Wednesday, August 29, 2012

A Rainy Glen Manor Sunday

With all due respect to Mark and Kelley with whom we were slated to go kayaking this past Sunday, last week beat me up incredibly. To the point where I slept in Sunday morning until 9am for the first time in months. To put it in perspective, I am up every single day between 6 and 6:30am. And so we reluctantly called off kayaking for another time when I will actually give a damn. Guys, I'm sorry. I just felt so broken last weekend.

Sunday (I was going to use the verb "dawn" but then I wasn't conscious at any time near dawn, was I?) was overcast and threatening rain, which from our perspective was a good thing; we've had hardly a drop of rain in August and all the thunderstorms (nearly every day) would roll up to the yard and hang a hard left and scoot to our north, leaving us high and dry. Or they would tease us by sliding just to the south.

But I get really antsy about rain this time of year. I have way too many friends in the wine industry to be excited about rain during harvest season. I will cringe reflexively each time that it rains between now and mid-October. Still, I must admit that the prospect of a rainy, sleepy Sunday was just what I wanted: no agenda, no pressure, no deadlines, no place to be at no time in particular.

And while I was sitting in my chair (yes, I have appropriated a chair in the sunroom as my own) Ann came over and said, "Hey, let's go to Glen Manor today, just you and me, and sit and drink a bottle of wine and talk!" She was just so damned enthusiastic and beaming from ear to ear, so how could I deny her? And the prospect of sitting at the winery watching the rain stream down with a glass in hand? How bad could that be?

And so I went to retrieve Carter from a friend's house where he spent the night and stopped in at the restaurant for a few picnic supplies and some fixings for dinner. Then we hit the road for Front Royal and points south with me riding shotgun in a semi-comotose state. The rain started pretty gently as we were heading down 522, but I could see a line of squalls in the distance and could see where the road was obscured about a half a mile away by the teeming rain.

Getting through the very narrow but violent squall line, we drove through a few more sprinkles down to Glen Manor. On the way, I was thinking that there would be a very good chance that we could catch Jeff at the winery on a rainy day when being out in the vineyard was not an option, or at least, not a good option. And sure enough, his truck was parked outside the winery when we arrived.

Bird Netting: White on Original Vineyard; Black on the New Vineyard
Because of the rain, traffic at the winery was very light and I hate that for Jeff and Kelly, but it let us spend the afternoon chatting with them and catching up, something that none of us get to do with any regularity. We got a couple more good blasts of rain before the front moved through and although we were pretty light on rain in Winchester, Jeff said that they had got an inch and a half already before we arrived. But you can see that the site has good slope and good drainage, so hopefully this is a non-issue. Only the Sauvignon Blanc is in play right now and most of that is already in the cellar.

Hmm. The '11 Franc is not yet Released. Go Figure.
Reds are scarce now at the winery because demand is a bit higher than production, always a good problem to have. Jeff was kind enough to let us have a bottle of the 2011 Cab Franc a couple days before its official release date and we thank him for that. It really has come around very nicely. The last time I tasted it was in barrel back in April. Some of the knees and elbows that were sticking out back then have come back in. In a crappy year, this is a good wine. It's not a great wine, but then, the weather gods didn't give anyone great red wine in 2011, giving us instead rain each day of September, a vintage nobody will forget.

Olli Calabrese and Ubriaco del Piave

2012: Banner Year for Virginia Figs!
I just love this time of year: fig season! 2012, for whatever reason, has produced the best fig crop that anyone can remember and we have them coming out of our ears right now, an awesome problem to have. I brought some figs, an Olli Calabrese, and a wedge of Ubriaco del Piave cheese along with some bread for our lunch. Poor, poor, poor us!

Good to See Kelly Laugh!

Telling Dumb Jokes!

The (rightly) Notorious Ghost Chiles, the Naga or Bhut Jolokia
Once the rain blew off, we moved outside to enjoy the day and the view, especially of all the butterflies on the twin butterfly bushes just outside the tasting room. Kelly also has herbs and some vegetables growing in the beds and you can see where the deer have clipped the tomato vines way back. But for some reason, they aren't touching the ghost chiles; go figure! Kelly gave me a bunch of ghost chiles to bring back to the restaurant to turn into sambal. And speaking of deer, we saw a young 4-point buck, antlers still in velvet, standing beside the driveway on the way up to the winery. I don't guess he will last long once hunting season opens.

Two Great Wines
Back at the ranch, we sat out on the patio and drank some really nice Sancerre before heading inside to make a pasta for dinner. This time of year, we have tomatoes coming out of our ears and almost always have leftover mozzarella from the night before. I cut up one of the red Abraham Lincolns from our garden, a pink Mortgage Lifter from Mark, and a Black Trifele from Beth, along with a couple balls of leftover mozzarella. Then I caramelized a large onion and several cloves of slivered garlic and browned a bit of buffalo-chipotle sausage. In went a pound of strozzapreti pasta and a big handful of shredded basil from the garden. Awesome!

With the pasta we had a most delicious Easton Zinfandel from the old Rinaldi Vineyard in Amador County. Zin would not be your first guess if you tasted this blind. Yes, it has big plummy dark fruit, but it is a very transparent ruby wine with excellent acidity and firm, but very supple tannins. This wine is the finest expression of Zinfandel that I have ever had and is miles away from the bulk of the Lodi crap that saturates the market. Bill Easton, bravo!

Pasta, It's What's for Dinner

PS. I just love the so-called black tomatoes. They are none of them black, but rather a greenish to purplish red. The endearing quality in them for me is that they are all high acid tomatoes and that acidity is the key to a great tomato.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Spaghetti and Meatballs

Some days I hate my camera or rather the person that does not know how to use that camera. Uh, that would be me. I have it all set up in macro mode without flash with a fairly tight depth of field for the vast bulk of my shots: tight food photos. That does not serve me well when shooting candids; many times shots end up way out of focus. And this is one of those times.

Monday night we celebrated Lillie's 18th birthday and her going off to UVa as a first year student this week. And I don't have any good pictures of her or sister Ellie to remember the event by. Sure, I have a bunch of fuzzy, crappy photos, but nothing worth looking at again.

Ann Always Sets a Beautiful Table
When I asked Lillie what she wanted for her going away dinner, she replied "spaghetti," which to her means marinara over spaghetti. I like a little meat in my sauce, actually, I prefer a long-cooked bolognese, but I know that wouldn't go over with my daughters. So, I made meatballs instead from ground pork and then baked them in a quick blender marinara of tomatoes, garlic, and basil. Ed and Ann get meatballs with their pasta and Ellie and Lillie get straight marinara and everyone is happy.

Ann's Infamous Garlic Bread

Actually, spaghetti is one of my least favorite cuts, so I accidentally cooked linguine "by mistake." Where are the meatballs? In my Recycle Bin; photos too crappy to publish.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Greek Festival

Camera woes, camera woes! Mark and Kelley picked us up on Sunday and we headed to the Greek Festival at the local Greek church where we met Billy and Shawn and where Amanda and Dimitri joined us a few minutes later. When the gang was all together, I started to shoot photos, only to find that my battery was dead. Flat dead. How can the damned thing sit on the USB charger all night and be dead the next day?

Suffice it to say that we started with a couple of bottles of nameless red wine that would have been better used as a starter for vinegar. A blend of Agiorgitiko, Mandilaria, and some other grape that I forget, it is best forgotten!

The way that it works at this festival is that all the gilling goes on out back of the church: the souvlaki, gyros, and spitted lamb. And inside: all the pastries (always awesome) and other hot dishes such as pastitsio. From past experience, the inside food is just so-so, so we have been limiting ourselves to the grilled food. Last year, we tried the souvlaki and while they smelled good, they were very disappointing. So this year, we all got in the line for gyros, which turned out to be really good and so much better than what we had at Opa! last weekend. The tzatziki provided with the gyros was absolutely terrrible, though. I do believe that it was nothing other than cheap ranch dressing. Such a travesty!

Shawn, half Greek herself and on her home turf at the church where she was baptized, had the inside hook up: her uncle was grilling the lambs. He kept bringing us bits and pieces, especially lamb liver and venison tenderloin.

We finished up with loukoumades and galaktoboureko, the loukoumades fried while you watched and then drizzled with honey and crushed walnuts. The galaktoboureko was sinful, just sinful. I don't really do sweets, but I have this thing for a little bit of galaktoboureko!

Afterwards, all of us save for Billy and Shawn, went back to the house to get our drink on and to have dinner. I got the camera battery charged a bit, at least enough to shoot a few shots.

Delicious Strozzapreti!
For dinner, we threw together a quick pasta. I cooked down some of my homemade pancetta with slivered garlic while others chopped tomatoes and fresh mozzarella that was leftover from Saturday night dinner service. All this went into a big bowl with a lot of fresh basil. Then the hot strozzapreti went in. I toasted a bunch of panko in the leftover pancetta oil and put that over for some crunch. Delicious!
Finally, Some Good Red Wine!
After the crappy wines of the afternoon, for dinner, we opened a bottle of Topiary and Dimitri brought a bottle of Domaine Skouras Synoro 2007. The Synoro is a blend of 40% Cabernet Franc, 40% Merlot, and 20% Agiorgitiko. The excessive mercaptan nose of burning rubber tire was tough to wade through, but once it blew off, the underlying wine was nicely balanced between fruit and acid.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012


I was shocked to learn that my girl was a BLT virgin. Granted, she was born in Manhattan and is a Yankee through and through, but she's lived in Virginia since she was a teenager. I have had to wait all summer to get a beefsteak tomato of sufficient girth to make the proper sandwich with which to indoctrinate Ann into the club that the entire civilized world except her belongs to.

That tomato came along Saturday and you see the result. Like all other simple foods, the BLT depends entirely on the ingredients: a tomato large enough to cover the entire sandwich, the best thick-sliced bacon, beautiful oak leaf lettuce, and Duke's mayonnaise.

For more of my waxing poetic about this sandwich,

Monday, August 13, 2012

Opa! Mezze Grill, Ashburn

Jealousy. Yep. Jealousy. Vice or virtue, I cannot say, but I had it last week as Amanda and Dimitri were posting to Facebook from Opa! Mezze Grill in Ashburn. Ann took the beast by the horns this weekend and insisted that we trek in to Ashburn to check it out. The restaurant has very good reviews on the internet and deservedly so. The owners are a hard working family putting out honest food at reasonable prices.

On the drive in from Winchester to Ashburn, I noticed something I hadn't seen before. Even though it is only mid-August, already the sumacs and some of the dogwoods are changing color to a vibrant red and a deep purple respectively. Fall is on the way, inexorably, as ever. Good or bad depends on your worldview I suppose, but for me, right now, I have done quite enough sweating in our brutal hell hole of a restaurant kitchen and am looking forward to more amenable temperatures and humidity. And a good bottle of red while rocking a pullover sitting out on the back patio with my best girl!

Kotsifali: a New Grape for Us
The big camera's battery crapped out so Ann shot these on her phone. First up, what to drink? Not much of a selection: we got a choice of two bottles, one a Greek Merlot and the other this Kotsifali from Lyrakakis of Crete. I don't believe I've ever had either a wine from Crete or Kotsifali before. It's a pleasant enough medium-bodied red that most people would like.

We started with some mezze: grilled octopus, saganaki, and a trio of dips: taramosalata, melitzanosalata, and tyrokafteri, a feta and jalapeno dip. Stars: grilled octopus and the taramosalata, both awesome! I could have bathed in both of them and the ladolemono sauce on the octopus was perfect for dipping the pita.

The eggplant salad was heavy-handed with garlic (thank you!!) to keep the haters away, but was desperately seeking salt, as was the tyrokafteri. I was expecting the tyrokafteri to be the most interesting of the mezze; it was the least. Good, but needed a flavor injection.

Opa! Gyro
After this, we ordered a pork gyro and zucchini fritters. It seems that everyone on the web is raving about the gyro. It was good, but I'm not going to rave about it. You see that it has fries in it. They're good fries, but I'd rather have them on the side, which I will ask for next time. On a scale from meh to bravo, this gyro was right in the middle. The meat was very tasty, but a bit dried out.

I ordered the zucchini fritters because I wanted to compare them to our squash cakes at the restaurant. They were flavored just about like ours and were delicious, not to mention screaming hot right out of the fryer. The accompanying tzatziki was made from a good quality yogurt, but not much else. I wanted more flavor from it, a little red wine, a touch of oregano, and a hint of garlic.

Selection of Dips

Bottom line: solid, honest food, at reasonable prices. There is no reason why we won't be back and if we lived closer, we'd be more frequent guests.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Eggplant Parmesan Pizza

I was working at my desk on Monday trying to finish up some accounting from last week when I got an email from Ann, a email full of exclamation points. Which if you know Ann is not all that unusual, but even to my stupid eyes, was a sign of extreme interest in whatever link it was that she had forwarded to me. That and the "Can we have THIS for dinner, please?" line were enough to convince me to open the link.

The link opened to a Martha Stewart recipe for eggplant parmesan on French bread. Seriously? NO. NO. NO. We cannot have this for dinner. Especially since it carries the Martha Stewart imprimatur. But the idea was good, so I suggested that we do an eggplant parmesan pizza instead. We already had a batch of pizza dough in the fridge and I just so happened to have a nice eggplant in the cooler. And Ann had volunteered Carter to pull the mozzarella.

Pizza Dough Rising

Sauce: Tomatoes, Slivered Garlic, Basil

Carter, Breaking Mozzarella Curd

Carter Pulling Mozzarella

The Finished Mozzarella

Seasoning the Eggplant for the Grill

Grilling Eggplant

Pizza Dough, Ready for the Grill

Grilling the Dough

Does it Get More Delicious??

Summer Sauté

I grabbed some stuff at the farmers market on Saturday to combine with some things from our garden for a simple Sunday dinner after our quick explore of Lost River Brewing Company in nearby Wardensville WV.

We ended up with a quick sauté of the pancetta that I cure at the restaurant, onions, summer squash, red peppers, corn, leek, yellow haricots filets, garlic, basil, and rosemary. The beautiful little yellow haricots are from our garden and are the hugely prolific variety called Isar. The yellow color makes them really easy to spot for picking and they are stringless. Win! Check out the squat, kind of tomato-shaped peppers that we call Cheese Pimientos (because they were once used, pre-annatto, to color orange cheese). They have sweet, thick flesh that turns deeply red and besides having wonderful flavor, make great stuffing peppers. This dish also marks the harvest of our first leek of the year!

A Cheese Pimiento, A Favorite Red Pepper

Tomatoes with Lemon Basil and Borage Flowers

Summer Sauté

Lost River Brewing Company, Wardensville, WV

A friend recommended that we visit the Lost River Brewing Company in Wardensville, WV in neighboring Hardy County so we set out on Sunday afternoon to see what it was all about. Taking backroads all the way, it's about an hour drive from Winchester. Taking the straight shot back Carper's Pike, coming home only took about 45 minutes.

We're still newbies to the WV restaurant scene on Sundays. We made (once again) the unfortunate mistake of arriving before 1pm when it is legal to serve alcohol. Any idea what it is like to sit at a bar for a half an hour and ogle the beer taps, without a beer in front of you? Torture, sheer torture! Note to self, never again!

Shrimp Matamoros

While we waited, Ann ordered a shrimp appetizer called something in Spanish, Shrimp Matamoros? The menu on their web site is not up to date. In any case, you can see that is is a very nice looking layered concoction of guacamole, marinated shrimp, black beans, and sour cream. It was good enough, but lacked flavor and seasoning. The quality of the shrimp was a bit iffy. A generous amount of salt and a couple of lime wedges we got from the bartender helped it out a lot. But, a little cilantro please!

As for beer, I had an amber ale which was just OK. Then I switched to the black ale which I thought was very good. For dessert, I had a Breckenridge Vanilla Porter which was kind of cool. Nothing I'd want to drink on a regular basis, but fun enough. Ann wanted to try the Lindeman's Framboise Lambic and I warned her that it is potently raspberry. She had to order a Corona so she could cut the framboise 50-50 to tame it!

For lunch, Ann ordered a burger and I ordered the oyster po' boy. Ann's burger (a 10-ounce bruiser) was credible enough and well cooked, but she said, again, it lacked seasoning. My po' boy was a real disappointment. The oysters were fresh and well cooked, no doubt. But five small oysters on a poppyseed hamburger bun does not a po' boy make. I went away hungry. The fries with both our sandwiches were very good.

Bottom line: credible food, pretty good beer, very reasonable prices.

Linguini with Clam Sauce

It felt good to get back in the kitchen yesterday, if only for a few minutes to make a late afternoon lunch of linguini with white clam sauc...