Somm uh yay

Meet Rachel.

If you already haven’t.

Rachel Whitehead is On the Square’s sommelier, pronounced somm uh yay if you’re interested.

She came to On the Square almost a year ago, and in a very short period of time has displayed a real love for wine as well as a real talent for serving and speaking to guests.  To say we are proud of her is an understatement.

In June, Rachael travelled to the Angus Barn in Raleigh to take the introductory test for the Court of Master Sommeliers exam.  This two day lecture will not make you a certified sommelier, but it is a great way to see if wine is a career path that interests you.

According to Rachel, she loved every minute of it, and it was a real eye opener in many aspects.

After coming back to Tarboro from 48 hours of filling up on theory and blind tasting, Rachel commented that people were asking her what was next now that she passed the test.

I have to admit I was a little flustered by the question.

“What do you mean, what’s next?” I asked her.

“Well, people are asking me am I going to stay at On the Square and serve wine now that I have passed this test.”

Immediately, I got it.

To most people in our society, a test is a marker.  It is what defines our career.

For instance, we don’t practice law until we pass the bar.  We don’t teach until we have our certification.  We don’t become a nurse until we take our boards.

However, once you take these tests and ultimately pass them, you do something called work.  One works in their field of study.  Once you make the grade on these exams, you then go on to make these tests a reality and use these skills in a practical setting.  If you didn’t work, one would forget most of what they learned.

A couple of days ago, I read a really fantastic article called “Are Wine Enthusiasts Destroying the Sommelier?” by Adam Teeter.

I hadn’t really been able to answer the question others had been asking Rachael until reading this article.

A sommelier is a wine server, or a wine steward, if you want to be a little more fancy.

We sell wine.  We also serve it.  We pair it with food.  We tell its story.  We are passionate about how it is made and how it ages.  We are also wine sharers. We like to share all of its magic with others.

Taking a test certainly helps us learn, but by no means does it help us relate to people.

In my opinion, to be a capable and talented sommelier, the person has to be able to speak to guests and to be able to share wine moments.

Fortunately for those of us at On the Square, Rachel has been able to do that since day 1 because she has that natural gift of serving others with pleasure and kindness.

 

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For a Super Second

There is someone I have been getting to know for a number of years who is a for-sure wine lover.  I would like to say she reminds me of me, but the truth is she is much brighter and  much more organized at the young age of 22 than I am at the ripe age of 38.

Most of our communication is via email as she has been living in Chapel Hill for the past four years, and I in Tarboro.  We talk about different vintages for different regions and all of the producers that she is enjoying in her travels.  It is quite therapeutic to hear her love of wine in her words.

When she and her family came into the restaurant this evening, she brought a bottle of Chateau Palmer 1988 that a wine shop owner in London had given to her when she was studying there.  She had told me she was bringing the wine into the restaurant to drink, and I must say, I was giddy at the idea of getting to open and decant it.

For those of you who truly know me, you probably know that Bordeaux as a category doesn’t really get my engine running.  However, my friends, Chateau Palmer is a different story altogether.

Flashback to March 6th, 1999.  Carolina is playing Maryland in the ACC Tournament at the Charlotte Coliseum.  My four roomates and I are piled onto our blue pull-out sofa in our two bedroom apartment in Hells Kitchen drinking Bud Light and cheering the Heels on to a close victory against Maryland.

The phone rings in our apartment, and the caller on the other end asks for Inez.

I’m not going to lie.  My roomies and I were fired up.  It was a Saturday night, the Heels were winning, and the five of us loved nothing more than a reason to celebrate.

However, I gained composure, took the phone, and said in my most professional voice “This is Inez.”

On the other end of the line was Master Sommelier Andrea Immer, the Beverage Director at Windows on the World who along with her entire Beverage Department, had interviewed me the previous day.

“We want to offer you the job as an Assisant Cellarmaster,” she said into the telephone.

After I finished tripping all over my words thanking her profusely, I hung up the phone, and in true Tar Heel fashion, told my girls we had yet another reason to get rowdy.  In about six seconds, the Heels won, the girls and I changed from jeans into party attire and went downtown to the Culture Club to rock it out to Jessie’s Girl and 99 Luftballons.

Andrea’s phone call changed my life.  Literally, it changed my life.

I loved wine, I definitely knew that for a fact.

But I didn’t know wine, I didn’t even come close.

I started my career as assistant cellarmaster exactly two weeks later, after I gave notice at my current job.

About two months later (if my memory serves correctly), Andrea told us that she would be leaving Windows to begin a new path as Beverage Director at Starwood Hotels.

For Andrea’s last day, she got to choose one wine for the entire staff to toast her farewell.  We all convened in the Windows dining room where cases of 1985 Chateau Palmer were opened and offered to every single staff member.

This was the first time I was able to taste a Bordeaux classified growth.  To be exact, a third growth from Margaux.

It was magical, and I can also say this was the first time I had tasted a wine that was made from grapes in the 1980′s.  The wine was intoxicating, and I had never tasted anything quite like it.  Pencil lead, an Arturo Fuente box, smoke, cedar; I had no idea wine could taste like this.

In the Windows cellar on the 107th floor, there was a Sotheby’s encyclopedia of wine that the cellar masters read in the evening as we doled out wine to the Windows’ captains.

When I returned to work later that afternoon, I sat down to research the Chateau Palmer I had just been given the amazing opportunity to taste.

“Only Château Margaux outshines this property, jointly owned by Belgian, French, and British (the Sichel family) interests. Château Palmer 1961 and 1966 regularly fetch prices at auction that equal those fetched by the premiers crus.  A true super second that promises to achieve even greater heights since the introduction of Alto Ego, a sort of super premium of second wines, in 1998. The wine is matured in wood for 18 to 24 months, with one-third new oak.” –Sotheby’s Encyclopedia of Wine

Super second:  that was a new one.

Chateau Palmer, a third growth of Margaux, was so delicious that it had been unofficially named a super second growth.

Cool wine, cool reputation.  I was hooked.

When my young, wine-loving friend came into the restaurant tonight putting a bottle of 1988 Chateau Palmer on the table, I was transported back in time to 1999.  It was blissful.

For a super second.

 

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To All the Mothers Out There

I haven’t written in  a long time.  Too long, actually.  I feel kind of guilty about starting back because I have strayed for quite a while.

But what better time to start writing again than on a beautiful May day in Tarboro where the sun is shining and birds are chirping.

It’s very peaceful in my house right now.  Everyone is asleep except me, and I have time to collect my thoughts and hopefully compose them in some eloquent way.

When I awoke about five minutes ago, I had two texts wishing me a Happy Mother’s Day.  Last night at the restaurant, my friend Kasey told me she had bought her mom a bike for mother’s day.  My other friend Demetrious said he had found one of his first pieces of art from middle school to frame for his mother this mother’s day.  One of the teachers at Cynthia’s school was in last night who doesn’t have children per se, but is  a mother to 46 children five days a week, nine months out of the year.  She showed me the dearest email from one of her fifth graders who clearly loves her like a mother.  My sweet Nana would keep all of the cards I made and bought in a scrapbook that were Mother’s Day cards.

What a day to celebrate all of the women of the world who have been motherly to so many people.  My mother’s sister, Aunt Cynthia never had children.  But what she did have was an incredible amount of love for her two nieces who she doted on like nobody’s business.  Burton and I reaped the benefits of Saturday breakfasts in hotels, as many Lee press-on nails as we could ever want and multiple trips to Washington D.C. all courtesy of Cynt Cynt’s big heart and undying love for her two nieces.

I always said if I was blessed with a little girl, I would name her Cynthia Simmons, and in April of 2004, when I found out that beating baby in my tummy was female, she had already been named years earlier.

There are so many mothers who deserve a Happy Mother’s Day.  Teachers, aunts, best friends, moms, grandmamas, stepmamas, foster mothers, sisters and baby sitters change the lives of so many children and continue to change them on a daily basis.  I think about all of the incredible women who have influenced me and all of the wonderful women who are influencing my children, and I say a prayer every single one of them knows how special they are.

To all of the mother’s of the world, you rock it every single day of the year.  Without all of your love, guidance, support and wisdom, I would not be who I am and where I am.  Thank you for leading by example and spreading the love every woman needs to be a mother.

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The Gift that is Still Giving

In true Inez fashion, I am extremely late in writing this thank you note.

My Nana once told me she didn’t give gifts to children who didn’t write her a thank you letter.  Because of those words, I used to be the most diligent letter writer ever because I was so afraid I would be left out the following Christmas or birthday.

I must admit, however, the older I become, the harder it is to find the right words to write my friends and family letters to show the gratitude for their gifts.  So please forgive me On the Square for taking so long to tell you how grateful we are for our incredible Christmas gift.  I know it is beyond overdue.

Stephen and I recently went to a wine luncheon in Raleigh where Master Sommelier Bobby Stuckey and Chef Lachlan Patterson of Frasca Restaurant in Boulder, Colorado shared their incredible wines and delicious food.

While talking to Bobby, he mentioned that they could never duplicate their restaurant Frasca because of the people who work there.  He called his sommelier and servers the “terroir” of Frasca, and because of them, they could never have another one that would be as the same.

I have meditated on that statement for over four days now, and I believe that to be the same reason On the Square would never be able to open in another place with the same results.

The people who work with us are most certainly the reason we are able to succeed.  They bring so much to the game, and they are strong team players all over the court.  Because of our servers, our dishwashers, our cooks, our managers, our bartender and everyone in between, we cannot duplicate what we have in downtown Tarboro.

All of these people who work so hard to make sure On the Square is a wonderful place for food, service, wine and drink come together every year to generously give us a Christmas gift.

Of course, their gifts have been given to us year round when they show up for work and give their time and talents to our guests, but they continue to go over the top and give us lavish gifts each and every December.

From Rosetta Stone to a Keurig coffee maker to the refurnishing of our restaurant bathrooms, they have given us far more than we could ever deserve.  Just when we think they cannot give us a more thoughtful gift, we are surprised once again by their unbelievable generosity.

This past December, the crew at On the Square gave Stephen and me a week in Charleston with dates set in stone (so no procrastinating) as well as gift certificates to restaurants in the area.

For us, it was the ultimate gift.  An entire week of eating, drinking and sleeping with no stress, no worries, no cares.  I have to believe it was a gift to the people of On the Square as well who had an entire week of no freaking out, no yelling, no harassing.

As Stephen and I drove to Charleston on that beautiful Sunday morning, we realized it was the first time the two of us had gone on a vacation alone since our honeymoon.

That in itself is an amazing gift.  We had the best time just being together, laughing, getting ideas on food, service and cocktails, walking around a gorgeous city and enjoying life.  It was, my friends, a gift that is still giving me wonderful memories.

On Tuesday, at that same luncheon in Raleigh, Bobby Stuckey told us how every other year he shuts down the restaurant and he takes his entire staff to Friuli for a week to enjoy the region and understand the food and the wine culture.

I smiled to myself thinking about how our staff did the same thing for Stephen and me.

Thank you all for giving so generously and so freely.  Stephen and I both are forever grateful for all of the gifts you give us every single day.

5 comments

Bragging on My Husband

My husband loves to cook.  He also loves to drink.  More so than any other chef I have worked with, Stephen respects the relationship of wine paired with food.

When given a list of wines, he paces for hours trying to create the ultimate menu that will place the wines in the highest sphere possible.

He sincerely cares about the winemaker, the vineyard, the grape and the end product.  He wants the wine to shine, and he isn’t arrogant about making sure his food is the queen of the party.  It is also crucial to note he has an amazing crew in the kitchen who are dedicated, talented and hard-working.  Because of these people in our kitchen, the menu was wonderfully executed.

Last night’s French wine dinner was a lively visit to France on Tarboro terroir.  We were lead through the vineyards by one of the most knowledgeable wine people I know, Debra Lewis of Vintage 59 Imports.  Her expertise and her passion made the evening memorable on many counts, and On the Square was fortunate to be able to have her in our dining room.  The night is still present in my mind, and I wanted to share with you the menu and the pairings, and of course, the pictures.

So, I give you, my friends, a blog in photographs for those of you who would like to enjoy.

Reception

Château de Lavernette “Granit Blanc de Noirs,” Beaujolais NV

 

Duet of North Carolina Goat Cheese

Semifreddo, Jalapeno Glaze, Crisp Purse, Arugula

Xavier Weisskopf “Le Rocher des Violettes” Montlouis Demi-Sec, Loire 2011

Domaine Merlin-Cherrier Sancerre, Loire 2012

 

 

Pan Seared Scottish Salmon

Oyster Mushroom Ragout, Fried French Horn Mushrooms, Beet Mashed Potatoes

Domaine Bachelet-Monnot Maranges 1er Cru “Fussiere,” Burgundy 2011

 

Braised Short Ribs

Duck Confit Risotto, Crispy Local Collards

Domaine de la Garrelière “le Rouge,” Loire, 2011

Château Coupe Roses “Cuvee Vignals,” Minervois 2011

Chocolate Crepe

Lavendar Crème Anglaise, Blue Cheese Whipped Cream

Château Unang, Cotes de Ventoux 2009

 

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Giving Back the Wine Way

One of my dearest friends has been blessed with a beautiful little girl who has a different way of learning.  Because of this, she requires a special school, and in great thanks to many, many dedicated individuals, she is able to send her daughter to the Frankie Lemmon School in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Ironically, the Frankie Lemmon School has an extraordinary fundraiser every year called the Triangle Wine Experience.

In an effort to give back to a friend who has given me so much, I contacted Ashley Christensen, chef and owner of AC Restaurants, who also serves on the board of Frankie Lemmon.

She graciously invited me to be a part of a donation item called the Twelve Roses, a night of food and wine consisting of five female chefs from New Orleans, Nashville, New York and of course, North Carolina, five California winemakers and two female sommeliers.  The event would take place at Eliza and Brian Olander’s home on a Saturday evening where wine and food would come together to make a magical evening of eating, drinking and being merry.  All proceeds from the auction item would go to the Frankie Lemmon School.

I couldn’t think of a better or more exciting way of becoming involved.  Thank you, Ashley, for allowing me the opportunity.

I invited my friend Laura Maniec, Master Sommelier and owner of Cork Buzz in Manhattan, to join in the fun.  She graciously accepted, and I made plans to pick her up at RDU International on Saturday at 1:05 p.m.

I haven’t seen Laura in two years, and I couldn’t have been more grateful for her donation of time, talents and flight fare to come to Raleigh to complete the wine and dining package.  An old friend completely giving of her time to help an old friend out–isn’t that the way it should always be?

Because we didn’t have to be at Eliza and Brian’s until 6:30 p.m., we had plenty of time to spare.

Wanting to check out Joule Coffee, one of Ashley’s newest restaurants, we made our way downtown to meet up with one of the most extraordinary people in the business, Matt Fern, General Manager of the AC Group.

Some of the greatest moments of my career are when I get to learn from other people in the industry.  Visiting with Matt and Laura for the remainder of the afternoon (with a cameo appearance from Vivian Howard of Chef and the Farmer) was some of the best coffee and wine time I have enjoyed in my lifetime.  Just sitting down and hearing about what we can do as restaurant professionals to improve upon ourselves was not only therapeutic but vital at the same time.  Three hours felt more like 15 minutes, and before I knew it, Laura and I were madly rushing to get dressed for the night of fun.

As most of you readers know, nothing makes me more excited than wine and food, expect my children and husband, of course.  This night proved to be especially exciting because of the people involved on every level.

Eliza and Brian’s home and cellar were awe-inducing.  The winemakers were not only powerhouses, but lovely, fun, gracious people.  Pam Starr of Crocker & Starr, Jenn Porembski of Zeitgeist, Martha McClellan of Levy & McClellan, Julie Martinelli of Martinelli and Helen Keplinger of Keplinger proved to be inspiring and amazing speakers who donated mind blowing wines.

And, of course there were the chefs.  Ashley, Vivian, Andrea Reusing of Lantern in Chapel Hill, Alex Raij of Txikito in New York, Lisa Donovan of Husk in Nashville and Rebecca Wilcomb of Herbsaint in New Orleans lovingly made some of the most delicious food that paired incredibly well with the wines.  For a recap of the dinner, see end of blog.

The night was magical, to quote Martha McClellan, and I don’t really know if there are more gracious hosts than Eliza and Brian.  They so generously opened up their home to all of us, and the energy just felt fantastic from the moment I walked in the door until the second I left.  All of the service was perfectly expedited by Laura Collier, one of the most brilliant and cool women I know.  She made us all feel like we were in the most competent hands in the world, and I believe we were.

I loved my night.  I loved being with people who either work in wine and food or who love people who work in wine and food.

On Sunday morning, I dropped Laura Maniec, fellow sommelier, off at the airport to get on a plane for Laguardia.  From there, I drove back to Tarboro, not even 24 hours later.  As I came in on Highway 64, the sun was almost completely shining in its full glory.

For the hour drive, I spent my time recollecting every moment of that precious evening.

I consider any night where I get to eat and drink well an incredible blessing.  But when I think about a night where I get to give back to something that makes a difference in a child’s life, I become humbled.  Humbled to know people who really care and really want to share.  To say I am grateful is an understatement.

Remind yourself everyday when you have an opportunity to make a difference, it is an opportunity to make your personal world a little better.

 

Twelve Roses Menu

One
Lima beans & Run-up Turnip Greens in Broth with Lemon and Soft Herb Pistou
Vivian Howard
Martinelli Chardonnay 2007 & Martinelli Zio Tony Ranch Pinot Noir 2006
Two
Sunburst Farms Trout with Navarran Artichoke and Jamón Iberico
Alex Raij
Crocker & Starr Cabernet Franc 2011
Three
Chilled, Shaved Ryals Pork Loin with Chili-Citrus Bagna Cauda, Onion and Broccoli Sprouts
Rebecca Wilcomb
Zeitgeist Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon 2010
Four
Spice-Cured Moulard Duck  with Hayman Sweet Potato, L’Hoste Kumquats, Four Leaf Farm Pea Greens
Andrea Reusing
Keplinger Sumo 2011
Five
Two-Way Ribeye with Rutabaga Rratin, Creamed Bloomsdale Spinach, Red Pearls and Hedge Hogs
Ashley Christensen
Levy & McClellan Napa Valley Red 2009
Six
Milk Chocolate and Butterscotch Pudding Cup, Sweet Cream, Appalachian Salt and Breadcrumb Shortbread
Lisa Donovan

 

 

 

2 comments

My Dad Always Says

When it comes to my father, there isn’t much to say except I love him so much my heart gets full just writing about him.

As I go back to re-read my blogs, I realize my more recent entries don’t seem as personal or as full of life as they once did.

As difficult as it is to admit, the blogs aren’t really feeling me because I have been a little down and out.

So I’m going to be honest.  Really honest.

Honest to a fault most likely.

My dad has always told me not to say anything about someone that you wouldn’t say to their face.

Literal translation:  If you don’t like someone, then you better be comfortable enough to tell them because if you’re just saying it behind their back, you’re a complete coward.

Dad translation:  Be kind.  If you’re saying something mean, most likely, there’s no way you would say it to their face.

And this, my friends, is where my honesty comes in.

Enough is enough.

All of these people out there who use the internet to bash food or restaurants or service or wines or people are just cowards.

O.K. I said it.

Where does it stop?

Do you not think that this whole career thing might be personal?

I choose not to read chowhound or yelp or tripadvisor or any of the limitless web information out there because it can be so scathing, so ruthless, so hurtful, I have no desire to even go there.

Ever.

If you don’t like the fish, tell me.

I will do my best to remedy the situation.

If you don’t want to tell me, and you’d rather just write about it, then you’re out of luck.

Not only can I not try to fix it, but I also never saw your complaint.

My favorite thing about living in Tarboro.  The people are straight up.

I tell the story often about my daughter who goes to a school that is around 90% African American.  This past summer she went to a very nice camp that her namesake great aunt allowed her the opportunity.

At the precocious age of 9, she was very aware of her surroundings.  When I picked her up from camp, I asked her how she enjoyed her time.

She answered, “Mom, did you know some girls talk about each other behind their backs, but then when they’re around each other, they pretend to be friends?”

Not excited to be dealing with this so early, I said, “Honey, welcome to girl land.  It’s one of those things girls do, sadly, they often talk about each other behind their backs.”

Cynthia looked confused, and then answered, “Not black girls, mama, if they don’t like you, they say it right to your face.”

Girl, if only I could be a black girl.

And then I realized, I have been keeping my inner-black girl inside me for the past six months.

Well, no longer.

Here’s the deal.

And it was given to me by the most brilliant man I know, my father.

If you don’t say it to my face, then I don’t think it has much weight.

Weight meaning I can’t take you unless you’re honest.

6 comments

Wine Treasures

Tomorrow is December 1st, and I feel as if Christmas Eve is going to come out of nowhere, tackling me in its largest embrace.

I’m not going to lie.  I absolutely adore Christmastime.  Everything about it makes me happy:  the lights, the music, the joy, the excitement of children, the whole shibang.  I feel energy from the energy of the air around me, and when the season gets going, I am right there with it, crazy about every single moment.

My children and I traveled to Ace Hardware yesterday to select an eight foot tree to stand in our living room.  I have to give a major shout out to my friends at Ace who not only fitted the tree into its stand, but also delivered it to our front door.

Cynthia, Stephen and I woke up this morning, made our hot chocolate, turned on the holiday music channel and started decorating with a roaring vengeance.  Big Stephen quietly hung on the couch, looking up every now and then to examine an ornament or hear a story.

My daughter shares my love of ornaments, and the two of us have spent over half of her life finding little keepsakes that mean something to hang on our tree.

Whether it’s a black bear reminiscent of our time at Pop Pop’s in New York State where we watched a mama bear and her cubs out of his kitchen window or a Tiny Tim ornament saying “God Bless Us Everyone” reminding us of Cynthia playing the little tyke in our community theater, we have ornaments symbolizing many life events.

The observant child Cynthia is, she commented to me this morning that we sure did have a lot of wine ornaments.  From a silver wine glass to a porcelain champagne bottle to a ceramic Bordeaux and quite a few others, there is a whole lot of wine flowing all over our trimmed tree.

Cynthia and Stephen both love a story.  Whether it’s about my youth or their moments as babies or even a good ole’ restaurant story, the kids can sit quietly for hours listening to my recollections.

Today when Cynthia started talking about the wine ornaments, I immediately started talking about who gave them to us as gifts and where we were living or working when we received them.

Cynthia looked up at me and said, “The ornaments are the best part of Christmas because they each make us remember someone or something special.”

The irony of it is that wine often does the same thing.

I remember the bottle of Franciacorta I drank at Babbo when Stephen and I became engaged in 2002.

I remember the bottle of Iron Horse “Wedding Cuvee” that we drank the day after we were married in south Jersey.

I remember the Triennes Rose we drank at a friend’s apartment in Chelsea at three o’clock in the morning.

And I remember the bottle of Washington State Chardonnay that made me fall in love with wine at the ripe age of 21.

There is no price tag on a memory.  For the good ones, we would pay dearly just to remember every last detail of the moment.

For the bad ones, we would do anything to make it go away forever.

Memories are our treasures, and when wine triggers a beautiful memory, I consider that a true treasure as well.

4 comments

I Made A New Friend

How could I have possibly forgotten to post this the moment it happened?

About seven years ago, Stephen and I were given the major blessing of meeting Ben Knight and Vivian Howard, proprietors and chef of Chef and the Farmer in Kinston.

I will never forget one of our dates at our home where the four of us stayed up late talking about running restaurants in eastern North Carolina and how different it was from what we experienced in Manhattan.

We drank, we laughed, we ate, we drank, we talked, we drank.  You get the idea.

After that evening, a wonderful bond formed, and since then, we have shared meals, wines, family time and many a conversation.

In typical generous Vivian fashion, she gave my name to one of the producers of A Chef’s Life’s using me as a source for information on Muscadine.  Honored and flattered and thrilled to death, I received a phone call from Un Kyong Ho, a brilliant lady with so much joy and kindness in her voice, I immediately felt drawn to her.

Un Kwong and I spoke on the telephone for at least 45 minutes talking about eastern North Carolina, On the Square, the various strains of Muscadine, and my blog.  She was charming, excited and interested, and I have to say, I developed a mild crush on this dynamic voice on the other end of the line.  When the blog was mentioned, I explained to her that I didn’t always blog about wine, but I was always having a glass of wine when I blogged.  Same thing, right?

But I digress.

Un Kwong wrote bout our conversation on A Chef’s Life site, and I have been too busy basking in its glory instead of posting her blog on my site.

How incredibly rude of me or should I write #toodumbtoknowwhatsup.

Regardless, better late than never, and now is my chance to share Un Kyong’s incredible writing as well as give a shout out to beautiful Vivian who always makes me feel good.

#whenwinemakesmefriendsitsbetterthanieverimagined

Drum roll please…..

http://www.achefslifeseries.com/posts/16

 

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And Then Some

A friend of mine and I have a discussion quite frequently about why working mothers cannot come close to having it all.

She believes that it’s true.  When you work, you lose out on your children’s day-to-day activities that are as precious as losing a tooth or as simple as having an “aha moment” while doing one’s homework.

It wasn’t long after I had my precious Cynthia when I noticed trips out of town on wine excursions didn’t seem as exciting or as fun as usual.  Most of the time I spent away from home was time spent wondering about how she was adjusting to a one-parent circus ring.

No doubt about it, my travel is much more limited to what it used to be, but I still feel like I have plenty to do and more than enough places to be.

One side job I picked up for part of my Autumn was teaching a six-week wine class at Edgecombe Community College.  The class ended up being better than I could have ever imagined all in thanks to the students in the class.

Everyone who attended was excited and energetic and inquisitive, and I learned more in these past six weeks than I had in quite a while due to the interaction and the generous contribution from each and every student.

What could be more satisfying than teaching?  Teaching people who are into it.

I would say that’s a pretty big high, and I have been riding that high since the first Tuesday in October.

So now I have to play Devil’s Advocate and be on the same side as my friend who says one can never have it all.

The past six Tuesdays have coincided with my children’s soccer games.

As you probably have guessed, this means I did not make it to one of the games.  Not a single one.

I didn’t get to say Go Team or Go Cynthia or Go Away.  I wasn’t there.  Not once.

But my husband was.  He was there to take them to the field, to find the shinguards, to feed them dinner, to give them pep talks.

While I was tasting and talking about wine with wine enthusiasts, my soccer-hating husband was with my two children watching what he calls “herding butterflies.”

Life’s a ball.

And then I get home tonight.

I pull into the carport and all the car doors of our other car are wide open.

That’s unusual, I think.

Real translation:  These idiots don’t know how to shut the doors, what in the world is wrong with them?

I walk into the house and see a small trophy on the kitchen table naming Stephen’s team Soccer Champions.

My heart swells and then my heart hurts.  I wasn’t there.  I missed it.

As my head tries to reason with my heart, I turn to my husband who is cooking dinner and ask him why every door on the car is open.

“I can’t do it,” he says.  “I really can’t do it.”

“Do what?” I ask.

“Go in the bathroom.”

I leave the kitchen as little Stephen runs past me buck naked, and walk into the worst smelling bathroom of all time.

I’m going to say right now I don’t usually post potty humor or anything of the like, but I cannot help but finding the irony in this situation.  Here I am, at 8:45 p.m. on a Tuesday night, missing the fun stuff yet coming home to the poo.  Literally, the poo.  Can not all mothers find humor in that?  We are the ones who not only clean it up but also deal with it on a day-to-day basis.  We most certainly have it all because we have the good, the bad and the in-between, regardless of what we do or what we do not do.

Of course, my heart swells with pride as I go into the bathroom and find that my Bath & Body Works-loving daughter Cynthia who hasn’t tried to clean up the mess but instead has lit two aromatic candles trying their best to make a dent in the stench. There is poo smeared from one end of the bathroom to the other.

“Oh my God.  This is absolutely disgusting.”

I walk back into the kitchen to ask Stephen what happened.

“He couldn’t hold it.  I really cannot deal with this.  Sorry, it’s all you.”

In thanks to the candles and being able to hold my breath for a small amount of time, I get the mess cleaned up in about 10-12 minutes.

Who says we can’t have it all?

I got it all tonight, and then some.

Honestly, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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Broken

In November 2001, I took a job with B. R. Guest Restaurant Group as the opening Wine Director of Blue Fin, an upscale seafood restaurant located in the soon-to-be-opening W Hotel in Times Square.

It would be my first restaurant opening, and I became heavily involved from the moment I started in where the wines would be cellared, how we would get them to the two different bars and of course, the really fun stuff:  creating a wine list and cocktail menu.

It was intense in every way, shape and form, and I remember feeling so much stress from the moment I began until the day I left.

The restaurant opened on New Year’s Eve, and besides the fact that we were located in the heart of Times Square, New Year’s Eve in any part of Manhattan is pretty much insane.  Place your restaurant on the corner of 47th and Broadway and add an opening, well, insanity just got a whole new outfit.

Personally, my insanity heightened exponentially because my family came to visit me in New York during this particular week.

At the time, I thought it was the best idea ever.

But as I worked, I watched them break bread together, sip wine together and laugh together while I ran around a two-story restaurant like a wine bandit.

Do I miss that time in my life?

Absolutely not.

Was it a good learning experience?

You know it.

I grew so much during that short five month period that I still look back on those days as learning more about the operations side of restaurants than any other experience short of having my own.

At the time, the majority of us working at Blue Fin were in our 20s.  The chef was young, our staff was young, and I was young, 25 to be exact.

I loved getting to know everyone around me, and I absolutely adored talking about wine to all of these people who seemed to enjoy it from the moment we had our first staff training.

It was a crazy time for me, and more than ever, I so needed the friendships of those I worked with on a daily basis.  It was an amazing gift that I got to know so many talented and gifted restaurateurs in such a short period of time.

Unfortunately, I was not equipped to stay for a very long time because I was broken in spirit and emotion:  two things that shouldn’t be broken when working in the front of the house.

I will never forget accepting the fact that working wasn’t going to heal me and letting my superiors know I needed to leave.

I don’t think anyone was surprised by me saying I needed to go, but I will say the response was overwhelming.

On my very last night, the entire wait staff came together to give me an extremely special bottle of Ridge Monte Bello from my birth year, 1976.

To say I was touched is the understatement of the year.

My mind was blown, and I couldn’t say thank you without crying a month’s worth of tears.

These friends who I had all just met within the past five months had a created a community around me, a caring, forgiving and loving community who basically propped me up the entire time I felt like I was falling down.

They sustained me, they encouraged me, and mostly, they loved me, even though I wasn’t able to give them my all.

At the end of the shift, the crew had a going away party at a bar close to the restaurant.  I brought my bottle of Monte Bello 1976, holding it like a newborn baby.

This is the part where everyone will cry.  Please prepare yourself.

When I was telling everyone good night, I put the bottle down on the floor next to my right foot to give someone a giant hug.

Being completely clumsy, the moment I put my arms around my friend, my foot slipped and hit the bottle of wine.

It literally fell 13 inches and shattered right at my feet.

Horrifying.  Devastating.  Embarrassing.  Revolting.  Depressing.  Humiliating.  How could this happen moment.

I didn’t know what to say.  The first thing I wanted to do was start licking the floor.

The second thing I wanted to do was to get it up before anyone else could see what I had done.

These new friends of mine had gone to great extremes, financially and timely, to buy me one of the most special gifts I could ever receive.

The gift was broken.  I had broken it.  No more.  That wine was not for me to have.

The irony being I was broken too.

But I mended.

A bottle of wine that shatters cannot be rebuilt.  Once it breaks, it cannot be drunk.  It cannot be fixed.

But we can.

We can mend.  We can heal.  We can overcome.

I did.

And I thank God that I did.

I will never forget the people who loved me during a time where I didn’t feel very much love.

They didn’t know me, but they got to know me, and they helped me mend.

I didn’t know what was happening at the time, but I know it now.

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Constant

It’s that time of the year again, and even though 12 years have passed, we cannot help but think about September 11th, 2001, the day America and the world changed forever.

Regardless of where you are from or what you believe, everyone is familiar with 9/11 or 911 or September 11th in some way, shape or form.

I was 25 years old that beautiful almost-Fall day.  What a young, incredible age.  Sometimes I remember it well and other times, I can barely recollect.

Twenty-five as an age sounds young because it is young.  Back then, I lived from moment to moment without a care in the world except to think about what delicious meal I would eat next or what bar was calling my name when I left work in the evening.

On September 8th, and the days leading up to it, my only thoughts were my sister’s wedding and wearing a dress that had just been tailored courtesy of the seamstress at Windows on the World.  Of course, I was also stoked about giving my maid-of-honor speech at the rehearsal dinner.

Nothing was on my mind but a fun-filled weekend of total bliss.  Because I was young and carefree and beyond happy, life was absolutely grand.

It is truly amazing how one tragic moment can change everything and everyone.

In one blink, I, Inie Simmons Holderness, didn’t feel young anymore.  In one second, in one crazy moment, I started feeling very old.

My world as I knew it completely got rocked.  It got rocked so hard that for a long time I had trouble speaking in complete sentences.

In one blink of an eye, in one short blip on the television screen, I totally forgot about myself and what I was going to do and all of a sudden, I started thinking about the world and the people in it and all of the pain it must be experiencing to do something so awful, to feel something so awful, to hurt something so awful.

I stopped caring about who said what about who or if the vintage in Bordeaux was going to be the vintage of the century.  I stopped wondering about what job was the very best one or if I was invited to the latest and greatest cocktail party.  I stopped having dreams about when I would get married and how many bridesmaids I would have.

I aged.  I aged tremendously, and I aged quickly.

Fast forward to the eve of September 11th, 2013.

My husband and I live in Tarboro.  We have two children.  We live in a house in a small town, and we operate and own our very own restaurant.

I go to church–my husband makes fun.

I pack lunches–my husband plays mixed doubles.

I learned how to drive a car and not wreck it–my husband has learned to make pimento cheese and chicken & waffles.

Life is completely different.

I don’t have roommates, and the friends I socialize with on a regular basis are not the same ones as 12 years ago.

If I had to guess, that’s the case for most people.

Life has changed, and all of us have had to change with it.

It’s sometimes difficult to think of what might have been.

In fact, I try not to think about it.

Of course, when I look back on that day, there is one constant.

That constant is the father of my children.

Stephen has been there through it all:  through the very lows and the super highs.  He has let me be, and he has let me come home to the place I was always meant to be.  That’s a pretty amazing constant, don’t you think?

He knew me when I was completely different than I am now, and he has continued to love me for better or for worse.

About once a year, the two of us will reminisce about all of the people we miss from our days at Windows on the World.  We will tell funny stories; we will share a certain occasion where a memorable event occurred; and as always, I will shed a tear or two.

We cannot stop time, and that is the beauty of life.  It keeps going no matter what.

My life did not stop twelve short years ago.

It just changed, and when it changed, I changed too.

As for the past and who I was, it is definitely hard to remember.

But as for the people and all those who made such an impact on my life while I worked at Windows, I will never ever forget.

 

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How ‘Bout Them Apples?

Relationships matter in any business, and this statement could not be any truer than in the hospitality industry.

It is important to not just have a quality relationship with your customers, but also with your co-workers and of course, your vendors.

About 5-6 years ago, On the Square decided fresh flowers would really add an elegant touch to our dining room tables.

Of course, the obvious choice was to go local and use the beautiful, fresh, homegrown flowers of Daphne & Michael O’Brien’s Fishing Creek Flower Farm.

From there, a relationship began.

Through conversations made during flower deliveries, Stephen discovered Michael loved two of the hobbies Stephen considers dearest to his heart:  tennis and fishing.

They became fast friends, and have spent many Sunday afternoons on the Tarboro High School tennis courts and many long Mondays and Tuesdays fishing off of Cape Lookout National Seashore.

Daphne has reviewed some of my writing, and while she is an incredibly busy educator and mother, I value the moments I get to hear her knowledge in an informal setting.

In the past several years, Michael and his son Anderson have become passionate about another venture that Stephen and I obviously love:  the making of hard cider.

As many readers know, Cava is our drink of choice, and one of the reasons for that is the bubbly personality it possesses.  Michael makes a cider that has plenty of bubbles as well as a fruity yet dry flavor.  It is also made by our dear friends who not only supply us with gorgeous flowers but also make our lives happier ones.

Just one short week ago, after many, many tastings, and many, many cider conversations, Michael was able to sell me a case of L.L. Draughon’s Fishing Creek Hard Cider.  That evening at On the Square, we started serving it by the flute or by the pint as well as by the bottle.  If you ask about our flowers, which so many people do, we will also tell you about the cider that comes from the same place.

We all know how fun it is to hear a great story.

Michael’s story of making a dream come true by creating a libation that gives pleasure is one of my new favorites.

Come by On the Square to taste this craft cider.  We are excited to share it with all who love a great drink.

For more information about the O’Brien’s operation, please visit http://www.fishingcreekcider.com/

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The Countdown Begins

Forty-two days ago, Stephen and I launched our Indiegogo campaign to raise funds for Tarboro Brewing Company, a brewery and tap room that we envision will bring even more life and excitement (not to mention jobs and tourism) to our already-beautiful town.

We have 19 days left in our campaign, and I would like to humbly ask our friends and supporters to take a moment to seriously consider donating to the cause.

Disclaimer:  My aunt Cynthia says this is the tackiest thing she’s ever seen, me begging for money, even though I have tried to explain Crowd Funding to her on numerous occasions.  She claims she doesn’t understand crowd funding, and it’s still tacky.

Regardless, I truly believe in our town and in Tarboro Brewing Company so I invite you all to check out our link, and if you are willing and/or able, we would be extremely grateful.  We have even added more perks to sweeten the pot.

Cheers to a wonderful September!

http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/tarboro-brewing-company–2/x/2768053

 

 

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The Best Vintage

When I went to work as Wine Director at Borgata Hotel, Casino & Spa in Atlantic City, I was given the opportunity to go to Manhattan to buy wine at auction.

The auctions were held at Restaurant Daniel, and Sotheby’s was the seller.  I’ll never forget buying a magnum of Huet Vouvray Moelleux 1919 at a price I really cannot remember.

I didn’t know one thing about this particular vintage in Vouvray, but there was only one thing that mattered:  1919 was the year my Nana, my namesake, my best friend was born.

Was it careless buying?

I didn’t think so.

I wanted a wine in that massive cellar that would constantly remind me of the person I wanted and needed to be to have ultimate happiness.

Nana was that person.  From the moment I could speak, she was teaching me about how to be fair and just and true to myself and to others.

When I was in kindergarten, she was right there telling me how important it was to be nice to everyone regardless of skin color.

In middle school, she helped me with my student government campaign, and taught me about being a gracious winner and a gracious loser.

When I went to high school and entered the Optimist Club’s Oratorical Contest, Nana listened to my speech over and over and over again, telling me what content I needed to eliminate and what content I needed to add.

While attending the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Nana called weekly if not every other day to make sure I wasn’t blowing my education drinking beer and slacking off.  I did do that my first year, but then I realized I was being a major disappointment to my namesake.

After graduating and moving to New York, Nana wrote me letters monthly always signing them with “Please don’t have sex in the city, or in the country for that matter.  Just work hard and save your money.”

Nana was on top of current events from the minute she could read and write up until the day she died.

A lover of Imus in the morning, and a regular watcher of CNN, Nana could tell you about the stock market in great detail anytime you asked her.

To say she was a role model is an understatement.

Two weeks ago, when I tearfully read her a letter telling her how much I loved her, I called her my soul mate.

She smiled at me and told me I was her soul mate too.

Word on the street is that we’re opening a brewery in Tarboro.

Stephen and I could not be any more excited about the new venture.  Four months ago, when we started the process on our business plan, we realized our 10,000 square foot building that is perfectly suited for a microbrewery needed a new roof.

There was no way Stephen and I could get the money to replace the roof in any quick amount of time.

As in typical fashion, Nana came through with a check to seal the deal and put a roof on our charming building in downtown Tarboro.  I promised her one of our first beers would be called Nana’s Roof.  She promised me she would not be around to try it.

Nana kept her promise.

Last Tuesday in the very early morning, Nana said good bye to Tarboro and to me in her 94th year.

It hurts to lose someone you love, regardless of how old or ready one may be.

My floodgates opened last week, and they are just now closing.

I think about Nana and all of the wisdom I counted on her to give me throughout my life.

I think about my future, and how scary it seems without her.

Nana was always asking me about the business.  She was asking me if we were busy, what our sales were, what did we need to survive.  It was always comforting to talk to her about On the Square because she genuinely cared, and she always had a relevant story from the news to explain to me why we had been busy or why we were slow.

1919:  a year when the greatest man or woman I ever knew was born.

She taught me everything I ever needed to know, and I pray that I will remember her words and actions so that I can be a fraction of the woman she always was.

Nana was the single best vintage I ever drank.  Forget about juice, and think about substance.

When our brewery opens, I will remember Nana and all that she stood for.  Fairness, justice, kindness and joy.

Be fair and just in my business.

Treat people kindly.

Take joy in what you do and serve.

Nana’s words, Nana’s life, Nana’s hope.

If I do what she taught me, then I have honored her in the best way I know.

Nana & Me

Nana & Me

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