Hope Town, A Village of Smiles and Hellos

Hope Town Harbour Lodge View

Blue water and mountains are the two things sooth my soul within minutes. While the mountains are my home, after the past month of non-stop snow, ice storms and power outages, it was time to escape to the blue water.

Hope Town, Elbow Cay BahamasWhen a last minute fly fishing trip became available, the thought of warm weather, Caribbean music and rum punch were too much to pass up. (More on the fly fishing trip in my next blog entry.)

The plan was to fly to the Abaco Islands in the Bahamas a few days before my fly fishing trip and catch up with friends who were supposed to be sailing in the area. Unfortunately, high winds kept them in Florida so I was on my own to explore.

Through a quick search on Hotwire, I found a fabulous deal at the Hope Town Harbour Lodge on Elbow Cay. I flew into Marsh Harbor, took a quick ferry ride with Albury’s Ferry to Hope Town and was literally dropped off at the front door of the hotel.

Hope Town Harbour Lodge ViewI took a moment dockside to soak in the sunshine, the clanking halyards from the marina and the wonderful smell of salt air. My bags were whisked away by the hotel staff and I walked up the steps, surrounded by bougainvillea, to check in. This quaint gingerbread style hotel straddles the island with wonderful views of the harbor and the ocean.

I’ve learned with last minute reservations you can end up with a fabulous room or the closet room that is always last to be sold. I was pleasantly surprised when Bernadette, the front desk manager, walked me to my room which was two flights up at the top of the hotel. An amazing view of the harbor greeted me from my front door, and the turquoise blue ocean, palm trees and the garden area of the hotel lay below my patio balcony. It was absolutely perfect.

Conch Fingers at Reef Bar & GrillI quickly unpacked and made my way through the garden to the Reef Bar & Grill where Gary, the bartender, greeted me with a fabulous smile and an excellent rum punch. When I’m in the Caribbean there is only one thing I must have – conch. I ordered the conch burger and it did not disappoint. Lightly breaded tender conch fingers were perfectly cooked and piled high on a toasted bun. I pushed aside the bun and started devouring the conch. Without question, it was the best I have ever eaten.

A group of people joined me at the bar, some with connections in Annapolis, so the stories started flowing. Before long we had become fast friends and I was joining them for the Songwriters in Paradise concert at the Seascape Inn down the island.

The Songwriters concert is in its fifth year on the island and I soon learned it is Songwriters In Paradiseone of the events of the year. Sailors, visitors and locals come from near and far to enjoy six days of country music’s top hits from the people who actually wrote and composed the songs.

Django Walker (Jerry Jeff Walker’s son), Wyatt Durrett, the writer behind many of the Zac Brown Band’s top hits, Kristian Bush of Sugarland, and Mark Bryan, lead guitarist for Hootie & The Blowfish were just some of the talent showcased.

The concerts are free and hosted at various hotel properties across the Elbow Cay. Dinner tables are available for each concert, but as the wait staff are quickly overwhelmed, I would recommend eating dinner before the concert and just come for the music and drinks. While you may not know these names off the top of your head, when you hear the songs they have written, you will quickly have an “aha moment” and start singing along.

Dornan's t-shirt in the BahamasWhile the weather went south my second day, negating swimming or snorkeling, I rented a cruiser from The Bike Shop and explored the island. Hope Town Canvas also as located in The Bike Shop, offering fabulous bags made from recycled sails and fabric. I headed to On Da Beach, just south of Hope Town in Turtle Hill, for lunch and a drink while soaking in the sun. The most hysterical part of my trip was walking in and seeing a gentleman at the bar with a Dornan’s t-shirt on – my favorite hangout in Jackson Hole. The world has become so small. Located on a beautiful beach, On Da Beach is a great little hideaway, but look closely for the sign at a bend in the road or you’ll miss it.

Hope Town has many cute shops and restaurants you can stroll to if you are staying in the downtown area.  There are boat shuttles across the marina to the Hope Town Lighthouse and Hope Town Inn & Marina.  If you want to explore further afield, rent a golf cart from one of several outlets.  Carts and bikes are the main modes of transportation on the island.

The one thing about Hope Town that made such an impression was that everyone says hello and greets you with a smile.  It was refreshing!  Although my visit to Elbow Cay was quick, I will undoubtedly return for a longer stay to further explore the island, snorkel, sail and just unwind in this beautiful community.

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Patagonia River Ranch

It’s been several years since I first learned about Patagonia River Ranch, world-renown for its luxury fly-fishing trips and accommodations.  I remember opening their website, transporting myself through their photo gallery and thinking, someday. Last November it was finally time for John and I to treat ourselves to “someday” and take a much needed break after a busy summer in Jackson Hole.

The Lodge

Our trip sums up as: the trip of a lifetime, incredible staff and service, exquisite ranch and scenery, 5-star wine and cuisine, and then there’s the fishing…

Sunday morning the lodge manager and all-around goddess, Salome, picked us up at our hotel in San Martin de los Andes.  (See my previous post on San Martin.) We met Salome last fall when she visited Jackson and immediately loved her vibrant personality and the wealth of information she provided about the ranch.  Greeting her again was like connecting with an old friend.

We drove about 30 minutes northeast of San Martin to the ranch which sits on the bank of the Chimehuin ChimihiunRiver.  We felt like we had been transported to “Jackson Hole II” as the scenery and flora were so similar.   The final road to the ranch is beautiful, lined with pine and aspen trees, lupine and honeysuckle.  Ken Gangwer, the owner of PRR, has done a spectacular job landscaping the property and creating a beautiful oasis in the high-desert mountains of Patagonia.

Our first wonderful surprise was being greeted at the entrance by the entire staff and the ranch’s four golden retriever mascotsGuides Cabin.  Our bags and fly rods were quickly whisked away, while introductions were made. Wondering how we would remember everyone’s names, upon arriving in our room we found a life-saving “who’s who” sheet with names, photos and job descriptions.  It’s those little touches that are a constant at PRR.

The PRR property is a landscape architect’s dream.  Ken has worked with the staff to plant over 1,000 rose bushes around the property, and developed trails that wind through the property and out to the river.  They have also created expansive gardens, greenhouses and orchards, growing practically all of the vegetables, fruit, herbs and eggs used in the kitchen.  The Lodge is simply, perfect.  Featured in Town & Country magazine, it’s beautiful log-style architecture is appointed in an elegant, yet casual design.  Beautiful gaucho saddles and Crillo knives, ornate mate gourds and a wonderful library of photography books about the area add more unique touches.   It’s the kind of place where you can dress up for dinner if you want, but a comfortable pair of fly fishing pants and shirt, coupled with a fleece vest is just fine.

So about the fly fishing.  First, we were blessed to land Kiki as our guide for the week, and we honestly have not laughed so hard and had so much fun on the river as with this talented young man.  Like all of PRR’s guides, Kiki is local and knows the river, the fish and the flies you need.  You can bring your own fly box, but why?  These guides have it down to science and you should trust them.

After settling into our room and then experiencing the first of many incredible meals, we headed out for an afternoon float down the Chimehuin River.   Now I have to admit, I was nervous, seriously nervous.  This is the Mecca of fly-fishing and I was terrified I would have one of those bumbling days where the fly goes anywhere but where you want it to land.  A quick prayer to the fishing gods, a deep breath, and ah…..right under the willows, calmly floating down the river.  It was a good sign.  Several casts later and BAM, welcome to the grab-and-go at warp speed of the Patagonia brown trout!  The smile on my face said it all.

JuliAnne's brown

Within several hours, we pulled out some spectacular browns and rainbows, but John won the glory with a beautiful golden brown trout.  We also learned quickly that if Kiki headed the boat to shore, we knew we had something good on the line.

John's golden6x3

While the Patagonia rivers are known for trophy fish that lurk at the bottom of the river, only to be teased up by streamers, we opted to be purists and use dry flies.  It was the opening week of the season and we knew they’d be hungry.  Plus, there was the challenge to see if we could present the fly just right and make them come from below and grab it.  Kiki’s beetle pattern was a favorite and it was worth the patience factor every time.

At the end of our first day, we pulled out on the banks of the ranch and were welcomedEduardo Happy Hour by the fabulous Eduardo who had a glass of Argentinian wine waiting for us, in addition to an expansive selection of happy-hour appetizers.  The guests started to trickle in and the fishing stories began to unfold.

Day two was spent on the lower part of the Chimehuin River and then the Collon Cura.  The scenery was breathtaking, the fishing exciting, and with a wide river and fewer willows, the daunting factor diminished.  But the best part of the day was the company.   A fellow guest was PRR’s “vice president of outdoor pursuits” Mark Patton.  Mark is an old college friend of Ken’s and has now become a dear friend of ours.  Mark kept us in stitches, while providing great facts and history about the area, and it was fun to sit back and watch him cast.  It never fails, you meet some incredible people when fishing.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, we went on an overnight fishing/camping trip on the Caleufu River.  Let me clarify that we were not roughing it.  PRR has all the necessary camping gear, broaching on the edge “glamping.”  We slept comfortably, enjoyed the outdoors and spectacular scenery, the smell of gourmet food cooking over a wood fire, all while sipping another beautiful Argentinian or Chilean wine.

After the rapids

Floating the Caleufu is a 2-day snapshot of the beautiful and varied landscape of Patagonia. Starting in the mountains about an hour south of San Martin, we launched surrounded by majestic rock formations and the bright, fresh colors of spring.  The turquoise water was still a bit high and running fast, so we had fun running a few rapids, while still being able to slip into eddies and pull out another beefy brown or rainbow.Pulpit

As we floated down the river, we continually dropped in elevation.  Soon the canyons of rock fell away to more open banks, backed by green estanicas with beautiful rocks pillaring in the sky.  By the time we pulled into camp for the evening, we were enjoying wide open vistas that would turn to a high-desert profile on day two.  We simply saw it all, while continually landing fish on a regular basis.  Upon arrival at camp, the staff had been hard at work putting up the tents, preparing dinner and cocktails were served!

Now what would one of my posts be without talking about food?  There are so many exquisite things about PRR and the cuisine is one of them.  Chef Claudio, along with the pastry chef and sommelier, Patricia, are two talents who complete your experience.  From the breakfast table ladened with River lunchhomemade pastries, danishes and the most decadent french toast I have ever tasted, to the stellar riverside lunches served at a pop-up table (no pre-wrapped sandwiches and potato chips here), with of course wine, always a surprise dessert and wonderful salads.  And, with Mark and Eduardo along, I even received a beautiful bouquet of purple lupine, adding that special touch to the table – John just rolled his eyes and laughed.  Patricia’s wine pairings were superb without question.  We were thrilled when she provided us with a list of wines we enjoyed during the week, and we are still on the hunt for several of them stateside.

Camp dinner

Chef Claudio, as far as we’re concerned, should be up for a James Beard award!  Whether slow-roasting beef, lamb or pork for the asado on our final night, whipping up crepes over an open fire during our camping trip, or crafting the perfect empanada and other local dishes for us to try, there never was a bad meal.

asado dinner

PRR has much to offer to the non-fisherman.  Their local gaucho will take you on a horseback ride around the area, there are mountain bikes for exploration, or one of the staff will take you hiking, on a photography excursion, or shopping in San Martin or Junin.  Even if you are fishing, take a morning off (shops are closed in the afternoon for siesta and reopen at 7 pm), rest your arm and take in the local culture, you won’t be disappointed.

On our last day fishing, we floated the Chimehuin again and landed some amazing browns and rainbows, a perfect send off.  Those memories will keep us coming back for more, along with the staff and locals who have captured our hearts, and the new friendships that will last a lifetime.  We look forward to returning when the roses and lavender are in full bloom and trying more of Kiki’s fly patterns which we know will attract the next big one.

JJ Asado_2

Enjoy rustic elegance, laughter, priceless local knowledge, a talented staff on so many levels, and the most comfortable beds you can fall into at night and continue your dreams.  It is a vacation you must take at least once in your life, and we already know it will not be our last.

The Gang

Email me to learn more about Patagonia River Ranch.  It is open November – April and can host up to 14 people.   Visit their website to view more pictures and experience virtually, the beauty of Patagonia River Ranch.

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Patagonia – San Martin de los Andes

When you blend world-class fly-fishing, exquisite cuisine, plush mountain luxury and spectacular scenery, it can only add up to San Martin de los Andes and Patagonia River Ranch.

7 Lakes Road

Long overdue is my “Ode to PRR,” sharing the unforgettable week in southern Patagonia where we belatedly celebrate my 50th birthday.  Months later, our minds still easily wander back to this beautiful area, it’s people and an adventure that lived up to every expectation.

Before I get to Patagonia River Ranch (next post), I have to touch on our 24 hours in San Martin de los Andes.7 Lakes Road 2

Following our wonderful tour of the Mendoza wine country, we jumped the once-a-week plane from Mendoza to Bariloche.  While we could have flown back to Buenos Aires and then directly to San Martin, one flight and the beautiful 3-hour drive up the Seven Lakes Road to San Martin were more appealing.   Our driver met us at the airport and let us sit back and absorb the beauty of the surrounding mountains, small villages, deep blue lakes and snow-capped volcanos.

We arrived in San Martin at siesta time when many of the shops and restaurants are closed, and of course, we were starving.  Strolling through town we came upon a small quaint restaurant, El Mason de la Patagonia.  The owner, Raul Duarte, welcomed us and had us feeling at home in no time.  Over John’s shoulder I noted a massive prosciutto stand, many antiques and fly-fishing pictures adorning the walls.

We were immediately presented with a refreshing starter of salmon, dill, red onion, carrot and green onions on crostini, and mozzarella and tomato skewers drizzled with balsamic.  Paired with a very cold and crisp Chilean Punta Final 2012 Sangiovese and our taste buds awoke.

While we weren’t planning on a big lunch, we realized we wouldn’t have dinner until late that evening, so we indulged.  El Meson TroutTaking advantage of the fresh prosciutto that I watched Raul delicately slice for my order, I enjoyed a prosciutto wrapped trout with roasted garlic, fingerling potatoes, carrots, mushrooms, zucchini and brussel sprouts.  The saltiness and rich flavors of the prosciutto beautifully complimented the fresh trout.

John went straight for the mint crusted roast lamb with au gratin potatoes and prosciutto.  Juana, Raul’s wife oversees the kitchen and what a wonderful job she does!  We leaned back in our chairs, El Meson Liquersmiled at each other and knew an afternoon nap was in order.   Before we could ask for the check, Raul returned with cool, crisp chocolate wafers and El Mason’s version of what I would call mintcello (versus of limoncello).  Not too sweet, but the perfect aperitif to complete and unexpected lunch experience.

After a well-needed nap, we ventured out to explore San Martin, which had come back to life around 7:00 pm.  I love local artisan shops and John was patient while I ducked in and out of countless stores.  In one store, I set my sites on a beautiful handmade cream shawl, trimmed with lace and ribbon – the perfect gift for my Godson’s bride-to-be for their February wedding.

Our hotel recommended several restaurants for dinner, but they all appeared too touristy for our liking.  A small cabin caught our eye with the ever-present meat roasting in the front window.  Peering inside Ku we saw many local families and knew we had found our place.

KuThe biggest problem was trying to decide what to order from their incredible menu.  The first decision was wine.  Our waiter recommended Ernesto Catena’s (son of the Catena wine family) 2010 Alma Negra Pinot Noir Select.  Heaven in a bottle… unfortunately, we can’t get it in the States, alas.

With additional insight from our wonderful waiter, I selected the Red Deer with a sweet and sour sauce of mixed berries, orange rind and balsamic vinegar.  Argentinians must be hearty eaters because when it arrived, it was not one, but twoKu Red Deer steaks!  Thank goodness John was able to help with the leftovers.  The steaks were incredibly tender, juicy and perfectly cooked at medium rare.

John decided on one of the many trout dishes.  His was served with cream, mushrooms, sweet potatoes and brussel sprouts.  We were worried the cream would overwhelm the trout, but it was a light blend that only enhanced the flavor.

Over a dessert of molten chocolate cake, berries and berry liquor, we giggled as much as the little girl at the next table who was playing peekaboo with us.  We loved the home-like family atmosphere of Ku and pride that the chef and staff took in sharing a little corner of Argentina with us.  We highly recommend skipping the restaurants with the dinner tango shows and instead enjoy a warm and delightful evening at Ku.

Kudessert

As we walked back to our hotel for the evening, it was wonderful to see families and musicians gathered in the town square, enjoying the beautiful evening and each other.

It was time for a good nights sleep and we couldn’t wait for our adventure at Patagonia River Ranch to start in the morning.

San Martin is a beautiful mountain town filled with an abundance of unique artisan, fashion, outdoor clothing, art galleries and adventures sports shops.  Almost everyone spoke English so it was quite easy to ask questions and learn about the community.  We look forward to returning again and take some extra time to kayak the many lakes in the area, as well as hike and explore the beautiful scenery and community.

 

 

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Peace and quiet, I’ll take the noise

Pillows and blankets were strewn everywhere.  At least six glasses were found tucked under and on top of coffee tables, the kitchen floor looked like it belonged in the mudroom and the clothes, towels and sheets piled up in the laundry room mirrored Mt. Vesuvius.

The kids had gone back to Casper, the Christmas company had returned to their homes and K2, our cat was pouting on the couch because she wasn’t receiving the non-stop attention she had been lavished with over the past two weeks.

It was quiet.  No screaming and laughing little girls, no “he-man” stories of conquering the ski slopes, no video-game language (only understood by 16-year olds) warbled from the lounge chairs in the living room.  There was just plain and simple, peace and quiet.

It was pleasant for about an hour and then I yearned for it all back.  Was I insane?  We had up to 15 people in the house over the two weeks, the front door was constantly opening and slamming with a rush of freezing cold air and snow tracked through the house.  The kitchen sink was never empty, the dishwasher and the washing machine worked overtime, and it was wonderful.

I love Christmas.  The decorating and food preparation, the beautifully set table, Christmas Eve service and music, thefamilyantlers squeals and subsequent disaster zone following present opening, everyone congregating in the kitchen, football, family and friends.

With today’s over-commercialized holiday hype, it is easy to get disgruntled about Christmas and lose site of what’s important.   It all comes down to your faith, family, friends and being grateful for the blessings in your life.  You are the only one who can let yourself get distracted from those four very important things.

I am grateful that I had a messy house because that meant the kids were with us, we had lots of company and good times were shared.  I am grateful that kitchen sink was full because that means we had wonderful meals.  I am grateful that we had mounds of laundry because that means we had fun inside and outside and our beds were full with guests.

starangelEach year when I decorate my tree it is a walk down memory lane.  My parents gave us a new ornament each year and when we left home and started our own lives, we had a box of ornaments for our first tree.  Ornaments from travel around the world, family vacations, and “just because” ornaments.  But there is one very special ornament, a star.   We never had an angel on our tree, but a simple star made from cardboard and tinfoil that I crafted when I was around 9 years-old.  It has taken some bruising and wear and tear over the years, but each season I carefully wrap it up and unwrap it, and place it near the top of the tree, next to my angel.

A star that reminds me of the star years ago that pointed the way to a manger in Bethlehem.  A star that reminds me that anything is possible, a star that reminds me of the many Christmas trees it has graced and the friends and family who have gathered around those trees.

While I enjoy the noise, the laughter, the clutter and the insanity, in this moment of peace and quiet I carefully wrap up the star and remember the many blessings I received last year and the many blessing that await to be discovered in the coming year.

I hope you had a wonderful Christmas (or holiday of your belief) and a spectacular New Years.  May 2014 provide you with endless blessings.

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Chateau Margot 1900 & Chef Charlie Trotter

CookoffIn late September, I had the opportunity to attend the first Jackson Hole Culinary Conference, hosted by the Central Wyoming College Culinary School.  Intrigue in the event had grown since announcing that famed Chicago Chef Charlie Trotter would be the keynote speaker.

I loved watching Charlie Trotter’s cooking show years ago and was always inspired by his creativity.  The first time I picked up one of his cookbooks, I gasped when I looked at what appeared to be very complicated recipes.  Then the challenge kicked in to see if I could actually pull off one of his dishes.  Let’s just say some worked and some didn’t.

I think Charlie would be pleased that I just tried.  He also would have been pleased if he had joined attendees at the farewell brunch at Local Monday morning, prepared by the CWC students.  Through experimenting, trying, failing and creating, each of these students are learning to make meals that are sometimes simple, sometimes exquisite.  The seafood frittata accompanied by acorn squash pancakes, topped with cranberries and pecans were divine.  The hashbrowns, let’s just say that was a learning experience.

The conference had many high points in addition to Trotter.  Meeting Chef Judith McQueen of Sun Valley who participated in the chef cook-off was like being reintroduced to an old friend.  Chef McQueen squared off against Jackson’s own, Chef Jason Mitchell and when they were presented with their “secret ingredient” – Idaho Potato Flakes – the look on their faces was priceless.  Both created wonderful dishes with beef sirloin, but Judith won the judges’ favor with her stacked russet and sweet potatoes sprinkled with mushroom dust and the potato flakes.  Sans blender and several other basic tools, she also created a pomegranate buerre blanc that added beautiful color and flavor to her dish.  Judith shared her other talent Monday evening at Rendezvous Bistro when she sang a sultry jazz love song.  Who would have guessed this catering chef used to open for Joan Rivers!

Attendees had the opportunity to participate in five workshops ranging from spices to butchering and smoking techniques, sustainable seafood or farm-to-table discussions.

Chef Jarrett Schwartz who has opened a sushi and Asian fusion restaurant in Jackson educated us on the importance of seafood and working with sustainable fish.  With increased mercury and toxins in our waters, there are serious does and don’t of buying seafood.  Chef shared the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s sustainable seafood cheat sheet and mobile app for easy reference when shopping.   We were then treated to one of Chef’s delectable sushi treats, kombu (seaweed) marinated salmon with crème fraiche and tomato, fennel relish.

My favorite workshop was Essie Bartels, owner and creator of Essie Spice.  Originally from Ghana, Essie learned how to cook next to her Mother, but her love of Chinese food kick-started her love of spices.  As she experimented with a variety of spices in her cooking, she eventually created her own spice line.  She kicked off her seminar by making us a spicy jalapeno margarita which was fabulous! spicymarg I can’t wait to try her Tamarind-Oh! Paste, a sumptuous blend of ginger, tamarind and guava, in my next pad Thai recipe.  Her Meko Dry Rub is a subtle blend of Eastern and West-African flavors and spices – perfect for dusting steak, adding just enough flavor without overwhelming the richness of the meat.  But then Essie made my day…  She concocted a mixture of cinnamon, African nutmeg and a variety of other spices and marinated plantains that she deep fried.  Dietary, no, sweet candy heaven, yes.

So back to Chef Trotter.  We were all in shock Monday morning when we learned of his passing.  It seemed surreal that we had just listened to him hours before.  His speech had its bizarre moments, but he kept coming charlietrotterback to three things.  First was the importance of details – paying attention to them and then attending to them.  A perfectionist he was, but I doubt you ever heard of anyone having a bad meal or experience at his restaurant.  Second was giving back.  Trotter shared the number of charities that he contributed to and how he would often feed the homeless in the back kitchen to ensure they were getting their nutrition.  He also wanted students to have the opportunity of a formal culinary education this self-taught chef never received, and provided many scholarship opportunities.  Finally, language.  I will forever think of Charlie Trotter as the Poet Chef.  Words are important he said,  “We need to be creative and not use words like industry, customers, etc.  It’s about food and wine and guests, be poetic.”

The culinary family lost an amazing, talented friend.  But in his place, lined up in the wings are the future of the culinary theater, learning, rehearsing and waiting for their moment to take center stage and design our next dining experience.  It is my hope that the Jackson Hole Culinary Conference grows and further expands the futures of many chefs, as well as providing educational opportunities to community members.

A question posed to Trotter at the end of his speech was, “What would be your last meal if you had a choice?”  He eventually answered, “A Chateau Margot 1900.”

In closing, a virtual toast with a rare and beautiful wine, to a unique poet chef who studied Nichtze and Socrates, who clearly adored his wife and family – may new culinary creations never end.

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Thanksgiving Comedy Morning

Get out of my kitchen!

Did you put enough broth in the dressing?

You don’t need to use a rack if you’re using a bag!

Get out of my kitchen!

What does not translate is the laughter and humor woven into all of these comments, the rib poking and multiple cups of coffee that have been consumed since early this morning.

Somehow, several hours later, the turkeys have been successfully dressed, three kinds of stuffing have been made and the brothers-in-law are still best of friends.

Family, friends, food and follies = Thanksgiving in our house.

From my earliest memories, Thanksgiving has meant a houseful of family and friends, orphaned teachers and church members who couldn’t get home to their families for the holidays.  The dining room table was expanded to the max, card tables were set up in the TV and living rooms and the “kids” table was the most coveted place in the house.

Today, I am missing my family in Iowa, but am experiencing the same laughter, friends and “orphans” with John’s family in the mountains of California.  The kids’ table is set up, the Macy’s Day Parade is on and the aromas are already starting to waft from the kitchen.

There are so many things that I am thankful for today.  Take a moment to sit down and write out at least 100 things that you are thankful for in your life.  Then go to the kitchen or living room and enjoy your Thanksgiving comedy hour, and I guarantee you will think of another 100 things to add to your list.

And if someone says, “Get out of my kitchen!”  Give them a hug, tell them you love them and you are thankful for them.

Finally to all the men and women in our military service and their families who are not able to be together today, thank you for your service, and thank you for keeping this amazing country free.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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Vina Cobos & Terrazas de los Andes

Day two of our epicurian and wine adventure in Mendoza brought us to Paul Hobb’s Vina Cobos and Bodega Terrazes de los Andes, whose more well-known parents are  Moet-Chandon-Veuve Cliquot.  After yesterday’s lunch at Osadia, we completely skipped dinner and took a much needed evening walk to explore the quaint town of Chacra de Coria where where we staying.  Recovery was necessary!

We will look back on this visit years from now and say, “we were there when there were no crowds.”  We have been stunned at the small number of visitors at the wineries – don’t get me wrong, it has been wonderful having small groups and the undivided attention of our hosts, but we expected crowds and or bigger groups.  This is definitely not the Disneyland type atmosphere of Napa and it is beautiful.

Old Vines Upon arriving at Vina Cobos, we were greeted by Pablo who we had been corresponding with for several weeks.  It is always terrific to put a face with the name and email.  This stop was John’s “must-do” on the trip. Throughout his career with Four Seasons and catering, Paul Hobb’s wines have always been one of his favorites.

After a quick history lesson on the region and founding of the Argentinian winery in 1989, we were shown to our comfortable wicker seats on the front lawn overlooking the vineyard. We were joined by two terrific couples from New York and Belgium and shared “who’s been where and drank what” stories from our stays.  Again, the intimate nature of the winery tours were more than we could have ever hoped.

Vina Cobos produces three primary lines – the Felini wines are their base market, very young and full of fruit.  The Bramare Appellation and Vineyard wines are a higher quality, with Cobos being the premium wine.  We chose a tasting of the Felini and Bramare Malbecs.  Our favorites included the Bramare Vineyard Rebon Valley and the Bramare Appellation Uco Valley.  Beautiful noses with wonderful balance and that rich Malbec flavor.

The winery offers a picnic lunch of salumi and cheeses to enjoy during your tasting.  The DSC00329candied figs and the olive tapenade were delicious and the fresh prosciutto melted in your mouth.

Our next stop was Bodegas Terrazas de los Andes, a beautiful Spanish-style vineyard.  While I am a huge consumer of Veuve Cliquot, we were not familiar with Terrazas’s wines until one of John’s wine reps offered to arrange a visit with the winemaker, Adrian Meyer, and t0 have dinner afterward at The Guest House.

Adrian was a fabulous host and a second generation winemaker in Argentina.  He shared with us the rollercoaster history of wine in Argentina. First, primary production being table wine for local consumption, then the fast investment into the Argentinian market, only to be followed by the near economic collapse.  The country and the wineries appear to be on a more stable and in the case of wine – increased opportunities with higher exports to the U.S., Brazil and China.

Terrazes fermentation roomThe oldest vines date back to 1929, but Terrazas produced its first wine in 1996.  The operation is now housed in an old winery founded in the late 1800s.  The old monogram crest of the winery still adorns one of the walls in the fermentation warehouse.

Adrian was a wealth of knowledge and treated us to a tasting of the Reserve Torrentes, a delightfully light crisp wine that surprises you because the nose is very sweet and heavy with fruits.  Next was the Reserve Single Vineyard Malbec 2010 which was very dark with a rich, rich nose.  While we both enjoyed this wine, we agreed it could sit for a few years and we look forward to what develops.

Terrazes wine tasting roomThe Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 was our favorite of the afternoon.  A big wine with expression and maturity, slow to introduce itself, but later with dinner, it’s true colors came to bear.  Wonderful subtle green flavors or mint and rosemary.

Our final wine was the Cheval de Los Andes 2008, a French style wine that is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec and Merlot.  Adrian told us the blend changes each year, creating something new and exciting.

Terrazas gained notoriety several years ago with its Afincado line – many of which received 90+ by Robert Parker.  Afincado pays homage to the immigrants who established the valley, and we look forward to finding a bottle or two when we return home.

Following our tour and tasting, Adrian left us at The Guest House to enjoy a private dinner Espresso on the lawn at Terrazesfor two.  We almost felt guilty having the beautiful restaurant which also houses three guest rooms to ourselves.  After a much need espresso while lounging on their immaculately manicured front lawn ringed with jasmine, we sat down to “our” dinner.

The Torrentes we tried earlier was paired with a starter of smoked salmon with herbed cream cheese on crostini, crab ceviche and crusty prawns drizzled with a sinful Torrontes reduction sauce.  Happiness….

Our entree was skirt steak with a red chimichurri sauce.  I’m typically not a fan of Terrazes - smoked salmon, ceviche & prawnschimichurri, but this version was not spicy and the flavors were a wonderful enhancement to the steak.  A Malbec reduction along with pureed white sweet potatoes and grilled eggplant completed the dish.

Of course there was dessert!  With our cardamon tea chilled mousse and fruit balaclava, we were treated to Terrazas’s Late Harvest Petit Manseng 2010 Dessert Wine.  Unfortunately, this wine is not available in the U.S. so we savored every last delicious sip.

It was back to Lares de Chacras for our final night.  I highly recommend this hotel – it’s more like a B&B with its cozy atmosphere.  The backyard includes a pool and hot tub that were great for soaking sore muscles after the long plane ride.  The food per my last post was divine and the staff is extraordinary – especially Franco who’s customer service skills are top-notch.

Our first experience in Mendoza was everything we hoped and it will not be our last.  We cannot say enough about the people, the beautiful wine country and the wines.  It was worth the extra effort to make this side trip, develop new friends and gain a better understanding of Malbec wines and the future of the Argentine wine family.  Many, many thanks!

John & JuliAnne at Catena

 

 

 

 

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Mendoza & The Susan Balbo Surprise

In any trip I have taken, a pleasant surprise always occurs.  Whether it’s a hidden Lares de Chacras Front Doorphotography gem down an alley, the Mom and Pop restaurant, or something you trip over because you were not where you were originally supposed to be.  Fate, kismet, dumb luck – I don’t care what you call it, I’ll take it.

After two days on airplanes John and I were ready to collapse when we arrived a Lares de Chacras, a wonderful boutique hotel just south of Mendoza.  As we graced the massive front door that pivots at a unique angle, we then took a quick step back as we realized we were walking across the glass ceiling of their wine cellar.  We both smiled as Franco welcomed us and we knew we made an excellent choice in accommodations.

A welcome shower and a two-hour nap are exactly what was needed before joining the other guests in the dining room for our first wonderful dinner in Argentina.  We selected an Alta Vista Single Vineyard Serenade 2010 Malbec from the wine cellar to start the evening.

Argentinian Filet at Lares de Chacras
Argentinian Filet at Lares de Chacras

Instead of the typical bread, we were presented with additive warm, melt- in-your-mouth herb biscuits.  To start, we enjoyed “wrapped seafood” a delicious mix of seafood and mushrooms wrapped in phyllo, and a winter soup of pureed pumpkin drizzled with pureed beetroot and touches of green onions and jalapenos.  We both could not resist the opportunity to enjoy our first Argentinian beef.  While John enjoyed a perfectly grilled filet mignon with chimichurri sauce, I tried the skirt steak.   I was very pleased that my steak which can be overcooked at tough at times, was juicy and perfectly medium rare.  The simple spices allowed the flavors of the meat to shine.  While we didn’t think there was room for dessert, there always is.  The caramel, coconut flan was too much for me to resist and it did not disappoint.

The morning arrived and we headed south with the spectacular Andes mountains as a backdrop.  A recent fresh dusting of snow brought them to life, even though another 90-degree day was predicted in the valley.  The cold and snow we left in Jackson just made us smile.

Our first stop was Catena Zapata.  A number of years ago I had the honor of meeting Catena ZapataNicholas Catena at a wine dinner and he made me promise if I ever visited Mendoza I would make the winery my first visit.  I kept my promise and was not disappointed.  The Catena wines have always been one of my favorites and were my entrée into Malbecs years ago.  I cannot say enough about the staff at the winery, Tatianna and Mercedes, along with another lovely woman who I cannot remember her name, were exquisite hosts.  They were also a godsend when we had some transportation difficulties and they didn’t even blink before jumping in to assist us.

The winery is designed after a Mayan ruin, paying tribute to the history of the country.  But this history of Argentine wines has been built squarely on the shoulders of the Catena family.  It was Nicholas who first planted vines at a high altitude (6000+ meters), and while everyone shook their heads and thought he was crazy, it was he who proved them wrong.  Today their Adrianna vineyard has generated over 500 Malbec varietals.

Every element of the winery was beautifully designed, from the brass staircase to the roof from the center of the building, to the 300 barrel wine theater where the best of their wine is aged, to the impressive Catena and European (read – the competition) wine cellars.  We so wanted to just poke around the European cellar and see what was hiding under the dust covering many of the labels.

While we only tasted the wines available for export during our tasting – wines I have already tried, we were able to enjoy a wonderful DV Catena 2010 Malbec while we waited for our ride to arrive.  Well worth the wait!

My hat is off to Laura Catena who is now in charge of the winery.  She is blazing trails for women in the wine industry and is making her Father, Grandfather and Great Grandfather very proud.

Another woman making advances is Susan Balbo – our wonderful, incredible surprise of the day.  We didn’t originally have her winery, Dominio Del Plata on our radar screen, but thanks to a last minute recommendation by a Jackson Hole wine rep, we were able to book a visit.  We arrived early at the winery and famished, and asked if we could slip in for lunch at Osadia de Crear.  Our hotel manager in addition to our wine rep said it was a must.

Osadio only opened in March and it has an amazing future with Chef Jose Cacciavillani at the helm.  Osadia de Crear translates to “daring to create” and is the perfect name.  While the seating is limited, I have never experienced a restaurant where the chef comes to each table with each serving and provides a description of your meal.  Raw talent and creativity are his foundations and then he intoxicates your palate from there.

I highly recommend the Susan Balbo prefix meal for approximately $80.  It includes a starter, entrée and dessert, along with two glasses of wine and coffee or tea.  We each ordered different wines so we had the opportunity to try 4 Signature Balbo wines.

We began with a Signature 2011 Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon.  The Malbec was beautiful with strong chocolate and spices.  Initially, the Cab was light, more typical of a French Bordeaux, but by the time the entrée arrived, its flavors sang.  Again, warm, fresh bread was brought to the table, but accompanied with a light olive oil and very different – guacamole.  Spiced with coriander and smoked Tabasco, its flavor was perfect.

I decided to live a little and ordered the blood sausage and quince dumpling for my starter while John ordered the German sausage, vegetable and fruit fondue.  Let me just state here that Chef Jose’s presentations are exquisite.  From the brush of balsamic vinegar to the bright colored flowers, each plate is a work of art.

Fondue for 2 at OsadiaOne bite of the blood sausage and quince dumpling and I was a puddle.  It truly fits in my highest score – the culinary orgasm.  The sweet and tart flavors make your taste buds happier than they have ever been.  I could have stopped right there, not had another bite of the meal and died happy.  Run, fly, take a train, Bloody sausage and quince dumpling....but you have to try this appetizer.

If I smoked, I would have stepped outside lit one up and recomposed myself, but our entrees arrived and we had to see what surprise was next.  I enjoyed a very simple plate of Patagonia trout, seared with the perfect amount of salt and pepper, and paired with a sweet potato, squash and garlic puree.  John’s leg of lamb ratatouille had been slow cooked for 10 Lamb rattatouille at Osadiahours and fell apart when touched.  Enhanced with olive oil and duck fat as it is roasted, the flavors are immense.  Both the Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon were excellent compliments to the meal.

Dessert, you knew it would be heavenly.  While I am not a big sweet wine drinker, the Late Harvest Malbec and Torrentes were perfectly chilled and what can I say, we both giggled after sipping our respective glasses.  Paired with a green apple strudel and a crème brulee, we were spent, finished and happy.

This trip was number two on my bucket list and I sometimes worry, what happens if it isn’t as fabulous as you imagined?  Any such thought has been pushed aside.  Our first day in Mendoza was complete and I received my “surprise” the first day.

 

 

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That “Special” Bottle of Wine

It was Easter 1983 and the family sat down for our traditional spread of honey-baked ham and Mom’s oh-so-succulent turkey that had been slow-roasting since before we left for sunrise service.   Dad had just delivered his “I should have been a pastor” blessing when my sister follows up with, “And God bless Chris and Chuck’s engagement.”

I screamed, Mom started crying, Dad let out a howl and Chris uncovered her gorgeous engagement ring, while my future brother-in-law, Chuck, sat there with a Cheshire grin on his face.

Back then, you would not consider my family wine connoisseurs.  When we did imbibe, it was usually a very inexpensive grocery store wine.   When everyone came down off of the euphoria cloud, Dad noted we didn’t have a bottle of wine to celebrate.  Shock, gasp, appalling!  At that moment I ran upstairs and pulled from under my bed a very dusty bottle of wine I brought home from my year living in Australia.  Sadly, I can’t even tell you what it was…. I came bouncing back downstairs, set the bottle on the table and Dad looked at me and said, “I thought you were saving that for something special.”

There was a moment of silence and then everyone burst out laughing. The wine was opened and toasts were made, while my sister glowed.

It was several years after my sister’s wedding when a good friend invited me to one of Dornan’s winter wine dinners.  It was a vertical tasting of cabernet sauvignon and I had no appreciation what I was tasting.  At one point, Bob Dornan, master of ceremonies and a man who I love and adore, as does much of Jackson Hole, said, “Can you taste the chocolate in this wine?”  I thought the man had lost his mind – chocolate in wine?  I was such a rookie.

Years later, much more versed in wine and the enhancing flavors, I opened a bottle of wine, took a sip and stopped in my tracks.  I took another sip and, I’ll be, chocolate.  Dark, rich, luscious chocolate, masquerading as a bottle of wine.  It was pure heaven.

Today, I’m not a sommelier or wine expert, and I don’t play one on TV. I just love drinking wine.  For those of who want to learn about wine, but have no idea where to start, it’s simple. Go to your local wine store and ask for recommendations.  Or, throw a brown-bag barbecue with your friends.  Everyone brings a red and white bottle, wrapped in a paper bag.  Your guests taste each wine and then vote.  You’ll discover some fabulous and very affordable wines this way.  Just keep tasting until you find something you like and keep notes.  The Evernote app is my best friend when it comes to keeping a list of wines I trip across and want to remember.

Pick up  Alpana Pours or Wine For Dummies and learn the difference between a pinot noir and a pinot gris.  And for your history buffs, Wine & War and the Women of Wine are two fabulous books that will keep you turning the pages.

Sip, breathe, eat and enjoy.  It’s the best way to learn about wine plain and simple.

Next week, Chris and Chuck will celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary.  Like a good Chris & Chuckwine, they have gotten better and better with time and, they have become major Malbec connoisseurs – love swapping recommendations with them!

So happy anniversary you two, I raise my favorite glass sparkling wine, J Brut, to my best friend and her incredible husband.  You remind us that love, friendship and most importantly, communication are paramount to making a marriage work and last.

P.S. This photo was taken last week at their “Harvest/Halloween” party.  The girl still fits in her wedding dress!!!  And Charlie, you’re looking pretty darn dapper too.

 

 

 

 

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Jackson Hole’s Secret Jazz Club

When you first think music and Jackson Hole, country at the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar is undoubtedly at the top of the list.  Tourists gingerly balance on the saddles at the bar, sipping Wyoming Whiskey, while seasoned local dance pros two-step, country swing and waltz visitors across the dance floor.  Around the corner at The Wort Hotel, country is also found, but mixed with bluegrass, reggie, folk and rockabilly depending on the night.

But for those looking for that non-traditional piano bar, where you can enjoy a nice glass of wine and carry on a conversation without yelling over the music – where to go?

For many years, one of my favorite fine dining restaurants in Jackson has been The GranaryGranary at Spring Creek Ranch, just outside of, and peering down at the Jackson valley. Whether enjoying a glass of wine on the deck during the summer, cozying up to the fireplace bar or restaurant during the winter, The Granary provides spectacular views of the Teton Range and the Spring Gulch ranches.

The Granary is home to what I call Jackson’s Secret Jazz Club.  Jackson is blessed with two incredibly talented Jazz musicians – husband and wife, Keith and Pam Phillips.   Almost every young, local pianist has taken lessons from this duo, creating a bevy of kids who “get” jazz and classical music.

Typically, Thursday-Saturday evenings you will find Pam twinkling the ivories at The Granary’s bar.  Cole Porter, Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole or Diana Krall, you name it, she plays it, with flourishes that will keep your toes tapping.  On Friday evenings, Pam is joined by a variety of musicians, further bringing the jazz club to life.  One of Pam’s regulars is Bill Plummer who lovingly embraces his bass like a very special woman, making it sing.  Plummer has played with The Grateful Dead, Quincy Jones and Tony Bennett, just to name a few.

Before moving to Jackson, Pam conducted for Evita and Crazy For You on Broadway, in addition to playing with the Glenn Miller Orchestra and the Manhattan Rhythm Kings.  You can find her music on iTunes and in many of the local stores.  One of my all-time favorites is “Woolly Bugger Rag” (it’s a fly fishing thing….)  Make a request and you won’t be disappointed.

So next time you are in Jackson, and if you love piano and jazz, make a point to spend an evening at The Granary, experiencing Jackson’s Secret Jazz Club.  Order a bottle of Hahn Pinot Noir, perfect to enjoy with the Smoked Trout Dip, flaky smoked trout mousseline with Parmesean Reggiano cheese, served with crostini.  You also must try the Game Sausage Plate, exploding with flavors that will excite your taste buds.  If you are having dinner, the elk tenderloin is not to be missed.

If you miss Pam at The Granary, she also is the music director at St. John’s Episcopal Church.  Trust me, the lady can wrap up a church service with a version of Amazing Grace that would bring anyone to their feet with a serious AMEN!

Check the local newspaper, or contact The Granary at 307-733-8833 to confirm the music schedule as it varies by season.

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