Wine Tasting Dinner

I have really come to enjoy wine.

I love reading about it, learning about it, and of course… drinking it.

Within limits, of course.

Fortunately for me, I have a very good friend who collects wine and will share a few choice bottles with me (and my boys) when we schedule a wine-tasting dinner. I do the cooking and we spend an evening tasting, eating and having great conversation. And we just did that the other night!

Now ordinarily my budget only includes some pretty inexpensive wines. So one of my favorite things to do on a Friday evening is go to Trader Joe’s for their weekly tasting. You get a little plastic cough-syrup type cup for 25 cents and you can compare two or three kinds on the spot. And they do have a pretty good selection.

So when my friend, BB, drops off wines for our dinners, I am excited. He brings them ahead of time so I can look them up and figure out what food to pair with them. Not only that, they are always much more expensive bottles than I would ever buy. He’s certainly no Mr. Rockefeller, but he does collect some wines as a hobby and is very generous in sharing them.

wine tastingAt our latest dinner we started with a Chenin Blanc, a white wine that is just a bit milder than a chardonnay. Traditionally it came from France, but wineries all over the world are now growing it. This one came from Arizona and sold for about $50 a bottle.

I took one sip and was in heaven… for some reason the whites are always my favorite.

Then we played our little guessing game… son Bill said he tasted pear. BB said apple. Brad just said he liked it and I was lost in a dream of buttery deliciousness. But I had looked up the tasting notes, which said: “like walking through an apple orchard; nice acidity with a long pleasant finish…

Well, the truth is we aren’t all that fussy or snobby but we did congratulate BB for naming apple!

I looked over at the bottle and noticed… with four tastes already poured, only half of it was left. And I had to act fast if I wanted to scarf up most of the rest of it myself. (Besides, they all seem to like the reds best.)

“Hey, guys,” I asked innocently, “Why don’t you open the Rosé to have with your salad?”

They did and I bustled off to the kitchen to get those salads out pronto.

When I returned they dug in to the chopped salads and moved on with the Rosé. I knew the rest of that Chenin Blanc was mine-all-mine!

All I had to do at that point was let them finish their salad and put out the main course… lasagna.

Now let me tell you, I’ve been perfecting my lasagna recipe for over 40 years. And I’ve got it pretty down pat.

First I use tomatoes I canned from my own garden last summer.

And for the meat I use a mix of ground chuck and sweet Italian sausage. I add basil, oregano, garlic and onion – all chopped fresh.

Then I simmer it for a couple hours. This is the traditional “Sunday Gravy” every real Italian credits their Nonna with making!

I also make a ricotta filling with egg, parsley, fresh mozzarella and grated parmesan.

When you put this lasagna together in a baking dish it not only weighs a ton and a half, it is a thing of beauty.

I set that steaming monster of a dish on the kitchen island and called everyone to come fill their plates family style… more salad, more bread and heaping helpings of lasagna. We had our buzz on and just hummed through the meal.

And we were on to the red wine… a dry red 2011 Aglianico which was a limited edition. If you can find an available bottle it will probably set you back at least 80 bucks. I even found one guy trying to scalp it online for $325.

Thanks to BB, we enjoyed it with a great plate of pasta.

And I have to say… I absolutely ADORE the fragrance of red wine!

Oh, geez… pour it in a glass and let me sniff! Besides bacon, it is one of greatest smells of the world!

It rushes up my nose and floods me with the aromas of dark fruit. Intensified. Suddenly I am picturing bing cherries… or raspberries… or blackberries… and I am salivating. I just know that a taste of a dry red will make a fatty rib-eye steak into the most wonderful pleasure on earth!

keep-calm-and-drink-prosecco-40Still, my heart belongs to the white. It doesn’t smell near as intoxicating but it sits on my tongue just right. And my all-time favorite is Prosecco. Hands down. The Italians know what they’re doing.

Give me an acidic white wine… and add bubbles… and you have me forever. This little slogan pretty much says it all…

Tasting wine is a fun hobby. As pretentious as it sounds it really isn’t. Fine wine is really just another form of fine food. It is meant to make you happy. And growing it is such an art you can never learn all about it.

Cheers!

Why I’m the “Cool” Mrs. Potatohead

Today is another story because I don’t have any new sketches the past couple days. But I do have a number of sketchbook diaries from the last few years with lots that hasn’t been posted.

And if you’ve gone back to earlier sections of this blog – especially back to when I was in Italy – you will see that I often refer to myself as Mrs. Potatohead… or Mrs. P for short.

farside2The background is this… there is a very funny Far Side cartoon from long ago called “The Potatoheads in Paris.” It shows Mr. and Mrs. PH driving down a French street looking out at the Parisians… who are all tall skinny French Fries in their stylish clothes! That has always been one of my favorite cartoons since I can relate…

Anyway, I made the transition to Mrs. P a couple years ago while visiting Costa Rica. (And no, I’m not a jet-setter, I was there on business.)

I got to spend a few days at a beautiful beach resort that was so breath-taking I got a little carried away.

There was a travel/adventure kiosk in the lobby so I walked in and looked around. You could book fishing charters, surfing lessons, dinner cruises or scuba and snorkeling trips.

Wait a minute! Snorkeling? Man, I’ve always wanted to do that. I love the water and was always a good swimmer. I don’t quite like the idea of scuba… but snorkeling sounded harmless enough.

I inquired at the counter and the guy was thrilled to see me. Turns out there was a party of 3 booked for the next morning but the boat won’t go out with less than 4 people. I could be the 4th and everyone would be happy. I was excited. Well, nervous, actually… but excited, too.

I went to the lobby the next morning at 6:30 AM wearing comfy capris, socks and tennis shoes, and my swimsuit and sketchbook in a tote bag. I couldn’t believe I was doing this!

Then the “other 3” arrived.

OK, let me pause here.

You know how in the movies they sometimes show someone heroic or beautiful walking toward you in slow motion?

Well, that’s how it was for me.

Here I am, curvy, fluff-ball of a girl, waiting for the rest of our group and suddenly I spy them.

Three of the most gorgeous girls I’ve ever seen. Platinum blondes. From Sweden. Wearing bikini tops, shorts, naval jewelry and designer sandals. Tossing their heads as they smile and laugh with each other. Amazingly white teeth glinting in the morning sun…

I look down at my clunky white sneakers and one thought enters my mind: I’m Mrs. Potatohead.

MrsP1a

Now mind you, I am not overly sad about this. I had to be 40 years older than those cutie-patooties and I had my day. But I wondered how the excursion would go being paired up with them.

Well, it was more of the same.

While they were lithe and graceful, I was clumsy and awkward. We were driven for about 20 miles and dropped off on the side of the road. After scrambling down a dirt bank we had to walk into the surf and go up a small ladder onto a water taxi. They all appeared to float onboard. It took 3 Costa Rican lads (Ticos) to haul me in.

We then drove out to the bigger boat and boarded it. I was so unsteady I was scared. Fortunately, the guide, Hannah, didn’t make fun of me. She steered me to a seat and knew she would have to coddle me through this.

I felt very out of place but was determined to enjoy this adventure. And several other people had joined us so there were now 7 or 8 on board. Two of us were going to snorkel and the rest were scuba diving.

The glamorous scuba group shimmied effortlessly into their spandex and fins. I was given fins and a huge orange life-jacket in addition to my goggles and snorkel. Hannah patted my arm and said, “this will be fun.”

Soon the scuba group were jumping off the tailgate of the boat in that funny bent leg way. They disappeared from view. Then Hannah told me to sit down on the tailgate with my legs in the water. I did. And the Ticos shoved me in.

Fortunately Hannah was right behind me and didn’t leave my side until I was comfortable in the water. She showed me how to maneuver and was very reassuring.

MrsP2a

When I finally relaxed I was overjoyed with the beauty of the underwater landscape. The colorful fish were amazing. Hannah dove to the bottom and brought up a starfish. She said I could hold it if I kept it underwater. When I let it go she took it back down.

It was a wondrous experience. For over an hour we swam around a large rock outcropping and just watched the fish below. On the surface the water was crystal blue and the sun was bright overhead. It was truly a little slice of heaven to be there.

Soon we had to go back to the boat. The scuba group had a time limit for how long they could stay down so they had to come up for a break. Again everyone seemed to just hop up on the boat but it took several Ticos to help me in. I was just glad I made it!

Out came some snacks and drinks and before long it was round 2. Everyone but me was raring to get back in the water. I was done. Besides, I was in a perfect place to get out my sketchbook and paints.

Off they all went and I stayed on the boat. I sketched the rock outcroppings in the distance. They are called Los Sombreros because they look like two hats sticking up out of the sea. And I have to say, this is one my most favorite on-site drawings I’ve ever done.

Los Sombreros b

The boat crew kept coming and looking over my shoulder in amazement. And when the divers came back on board they wanted to see, too. And here’s the funny thing…

Even though I was Mrs. Potatohead for sure, everyone was so impressed with my little painting that now suddenly I was “the artist.” And they got very protective of me.

All the way back I was made-over. When we transferred to the water taxi, everyone jumped to help me. When we had to walk back through the surf to shore, someone grabbed my bag and carried it for me. I was assisted back up the dirt hill and was first to get back in the van to return to the hotel. When we all said goodbye you would have thought we’d all been friends for a long time!

It was a wonderful experience. And I can’t tell you how many great conversations I’ve had with strangers who approach me when I’m sketching. My sketchbook is almost like a passport of sorts. It makes me new friends anywhere. And even though I was Mrs. P at snorkeling, at least I did it. And my sketchbook made 3 beautiful Swedish babes think I was pretty cool!

Me and the Car Situation

You have never met anyone dumber about cars than me.

I’m not quite sure why that is, but it has been true all my life.

As a kid I would sit on the front porch with my brother and sister and they would name the cars driving by. Ford! Chevy! Oldsmobile! they would shout. I looked at them in amazement and hoped for a Volkswagon to come along so I could join the game.

Sad to say, more than 50 years later, that is still true.

For instance… when my kids were little we were visiting my sister-in-law Karen and her family. In the confusion of leaving later, my son Brad accidentally locked the keys in the car. (It was the first car we had with power locks.) So I went back up on the porch and knocked on the door. Karen flung it open and asked “what’s wrong?” (she was quick like that!) When I explained we decided to call the police and ask them to bring a “slim jim” to unlock the driver’s door.

I went to the kitchen and made the call. The officer who answered asked me, “what kind of car do you drive?”

Now that shouldn’t be a trick question, but I drew a blank.

Embarrassed, I turned and asked Karen, “what kind of car do I drive?”

“Buick,” she said in a startled voice. “Maybe a ‘79”

I repeated that to the officer.

“How could you not know that?” Karen asked when I hung up.

“Geez, I don’t know. How do you know that?” I replied.

Soon we were back in the car and I knew Karen wasn’t going to let me live that down. It was just too good of a story not to tell. We laughed about it for years.

Sooo… fast forward to 2010 or so.

I was meeting my daughter Ellyn at the grocery to shop for a family dinner together. I got there a few minutes early, parked the car and walked over to the bench in front of the store to wait. It was a gorgeous day and I people-watched for a few minutes. Then it occurred to me that I should give Ellyn a quick call to make sure she wasn’t waiting inside.

Turns out she was!

I grabbed a cart, found her in the lobby and we did our shopping.

After we checked out we walked through the parking lot with our carts. As we continued side by side I said, “Oh! You must have parked in the same row as me!”

Just as I spotted my own car, Ellyn stopped, too.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

“I’m going to put my groceries in my car,” she replied.

That’s when we both noticed that I was parked right next to her.

“You’re kidding me!” Ellyn cried.

“Whaaaat???” I retorted.

“You didn’t know I was already here? And you didn’t even notice the Bengals license plate?” she inquired.

“Well, I don’t look at those things, you know….”

And that was my only excuse. At least Ellyn thought it was funny (she knows my history) and we had a good chuckle about it.

But I still wasn’t cured.

And I still outdid myself.

In late 2012 I moved from a 4 bedroom home to a small 1 bedroom apartment. Storage units were key so Ellyn and I made a trip down Cincinnati-way to IKEA. Man, what a store! It is huge… and packed… and overwhelming. But we got tons of ideas.

Before leaving the store we went to the cafeteria for some food. (You have to try their Swedish meatballs!) Finally we were ready to leave, so I filled up my soda and off we went.

My mind was filled with beautiful visions of IKEA units in my new place and we were both juggling purses and papers and sodas while walking to the car. When I saw Ellyn’s silver van I veered off and got in the passenger seat. I couldn’t wait to study the handouts I had picked up. But a minute or so went by and Ellyn did not get in on the driver’s side. What was she doing?

I looked around for where to set my soda down. And suddenly things did not look familiar. The console was different, there were strange objects all around and this van was nowhere near as clean as Ellyn’s was…

OMG! I’m in the wrong van! I swung my head to the left and saw Ellyn two cars over sitting in her vehicle.

She had just had a similar experience… she had gotten in the driver’s seat and wondered what was taking me so long. When she looked to her right she saw me sitting in another van two spaces away.

Our eyes met and I was stunned. I quickly jumped out of that van and ran to where I should have been.

By now Ellyn was hysterical and so was I.

Honestly, how does someone do that? I was 61 years old! And I knew it was a silver van!

I am much more careful now but I’m still not sure what can happen to me if left unattended in a parking lot. At least my kids know that and watch over me. And when I go to Kroger I always park in the same row – no matter how far out – so I have no doubt where my car is.

Meanwhile, here’s my beautiful daughter… the ever-patient Ellyn…

Ellyn3b

Thank goodness I had her!

And consider yourself warned… Lock your vehicle lest you come back and find someone like me sitting in it!

About Spring… and Drawing… and Writing…

I don’t care what anyone says… my favorite season is SPRING.

SPRING, SPRING, SPRING!

Spring, of course has various meanings…

  • the season after winter and before summer when vegetation begins to appear
  • to move or jump suddenly – upward or forward
  • the time when earth awakens from slumber and explodes with new life.

I love the blur of green buds on the trees and the abundance of sweet pastel blossoms everywhere. It’s like cotton candy come to life. All sorts of ornamental beauty… cherry, pear, dogwood, tulip tree, magnolia, lilac, azalea, hyacinths, daffodils, bluebells, peonies and more. A fairy world in real time.

Spring is about renewal. Longer days. Balmy weather. New beginnings. Birds singing so loudly in the morning they wake you up!

It fills me with hope and joy like nothing else.

And so today, I looked back through my sketch journals at spring sketches.

It turns out that I started keeping the journals 9 years ago in 2006. And I started in the spring after reading a book by Danny Gregory called Everyday Matters. The premise of that book was that as an artist you should just sketch what is going on in your life each day. There’s no need to wait for an occasion to create great art. Just draw what you had for breakfast… or the tree outside your window… or the canned goods in your kitchen cupboard.

I was inspired and got started. I picked a cherry blossom off a tree at work and took it home and drew it…

cherry blossom 06

Then a friend sent me a photo of a robin’s nest she found inside her gas grill…

robin's nest

Oh what fun I’ve had since then!

And here it is, another spring 9 years later.

My newest spring thrill is finding Morel Mushrooms in the market the other day! When I saw them I stopped dead in my tracks.

They were $59 a pound!!! Wowsers! morel price

But I bought a small basket. Here’s $11.51 worth…

morels

I took them home, soaked them in salt water and cooked up half for a good ole sandwich like my dad used to make when we found them ourselves years ago. Yum.

The rest I put into a cream sauce over thin spaghetti that was scrumptious. Yum again!

However, the reason I got on this spring kick today was that I noticed new growth in my flower beds outside. So that’s what I recorded in my daily sketchbook…

Spring 2015

And then I got to ruminating about my sketchbook history. Not sure why.

But I just went and counted my sketchbooks. I only have about a dozen. They are full and beautiful and among my most precious possessions. But that isn’t nearly enough!

Instead of 1 and a quarter books a year I should be filling at least 3 or 4 books a year. Double or triple what I have done.

To be fair, I kept a few journals and diaries before this concerted sketching effort. Mostly when traveling. And I was a bit perplexed by it. Why was I writing down my experiences? Why was I drawing what I saw along the way? Who really would care besides me?

I’m not being overly judgmental here… merely realistic. Sketch books are like warm-up exercises. They keep you limber and ready to go. A serious pianist plays every day. I read once that Liberace said, “If I miss a day of practice, I know it. If I miss two days, those closest to me know it. If I miss three days, the whole world knows it.”

I remember being stunned by that statement, but I think it is true. You can’t put down your sketchbook (or instrument) for months at a time and expect to just pick up where you left off.

Which brings me back to SPRING because it is this time of year that makes me think like this. And I hope I will make a commitment to my sketching during this season of renewal. It is very personal but something very important to me. I have drawn all my life. I’ve drawn on the back of envelopes, on restaurant napkins, on scrap papers, on post-it notes and store receipts. It’s just in me… I can’t NOT draw. And I can’t NOT write.

I guess when it comes down to it, I don’t care who’s reading or looking.

Yes, I like an audience. And I love feedback. A little applause is nice because you like to think someone cares.

But I can’t tell you all the journals and diaries I have destroyed over the years. I would look back and re-read them and be embarrassed. Not that my feelings or the things I said were not normal. They absolutely were. But I didn’t have the self confidence to own what I wrote. I worried too much what others would think.

No more.

It may have taken me most of my life to get to the point where I like to write about what I’m thinking and feeling and draw the everyday objects in my life, no matter how mundane or boring or even shocking at times… but I am there.

I hope I can go forward and be prolific with my sketchbooks. They will be my legacy. I feel my own mortality and these mere pieces of paper that I make marks on will outlive me by far. I need to make a lot of them.

My daughter and I have had this conversation several times. She thinks I am a bit narcissistic to write and post drawings for others to see. As though I am seeking approval. Or flaunting myself somehow. Maybe I am. But in my heart of hearts, I don’t think that is what I am doing. Does everyone who writes a book or paints a picture do it for someone else? I don’t think so.

If that were the case I couldn’t have kept doing it for all these years.

No, I do it for me. Because I am compelled somehow to do so. I don’t know why anymore and I don’t even question it. It is something I have always done and will continue to do. Whether anyone is looking or not. Social media has nothing to do with it.

This will always be a dilemma for me if I think about it too much, which I will try not to do. I’ll just do what I do, regardless. And if you have a thought or opinion about it, I would welcome your comment. Shed some light on this for me, please!

Meanwhile, I’ll be here… ramping up my drawing and writing as much as I can. And I never know what it will be about except where life takes me…

Overnight with Colin

I have a 12-year-old grandson, Colin. Actually he will be 13 later this month, so I’m sure he would like me to say that. After all, it is quite monumental to become a teenager!

Anyway, last weekend he sent me an email. It went like this: “Nonna! This is Colin. I wanted to ask you if I could go over to your house, also if we could make chocolate rice balls :D. I haven’t been to your house in forever! Hope you say yes ;D”  And then he included a recipe link.

Hmmm… the recipe was for sushi rice balls – nothing to do with chocolate. So I began to search. I thought he was mixed up and wanted to make rice krispie balls with chocolate.

Not so.

When I called his mother (my daughter, Ellyn) to make arrangements, she said he wanted to make rice balls like Japanese people eat. He had discovered this both in school and on Anime cartoons.

“OK,” I said, “we’ll just make both to see which goes over the best.

Now here’s the thing… Colin is one-of-a-kind. And he always will be.

I’ve heard it said that when some boys come into the world, they may have gotten a double-dose of “boy-ness.” I can only think that Colin lined up again and got a triple dose. Or more. He is in motion every moment he is awake. And his ideas are all over the place. Which is why when he was coming up with recipes to try over spring break, Ellyn said, “please call your Nonna! She actually likes to cook!”

So I went and picked up Colin for an overnight visit. Our first stop was Japanese Steak House for lunch. He had been there once before and it was the only time he had ever had shrimp. He loved it and ate every bite. We both got the steak and shrimp and he was thrilled.

He also said he wanted to try lobster but I persuaded him to wait a bit. I knew we could go get a lobster tail at the market and cook it at home for supper for a fraction of the price. He agreed.

So off we went on the day’s adventures. We picked up sushi rice and nori at the store so we could make those real rice balls he wanted. I had bought him a mold that shapes them into panda heads and you decorate them with nori punched in the shape of the features. He was thrilled – and much more interested in making them than eating them.

Japanese Day

Then he wanted drawing lessons. He asked me to help him portray star wars droids and then another fantastic character he liked.

Here’s the droid, which we took turns drawing on the same page.

Colin droid

And “Trogarian” which I drew for him myself. He looked at me and said, “Nonna, I only hope that I can get to your level one day!” How nice is that?

Trogarian

Next he wanted an anime character and I told him he had to do it himself with what I had been teaching him. And by golly, he drew it spot on! All by himself! This boy has potential as an artist! Hooray for my Colin!

Colin drawing2

Then I made the lobster for supper. I showed Colin how to cut off a piece and dip it in melted butter. He took his first bite and was enthralled. His eyes literally rolled back and he began to hum. “You like?” I asked. “I LOVE!” he exclaimed. And proceeded to scarf down the rest.

Later we watched TV and my plan – as always – is to let him stay up as late as possible. Why? Because this kid likes to sleep in. And it makes my life easier when he does that.

However, he was passing out by 10:30 so I put him down on an air mattress in the living room. He was out like a light.

And sure enough, he was sneaking into my room at precisely 8am the next morning. I opened one eye – which was my mistake…

“Nonna! he cried, “we have to make the rice krispy treats!”

“um, yeh, Colin, but we have plenty of time” I muttered.

“OK,” he replies as he plops into my bedside chair. “I’ll wait.”

Now let me tell you… this is not a child who waits quietly. Not at all. Every item in his surroundings that draw his attention require exploring. Remember that “boy-ness” thing I mentioned? That means any knob or button that can be pushed or prodded will be.

And when you hear a kid like Colin say “oops!”… it is probably already too late…

So soon we were melting marshmallows and chocolate chips and doing yet more drawing lessons. Followed by numerous games of Angry Birds, which I actually like.

Colin, continued

We had a fun visit and I snapped a few photos of him so as to draw him as he is right now. Here’s the sketch…

Colin portrait2

He was glad to see his mother when she picked him up and off they went. I immediately went in my room and laid across the bed for a break. And just as I was drifting off, the alarm on the small clock across the room started to ring. At first I didn’t know what it was and sat up totally startled. That is not a clock I use as an alarm, but Colin had brought it to me earlier saying he wasn’t sure what happened with it.

No, he didn’t break it. But he did set the alarm. So after he left, it went off and reminded me he had been here.

I could only laugh. I wouldn’t have this boy any other way. And my advantage is that I only have him once in a while. Truth is, his mother has the patience of Job – and a lock on her bedroom door. I really do love that kid!

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