American Viticultural Area (AVA), Chateau Morrisette Winery sits at an elevation of nearly 3500 feet.  Boasting spectacular views, it’s amid one of the most rugged and mountainous parts of the state.  Although the winery is at 3500 feet, most of its vineyards are down the mountain at 1600 feet. Chateau Morrisette Winery was founded by David Morrisette in 1978, making it among the oldest wineries in Virginia.  It has 13 acres of land and produces approximately 70,000 cases of wine each year. Chardonnay, Viognier, Chambourcin, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Petit Manseng, and Vidal blanc are among the varietals used in making Chateau Morrisette’s wines.  Besides growing many of its own grapes, the winery also buys grapes from other vineyards in Virginia.  Due to the state’s climate and growing season, Viognier and Cabernet Franc are some the winery’s most successful varieties. In the photos, Farmguy and I are harvesting Niagara grapes—a variety of the North American grape species Vitis labrusca.  Niagara grapes are one of the few grape varieties that can grow at such a high elevation. These green grapes are table grapes and are also used in making jams, juices, and wines.  They are mainly used in Chateau Morrisette’s sweet/dessert wines—Sweet Mountain Laurel and Red […]

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Drops of Jupiter…And a Little Bit of Heavenl

Fattoria della Talosa–Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, Ornellaia–Super-Tuscan, Cordella–Montalcino   In May 2018, I spent a delightful week in Tuscany.  I wasn’t alone, though.  Melody, author of the blog, Meals With Mel accompanied me on this little adventure around Florence and the Tuscan countryside.  We had a fabulous time wandering around the beautiful city of Florence and marveling at the many masterpieces of Renaissance art and architecture—including the Duomo, a cathedral with a terracotta-tiled dome engineered by Brunelleschi and a bell tower by Giotto. We visited The Galleria dell’ Accademia which displays Michelangelo’s, “David” sculpture as well as the Uffizi Gallery which exhibits Botticelli’s, “The Birth of Venus.” Once in the countryside, we enjoyed lots of sunshine and blue skies while truffle hunting at a beautiful farm and vineyard called, Fattoria Santa Vittoria.  And, of course, we had some of the most beautiful wines in the world—mainly, but not entirely, comprised of the Sangiovese grape, an Italian red grape variety that derives its name from the Latin sanguis Jovis, “the blood of Jupiter.” For those of you who may not be familiar with the wines of central Italy, The Apennine Mountains, which run the length of the Italian Peninsula, dominant the wine regions of this area. Grapes are planted in the hills and valleys of this mountain range with altitude providing a moderating influence on the hot climate.  It’s also important to mention that the coastal areas on both sides of the country […]

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So, What Vintage Are You?

Farmgirl celebrating her 4th birthday   September is my birthday month, and thankfully, I’m turning another year older.  I am now firmly into my fourth decade–or as Farmguy corrected–fifth decade, because you count 0 to 10 as your first decade…..okay—whatever!  The bottom line….I am forty-something and well into the journey of my life.  And, with this understanding, I started considering […]

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Georgia Caprese Salad

This is the second recipe I’ve shared from the fantastic cookbook, Southern My Way—Simple Recipes, Fresh Flavors by Gena Knox.  However, I have to say, this Georgia Caprese Salad with Lime Vinaigrette is my very favorite.  Not only is it simple and delicious, but it also makes an elegant entree to serve to company. This Southern spin on an Italian classic screams summer.  And, when it’s made with fresh, local peaches, you can’t stop it.   Georgia Caprese Salad with Lime Vinaigrette *Use organic ingredients when possible Prep Time 15 minutes Yields 4 servings Ingredients: Dressing Juice and zest of 1 lime 1 tablespoon champagne or white wine vinegar 1 tablespoon water 1 tablespoon honey 1/2 teaspoon salt 1/4 cup olive oil (Everyday Sommelier’s Bramasole olive oil from Tuscany is perfect) 2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint Salad 2 (4-ounce) balls fresh, water-packed mozzarella cheese 4 (room temperature) ripe peaches, unpeeled, each cut into 8 wedges 1/2 cup fresh basil leaves Method: First  To prepare dressing, combine lime juice, zest, vinegar, water, honey, and salt.  Slowly whisk in olive oil and set aside. Next  Cut cheese into 1-inch pieces and gently toss with peaches and basil leaves. Last  Whisk mint into dressing and toss about 2 tablespoons (or more to taste) with salad.  Season with freshly cracked pepper and serve.   The vintage linens and lovely rose print plates belonged to my grandmother, Lois McManaway Rieley.   Also, this peach caprese […]

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