Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Pennsylvania Wine Country

Having never been to Brandywine Valley, PA I had no idea what to expect of its wine trail. Its right in the heart of Amish country and civil war battlefields. I guessed most wines would probably be more fruit forward deserty wines (due to climate and my experience with Maryland wines in general). For the most part I was right but we managed to find a few gems. For $40/couple you can buy a pass for tastings at all 7 official wineries on the trail. This is available through most of the local hotels. You also get a collectible glass to take with you. We started off at Twin Brook winery. It was quaint. The tasting room had a gift shop with very cute wine related merchandise. We surprised to find that each of us got to choose both enjoyed the Vignoles, a sweeter white wine they served with a wonderful sheep’s milk cheese that was made locolly. The majority of the wines there I didn’t care for… They were all way to sweet for me. I was pleasantly surprised by their spice wine which can be served cold hot or room temperature.
Next we headed to Kreutz winery. This was another small winery. The family lived in a large house and set up vats, barrels and a tasting room in their basement. The wines there were very young. They are making a nice effort to produce drier wines but the temperature and climate work against them. The red wines are very young and very tart and could use some serious stems or oak aging in the production. We did find a dessert wine we liked for the purpose of blending it with strawberries and crushed ice to make slushies.
Our final stop of the day was Va La winery. http://www.valavineyards.com They technically are no longer part of the trail package but the owner and all of the staff was very accommodating and honored it anyway. This winery was the most recommended by everyone we talked to. We were very pleasantly surprised when we arrived. The winery is only about 7 and a half acres but produces about 1500 cases per year of some surprisingly very good Italian red and white wines….no fruity dessert wines here. The family came over from Italy in the late 1800’s with root stock in hand and started a farm. Over time the roots have prospered and the farm was turned into a full scale winery in 1998. All guests receive some excellent cheeses, homemade bread and excellent olive oil while tasting their wines. These wines included some very full bodied reds, all Italian grape blends. Their pinot grigio is 100% pinot grigio, a rare thing to find these days. Our favorite of the day was called “silk”: a blend of nebbiolo, cabernet franc and ---- grapes.
This winery is designed to be visited. They have picnic tables and adirondack chairs out back for guests to relax in. We received some very nice wine glasses as well. On a funy note we couldn’t help but notice the signs encouraging people to keep an eye on their kids: "Unattended children will be sent home with a 5lb bag of sugar and a drum kit" and "stray children will be given a triple espresso and a new puppy". After the tasting we bought some of the wonderful, local aged cheddar cheese, took a bottle out back and relaxed in the sunshine while enjoying a live jazz band that was performing that day. We’re already looking forward to going back in a few months to check out their newest vintages with some friends. After such a wonderful visit we decided not to pursue any other places on the trail, as we knew everywhere else would pale in comparison and be a disappointment.

We finished up the day at the Half Moon tavern in Kennett Square, PA http://www.halfmoonrestaurant.com/ . The tavern specializes in wild game and decent variety of Belgian beers. I enjoyed a wild game sampler that included Ostrich, Kangaroo and wild boar. My boyfriend had wonderful Spicy crab melt, a southwest inspired crab salad served tuna melt style. The restaurant is supposed to be featured on the travel channels’s special on the best burgers, where some of their wild game burgers will be featured. Its definitely worth checking out. So at the end of the weekend we were happy discover this small town area had a wuite a few surprises to tickle our palettes and our senses.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Good Sangria

I’ll admit I’ve been fortunate: one of my best friends in the world is from Spain & she was the first person to introduce me to a glass of Sangria. So, I understand I’ve had a taste of something that most people don’t have an inkling of what true traditional Sangria is supposed to taste like. With that in mind I have to mention my disappointment at the mass population: Get some standards people!
My sister in law and her family get very excited for parties & get-togethers for their “Special Sangria”. I had a glass once, I politely excused myself to the bathroom and spit it out in the toilet. This is a group of well educated, fairly wealthy people and they drink this crud like crazy. It was, esssentially, a pre-made boxed "sangria" with some extra booze & diced apples in it.
Yes, I’m a cork dork but you don’t have to use expensive wine to make Sangria taste good. It’s the other things you put in it. With this being said an old saying from my “Soup Daddy” (those of you who went to school w/ me will get the joke) in Scottsdale comes to mind. “If you put crap & dirt in your stock, soup or sauce, that’s what it will taste like.”
There are good inexpensive wines out there…. Some even come in boxes, believe it or not, that are perfectly suitable for Sangria. I prefer a traditional spicy red sangria, but I was intrigued & delighted to be introduced to some new ideas and varieties. About two weeks ago (I’ve been meaning to mention it sooner but I’ve been ill) our wine meetup club had a Sangria night. Everyone was encouraged to bring their own variety of sangria and be creative about it. The majority of the group had never had Sangria so they had no preconceived notions of what it should taste like… which was a wonderful thing.
We met at a local Mexican chain in Harrisburg called El Rodeo. I will warn you if you’ve ever had truly good & authentic Mexican food, do not go there. Sadly most of the group hadn’t and they thought the food was great. Ignorance is bliss I suppose. ….. But I digresss…..
There were so many varieties that folks came up with. There was a wonderful one with a riesling base and peaches. Another was a local blackberry wine enhanced with fresh blackberries and mint. One of my favorites was a red wine with mangoes, watermelon and apples. IT was great trying the 15 or 20 different ideas everyone had. We were all pretty buzzed by the end of the evening (we usually are at this meetup) and everyone had a great time. The one theme that came out of the evening was that the spicier the food, the sweeter the sangria should be…… and don’t be afraid to add a plethora of hard alcohol to your concoction. And most importantly…. Enjoy it with a crowd of friends!

Artichoke Intimidation

I was caught up in the warm fuzzy feelings of spring while in the produce aisle of Wegman’s the other day. The produce there is gorgeous and they have a marvelous organic section too. Out of the corner of my eye I saw some beautiful bright green baby artichokes. In a moment of pure impulse I bought them. Once I got home, I thought what did I do. I’ve never cooked an artichoke that wasn’t out of a can before in my life. Easter Sunday was the first time I had eaten whole steamed artichokes since I was a kid and my boyfriend’s mom showed me how to cook them that day. But baby artichokes… I was clueless.
If you’ve never cooked an artichoke a few tips I’ve learned:
1. Remove the tough outer leaves and trim down the stem
2. Cut the tip top off, if you don’t you’re likely to get a prickly in your mouth
3. Once you’ve trimmed the artichhokes place them in some water with lemon juice to prevent them from turning brown
4. Then cook them as your recipe calls for it
So… back to my story. I wanted to us ethe artichokes before they went bad and also wanted to cook something extra nice for my BF since he was going to be out of town the next few days. I started perusing my latest issue of cooking light for ideas. There was an article on dishes using spring vegetables. And low & behold, there was a recipe for chicken thighs with artichokes and lemon on p.106 of the May 2009 issue. I admit the recipe was slightly deceiving in its title…Yes it does have artichokes & lemons but also has a number of other ingredients that give it a completely different flavor. I even got to use some of the fresh flat leaf parsley I had just started growing in my garden. In true bacchante spirit, I couldn’t follow the recipe exactly and had to go with my gut and what was exciting. So, I substituted the paprika for smoky paprika and skipped the kalamatta olive (cause the BF doesn’t really love them). I served it up with a side of garlic & lemon infused couscous and it was pretty good. The dish goes great with a dry white wine and if you use the smoky paprika a light red like a pinot noir or a nice Beaujolais villages/nouveau (spring is a great time to find some wonderful ones) pairs wonderfully. The picture below is the result. My boyfriend enjoyed his with a heffeweizen beer. I will now be a lot more daring in cooking vegetables I am unfamiliar with. Not only is it fun learning something new, but the results are most often very tasty!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Spring is finally here and so is Weekend Festival Season!

One thing that I love so much about the spring and summer are all the cool happenings outdoors. I will make an effort to get to all these events but it will be tricky since so many are in Maryland and I'm trying to do more local events. All of the following festivals are a lot of fun and worth checking out if you have the time.

First up is this coming weekend:

Fells Point Privateer Day Festival April 17-18, 2009

This was formaerly known as the the Pyrate invasion. There's all kinds of street entertainment, vendors and a pretty fun bar crawl. Not to mention its always fun getting a bit tipsy while dressing and talking like a pirate. If you have a cash there's also a pretty awesome pirate booze cruise.

Herbfest, also on April 17 & 18th is fun if you want to stay in the PA area at the York expo center. The 2 day event is held each April and features nationally known speakers, workshops and numerous vendors of plants, herbal crafts, products for the gardener, cook and crafter. I personally think th eclass on how to make herbal bonsai trees sounds cool.

Spoutwood Faerie Festival May 1 & 2, 2009. This is held at Spoutwood Farm in GlenRock, PA (near York, PA). Its only a short drive from Maryland for those of you who wish to make the trip. Music, entertainers & all kinds of craft cendors abound. This is a great event for the whole family.... and who doesn't love getting to dress up like a fairy?!

Greenbelt Greenman Festival May 9& 10, 2009. This event is held in downtown Greenbelt, MD. Its full of craft artisans and there are all kind sof info on how to help mother earth and get involved in your own community. There are great activities for the kids too such as making their own fairy gardens.

Wine in the Woods May 16 & 17, 2009 This event is hel din Symphony Woods in Columbia, MD. Its a great day to spend with a bunch of friends sampling Maryland wines and pack a picnic. There are a ton of local artists and vendors as well as nice musical entertainment.

Maryland Faerie Festival May 16 & 17, 2009. The Maryland faerie festival is a great way to spend a day with the kids or if you're a kid at heart. Excellent local bands perform here like Telesma, Ilyamy & the Gypsy Nomads. For mor einfo got to http://www.marylandfaeriefestival.org/

Chesapeake Bay Blues Festival May 16 & 17th, 2009, Sandy Point State PArk, Annapolis, MD

This year's acts include Johnny Lang, Los Lonely boys and Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, just to name a few. Tickets can be ordered at http://www.bayblues.org/

Taste of Pennsylvania Wine & Music Festival May 30-31, 2009 York, Pennsylvania. Come out to the Taste of Pennsylvania Wine & Music Festival and enjoy samples from at least 10 PA wineries, while you enjoy live music. Over 40 local craft and business vendors will be in attendance as well as local food vendors.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The Quest for decent beer in Harrisburg

Those of you who know me know I’ve been a cork dork for years. One of my latest inclinations has been beer tasting, thanks to an education provided by largely in part by my boyfriend. He is what most people would call a beer snob. He’s not a snob at all. Once you’ve had the good stuff you never want to touch the formerly decent stuff.
We love going to visit out friends in Westchester, who also enjoy beer. Anytime we’re with them we’re on the look for the next best brewery and have a blast. Last time we went to Eulogy in Philadelphia. They had amazing mussels pretty cheap & the beer selection was mind numbing; which is not something to worry about since the staff is very well educated, laid back & helpful. If you get the chance go check it out. You’ll be glad you did. WE had brunch at the Victory brewing company the next morning. The beer they serve at the brewery is pretty decent. Unfortunately, what they bottle and send to stores tastes completely different.... Explain that one to me. The food was fantastic! I had a chicken mole omelette. Several people had french toast which was enormous. A nice feature on their menu is they had beer suggestions for everything. Nice touch.

Going out of town is great, but where to go in Harrisburg? We've been determined to find out. A new beer meetup group was just established in Harrisburg so we decided to check it out last week. We met some great people who are on the same quest. Between our experiences so far here is what we have figured out:

All of us established that Westies is the best place to buy beer in town. The time I went there the staff was so happy to see us, they gave us a print out so we could remember our selections if we wanted to buy them them again. The prices are very reasonable. Selection is very good for this area. I am curious to see what will happen when Wegman’s opens their new beer section next week. The ones in Virginia all have excellent beer in wine. I hope PA will too.

The meetup itself was at the Brewhouse Grille in Camp Hill. From the outside it doesn’t look like much. Its kind of in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by construction and near the railroad tracks. The beer choices were surprisingly decent, especially the bottle list and the happy hour prices pretty good ( I had a Corsendonk on draught for $2.50). The atmosphere wasn’t bad, simple clean and plenty of space. They have nice outside bar in the back too. The food unfortunately was terrible. Yes, I am a food geek, but this was a group consensus. The group as a whole, defiantely are not foodies. If people are on a quest for good beer, they are going to notice if the food is not up to par. IT really was a shame.

After the meeting a bunch of us headed to Shady McGrady’s. I do not understand why folks around here are obsessed with this place. Yes they have good beer, but that is it. We encouraged it was under new management and it was nicer than it used to be. The place is totally in disrepair and clean is not exactly the word I would use to describe it. I’d hate to see what it was like before. There was quite the steady stream of “interesting” characters in there too. Yes the beer was good and not overpriced, but this is not the place I’d go out of my way to visit. If someone can explain the local obsession with this place I’m all ears to hear it.

We have had some very good beers at Appalachian Brewing Co in the upstairs section. Pretty cool spot with pool tables and a decent amount of good Belgians in bottles. Its a start... but in the meantime, the quest continues. More updates to come.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

"You're Moving Where?!"

I know its a few months delayed, but contrary to popular belief I have not moved to the middle of nowhere. For the past eight years I have lived pretty much halfway between Baltimore & Washington DC. This did make a lot of outings very convenient but it had its drawbacks. People in the city get cranky, friends & family show up randomly on your doorstep (which is a bad thing when you need perosnal space btw) and traffic is always part of the daily background noise, even in the suburbs. There is also a rendency to not want to drive more than 15 minutes to arrive at any one destination during personal time after having to commute riduculous distances to work.

The remedy I chose was to move, ditch my overpriced mortgage and not have to spend an hour an a half in the car just to see my boyfriend. Harrisburg, PA is a great area. I admit I was a bit skeptical about the level of cultural stimulation available and the open mindedness of its residents, but after living here for four months I realize I was sadly mistaken.

In fact I have more of a life here than I did back in Maryland. There are plenty of great restaurants, (which I will highlight them individually in future posts), tons of festivals, and really nice and laid back people here to boot. I cannot praise the virtues of the site meetup.com enough for getting me in touch with the local community. I have found energy healing groups, a great wine tasting club, an educated & interesting book club, not to mention groups for fun outings & hikes. There's also a rather large burner/fire-spinning/ hashing community here.

SO, the next time someone tells you that Pennsylvania (with the exception of Philly) is inhabited only by Almish people and simpletons, get them in touch with me I'd love to show them how wrong they are.