A Hellacious Belle’s Guide to the New South: As Fine as Wine

13930_10152426241672561_5480934725351323470_nAuthor’s note:  This post was planned as my “letter W” contribution in the April 2015 A-Z Blogging Challenge.  I made it as far as “V” in my thematic “A Hellacious Belle’s Guide,” only to bail on “W,” never completing the challenge. 

I hate not finishing things (an unfortunate Aries trait), so I’m attempting to go for W – Z during November’s NaBloPoMo Challenge.  Thanks for your patience and I really appreciate everyone’s kindness and comments.

As a city belle and a lifetime hospitality industry employee, I tend to think of myself as a tiny bit of a connoisseur when it comes to wine.  I do say “tiny,” because not only is the industry enormous, but the varieties and varietals are almost infinite – years of study and training (and drinking!) are required to become an expert.  And although I’ve had some study and training (and I’ve definitely mastered the “drinking” part) I still feel that  fundamentally “it’s just grape juice,” (although sometimes truly amazing grape juice honed by masters) and there is a flavor for everyone and every palate.

Although the Southern states of Virginia, North Carolina and Texas are perhaps better known for wine making, it’s interesting to know that my home state of Georgia was once one of the largest producers of wines in the United States. Prohibition’s early start in Georgia (1907), wiped out their lead and made the industry almost non-existent until the 1970s, with the exception; oddly enough, of sacramental wine production.

Today, Georgia boasts over two dozen vineyards and wineries all over the state, although the preponderance are located north of Atlanta, in the higher elevations of Helen, Dahlonega and Cleveland.

Georgia boasts climactic conditions suited for growing Vitis vinifera (European varieties) and cold-hardy French-American hybrids used for making traditional “fine” wines. The South’s mild Springs and early Summers allow a long growing season and the higher elevations of the Appalachian foothills provide some relief from the humidity.  Our famous red clay soil, a universal source of profanity after a rainstorm, actually contributes to both to excellent drainage and the ability to retain moisture during dry spells.

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Vines at Montaluce, in Dahlonega, GA

Basically, this all means that the South, and Georgia in particular, is enjoying a renaissance of vinification.

How fortunate, I’ve always considered myself a “renaissance girl!”

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Frogtown Cellars in Dahlonga, Georgia

Once I managed to climb over my own ridiculous snobbery about Georgia-produced wines, I fell in love with the North Georgia wine country.

We visit its rolling hills and beautiful wineries several times each year, even staying in the estate villas in Montaluce for family vacations.

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Skilled winemakers and award-winning wines make it a pleasure not only to “shop,” but to “buy local.”

“Wine is one of the most civilized things in the world and one of the most natural things of the world that has been brought to the greatest perfection, and it offers a greater range for enjoyment and appreciation than, possibly, any other purely sensory thing.”
Ernest Hemingway

We’re not trying to make California wine. If you want California wine, go to California. What we are doing is making Georgia wine…and Georgia wine is good wine.”

-Rob Beecham, Montaluce Vineyards

Spreading a little Sunshine

Last September, my friend and fellow blogger, Carrie (who writes an awesome ode to organization, Neatsmart), was thoughtful enough to nominate me for the Sunshine Award. The Sunshine Award is a cheerful orange flower that bloggers give to other “bloggers who positively and creatively inspire others in the blogosphere”.

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I, however, had a giant case of bridebrain, with my impending nuptials looming a mere 3 months away, and was also wildly busy “honing my slackness” and somehow, never responded.

Ouch.

Just this past week, I was nominated for the Versatile Blogger award from another excellent WordPress blogger, PrinzeCharming. With much gratitude, I beg to respond to his kind accolade in a future post and accept Carrie’s nomination for the Sunshine Award this week, with my heartfelt apologies and deep appreciation for her patience. Thank you both.

So the conditions of the Sunshine Award are:

1. To thank and acknowledge the person who nominated you.

2. To answer the following 8 questions and share a little more about yourself with your audience

3. To nominate 8 other bloggers for the award

Without further a-do:

Eight Questions to Answer:

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1. What is your favourite Christmas/festive movie?
I may disappoint some people, but truthfully, it’s not a holiday classic, like my husband’s favorite, “Miracle on 34th Street.” Or even my sister’s favorite, “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” (she kicks off the season watching it on Thanksgiving afternoon and manages to log in 20 or 30 views before New Year’s Day ). I’ll admit I do love the costumes and dance numbers in “White Christmas” and “Holiday Inn” but my favorite holiday movie is actually, “Love Actually,” a relative newbie to the scene, from screenwriter, Richard Whalley Anthony Curtis, who brought us one of my all-time favorite movies, “Four Weddings and a Funeral.” “Love Actually” has Liam Neeson, Alan Rickman, the phenomenal actress Emma Thompson, a wickedly funny Bill Nighy, the gorgeous Kiera Knightly, Colin Firth (Mr. Darcy, drool), and delightful cameos by Claudia Schiffer, Denise Richards, Shannon Elizabeth, and the (also drool-worthy) guy, Rodrigo Santoro, from Lost.

2.What is your favourite flower?
I love irises, for some reason. Have since I was a little girl. And tulips. And peonies, probably because of my favorite romantic scene-ever-in-a-novel, the reunion of Aeron and Gwydion among the peonies in Patricia Kenealy’s, The Silver Branch. Also, I do love white phaleonopsis orchids, which I had in my wedding bouquet (along with some really gorgeous purple thistle, privet berries and eucalyptus.

My lovely bridal bouquet with white Phalaenopsis orchids, thistle and privet berry

My lovely bridal bouquet with white Phalaenopsis orchids, thistle and privet berry

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3. What is your favourite non – alcoholic beverage? I would have to say coffee, dark roast, preferably Sumatran. An Atlanta roaster, Beanealogy, makes an incredible Pacific/Asian blend, called Dirty Nekkid Man, that is divine. I am also quite fond of Jamaican ginger beer, and the sweet ice tea they serve in the restaurant where I work – it’s spiced with vanilla, orange, ginger and cinnamon.

4. What is your passion?
I guess I am fortunate to have many. I love to write – even though it makes me insane when I get a mental block, and I never seem to have enough time to write as much as I’d like. My husband and our life together. Our family. My furkids, Brodie and Keegan. Making jewelry (again, I wish for more time to do so!) Cooking and entertaining friends. Eating in incredible restaurants. Travel. Reading.

a piece from my Glamourie jewelry collection

a piece from my Glamourie jewelry collection


5. What is your favourite time of year? It’s a little cheesy, but I love the Christmas holidays. I love the parties, decor, general festivity and being with our families.

The Stro-gusons!

The Stro-gusons!


6. What is your favourite time of day?
My favorite time of day is twilight – just minutes after sunset, when the light has this amazing luminescent quality, and the sky turns from orangy-pink to silver blue, and then teal to violet to navy. We were so fortunate to be able to time our wedding ceremony perfectly to catch it.

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7. What is your favourite physical activity? I would say aerial silks, even though every time I start taking classes again, I manage to injure myself doing something completely unrelated, and have to stop until I’m healed back up again. It’s simply the coolest thing I’ve ever done.

A spin on the "silks"

A spin on the “silks”


8. What is your favourite vacation? My favorite vacation is ANY vacation I’ve ever taken. Really. There really haven’t been enough. Extra memorable ones include the week David and I spent last March with our families in Rosemary Beach, my last visit to NYC to see my dearest friend, Nkoyen (a mere seven months before she suddenly and tragically passed away, making me treasure that idyllic weekend even more) a wine-saturated trip to San Francisco in 2002 with good friends Tara and the Bear of Doug, my awesome friend Jo’s bachelorette party in Austin and subsequent spectacular wedding in NC…again, every single one of them.

Rosemary Beach Vacation March 2012

Eight fantastic bloggers that I nominate for the Sunshine Award:

1.Toulouse and Tonic, my sorority sister Suzanne’s sassy and savvy blog about motherhood
2.Where’s Whitney’s Soup? “it’s them, not me”
3.rs interactive, my friend Raphael’s great social media blog
4.Jimmiechew A very fabulous kitten’s guide to life
5.Thoughts Unrestricted“Something, yet not really anything.” I beg to differ.
6.messianic motherhood, POV by new niece-by-marriage, the lovely and very talented Cassidy
7.Forthesakeofvocabulary, “ramblings from a twenty-something idler,” my friend (and fellow wedding industry peep) Jenni
8.shirleyrferguson, my darling auntee, author of “Birth Cry.”

Dirt, Redux


Last year around this time, I wrote the first post about my losing battle with SHDD, Seasonal Home Depot Disorder.

For those of you unfamiliar, SHDD is a form of dementia typically striking around the end of March, when the combination of sunny days, balmy temperatures and sassy commercial jingles conspire to fill even the brown-thumbed loft dweller with visions of gardening grandeur. The naive Mr. Green Jeans-wanna-be, lured to the lair of the devil, a.k.a. Home Depot Garden Center, is sucked into a kaleidoscope of burgeoning flora promising to transform their winter-weary lives with Spring fecundity.  SHDD is characterized by delirium, dissociation from reality, impaired judgment, and a dangerous lack of financial restraint.  There is currently no known cure for SHDD, although there are some interesting therapies in development.

This is what actually happens. It’s Saturday. You go to Home Depot with your fiance to buy a toilet flusher repair kit. In your excitement to preview the latest bathroom chandeliers, you run ahead, innocently cutting through the garden center on the way to the lighting aisle.

An hour later, your frantic fiance finds you staring transfixed into a display of Heirloom Pepper plants,  a trickle of drool running down your chin, mumbling your grandmother’s chowchow recipe in psychotic litany. Helpless to dissuade you in your maddened and disoriented state, he protestingly loads $200 worth of seedlings into the back of your SUV for a garden you have no land for.

Nice, Home Depot Garden Center. Nice. Your time will come.

This year, girded by wisdom gleaned by hauling $200 worth of dead plants off my balcony, I was able to ward off the Center’s siren song until almost June. Unable to stay off the junk, but unwilling to ride the horticultural horse alone, I finally cajoled my poor fiance into driving to the Home Depot in Smynings with me the other week to “pick up a tomato plant or two.”

Two hours later we returned to David’s house with a pre-fabricated cedar garden box riser, 24-cubic feet of special Miracle Gro enhanced dirt (in contrast to normal dirt, which is free) two Heirloom tomato plants, three Heirloom pepper plants (chowchow time!) basil, thyme, oregano, curly parsley, tarragon, a strawberry plant and a watermelon seedling (couldn’t resist).

Donning gloves and a hat, David quickly cleared a rough patch of land in the backyard, assembled the pre-fab riser, laboriously filled it with the special earth and then carefully placed the seedlings according to each’s light absorption preferences and bio-relative soil conductivity.

Anxious to do my part, I poured a glass of wine and busied myself naming each of our new leafy “kids”: Emily and Cleveland, the tomato plants; Basil, the basil (be sure to use the snotty-sounding British “ah” instead of the hard “a”); Reggie, the Oregano; Tex, the Texas Tarragon; Curly, the Curly Parley, and of course, Charleston Grey III, the watermelon. And no, I didn’t name the pepper plants. That’s silly.

Veggies finally all planted and watered, David and I sat back with the smug satisfaction native to the owners of vast estates and haciendas,  purveying our tiny 4′ x 4′ farmstead with proprietary greed and dreaming of what will most likely be the world’s most expensive summer salad.

I might be mental, I might be an addict, but at least I’m not alone.

And Home Depot, you’re still the devil.

Update: June 9, 2012.  View of the North 40 (inches).  Growing like gangbusters.

We are Martial

I’m into weird exercise.

Oh, stop it. I’m merely saying I get bored with conventional workouts at the gym, so I’m constantly on the lookout for interesting things to do to keep in shape. This all started years ago, when a friend hooked me up with her equestrian team and I did some show jumping and endurance riding. Unfortunately, while earning a pile of street cred for gettin’ my National Velvet on, I lost my butt financially, as everything about riding is expensive – from horses to hats to halters – and you need a Robin Leach lifestyle to support your equine habit.

My next adventure was Rock Climbing. Yes, a major adrenalin rush, but ultimately rather lonely, as I have surprisingly few friends interested in scrambling up 40-foot walls and falling back down them. I moved on to Bouldering, a more social form of rock climbing at lower heights, until I fractured my finger jockeying for cool points with a passel of monkey-jointed teenagers I could have easily given birth to.  Belly Dancing? ::sigh:: Epic fail. When the instructor you are paying money to teach you looks at you in a pitying way and says, “Wow, you really don’t have any sense of rhythm, do you?” you know it’s time to hang up your hip scarf.

A spin on the "silks"

Most successful, so far, have been classes in Aerial Silks, also known as Aerial Tissue or Ribbons (think Pink’s 2010 performance at the Grammys) which is basically hanging mid-air from two strips of fabric doing flips and spins and acrobatics. Really, exceptionally fabulous, both because it’s a great workout and, most importantly; it’s the coolest freaking thing you’ve ever done in your entire life. My dreams of running off and joining the circus were forever crushed though, when I sprained my shoulder last April loading glass racks into the van for a wedding and could no longer support my full body weight on one arm. Farewell, Cirque du Soleil and Vegas. What happened there would have stayed there. Now, I make no promises.

Iceskating at Piedmont Park

Just this past winter, I learned to Ice Skate, which probably doesn’t seem exotic to many of you, but I grew up in Mobile, Alabama and I live in Atlanta, Georgia so ice isn’t exactly thick on the ground in any kind of conveniently recreational way.

Ice Skating is a ton of fun and it was fairly easy to nail the basics since it’s a lot like Rollerblading (yet another one of my fitness fads in the 90s). As a matter of fact, David and I went ice skating on our first date, a lovely piece of trivia you might jot down for your personal notes.

The negatives of ice skating are:
a) it’s seasonal (there are some year-round rinks in the ‘burbs, but nothing close enough to be practical)
b) the pop-up Holiday rink near me is attached to a bar. While handy for liquid courage and hydration, it adds a lot of dangerously drunk dudes to the mix, slamming around a very small rink. This reminds me I don’t have health insurance and significantly reduces the light-hearted diversion.

At last we come to my latest fitness foray, Krav Maga, which I stumbled on in an internet search for martial arts classes in my neighborhood.

Krav Maga is an Israeli martial art made famous by the Mossad, and is foremost about self defence. Krav teaches you to disable and beat the living Jesus Moses out of an attacker, so you can flee to safety. This translates to a lot of punching and kicking, something I’ve never done before but that I find myself embracing wholeheartedly. I’ve been taking classes for about a week now, and I can see myself morphing into a cross between la Femme Nikita and Laura Croft.

David’s been amazingly supportive about the whole thing, even coming to my first class for moral suppport. I think he’s finally learning to take my wild tangents in stride, as evidenced by this recent text message.

Me: Hey baby. Finishing up early today. Yay! What r u doing 2night?
David: Washing car, doing some push ups. Reading.
Me: I’m going to punch stuff and yell, “Fire!!!!”
David: That’s nice.
Me: U really want me right now, don’t u?
David: I’ve never found u more desirable.
Me: R u being sarcastic?

The downside of Krav Maga is that you pretty much get the crap beaten out of you. I’ve never actually been in a fight so I’ve been a little shocked by the level of bruising and swelling of knuckles and knees. I’m working on a theory that cocktails before and after class could prevent inflamation by icing me down from the inside out, but David doesn’t think there’s any science to support this.

In the meantime, I’m just taking a lot of Advil and I bought some super cool boxing hand wraps, which are like spendy, bright red ace bandages to wrap around my hands to protect my wrists and knuckles. They can now join my collection of expensive weird excercise gear, which is packed into my hall closet gathering dust.

L - R, Clockwise: Ice Skates, Rock Climbing Shoes and Harness, Hunter/Jumper Helmet, Boxing (Krav Maga) Hand Wraps, Belly Dance Hip Scarf

Summer Supper

Probably my favorite thing about my job is that I work with a big ol’ bunch of foodies.

These guys are just as bad as me, and this should not be in any way construed as “damning with faint praise” or anything “cutesy”-complimentary. These are people rabidly intense about food and they mean business. The arrival of the latest Saveur or Food & Wine magazine is like a bloody hunk of steak dropped on the floor of a dog kennel. Admit to any one of our chefs that you dined at a “trendy” restaurant, and they’ll waterboard you without hesitation until you spill the minutest detail about your experience. The day after a Top Chef episode, the hours of debate in the endive kitchen would lead you we’d had been hand-selected by Bravo to sit at the Judge’s Table with Padma, Gail and Tom. And no, I don’t really think Richard Blais cares what we think about his bacon ice cream, but listening to us (not recommended), you’d bet money we thought we’d be doing him a solid to let him know.

Yes, Endive, the food geek stops here.

Chief of our culinary bad boys is Executive Chef, Jason Starnes, who blows me away with his sheer passion for creating incredible food experiences. Jason honed his craft (among many places) at the renowned Johnson and Wales culinary school in Charleston, but he brings more than a classical education to the table. What I love about Jason is how he lights up while talking about heirloom corn hand-raised by his daddy or a locally-cured Berkshire bacon. He is truly inspired by food and sharing it with others and you can sense his joy and craftsmanship in everything he creates.

Deviled Quail Eggs with Pine Street Market Bacon "Flakes"

So, may I say it was much like a (insert-your-favorite-winter-religious-holiday-here) morning when we got a call last week from a very high-end client for a Farm-to-Table-themed formal dinner. Very little direction: all they asked for were for poached scallops to start and a pork tenderloin for the entree – simply to make everything “fresh, light” and summery”- chef’s choice.

Pair it with the appropriate wines.

Make it spectacular.

Duh.

From the excitement, you’d have thought someone handed us frozen margaritas keys to a new car.

I ran for the computer, Jason reached for his favorite cookbooks and the collaboration began (well, it was mostly Jason, but like Shake-N-Bake, “Ahhh helped!”). What we came up with was so stunning and delicious, both visually and gustatorily, I had to share it with you!

Fried Green Tomato and Crab Cake "Slider"

To start:
Butler Passed Hors D’oeuvres

Deviled Quail Eggs with Pine Street Market Bacon “Flakes”

Fried Green Tomato and Crab Cake “Slider” with Red Bell Pepper Remoulade

Sesame Seared Ahi Tuna on Cucumber Disc with Wasabi Aioli

1st Course:
Vanilla and Olive Oil Poached Asparagus
Shaved Fennel and Citrus Salad, Rosemary-Grapefruit Vinaigrette

Henri Bourgeois Sancerre ‘Les Baronnes’ 2009

Vanilla and Olive Oil Poached Asparagus


2nd Course:
Butter Poached Sea Scallops
Heirloom Tomato Concasse, Diced Avocado, Crushed Pistachio and Pistachio Frico

Droin ‘Vaillons’ Chablis 1er Cru 2009

Scallops with Pistachio Frico

Intermezzo: Meyer Lemon Sorbet

Entree:
Sherry-Blackberry Lacquered Georgia Pork Tenderloin
Sweet Potato Nettle, Heirloom Creamed Corn, Summer Minted Pea Puree, Wilted Cahaba Farms Spinach

Domaine Serene ‘Evenstad’ 2006 Pinot Noir

Sherry-Blackberry Lacquered Pork Tenderloin

Cheese Course:
Assorted Sweet Grass Dairy Cheeses
Fresh Sliced Pear, Fig Preserves, Fresh Seasonal Fruit, Sweet and Spicy Roasted Pecans, Artisan Cracker

Cheese Course

Dessert Course:
Duo of Chilled Honeydew and Strawberry Soup
Goat Cheese and Honey Gelato, Pink Peppercorn Tuille, Basil Syrup

Adami ‘Bosco di Gica’ Brut Prosecco DOCG

Duo of Chilled Fruit Soup

Yes, the client was thrilled. Look at those pictures! Can you imagine any other response?

Food geeks rule! Whoo hoo! Nana, nana nayahhh.