Wine and Customer Service

You may recall that I posted one of my folksy reviews of a favorite wine, Latah Creek's Maywine
some while back.

Saturday, I had the thrilling opportunity to visit Latah Creek Winery's tasting room, and OH! What fun! It was my first visit to a tasting room, and I had expectations, but I was wrong. So let's have a little compare-and-contrast talk about wine...and customer service.

When my youngest son and his darling were here last summer, we stopped in a cute little wine bar in Sandpoint, Idaho. The lady who waited on us was clearly rather disdainful of people who were so ignorant about wines. i.e. US. My son asked a question about the difference between two wines with similar names and her answer was icy with distaste. Well, pardon the heck right out of me. We did not stay for more wine, or food, or anything else. We didn't buy anything from the gift area, we just finished what we had ordered and spent our fun money elsewhere.

The place in Sandpoint was not a tasting room. It was a wine bar. I had never been to a tasting room, and I expected it would probably be even stuffier than the wine bar was. Who would take wine more seriously than the people who work so hard to make it?

The experience in the tasting room at Latah Creek was entirely different. When Sweet Hubs candidly said that he prefers wines that could be confused with Kool-Aid, the staff didn't even arch an eyebrow. We had fun sampling our picks from the tasting list. We chatted happily with the two women who were helping us. We explained that we were not only looking for wines that WE like, we are also stocking a variety of choices for our guests.

They were friendly, professional, informative when asked a question without appearing to be superior to a couple of rednecks like us.

And we went home with 12 bottles of Latah Creek wines plus a few trifles thrown in for fun.

Every wine I tasted was delicious and of course, some suited me more than others did. Being more of a cook that a wine aficianado, I found myself mentally pairing different wines with things I might make for dinner. Mike's Reserve Red would be wonderful with my elk stew and some rustic bread. :-)
Sweet Hubs' favorite was their Muscat Canelli, and I can imagine serving this with some smoked trout (freshly caught, of course!) and mushroom rice pilaf.

So to make it short: the experience in Sandpoint was no fun, mildly insulting (if I cared about her opinion, that is) and off-putting enough to make me take my dollars somewhere else. The "quick trip" in Spokane Valley to Latah Creek's tasting room, where I intended only to pick up a couple of bottles, yielded a case of wine and a loyal customer.

If you owned those two businesses, which would you rather hear?

Mushroom Rice Pilaf

Mushrooms and rice make for beautiful bedfellows.

In my last post, I gushed about a brand of Basmati rice that really made my skirt fly up. It was perfect as just plain rice with butter, salt and pepper. I also used it to make a homemade version of the kind of pilaf you might have seen in a boxed mix, with a cable car logo? This is much, much better. Trust me.

I started with a few basic ingredients: Lundberg's California Basmati rice, of course.
Some vermicelli, or other small-diameter pasta. A shallot. A clove of garlic. One celery heart. Salt, parsley and a pinch of oregano. An assortment of fresh mushrooms (I used cremini, oyster and shitake mushrooms, but you do what you think is best), butter and a carton of this stuff:

If you've ever tried making a homemade version of the boxed San Francisco treat kind of stuff, you may have noticed that it's difficult to get the rice and the pasta to the right level of doneness in one pan. There's a trick to this.

Are you ready?

Brace yourself.

Soak the rice in hot water for half an hour. This is my opportunity to tell you something that might scare you. Having worked in a plumbing supply story for 7 years, Please, don't use hot water straight from your tap for this step. Heat some cold water in the microwave or on the stove. The stuff that can be in your water heater doesn't belong in your rice.

End of soapbox moment.

Now, remember, I cook by the seat of my pants, so this recipe isn't exactly EXACT in its measurements. So, to feed the two of us with some planned leftovers for my lunches, I put 2 cups of rice in a fine sieve, and put that in a large bowl. Then I added 4 cups of hot water and let it soak while I went on to other things.

Prep the mushrooms and things. Mince the garlic and the shallot. Brush and chop the mushrooms; chop them as fine as you like. You want big chunks of meaty mushrooms? Don't chop so much. I had about a 1-1/4 cups of chopped mushrooms. I minced the celery heart, leaves and all, very finely, since I dislike celery unless it is part of a symphony and not a solo act.

In a large, deep skillet, I melted about a tablespoon of butter and sauteed my minced shallot until it was translucent. Then I threw in the minced garlic and sauteed that together until it smelled fabulous. I sprinkled in about 1/2 a teaspoon of dried oregano (a little less, really: just about as much as you can pinch with your thumb, index and middle fingers) plus a good cupped-palmful of parsley and tossed that in to toast it somewhat. Add the celery and cook that for a minute or so. Add another tablespoon of butter and when it melts, add the mushrooms.

Saute all of those together until the mushrooms have some browned, meaty-looking edges. While the mushrooms are cooking, if it's been half an hour or so, drain and rinse the rice. Rinse it until the water runs pretty much clear, and then shake that sieve until there's hardly any water dripping at all. Then take all that out mushroom magic of the pan and set it aside. Heat the pan again, adding another 2 tablespoons of butter (Oh, stop! We're not even up to half a stick, yet!) (Oh, fine. Use coconut oil if you want.) when it's hot, add 1/2 cup of pasta to toast it, and add the rice to toast that. If you used something like angel hair and want to break into short pieces, by all means, do so before you toast it.

When the rice and pasta are fragrant and nutty, add your mushroom mixture back to the pan, and add 3-1/2 cups of the mushroom broth above, or chicken stock, or water, or a combination of the three, or even one of those with a little white wine. Go wild. Have fun.

Have another 1/2 cup or so of your liquid ready, in case you need more liquid to finish cooking the rice. In other words, don't guzzle ALL the wine. Save a little until you're sure of its best use.

When the liquid is at a full, serious simmer, reduce the heat to low and cover the pan. Resist looking for at least 15 minutes, unless you smell something burning. After 15 minutes on low, you can peek. If the liquid seems to be absorbed, at least mostly absorbed, taste a grain of rice and a piece of pasta. Are they done? Al dente? If not, add more liquid if you need to, just a splash, cover the pan and continue simmering, checking ever 3-5 minutes or so. If they are done and there is still a bit of liquid left, just uncover and let that reduce. This has never happened to me, though. I've had to add a bit of liquid, but never had too much at the end of the cooking time. Maybe it's just luck.

Now you have enough of the yummy stuff to fill the trunk of a Buick. My plan was to have leftovers for my lunches, but think of all the other things you could do with the leftovers!

Add a little cooked, crumbled sausage and some good feta or parmesan cheese and use it to fill stuffed mushrooms, pork chops, chicken cutlets or Cornish game hens.
Turn it into a chicken-mushroom-rice soup. Yum!
Add some to a breakfast burrito to elevate it beyond blah.
Mix some into a meatloaf and make it more sophisticated.

So many wonderful things you can do with this. Best of all, serve it alongside a nice piece of fish or chicken, with a glass of nice wine and sit across the table from someone who makes your heart go pitter pat.

Now I'm wondering if I could have saved the water the rice soaked in and started a batch of horchata with that? That would be nice.

I think this would be a good recipe to add some chopped kale, broccoli or spinach to. It would probably be delicious with some cooked ground turkey added for a one-pot dinner. I mean really, rice and mushrooms? They go with everything!

Basmati Rice -- Where Have You Been?

I picked up a bag of (what I thought was going to be) an ordinary white rice, non GMO and sustainably grown.

Seems simple, yes?

SO wrong! This was, hands down, the most fragrant and flavorful rice I have ever tasted. I didn't do anything special to it, just made it the way I've been cooking rice since Moby Dick was a minnow.

I knew I was in for something special the moment it started to toast in the skillet, and it did not disappoint when I plopped a fluffy scoop onto my plate. Basmati is my favorite variety of rice anyway, but this was the best example of that delicious food.

OK, so these fine farmers who grow this heavenly food have never heard of me. I'm sure they don't care one little bit that they have ruined me for any other kind of rice. I bought it at the Yoke's Supermarket in Ponderay, Idaho, but you can also find it at Amazon in organic and non-organic varieties. If you like rice, I encourage you to run right out and get some of this. Naturally, the links I posted are for the stock-up size order, since I'm a stocking up kind of girl.


Almost Forgot...

The local folk tell us that this part of Montana is enjoying the most snow and the coldest temperatures that have been seen around here for 20 years. That is a source of some amusement to the ones who think that Arizona transplants like us are going to be crying for our mommas over the weather. Ha!

Beside the fact that not all of Arizona is like Phoenix (hello! Pine trees! Skiing! And a white Christmas in our old home town.) the doubters don't know that I grew up in the Rockies.

HIGH up...way the Rockies. The nearest wide spot in the road (we called it a town) stands at an elevation just over 9100 feet. Our house was a little higher. Yeah. We got snow and we got cold.

Being here in this remarkable winter has reminded me of things I almost forgot.

The way the snow crunch-squeaks differently under your feet when the temperature is really cold.

Snow so cold and dry that you can't make a snowball of it. When you shovel it, it's like a shovel full of visible air.

The way that icicles on the eaves will gradually point toward the house as the snow inches down the roof.

Never wanting to be barefoot, even indoors.

The still, quiet air that tells you it snowed again, even before you look outside.

How differently sounds and smells carry when it is snowing.

The way the warmth of your home feels when you walk in the front door, after being out in the cold weather.

The way it feels to step a stockinged foot in a puddle of melted snow on the floor. Darn!!

Snow crystals on the dog's whiskers...and the way snow packs in between their doggie toes.

On the nights that my Ohio grandma was going to be home alone, one or more of her grandchildren was usually expected to "Grandma-sit". She lived just up the hill on the same driveway as we did. When my uncle got home and I would walk back to our house on a dark, snowing night, there was a pristine beauty to the night that defies description. The world seemed to be holding its breath in wonder, the way a mother looks at her sleeping baby. I would walk as quietly as possible, so to not disturb the fragile scene, and to absorb every molecule of the moment that I could. Then, of course, I would walk in the front door, stamp my feet like a buffalo and destroy the quiet.


Riches and Wealth, Silver and Gold

What does it mean to be wealthy? Is it the same thing as being rich?

I don't know the answer to that.

Actually, I don't particularly even care, except from the point of view that I love words and their many shades of meanings. Nuance is fascinating to me.

We were never wealthy, but we have always been rich.

We are rich in the obvious ways: we have each other. We have our wonderful sons. We have our health, and a cozy home and plenty to eat. We have enough money to pay our bills and we have some money in savings and some set aside for retirement. So we are rich.

But when I look at the standard of living across the world, and even across the county I live in, I realize that we are rich in some more subtle ways. We are rich in ways that would be very easy to overlook.

I am rich in experiences. I have:

  • tasted the salt of the Atlantic and the Pacific oceans, and the Gulf of California, too.
  • scraped my skin on coral and on ice, and I've worn bikinis and snow pants. Not together, though.
  • seen the Aurora Borealis, sat in the hot tub and watched the Perseid meteor shower light the sky.
  • written my initials in the ash of Mount St. Helens, where it fell on our porch in Colorado.
  • been to the borders of our country, east, west and south, and just 8 miles away from the Canadian border. I've been to the Four Corners, too.
  • caught a fish, killed a bison (and ate it), raised a beef and turkeys and chickens.
  • milked a cow. 
  • raised an orphaned quail, who came to me still wet from the egg, until he could go off with other quail as a healthy adult. 
  • tasted foods from many, many cuisines and learned words from many languages.
  • read a wide variety, from classic literature to cereal boxes.
I am rich in education, even though I am only a high school graduate. I have learned:
  • to read. Yes. How simple that sounds, but I often think of how difficult this world must be to navigate if you are not literate. From menus to street signs to the for-sale listings on Craigslist, reading is the only key to some kinds of knowledge. 
  • that I can learn. I am not good at everything and struggle with some things in particular, but I have learned that I can learn. 
  • how to interpret a dress pattern, a road map, a recipe, a parts explosion and a cut sheet. 
  • old knowledge: how to read the cursive handwriting of someone who learned how to write before the 1940s. How to pluck a chicken, make pickles and how a yankee drill works. New knowledge: search engine optimization, spreadsheets, browsers and other fun stuff like that.
  • how very limited what I know really is. There is so much more to know in the world!
How many times do we pause to consider the riches we enjoy? Do you mentally bless your teachers and mentors in life, when something you learned from them helps you succeed at some present task? When you are faced with a new situation, and you can apply lessons from previous experiences to help you conquer this new thing, do you feel rich in experience? 

In some way, every person on this earth is rich. Maybe they are only rich in their ability to love, or to be patient, or to endure. Those might be the richest riches of all.


2017, We're Ready!

Yes, it is already a brand-new year!

As I look back at what changes 2016 brought for us, I'm a little in awe that it all really happened.

One thing that the past year has accomplished for me: 2016 brought my life into a clear, sharp focus. I have been reminded and refreshed about all that is most important to me, about what I think is needed for a life well-lived.

Eight years ago in this space, I wrote about why I don't do resolutions for the New Year. I never really have done them, and don't plan to ever start. Not because I'm already so dang wonderful, but just because I think self-improvement is an ongoing thing, not a flash at the beginning of each new year.

I am reminded again, the New Year, of the beauty of a small life. The Sweet Hubs and I left our good paying jobs in Arizona (his was especially so), with security and seniority and all kinds of good things that attend those jobs. We were each in a position of some authority and autonomy. Some of our dear ones probably wanted to get us some psychiatric evaluations, at the idea of our leaving that kind of security and income to come here and take this chance. There are a few who understood, though.

We are small-life people. Simple people. We each enjoy a good day's work and a sense of accomplishment. Neither one of us feels that something is missing by having a hot tub in the trees, instead of satellite television service.

The cozy house that Sweet Hubs built for us is 1200 square feet, with big covered porches front and back. We don't need more house than that. The kitchen is small, but efficient and enough.

We live a life of that is deeply rewarding and satisfying. We have the room to be creative and expressive in both our daily labors and in our free time. We have the opportunity each day to do things for each other and with each other. We have the time to talk to each other. Really TALK to each other.

We have a small community of neighbors, none of which is too physically or visually near, who care about each other and help each other.

We have two fantastic sons and one amazing girlfriend-in-law who I love as much as if she were my own daughter. We have two good dogs. We have nearly 32 years of marriage under our belts, to have reached a point where we can take on massive changes and projects and still like each other at the end of the day.

It was a frightening, intimidating thing to do, to leave what we had in order to chase this. You hear about those guys who chuck their jobs as CEOs or lawyers or whatever, to go live on an alpaca ranch in Washington, and you wonder if they're bonkers.

They aren't. They figured out something that I am reminded of with the onset of a new year.

There is a price to be paid for "success". The cost of a house is more than just the selling price. The price of convenience can sometimes be very inconvenient.

A really good job can also be a shackle.

Work can be pleasure. It doesn't have to be stress. It doesn't have to be something that you fret over, long after the work day is finished. Your identity does not have to be your job title.

What is my job title now? I don't even know. I work a short schedule as a secretary/bookkeeper/office person. That's what I do for a paycheck. The rest of the time? I'm many things.

A doggie mommy.
A cook, baker, dishwasher, bus girl, house keeper, laundress.
A writer.
A fledgling musician. (OK, I might not even be hatched yet.)
A fire tender.
A hot tub soaker.
A recreational photographer.
A blogger.
A firewood stacker.
A future gardener and small-scale poultry grower.
A host.

Ultimately, eminently, completely satisfied. A small life suits me.

What I See--Alita

Oh, Alita! What can I say? We've known eachother for so many years! Alita and I became acquainted first because our husbands worked to...