Let’s Have a Kiki.

So I haven’t really felt like writing much lately.  Not because I haven’t had anything to write, but more because what I had to say wasn’t light and airy.

So here it is in its simplest form:

Let’s have a kiki.

Everything I need to function in life I learned from Glee.

Let’s have a kiki.

You may not know or even like the song, but the jest is this:

A kiki is a party for calming all your nerves.

Is that possible?

Life is grand.  I sit here writing on my computer less than 26 hours away from December 1st, and I think to myself what a beautiful world.

For the past few months, that is not exactly how I have felt.

Instead I have been focused on the hurt and the pain and the cruelness of life and those who have been or are hurting.

It may be deep to think about those things, but it doesn’t inspire me to share them with others.

Guess that means I’m getting old?

For sure it does.  Just to prove it, I found  a gray hair today that my husband refused to pull.

So I have sat on my computer for the past few weeks refusing to write because what I wanted to write wasn’t bubbly and festive.

And then, I open a bottle of juice that disagrees with my attitude.

I open a bottle of Iron Horse “Ocean Reserve” Bubbly from Green Valley of Russian River Valley in Sonoma.  A joint project between Iron Horse Winery and National Geographic Magazine, proceeds from every bottle sale go to ocean life preservation and to the protection of  over fishing.

There is so much good in the world.  We can find it if we look for it.

We can find it in wine, in education, in workplaces, in anything if we search deep enough.

Go tell it on the mountain.  Go tell your friends to find a wine with a story.  A wine that is made by someone who cares.  A wine that will restore or renew your faith in the human race.

Let’s have a kiki, and let’s do it with a glass of vino that celebrates people who want to help our world.

 

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Long Live Terra Vita

We interrupt this program to bring to you a special announcement….

Today I will blog on the best weekend I enjoyed in Chapel Hill thanks to a brilliant mind and beautiful soul named Colleen Minton, organizer extraordinaire of Terra Vita.  If you don’t know about Terra Vita, read about it in all of its glory at www.terravitaevent.com.

Stephen and I ventured up to the Hill (the only place I would live in North Carolina besides Tarboro) to take part in one component of the event known as the Sustainable Classroom.

I partnered up with the extremely knowledgeable Alexander Kast, the fromagier at Southern Seasons and the extremely beautiful and knowledgeable Breana Lai, cooking class director at Southern Seasons, to facilitate a session on wine paired with cheese in its pure form and wine paired with cheese once incorporated in a dish.

The hour and fifteen minute class took place in the Greenbridge Development Building on Rosemary Street with a magnificent view of my most favorite university town.

The three of us enjoyed a fun crowd, and the basic rundown of the class was the following:

  • Rag Apple Lassie Viognier from the Yadkin Valley paired with Goat Lady Dairy Smoky Mountain Round Ravioli
  • Ravines Riesling from the Fingerlakes of New York with Meadow Creek Dairy “Grayson”
  • Le Tel Quel from the Loire Valley of France with a Montgomery Cheddar Grilled Cheese & Butternut Squash Soup
  • Saddle Rock Old Vines Tawny Port paired with Rogue River Blue

It was an educational adventure for me, and I fell even more deeply in love with cheese by the end of the class.

No time to dilly dally, however, because our next stop was to attend the Carolina Table:  East Meets West Dinner featuring Adam Rose of Il Palio in Chapel Hill, Vivian Howard of Chef and the Farmer in Kinston and Cassie Parsons of Harvest Moon Grille in Charlotte.

What an amazing dinner!  Not only did we get to sit beside Sean Lilley from Full Steam Brewery as well as his wife and beautiful daughter, but we enjoyed unbelievably delicious dishes ranging from Collard Risotto to Spinach Canneloni with local mushrooms.

The dinner was an absolute blast, and Stephen and I were completely pumped up for the following day when the Grand Tasting on the Green would take place.

Saturday morning came quickly, and we trucked our wares to Southern Village where the event was held.  Because Terra Vita supports local, sustainable food, Stephen decided to make a rendition of the Classic PB&J with bacon.  He made boiled peanut butter using peanuts from Dew’s and Scuppernong Jam, adding Bacon sourced from Heritage Farms in Goldsboro.  Because we buy eggs from Jensen Farms and Bee Blessed Bee Honey, he made Truffled Egg Salad Crostini as well.

It was great hearing people’s reactions and tasting all of the other amazing restaurants’ dishes filled we talent and flavor.  Of course, my heart sang when I saw my sister Kate and her husband Tommy in the crowd.  They had made the trip to support On the Square, and when you have family with you by your side, it is a truly wonderful thing.

I should also go on record as saying two different couples who frequent On the Square came to support our restaurant as well.  What a beautiful and special treat to have them with us away from Tarboro.

The day ended with a special dinner among friend’s at Mateo’s in Durham.  Ten of us gathered around a long table and enjoyed family style Spanish food with plenty of Cava and cocktails.  All of us had spent a wonderful day serving others food we believed to be indicative of the area where we live.  The night ended with us getting served some of the best food I have ever eaten with so much laughter, my sides hurt.

My longtime friend Hailey, a fellow southerner who worked with me at Windows on the World, sat across from me as we stuffed our faces and talked incessantly.  She said, and I agree, “This is the most fun I’ve had since 2001.”

Cheers to a wonderful life!

 

 

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So Far Behind

Yes, On the Square’s birthday came and went, and I was by no where even close to finishing the story of how we came to be.

Did something happen?

No, not really, unless you count life.  Life keeps happening to me, and as it does, I forget to blog.

On the Square is still serving food and wine in its normal capacity, but my time to myself is a great deal more crowded than it has ever been.  I guess a five-year-old boy and an eight-year-old girl will do that.

Going back to September 2004, the month and year our first child was born.

I had left Borgata in July, and Burton, the same sister who had driven me up for the interview, came back to chauffeur me back down a year and a half later.

Who would have thought Stephen could handle Tarboro all my himself, with no native wife to help?

I make joke, but the truth is, while Stephen was in my hometown running our restaurant in its best state, he was making many friends along the way.  My parents still believe it was a wonderful thing to have him in our town where our friends could get to know him without his overbearing wife beside him to hog the conversation.

So, here I come back to T-town, eight months pregnant and larger than life.  Our hours of operation for dinner had changed to Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings, and the four young girls working in the front with me were all new employees, Stephen’s excellent hires.  With the exception of Burton, my sister, who so dutifully worked when we were short staffed.

Another new and exciting revelation:  Stephen had invested in a Point of Sale, so that was another phenomenon beginning as I made my way home.

It didn’t take long to feel like I could contribute to our venture.  There was plenty to do, and Frances and Stephen genuinely wanted me around, a nice feeling for the large pregnant lady.

I worked until Saturday, September 11th, and at fifteen minutes until midnight, Stephen and I drove to Heritage Hospital so that I could be induced.

Our beautiful daughter was born, and three weeks later, I started full time at On the Square, ready to get the ball rolling on business and how to make On the Square a raging success.

With the help of a stellar staff and tons of heartfelt love, we bonded together to move forward on all four cylinders.

Enter 2005:  the most logical next step for our dinner service would be a fully stocked liquor bar.  Wine and beer were great for Stephen and me, but there were many would-be customers who needed their Gin and Tonics.  Not to mention, the elderly ladies who were coming in with my Nana were bootlegging airplane bottles of Vodka and pouring them into their water underneath the table.

Yes, liquor was more expensive with permits and actual inventory, not to mention we would have to employ a real bartender, but it was a move we needed to make, and so, in May of 2005, On the Square became a place where not only could you have a class of wine or a cold beer, but you could now also, as they say in the south, have a drink.

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Perfection in a most perfect form

When Mary Ann and my dad picked up Stephen and me last night, the only thing we knew was that we were going to Wilson to celebrate Mary Ann’s birthday at SOCO.

It wasn’t unusual that Mary Ann said she needed to drop something off at Frances’ home on our way out of town.

Mary Ann owns a small gift store in Tarboro so everyone in our family is used to running a present to someone’s house on any and every occasion, whether it be Christmas Eve or October 15th.

What was unusual was the amount of cars at Frances’ house when we pulled into her driveway.

Frances is a strong fixture in her church so we thought she must be having people over, and the last thing she wanted was to see us.

But then Cynthia ran out the backdoor with her cousin Shelton.  And then I see my sister-in-law Elizabeth holding her son Ken.  And then it hits me.

We are not going to dinner in Wilson.

Our beloved On the Square peeps have thrown a surprise 10-year celebration in our honor.

Quietly, comfortably, truly.

Tamales and hot dogs, delicious grape salad, an unbelievable cake, and our dearest friends together celebrating ten long, rewarding years.

It’s difficult to put into words just how special last night was so I won’t try too hard.

The reality of it is this:  we deserve none of the glory, but the people who work with us do, and for that we are forever grateful.

 

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You Can Only Fight It For So Long.

Atlantic City was an entirely different world than Tarboro or New York City.

I thought I was getting closer to where I wanted to be, but in all actuality, I was getting further away from who I really loved.

Stephen, the saint he is, supported me to the very end, and when I would cry at night alone in a bed in a smelly apartment in Ventnor, he would tell me that everything would be o.k.

I wouldn’t trade the friendships I made at Borgata for anything in the world, and the experience was truly an invaluable one.

I learned how to oversee multiple beverage programs, work with an amazing amount of chiefs and interact with a receiving department to order wine.

The biggest thing I learned, however, was that I was destined to go back to Tarboro and make my own destiny doing what I loved and being with those who had loved me since the beginning.

But how was that going to happen?

Borgata and I got along famously.  We were really great friends.  I adored my bosses.  I loved what I was doing.  And, of course, there were frequent trips to New York City to get my fix anytime I desired.

You can imagine the shock I felt when every fear I had ever imagined became confirmed in a split second.

All of a sudden, my glass of wine didn’t taste right.

Not only did it not taste correct, it tasted yucky.

Yucky to the point I couldn’t drink it.

Yucky to the point it made me sick.

Yucky to the point I didn’t crave it.

Ironically, I had always told my friends I would never be able to have a child because I couldn’t stop drinking for 9 months.

But all of a sudden, the wine wasn’t my bff.

In fact, it seemed I needed a real break.

What in the world is wrong with me?

And now you know, the only thing that could keep me from drinking for seven straight months.

And she turns eight on Wednesday.

I found out I was pregnant on February 5th, 2004, exactly five days after the Justin Timberlake-Janet Jackson debacle.

The doctor game me a due date of September 11th.

Completely shocked, I realized immediately what was happening.

It was time.

It was time to stop running and time to start doing what I was destined to do all along.

It was time to go back to Tarboro to start a family and run a restaurant.

 

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In case you are still confused….

Christmas comes and goes at On the Square, and the new year 2003 brings lots and lots of adventure, craziness, chaos, whatever one might like to call it.

Wedding plans kicked into high gear in anticipation of the April 26th date, and if you thought weddings were normally stressful, just add all of the parents living in the same town with you as well as working with your fiance.

Frances Liverman deserves the Sainthood award of the century for sticking around through all of the yelling and crying and cursing and outright confusion.  We are incredibly blessed she not only stuck around during the drama of family life, but she also has stayed on for 10 solid years of it.

And then the email that changed all of the plans.

One morning in March, I walked into the office to check messages.  There in my inbox was a random “employment opportunity” from a colleague in New York advertising a Wine Director job at a casino to be opened that summer in Atlantic City.  Intrigued, I ran into the kitchen to tell Stephen about the offer. He told me I should respond just to see what it was about so I went back into the office and hit reply.  After that, everything happened so fast, my head spins thinking about it.

The phone rang less than five minutes later asking me when I could come up to interview.  The interview was scheduled for the day after that, and my sister Burton generously offered to drive me up to the Boardwalk Empire.

My interview was with Victor Tiffany, Vice President of Food & Beverage, and it lasted about three hours, ending with an informal meeting with Bob Boughner, the CEO of Borgata (name of the soon to be opened casino).

Burton and I drove home that afternoon getting back into Tarboro late that evening.

The next day when I came into On the Square my inbox had an official offer and contract needing prompt attention from Borgata Casino, Hotel & Spa.

After a long discussion with Stephen, who enthusiastically supported me leaving him for this awesome opportunity, I signed the contract and sealed the deal.  The date of April 27th was set to be my moving date to south Jersey.  Ironically, that day would be the day after our wedding.

Cheers for a happy marriage!

 

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2002 Continued

So here we were, in Tarboro trying to create a restaurant in a town with a population of no more than 11,000.  Unemployment was the highest for any county in the state, and we were getting ready to start a venture we ourselves didn’t even believe would work.

At this time, we only served breakfast and lunch.  We used a real register at the counter and all of the cooking was done on panini presses in the main dining room where the bar is now.  We didn’t have a Point of Sale so when someone ordered a sandwich, we hand wrote the ticket and handed it to either Frances or Stephen.  At this time, we also didn’t have table numbers to identify the food tickets.  This was largely in part because between Frances and myself, we knew every customer’s first name so we just wrote Shari or Tiffany or Rusty on the ticket and we would know exactly where to take the plate.  On the odd chance we didn’t know someone’s name, we would label the ticket “Lady in the Red Shirt” or “Man in Mudcats Hat.”  To this day, I always wonder what people would have thought had they seen our descriptors.

Opening in October is always a good thing as you can get ready for the holidays to reap the benefits of parties and people shopping downtown.  We spent everyday in the restaurant including Saturdays and Sundays when the dining room was closed.  At that time, we would come in to lay tiles behind the bar or to assist with renovations in the kitchen.

Looking back on it, the days seem very far away, and while ten years is in fact a long time, it isn’t forever ago, and it makes me feel old to try to think of what I cannot remember.

One event I do recall with great clarity is when the wrestling coach at Tarboro High School brought in a young kid he was coaching.  The gentleman asked for me and said he was bringing this teenager to wash dishes at the restaurant upon the recommendation of Dr. Richards who was the other investor of On the Square along with my dad.  The boy was an attractive young man with big eyes and a solemn smile.  He barely spoke as I took him into the kitchen to meet Stephen.  The child was the ripe age of fifteen.

Our first employee, and to this day along with Frances, our longest.

There aren’t many people who impress me to the point I speak of them all of the time, but Xavyer Burroughs captured my heart and my soul when he came into our restaurant that day.

He started washing dishes at first, but because he was such a sharp kid, he moved up to preparing fruit and cheese on the cold side and eventually cooking on the grill.  The kitchen wasn’t necessarily his favorite place to be so I convinced him to come to the other side (front of the house, that is) and start running food.  As you can imagine, he was wonderful at it, and from there, he moved up to server.  And then, of course, as most of you already know, three weeks ago he passed the Certified Sommelier Exam in Washington D.C., making him On the Square’s official sommelier.

Ten years ago, I remember Xavyer’s mother sleeping in the car outside the restaurant as she waited for him to finish work.  I also remember her bringing in her other three children to eat dinner while Xavyer worked in the kitchen.

While I do not know his mother well, I aspire to be the mother she has been to her four children:  supportive yet firm, holding fast to integrity and hard work.

Three of her four children have worked with us at On the Square, and now almost 10 years later, two of them still do.

But they not only work with us, they are a huge part of our operation.

Anthony Burroughs is Stephen’s right hand man, his sous chef, his friend and his second son.   Anthony knows what Stephen is thinking before he thinks it, and he continues to smile at me in the kitchen, even when I am yelling at him to make the food come out of the kitchen faster.

Both he and Xavyer have come to our home when we had cookouts for our childrens’ classes and they have both babysat for our kids on many occasions.  Anthony is a regular fixture in our family camping trips.

When I think about what has happened in the past 10 years, I cannot help but think about the Burroughs family and all they have done to help On the Square become what it is today.

With complete disregard for conventional business wisdom, the relationships we have forged have lead us down a path where for better or for worse, Stephen and I have treated our restaurant like it was our family

So looking back on what has transpired in 10 years, I think the day Xavyer walked into our dining room with his wrestling coach was a monumental occasion.  It started the ball rolling on young people coming in our lives and playing a big part in helping our restaurant grow.

Xavyer was the first, but fortunately for us, young people are continually coming to work here to give of their time and talents and be a very vital part of making us better people and a better restaurant.

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Ten Weeks

It occurred to me in one of my many thoughts that on October 17th, 2012, On the Square will turn 10 years old.

Not 10 years old in actual years, but 10 years old as in Stephen and I being immersed in its existence.

Because I thought it might be cool to recollect on a broad scale, I decided to blog about the 10 years in some detail week by week.

We have approximately 10 weeks until the decade anniversary, so I better begin now on year one.

May 2002

Stephen and I decided to leave New York and come to Tarboro for a summer of rest and relaxation before our trip to Burgundy to work the harvest at Domaine Dujac.

We knew we couldn’t be in Manhattan at that time.  We were exhausted and sad, and getting back into the swing of things just wasn’t working the way we had planned.  We already knew we were going to France for grape picking so why not make our time away begin a little bit faster by going to Tarboro to vacate before the European adventure.  With the constant nudging of my parents, we finally packed up a U-Haul and drove south to get the heck out of dodge and enjoy some small town living.

I will be the first to admit that coming back to Tarboro, even for the short period of three months, was not in my plan, but Stephen said it would be a nice break and we could figure out our next steps without the complications and the chaos of a big city.  Of course, he was right, and at the time, I also was aware of the fact I needed to get on the ball with our wedding planning.  We had already been engaged for five months with no date set for the actual nuptials.

All of my family welcomed both of us with open arms, and we spent our time in Tarboro looking for consulting opportunities and any quick way to make a dollar to help with our travels abroad.

Stephen spent most of his time in Mary Ann and Dad’s kitchen, creating all sorts of dishes from scratch.  There was Grand Marnier Cheesecake baked in an orange peel that made my family swoon and then there was the huitlacoche from the July corn that Stephen sauteed in butter making my family swoon in another way.

He relished in his time spent in the kitchen with no obligations or responsibilities while I struggled with the realization that Tarboro might end up being my home for life, an idea I had tried to fight since I first left at the young age of eighteen.

As I slept and ate and played and, of course, drank, Stephen continued to tell me all of the great things about my hometown and the people who lived here.

And then there was the phone call.  The phone call that changed everything.

We were sitting in the side yard of Cotton Valley when Mary Ann and Dad’s telephone rang.  I rushed inside to answer it, and a voice that sounded almost identical to mine asked for Inie.

“This is she,” I responded.

“Hi, Inie, my name is Frances Liverman, and I own On the Square.  I heard that you and your fiance are moving to Tarboro, and I wanted to know if you were interested in buying my place.”

Utter confusion swept across me.  Who in the world had told her we were moving back to Tarboro?  What could be further from the truth?  What is going on?  Oh, of course, just like I already knew.  Small town, big mouths.  People are making up stories.  I cannot believe this.  Nothing could be less likely.

I cleared my throat and answered.

“Oh, I’m so sorry.  Stephen and I don’t have two dimes to rub together, much less enough money to buy a restaurant.  I wish we could, but we aren’t in a position to do so.  I’ll be sure to keep my ears open in case I hear of anyone who may be able to.”

We both hung up the phone, and I walked out into the yard.

If you know my father, you would understand that about 43 questions followed the phone call.

I gave a recap of the conversation expecting everyone to share my sentiments I had given to the sweet Frances Liverman on the phone, but instead, the opposite occurred.

“What is she asking?” my dad inquired.

“Where is the location?” Stephen asked.

“Why does she want to sell? said Mary Ann.

Need I say more.

Without going into every detail imaginable, in the next six weeks, we were set to buy On the Square with a closing date of October 14th, 2002.

We left for France in August promising to return in October and be ready to run a restaurant.  What were we doing, I kept asking myself.

Stephen assured me he had given my father an 18-month commitment.

“It’ll never work,” Stephen told me, “The demographics are against us.  We won’t be able to make it, but we’re going to try for your dad, and then we’ll move back up north or wherever we want to look for jobs.”

“You promise,” I asked.

“Yes, I promise.”

In mid-October, Stephen and I finished our cellar work at Domaine de Triennes so we could fly back to the states to start work at On the Square, our new, temporary restaurant.

For those of you who are great at remembering events, you may recall this was the season of the sniper.  In fact, I vividly remember my mother fretting over Stephen and me driving a rental car home from New York because we were travelling through the DC area while the crazed sniper was still on the loose.

If you know my mother, you know this is not at all strange.  If you don’t know her, you may be shaking your head right now thinking the sniper was not the only one who was crazy.

Needless to say, we arrived in Tarboro safely, and on Monday, October 14th, Stephen and I went into On the Square to try to make our first living in the South.

The early players were my father, a wonderful doctor, the doctor’s girlfriend, Stephen, myself, Frances and Teresa.  Frances is still to this day probably laughing about our conversation that had occurred three months prior with me telling her there was no way we could buy the restaurant.

Regardless, we started work on a Monday morning with not much more than a makeshift kitchen and some tables, chairs, barstools and electricity.

It was exactly what we needed, and when you have what you need, you make it work.

To be continued….

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Au Bon Climat

Winemakers are a true treasure, and the way they choose to manipulate or not manipulate grapes is a thing of great beauty.  One of our favorite events to host at On the Square is a winemaker dinner, and last night, that is exactly what we did.

But it wasn’t just any winemaker dinner.

It was a winemaker I have admired from a distance for the past thirteen years of my life.

Jim Clendenen, winemaker extraordinaire, exudes grace and charm and charisma and everything in between.  His gifts are most certainly in his bottles, but they are also in his amazing personality.

When I first started working in the cellar at Windows, we had a Sotheby’s Wine Encyclopedia that stayed on the desk under the computer.  It was used for instant reference for the sommeliers selling wine on the floor as well as required reading for the assistant cellar masters who worked their shifts binning out wine as needed.

Au Bon Climat “Sanford & Benedict” Pinot Noir 1996 was one of the first Pinots I ever tasted, and I remember the occasion vividly.

Paolo Villela, our part-time sommelier and head captain at Windows, opened a bottle for me to try while we were in the cellar one evening.  There was another sommelier and assistant cellar master in the cellar at the time, and Paolo wanted us to try one of his favorite red wines so we could taste it for ourselves.  The minute I went to sip, Paolo grabbed my glass from my hand and said, “You have to smell it first, girl.  Never ever taste a wine without smelling it first.”

This was my introductory lesson in nosing wine, and I have never forgotten it.  Regardless of if the wine is a $7 Pinot Grigio or a $250 bottle of Cote Rotie, one must always smell before tasting.

“Why?” you may ask.  The reason being, you taste sweet, sour, salty, bitter in your mouth, but actual flavors like fruit and spice and vanilla are only gotten through your nose.

Think about Robitussin.  There’s a very good reason you hold your nose when you’re taking it.

So here I am in the cellar on the 106th floor at almost 23 years old, drinking a Pinot Noir from Santa Barbara that tastes like a combination of heaven and earth, literally.

My first instinct is to look up this winery in Sotheby’s and understand more about what I’m tasting.  When I find the label in the book, I am blown away. Not only is Au Bon Climat featured in the Santa Barbara section, but Jim Clendenen, the winemaker, is highlighted as being one of the great Pinot Noir and Chardonnay growers in the area. It was an amazing revelation to me to put a person with a wine, and from that day forward, I knew his name as well as my own.

Fast forward to the last day in July of 2012, and in walks through the front door of On the Square but none other than Jim Clendenen himself, and once again, I am awestruck.  Of course, we have been planning his arrival for the past six weeks, but it was still mind blowing to actually see him in the flesh in our dining room.

For good reason, I assure you, this gentleman is the real deal.

Kind, gracious, polite and entertaining, he introduced his wines with flair and fun.  Words cannot express how wonderful he was, but I will do my best by highlighting the menu and the pairings.

My only regret of the night is I didn’t get my picture taken with him.

Of course, there’s always next time.  Most people who come to Tarboro once like to come back again.

Reception

Fried Green Tomato, Oyster Shooter, Mini Tomato Sandwich, Fried Okra

Clendenen Family Vineyards Gewurztraminer 2010

Fried Green Tomatoes with Pimento Cheese & Jalapeno Glaze

Lobster, Crab & Shrimp Salad

Avocado, Sope, Ponzu Cream

Au Bon Climat “Hildegard” 2006

Clendenen Family Vineyards Chardonnay 2006

Lobster, Crab & Shrimp Salad

Fried Duck Meatloaf

Duck Fat Roasted Potatoes, Pommery Cream, Blueberry Compote

Au Bon Climat “Knox” Pinot Noir 2008

Au Bon Climat “Isabelle” Pinot Noir 2008

Panko Fried Duck Meatloaf

Ginger Beer Barbecued Short Ribs

Corn Hash, Bacon Jus

Clendenen Family Vineyards Syrah-Viognier 2005

Ginger Beer BBQ Short Ribs

Peaches & Cream

Fried Peach Pie, Peach Ice Cream

Clendenen Family Vineyards Late Harvest Riesling 2007

Peaches & Cream

 

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Inspiration

As my children become older, they are much more needy than I believed them to be as infants or tiny tots.  It is in their fives and their sevens where I feel like I need to be with them more to shelter them from bad words or bad thoughts or mean sayings.  Maybe it is I who is more needy as I constantly beg my husband to let me stay home from work so I can take Cynthia to swim practice or help Stephen tattoo his entire body.  I have even found I would rather ride bikes with them around the neighborhood versus try a wine from an unknown producer.

Stephen and Cynthia seem to realize my desire to be with them, and rather than embrace it immediately, they try to shield themselves from my over-involvement.  When someone tells Cynthia they saw her picture on facebook, she looks at me and says, “Really, Mom?  Really?”

“Really, honey, really, I love you so much I want everyone in the Facebook universe to know how special you are to me.”

As I say it, I realize how ridiculous I sound.

The other night when Stephen and I were home together, I told him he was my best friend.  He looked at me very seriously and said, “You’re not my friend, Mom.”

As my heart started to break into a million pieces, he defiantly said, “You’re my mom, and that is better than a friend.”

That made my heart break in a different way, and as I put him to sleep that night, I started thinking about all that has happened in the past year.

Wine seems to be fading, and other obligations seem to be taking precedence.  Obligations may not be the right word.  Maybe I should say adventures instead of obligations.  An adventure with my family seems a lot more exciting to me than an adventure along the wine route.

Tonight I mistakenly put a bottle of Moccagatta Barbaresco in an ice bucket.  I should have chilled the Moccagatta Chardonnay, but I wasn’t paying attention, and when the bottle was opened at the table, the guests were shocked with a red film in their glass instead of the white wine they were anticipating.

Finding the bright side of the mishap, I am now tasting the 2007 Bric Balin that normally would not be open on a random Thursday night in July.  I will say it tastes absolutely delicious, and it takes me back to the days of 2000 when our Windows wine crew would take the 7 train to Queens and raid the wine list at Manducati’s in Long Island City.

Barolo and Barbaresco flooded the wine list from older vintages back to the 1950’s priced at next to nothing.  A group of six of us would go to eat red sauce Italian and drink like kings.  Back then, it was an undiscovered treasure chest.  Now, I am told, the wine list does not have as much depth, as they continually were depleted over the years.

My head jerks back to reality as I realize old wines are not the only things that eventually diminish over time.  Adventures with young children will not always be abundant.  Next summer, Cynthia may decide she would much rather spend a night with a friend instead of get in bed with me.  Stephen may tell me he doesn’t need for me to kiss him every waking moment.  They both may make up their minds that I am just not as cool as they thought I once was.

I know each moment spent with my children is a blessing, and I am forever blessed because of their love.  It is a beautiful thing when one realizes that relationships are more important than material possessions.  In tonight’s case, I am realizing that time spent with my family is more rewarding than drinking all of the Barbaresco in the world.

 

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Iron Horseing Around

As a 36 year-old avid wine drinker, I can honestly say sparkling wine is my all-time favorite beverage.

I drink more sparkling wine than beer, still wine or spirits.

The attractions are the bubbles, the refreshing sensation when it hits your lips, the lightness, the ultimate high received as it goes down, and most importantly, its amazing ability to match a plethora of foods.

As someone who works in a retail outlet and a restaurant, I can also say I sell more sparkling wine than I did 5 or 10 years ago, and the momentum is increasing every day.

More and more people want it in their refrigerator to enjoy at the end of the day or to serve as an aperitif or to pair with dinner or to enjoy with dessert.

My recycling bin overflows with sparkling wine bottles, and I’m pretty sure the lovely people who pick it up each Thursday wonder who lives in the house behind the hardcore drinkers.

Interestingly enough, my husband takes full credit for the sparkling wine craze in our town.

Even in my family, my father who once shunned the bubbles because of the cheap stuff he drank when he was 14, has converted and loves the fizz as much as the next bubble head.

In a time where sparkling is not only hip and cool, but thriving in the market place, we need reasons for recommending one over the other.

When it comes to American sparkling, there are a handful of excellent producers out there.

The creme de la creme is Iron Horse Vineyards, and besides being incredibly delicious in its own right, it also has a unique story, something I believe helps others fall in love with wine just as much as the flavor.

Joy Sterling, CEO of Iron Horse Vineyards and a stunning beauty both inside and out, has reinvented this property to be a superstar in the restaurant wine scene.

Primarily responsible for making Green Valley an AVA, she is a major proponent of the word “estate bottled.”

We all say we know what estate bottled means, but I will tell you, I didn’t have a complete grasp of it until reading Laurence Sterling’s blog about the 2010 harvest.

Estate bottled means the fruit is grown on the winery’s property, and the winery and its workers are the only people who have touched the fruit, from the planting to the trimming to the picking to the ultimate fermentation, ageing and bottling.

That, of course, is a huge deal, because you have a complete guarantee that the wine has had no exposure to any other entity who may have tampered with the fruit or improperly treated it.  We also know that the estate is solely responsible for the quality, therefore they wouldn’t pick unripe grapes or grapes contaminated with grey rot, etc.

However, it also means, that in more difficult vintages, the winery takes special care to prune, sort, use the needed methods, to make sure that the wine is consistent with the wine made in the excellent harvest the year or years before.

Laurence says it best when he says estate bottled “enables us to focus on picking only the fruit we want and make sure we pick all fruit we want.”

This is exceptionally important in Champagne, and it is exceptionally important when making sparkling wine.

Estate Bottled, that is Iron Horse.

What else?

Classic Champagne Taste at a fraction of the cost.  These bottles retail at approximately $37, a perfect price point that gives you the same quality as that of the bubbles overseas.

Iron Horse grows Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, the same grapes grown in Champagne and uses methode champenoise to make the sparkles.  Made from the same grapes in the same fashion, wouldn’t it be nice to offer American bubbly to your guests?

Bringing me to the word we cannot go a day without hearing:  local.

In this time where more and more restaurants are highlighting local ingredients, from honey to eggs to trout roe, we also have a responsibility to treat our beverage program with the same respect.  If you have a restaurant or wine store in the United States, it is your duty to have a domestic sparkling wine.  Iron Horse is an American Classic in a relatively young American sparkling wine industry.

It is also passionate about sustainability.  Wild about Earth Day and giving back to our planet, Iron Horse genuinely cares about taking care of the soil, the water and the plants.  That is a sell in  itself.

While celebratory and festive, it continues to drink well throughout the year…think Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, Fourth of July, Labor Day, Trick or Treating.  I can think of any occasion to pop open a bottle and let the fizz fly.

At On the Square, we feature the Wedding Cuvee from Iron Horse.  Made primarily from Pinot Noir, this delicate, floral masterpiece is a very special bottle to us as it is what Stephen and I drank together the day after we got married, nine plus years ago.

Anybody have an anniversary coming up?  If so, I highly recommend sharing the love with a bottle of this!

 

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Is it sweet?

I have tried not to bore anyone to death by announcing one more time the Summer of Riesling, but in case you weren’t around the restaurant this past weekend, On the Square did, in fact, launch its Summer of Riesling 2012 campaign with full force.

Yes, we are indeed Riesling fanatics, and on this past Thursday, we began offering nine different Rieslings by the glass from five different countries:  five from Germany (Nahe, Pfalz, Rheingau and the Mosel) and the other four from Alto Adige in Italy, the Finger Lakes in New York, Eola-Amity Hills in Oregon and Alsace in France.

Needless to say, it has been a raging success.  In fact, over the entire weekend we maybe sold five glasses of white wine from our usual by-the-glass program because everyone else who ordered white drank Riesling.  Our entire wait staff was spinning with love for this amazing grape.

I will say what made it extra special was that one of the wines was from the 1985 vintage, making it older than many of the people who work at On the Square.

Unfortunately I am not one of them.

The wines range in style from bone dry to off-dry to delicately sweet.

On Saturday night, I had to switch out our Alsatian Riesling because we had run out of it.  I decided to take the plunge and offer the Domaine Zind Humbrecht “Thann” Riesling by the glass at $12, a price that is double the amount of our normal by-the-glass pricing.

For those who are not familiar with Zind Humbrecht, it is one of the all-time great producers in Alsace and the wines are highly allocated.  I have been a fan of them ever since I first tasted them fourteen years ago in New York.

Alsace, in general, is known for its drier styles of Riesling, although Zind Humbrecht often bucks that argument with bottling a few or more that have residual sugar.

In this case, the Thann has approximately 8 grams of residual sugar in the finished wine, but its taste profile is completely dry, to say the least.

Therefore, I labeled it as dry in the taste description on our menu.

When Stephen questioned me about it, I said let’s taste it together and see.

A very unusual thing occurred as we sipped our glasses.

He looked at me in the eye, and said, “You’re right.”

In case you are wondering, that was my form of a joke.

But I digress.

Americans drink sweet.  We drink Coke, we drink juice, and in the South, we drink Sweet Tea and Mountain Dew.  We tell our sommeliers and our servers we only like dry wine, but those of you who are loving on that Kendall Jackson Reserve Chardonnay, make no bones about it, there is residual sugar in that thar’ wine.

Technically, the Zind Humbrecht does have sugar, but you would be hard pressed to pick it out while sipping.  It has body and acid and finesse and tons of other fruit and tertiary components that make the sugar the last thing you’re thinking about as you enjoy it.

Is it sweet, you may ask yourself.  Sure, it is.  It is sweet and delicious and absolutely mind blowing.

But that has nothing to do with the sugar in it.

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New York City

I don’t think I am oblivious, but often that’s because I am, in fact, oblivious:  completely unaware of what people are feeling or actually wanting.

In this most recent case, my “oblivious” moment came when Loriana, a long time On the Square employee and friend, told me that Frances, our beloved manager, was dying to go to New York.

“She is?” I asked, completely amazed.

“Yes,” Loriana answered, “You’ve taken the girls at night twice. When are you going to take the daytime?”

Completely shocked and dumbfounded, I searched for words to explain why Frances and Loriana and Mary and Eva and Virginia had not been invited to my most favorite city on the planet.

As I stumbled and looked for how to explain, I realized there was only one explanation.

“Let’s go!”  I announced, and with that, it was a true moment of do or die.

Loriana and Frances made the jump, and on March 14th, we purchased three round trip airline tickets to Laguardia via Hotwire, a discount travel website.  Included in the price was a hotel room for two nights at the W-Times Square on 47th & Broadway.  Ironically enough, my first job after Windows on the World was at Blue Fin, the restaurant inside this beautiful hotel.  The dates were set, and our itinerary had us scheduled to leave at 6 a.m. on Friday, June 15th.

It seemed like forever as we waited for this wonderful weekend to arrive, and as life would have it, once we got into the city, it seemed like we only stayed for a few glorious seconds.

I definitely take for granted what I have been given and what I have experienced.  Living in New York for four years was a gift, and with that gift came many different opportunities, the biggest one being a host of ways to travel.

Frances had never been on an airplane before this weekend, so she had not seen the earth from high above. From her window, she was able to see the Empire States Building, the Chrysler Building and even Citi Field as we flew into Queens.

Loriana had never seen a subway, and when I mentioned we would be getting on one in Times Square, she looked at me in confusion and said, “You’re really going to take us to eat at Subway?”

Fortunately for me, both ladies were unafraid to walk, and after checking into our hotel room at 7:35 a.m., that is exactly what we did.  We proceeded to walk half the city  with the help of the subway to see exactly what New Yorkers do on a beautiful June weekend.

From Times Square, we took the N train to Soho where we got breakfast treats at a Turkish coffee shop.  We visited Dean & Deluca where we saw the biggest shrimp on the planet along with cheese that cost $30/pound and Caviar that was priced at $110/ounce.

We walked from Soho to Chinatown to the World Trade Center site, and we shopped at the Memorial Store where 9/11 memorabilia paid tribute to all those who were killed on that tragic day.

Frances said to me as we were walking in the museum, “Inie, we don’t have to go in if you don’t want to,” but it was nice going in with two friends who are so dear to me and are a huge part of the good that came out of losing my job in New York.

I hadn’t done anything like that before, and it just felt right being there with them.

Our only rule while we were in the city was to eat dessert at every meal, and that is exactly what we did. We ate something sweet to celebrate life, and we even drank delicious Rielsing Spatlese at lunch and dinner.  Glasses of Moscato d’Asti were also a staple of our Manhattan trip.

It was a wonderful weekend I will always cherish because just like every single meal we enjoyed, it was sweet and beautiful.

Banana Tart at Tribeca Grill

Panna Cotta at Cork Buzz

Profiteroles at Porter House

Carrot Cake at Gramercy Tavern

Frances & Loriana in front of the Freedom Tower

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Back in the Moment

Anyone who follows this blog knows how sporadic/inconsistent I am about writing.

There are plenty of events to document, but as in everyone else’s situation, time becomes tighter and tighter as we plow through this adventure called life.

I flew into Raleigh-Durham via Dulles from Frankfort last Thursday, May 3rd.  My dear friend Colleen picked me up at the airport and drove me to my car that she had so generously let me leave at her home.

At this point in the day, my one and only desire was to get home to my children so I could hug and love on them as much as possible before they went to bed.  I must admit, I let them both stay up until 10:00 so I could relish in their sweetness and love.  We all piled into my bed and slept entangled in each other, all of us so glad we were finally together.

Friday morning came way too quickly, and once I got the children to school, I discovered a text from a dear friend and former co-worker at On the Square.

The text was not a good one, and before even thinking about getting over my jet lag, I was informed that my friend’s mother, Betty, was at home dying of cancer.

Many people in Tarboro know Betty NeSmith.  She has done more for our town in the past six years than anyone I know in terms of revitalizing downtown, creating webpages for small businesses and utilizing facebook to market every wonderful asset of our community.  A go-getter in every sense there is, Betty spent her time prospering local businesses and getting the word out about how Tarboro could grow and become even better than it already is.

She was Tarboro’s biggest cheerleader, and with her “Rah Rahs,” Betty brought residents all over our town reasons to convene and enjoy one another’s company.  She created Second Saturdays in Tarboro, long before the term Second Saturday was used, and she hosted Pot Luck suppers so more fellowship could be enjoyed.  And, of course, her famous Karaoke nights were truly one of my favorite events to attend, regardless of whether it was in the sweltering heat of July or the cold, dead of winter.  Betty never booed me off of the stage even though she probably wanted to at times.  Betty’s greatest gift was letting people be who they were without judging or criticizing.

To go over to Betty’s house and see her in bed spending her last days hurting was a  pain I never wanted to feel.  And, of course, a pain that so many others experienced as they went to tell Betty good-bye.

On Sunday morning, Mother’s Day of all days, Betty left our world to enjoy another one.  Her smile and her laugh and her prowess will be missed by too many to count, but her spirit will live on in the hearts of all those who knew her and of all those she helped.

Betty left our town having made it better than it has ever been, and I pray we will remember her life by continuing to do what she set out to do in the beginning:  support the people of Tarboro in every way so that we do not lose businesses, people and a sense of community.  She gave so much energy to helping others succeed.  She was an inspiration to so many.

This evening I visited her devoted husband Curt at their home.  He smiled as he told me about all of the visitors he had received in the past 36 hours from all those who had been blessed by Betty’s friendship.

I couldn’t help but grin.  I believe she is smiling above with great pride as she watches the residents of Tarboro come together in her memory to support her husband as he grieves.

My children have been asking why Betty had to leave us at such a young age.  Of course, I can give no explanation, but the truth is evident:  none of us who knew her were ready for her to go.

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Drinking through the Pfalz

Wow!  The more I learn about Germany and its wine laws, the more aware I am that I am going to have to change my entire outline for the German class I teach at ECU.

German wine law has completely changed, and in great thanks to the VDP, I think I will have to commit the rest of my wine career to understanding all of the laws and legalities of German wine labels.

Today’s big thang:  Grosses Gewachs.

If I tried to give you even the briefest recap of all of the conversation our group of Americans debated, I mean enjoyed, with the winemakers, you would stop reading immediately.  You may even ban my blog from your list of where to click when you’re completely bored.

However, I will say, it is a very real development occurring in Germany right now among the VDP (with the exception of the Mosel), and the jest of it is this: “GG” on a label indicates Grosses Gewachs, and Grosses Gewachs symbolizes the best dry wine of the winery.

Tuesday, as per usual as all of the other previous days, was go-go-go with no slowing down whatsoever.

I will have to say my morning was made truly glorious when our first weingut of the day greeted us with Sekt, the bubbly of Germany.

Weingut Rebholz, located in Weinstrasse, served us glasses of 2006 Sparkling Pinot Noir.  Incredible juice with incredible bubbles.

As you may realize, I am just posting this blog even though it was written almost a week ago.  Therefore, I will just let you enjoy the pictures of the day since I was slack in my journal keeping.

 

Soil Types in the Pfalz

Tasting the Juice

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