Tag Archives: tasting

Texts Not Sent #57

18 Sep


Begins so casually.
Is there a Biscuitville where you are?
she starts to type.

And do you like
egg, cheese, and tomato buttered biscuit
Sunday midmornings
after coffee, after pajamas, after loving,
curving together half a dream in soft
tangles of limbs and lips,
after the first waterblue moment of quiet room,
noticing that three inches
from the bareness of
the back
of your neck
there is heat and beating heart under
the vulnerability of skin and vein
alive with the sound of oceanbreath…

Her thumb above the arrow.
And memory quietly said,
not to.

Pasion de la Cocina

7 Mar


Tonight I crave the rice you made,
the grains popping in the singing oil,
musica latina tangled in your hair,
dancing barefoot in the kitchen
amid sizzling clouds of comino y cebolla
and curling swells of culantro
as green and hot as your coyote eyes.
Your caramel lips,
cafe con leche cushions
parted for kissing,
whispered delicious songs
into the fragrant rind of my ear.
Reaching melodious chords
around my waist,
and down my thigh,
sang of stirring the sweetness and heat
of my own beautifulness,
like palming the round of a glass
to warm the spirit,
like rubbing the rim with one wet finger
to hear it sing.


The Note I Wrote

3 Mar



The Note I Wrote


“Spirited away by Latin poets.  Do not send ransom.”

For their ravishment has freed me

from a flat white ironed life,

crisp and starched,

where you once placed me

brim filled with the rapture of carmine fire


only to sit in silent sparkling

alongside the cold silver.



El Camino Real

21 Oct


Have you ever been walking,


so dry

in a desert of self-devotion,


in the hot morning,

under a sun

which lies like a searing ochre blanket,

a low sky of loneliness,

and wondered

how it rose to glare upon

your burnt parched heart,

still a purple veined heaving

beneath a tight

veneer of crust and air dried scar?

Have you ever sat

in a sunny spring café


watching the slow dancing love of youth

at a corner table

covered in white cloth and wine


wondering how you slowly became

the widow of Desire,

bereaved of your limbs and legs

and the thrust of belly to bones

with an aching emptiness

between your thighs

like an open grave

awaiting the last pulsing gasp

of Passion?

Have you ever watched the door

of your beloved’s eye


behind a wooden stare,

locking the soul out of a space

into which you once reclined

like a sleeping child,

arms askance,

leg lifted to one side,

a little lovely dreaming Krishna

among stars of unconsciousness?

Or have you always found

a hungry smile,

a beautiful lip,

a curving side

to taste,

as if a tree from

the garden called Love

was ever dripping

outside your door,

twig-full of tender

wet globes

bruise ready under

thin skin,

their trembling sweetness

seconds from bursting

in an endless cycle

of ripening to




begin again?

The wise ones say

one cannot know how sweet water can be

unless he has tasted the sand

of absence,

walked in dry drifts

through the desert of his longing

until his cracked mouth

has found her face

full of smiling tears,

ready to offer

the first sips

of Paradise.


carino mio,

the heavy cup

of my heart holds life

you have not earned

the tongue

to taste,

or the mouth,

to drink.

This blessed hell,

a camino real

you have not

yet the feet

to trod.

Tasting Karma

23 May


I like to lick
candied anise in
it’s bitter darkness.
To suck the sweet sharp
rock of it smooth
to the candy core,
letting a lump linger,
and then,
to click the backs
of my bottom teeth
in half sweet – half sickening repose.

In every rasp of
my tongue,
the paradoxical pleasure
I get
from the dissolving
of your parodied intimacies
my lemon lavender
you once devoured
in thoughtless instants,
like a complementary mint
pulled from an old jacket pocket
in soon forgotten surprise.

I like to savor
the painful justice
in my sugar sanded maw,
to bathe
the high roof
of my mouth
in echoing arias
from my stinging tongue,
lying behind
a smile
you once wore,
a sardonic lipped curl
watching your heart
hit the floor.

Pieces of Gold

12 May

Learning the delicate balance of solo experience versus a shared one has been part of my path for a while now as my gal pals are starting to wander some with me. After hitting the road every weekend, there’s always something new to tell them when I come back and they’ve been incredibly supportive. Their worlds  seem much different from mine. While I am wandering in museums and attending film festivals, restaurants, and concerts, they engage in family building and loving mated connections alongside their own personal journeys. One can’t deny that there’s a bit of envy on both sides, I for their warm nests and they for my unencumbered gypsy-ish rambling. I’ve been graced by being able to slide into their family life, enjoying their children, homes and nurturing strength. However, during May’s first weekend, it was my turn to take them into a tiny taste of Wayfarinlassland.

First Friday belonged to one of my best friends, Karen, as we attended the Victorian Fusion Bellydance Beledi at Riverviews Art Space during Lynchburg’s monthly art and culture celebration. Karen was my friend long before teaching me in bellydance last year, her spirit and gypsy leanings endearing her to me in fae sister fashion. Also a Joe aficionado, she is always ready to listen, advise and encourage. The balance and camaraderie of her family clan has been a safe haven in some rougher spots along the journey’s path, so to speak. Karen is a quite accomplished dancer and the event’s Steampunk theme derived from the sponsorship of WarmStreets Gallery made the adventure extra enticing. Friday afternoon, we were like teenagers in my bedroom, sifting through clothes after a Goodwill trip, putting together the best sci-fi high Victorian looks we could muster. Doing the girly getting-ready-for-the-show injected a high energy anticipation in us both, but walking around downtown Lynchburg in bare midriffs, jingling coins off our fannies was enough to unnerve anyone. The solo wayfaring has taught me a lot about confidence and personal freedom, though. At one point before Karen’s solo performance, I could tell she felt a tiny bit apprehensive about the structure of the show and perhaps the attitudes of some of the other dancers. We stopped outside the gallery, shared some breaths and some positive energy.

“You got this.” I said. “Shoulders back…breathe. If there’s any judgment that energy needs to stay with the judgers. Right?”

Needless to say, her performance was spot on. Afterwards, still dolled in our costumes, Rivermont Pizza became the destination for a celebratory dinner. As we stood in the bar area of this trendy hipster-ish Lynchburg restaurant, I shared with her something I’ve learned about wayfarin alone as a woman.

“When you walk into a place, know that you have a full right to be there, occupy the space, and enjoy yourself no matter what because if you believe it, it shows. Everyone else will believe it too.”

And I began to think about how fearing judgment, which ultimately comes from others’ ignorance or misunderstanding, shapes women’s actions to the point that we begin to assume what others think before we act. We limit our desires in response to imagined scenarios rather than do what we want and let others take the responsibility for their own emotions. That’s something both of us are working on recognizing more in our lives, just in different areas. Friday gave me the opportunity to show her an arena that I have somewhat mastered. Karen has walked a unique path spiritually for quite awhile and she teaches me daily what it is to be calm and connected without really even trying. We are each able to mirror opposite sides of a piece of gold, that’s the beauty of our connection. Together we can see the whole.

Sporadic arcs of sun chased a chilly Sunday afternoon as my gal pal Laura and I motored up Rte. 151 to Cardinal Point and Afton Mountain wineries for tasting and talk. It’s been a winter full of changes for us both; her children, once students of mine, graduated from college this month. As I caught her up on funny or more personal moments from my ramblings, she shared with me tales and video of her daughter’s graduation celebration the day before. Many of my more personal wayfarin moments obviously don’t make it into this space, but my friends are gracious enough to put up with the catalog of tales when we are finally able to chat at length. And in listening to their stories, I reconnect to the daily details of a “normal” home life. Sometimes I see my way of living through a narrow lens. While I try to use the space of solitude to pause in the moment, attempting to wring out some wisdom in any particular experience, I often envy simple coupledom…grocery shopping, coordinating a dinner out, the random kid text. “Mom, will you pick up…Mom, where is my…?” Even the absent energy of a physical body sharing home space is noticeable.

During our first tasting at Cardinal Point, the weight of my accumulated experience over the last few months really hit home. Laura’s presence prompted a mindfulness of how many places I really have explored solo. A co-partner in the experience refocuses the introspection; contrasts often give a greater gift of insight. In wines, she tends to prefer those with more residual sugars and without oak. I’m directly opposite. But her opinion helped me see the value of the whole line. Cardinal Point whites are quite good, especially their Quattro, an off dry blend, and The Green which is reminiscent of a Portuguese Vinho Verde. Laura preferred the Quattro and I, the crisper Green. We traveled on to discover Afton Mountain’s incredible wine offerings; literally, I liked every one I tasted. Their tasting room and grounds are almost resort like as well. We were both quite impressed. However, while both of us thought the place was beautiful, she naturally saw an amazing spot for a future wedding celebration. I saw an American winery wedding Pinterest style: white designer dress, trendy hand-tied flowers, giggling bridesmaids having manis and pedis all around. A great deep thoughtfulness seemed to well up in me that needed un-bottling.

So, we reclined on a couch out in the sun with glasses in hand viewing the growing vines and spoke of our own growth as women. Laura is so incredibly strong. It permeates her energy. She has backbone. Its flexibility and resiliency has held her family together for over 25 years. The flowering of full womanhood is so powerful and beautiful. In my experience though, men tend not to value it, preferring instead the feminine flowering of the physical rather than the soul. Marriage in modern social terms seems about stages of life rather than evolving life. The relationship focuses around the task of family building and income securing so much that a mutual supporting connection which encourages individual growth, in which child rearing becomes a part rather than the point of the endeavor, seems to be a fantasy. The construct is …a white dress and giggling bridesmaids. Then, the first apartment. Then, jobs. Then, pets and children and then…. Are social benchmarks taking precedence over the evolution of self? And then, when the steps stop, especially for women, they look around and wonder…now where did I put that self of mine? I let my eyes graze the lush green lawn, the vines trailing the training wires over to the twinkling white lights hanging in the marquee and honestly, I felt slightly bitter.

I will never wear a white dress again, I thought…and moreover, was it even real to begin with?

This thought and our conversation lead me back to thinking about mated relationships over all. I’ve gone back to question whether a person’s important needs truly can be met by just one other after a certain point in life. That reshapes the meaning of what intimacy really is from my perspective. End of the romantic ideal? Maybe. As I talk with more and more women and I observe their relationships and attitudes toward their partners…yes, perhaps. The idea that at this stage in life one’s needs may not be met in only one person is pushing me into a new way of thinking about love and connection. To be honest, I’m beginning to tacklea profound disappointment in the social fabric, for that is where I think a great unfairness in romantic relationships lies. But I live in culture, more free than in the past yet not free enough. And as Laura and I talked about needs and desires, responsibilities and freedoms, I began to see more clearly the two sides of the same piece of gold. But its so valuable, this feminine life…and in reflection, the vision of our worth becomes more whole .

As Thyself

20 Apr

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And the second is like to it:
Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
There is no other commandment greater than these. – Jesus of Nazareth

In the summer of 2008, I spent fourteen days in Ireland as a result of a generous teaching award. To say that the experience changed me would be a tremendous understatement. Ireland was really the beginning lesson of how to navigate this journey.What I learned there is beginning now to have its first flowering. At the time, I didn’t realize how the lives of everyday people would eventually show me a way to live that was ultimately more fulfilling, but now I see it. And every chance I have to revisit, even for the briefest of moments, places which resonate with the same quality as the time I spent in Ireland, I cherish them. Sunday, I was able to go back for an entire afternoon.

After having sampled the cider at Bold Rock , a spark of curiosity was lit. So packing a small picnic for Clar and I, up the road we went to spend a beautiful Virginia Sunday afternoon at Albemarle Ciderworks in North Garden. Even though the original focus was to enjoy Irish traditional music by Patrick Olwell and friends, expanding knowledge about local fare is a new interest for me.  Clar and I curved up the gravel drive among beautiful budding trees and boxes of fall apples, mellowed now in springtime. A light bottle blue sky framed green hills quite similar to ones I walked in Ireland. Immediately, I knew it would be hard to leave once the sun began to dip behind the blossoms.

Albemarle Ciderworks tasting room is lovely and I was entirely impressed by the knowledge and presentation of their five cider offerings. Perhaps impressed isn’t the best word, astounded might be a better one. I had no idea that an apple could be turned into something so similar to champagne, with all the nuances and notes of the vine. Top picks for me were the Royal Pippin, named for the main apple variety, the Albemarle Pippin and its greatest fan Queen Victoria.  The effervescence of cider promotes the tart lemon pineapple notes of this variety, plus all that sparkle is just plain fun. Jupiter’s Legacy, named for Thomas Jefferson’s servant in charge of his cidery, was the driest of their offerings, quite mineral and bright with a tiny hint of crabapple. The acidity of this variety is definitely something to balance out a rich cheese or cream dish. The Ragged Mountain was described to me as the most basic cider, resembling the kind colonial Virginians would have made and drank daily. Having slight backnote sweetness, it did resemble ciders I had experienced the day before, but definitely wasn’t what most would call sweet.

Cider has completely changed for me from visiting the Ciderworks. That an apple can be transformed into complex deliciousness through careful crafting has opened my mind to other traditional culinary arts, especially from Jefferson’s era. The story of John Adams daily morning tankard was just one of many lessons about the benefits of apple consumption I learned during my tasting. Cultural history is served alongside cider at Albemarle Ciderworks and the Sheltons are committed to the preservation and local history behind the fruit and ciders they produce.  I was warmly greeted mid tasting session by Charlotte Shelton, who taught me about the development of the apple farm and cidery. Efforts to promote the growth of heirloom apples was the first part of their mission. They host apple growing seminars and cider making forums, as well as offering apple trees and fruit throughout the year for sale.  Her hospitality and graciousness has been the most generous of any traditional craft beverage establishment I have visited.

Finally, I settled into a spot under the marquee on the patio with a picnic lunch, shrub of Royal Pippin to accompany my small spread of cheese, turkey, pepper, olive and sweet pickle. The happiest part of the day came, though, when Patrick Olwell arrived with friends for a session, a REAL Irish session. Patrick is a master flutemaker, his wooden instruments are so well crafted he is considered the Stradivarius of Irish flutemakers. At first, the music began with fiddle, flute, uilleann pipe and concertina, but as the afternoon progressed, more fiddles arrived and another concertina.  Sitting there, cider in hand, I looked to the hills and remembered that the music I am loving most these days, bluegrass, has its roots in the Irish immigrants who settled here , the green hillocks and mountains reminding them of a far away home. When I hear reels and jigs, I can’t describe how connected I feel to a culture and a sense of pride in my own ethnicity. Even though I am an American, my soul aligns itself with a people and history beyond these mountains all the way across a mighty ocean to a tiny island nation. In chatting with a gentleman and his daughter during the session, I explained the significance of what was happening, not just an Irish session but all musical fellowship. Friends and neighbors come together to share in the spirit of song, food and drink, story, and dance. Music connects to our emotions in a way words often cannot and our sharing of it imparts our love for each other as friend, family member, and as a human.

One of the musicians sat his tiny son next to him within the circle, gently placing a miniature fiddle and bow in his arms. Patrick’s adult son also played within the group, the musicians reflecting a wide range of age and experience. The outer ring of us echoed this continuity in life. From a sleeping infant in his stroller by a iron cafe table, all the way to a host of ladies in their senior years, toes dancing the bricks in joy, the  music connects us and we need it, often. I have missed these afternoons and the pub evenings by a peat fire with story and song, laughter or tears. These moments are the essence of communion, with each other, and with the earth in the turning of its seasons. Like the apple, each person is unique, unlike any other on the tree. Yet the tree creates us, feeds us, each limb a community, each globe of fruit, a family of nurtured seeds within. In time, our families grow and our communities widen and evolve, but always the traces of the past, are passed on in our art, in our sharing, and in our love and care for each other.

In My Own Back Yard

17 Apr

A friend stops by my classroom.

“How was your weekend?” She asks.

While listening to my story, she smiles, shakes her head.

“How do you find these things? There’s nothing to do around here!”

I tell her about web sites and checking notice boards, but I’m reminded, most of the time my wayfaring is simple serendipity, finding something good when I’m not especially looking for it. Saturday was a prime example. After changing my mind about a local event, I needed to reshape the day with less than 24 hours to spare. Luckily though, I really didn’t need to leave my own backyard, so to speak, and finding happiness there is something I definitely want more of. How can I convey Saturday’s weather other than to say it was spring perfection? New green landscape, splotched with full flushes of cherry and plum blossoms, and lawns full of bright popcorn limbs of forsythia amid eruptions of daffodils, tulips, and hyacinths stretching out for miles as I drove north on Rte. 29. Clar had his little head in the wind, soft black floppy ears trailing behind as his nose took in the warm morning air. Soon, he won’t be able to go with me on my rambles. I’m not at all happy about that, and he won’t be either. But Saturday’s plan was a picnic somewhere in Nelson or Albemarle County and then, a local band at Rapunzel’s in Lovingston in the evening. The time between was open to . . .serendipity.

On my way north, I stopped in Lovingston at Trager Brothers Coffee Roastery to test drive their cafe au lait. I have been wanting to go there for quite a while, but hadn’t been able to catch them open. The roastery is in the middle of a quaint town I have always loved. Lovingston’s Main Street reminds me of a tiny model village set under a Christmas tree, folk Victorian farm homes within a mix match of architectural era businesses. A grocery, a cafe, a bakery, a church, a bookstore/coffee shop, the town has a perpetual nostalgic feel. Upon reaching the middle of the thoroughfare, TBC’s sign swung out to the road. “Open”, finally. Up the gravel drive, behind an older two storied home, I curved and bumped. The front of the tiny cafe was completely open to the gravel lot and backyard, the side portico, shaded with chairs and tables.

A bright good morning smile greeted me from Katherine, a Randolph College grad who made me a frothy rich red eye cafe au lait and for a most reasonable price. She explained that they were undergoing renovations, but I fell in love with the tiny place. It’s like going over to the neighbor’s house for coffee on a Saturday morning and finding a personal barista in the kitchen. Trager Brothers Coffee is sold in several places in the local area as well as in regional markets. Their beans are organically grown and the roastery is committed to preparing coffee by hand in small batches, which improves the flavor and protects the environment. This attentiveness to quality over quantity reflects a trend among many places I have visited and loved in the last few months. The idea of buying local, of supporting the efforts of artists, both what I would call domestic artists and those of a more traditional variety has been a part of my social philosophy for many years. So I’ll drive, nearly 30 minutes on summer mornings now for a cafe au lait somewhere other than a cookie cutter coffee establishment that shall not be named (coughStarbuckscough) since the main locally owned coffee shop in Lynchburg has closed. Clar can come along, relaxing under my chair, while I have an amazing cup and sit with laptop to write.

Lovingston is peaceful. The people I have met there are so unlike typical ruralites. While they are definitely a people connected to the land and to the community, they are also quite interested in the arts, in music, in growing and creating. Organic farms, vineyards, cideries are sprouting rapidly across the landscape, especially down the Rte. 151 corridor. Locally sourced restaurants are following. Folk culture, supported by these businesses, reflects in their art, their music, their writing. It’s so hopeful to me, this commitment back to the community, back to the artisan, the farmer, the craftsman. Perhaps a folk Renaissance is coming, squired by the generation behind me, who has tired of the “yuppie” material world in which we reared them. I hear the change in the music, see it in the style of their living. . . and I’m coming along with them.

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Post picnic, I headed down to Nellysford. First stop, Bold Rock Cidery, where I tasted all four of their cider selections. Honestly, I’ve been a cider snob since it tends to the sweet side, thinking those without much of a palate go that direction in the adult beverage department. However, upon tasting I am starting now to appreciate it much more. The Vintage Apple was bright and quite crisp with a lemon edge back note. On a hot day, after that lawn mower winds down, an icy cold one would be an eye roller. The Virginia Draft came next. Mellow and smooth, it yields to the sweet too quickly for me, much like the traditional ciders I have had in the past. The premium ciders surprised me, though, resembling sparkling wines and champagnes. Dry enough to mirror respectable Prosecco, they impressed me. Crimson Ridge Vat #1 was near to a demi- sec champagne, with honey notes. It would pair exceptionally well with beef tenderloin and horseradish. My favorite, though, was the Vintage Dry. The driest of their ciders, the lemon pop was quite pronounced. I’ll serve it with grilled summer fare. And at only 10$ a 750 ml bottle, its something I can easily offer friends in my backyard as we dine al fresco.

After tasting, Clar and I traveled down to Devil’s Backbone Brewery, a familiar venue and restaurant for me from last summer. What a perfect site and stage for local outdoor theater and musical events! I sat in the sun cascading in stripes through the high arched windows and across the gleaming wooden floors, starting my evening with a Schwartz Bier Black Lager brewed on site. Pork Flat Iron, came next, a perfect paring of a grilled pork tenderloin glazed with sweet jalapeno mustard. Roasted red potatoes and baby carrots accompanied it. Devil’s Backbone and similar local restaurants are establishing a standard of fresh food and craft beverages in the area and the response is most encouraging.

As the sun began to set, I made my way to Rapunzel’s to end the day where it had begun, the tiny town of Lovingston. As I took my seat, I saw Katherine again from Trager Brothers.

“Cyndi!” She tucked into my front row table with a smile just as bright as the morning’s.”How was the day?”

We talked about Nelson and it’s slow change. Even though the IGA grocery has closed and the corridor’s growth hasn’t quite made it to the tiny hamlet, there’s hope. Hope for an organic grocery, or more cafes, a vineyard or a cidery…maybe even a traditional tavern. As the music began, it hit me…this community is so alive. Cody and Freeman Mowier, their parents sitting right next to me, opened the evening playing a few original tunes on acoustic guitars. The room slowly began to fill with greetings and hugs; neighbor after neighbor, friend after friend arrived. In this place there is connection at the heart, and as Chamomile and Whiskey, a local folk-rock fusion band with roots in blues, bluegrass and Irish traditional played, I thought about who this post grunge generation really is,these hipster mountain men and hippie vintage gals embracing Tweets and slow food, Foursquare and organic espresso.

The band’s set list, proudly scribbled on a PBR box flap, prompted song after song, including Long Day dedicated to guitarist Koda Kerl’s father, whose memorial service was held hours earlier at the Rockfish Valley Community Center. His mother sat in the audience, his friends and fellow musicians there as well . . .off stage, sometimes on stage, but always connected to the real life behind the song, behind the music. In their debut of A Thousand Sleepless Nights, a slight nod to the rhythms of U2 reminded me of other small communities I’ve known. C&W’s banjo player, Ryan Lavin’s Irish roots reflect in his vocals and picking, and Marie Borgman’s fiddle harmonizes right along.

This connection…

Is it the land…Is it the sky? Is it a place and people interlaced in creative movement through this green Virginia valley? There is a simple, but great beauty there among them and luckily I found it, right in my own backyard.

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Book in Hand

9 Apr

And it’s been a long December and there’s reason to believe
Maybe this year will be better than the last
I can’t remember all the times I tried to tell myself
To hold on to these moments as they pass. . .

Virginia springs are filled with a kind of green that I have only seen in one other place …Ireland. First growth grass is lush and bright everywhere, but the mountain trees have yet to leaf. Instead, tree limbs are laden in a first flush of starry white, rose and lavender buds. The warm edges of the breeze have fluttered open, a last veil of winter sleet swept away in front of it. Winter is saying a lingering goodbye, but none of us are crying about it, I think. This winter has been one long December, a cold lead of grey drear drawn out to the last possible edge. It’s been a hard few months for so many people I know. This weekend, however, sunshine bore the message that the worst is behind, flowers tilting their small faces upward. A turning has been made.

Saturday, Clar and I rolled up the road to Lovingston Winery’s opening day to meet dear friends who live a few hours in the opposite direction. Nelson County is the half way mark between my “wine conscience” and soul brother Paul and his lovely wife Newt. Arriving around mid-day, I eased down the steep embankment to a lovely spot by a small pond. Lovingston’s Winery is a compact place, all the workings organized into a gravity fed system. A tasting bar is tucked into a small corner of the work area. Upon tasting their selection, the whites quickly rose as top picks for both myself and my companions. Lovingston Seyval Blanc, a fantastic new release, was rounded and smooth with a bit more body than an average Chardonnay or Viognier. It will pair well with seafood and summer grilling. The Petit Manseng was bone dry, bright and lemony with a sharply citrus bite. But since their line is small and there’s not much in the way of a picnicking area to lounge in, we decided to leave right after the tasting and head toward Mountain Cove. For some reason, both Paul and I had thought we didn’t like their wine. Perhaps we had tasted with them at Rebec’s Garlic Festival? We couldn’t remember, but the trek was worth a try while exploring sunny back roads round the mountain.

Down the windy mountain ways, road after road through Nelson’s farms and fields we traveled, finally turning up a gravel drive toward some small barns resembling old tobacco sheds. After parking in the field, I chuckled. The whole place reminded me of a tiny cottage farm I once encountered in Ireland, and I half expected chickens to scoot out any moment. The sun glowed against the rustic red planks; bright yellow boxes filled with spring pansies lined the sides of… a tasting room? A porch and table in front of the small Appalachian shed signaled a possible entrance, but we weren’t really sure if it was open or if anyone was on site. Soon though, friendly lady in gardening clothes and hat rounded the corner. Her casual charm reminded me of home, of neighbors one can drop by to visit any time with that, “come on in the house” type of comfortable authenticity.

Showing us in across pallet plank floors, past the wood stove and rocking chair, she asked us, “Y’all here to taste?” The smell of past fires lingered in the light filtering through high windows and we looked around at the bottles lining the plank walls. At our assent, out came six bottles. Plunk. . . plunk, plunk…three rocks tumblers were popped onto the rough hewn bar, the sign above it letting us know that tastings were free. If we had come all that way, we were obviously interested in the wine, it said. The genuine simplicity in it struck me, nothing snooty about this place. And I’ll be honest, I wondered about what we were going to taste, especially when the fruit wines appeared on the counter. Surprisingly though, lack of pretension extended to the wine as well. Mountain Cove features some of the best wine I have had from a local vineyard, hands down. As we tasted a full bodied spicy Chardonnay, steel aged much to my surprise, our hostess told us that Mountain Cove is the oldest winery in Virginia, having been started in the early 1970’s. As we moved from wine to wine, each one proved to be impeccable, and at only $12 to $15 a bottle, a steal when comparing to the $20 plus bottles at most vineyards I have visited. The Tinto, a blend of Chambourcin and Cabernet Franc was big and spicy, less tannic than most reds, and the Skyline White, simply incredible. A Vouvray style with a slight effervescent twang, like having a jingle bell in one’s mouth on the finish. These are substantial wines, developed and solid.

Mountain Cove’s fruit wines were lovely as well. But I have a small confession, I’m a fruit wine snob. When I was directed to do a “cheese shooter” at a wine festival from one vineyard’s hot pepper wine, I rolled my eyes. Fruit wines generally fall into the sweet category. . . not a fan. However, Mountain Cove’s Blackberry is dryer than an off dry Riesling and the Apple, drier than a Gewürztraminer. I didn’t care for the Peach, but I’m not a huge peach fan anyway.

As Paul, Newt and I sat on the porch with a bottle of Skyline, we caught up on our lives. They are in the midst of professional transitions and I have been…well, on this journey. We sipped and laughed and I remembered why I love them so much. They are genuine and so real. I thank the Universe daily that they are in my life, for they love me in spite of my failings and complaints. Times I spend with them are precious, often funnu like the time we played Scrabble in December and I didn’t remember the rules. It had been nearly twenty years, and upon receiving my tiles, I promptly flipped one over and proudly announced, “F”! At which they burst into laughter and then said, ”Um Cyndi . . .you don’t tell the other players what you have”. Or the time where I told Newt that my favorite things were the three “C’s”: Coffee, Cupcakes, and Wine. She looked at me with all the kindness and yet incredulousness of the moment and said,  “Three. . .C’s?”

As we laughed and re-connected, I was reminded of a wisdom given to me on the island at the start of this long December:

To be a friend is to love and be loved as a book in hand.

Real friendship is like a book with paper pages. You hold it in your hands. You touch and turn the pages. You make time for it, experience it, commit to it and it gives you an experience in connection and you take its story with you forever. That is a real friend. And in this age of technology, nothing will replace the reality of a book, a warm hand or a smiling face or. . .

A story.

Told with love or pain, in frivolity or confidence, good books only come along once in a while. That’s why they are worth the time to read.

Our beloved friends are those who make up the shelves of our libraries, well-worn copies we’d never part with for all their annotations and dog-eared edges. Like a rustic barn with no pretension, like a wine that is unassuming but excellent in its structure, each friend bears a beautiful story which we have the honor of not only enjoying but joining.

Skyline White

The Epicurean Way

29 Mar

The art of living well and the art of dying well are one — Epicurus

As I dined Saturday evening, before one of the films of the Richmond French Film Festival, a waiter and I discussed the love of food and wine. “It’s following the Epicurean way,” he said. And I thought, yes. I do have a deep and abiding passion for tastes, but it goes beyond being a “foodie”. The sensuality of dining is one of my greatest pleasures, something I think most Americans do not practice nor understand well. If dinner isn’t served in less than twenty minutes at the local McRestaurant, they tap their proverbial toes. It’s devoured in half as much time and out they go, stuffed to the gills. Fine dining is Olive Garden? …seriously? Wine is sweet white or pink (ew…red) and mostly a feminine beverage. And the man drink, beer, is a watery pale which can be drunk by the half gallons. Over the years, it’s been amazing to me how little young adults know about food. I’ve had students who have never eaten a pear, nor a home made muffin, nor even seen a fresh fig. Most of them do not have families who cook or eat together. One poor soul did not know that pork was indeed a pig and these are academically bright, mostly affluent young people.

As a young person, I was lucky. A retired professor in my Italian class took an interest in me, recognizing a burgeoning love for culture. He took it upon himself to “train” my palate in both wine and food. I was learning to cook at the time, religiously watching episodes of Jeff Smith, the Frugal Gourmet. Through my professor friend and Jeff Smith, the basics of fine food, fine wine, and spirits as well as the beauty of dining were absorbed quite quickly. My first drink lesson was within a Manhattan, and I was probably the only college gal who regularly drank Cinzano on the rocks alongside a charcuterie board. From quiche to spanakopita, I cooked the old way, my oven producing fresh baguette and the pasta machine churning out fresh ribbons. My beau of those years was ever so happily fed. In a short decade, I could cook anything, most dishes sans recipe.

I won’t go further into my epicurean development, but needless to say, this past weekend’s visit to Carytown reminded me of just how much I enjoy all sorts of cuisine. In spite of an overwhelming number of choices, I leaned toward experiences which were most familiar to me in terms of fare or venue. Four meals present themselves as memorable, each one, reflecting a meaningful aspect of food and food culture for me.

Friday evening found me on Cary Street under the brightly striped awning of Ginger Thai Taste. The dining room inside is small, but the enormous deck will be a coveted space come summer. Seated at a beautiful eating counter facing the street, the energy of Carytown’s strip seemed far away from my peaceful tucked corner. Buddha and I sat together breathing in the sweet sharp vinegar, nuoc mam, and ginger scent. Along with an off dry Riesling, eating began with fresh shrimp spring rolls. Crisp lettuce, carrot, and basil bite stacked inside the tender wrapper, dunked into fresh peanut sauce. Lemongrass Tofu with fresh red and yellow pepper, broccoli, zucchini and button mushrooms came next in a medium spicy curry with Jasmine rice. What I adore about tofu is its ability to soak in other flavors. The sponge and barely tender vegetables tasted like a spinning pinwheel of color.

Saturday, I shopped post mid-day film and after a successful haul at Ashby’s Consignment, I crossed the street, shuffling down to Secco Wine Bar. On my walking tour of Carytown in January, this corner cafe was introduced to me. But now, filled with francophiles and among late afternoon knoshers, it felt like home. I ordered a glass of Foucher Chinon (2011), and then a quick menu browse and consultation with the bar mistress produced a slate of San Simon, Cashel Blue and bresaola with toasted baguette, dollops of grainy mustard and apple butter on the side. This type of meal is my absolute favorite. As a tiny tummied person, snacking is my main way of eating. Lingering over the flavors in sips and bites is my preferred dining experience; however, what increased my pleasure was the constancy of hearing the patrons in conversation around me. French is a most beautiful and romantic language and to be immersed in it while enjoying this type of fare is divine. C’était merveilleux.

Snow began in Carytown around mid-day Sunday, a wet icy shawl over the street which slowed the day’s pace. In the early afternoon, I stopped into Don’t Look Back, an upscale taco bar across from the Byrd Theater. I’m not a huge Mexican restaurant fan, as most are little better than a TexMex McDonald’s. However, I happened upon DLB’s first anniversary bash, including drink specials and free Dixie Donuts. Score. Local craft beers are a trend in fresh food establishments these days, and a Hardywood Chocolate Heat was my choice. A rich full bodied stout, it delivers a surprise hot pepper finish. A quick consultation with the bar man and fifteen minutes served up the most amazing fish tacos I have ever eaten. Traditionally prepared corn tortillas were filled with medium rare spicy seasoned cod cubes, pickled cabbage slaw, fresh lime, and sour cream. Two tacos were just right and only six bucks. Fresh food at its best, all the textures, colors, and flavors were in play together, even the tequila lime donut for dessert. This is bistro. . . Mexicano.

By far, this last meal was the most pleasurable, both for its sensory experience and for the company with whom it was enjoyed. A visit to Amour Wine Bistro had been the plan since meeting the owner Paul on my walking tour. What was most impressive to me about him was his excitement for the nuances of food and wine. He is like me in that respect. Each dish is like a poem for him, every word dense with meaning and connotation. In his choice of wine to serve with dishes, similar intuition and understandings of subtle flavor and character governs. He selects what best enhances both the food and the wine in balance. I could listen to him describe cuisine for hours, his delightful Bordeaux accent perfectly seasoning the description. I had no hesitation in allowing him to select the wine pairings with my menu choices. And when in an establishment focused on serving local seasonal food in authentic French style, the special of the day is the way to go. My three course dinner started with a savory mise en bouche, then an appetizer of grilled shitake. Paul chose Domaine Segiunot Bordot Chablis (2010) to accompany them. The lightly grilled mushrooms retained their firmness, nutty comte’ and sweet tart balsamic reduction rounded their earthy edges.

After another mise en bouche of watermelon and mint, fresh sautéed shad roe with lemon and capers served over sautéed brussels sprouts and golden smashed potatoes was my elaborate entrée. Having never eaten shad roe, I had no idea what to expect from what is often called the “foie gras of the sea”. I cannot describe its deliciousness, sea rich without fishiness, amazing mouth feel without heaviness. The slight bitterness of the capers balanced against the tart of the lemons all grounded on the potato base with a slight cabbage crunch. Paul chose a lovely fuller bodied Sancerre to accompany it. Délices célestes.

By the time dessert arrived, unbelievably, I was not overly full. That is the test to me of fine dining, to be satiated, yet still able to enjoy a tiny bit more of a loveliness. The films were running an hour or so behind, so I enjoyed the company of the waitstaff and Paul as well as fellow patrons. A warm salted caramel dark chocolate crème brulee was served with Made by G’s sparkling full berry Gamay. Raspberry cherry notes in a fully dry sparkling wine set off the smooth dark chocolate richness of the crème, salty caramel bits on the finish. The spoon was tiny for a reason, allowing me to really enjoy every bite.

So, you might ask. How in the world do you eat this sort food and still stay a proper weight? Well, I don’t eat it every day and I exercise… a lot. And I realize that to dine daily in such manner would be hedonistic at best. Like life, enjoyment in all pleasures should be held in balance, all the elements in harmony. One day, I won’t be able to revel in the world’s collage of sensory gifts and I must balance the “now” with the “then”. For that is the truest form of living . . the art in life and death.

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