A couple of weeks ago there was much hand-wringing over a lack of rain, then yesterday parts of Virginia saw up to eight inches of rain in a single day. Now this morning we have reports of a possible hurricane strike this coming weekend, with much uncertainty because of a decidedly unsettled atmosphere – between Hurricane Joaquin, a cold front near the East Coast, the remains of Tropical Storm Ida, a bubble of high pressure over the North Atlantic, and a strong area of low pressure along the southeastern states later this week. It’s a bit much.
Yes, we needed rain, and we got rain — lots of it. And this after a decidedly blissful late summer without it that allowed for a bountiful wine grape harvest. Almost too bountiful — last year the industry was moaning that there was a shortage of wine grapes to meet demand, and this year you could not give away some varietals. A check of the Exchange page of the Virginia Vineyards Association website this morning showed that there were 41 tons of Vidal Blanc looking for a home. You can’t give it away.
Meanwhile, on the West Coast, the constant refrain is the quality resulting from the reduced yields because of a lack of water is extraordinary, and they are speaking rhapsodically about “dry farming,” as if not using irrigation is somehow revolutionary. This while nervously noting that younger, less established vines are suffering dreadfully, while the well established vines are finding moisture deep in the earth, as they should.
Of course the West Coast anticipates, with some measure of dread, its own cataclysmic rain events with this Fall’s El Niño. If it delivers what is hoped for, it will bring torrents of rain, refill reservoirs and dust the Sierra’s with tons and tons of snow. Not bloody likely, but we can dream, right?
You have friends dropping by, and you aren’t sure if they have any “food issues” that would interfere with them enjoying themselves. “I can’t eat dairy!” “No gluten!” “No peanuts!” “I’m Vegan!” and so on. Being a good host, you do what you can.
You can’t please everyone, certainly, but you can try and find a happy medium, of sorts. We’re always on the lookout for things that can please a large number of people, and this Faux Gras is one of them. This is not to be confused with the Chicken Faux Gras we presented one Friendsgiving, which is its own kind of delicious wonder.
We presented this Faux Gras with freshly baked baguettes, a couple of cheeses (one hard cheddar and a scrumptious Camembert), a goose, pork and duck liver pâté (store bought), and a pile of lovely red grapes. No worries about food issues with this crowd — everything disappeared in no time.
Vegetarian Faux Gras
Makes 6 to 8 appetizer-sized servings. We learned of this recipe from the inimitable David Lebovitz’s blog (which boasts a subtitle to make anyone green with envy: “Living the sweet life in Paris”), and made a couple of minor adjustments to suit our taste. He had adapted it from Très Green, Très Green, Très Chic by Rebecca Leffler (New York: The Experiment, 2015).
2 tablespoons butter, salted or unsalted (if vegan, replace with olive oil)
1 small onion, peeled and diced
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
2 cups cooked green lentils (about 1 cup dried, simmered in boiling water for 30 minutes, then allowed to cool; for sanity’s sake, do this the day before and refrigerate)
1 cup toasted pecans (bake in an iron skillet at 350°F for 5 to 8 minutes)
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon soy sauce (or substitute tamari if avoiding gluten; Worcestershire sauce would probably work)
2 teaspoons minced fresh rosemary
2 teaspoons fresh thyme, minced
2 tablespoons fresh sage
2 teaspoons Cognac or brandy
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
salt and freshly ground black pepper
Rinse the mushrooms and dry or wipe clean. Trim, then slice them. Heat the olive oil (and butter, if using) in a large skillet. Add the onions and garlic, and cook, stirring frequently, until the onions become translucent, 5 to 6 minutes. Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring occasionally, until they’re soft and cooked through, another 5 to 8 minutes. Remove from heat.
In a food processor, combine the cooked lentils, nuts, lemon juice, soy sauce (or tamari), rosemary, thyme, sage,* Cognac (if using), brown sugar, and cayenne. Scrape in the cooked mushroom mixture and process until completely smooth. Taste, and add salt, pepper, and additional cognac, soy sauce, or lemon juice, if needed to balance everything.
Scrape the pâté into small serving bowls and refrigerate for about two hours, until firm. This will keep for several days in the refrigerator, or frozen for up to two months.
Charleston, South Carolina — such an interesting city, with a rich history, fascinating architecture, amazingly delicious foodways, and a good share of drama on the national and international stage. The old city occupies a peninsula at the point where Charlestonians say (in that insular way you see in all self-absorbed places), “where the Ashley and the Cooper Rivers come together to form the Atlantic Ocean.”
In the background (to this observer) is a frisson of danger. There aren’t that many places that get to enjoy both earthquakes and hurricanes. The last big earthquake was in 1886 and was estimated to be 7.3 on the Richter scale; the the city was nearly destroyed. That earthquake was felt in Boston, Chicago, New Orleans and Bermuda. The last great hurricane to strike the region, Hugo, which in 1989 made landfall up the coast as a Category 4 storm contributed its share of anguish and mayhem.
We are taken with three things there: the architecture, the gardens, and the food. There is nothing like the Charleston single-house anywhere else in the world. The form developed because of the climate, and the single house — so named for being a single room wide — is built along one side of the typically long, narrow lots and are usually one-room deep, with a center staircase flanked by a pair of rooms on either side on each floor. On the south or west side of the house is the distinctive piazza that function more as outdoor rooms because of the oppressive summertime tropical climate.
Not all houses rigorously follow this plan, of course, and others made breathtaking refinements. One notable example is the circa 1809 Nathaniel Russell House on Meeting Street, which made such an impression on us many years ago that we selected many of the house colors we used at Annefield from that house. The Russell house is Adams in style, but adapted to the desires of the builder with the addition of a grand oval dining room (on the first floor) and drawing room (on the second floor). The stair hall boasts an other-worldly flying staircase that is a tour de force of engineering. If you’ve been to Annefield you’ll know the wall color used in the stair hall, called “Nathaniel Russell House Gold.”
We stopped by two house museums on Friday afternoon — the Russell house and one we had not been to before, and the 1772 Heyward-Washington House, so named for the family that built it and for the fact that George Washington stayed there a few days in 1791 on a tour of the southern states.
The piazza more often than not (in particularly grand houses) overlooks a carefully cultivated garden, something else Charleston is known for. Since much life was lived outdoors, it makes sense that gardens and their cultivation gained particular importance. Walking around the city one encounters many discrete signs saying, “please enjoy the garden from the street.”
And finally, (the point of this post) the food!
We arrived around 11 am on Thursday, made our way to the hotel, dropped our bags and ventured out for lunch, stopping at a place close by called Fuel, which is in a re-purposed gas station in the Cannonborough neighborhood serving Caribbean-inspired pub food. The fish tacos are out of this world.
The culinary highlight of the trip was dinner that night at Husk in the King Street Historic District. With its James Beard awarded chef Sean Brock and Chef de Cuisine Travis Grimes, the kitchen (as they state on the website) “reinterprets the bounty of the surrounding area, exploring an ingredient-driven cuisine that begins in the rediscovery of heirloom products and redefines what it means to cook and eat in Charleston.” We started with an unexpected and transcendent thing — Fried Chicken Skins. If anything, go for that. The wine list was short and carefully curated, grouped by the type of soil the wine is grown in; we were pleased to see two offerings from Virginia, the 2013 Barboursville Vineyards Pinot Grigio, and the non-vintage Thibault-Janisson Brut Chardonnay. We all had seafood and selected a Chenin Blanc from the Loire Valley, Richard Leroy 2012 Les Noëls de Montbenault.
After dinner we made our way to the first place we stopped by on our first visit to Charleston, the Blind Tiger Pub on Broad Street on the edge of the French Quarter. That first visit was particularly memorable because the place was full of Civil War re-enactors in full regalia — it was as if the place was filled with ghosts. The place has a lovely courtyard in the back, but we couldn’t stay long because a violent looking thunderstorm was bearing down on the city.
We won’t recount the entire weekend, but we stopped by one more place worth seeking out: Toast, in the lower King Street neighborhood bordering the French Quarter, which specializes in breakfast. Picture this: a slice of fried green tomato, topped with a fried crab cake, in turn topped with a poached egg, served with a side of cheddar grits and an enormous fluffy biscuit on the side. They take no reservations and have very long lines, but here’s a tip — ask to be seated at the bar, and more than likely you’ll be seated right away.
The wedding? A playful, divine affair, with an intimate ceremony at Folly Beach south of the city, followed by a raucous reception in town. Congratulations to the happy couple, and thank you for including us.
The sun, with all those planets revolving around it and dependent on it, can still ripen a bunch of grapes as if it had nothing else in the universe to do.
— Galileo Galilei
Ah, harvest. Ordinarily a cause of great anxiety, because the quality of the fruit (it goes without saying) is so, so important for the finished wine. We had a hiccup this year when our tractor was out of commission and we were unable to apply fungicide sprays in mid-June, which resulted in a bout of downy mildew that partially defoliated the canopy. It wasn’t pretty.
Not the end of the world, but because of having a LOT of wine in inventory, this year we decided to sell our fruit rather than make more wine. The white grapes quickly found a home with the venerable Gabriele Rausse Winery near Charlottesville. The tall, soft-spoken, gentle Tim Rausse (Gabriel’s son) came for visit and took to the dogs immediately. A good man.
We’re looking forward to seeing what he does with the Pinot Gris, Viognier and Vermentino. The Pinot Gris was picked two weeks ago, and the Viognier and Vermentino this past weekend. He was especially pleased with the Viognier, which came it at 23 Brix. We saw him on Friday and he mentioned that turkeys were demolishing the Vermentino, which was to be picked the next day. Fortunately the weather cooperated. This year fall has been ideal, with long stretches of warm, dry weather.
The Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon is going to Michael Shaps Wineworks, and those grapes are being picked today. Bittersweet not having our own vintage, and a bit anticlimactic, but we’re glad the growing season is coming to a close. And with that, we have our harvest celebration on October 3! Please join us.
It’s that time again — please join us to celebrate the harvest! This year we feature Official Entertainment spinning hits from the 1960s to the 1990s. Bring your dancing shoes!
Wine club members receive two to four free tickets, depending on membership level (join now at this link). Club members — please log into your account to claim your tickets, and we will see you October 3! Fall allocations will be available for pickup after the party.
We recently learned of an unusual designation for Staunton River State Park, which is just 30 miles down the road from us near the town of Scottsburg. The park was just named an “International Dark Sky Park” by the International Dark Sky Association (IDA), a group dedicated to minimizing the effects of light pollution on the night sky. IDA is a 501(c) (3) nonprofit organization based in Tucson, Arizona that advocates the protection of the nighttime environment and dark night skies by educating policymakers and the public about night-sky conservation and promoting environmentally responsible outdoor lighting. Staunton River State Park the first park in Virginia and the 25th in the world to receive this designation.
Going one step further, Wanderlust Magazine published a list of the thirteen best stargazing spots in Europe, the United States and Canada, and Staunton River State Park appeared first on the list (“13 of the best stargazing sites in Europe, America & Canada,” by Hannah Uttley, 19 August 2015).
Why is this important? If you live in an urban area you don’t give much thought to how light pollution obliterates the night sky, where only the brightest stars manage to assert themselves. That makes it easy to observe the major constellations, but it is impossible to see with the naked eye such features, for example, as the Milky Way. You need to be in one of these dark sky areas to fully appreciate the expanse of the cosmos overhead.
An IDA International Dark Sky Park (IDSP) is a land possessing an exceptional or distinguished quality of starry nights and a nocturnal environment that is specifically protected for its scientific, natural, educational, cultural heritage, and/or public enjoyment. The land may be publicly owned, or privately owned provided that the landowner(s) consent to the right of permanent, ongoing public access to specific areas included in the IDA designation.
It’s difficult to find such places on the densely settled Eastern United States, but given our remote location, this designation comes as no surprise.
This arose, in part, because the Chapel Hill Astronomical and Observational Society (CHAOS) has since 2011 organized twice-yearly star parties in the park after finding the park on a dark sky map, and their interest in the park made park management realize they had a unique resource to protect, so park staff took steps to reduce light pollution in the park and began the process of applying for this designation. Measures such as reducing unnecessary lighting, or using light fixtures that focus down rather than out and up, help maintain visibility of the night sky. The Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative helped by installing dark sky compliant bulbs in the park. Virginia State Parks Director Craig Seaver noted that “Going forward, we intend to apply dark sky design principles at other DCR properties and to utilize lighting policies that minimally impact our visitor’s enjoyment of the night sky.”
The Fall 2015 Star Party takes place October 12 to 18. On Saturday, October 17, the event is free and open to the public from 8 pm to 11 pm. Visitors can mingle with amateur astronomers to learn about and view planets, stars, nebulae and galaxies.
About Staunton River State Park:
Staunton River State Park is comprised of 2,400-acres, offering woodlands, meadows and shoreline along the Dan and Staunton rivers. Cabins built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps and a campground offer overnight lodging. The equestrian campground offers large campsites and horse stalls. Access to Virginia’s largest lake, Buggs Island Lake, offers freshwater fishing and boating, along with water skiing and many other aquatic activities. The park also has Olympic-sized and wading pools, picnic shelters, three playgrounds, tennis and volleyball courts, several boat launches and more than 17 miles of multi-use trails. River Traders, just outside the park entrance, rents canoes, kayaks, jon boats and pontoon boats.
It’s impossible to count the number of variations to be found of this most simple of summertime cold soups! We published one some time ago, an adaption of one by that great chef Alice Waters; that recipe called for using a mortar and pestle, among other things.
We have another recipe that includes adding a dollop of Mustard Ice Cream (yes, Mustard flavored ice cream) — a recipe by Patricia Welles in The Paris Cookbook (HarperCollins, 2001). We served it once years ago and still get grief about it. A really unusual variation we tried once was a Gazpacho Sorbet with Apple Aspic, served with a sprinkle of caramelized balsamic vinegar. Like the Mustard Ice Cream, this gets made fun of, too, but not as much as the mustard. Regardless of what you (or your guests) might think, they are all delicious.
Not in the mood (and not having our mortar and pestle handy), we opted for this simple formulation that only calls for throwing everything in a blender (10 minutes active time, if that), then refrigerating for 4 to 6 hours. Done!
If you like, dip the tomatoes in hot water for a minute and peel them, but that isn’t really necessary. You could peel the cucumber, but don’t. Just dice all of the vegetables.