Celebrating spirits: An evening of mixology, music and merriment with Brockmans Gin

While it was a week dedicated to communing with the dearly departed (Dia de los Muertos), a party promoting spirits of a different kind celebrated Brockmans Gin with mixology, music and general merriment.

Gin has a long and storied history. Initially created as an inexpensive medicinal oil, by Franciscus de la Boe (aka Doctor Sylvius), a physician at Holland’s University of Leyden, the elixir was developed to relieve bladder and kidney ailments. Dr. Sylvius referred to his medicine as “Genièvre”, the French name for the juniper berry, which was the primary ingredient for his concoction.

English soldiers developed a taste for the local spirit, gin, while fighting alongside the Dutch and brought back the production method to England with them. As taxes on imported beverages were raised, and taxes on English spirits were lowered, gin received a further push and soon became extremely popular, particularly by the poorest classes. So much so that crudely made (and often unsafe) spirits were being sold in thousands of gin shops throughout London and led to many social problems in the city, including increased drunkenness and death.

Eventually, the ills associated with gin were dramatically reduced and the emphasis shifted from a cheap, alcoholic beverage to a high-quality gin. These latter gins were no longer overly sweet and focused on the inherent flavors of the spirit, namely juniper. This new kind of gin became known as the “London Dry Style”.

While less flagrantly conspicuous in society, gin’s appeal continued when it was discovered that it paired well with quinine (used to control malaria) on voyages to the tropics, inventing the now well-known gin and tonic. In fact, during the 19th and early 20th centuries, it was gin and not vodka that was the go to for mixing into various cocktails.

Today, vodka dominates the spirits market as the most internationally traded spirit, with worldwide vodka sales reaching nearly 500 million nine-liter cases. By comparison, gin sales account for roughly only 50 million nine-liter cases. Yet, gin continues to be an important spirits staple and is gaining momentum in the marketplace, particularly at the high end.

This resurgence in the category has not gone unnoticed as new brands are entering the fray, capitalizing on craft beverages and craft cocktails. This renaissance provided inspiration for four friends to produce a super-premium gin with a trendy, night-life vibe aimed at the Millennial market. Thus, in 2008, Brockmans Gin was launched by Kevan Crosthwaite, David Crosthwaite, Bob Fowkes and Neil Everitt.

Thursday’s festivities offered up the opportunity to taste Brockmans Gin in all of its glory.
Produced at the oldest existing gin distillery in Birmingham, England (in a copper still that is over 100 year old), the gin includes the requisite juniper, but this flavor is much less dominant on the palate. As Fowkes explained, market research indicated that many people were not big fans of juniper and complained of drinking beverages reminiscent of a Christmas tree. Consequently, the botanicals in Brockmans Gin lean more heavily on the citrus and fruit components, namely lemon peel, orange peel, blueberries and blackberries. As a high-end product, is it exceptionally smooth and very enjoyable to drink neat.

There were also five different cocktails available. Of the three I tasted, my favorite was the Brockmans English Heat, which was developed especially for the event by Nomad’s mixologists. The beautifully balanced addition of heat was thanks to the inclusion of Jalapeno-infused agave, which was combined with Brockmans Gin, Chambery Dry Vermouth, Tuaca and lemon. This beat out the more citrus-centic Brockmans Nod to Nothing (Brockmans Gin, Cocchi Americano, Jasmine Pearl Green Tea, Apricot, Sale Yuzu and Lemon) by just a little bit, but both showed off the gin to its advantage.

Ancient Lakes AVA: A Meeting of Mountains, Music and Merlot

Arriving in Seattle on an unusually clear day, we could see the majestic Mount Rainier through the airplane window, which we took as a good omen of the trip to come – our first foray into Central Washington and our maiden voyage in an RV.

Although the impetus for this visit to the Pacific Northwest was a two-day music festival at The Gorge Amphitheater, as wine lovers we could not resist the siren call of the local vinous culture and were excited about exploring this region along with immersing ourselves into the music.

We loaded up the vehicle with our possessions and hit the road, essentially heading due east. Our route took us through the Cascade Mountain range, which offers up beautiful views and is also responsible for keeping most moisture to the west. Consequently, Washington State’s eastern areas are sunny and dry (and well-suited to irrigated agriculture), while Seattle is steeped in foggy, wet weather.

Our final destination was in George, WA (someone had a sense of humor), but we found a welcoming oasis along Interstate 90 in Ellensburg. This small town (Population: 19,786) is home to Central Washington University and several wineries. We selected Brix Wine Bar as our early dinner option. Owned by Elevage Wine Co/Raised by Wolves, the restaurant lists several wines by the glass (or bottle), but doesn’t provide a tasting option. Surprisingly, they do have gluten-free pizza on the menu, which was quite delicious. We ordered one glass of Malbec and one of Cabernet Sauvignon, with a unanimous preference for the latter.

Thus, we added a bottle of the Cab Sav to our tab to enjoy later, before heading around the corner to Gard Vintners. Its Ellensburg tasting room is open late on Friday nights (4:00-9:00 PM) with the winery’s full range available for tastings as well as by the glass and by the bottle. Live music was a welcome treat as we sampled several different wines, under the tutelage of Riley, our tasting guide that evening. Founded in 2006, this family winery has garnered high scores from the wine media and it was easy to see why. We were wowed by the Roussanne, Vaucluse (a Rhone-style red blend of Syrah and Viognier) and their Provencal-style rosé and added these to our growing collection.

Before we headed out, Riley recommended visits to: Cave B Winery, Beaumont Cellars and Jones of Washington, all of which are in Quincy, WA and situated within the Ancient Lakes AVA.

Created in 2012, the Ancient Lakes AVA’s geology is the result of being carved out by ancient ice age floods, leaving behind 35 namesake lakes. It encompasses 1,600 planted acres with Riesling and Chardonnay as the most planted varieties due to the relatively northern latitude and cooler weather compared to other areas within Columbia Valley.

As a state, Washington ranks as the second largest premium producer of wine in the U.S. Grapes were planted as early as 1825, but today’s vineyards were more recently established during the 1970s. Currently, there are 900 wineries, spread out over 14 AVAs, with the majority (75%) of production centered on Cabernet Sauvignon, Riesling, Chardonnay, Merlot and Syrah. However, diversity does still exist with more than 40 different grapes grown within the state.

Beyond the Ancient Lakes AVA, the wider wine touring region is known as the Cascade Valley and North Central, which is situated between Seattle and Spokane. Within this area, there are 34 wineries or tasting rooms on the Cascade Valley & North Central map in Washington State Wine’s magazine, with another 21 listed in nearby Leavenworth and 7 in Wenatchee, providing tourists with plenty of places to taste.

After departing Gard Vintners, we arrived at The Gorge, queuing up behind a long line of fellow RVs. As we made our way, we were both welcomed and warned to adhere to the campground rules. First and foremost, we were admonished to have a fkin’ good time! In truth, the rules do forbid weapons, but, thankfully, alcohol is permissible (at least for the show we attended). Once in place in our assigned campsite, we unpacked our bags before setting off to explore the venue, then it was time for bed.

The next morning, well-fortified with a hearty breakfast of eggs, bacon and toast, we walked the two miles to Cave B Winery (Riley’s other suggestions were too far for a walk and getting the RV out of camp was just too difficult a proposition). Originally founded as Champs de Brionne by Dr. (a neurosurgeon) and Mrs. Bryan in 1980, Cave B Winery’s vast estate boasts 140 acres of vines comprised of 17 different varieties; orchards; a spa; a restaurant with stunning views of the Columbia River; and a myriad of lodging options, including yurts and cave rooms.

All of Cave B’s wines are produced with estate-grown fruit and a $10 tasting fee will get you a sample of 3 whites and 3 reds. While I liked all six wines, I was especially enamored with the Tempranillo. Among the whites, their off-dry Riesling stood out. Overall, this region and its wines were quite unfamiliar to me before our arrival, but I was impressed with what we tasted.

During Champs de Brionne’s early days, a natural bowl on the property was discovered to have near-perfect acoustics and the idea of a music venue was born as a way to draw people to the winery “in the middle of nowhere.” Before long, the popularity of these summer music began to grow, transforming the original concept from a small theater into the grander The Gorge Amphitheater, accompanied by the build out of a much larger stage and capacity for 20,000+ participants.

By 1993, the Bryans divested themselves of The Gorge Amphitheater and its campgrounds, but retained the vineyards and additional acreage. During this period, they continued to grow grapes, which they sold to other wine producers. But, in 2000, the couple was ready to re-enter winemaking with the creation of Cave B Winery, a smaller, premium winery. They added the inn and restaurant in 2005.

Given this history, it was fitting to have tasted at Cave B before heading back to our campsite for the main event: ABGT250.

DJs and musicians, Above & Beyond, comprise three London-based guys (Jono Grant, Tony McGuinness, and Paavo Siljamäki) who started making music together in 1999. They have cultivated a rabid following that spans the globe and inculcated a special ethos among them. They have also launched record labels Anjunabeats and Anjunadeep, giving a start to other EDM artists. Fans assert that their concerts are life-changing experiences after attending just a single one, so it is no surprise that their events are well attended.

Named for their podcast series, Above & Beyond Group Therapy (ABGT), their ABGT live events draw fans from around the globe. The group began doing live shows on the occasion of the 50th podcast (ABGT50), a tradition that has carried forward each year (coincident with the next 50th show). The first was held in London, followed by New York, Sydney, Amsterdam and now Washington State. Rumors have it that ABGT300 will be in Asia.

The festival itself kicked off with a free screening of Above & Beyond’s live filming of a recent performance on Friday night as a thank you to those who arrived early, but the main event took place on Saturday evening with a special set by Above & Beyond. The line-up included Luttrell, Yotto, Oliver Smith, Genix & Sunny Lax, a reprise from the headliners at 11:00 PM, accompanied by fireworks and glowing digital bracelets (from sponsor TMobile), before concluding with Seven Lions & Jason Ross.

Sunday’s daytime set was more mellow, with Above & Beyond’s music as the backdrop for a morning yoga practice and the use of the venue’s smaller stage. Highlights included Moon Boots, Eli & Fur, Jody Wisternoff & James Grant, 16 Bit Lolitas, and a joint return to the stage by Yotto and Luttrell at the end. A brief rain shower on Sunday evening did not seem to put a damper on anyone’s spirits, with music continuing long into the night, thanks to “pop-up” concerts embedded in the food court area and the campgrounds.

We were up early Monday morning ready to return to civilization, but would certainly consider the trip a success. Admittedly, it was an interesting combination of hobbies, but this meeting of mountains, music and Merlot was a perfect balance for us, as we navigated new adventures and divergent musical tastes. And, I didn’t hate the RV; it was definitely much more comfortable and luxurious that a tent would have been.

 

Fullerton Wines, from Scandinavia to Portlandia

Admittedly, when I first received the invitation, I was hesitant. I had never heard of the winery before and the idea of schlepping out to Brooklyn on a cold winter’s night was not very appealing…until I Googled the restaurant. With its two Michelin stars and stellar reviews, Aska was very intriguing and seemed well worth the trip to the outer borough.

As we would discover, this Scandinavian restaurant is run by Swedish chef Fredrik Berselius, who truly redefined our notions of a Swedish chef (especially if the Muppet Show is firmly ensconced in one’s brains) and instilled a wonderful appreciation for this cuisine in us.

Getting off the M train at Marcy Street, we walked toward Manhattan, in the shadows of the Williamsburg bridge. After several blocks, we wondered if we were indeed walking all the way back to Manhattan, but finally we arrived at our destination and were ushered to a private room, which was immaculately set for our group.

Once we were all seated, our winery hosts immediately poured us a glass of their rosé and then provided us with an introduction to themselves: The Fullerton’s. It turned out that there was a method to the madness; the Fullerton’s have a direct connection to Scandinavia, which was why they had chosen this vaunted restaurant for the event, coincident with the winery’s debut in the New York and New Jersey markets.

Patriarch of the family, Eric Fullerton was raised in a Danish family and married a Swedish woman. The couple lived in Scandinavia with son, Alex, born in Denmark. A few years later, the Fullerton’s returned to the U.S. and settled in Oregon. Eric held C-level positions within the communications and security industries, but always had a passion for quality wine.

As a young child, Alex watched his parents enjoying wine at home and carried these observations to school – swirling and spitting out his milk, much to the chagrin of his kindergarten teacher – eventually developing his own vinous interest, which was cemented on a father-son trip to Champagne and Burgundy when Alex graduated high school.

In 2010, Alex was graduating from college with a degree in economics, but with no specific plan for a career or his future. He and dad visited Penner-Ash Wine Cellars together and discussed the idea of Alex entering the wine industry. Alex was keen on the idea and before the day was out, he had secured a harvest intern position at Penner-Ash. Dad sweetened the deal, offering to back Alex’s personal wine venture, if he pursued a degree in viticulture and enology, to which he readily agreed.

Alex followed his time at Penner-Ash with a harvest in New Zealand, before returning to the Willamette Valley and Penner-Ash and, later, a position at Bergstrom Wines. During this time, the two Fullerton men began making wine in the garage and scouting for vineyard blocks throughout the Valley. They also planted 400 vines in their backyard.

In 2012, Fullerton Wines was launched as a commercial venture with two separate lines: Three Otters and Fullerton. The Three Otters brand owes its origins to the three otters depicted in the Fullerton family coat of arms and a portion of the proceeds from each bottle helps to support the return of sea otters to the Oregon coast. The Fullerton brand includes its Five FACES line, named for all members of the Fullerton family: Filip, Alex, Caroline, Eric and Suzanne, as well as several single vineyard Pinot Noirs. To date, the winery produces 4,500 cases annually, but the goal is to reach 20,000 cases in the future.

Alex currently sources Pinot Noir fruit from several vineyards in the Willamette Valley. Both the Three Otters and Five FACES Pinots are the products of blending grapes from various vineyards (and appellations) to craft a consistent wine that marries the favorable characteristics from throughout the region. However, he has also identified a number of distinct vineyards that appeal to him as single vineyard wines. These wines are more expressive of an individual terroir and provide nice diversity within the Fullerton portfolio. As the family seeks to expand its production, they will need to identify other vineyards. Looking ahead, Alex noted that he hopes to focus on Eola-Amity Hills in sourcing additional fruit as he is particularly enamored with this micro-climate and the quality of grapes it produces.

As the meal progressed, we got to know Eric and Alex better, both their histories and their philosophies. There was a genuine warmth to this father and son’s relationship as they bantered back and forth, making jokes and good-naturedly teasing one another. In the end, it was clear that Eric has made a huge investment in his son, not just for their mutual love of wine, but because he is extremely proud of him.

While the wine was understandably the focal point of the evening, the 10-course meal was not to be overlooked. Each course was a stunning presentation of food, plate and flatware. Despite the lengthy evening, the food was engaging and not too heavy; only one course included meat and many were vegetarian. Among the more unique offerings were a crunchy snack of bladderwrack seaweed with a blue mussel emulsion; an earthy bowl of lichen served with chanterelles and a mushroom broth; and an intense pig’s blood pancake with rose petals and rosehip jam.

With the wonderful selection of Willamette Valley wines and the expertise of Aska’s kitchen, it was the perfect way to spend a New York night and definitely merited the journey to Brooklyn. It was certainly much easier to get to than Noma!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

NB: Food images courtesy of Jared Skolnick.

TASTING NOTES

Three Otters Rosé 2015, Willamette Valley, OR, $18.00
First conceived in 2012, the Three Otters rosé began as a friendly competition between dad and son over which method to use to produce the wine. Afterward, they decided that a blend of the two methods was best and they have continued to follow this format ever since. The wine is refreshing and dry with bright strawberry aromas and flavors along with a hint of fresh herbs, culminating in long length.

Three Otters Chardonnay 2014, Willamette Valley, OR, $20.00
An all stainless-steel Chard, this wine lets the fruit shine through unimpeded by oak. The wine is high in acidity, with citrus and yellow apple notes, as well as a nice richness on the palate due to extended lees contact.

Fullerton Five FACES Chardonnay 2015, Willamette Valley, OR, $33.00
This barrel-fermented wine has only a small (9%) percentage of oak and thus the oak is very integrated, resulting in an elegant and beautiful Chardonnay with good acidity and long length.

Three Otters Pinot Noir 2014, Willamette Valley, OR, $20.00
A really nice entry-level Pinot Noir, this has no new oak, with the wine spending time in tanks and neutral barrels. Sourced and blended from eight different area vineyards, this wine offers up cherry and berry aromas and flavors with a slightly earthy undercurrent. Overall, it is light-bodied, fresh and approachable.

Fullerton Five FACES Pinot Noir 2014, Willamette Valley, OR, $33.00
This is the winery’s flagship wine with fruit sourced from several key vineyards. A beautiful wine with an intense and concentrated fruit nose of dark cherry, which persists on the palate and is joined by a hint of herbaceousness. It is rich, yet elegant with long length. Among the diners at our table, this seemed to be a fan favorite given the complexity of the wine and its reasonable price point.

Fullerton Croft Vineyard Pinot Noir 2014, Willamette Valley, OR, $45.00
The organically certified Croft Vineyard generates less of a diurnal shift yielding ripe grapes, with slightly less acidity than cooler sites. The result is a plushy, sensual Pinot with good black cherry and spice notes as well as some wet leaves in the long finish.

Fullerton Croft Vineyard Pinot Noir 2013, Willamette Valley, OR, $45.00
While sourced from the same grapes as the 2014 wine, 2013 was a more challenging vintage, marked with rains during harvest. Consequently, this wine has higher acidity than usual and more herbal character than the 2014.

Fullerton Momtazi Vineyard Pinot Noir 2014, Willamette Valley, OR, $60.00
The Momtazi Vineyard is situated within the McMinnville AVA. With its bright acidity, ripe red cherry fruit, lush herbs and spice, and lovely long length, this was my favorite single vineyard wine of the evening.

Fullerton Fir Crest Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Yamhill-Carlton, OR, $75.00
Hailing from the old vines in the Fir Crest Vineyard, this wine possesses an extremely intense, heavy and concentrated nose and palate. It displayed some volatile acidity, along with dark red fruit and firm tannins; a steak-eater’s Pinot Noir. This wine provoked an interesting discussion among Alex and Eric since it is a style that Alex doesn’t enjoy, but that Eric would like to replicate for market purposes.

Taking Solace in the Solstice

Astrologically, as we drift into winter, the period from late December to early February is a time for stillness and contemplation; a time to both relax and uplift your spirit.

As the old year draws to a close and the new one lingers on the horizon, the arrival of the Winter Solstice (on or about December 21) brings with it the shortest day – and longest night – of the year. From its Latin roots, we are reminded that on this day, the sun stands still; we can take a breath and look up at the stars.

Gazing upward, Orion greets us from his perch in this sky. Home to three of the 25 brightest stars, Orion’s gleaming placement among the stars permits him to be seen all over the world, regardless of hemisphere. This winter constellation, named for the myth of Orion, and seen so well amidst the darkness, poetically alludes to the regenerative powers of the sun as Orion’s own eyesight was restored by its healing rays. And, just south of his brilliant belt, Orion’s faithful companion, Sirius, also known as the Dog Star, literally sparkles as brightest star in the sky.

In olden days, this moment in the calendar marked the end of harvest (and all of the hard work it entailed) and signaled instead a time to celebrate. The festival of Saturnalia celebrated in Rome took place from December 17 to 25 – those Romans knew how to party!

So it was with a festive spirit that we took our cue from these ancient holidays and headed out on New Year’s Eve in our finest and toasted to the dawn of a new year with Louis Roederer Champagne at the Metropolitan Opera‘s Black Tie Gala (we know how to party, too!).

Now that New Year’s has come and gone and 2017 has recently arrived, the days are fresh with promise; the sparkle of a brand new year. Just around the corner, Imbolc awaits with its portent of lighter days and lighter hearts as the sun slowly returns.

But for now, it is the perfect time to pause, reflect, raise a glass and count our blessings. May they be as numerous as the bubbles in your glass of Champagne or other sparkling wine.

International Cover Up and the Feminine Rising

After years of waiting, we were finally visiting Morocco, a dream destination. The trip coincided with the final weeks of the U.S. election, against the backdrop of a pussy-grabbing, wannabe politician making headlines at home and the publication of Regena Thomashauer’s new book, Pussy.

As a part of Regina’s Sister Goddess community, I was proud and excited as we, together, took back this word and reclaimed it for ourselves. Hers was a daring title choice: provocative, decisive and divisive, but so necessary for this moment.

Yet, despite my awakened state, my husband and I also believe strongly in respecting other people and other cultures – the idea of being the ugly Americans is anathema to us – so I struggled about what to wear in a patriarchal, Muslim country.

A friend recommended covering my blond head to limit unwanted attention from locals while blogs and other online articles warned that Western women were presumed to be unchaste (and thus available) by Moroccan men merely due to their skimpy attire.

While still at home, mentally packing my suitcase, I began to notice other women on the subway and was able to spot a handful of women who I deemed to be ideally dressed for the occasion. They were here among us, but so, too, was everyone else; on New York City transit, nearly anything goes. But, I was certain that my preferred clothing choices – body conscious, sleeveless, knee-length dresses – would be unwelcome abroad.

Initially, I had grand visions of chic caftans or stylish palazzo pants and tunics, but I had neither the time nor the money to source such garments. Instead, I shopped online; shopped in person; then shopped again – unsure how to implement what I learned or how I wanted to dress. It became an unhealthy obsession as I focused on fashion instead of researching sight-seeing options. I returned some items and kept others until I thought I had a “respectable” wardrobe, but I didn’t love what I packed.

I arrived at our first hotel in my usual flight uniform (black dress, black leggings and a long black sweater), but, surprisingly, we were greeted by a woman in a sleeveless blouse and mid-length skirt. Had I been wrong to worry?

As it turned out, she was more the exception rather than the rule, although I did see women – particularly younger women – wearing skinny jeans with a long-sleeved blouse and a head scarf. It was only when we got to the desert that I saw the burka obliterating a woman’s presence – covering her head and face; we saw only her eyes.

img_20161014_072330875_hdrDressing on day one of our journey, I donned a newly purchased outfit: baggy, printed pants; an unstructured, black blouse; and a long, black cardigan, which hid my body and, ultimately, hid my true personality. I didn’t feel good in the unflattering clothes; I didn’t feel like me. They were bulky, ill-fitting swathes of fabric that hung on me rather than hugged my body. And, with the warm weather, I was further made uncomfortable.

In Morocco to celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary, we had made reservations at several top restaurants. Such vacation evenings are usually a time to get dressed up “fancy” and look good (read sexy). Instead, I wore an outdated, full-length dress with flats and a black scarf to cover my upper body.

Walking home after dinner, my shawl slipped from my shoulders. They were bare and exposed; my décolletage now obviously on display. I panicked, feeling the overwhelming need to cover up – all at once, I felt it… shame!

But, whereas American women have body shame for being too fat, too flat-chested, too busty or for having big thighs [or are otherwise too something], this was a different kind of shame. This was a sense of feeling that my body was impure and inherently dirty. The feeling was visceral and powerful, taking me completely by surprise as I am certainly not ashamed of my body.

Yet, as I was uncovered, I was wrapped up in the collective consciousness. Perhaps when we immerse ourselves in the culture, it becomes both a physical and metaphysical immersion.

As the journey continued, I was assailed by other latent cultural messages about the feminine…We toured a synagogue in Fez’ Jewish quarter and saw a mikveh, the ritual bath in which women must immerse themselves monthly to restore themselves to a clean state. Meanwhile, at the hammam, I was asked to strip down to nothing other than paper panties as a female attendant pawed my chest with a rough mitt, scrubbing my skin raw.  I stood before her naked and unashamed.

Upon taking the throne, the current King of Morocco, Mohammed 6, ruled that women were not required to cover their head. Other reforms for women have been enacted such as raising the minimum age for marriage to 18 and compelling a man to pay child support when divorcing his wife. But, admittedly, there is work to do (the literacy rate for women is still under 50%) and, as we were reminded by at least one Moroccan man, the country needs to focus on basic human rights – food, clothing, shelter – for people, before they can focus on broader rights. Moreover, it seems that fully emancipating women takes a back seat to sustaining religious beliefs with a backlash from men and women alike as they grapple with changes to the ingrained patriarchal system.

Once again stateside, I was eager to move my body again – to be feminine and fluid and to celebrate my curves – bringing myself to my home away from home, the S Factor NY studio. Afterward, a quick post on Facebook, expressing my pleasure at feeling uncovered and freed, was quickly shut down by a male “friend” with his comment asking to see photos of my “uncovered and free to move feminine body.”

But, upon reading his words, there was no shame; only righteous anger at the pervasive patriarchy that lingers in my own culture – all the more reason (and need) to continue to reclaim ourselves and our bodies.

This feeling has persisted in the weeks following the election – the world is in dire need of the feminine voice. A conversation with my friend IRL confirmed that he is generally a good person, but still doesn’t get how his words can be hurtful or why there should be any antipathy to what he wrote. I was at a loss as to how to more fully respond, but perhaps he is too immersed in our patriarchal culture to see it. Such misogyny both here and abroad should not and can not be tolerated. This is not an indictment of the masculine, but rather a call to sing in harmony with one another. The world has waited too long and the time is now to lift our voices.

As Sheila Kelley, founder of S Factor, wrote on FB in the wake of the election, “…We cannot let this hurt keep us from our shine. We cannot stop daring. We must dare every day. Dare to reach further. Dare to live deeper. Dare to shine brighter. Dare to run for the highest office in this nation. Because when we all dare together the collective energy of feminine hope will make change happen. Let’s use this unraveling to unite even tighter, to unite into such a force of nature that nothing and no one will be able to keep us down. Let’s use the hate that comes flying at us to fuel our love. The feminine has always been resilient. We bend and not break. When we go down. We dare to rise again. I am fired up. Fiercely emboldened. For this I am grateful. United we thrive and will rise.”

Life’s Lessons from Puppets

Handspring Puppet Company’s Il Riturno d’Ulisse Photo Credit: Caitlin Ochs for The New York Times

While much of the world seems to be overrun by robots (witness Stephen Colbert’s repeated references to them and Westworld), I have always been more intrigued by puppets, starting with the purchase of a marionette at the Howe Caverns’ gift shop. A treasured memory was watching a bunraku performance in Osaka, Japan many years ago.

Puppetry has always been a passion for Adrian Kohler and Basil Jones, which is why the two Cape Town residents founded Handspring Puppet Company in 1981. Although they are perhaps best known for their work in designing the puppets for the Tony Award-winning War Horse, it was their recent staging at the Lincoln Center’s White Light Festival that served as my introduction to them and their company.

A mashup of puppets, opera and Avant Garde film, Handspring Puppet Company’s  1998 collaboration with Director William Kentridge – The Return of Ulysses – is stunning example of the theater’s ability to surprise, delight and make us think and is truly in keeping with the Festival’s aim in exploring the power of art and music to reveal the complexity of our interior lives.

Based on the opera by Claudio Monteverdi, one of the earliest opera composers, The Return of Ulysses tells the story of the final chapters of Homer’s Odyssey: Ulysses’ reunion with Penelope at the palace in Ithaca. Written in the same year as circulation was discovered (1640), Handspring and Kentridge reimagined the stage as that of an operating theater (historically, people would pay money to watch medical operations as theater) and animated footage from the History of the Main Complaint is displayed on a screen in the background.

As the show opens, the singers are accompanied by historical instruments played by the Ricercar Consort, named from the Italian word ricercare – to seek – and apropos of the story as Ulysses seeks to return home to his wife. The prologue introduces Human Frailty, Fortune, Love and Time, as they discuss Ulysses’ life and fate, and I am struck by the words, “My limbs are weak, but I have wings.” A fitting anthem for malaise of the times.

Later, in a post-performance discussion with Kohler and Jones, we are given more insight into the unusual triad among singer, puppeteer and puppet to work in harmony with one another. Furthermore, they admonish the singers to look up at their respective puppets and to show their breath – both of which are inimical to an opera performer’s training. But, as Jones and Kohler point out, without such an approach, the work falls flat – breath is indeed life.

 

A Celebration of Love, Life & Bordeaux

It was time. The older Bordeaux wines we had collected were coming into their own and it was time to taste them.

We selected ten wines from the cellar and assembled an equally stellar group of friends for a multi-course dinner at our home in September.

The line-up was impressive, but perhaps the piece de resistance was the Carruades de Lafite 2000, Château Lafite Rothschild’s second wine. Purchased through Sherry-Lehmann back in 2001 through a Future’s campaign*, the wine represented our first major foray into the wine world and marked the occasion of our fifth year of marriage.

The traditional gift for a fifth wedding anniversary is wood and I racked my brain for months on what to get hubby. Finally, I discovered the concept of wine futures: buying wine before it has been bottled and released (and, generally, still aging in oak barrels at the time). Consequently, it was an appropriate gift and one that we would both appreciate as we were just getting our bearings in wine.

We had visited Bordeaux on our belated honeymoon trip in 1999 and very much enjoyed these wines, but still didn’t know a lot about wine in general. Accordingly, we associated much of our love of wine with Bordeaux.

As luck would have it, the object of the Futures were the much vaunted 2000s, which meant high praise and high prices. Getting over my initial sticker shock, I pulled out my copy of Kevin Zraly’s Windows on the World Complete Wine Course (who incidentally teaches his 40th and last class this fall) and read up on the Bordeaux Classification of 1855. I couldn’t afford the top growths; instead, I selected seven different bottles of wine, choosing third growths, a fifth growth, several second wines from top producers and a St. Emilion Grand Cru for a total expenditure of $236.00 – quite pricey for us at the time.

With only a single bottle of each, we had been reluctant to open any of these special wines previously, but with over 40 bottles of Bordeaux in our cellar, the impending arrival of our 20th wedding anniversary was as good as an excuse as any to justify their consumption.

We carefully crafted a menu to highlight the wines and chose pairings from the Left and Right Banks to provide the opportunity to compare Cabernet-dominant and Merlot-dominant wines, respectively.

And, of course, we ended the meal with a lovely aged Sauternes, giving guests the option of finishing off on a sweet or savory note, or both!

Overall, the dinner was a perfect marriage of good food, good wines and good company as well as a wonderful celebration of our continued partnership both in the kitchen and out.

Dinner
Hamachi Crudo
Marinated Yellowtail Tuna with Jicama & Greens
Château La Louvière Blanc 2011, Pessac-Léognan

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rack of Lamb
Herb & Mustard-Crusted Islandic Lamb with Zucchini and Carrot Purée
Château La Fleur Peyrabon 2010, Pauillac
Château La Tour Figeac 2008, St. Emilion Grand Cru

 

 

 

 

 

 

Magret de Canard
Roasted Duck Breast with Blackberries and a side of Duck Fat Potatoes
Château d’Armailhac 2005, Pauillac
Château Les Hauts-Conseillants 2005, Lalande de Pomerol

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cheese Course
Fort Saint Antoine Comté (Aged 36 mos), Burgundy, France
~and~
Mrs. Quicke’s Cheddar (Aged 24 mos), Devonshire, England
Château Giscours 2001, Margaux
Château Beau-Séjour Bécot 2001, St. Emilion Grand Cru
Carruades de Lafite 2000, Pauillac
Château Certan de May 1998, Pomerol

Dessert
Bloc de Foie Gras
Served with Roasted Figs and Toast Points
~and~
Crème Brûlée
Caramel Custard with Burnt Sugar Crust
Château Doisy-Védrines 1998, Sauternes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

*NB: When buying wine futures, it is imperative that you work with a trusted agent or retailer since the company will take your money now, but you won’t receive the wines for two years.

 

IDNYC opens doors to the city’s jewels

idI have always maintained that everything is better that sparkles — wine, water, diamonds and personalities. So, George Balanchine’s Jewels ballet is no exception.

Inspired by a visit to Van Cleef and Arpels, Jewels is a work in three parts: Emeralds, Rubies and Diamonds. The Emerald set included slivers of malachite draped on the sides, while the sky dripped with glittering gems suspended above the dancers who were adorned with faux stones that sparkled brightly from the stage. It was magnificent to watch the glitter and glamour as the ballerinas took the stage to practice their pirouettes one last time before curtain.

This chance to attend the working dress rehearsal of such an iconic ballet was thanks to my membership in the New York City Ballet. And, the membership, at least for this year, is courtesy of IDNYC.

Don’t have your card yet? What are you waiting for?

IDNYC was launched by the mayor in 2014 as a way to provide a government-issued photo identification card for all city residents, particularly those who may have difficulty getting other government-issued IDs. But, even if you don’t need another government-issued ID, the benefits for all card holders include a one-time membership in many of New York City’s finest cultural institutions such as the ballet.

Since getting my IDNYC in January, I have been blessed to visit the Museum of Modern Art gratis; obtain advanced ticket sales opportunities for NY City Center; receive a flurry of event invites from BRIC; and purchase discount tickets to The Book of Mormon. The benefits of being a member of the New York City Ballet have been my favorite and, most importantly, a reminder of how much I love the ballet. I will be sure to support the ballet after my complimentary membership expires as a result of this experience.

 

Le Dinner en Blanc: A (White) Night to Remember

It was a magical evening! Admittedly, some people just won’t get it. My sister is still scratching her head wondering why on earth I dragged a table, two chairs and tons of other stuff for an outdoor feast on the subway during rush hour.

But, for those 5,000 of us who made the list, donning our very best white attire, schlepping everything on public transportation and arriving at the secret location is worth all of the time and effort.

Le Dinner en Blanc (DEB) – The White Dinner – started nearly 30 years ago by a group of Parisian friends who met at the Eifel Tower for a picnic and decided to wear white so they could easily find one another. (Of course it was the French; New Yorkers would have definitely worn black!) Today, DEB dinners are held internationally and 2016 marked the 6th edition of the New York-based event.

I had been on the waitlist for four years and, after seemingly almost getting in last year, was able to swallow the bitter taste left by their multiple server crashes to try again this year. I was literally poised online at 11:59:30 AM for my high noon registration opening. By 12:07 it was official – we were in!

We spent the next week in a flurry of activity – tracking down our preferred options from among the strict specifications regarding tables, chairs, linens, etc. – adding to the already near-daily arrival of Amazon.com and other deliveries to our Manhattan apartment. Our house guest was quite amused. I turned to Pinterest and blogs for wisdom and inspiration and scoured the apartment for anything white, finding napkins, plates, bowls and flatware that fit the bill, along with crystal accents (a vase and votive holders) that would grace our table. I grabbed a framed photo of our recently-departed (white) pup; wisely choosing the less creepy option – leaving her white box of ashes at home. I also raided my craft box for silk flowers and silver curling ribbon. Additionally, we turned to our friend Amazon.com for other table décor that caught our eye: battery-operated tea lights (candles were forbidden) and twinkle lights.

While hubby kept adding to the shopping cart – white linen jacket, white satin bow tie, white driving loafers – I fortunately had a beautiful, white Catherine Malandrino lace-embellished dress in my closet, just waiting for an occasion. I tried to purchase a fascinator to adorn my hair, but the vendor couldn’t guarantee arrival in time for the event, so instead, I decorated my hair with white blossoms bought at the local market. I’ve never been a fan of white shoes, so I opted for my favorite pair of silver sandals; while off-white was strongly discouraged, metallic accessories were welcomed. My big “splurge” was new nail polish in a new pearlized white shade from Opi.

As suggested by previous attendees, we practiced putting together our new table and did a dry run with the tablescape. But one final challenge remained: figuring out how and in what to bring all of our gear to the site (yes, very, very First World problems). We settled on a white plastic hamper from the Container Store and a collapsible luggage cart, all of which worked perfectly when paired with a gaggle of bungee cords. We were ready to go.

On the actual day, we were blessed with crisp, clear weather and a stunning sunset (the event runs rain or shine), thanks to a change from previous years from an August to a September date.

In other U.S. cities, guests are often bused to the final destination, but in New York, participants meet up at one of dozens of meeting sites throughout Manhattan and Brooklyn before heading out via MetroCard to the secret location.

Given everything that we had to carry, we decided to purchase food through DEB’s catering partner (Great Performances, in collaboration with Todd English) rather than bring our own picnic. In addition, as per NYS laws, alcohol must be purchased through the caterer, with Apothic and Moet & Chandon serving as this year’s wine sponsors. We picked the Southern cuisine option and chose to kick off our meal with Moet’s Rosé Brut and selected the MacMurray Ranch Pinot Noir to accompany our main course of brisket. We somehow managed to remain spotless – no red wine or barbecue stains despite hubby’s disastrous run in with mustard at Nathan’s only a few weeks prior to the event.

While the event technically doesn’t start until you arrive at the site, the fun begins almost as soon as you step out of your apartment. We immediately attracted attention from strangers on our way to the meeting point and then met other diners on the subway.

Upon arrival at the event, it is a bit chaotic as all 5,000 folks must assemble their tables and set up their food and décor before waving their white napkins overhead as a signal that they are ready to dine. Once underway, live music, fire boats and the usual river traffic up the Hudson River provided additional entertainment to the already festive evening. But, the people watching was the number one attraction, with beautiful outfits, over the top tablescapes and lots of creativity evident everywhere. Overall, we found our friend, enjoyed our delicious food and wine, and danced the night away.

The DEB event itself is $80 per couple, but the actual expenditure is much higher, especially for your first year when you must literally and figuratively outfit yourself. I estimate that we spent $558 (Food & Wine: $$223; Attire: $93; Table, Chairs, Linens, Cart & Bungees: $134; Décor: $30; and Uber home: $78). Of course, experiencing a magical meal under the stars: priceless! But, you still may not get it.