Sunday, July 26, 2015

Kitchen playtime - the catching up extended version

Well, it's been an interesting couple of weeks at the Dominic household. I haven't done this column in a while because first I had a stomach bug and couldn't stand to think about food. And then Hubby got some sort of stomach ickiness, and we passed it back and forth for a while. We were still not thinking about food. And then the Dekalb water crisis hit, and suddenly we couldn't rinse vegetables, first because we didn't have water, and then because we had to boil the water first. As Hubby said, it's third world water service at first world prices. Seriously, we're in this situation because a mower hit a fire hydrant, which then broke a water main. No, I'm not sure how the physics of that works. We don't have silly things like physics in Dekalb County, Georgia. At least that's the only explanation I've got for why some neighborhoods like ours were essentially without water for two days and then with minimal service for another one.

Rant over. On to the food. I'm going to give you the highlights of the past couple of weeks.

Let's rewind to two weekends ago. I was just recovering from the stomach bug. Hubby had yet to get it. He had ended up with a huge bunch of time from the Dekalb Farmers Market and had searched for stuff to do with it. We decided to do a simple Sunday dinner of turkey breast, roasted potatoes, and green beans. Hubby made a Honey and Thyme-Brined Turkey Breast (recipe from the ridiculously popup-riddled MyRecipes/Cooking Light website).

He also found a fantastic recipe for roasted red potatoes: Thyme-Roasted Potatoes with Garlic. I'm glad to be sharing this one so I can have it handy.

I sauteed some green beans and carrots to go with it. It turned out to be a lovely meal. Since I was getting over being sick, I didn't have any wine.

I did, however, drink wine for Bastille Day. Hubby pulled out the Julia Child cookbook and made Steak au Poivre. It went well with the leftover potatoes and veggies.

Yep, there's butter in that there pan.

Summertime means summer veggies and all the fun things you can do with them as long as you don't heat up the oven. Thankfully Cooking Light had a recipe for Summer Veggie Pasta that doesn't even involve cooking the vegetables.

Of course you can't have summer without burgers. I'd had my eye on the Cheesesteak Burgers with Pickled Peppers, Onions, and Cucumbers from the time the June issue of Cooking Light arrived in my mailbox. Yes, we still get paper magazines. How quaint. The pickled veggies were easy, and the burgers really good. I would never have thought to put dill in a burger, but it worked. Yes, that's a salad in the wooden bowl to the left. Just trust me on this one.

Hubby decided we need a subscription to Garden & Gun magazine. To clarify, we don't shoot things for fun, and I kind of suck at gardening. I was a little iffy on the idea until we got the most recent issue, which included a recipe for Tomato Grilled Cheese sandwiches with Beer and Bacon Marmalade. Um, hello. They're actually as good, if not better, than the best grilled cheese ever, which can be found at Cafe Lily in Decatur. Here are the magazine's photo and mine. Notice the artful stacking of the sandwiches:

We're in one of my favorite parts of summer, which is eggplant time! I roped Hubby into grilling some eggplant, and we made this grilled eggplant parmesan. It was really good:

Quite yummy.
Speaking of eggplant, tonight we made Ratatouille and had it with some of the leftover lamb from Easter. Yes, this lamb. And the Ratatouille recipe came from The Art of French Cooking. We were surprised that there wasn't any butter in it. We drank it with a lovely French Pinot Noir (pictured).
No rat included

And here's the kitchen fail of the week. We tried to make the Honey-Thyme Chicken-and-Apricot Kebabs from Food & Wine Magazine yesterday evening. Notice in their picture how their apricots hold together beautifully after ten minutes on the grill:

These apricots must be Photoshopped
And here's ours. Notice how the apricots liquified. We didn't even know apricots had a liquid state.

That's more liquid than we saw from Dekalb County this weekend.

We're melting!

Oh, well. They tasted good.

So those are our cooking adventures the past couple of weeks. I do recommend the wines pictured. Both were very good. 

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Wine Professional Interview: Bob Manley of Hermit Woods Winery

I'm super excited to welcome Bob Manley to the blog today to kick off what I hope will become a series of interviews of professionals in the wine industry. Bob is one of the partners at Hermit Woods Winery, and when you go to their tasting room, you'll probably see him. He was my liaison for the signing I did there in March. You can read what I thought about my first good fruit wine experience here.

Bob was very generous with his time and answers, so I'll hand the blog over to him...

Picture taken in March. It was cold.
Please tell the readers a little about yourself and what you do, then answer as many of the following questions as you like.

CD note: I'm impressed he answered ALL of them.

1.  How did you get into food and wine as a profession? How long have you been in the industry?

I fell in love with wine while living in CA for eleven years, and learning about wine became a hobby for me.  When I met Ken [Hardcastle, the winemaker] upon moving to NH in 93, and learned that Ken shared my passion for great wine, and also had the knowledge and skills to make it, a match was made. We began exploring wine, mead, and beer together with our friend and now partner Chuck Lawrence in every possible way. We traveled New England and beyond learning about how other produced wine in this part of the word, we started importing grapes from Chili and CA, we planted a vineyard, things got out of hand very rapidly and before we knew it, we were producing more wine that I think was even allowed without having a license.  We were having so much fun together and wanted to figure out a way to keep it up and be able to afford to do it.  In 2010, we made the decision to get our license to produce wine and the rest is history.

2.  What expertise did you bring to this career? If you came from a different career path or profession, what about it do you think helps you now?

Ken and I both brought very diverse and complimentary talents and background to our venture.  Ken being a PHD Geologist with a father who was a Chemistry Professor, brought a great understanding of the sciences to the equation along with over 25 years of exploring and learning about the making of beer, wine, and mead as a hobby.  I came to the task with a background in art, photography, and advertising and marketing.  Quite simply, Ken had the skills to make great wine, and I had the skills to market it and sell it.

Tasting room and winery dog

Now the fun begins… I am a psychologist, after all.

3.  How do you decide what to recommend to a specific customer beyond their stated preferences and what they've ordered? In other words, how do you read them?

This is very important as I am sure you know.  We begin trying to understand our customers from the moment they walk in the door.  What is there level of knowledge of wine and wine tasting, where have they been wine tasting in the past, what types or styles of wines do they find themselves drinking mostly, how adventurous are they with exploring new tastes, etc.  The best way is to strike up a conversation and depending on their willingness to share, simply ask.  Of course not everyone is as willing to share or really know what the answers to these questions. The next level of understanding comes from watching and listing as they sample our wines.  You can tell a lot from their expressions, what the say about the wines to each other and to us.  We then follow up each tastes with questions about their experience with each wine and try and decide where to go from there. As I am sure you know, it’s as important to pay attention to what they don’t say as what they say.  Facial expressions give a lot away as well.

4.  How do you spot the poseurs, or people who are trying to project that they know a lot about wine but really don't? Okay, besides the ones who have a wine blog.

First, we like to treat everyone equally at Hermit Woods, those who know a lot, whose who don’t, and those to think they do.  You can determine who they are very quickly as you begin presenting the wines and they start reviewing what they know about it.  In the case of those who don’t know much and those who don’t but think they do, we try very gently to bring them up to speed or help clear up their misconceptions if that be the case.  Learning about wine is the goal and all of us could learn our whole lives and still have more to learn.  We try and meet people where they are in their journey and go from their.

5.  What about a customer gets your attention or intrigues you?

Of course when a customer brings to the bar a greater knowledge of wine than I, or just a different experience of wine than me, I am always interested in learning from them. I am also intrigued by those customers who know very little about wine, but really want to learn everything they can and ask lots of questions.

6.  What gets you excited about your job?

First and foremost is the experience of making wine with my two closest friends and partners Chuck and Ken. Beyond being a great deal of fun, it is an incredible learning experience that seems to have no bounds.  But a close second to that is sharing the fruits of our labor with our family, friends,and customers, There is nothing I would rather be doing.

7.  What do you wish your customers would know or do before they come in?

Nothing, like I said earlier, we meet every customer where they are at with respect to their experience with us.  If they come in knowing nothing, then we do the best we can to help them begin their journey into wine.  If they come in with lots of experience, we try to find out what we have to offer them with our experience and knowledge.

8.  What has been your most interesting customer interaction?

There have been so many it is hard to identify just one.  In general, I find it most interesting for me when customers come to the bar with experience in the industry and a vast knowledge of wine, these customers challenge me to dig deep and make sure I can still provide them a valuable, educational, and fun experience.  Especially when the customer has never had experience with fruit wine in the past.

9.   When you go on vacation, do you go to wine-making areas or do you take a break from it all? What do you do for fun?

I can’t remember when I last took a vacation that did not include wine tasting, or at least the attempt to seek out wineries in the places I visit. When you are doing what you love, there is no need to take a vacation from it!  However, life is full of interesting and wonderful things other than wine, and I try and make sure to keep my time diversified with some of my other interests. I enjoy, running, biking, hiking (primarily winter hiking and camping), kayaking, and traveling in general to discover new places.

And about wine itself:

10.  Is there a wine or type of wine you secretly love but don't readily admit it? Or secretly hate?

No secrets here.  First, my love of wine is largely about its diversity.  I try to keep an open mind and explore new wines, styles, regions, etc. when ever the opportunity is available. If I find something I love (or hate), there is not reason to keep it secret.

11.  What has been your most memorable wine-drinking experience?

Visiting wineries in France and discovering frist hand wines for some of my favorite regions.

12.  If you could open and drink any bottle in the shop/cellar but you had to pay for it, what would it be? In other words, what would be your splurge at your restaurant/store?

I am in the wine business, so clearly have to be frugal when purchasing wine, however, I am ok with spending between 50 and 100 dollars a bottle if I a reasonably confident that the wine I will be trying will be unique and exceptional enough to justify it. There are so many wines that might fit this category from so many regions of the world that it would be hard to pick a specific brand. I often look for wines of southern France, Provence, Languedoc, Ch√Ęteauneuf-du-Pape,  when I am looking for a special red wine.

13.  If you could go on an all-expenses paid trip to a wine area or region, where would you go and why?

France, and I would hope to include multiple regions, starting with Bordeaux.

14.  What wine or wines are your personal "house wines," ones you always keep on hand in case company comes over or you just want to pop one open yourself?

With respect to wines from my own winery, I have several, including, our crabapple, petite blue, lake house white, and some of our big barrel aged reds from chili.  If you are talking about wines from other regions, again, I have a fairly wide collection of wines from the regions of southern France.

Thank you so much for your answers, Bob! 

If you are a wine professional and would like to be interviewed or know someone you'd like to know more from, please fill out the contact form on the right or email me at cecilia (at) ceciliadominic (dot) com

Sometimes as a psychologist, I'm a little too close to the subject, and it can be hard to disengage from a pathological perspective. I have to give special thanks to Hubby and our friends and fellow oenophiles Dan and Kirsten B. for helping me to come up with many of these great questions.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Oeno-fessions: I Drank Fruit Wine and I Liked It

The tasting bar at Hermit Woods Winery

I was going to try and figure out how to do this overlaid with the lyrics to the Katy Perry song I Kissed a Girl, but alas, I just couldn't make it work.

In the wine world there are anti-snobs, or people who eschew snobbery and then get kind of snobby about doing so. Then there are those who know what they like and what they don't, but sometimes they make these decisions based on hearsay or assumptions. That's where Hubby and I were with fruit wine until last spring.

My aunt Nancy in Meredith, New Hampshire had been trying to get me up there for a book signing for a while. She acted as a liaison to get me in contact with Bob Manley, one of the partners at Hermit Woods Winery, and we planned it for the end of March to celebrate my second book Long Shadows coming out in paperback.

My book postcards, munchies, and Blueberry Wine
Of course I was super excited about this - I love doing signings and drinking wine. Hubby and I had tasted wine in New Hampshire before, and although most of it was hybrids, at least it was made from some sort of grapes. I called my mom to tell her, and she said, "You do know that's fruit wine, right?"

My reaction:

After I got through my dramatic chipmunk moment, I thought, "What the heck?" We've typically skipped - okay, avoided - wineries that focus on fruit wine, probably because of old associations with that stuff our college friends liked, you know, the stuff starting with Arbor and ending with Mist, but we'd never tasted fruit wine made by people who were really serious about it and who had formal oenology training. (See tomorrow's interview with Bob to see what his background is - I was impressed)

When I stopped by the winery the day before the signing, Bob greeted me and Hubby and offered to let us do a tasting. We accepted, bellied up to the bar, and...
Wine for snail, er, sale!

We drank fruit wine. And we liked it. And we learned stuff. As Bob, who has made wines from grapes in the past, pointed out, winemakers often do things to get certain fruit characteristics. At Hermit Woods, they start with the fruits and go for flavor profiles from there.

The highlights with comparisons for vinifera wine drinkers:

2013 Lake House White: really nice stone fruit nose, reminiscent of a white Bordeaux. Made from 52% Peach-23% Rhubarb, 13% Quince, and 12% Rosehips.

2013 Three-Honey Wine: A mead made from three different wildflower honeys. I found it to be nice and light-bodied. Made me think I need to re-investigate mead.

2013 Knot Mead: Made from Japanese Knot Weed flower honey. Tastes like a dry Riesling.

2013 Heirloom Crabapple: My neighbors had a crabapple tree when I was growing up, and we were always told not to try them because they'd be horribly bitter. This wine is not what I expected at all. Bob recommended it over ice or with Mexican food. I concur. Made from 95% Crabapple Wine, 5% Blueberry.

2012 Hermitage: I thought this was a play on Meritage because it kind of tastes like a light Bordeaux, but it references the hermitage that's part of the winery's name. Made from 40% Blueberry, 35% Elderberry, 25% Blackcurrant and aged in French oak for two years.

2013 Deep Blue: This 100% Blueberry wine is reminiscent of a port.

I sold some books, and we came home with a couple of bottles, one gifted to us from Bob. Yes, I was pleasantly surprised, and I won't allow my preconceptions to get in the way of me trying new things again.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Five Things to Love about the South Okanagan Valley

Since the kids these days are all about lists, I thought I'd create one to discuss some of the highlights from our recent trip to the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia, Canada. Before you ask, no we didn't see any of the Women's World Cup soccer (futbol for those of you from outside the U.S.) games, although we did walk by the Fox Sports pavilion when we were in Vancouver. The Okanagan Valley is about four hours to the east of Vancover across the mountains, and they make really good wine. We'd been there before, but this time we focused around the Osoyoos Lake and the wineries in and around Osoyoos and Oliver.

Without further ado, here are five things to love about the South Okanagan:

View from Tinhorn Creek Winery
1. The views.

Seriously, whether you're in the valley or on one of the ridges, everywhere you look, it's breathtaking.

Even the grapes have a view.
2.  The experience.

Hubby and I have tasted wine in several places including California, Oregon, Washington, and several other states including Georgia (duh), Pennsylvania, and Texas. Canadians have a reputation for being nice, and this comes through in the non-snobbishness of the tasting rooms. Granted, the wine-making operations seemed bigger than the previous time we were there, but it still felt laid-back and relaxed, even in the busier tasting rooms. Apparently winery-hopping is a popular "stagette" (i.e., bachelorette) activity, but everything was handled well.

3.  Drinkable white varietals

I typically stay away from Sauvignon Blanc because I find it to be too tart for drinking on its own, and Hubby doesn't like Pinot Grigio, but in the Okanagan Valley, these two grapes take on a smoother characteristic with stone fruit to balance the citrus. The Pinot Gris, as they call it there, also has more body to it than Italian Pinot Grigio, and we found the same with Hester Creek's Trebbiano. The highlight Sauvignon Blanc was from Maverick, which has an adorable tiny tasting room in the bottom of the valley right off the highway but still with a nice view. We enjoyed the one we bought from Fairview Cellars in Vancouver with a view of the harbor after an amazing sushi meal.

4. Interesting red varietals

Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot are usually blended in with other Bordeaux grapes and rarely get the chance to shine on their own. They do in the Okanagan - pretty much everyone has a Cab Franc. The best we tasted were a Tinhorn Creek, and you can see that we came home with both the red and the rose. Another great find was the Desert Hills gamay, which they also make as a red and rose (and where the guy pouring the wine was pretty cute - don't tell Hubby). We already drank the red when we celebrated Canada Day last week. The regular reds - Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Pinot Noir, are also pretty fabulous. We came back with a Moon Curser Syrah.

The haul

5. The food

The first thing we noticed when we drove into the valley was that cherries were ripening, which we were told was happening about a month ahead of the usual time. They were beautiful, as were the meals on the plate. The restaurants there take pride in using locally sourced food and do great things with it. Strawberries were also in season, and we enjoyed a strawberry crepe at a place in Oliver and a strawberry dessert at the Tinhorn Creek restaurant Miradoro, which is where we had our fancy meal, going for the chef's tasting menu with wine pairings.

Strawberry crepe at Cock & Bull in Oliver

First course at Miradoro.

If you're looking for somewhere off the beaten path, Canada's Okanagan Valley is a great place to visit. For more information or to plan your own wine tour, visit  They even have a Twitter account, @BCwinetour

Monday, July 6, 2015

Kitchen Playtime: Summer Holidays

Happy belated July Fourth and Canada Day! This post covers the food we made for both.

Since Canada Day was July first, I'll start with that one. I got caught in a hellacious rainstorm that afternoon while on a marketing visit, and so I was really happy that Hubby volunteered to cook that night while I went into introvert recovery mode, i.e., pet the cat and stared at my phone for a couple of hours. He'd found strawberries at the Union County Farmers' Market (in Blairsville), so he made Grilled Lamb Chops with Wheat Berry, Strawberry, and Lacinato Kale Salad.

Looks kind of like the picture in the magazine
We've just been to Canada - check back Wednesday for that post, already written and scheduled, so it will be here - and brought back some Canadian wine. I'd say this bottle was our first casualty from the trip, but one actually didn't make it out of Vancouver. Oh, well. We enjoyed the lamb chops with a lovely gamay from Desert Hills Winery. You've probably just wrinkled your nose as memories of Beaujolais Nouveau flooded your brain. This wine wasn't like those at all. Think medium-bodied and nice fruit but with enough acid to be perfect with food.

Oh, Canada! I love your wines.
Since we were both off from work on Friday morning, I decided to make a real breakfast. I drew on memories from my childhood, when my Belgian mother would make Croque Monsieurs. One of my Belgian cousins corrected me on Facebook saying that if it has an egg, it's a Croque Madame. Oh, well. Alas, no cheesy sauce, either, which I've seen in restaurants. To make this version, toast some bread and top with ham (I used turkey - it's what I had), tomatoes, and an egg sunny-side up.

Croque Something
Saturday morning we ran the Peachtree Road Race in the pouring rain. At least it wasn't horribly hot. Dinner was burgers made with the special blend of pork, beef, and ground bacon from Pine Street Market, which I didn't get a picture of because I was really hungry, and cucumber and tomato salad. It's a super easy summer salad made from cucumbers and tomatoes - in case you were wondering - onion, and a vinaigrette that allows for a lot of freedom. I used the same one I made for the Greek Tomato and Cucumber Salad with Farro I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, but I think next time I'll switch out the proportions of lemon juice and vinegar.

On Sunday morning, we slept in, and I made blueberry muffins from the recipe in the Joy of Cooking cookbook.

I also had my kitchen oops of the week. We had one bag of peach pie filling in the freezer from last year, so since it's had a birthday, I decided to make it. I assembled it but forgot to turn the temperature down for the last cooking period, so the crust ended up a little overdone:

It still tasted good, though.

And finally, here are the ribs Hubby made Sunday evening:

They ended up with a few extra minutes on the grill because of the women's world cup championship game - go USA! I didn't take a picture of them plated because, well, the sides were grocery store slaw and beans from a can. The recipe came from Selby Winery, which sends food pairing suggestions for with their wine. We ate them with a lovely Selby Merlot.