Friday, January 30, 2015

Wining and Dining - These Are a Few of My Favorite Things By C.P. Stringham

Top to Bottom: The booth of Rasta Ranch Vineyards. 
Me and Mr. Stringham posing for a selfie--or would 
that be an usie? 

One of the perks of living in Northeastern Pennsylvania is my stone’s throw proximity to the Finger Lakes wine region. Now, I’m not a wine expert. I just know what I like—and that’s wine. My husband likes to tell our friends, “My wife doesn’t have a drinking problem. She has no problem drinking.” It usually elicits the expected groans from people. They know he’s only joking. In my forty-four years, I have picked up a thing or two about tasting. For instance, I can breathe in the aroma and pick out different scents such as earthy or floral, swirl it in the glass to see if it has legs, and taste it from start to finish for different nuances of flavor. Like people, each wine has its own personality.
This past Saturday, my brother, Fred, and his girlfriend, Paralegal Jenn, received complementary tickets to the 14th Annual Wine on Ice at Elmira’s First Arena and asked my husband and me if we wanted to join them. Like they really needed to ask. The best part? My brother offered to be the designated driver. Bonus!! He prefers a chilled Lager to an oaky chardonnay. To each his own—I'm still convinced he’s adopted.

My husband and I are opposites in many ways. He’s a Republican. I’m a Democrat. He prefers watching TV. I prefer reading. He drives slowly. I drive like I’m qualifying for Le Mans. Thusly so, he likes sweet wines and I think any wine above 3% residual sugar should be classified as swill. And, before I get too hasty by making my swill comment, there are some exceptions to the rule. Nevertheless, whenever we set out at Wine on Ice, we are quick to let those who are pouring at each booth know what to put into our respective complimentary event glasses. One of the drawbacks of Wine on Ice is the fact that most wineries bring a selection of sweeter wines to the event since our area has a reputation for consuming them more than dry wines. But, still, I persevere and find wineries with a few to my liking. Mr. Stringham’s favorite wine, Torrey Ridge’s Blue Sapphire, is made from concord grapes. While they have received numerous accolades over the years for this particular wine, it isn’t my cup of tea. I find it to be much too sweet. However, as I said, there are exceptions to the rule. I’m quite fond of Bully Hill’s Ravat 51 with its notes of pineapple and apricot—for sweet wine, it is ridiculously good. Just so you don’t lose total respect for me, first and foremost, I’m a dry red lover. Honestly. My favorite Finger Lakes wines are Heron Hill Winery’s Eclipse and Gamebird Red, McGregor Winery’s Black Russian Red and Highlands Red, and Chateau Lafayette Reneau Winery’s Cuvee Rogue. Seriously all lip-smacking good wines, I shit you not.
L to R: The great wife and husband team at Apple Grove Farms. Decisions, decisions. Our wonderful pourer from Otter Creek Vineyards!! 
Wine on Ice is held at the First Arena which is home to the Elmira Jackals and set up, literally, over the ice. Get it? Wine on Ice? During this event, they put a temporary wooden floor over top of the ice—except this year. My brother informed us when we arrived that the arena had problems with the compressors that keep the ice frozen. The contractor he works for was called in to load sections of ice into dumpsters so repairs could be made. While it’s being worked on, Wine on Ice was actually Wine on Concrete. No matter the footing, the event was still great. Upon entering the complex, tasters are given their complementary glass and a mini tote bag with an event booklet that contains a list of each participating winery. Under each winery, a few lines are left blank so tasters can make notes. Booths are set up around the perimeter and then four rows are created down the middle, consisting of Finger Lakes wineries and regional specialty vendors selling various goods that pair well with or are used in serving wine. There is a theme after all.

Thirty-two wineries were set up this year and offered samples to those in attendance. You simply walk up, look at their list of offered wines, pick one, and ask to try it. Most wineries offer saltines to help cleanse your palette and pitchers of water to rinse out your glass between samples to avoid contamination. Let me just say, I realize authentic wine coinsurers sip and spit. I can’t do that. I find the act sacrilege and barbaric.  The waste! Dear God, the waste!! That means I swallow. There. I said it. However, swallowing leads to consumption, consumption leads to drunkenness, drunkenness leads to photos and/or videos of you posted on social media sites by people you don’t know—or do know. (I have a great video of My Gal Friday dancing to musical guest Virgil Cain at Wine on Ice from three years ago. She was trashed and the dancing was awesome!) To avoid public drunkenness, I limit my sampling. When possible, I try to coax conversation out of those pouring. I ask them which wine is their favorite and so on. This isn’t always easy since the event draws large crowds and they don’t normally have much time to chit-chat. When I do luck out and the pourer has time, it makes my sampling decisions infinitely easier. As I find wines I like, I ask them if their products are available at our local wine shops, GCP Discount Liquor & Wines or Lighthouse Liquor & Wines. I also inquire about the location of their winery if I'm unfamiliar with it. My husband and I like to take daytrips around the Finger Lakes and a stopover at a winery is always fun. Aside from tasting rooms, many wineries offer tours, gift shops, and a few are known for their unique bistros and cafes that use locally sourced meats and produce. Let’s recap this section by introducing my rules. C.P. Stringham’s Rule #1 to Wine Tasting at Wine on Ice: Build a rapport with your pourer. C.P. Stringham’s Rule #2 to Wine Tasting at Wine on Ice: See Rule #1. Who better to guide you through the selections than the person who represents the winery? Get the inside skinny from them. I love when they talk wine lingo to me. We’ll call it Wine Porn. “This chardonnay is aged in French oak.” “Taste the hints of pepper and black cherry in this Cabernet blend.” Am I the only one hot and bothered right now?! Lordy!
L to R: A sea of people between us and the Hazlitt Winery booth. Our goodies from Wine on Ice!!!
Aside from wine tasting, I mentioned there are other vendors on hand at the event. As many of you know from past blog posts, I’m a total foodie and I love to cook. Some of the vendors had delectable little morsels to hand out. Apple Grove Farm's, of Mexico, New York, offered pieces of bread soaked in their fabulous Tuscany Oro Abbondanza Dipping & Cooking Oil and others in their Sweet Balsamic Vinaigrette oil as well as pretzel sticks dipped in their various chicken wing sauces. My husband and I can make a meal out of bruschetta so, as soon as we tasted the Vinaigrette oil, we knew a bottle of it would be going home with us. The Abbondanza oil as well. A crusty baguette and dipping oil served with a nice pinot grigio and life is good! On top of offering great products, we truly enjoyed talking with the friendly proprietors as we discussed recipe ideas and wine pairings. We also found a one-of-a-kind treat from Bisco’s Italian Salsa that had pineapple in it. Something my husband and I agreed we would have never even thought to pair together. The salsa had the perfect combination of heat, sweetness, and tomato to it. The woman at the booth was a doll as she handed out tortilla chips and talked to us about their products—even telling us the pineapple salsa combo was concocted by a happy mistake. Whatever the reason for its conception, we’re just glad it happened.

The afternoon session ran from 1:00 till 4:00. We tasted and strolled for three and a half hours before we decided it was time to go. As it was, my palette was spent and my husband and I had other plans for the evening.
L to R: Al, me, Mr. Stringham, Sherry, My Gal Friday at OIG.
Shortly after wine tasting, we had dinner at Original Italian Grille which is located in Sayre, Pennsylvania. OIG, as it’s known, is our undeclared location for Al’s Midstate Market reunions. My husband, My Gal Friday, and Government Girl are all former employees of this now closed local grocery store. For many of the high school teens of my generation, Al’s offered them their first job as cashiers or stockers. Owners Al and Sherry Storer became their second parents. They required their young employees to provide exemplary customer service and to take pride in the store's appearance by keeping it clean and the shelves well-stocked. They instilled them with a strong work ethic as well as a sense of teamwork and community. Working at Al’s built important character traits as well as teaching them skills they would use in their adult lives as they each went out into the world.
              Since the Storers have employed so many, it proves difficult to get everyone together. While some still live locally, others are spread out all over the country. On this particular night, our mini reunion as we’ll call it, came together last minute. My husband and I already had a dinner date with My Gal Friday so when the idea to see if Al and Sherry were available to join us came into my head, I didn’t hesitate. I was delighted when Sherry messaged me back to say they could come. We talked over dinner and long after, catching up and reminiscing. Lots of laughs were shared and some sad stories, too. As the evening ended, we promised we needed to get together again

Friday, January 23, 2015

When the Other Shoe Drops by Robin Janney

In the six years my husband and I have been together, we have lost a lot of loved ones.  In what feels like rapid succession.

Even though Mr. Janney is an only child, he really does come from a family as large as my own.  And as I was telling my mother, when you have a family as large as ours, there are going to be times when they seem to die in droves.

And that doesn't make it any easier.

In fact, it seems to multiply and prolong the grief.

A quick tallying tells me that he and I have easily lost a dozen or more loved ones.  In six years.  It is no wonder we've battled so much depression.

And we lost another one just last night.  We lost Uncle Chuck last March, a brother to my father-in-law.  Last night we lost his remaining brother, Uncle Jeff.

We knew at Christmas that Uncle Jeff wasn't feeling well, he didn't even come to Christmas dinner.  He was hospitalized shortly after the new year came into being.  He didn't have a good heart, and he had leukemia as well.  He was also mentally challenged and had the mentality of maybe a five or six year old, which sometimes caused complications with his medication because he just didn't understand he was only supposed to take one chemo pill a day!  That wasn't the issue this time around thankfully, but this time didn't turn out well, obviously.

Early in his hospitalization he had a heart attack.  It was so bad that his heart actually stopped beating for about two minutes.   They were able to bring him back, but he didn't bounce back.  He just kept becoming weaker and weaker.  He wouldn't eat, and something had caused an infection.  And ever since, my husband and I have been waiting for the news to come that came last night.

And just because you know that other shoe is going to drop, doesn't make it any easier when it does.

Unfortunately, my work place does not give grievance days for uncles (unless things have changed since my Uncle Eddie died a few years back and no one's told me) so I was a little weepy as I drove in this morning.  I probably will be for a few days.  So forgive me for keeping this short this week, and I apologize for it being late.  I had another post started, but decided to save until another time.

In my final words today, I just want to say: life is too short - live, love, forgive the petty crap.

Until next time, peace.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Saturday with the Girls—and Mr. Janney

Since Christmas, my youngest has made one request which was to have a mother/daughter day with me so she could spend her Christmas money and gift cards. Such a small request and yet it was proving difficult to work into the schedule of our busy family of four. As time passed, she kept telling me what she wanted to do: shop at FYE and Bath & Body at the mall, Target, Five Below, and Wal-Mart at the shopping plaza, and then finish up our day at Sweet Frog. This past Saturday, we finally had our mother/daughter day.
We passed on Sweet Frog and decided we wanted something spicy!! Look at that happy face!
Shopping: You aren't doing it right unless you shop
till you drop!!
After dropping her sister off to work at Rockin’ N Stable and Ranch’s Winter Series event, we drove to the mall. Although we weren’t successful finding something in every store she wanted to visit, she managed to hit it big at Bath & Body’s 75% off sale. She was one happy camper! Since she is nowhere near the clothes shopper my oldest is, I was pleasantly surprised when she decided to buy a pair of sensible shoes with her “fun” money. She enjoyed herself immensely and this I know because she kept telling, “This is the best day, Mom. Thank you.” We ended our outing having a late lunch at Buffalo Wild Wings. She was such a smart shopper, she still has money and gift cards left over for another outing!

And then Girls' Night In...

One of my favorite things to do is to have an intimate get together at my house with a small group of friends. It isn’t something I get to do often, but when I do, it involves wine and nibbles. I like nothing more than sitting around my kitchen table with good friends and having wonderful discussions while sharing laughs. These events have taken on different names over the years. My favorite event name was my "Wine Inventory Reduction Party." That was the year I got a case of wine for Christmas from my husband and it seemed like everyone I knew gifted me with a bottle. (Speaks volumes on my reputation!) Simply put, it’s a girls’ night in party. A week ahead of time, I posted a message to my friends that such a night was coming up. Many already had plans, but some faithful showed. For this girls’ night in, I made up a pepperoni and gourmet cheese plate, provided an assortment of crackers, jalapeno pepper jelly and cream cheese spread, Buffalo chicken wing dip, and baked brie with cranberry/pecan/caramel sauce.
My Gal Friday was the first to arrive. She’s still recovering from her second knee replacement surgery, but getting around fine with her cane. My Broads of a Feather cohort made the longest commute for her first girls’ night in appearance—Mr. Janney joined her since she needed a designated driver. It sort of broke the gender code having a dude present, but Mr. Janney is pretty cool so we let it pass. Heike came and along with hugs presented us with assorted brownies. Last to arrive was Colonial Mirb (AKA Miriam) with her famous pudding shots and tote bags with extra previsions of necessities—alcohol.
Girls' Night In captured in photos! L-R: My Gal Friday, Heike, Mr. Janney, Robin, me, and Colonial Mirb!!

Bottles of wine were cracked open, plates passed around, and conversation stirred. Robin had never met the others and declared how comfortable she felt around them. She said it was as if she’d known them forever. Being a fellow introvert, I know how hard it can be to meet new people and the stress it can entail. Finding a group you just seem to fit in with is the greatest feeling. As more wine flowed, the noise level increased with raucous laughter. I may or may not have done my Inge impersonation, complete with German accent, as I told stories about my adventures in Philly with her. And the time she openly mocked me as I stuffed tissues into my pockets because I was certain I’d cry when we went to see Bridges of Madison County together. For the record, she cried before I did and needed one of my tissues! My Gal Friday is the only one in our group who has met Inge. The others want to meet her. I think I’ve turned her into a girls’ night in celebrity. Each of them said they could benefit from having an organized and schedule-oriented person in their life. Lord knows I could! If Inge was around, I would definitely have better writing productivity. “Ve don’t have time for this. This looking at social media stuff. You have a vord count today.” And, by God, I’d listen.
My baked brie just because it needs its own picture!! Delish!!!

As many of you know, alcohol can induce some pretty heavy topics. With Colonial Mirb present (in her day job, she’s a public school teacher), we got onto the subject of standardized testing and Common Core. Needless to say, we were all ready to drive to Secretary Arne Duncan’s office in DC and tell him how to solve our country’s education problems. You know, Liquid Courage and Wisdom? We were on a roll. Talk turned to books and writing, of course. With two authors at the table, would you expect anything else? Colonial Mirb told us a story about an acquaintance nicknamed Night Thruster and I tried to convince Robin she needs to use the nickname to title her next book. I bet the title alone would sell it!  
How was your Saturday? Do you ever partake in Wine Inventory Reduction Parties? Let us know about them on our Broads of a Feather blog! 

Friday, January 9, 2015

Happy New Year and Happy Anniversary! by Robin Janney

Back in the early days when I was naively using a
whole sheet of stationary!
As I was going through the little pieces of paper I had placed in my Happiness Jar over the last year (or rather, the first half of last year) I came across a piece of paper documenting how partnering up with Carol to create Broads of a Feather made me happy.  And I realized with a shock, this blog would soon hit its one year anniversary!  Which was yesterday!

Why this was a "shock" since Carol mentioned it in last weeks' post, I don't know; perhaps seeing the date in my own handwriting, obviously exuberant, just made it more real.  Or perhaps I'm just a bonehead who doesn't pay that close of attention to the calendar accept for doctors appointments.  But obviously, the venture delighted me enough that I put it in the jar!

Ok, it's not a jar, but a plastic cheeseball container.  Whatever works, right?

But I'll be writing more about my Happiness Jar on my own blog as soon as I'm done with this post.

It doesn't feel like it's been a whole year already, but on the other hand, some days it feels like Carol and I have always known each other and have always been writing together.

Since Carol went over our highlights for the past year in her blog post, it would be rather redundant of me to do the same.  Instead, it is a new year with new challenges and new goals so I'll touch on them instead.

I know many eschew the entire notion of New Years resolutions and goals.  But not Carol and me!

Both of us would like to continue a healthier lifestyle into 2015.  Me so I can better control my diabetes, continue to lose weight, and maybe get off my meds someday; Carol with the goal of running in a 5K run this spring.  Since I'm still facing surgery at the end of this month, I think I'll leave the running up to her for right now.  I just hope I can manage my diet well enough afterwards that I don't balloon back up and hopefully continue to lose weight.  At one point last year, I was so happy with the number the scale gave me that I wrote it down and put it in the Happy Jar.  Needless to say, I was not happy with the numbers I gained since then.  But the numbers are coming back down again, so I'll focus on that instead!

Another goal we ladies share is finishing our works in progress, as Carol mentioned last week.  I have the middle of my third book written and need to work on the beginning and the end.  It is difficult right now, with a husband off of work because of his torn tendon (shoulder) but I was working on notes and the simple outline I use.  I say simple because it is far from being a proper outline.  I still have some decisions I need to make, on character involvement and interactions.  They don't always want to play well together!  From her updates on Facebook, Carol's Overcoming Sarah has been progressing right along.  Probably not as fast as she'd like, but every paragraph written is progress!

I am probably feeling too ambitious this year.  I've already failed at getting this post up on time.  But that doesn't put too much of a damper on my enthusiasm for my goals this year.  I will get better at social media and blogging.  I will get a blogging schedule written down, for both blogs.  I will finish my third book this year.

Can you tell I'm trying to keep myself positive?  This year is already off to a rough start.  Not only because of impending surgery and unknown treatment for hubby's shoulder, but his uncle on the one side is in the hospital battling for his life.  This is the last uncle for that branch of the family and he's already had a heart attack.  Not a great way to be starting out the new year!  One way or the other, I will work around the challenges in my life and if I don't come through them on top, it won't be because I didn't try.  I've even boldly started a GoFundMe campaign to help us out while my husband and I heal from our injuries.

There are times to be timid, and there are times to be bold.  I have a lot of bold ideas for this new year, but I won't tell you what they all are.  Mostly out of fear that I'll fail to achieve them!! Okay, okay...I give.  Maybe if I tell you, it'll help me keep focused on them and maybe I'll get them done.  Two of my bold ideas for this new year are 1. to start a newsletter of some kind and 2. finish a shorter book for submission to a publishing house.  A girl's gotta dream big, right?  I know what manuscript I want to work on, but I want to get my third book done first.  I don't know what I would want for a newsletter yet in terms of how often.

So there you have it, a few of our goals and resolutions for the new year.  What about you dear readers? Did you make any resolutions or goals this year?  What challenges are you facing already?