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Touring The Washington State Wine Region – Day One

Touring The Washington State Wine Region – Day One

Endless prairie under a cushion of soft cloud.

Endless prairie under a cushion of soft cloud.

We drove from Missoula, Montana yesterday under a blanket of cloudy sky and arrived in Walla Walla, Washington late afternoon in a deluge of rain. We checked in to our hotel and immediately made our way to the downtown area to see what was happening and to get a “lay of the land”.

Downtown Walla Walla, Washington

Downtown Walla Walla, Washington

It was incredibly cold walking downtown in the wind and the rain and we found refuge at the Fort Walla Walla Cellars Tasting Room. Our host, Terry, poured us a sample of their 2010 Merlot, followed by a 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon.  Both were complex and delicious. Terry and his friend, Pat, then treated us to a glass of the 2007 Merlot. Merlot is not our favourite varietal, but we really enjoyed both vintages poured for us. It was a delight to speak with Terry, Pat and Shelley about the area, wines, restaurants, etc. Ron teased Terry about working for the Walla Walla Chamber of Commerce as he said that, with the exception of perhaps one winery, each of the approximately 150 local wineries are making GREAT wine. Similarly, when we pressed him to recommend the town’s best restaurants, Terry told us that there are many wonderful chefs and places to eat in the area. We left with a bottle of each of the two varietals we tasted and a great feeling of having met and spent time with three new friends.

The Fort Walla Walla Tasting Room on Main Street

The Fort Walla Walla Cellars Tasting Room on Main Street

Fort Walla Walla Cellars is a boutique winery that produces about 2,000 cases of ultra-premium Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, and Bordeaux blend wines from grapes produced exclusively from vineyards in the Walla Walla Valley.

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We’ve wanted to tour the wine producing areas of Washington and Oregon for several years and we’re excited to finally be here. Pacific Northwest wines dominated the top of Wine Spectator magazine’s annual top 100 list in 2015, a compilation of the best wines in the world, according to the world’s largest and most influential wine publication. In 2015, wines from Washington and Oregon finished an astonishing 20 percent of the top 50, with five wines from each state. Very impressive.

Whitehouse-Crawford Dining Area (photo courtesy of http://www.whitehousecrawford.com)

Whitehouse-Crawford Dining Area (photo courtesy of http://www.whitehousecrawford.com)

We did take Terry’s recommendation for one of his favorite restaurants, Whitehouse-Crawford. Dating back to 1880, the site of this restaurant was originally a planing mill and furniture company. Destroyed by fire in late 1903, it was rebuilt in brick and continued as a planing mill and furniture factory until it was sold to the City of Walla Walla in 1988. The current owner, Salvation! LLC, saved the site from being razed to build a motel and carefully restored it as a quality restaurant that celebrates food, wine and the history of the Walla Walla Valley.

Harvest Apple Salad

Harvest Apple Salad

Our evening started with an order of Empanadas, perhaps the best either of us have ever had – light pastry and delicious filling. We then shared a Harvest Apple Salad, followed by the Pork Shoulder.

Pork Shoulder

Pork Shoulder

Robertson, our waiter, recommended the 2010 aMaurice Cellars Syrah, “Fred”, from the Walla Walla Valley and a 2012 Gramercy Cellars blend from the Columbia Valley, “The Third Man”. The Gramercy Cellars wine was spectacular and this vineyard produced the 2012 “Deuce Syrah” which was named #22 wine in the world by Wine Spectator in 2015.

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Regional Cheeses

We finished our evening’s meal with a selection of Regional Cheeses (served with candied pecans, rhubarb chutney, and house made crackers) and a glass of Graham’s 20-Year Tawny Port. The service, the quality of the food, presentation and value were all excellent.

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Our first night in Walla Walla was so positive that we decided to stay and play one more day. Let’s see what tomorrow brings!

 

An Exceptional Evening at Jamison Farm

An Exceptional Evening at Jamison Farm

Ron and I have spoken of viewing some of the properties designed by Frank Lloyd Wright for several years. In late July of this year, Ron read an article in the New York Times that set the wheels in motion, literally, for us to do that and put a plan in place.

In 1991, Frank Lloyd Wright was recognized by the American Institute of Architects as “the greatest American architect of all time.” He believed in “designing structures that were in harmony with humanity and its environment, a philosophy he called organic architecture.”

As we always take a different route back to Cabo San Lucas, we decided to make a trip through Frank Lloyd Wright country and visit some of the places we read about in the article. Ron and I both love lamb and looked on the internet to find out more about Jamison Farm, located near Latrobe, Pennsylvania (home of the late, great Arnold Palmer), that the article spoke very highly of. It turned out that a Harvest Dinner was planned for October 22nd, was limited to 18 people, and promised lessons, recipes, stories and dinner. We immediately booked our seats at the table.

John and Sukey Jamison's Farmhouse

John and Sukey Jamison’s Farmhouse

We took our fine bottle of Duoro (the event was BYOW) and made our way from Latrobe to Jamison Farm (thank goodness for GPS!). We were among the first guests to arrive and we were delighted to meet an eclectic group of diners, most of whom were from the area or at least from somewhere in the state of Pennsylvania.

The 210-acre Jamison Farm is owned by John and Sukey Jamison, who have lived here since the 1960’s, and have been raising free range lamb and developing their reputation for purveying America’s best since that time. Their lamb is purely grass fed and free of hormones, antibiotics, herbicides and pesticides. The local geography, selection of natural grasses, rotational grazing, and annual rainfall (approximately 50 inches) provide meat that tastes like the pastures the lambs graze on.

The Black Sheep in the Jamison's Flock

The Black Sheep in the Jamison’s Flock

It had been a particularly cold and rainy day, so walking into the Jamison farm house with fires burning in various rooms made us all feel warm and welcome. John is the story teller and Sukey is the chef – a great partnership that reflected both personalities and complementary talents.

The Jamison’s sitting room is filled with signed cookbooks from some of the world’s most wellknown chefs and of other famous people who have either visited the Farm or dined on their delicious lamb. John and Sukey used to trade lamb for signed cookbooks with Julia Child (John played a voice mail message Julia left on their phone years ago) and have supplied lamb and developed friendships with many of the most prominent and important chefs in America: Palladin, Boulud, Pépin, Ripert (Ron plays tennis with Eric’s wife, Sandra, in the Hamptons – she’s vivacious and lovely!), Keller, and so many more.

Assortment of Appetizers

Assortment of Appetizers

Our evening began with a lovely selection of appetizers: assorted cheeses, lamb sausage (with spinach and feta cheese) and lamb paté. We joined John in the sitting room and listened to their Farm’s history and of some of their colorful stories collected over time. The farm manager demonstrated how to prepare cuts from the hind leg of a lamb, resulting in less than 30% waste, including the thigh bone.

Demonstration of carving cuts from an upper leg of lamb

Demonstration of carving cuts from an upper leg of lamb

We were called to dinner and our group was split between two tables in the dining room. We began with an outstanding Lamb Barley Soup – a perfect start to the evening’s meal. The soup was rich with tomatoes, vegetables and the secret ingredient which was lamb stock. On such a cold evening, it was comfort food at its finest.

Lamb Barley Soup

Lamb Barley Soup

Our next course was a Mixed Greens Salad (with homemade Merguez Sausage and tossed with a Mustard Vinaigrette).

Mixed Greens with Merguez Sausage

Mixed Greens with Merguez Sausage

Our main course followed and we were served Braised Lamb Shoulder, Lamb Shank, Roasted Lamb Chop, Herb Cherry Tomatoes over Balsamic Onions, and Smashed Herb Potatoes.

Our Main Course - Lamb Three Ways

Our Main Course – Lamb Three Ways

During and between courses, we enjoyed more stories from John and conversation with our dinner companions and new friends.

Dessert, although we were almost too full by this point to enjoy it, was a light and delicious Mixed Apple Crisp with Chantilly Crème and served with a piece of their Specialty Brownie.

Our Dessert

Our Dessert

Although we didn’t partake of a cooking class (which we thought we were taking, but got a carving demonstration instead), we enjoyed a stellar evening of brilliantly cooked lamb dishes, prepared simply to fully appreciate the flavor of the meat itself. Sukey is a very talented cook who hand-prepared every dish in their charming farm kitchen. Everything we were served was absolutely delicious! We loved listening to John’s stories and hope that he finishes the book he has started writing (both John and Sukey were English majors) and record the podcasts (a new concept that we introduced to John as he is such a great storyteller) of the many tales they have to tell.

The road less traveled is always the best for us and we’re so glad that we planned our drive through the rolling foothills of Pennsylvania and experience the extraordinary flavor of the lambs that are cared for and graze on Jamison Farm.

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Best’s Dinner at Divino Wine & Cheese Bistro was the BEST!

Best’s Dinner at Divino Wine & Cheese Bistro was the BEST!

My dear friend and unofficially adopted daughter, Kajsa, who is a chef, caterer (Taylor Made Events Catering) and foodie extraordinaire, heard about an event that she invited me to attend with her this past Wednesday. I am SO glad she did and let me tell you why!

Divino Wine & Cheese Bistro, one of my favourite downtown restaurants and wine bars, conveniently located on Stephen Avenue, has been a Calgary favourite for over 15 years. It is part of the Canadian Rocky Mountain Resorts‘ family of restaurants and offers a comfortable bistro atmosphere, excellent cuisine prepared under the direction of chef John Donovan, an award-winning international cheese selection, and a superb wine list.

Upstairs at Divino's (photo from Divino's website)

Upstairs at Divino’s (photo from Divino’s website)

The event that Kajsa invited me to was Best’s Great Western Wine Dinner, presented by Richmond Hill Wines, a specialty wine importer and wine shop located in south west Calgary (my former neighbourhood). As one of the oldest independent wine stores in Alberta, Richmond Hill Wines has a tremendous reputation for carrying great wines, especially those from Australia.

Best's Great Western Wines (photo from Best's)

Best’s Great Western Wines (photo from Best’s)

Wednesday night’s wine dinner featured the wines of Best’s Great Western from Victoria, Australia, and were presented by Jonathan Mogg, General Manager of Sales and Marketing from Best’s. This year, 2016, marks the 150th anniversary of one of Australia’s oldest family-owned wineries (the fifth generation of the Thomson family now runs the business) and oldest vines in the country. To commemorate this extraordinary milestone, Best’s is celebrating with various tastings and dinner events around Australia and North America, of which we were able to attend the special event hosted at Divino in Calgary.

Wine Director for the Canadian Rocky Mountain Resorts and AIWS (Associate of the Institute of Wine and Spirits) Sommelier, Brad Royale, paired the food from Divino with an outstanding assortment of Best’s wines for our enjoyment. He supervised and orchestrated the entire evening’s event, introduced each dish as it was presented, and provided his own insightful tasting notes to highlight the food and wine that was served. Here was their outstanding menu and pairing:

Heirloom Tomatoes (with Fior di Latte, Baby Fall Greens, White Balsamic & Honey Vinaigrette) served with Best’s Great Western Reisling 2014

Duck Leg Confit

Duck Leg Confit

Rogue Farms Duck Leg Confit (with Poached Santa Rosa Plums) served with Best’s Great Western Ancient Vines Pinot Meunier 2010

Lamb Shank

Lamb Shank

Slow Braised Lamb Shank (with Potato Gnocchi, Braised Cipolini Onions) served with Best’s Thomson Family Shiraz 2012 and Best’s Great Western Chardonnay 2012

Cheese Cake

Cheese Cake

Cheese Cake (Thornloe Ontario Blue Cheese, Wild Saskatoon Berries) served with Best’s Great Western Sparking Shiraz Late Disgorged 2011

The food prepared by chef John Donovan and his team, the service, and the wine served throughout the evening, were nothing short of superb! I highly recommend Divino Wine & Cheese Bistro for a casual drink, lunch or dinner at any time, but particularly special events like this, Best’s 150th Anniversary Dinner.

My guy, Ron, and I have talked for a long time about attending the Australian Open, but Best’s have given me just one more brilliant reason to travel to Melbourne and explore the wines “down under”!  If you can’t get to Melbourne in the near future, I highly recommend that you check out the selection of Best’s Wines at Richmond Hill Wines. These wines really are some of the “best” Australia has to offer!

A View From “The Bow”

A View From “The Bow”

A panoramic view of downtown Calgary with "The Bow" prominently featured on the far left.

A panoramic view of downtown Calgary with The Bow prominently featured on the far left (the building with the diagonal exterior grid of cross-bracing)..

After talking about it for several years, my dear friend, Bettina, took me on a tour of the building she works in, The Bow. I shared some pictures of it in a previous post, but there is nothing like this skyscraper from the inside looking out.

Construction of this 58 floor, crescent-shaped skyscraper began in 2007 and was completed in 2012 – a billion dollars later.

It's a LONG way down!

It’s a LONG way down!

The design and architecture is absolutely stunning, with graceful rounded curves throughout the interior, incredible views, and beautiful, natural light flooding in through every window.

A view of some of the graceful lines and light.

A view of some of the graceful lines and light.

We picked up lunch at a favourite restaurant of Bettina’s, Chef’s Cafe, situated across the street from The Bow, then took it up to eat at the Sky Garden on the 54th floor to enjoy the view from a beautiful vantage point.

View looking over the Bow River.

View looking over the Bow River.

This magnificent structure literally “towers” over other buildings in downtown Calgary, and its exquisite design will remain a signature of one of the most dazzling corporate structures in Canada and perhaps the world. It has, without doubt, changed the skyline of Calgary with its semi-circular shape and clean, modern design.

A view from the top!

A view from the top (and looking at the new Brookfield Plaza which will be taller than The Bow upon completion – taller perhaps but definitely NOT as impressive)!

Thank you for taking the time, Bettina, to show me this brilliant structure and for introducing me to The Bow, from the inside looking out!

Celebrating With Special Girlfriends

Celebrating With Special Girlfriends

This past Friday night was very special. I got together with five of my very dear girlfriends for a delightful evening of connection, laughter, food, wine and general merriment! It was a pot-luck dinner and ALL of my friends love and appreciate great food and wine, so the offerings were superb. The occasion was supposed to be a celebration of three of our birthdays (Susan, Monica and me), but because I’m out of the country during the winter months, it has grown into just a great reason to get together and our group expanded to include Kajsa, Cathy and Tina.

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I was responsible for the appetizer and had planned to prepare stuffed mushrooms and a grilled eggplant salad served in Belgian endive. When I walked into Lina’s Market on Centre Street and saw the magnificent fresh figs they had displayed, the plan instantly changed. Instead I made carmelized figs with burrata cheese, with rolled prosciutto and fennel salami – the cheese drizzled with extra-virgin olive oil, fresh lemon zest, finely chopped arugula and freshly ground black pepper. To caramelize the figs, I removed the stem end, cut the figs in half lengthwise, and pressed the cut sides firmly into light coloured brown sugar. I heated a large, heavy sauté pan until hot, then cooked the figs sugar side down until carmelized (only takes a couple of minutes).

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Kajsa was up next with the salad course, which was absolutely brilliant. Kajsa is a caterer and is an amazing chef (as well as a cherished friend and first “adopted” daughter). She came up with this recipe after I told her about a fabulous crab salad I’d had in the JFK Airport recently. She made the salad with a combination of rock crab (from Prince Edward Island where she and her husband, Patrick, have a cottage) and shrimp, all beautifully wrapped in a ribbon of cucumber, served on a bed of mesclun greens, with threads of carrot and a thin slice of lemon to garnish. Gorgeous! None of us wanted to eat these little masterpieces, but we finally did and they tasted as incredible as they looked!

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Susan prepared delicious chicken skewers for our protein and Monica, another brilliant chef and our hostess for the evening, provided a fabulous rice pilaf and some marinated, grilled vegetables to complete our dinner. Kajsa had saved and brought some very special wine for all of us to share and we ate and drank very well all evening!

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Cathy supplied a delectable dessert of frozen green seedless grapes with ice-cold dessert wine from the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia.

Dinner was phenomenal, but it was the laughter and connection shared among our group of six that made it incredibly memorable and thoroughly enjoyable!

Until next year, precious friends! xox