MWWC 36: Environment

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Life is funny.   Recently, I went back home to Texas for a visit, which conveniently coincided with Jeff (having won last month’s challenge) setting this month’s challenge as Environment.  Hailing from the Texas Hill Country Appellation, I mentally began creating bullet points about the environment of the Texas Hill Country Appellation and which wineries I was going to feature–debating if I should focus on one or several.  While I was at home, I did quite a bit of tasting in preparation for this wine writing challenge (I’m thorough like that).  Although ironically most of what I was tasting were Hill Country wineries using grapes from the Texas High Plains vineyards, but I digress.

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Then it happened.  After departing Texas, I went back to NYC via an extended stopover in Minnesota.  On Day 2, April took me to a little town on the St. Croix river called Stillwater.  We were there for the tacos (that’s a story for another time)–but after lunch we wandered down the main street of the town, poking around the boutique shops in search of a brewery/winery/distillery (Stillwater has some of each and long ago, April learned long ago that a happy Shez is a Shez plied with alcohol and coffee and food).  We saw the Northern Vineyards Winery and headed inside.

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They offered tastings and, well, why not?!?  I figured it would be great feature for a future-topic-not-yet-determined MWWC and then the tasting began.  I was introduced to 3 new grape varietals, which I had never heard of before and upon asking about them I was told that they were developed by the University of Minnesota (Go Gophers!).

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Well shit.  Of course, after hearing that I realized that what better way to incorporate ENVIRONMENT into my wine writing like discussing grapes developed specifically for growing in a particular region.  Since I was only on my second taste, I knew it had to be fate rather than the alcohol talking.

So without further ado, I’d like to introduce you to the following grapes developed by and/or with the University of Minnesota (Go Gophers!):

  • Frontenac (red/rosé)
  • Frontenac Gris (white)
  • Marquette (red)
  • Edelweiss (white)

Northern Vineyards uses all of these grapes and other varietals, like Le Crosse and St. Croix, which were developed to withstand the hearty Minnesota (read: cold) environment, basically “varieties adapted to severe winters and short growing season are chosen.”  For all the grape varietals suited for growing in Minnesota, visit the University of Minnesota (Go Gophers!) Fruit Research website.

And now on to some tasting notes.

The first thing I sampled was the Prairie Smoke, made with La Crosse grapes.  I’m not a big fan of fumés in general, however, this one was light and fairly crisp for a fumé. In addition to the smokey nose, there were also ginger and hints of grapefruit.

Probably one of my favorites that I tasted was the Main Street Rosé.  A dry, crisp blend of La Crosse and Frontenac grapes.  This wine is very fruit forward with lingering strawberry both in the finish and on the nose.

They also have a semi-sweet blush, Lady Slipper, made with Frontenac Gris grapes.  Before tasting I was worried I had just been poured something akin to Strawberry Hill, however, the Lady Slipper was medium bodied and not overly sweet which I think would pair nicely with a cheese & fruit plate.

Of the reds I tried, I think the Downtown Red was my favorite.  A blend of Frontenac and Marquette, it was smooth.  It had a hint of blackberry and white pepper on the finish and reminded me of a light cabernet sauvignon.

I have to confess I was surprised not to find a dessert wine offered–I would think that the early frosts would lend itself to naturally sweeter wines, alas Northern Vineyards did not offer any.

It was a fun tasting–our hostess seemed to have a good handle on the wine grapes of Minnesota, I got to taste some varietals I had never even heard of before, and learn more about wine!

So much emphasis is placed on the environment in which grapes grow–and for good reason, terroir is one of the most important factors in the world of wine. We often talk about how this region or that region is perfect for growing grapes, but what about the areas that are not?  Hybrid and indigenious varietals catering to the less than perfect environment–be it Frontenac in Minnesota, Black Spanish in Texas, or even Roobernet in South Africa– seem to be the solution for sustainable grape growth and wine production.

Now if only one could be developed for the environs of a New York City window sill…

Cheers!

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Put A Stick In It!

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Pretty much since the arrival of Lucille and the discovery that–with the right accessories–she could make ice cream, I have wanted an ice cream maker.  Not necessarily that ice cream maker (I’m open to seeing other ice cream makers), but I do love making ice cream…in part because I love eating ice cream, especially homemade ice cream, and in larger part because it brings back great memories of sitting on Grandpa & Granny’s porch watching Grandpa crank the ice cream maker, waiting eagerly for him to sneak us a spoonful before Granny would put it in the freezer.  I also have heard that right now Aldi in the Twin Cities has a great deal on a 2qt ice cream maker…you know, just in case you live, work, or are traveling through the Twin Cities and decide that your Minnesota souvenir of choice can also be an integral part of your kitchen.

But this isn’t a post about ice cream.  This is a post about a well-loved cousin to ice cream: the popsicle.  A more portable version, easier to make, already-portioned-out-so-you-don’t-eat-the-entire-2quarts-in-one-sitting summer staple.  What started this mild obsession?  Well, awhile back, I saw this recipe for Orange Creamsicle Yogurt Pops from Lisa at 100 Days of Real Food and realized that not only did I have all the ingredients on hand, but that this might be the answer for my yearning for an ice cream maker.  I accepted this as fate–and the sign of a genius plan!–when the other day I was out and about and found a popsicle mold for only $4.  Done and done!

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While waiting for them to freeze, I did what anyone would do: I got on Pinterest to look for more recipes.  Actually, I also blame the Fudge Bars from Whole Foods temporarily residing in my freezer because, well, it would also be AWESOME to have fudge bars without going to the store!

So when you type ‘popsicle’ (why limit yourself to just fudge?) into the search box of Pinterest you get about 3 days worth of pins. I found a wide variety of recipes for fudge popsicles (hellllllooooo, Nutella pops!), complicated fancy ones that look pretty and sound amazing, but fall into the Too Hard Basket (such as blackberry ombre popsicles or coconut/salted caramel/chocolate with almonds–but if you decide to make these, personally I think it should be pistachios), über-easy/healthy ones (aka put fruit in a mold and fill with coconut water), and my new favorite: the adult beverage ones.  WHAT THE WHAT?  This is just further proof this really was a genius plan!

It started with this Peaches & Cream recipe from Tutti Dolce (who seems to be a connoisseur of popsicles, as several of my popsicle pins are from Laura!). I clicked on this one because it’s summer and I almost always have peaches on hand.  In reading through the recipe, this caught my eye:

1 1/2 Tbsp crème de pêche (peach liqueur)

Liqueur?  Oh yes, please, and thankyouverymuch!

So then (and this is how Pinterest sucks you in), I start actively searching for adult popsicle recipes and realize that there are a lot of lushes kindred spirits (pun intended!) out there!  Sangria, Bourbon, Tequila, Prosecco…I’m quite certain you’d be hard pressed to find something without [insert your favorite adult beverage here].

I then did what any pinner would do: I created a board.  Not just for the adult popsicles, although I do appreciate your faith in me that I would could do that.  I even included a few of the Too Hard Basket ones, mainly because they are pretty and maybe complicated popsicles are your thing.  I mean, I don’t judge.  Who knows…perhaps–if given the appropriate amount of champers–I might be prompted to try one of them….until giving up in a huff and just sitting on the couch, drowning my sorrows in another bottle of champers while waiting for the easy adult popsicles to freeze.  What?  It’s the most likely scenario.

But back to popsicles….inquiring minds want to know: what’s your favorite?


 
Happy summering!

PS–if you’re interested, here’s my Put A Stick In It Pinterest Board.  If you already follow me on Pinterest, you’re welcome for the plethora of popsicle recipes in your feed 😉 And, of course, I’m always looking for more great recipes if you wanna share your favorite popsicle recipe!

St. Paul

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Fabulous Not Forty Birthday Dinner #2

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What would a birthday trip be without a special birthday dinner?  Granted this one was a lot more low key than the first one.  It was equally as memorable–this time for the food–nor did I get drenched!

First stop: dinner! at a swanky seafood and steak house in St. Paul called Kincaid’s.

We started with Country Fried Calamari, which were (as one would imagine) battered and fried.  What made them unique was the addition of artichoke hearts.  I’m not a big fan of artichoke hearts, but when they’re deep fat fried and served with a garlic aioli, I am aaaaaallllllllllllll over that!

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Of course, we were nearly done before I even thought to take a picture (I’m so embarrassing to take out to eat these days!), so I tried for an artsy shot with my Chateau St. Jean cabernet sauvignon!

When the main course arrived, I grabbed a few quick shots of my surf & turf and April’s shellfish fettuccine.  Of course, I was way more focused on the food than on actually focusing the shot (as you can see)–but trust me, if you would have been smelling dinner, you would have been eager to get to it as well!

Everything was so delicious that stopping with enough room for dessert did not seem like an option.  Besides, who am I to waste delicious steak, shrimp, and au gratin potatoes?

After dinner we took a stroll through downtown St. Paul, headed for our second stop: The Ordway Centre for the Performing Arts, where we had tickets to see Nice Work If You Can Get It. It was a fun show, with lots of great singing-a-long-songs (don’t worry, I refrained from singing–much to everyone’s delight!).

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While a much more low key event than FNFBD#1, Birthday Dinner #2 was a great evening spent enjoying delicious food & wine, lots of laughs, and hanging with one of the coolest people I know–it doesn’t get much happier than that.

Lobstah Overload!

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Just kidding…no such thing!

After an afternoon of wandering around downtown Minneapolis, April & I met up with a friend at the Smack Shack.

We started the feast with a lobster guacamole appetizer.   I will admit it took a couple of bites to wrap my head around eating guacamole and lobster together.  Once I did, it was really good.  And by that, I mean, the lobster was amazing.  The guacamole was okay. Don’t get me wrong, it was good–just a little less flavorful than I like it.  But I didn’t make it, nor do I consider the Midwest a place where spicy foods prevail.  Plus it did allow for the lobster to shine, thus: really good.

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I also ordered another appetizer which the table refrained from enjoying: raw oysters.  Their loss (although they don’t think so).  I let our lovely waitress pick out a selection of both East and West Coast varieties.  Going in, I thought I would prefer the West Coast, as they are from the same ocean as my favorite oysters (from Sydney and the southeast Australian coast).  But no, I preferred (ever-so-slightly, mind you) the East Coast oysters, which have a more crisp, clean, and salty flavor.  The West Coast oysters were a bit more creamy and mild.  Both paired nicely with the local beer from (literally) down the street: Fulton Lonely Blonde.

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All of that was forgotten when the main course arrived.  Well, not the beer–it also paired deliciously with….The Lobster Mac & Cheese.  It was everything amazing in the culinary world.  Creamy, cheesy, buttery, big chunks of lobster.  It melted in your mouth.  I was truly torn between shoveling it in as quickly as possible and drawing out every.single.savory.bite to make it last as long as possible.  I may have even used my finger to scoop out the last bit of cheese from the bottom of the bowl (the waitress assured me everyone did!).

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While I’m always in love with a good meal, this was one of the very few meals I was truly sad to see end.  Lobster, cheese, pasta, beer, oysters, guacamole: how could you go wrong with any of those combinations?  😉

Margarita Monday, Part Cuatro…Again

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I know I shared this margarita before on a certain [ahem, birth-] day a few months ago, but I thought it was fitting to share again, since this delicious margarita was a tasty part of Birthday Trip #2! Salute!
😉

The Epicurious Texan

I wasn’t actually planning on Margarita Monday to be a regular thing, but I figured what the heck–who doesn’t like margaritas?!?!?  Also, if you’d like a picture of your tasty margarita to appear here for Margarita Mondays, please tweet it to me @epicurioustexan!

In honor of today’s Big Birthday: Not 40, Just Fabulous, I thought it appropriate to honor this Margarita Monday with my cranberry margarita from Chevy’s during my Birthday Trip #2 (because when you’re turning Not 40, Just Fabulous, you get multiple birthday trips!).

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A Small Stream

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Deep in the middle of Itasca State Park is Lake Itasca, the source of a small, unassuming stream that opens up to span over 2,300* miles to the Gulf of Mexico, creating the 4th largest river in the world.

April & I drove through the huge 32,000-acre state park, heading for the closest parking lot to Lake Itasca. I’d like to interject that this is a beautiful time of year to visit the park, the foliage is gorgeous, the weather is nearly perfect for hiking, and there are very few, if any, mosquitos!

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We finally found the parking lot and hiked down a winding trail to the lake, with a dam of rocks that is the start of the the Mississippi river.

After negotiating our way across the rocks, we walked downstream to the next crossing and crossed back.  We ambled along side the stream for a bit, marveling at the size–or rather lack thereof.  It seemed a mere trickle to what I had seen at various points downstream, including its delta in New Orleans.

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After a few more pics–and the obligatory selfie (us-ie?)–we got back in the car and continued heading south, Twin City-bound!

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PS–You can read a plethora of facts about the Mississippi River from the National Park Service, but one of the most interesting facts (in my humble opinion) is that the elevation of the river at Lake Itasca is 1475 feet above sea level and drops nearly half of that elevation before it leaves the state of Minnesota.

*Also there is some discrepancy exactly how long the river is, with some sources, like the US Geological Society, stating it is 2,300 miles and others, like Itasca State Park, stating it is 2,552 miles and still many more than fall in between these two lengths.

An Update on a Couple of Big Things

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I’d just like to add an update: April reminded me that we only visited a large floating loon in this post; the largest floating loon lives in Virginia. I mean, it’s so hard keeping large floating loons straight these days. Much like Grandma having to run down all the grandchildren’s names before she gets to the right kid.

April also reminded me that we visited the world’s largest FREESTANDING hockey stick. This, of course, piqued my curiosity and almost immediately I googled “world’s largest hockey stick.”

According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the world’s largest hockey stick is 205 feet long, weighing in at 62,000 pounds! It was commissioned by the Canadian Federal Government for the 1986 Expo in Vancouver. It now resides at the Cowichan Community Centre in Duncan, Vancouver Island, Canada. April suggested that the freestanding label is “perhaps how we avoid size fights with the Canadians???”

I think perhaps she’s right 😉

The Epicurious Texan

A few posts ago, I mentioned that April and I had penchant for searching for “World’s Biggest [insert random object here]”–well, this trip was filled with them!  I mean, how else are you going to break up a long road trip?

sidenote: now that I’m thinking about it, Minnesota and Australia seem to have a large number of “World’s Biggest” objects.  And I would also like to express my personal belief that if you’ve never seen the World’s Biggest Prawn in Ballina, NSW Australia, your life really is never going to be completely whole.  Of course, you could disagree with me, but well….you’d be wrong.

Anyway, back to Minnesota and this trip.  April had already marked out several stops to see big things, such as the World’s Biggest Walleye.

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However, this turned out to be a BIG FAT LIE.  It’s not the biggest.  We have actually seen one bigger (ha! that’s what she said!!)…

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The Headwaters of the Mighty Mississippi

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Paul Bunyan and Other Big Things

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A few posts ago, I mentioned that April and I had penchant for searching for “World’s Biggest [insert random object here]”–well, this trip was filled with them!  I mean, how else are you going to break up a long road trip?

sidenote: now that I’m thinking about it, Minnesota and Australia seem to have a large number of “World’s Biggest” objects.  And I would also like to express my personal belief that if you’ve never seen the World’s Biggest Prawn in Ballina, NSW Australia, your life really is never going to be completely whole.  Of course, you could disagree with me, but well….you’d be wrong.

Anyway, back to Minnesota and this trip.  April had already marked out several stops to see big things, such as the World’s Biggest Walleye.

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However, this turned out to be a BIG FAT LIE.  It’s not the biggest.  We have actually seen one bigger (ha! that’s what she said!!).  It was on my first trip to Minnesota years ago.

see?  this one is A LOT bigger!

see? this one is A LOT bigger!

We also stopped to see the World’s Largest Hockey Stick.

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I’m not arguing this point…it’s dangerous to even talk about hockey in Minnesota unless you’ve grown up there (or Canada) and since I grew up in neither place, I respectfully abstain from commenting…except to say that is also the biggest hockey puck I’ve ever seen.

While it took a bit of a detour and it’s hard to see the scale, this is apparently the World’s Largest Loon.  It didn’t appear to be anchored, but of course, it could have just been on a really long line (The World’s Longest, perhaps?).

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I’ve already shown you the large lumberjack–again, not the biggest in the world but pretty darn big–and Smokey the Bear, which was the largest Smokey I’ve seen…does a bigger one exist?  I’m not entirely sure.  But if it does, then that’s one biiiiiiiiiiig bear.  And that’s all I have to say about that.

The highlight of this trip (in terms of World’s Biggest objects) was Paul Bunyan and Babe.  As long as I’ve been visiting Minnesota, I’ve been trying to track this elusive legend and his blue ox [click here for the story!].  We got close on my first trip, but…something didn’t seem quite right.  Perhaps it was the blatant advertising for the bowling alley that shared its parking lot with the Minnesota icons?

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Maybe it’s just me, but I can’t imagine Paul Bunyan and Babe bowling with anything so…small…

This trip was totally different.  As soon as we pulled up, we knew it was the real deal.  Paul Bunyan and Babe.  My quest at last was over–and in the process–a few more World’s Largest objects added to my collection!

I HEART ROADTRIPS! 🙂