September 29, 2010

Welcome to the New Kids

A fresh breeze has blown into the southern Willamette Valley in the form of Sarver Winery. As an enthusiastic wine appreciator I have a tendency to view wine much like I do people: Nearly all have some redeeming quality if you give them and chance. But occasionally a wine or winery just steals my heart from the first sip. That was the experience I had at our new neighbors, Sarver Winery, this weekend.First off, it is difficult to resist falling in love with the site. The Sarver's Elhanan vineyard is on a southeastern facing slope. Thrity-five acres are planted in Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, Riesling, Early Muscat and Gewurztraminer.
The place offers a spectacular and vast view of the southern Willamette Valley to the east. We were there late in the day, and the winery was just falling into shadow while the opposite easterly mountains were still gorgeously illuminated.
View to the North

View to the East
View to the South
But no; the view wasn't enough. Sarver isn't a winery whose flash evaporates with the first sip. Red wine typically has a gravitational pull on me, and Sarver offers some terrific reds, namely an 2008 estate grown Pinot Noir that is gorgeous. Their Pinot Noir offers an elegant and unmanipulated impression of the varietal. Their 2007 Petite Sirah is lush, elaborate and big. Their 2008 Syrah is structured, spicy and sassy. I'm sure that I'll go into greater detail soon about those, but it is their Pinot Gris that I really feel compelled to point out to you today.
Sarver Winery offers three distinct and impressive iterations of their 2009 estate grown Pinot Gris. I was floored by meeting these wine "triplets". Each from the same vineyard yet with individual and sometimes even contrasting voices.

First is the classic stainless steel aged Pinot Gris. This was as clean and crisp as crunching into a fresh juicy apple. We also observed the tangy high notes of grapefruit that the very southern end of the Willamette Valley terrior frequently offers its Pinot Gris. I wouldn't hesitate to serve this with shellfish, anything laced with dill, or any number of other food combinations. I was already a fan with my first tasting.

But then we were offered their Pinot Gris that had been sur lie aged. Sur lie aging gives this Pinot Gris a lush, apricot-like texture and an aromatic complexity, much like champagne without the bubbles. I adored this Pinot Gris, and look forward to playing with food pairings, as my hunch is that it will sing the melody at the table. That said, it would also solo beautifully as an aperitif. This wine made a fabulous first impression on me.

The "big sister" of the Sarver Pinot Gris triplets is made in the barrel-aged Chardonnay style. It is round and lush, with a buttered toasted hazelnut subtlety. The alto voice of the three, this is a golden, full experience you don't regularly find in this varietal.

Erin Sarver, Proprietress and Libation Producer
Chris and Erin Sarver are a young family who moved to Oregon from Michigan merely two years ago to begin this venture, and opened their tasting room just this summer.
The Sarvers are currently a no-wine-club operation but offer generous case discounts on their already approachably priced wines. May I tell you how much I love this business model? I am far more apt to purchase a case, and have found that this actually builds our "brand loyalty" as it give us a chance to really familiarize ourselves with the wine in our own home setting. By having the chance to really play with it at our table with no wine club commitment, somehow these find their way into our repertoire.
Preparing for Low Country Boil
The afternoon we were there, this gentleman greeted us. He was preparing for an event: Sarver Winery's first annual Low Country Boil dinner. Low Country Boil is one of my favorites, as its communal nature is such fun with friends an family. We didn't know about the evening's event before we arrived and already had plans, but it dialed me in to the fact that the Sarver's make serious business out of having fun. And, get this: They were only charging $15 a head for the dinner. I was a smidge disappointed we couldn't stay.
So, while I enjoy all of our local winery treasures, Sticks Forks Fingers warmly and enthusiastically welcomes the new Sarver kids to the neighborhood. We hope that we get to play together often.

September 21, 2010

Getting Off the Farm Part 2: Wine and People

We left off our King Estate Harvest Party extravaganza by telling you about all the terrific food we noshed on our special night off the farm. Here we pick up the story by telling you about the terrific wines and interesting people we came across.

First, a mid-evening style check affirms that I'm rocking the house with my gorgeous shoes. Yes, they still are looking good.

Josh, an exuberant and reliable fixture at the King Estate tasting room, came out with beautiful bottles of wonderful wines. "Who is drinking Pinot Gris?" he'd ask, and immediately return with a bottle of my favorite wine of the night, King Estate 2008 Unity Pinot Gris. Unity is made in collaboration with Pfeiffer Winery, whose distinct grapes add a special uniqueness to this wine. The Unity has a tropical, honeysuckle floral quality that is noteworthy, and was a smash with the sea scallops grilled on Himalayan pink salt slabs that wowed me so much. This wine's vibrant acidity is in great balance... just right for me and many of my favorite foods.

To mention King Estate and not mention their quintessential Pinot Noir would just be a sin. Another handsome gentleman poured King Estate Signature 2008 Pinot Noir. What a lovely treat. Silky, with hints of mushroomy forest floor, raspberry and cherry fruit, and a lush smokiness on the finish was positively divine with the mushroom risotto, a favorite dish.

Samplings of King Estate Signature, Acrobat, and Next series of wines, along with the NxNW series featuring many Washington grapes given the King Estate treatment flowed. It felt as though we guests were truly given keys to the wine cellar.

A crackling, cozy fire takes the chill off the early autumn evening.

A warm glow took over the air...

...which grew into sparks...

... which developed into more and more flying sparks.

Latin jazz by Jessie Marquez also warmed the place. Before evening's end My baby and I were dancing. The crowd was thinning, and we weren't ready for the night to end. And then, something really spectacular happened.

We were invited, along with the remaining dozen or so guests, up into King Estate's wine library. Up several flights of wood-paneled staircase we went. Up into the tower.

As we ascended, we passed shelf after shelf of past vintages of Oregon wine history. Literal decades of wine history.

At the peak of the tower, we were lavished with a 1992 (yes, you are reading that right) King Estate Pinot Noir. In fairness, it is a little difficult to explain a wine when the experience is so overwhelmingly special. All I can remember of it is that that it still carried, after 18 years, the King Estate terroir; that indescribable magic from the land and water and air. The fruit had fallen away to some degree, leaving a wonderful essence of place.

While sipping, we had the opportunity to chat with winemaker Bill Kremer, King Estate's winemaker since 1995.

Winemaker Bill Kremer, left, and My Baby, right

With a dazzling experience behind us, we left elated at the great food, fantastic wine, and interesting people we'd had the chance to meet. We extend our thanks to King Estate and its marvelous staff for making an evening we'll long remember.

And, interestingly, the next time we head out that way, it will be to the tune of wedding bells. In less than three weeks, King Estate hosts our nuptial festivities. My Baby and I left once again knowing we'd made the right choice for our special day.
The Morning After

September 19, 2010

Classic Breakfast Popovers: Impossible Thinking

Classic Breakfast Popovers

"I can't believe that!" said Alice.

"Can't you?" the queen said in a pitying tone. "Try again, draw a long breath, and shut your eyes."

Alice laughed. "There's no use trying," she said. "One can't believe impossible things."

"I dare say you haven't had much practice," said the queen. "When I was your age, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast."-- Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

To begin the practice of believing impossible things, especially before the breakfast hour, I suggest whipping up a batch of old-fashioned, classic popovers. If the voluminous pastries don't make a believer of the fantastic out of you, perhaps nothing will.

Popovers, Straight from the Oven

The light, airy, eggy puffs of bread that so wonderfully hold a spoonful of favorite preserves or marmalade always put me in a good mood for the day. I suggest starting them first thing upon waking, as while they are incredibly easy to make, they do take some oven time to get their full "pop" on. Mix up the 5-ingredient batter and "pop" it into the oven, sit down to your first cup of coffee or tea, and ponder the impossibly possible within you while you wait.

Classic Popovers

2 large eggs
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup milk
1 tablespoon vegetable or canola oil
1/2 teaspoon salt

Place a muffin tin in the oven, and preheat oven to 475˚.

In a mixing bowl, beat eggs vigorously. (Traditional recipes ask you to do this with an electric mixer, but I get fantastic results with some extreme wrist action and a good whisk.) Add flour, milk, salad oil and salt, and beat until perfectly smooth.

Remove hot muffin pan from oven and carefully and generously butter each individual cup. Don't be stingy with the butter, or your popovers will stick profoundly, causing you to give up entirely on impossible thinking for the rest of the day.

When cups are generously buttered (it's okay for the butter to pool in the bottom of each cup) fill each cup 1/2 full with batter. Pop into the oven for 15 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350˚ and bake 25 to 30 minutes longer or until popovers are brown and firm.

Allow to cool for up to 15 minutes before removing from pan. Makes about 9 popovers in a standard sized muffin pan.

September 14, 2010

Getting Off the Farm Part 1: The Food

Dressing Up

Last Friday night, My Baby and I got all gussied up, got off the farm and went out on a big date. A real date, where the man wears a jacket and tie and the lady wears heels, perfume and fancy undergarments. We are quite attached to our end-of-the-week routine of baking a pretty good pizza and curling up together to watch Washington Week in Review. It had to be a pretty enticing reason to dislodge us from our comfortable habit.

King Estate Winery hosted their annual Tower Club Harvest Moon Celebration, which is billed as their most special event of the year. The menu is what captured my attention:
Sea Scallops Cooked on Himalayan Rock Slab
Lamb Lollipops
Cured Salmon with Pickled Red Onions & Capers
Squash Ravioli with Nuts & Dried Fruits
Grilled Portobello Mushroom with Apricot Sauce
Assorted Harvest Pizzettes
Breast of Veal Stuffed with Pine Nuts & Raisins
Grilled Quail with Balsamic Glaze
Wild Mushroom Risotto with Lemon Cream
Roasted Carrots & Cauliflower
Assorted Harvest Desserts

King Estate has many things going for it, one of which is the wonderful restaurant and food they serve. Every morsel is thoughtfully prepared with many ingredients coming directly from their own organic farm. This menu, we had a strong hunch, was going to be dynamite and we didn't want to miss it.
The evening was enchanting. Every detail was attended to. My apologies now for the quality of some of these photos. The low lighting and my camera skills aren't on even par yet, but I still want you to see how special this time was.

May I say how much I appreciate a proper greeting upon arrival? King Estate always extends a a warm welcome and makes sure that you have a glass in your hand right away, as though they really expected your company. You immediately sense that you are in good hands, and that things will be fun.
Everywhere we looked, there were pretty vases of estate-grown flowers, harvest arrangements of fruits and vegetables, and lots and lots of beautiful warm candlelight.
We first moved outdoors under tents for our first delicious nibbles. The stunning local and imported cheeses wowed me from the beginning.
Bellwether Farms Carmody, Miramont French Brie, Rogue Creamery Smoked Blue, La Mariposa Chubut, and Ferns Edge Fresh Chevre

From cheeses, we moved on to King Estate's house-cured salmon with colorful heirloom tomatoes from their farm, pickled onions and capers. With it's extraordinary vivid colors, visually, this was my favorite dish of the night.

House Cured Salmon

My favorite dish for flavor and dramatic flair was the sea scallops cooked to order on Himalayan Pink Salt Slabs. The slabs were subjected to high heated from below, turning into a griddle of sorts. The pink salt just barely "melts" into the scallop, offering a subtle brine to the sweet scallops. I confess that My Baby and I ate more than our fair share of these delicacies.

Sea Scallops on Himalayan Pink Salt Slabs
Or maybe this was my favorite...
Duck Liver Pate with Brandy and Oranges, and Terrine of Oxtail, Estate Vegetables and Pinot Noir

There were many dishes that I didn't get nice photos of, but you should at least know that the stuffed veal, lamb-chop "lollipops" and grilled quail were complete treats.

The squash ravioli topped with glazed nuts and dried fruits was inspired.

Assorted Desserts
Croquembouche, la Piece de Resistance

I'd only seen croquembouche in books and on television. It really is as stunning and delectable as I'd imagined.
Croquembouche "Topknot" of Spun Sugar

So as you can imagine, the setting and the food were spectacular. We were meeting some interesting people as well, listening to some terrific music, drinking some fine wines, and the evening ended with a magical, unexpected surprise. For that, stay tuned to Getting Off the Farm Part 2: The Wine Experience...

September 11, 2010

"Sweetish" Strawberry Pancakes

"Sweetish" Pancake with Bonus Round Strawberries and Yogurt

While vacationing with friends years ago, my then 10-year-old daughter was served a pretty puffed pancake for breakfast. Overjoyed, my budding young cook asked our hostess for the recipe which was happily recited to her. At home some weeks later, she got out her hand-written recipe which she had titled, "Sweetish Pancakes." Her title was fully reflective of her experience, and forevermore our family will think of Swedish Pancakes in this way.

One Morning's Pickings

Strawberries are usually a harbinger of spring, so the early autumn burst of juicy red lusciousness from our everbearing strawberries is a great and unexpected joy. Being fairly committed to eating locally and seasonally, I somehow feel like a cheat to have this luxury, but nothing could be more local or more seasonal. Our garden is completely edged by strawberries of many varieties. Some bless us with fruit in June, then relax in their glossy foliage while the others go to work on this end-of-season bonus round.

My Baby and I have eaten our strawberries in the rustic, puffy pancake fresh from the oven three times this week. Nothing could be easier, and I love watching the puffing oven magic first thing in the morning, opening my eyes to the magic the rest of the day may possess.
Puffed Pancake

2 eggs
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
2 tablespoons butter

Place an 8-inch cast-iron skillet in the oven, and preheat the oven to 450˚.

In a medium mixing bowl, combine all ingredients except butter. Whisk vigorously for a minute or so, creating a smooth, thin batter.

Carefully remove pan from hot oven. Place the butter in the pan and swirl until it is melted and the pan is coated. Pour the batter in all at once and zip the pan back into the hot oven. If you have little kids (or have a kid-like curiosity yourself) plop them (or yourself) down in front of the oven window for the next 12-15 minutes, with the real drama happening in the last 6-8 minutes. Magic will happen before your very eyes.

When the pancake is very golden brown (I like mine a little more on the toasty-brown side), remove from oven. "Sweetish" pancakes deflate very quickly, so be sure your audience is called in to witness its full glory right before removing it from the oven. Fill with your favorite sweetened fruit, or traditionally, dowse it with powdered sugar and squeeze with fresh lemon wedges.

Serves 2.

If you have more bellies than two to make happy, this recipe doubles and even triples with good success to accommodate two skillets or one much larger skillet.

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