Category Archives: Drinks

Wine Tasting in Fredericksburg

For most of my life, Fredericksburg has had only one meaning – a city in Virginia, known for its proximity to great vineyards and rich history, where I attended college, and met the best friend and blogging partner a woman could ask for. So it wasn’t surprising when, a two weekends ago, Tom surprised by telling me we were going to Fredericksburg on Saturday. Turns out that Texas has its own Fredericksburg, about an hour and a half west of Austin. 

Fredericksburg, Tx Library

The Fredericksburg, Tx library, also the former courthouse.

Fredericksburg, Tx Library plaque

We arrived in Fredericksburg early, around 11am. and found parking at the Visitor Center off of Lincoln Street, behind the National Pacific War Museum. Main Street is lined with dozens and dozens of shops including gourmet food stores, antique shops, clothing stores, and more.  It was Oktoberfest weekend, so it was pretty busy, and more than once we left a shop quickly, tired of fighting the crowd inside. Despite that, I was able to find a great necklace – very similar to something I’d been lusting after for months – at a quarter of the price!  I’m still pretty proud of that.

Grape Creek Vineyard, 2

In addition to great people watching and shopping Fredericksburg, Tx, is ideally situated for a day of wine tasting. It is surrounded by vineyards, with about half a dozen on U.S. Route 290 between Austin and Fredericksburg alone. Several of those vineyards have opened tasting rooms in store fronts on Main Street in Fredericksburg, making it even easier to experience several great Texas wineries while exploring the city. The first tasting room Tom and I stopped in was also my favorite, so much so that I went back to buy a few bottles of wine at the end of our trip.

The Grape Creek Vineyards tasting room is on the corner of Main and Lincoln Streets, and is one of 2 satellite tasting rooms the vineyard manages, in addition to their vineyard tasting room. As it was one of our first stops, we were able to beat the crowds, so it was quiet and easy to chat with Debbie, behind the tasting counter. For $12 you can select 6 of 14 wines to taste, although Debbie kindly let me taste one extra wine – making my total tasting 7 wines.

2012 Cabernet Trois: As the name hints, this medium-bodied wine combines 3 Cabernet grapes – Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Ruby Cabernet – resulting in  a rich nose of leather and cedar wood. It is a smooth wine with notes of ripe cherries and warm fall spices. I loved this wine and can’t wait to sip while sitting by the fire on a cold winters night (Austin has those? Right??Please tell me they do…).

Grape Creek Vineyard, 3

2012 Mosaic: This was the last wine I tasted, but my second favorite after the Cabernet Trois.  It is rich full-bodied Bordeaux-style wine that would pair beautifully with a steak and Gorgonzola sauce. It smelled like chocolate and cherries with a light grassy undertone and had tasting notes of dark chocolate, cloves, and ripe berries.

2013 Viognier: This was the only white wine I tried from Grape Creek Vineyard, and I’m glad I did. A 97 point Double Gold winning wine at the 2014 San Francisco International Wine Competition, this is a crisp dry wine with balanced acidity that would pair well with a light cream pasta like shrimp scampi. It has a lovely floral nose and tastes of honeyed peaches with a bright lemon finish.

Grape Creek Vineyard, 1

2012 Rendezvous: This wine, with a sweet floral nose, is a combination of Mourvedre, Syrah, Cinsault, and white Viognier wines in the Rhone Valley style. It was a soft, dry wine with plum and cherry flavors that would pair well with a slightly acidic tomato sauce.

2012 Cabernet/Syrah: I had not originally chosen this wine as one of my six, but my tasting guide, Debbie, insisted I give it a try. Like the Viognier, the Cabernet/Syrah did very well at the San Francisco International Wine Competition where it placed best in class for Cabernet/Syrah blends and also received a double gold medal. It’s complicated wine rich with flavors of plums and pepper.

Grape Creek Vineyard, 7

2012 Petite Syrah: This wine, with its nose of blueberries and cinnamon, is a jammy rustic wine that would pair well with lamb and rosemary roasted potatoes.

2012 Bellissimo:  This blend of Sangiovese, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon is a Tuscan style wine with warm vanilla notes, oak, and ripe cherries.

Grape Creek Vineyard, 6

October, as we all know is Virginia Wine Month, but it is also Texas Wine Month, so if you get a chance, be sure to get out and give it a try!

 

Hartwood Winery – One of Virginia’s Wine Industry’s Originals

Hartwood Winery Road SignYay, it’s here! Yes, folks, October has arrived and with it, the 26th annual Virginia Wine Month.  As many of you know,  one of our favorite things to do here at Cork and Spoon is travel around, visiting local wineries (and distilleries, and breweries).  I mean look at Emilie. She didn’t move to just anywhere in Texas, but to  Texas Hill Country, which is that state’s wine country.  No worries, though. Emilie and I already discussed whether we’d have an issue with dueling wine countries.  Though it would be fun, we both love our Virginia wine too much. I even put together  a Virginia wine care package for her before she left D.C. (Rest assured there was a Norton in there!). So why don’t we move along to this year’s first stop, Hartwood Winery (…before I start crying).

Hartwood Winery is a cozy little spot in the southern part of Stafford County, Hartwood Winery Entrancejust a hop, skip, and  a jump from I-95 and U.S. Route 17. That means, its super easy to get to, so you have no excuses if you’re driving up or down the East Coast through Virginia! One of my favorite things about Hartwood is that you’ll lfeel like you’re visiting family.  Though getting rarer at wineries further north and west, at Hartwood don’t be surprised if you find yourself chatting with the owners, the Livingstons, during your visit. Of course, Jim Livingston would say it’s the other way around: he doesn’t own the vineyard, the vineyard owns him! With over 30 years experience in the Virginia wine industry, assisting other wineries in the 70’s before planting his own vines in 1981,  I have no doubt he knows what he is talking about!

Hartwood Winery Ready for HarvestingAs I mentioned, Livingston planted the first Hartwood vines, (Cabernet Sauvignon) in 1981.  That era was the very beginning of today’s Virginia wine industry.  Today there are over 200 wineries in the state, but back then? Literally no more than a dozen. Why? Well, growing wine grapes in hot, humid climates is tricky business as our friends further south in the Carolina’s know very well.  Those first Cabernet Sauvignon vines were wiped out by fungus.  Rather than give up, though, Livingston switched course and experimented with heartier hybrids, like the Seyval Blanc. Through the years, the original few Virginia wineries like Hartwood used their experience along with agricultural research conducted by Virginia Tech to figure out how to make vitis vinifera flourish.  Today, you can find Cabernet Sauvignon growing in Hartwood’s vineyard. Take that fungus!

So when you stop by Hartwood Winery this Virginia Wine Month (Or any time! They are open all year round), be sure to ask Jim what made him, at the time a school teacher, decide to begin a winery. That’s exactly what Mr. Hansford Abel, a long time member of the Stafford Board of Supervisors asked him when Livingston applied for his permits…

(The secret’s out of the bag, folks, teachers do drink wine!)

Hartwood Winery Tasting Notes 2014

For $7, Hartwood Winery offers about 12 wines for the tasting dependent on availability. I tasted 11, because the Petit Verdot was nearly sold out.  This is not uncommon during the early fall as Virginia wineries draw huge summer crowds. (The Chardonnay and Merlot weren’t even on the list anymore as they had already sold out.)  I liked every single wine I tasted during my Hartwood visit, but if you want to know more details, here are the notes I jotted down during my tasting.

Hartwood Winery Back Vineyard

Seyval Blanc (2013) – Recently released over Labor Day weekend, this refreshing and crisp white probably would not have lasted the summer if it had been released earlier.  Aged in stainless steel, this wine is clean, light and citrusy. Great for laid back summer picnics.

Hartwood Station White – This white is a blend of Chardonnay, Viognier, and the Georgian (as in the country not the state) varietal Rkatsiteli. Though aged in stainless steel, the Chardonnay in the blend did receive some oak aging.  If malolactic fermentation isn’t your thing, never fear. The little bit of oakfrom the Chardonnay gives this wine a bit more body than the Seyval Blanc, but no butter here.  Instead you’ll taste another crisp white, though more along the lines of an apple than a lemon. The nose is sweet and fruity, like golden raisins, courtesy of the Viognier.  On the palate, along with the apple from the Chardonnay, you’ll get a very light floral prettiness from the Viognier, and a feint hint of spice from the Rkatsiteli.

Rappannock Rose – Hartwood has a series of wines named for the Rappahanock River, which forms a natural border along southern Stafford County where Hartwood is located. This rosé style wine is made from mostly Chambourcin and is processed like a white wine (i.e. the juice is pressed from the grapes and then the skins are discarded).  The Rappahanock Rose also  has an itty bitty bit of Seyval Blanc.  You won’t find the mainstream, sweet strawberry profile in this wine, which, over the past two or three years, seems to be disappearing from many Virginia rosés. Instead, you’ll get red cherry, a bit more body, and some spice. I’d say this is a good choice for a mixed party of white and red wine lovers.

Rappahannock White – A 50/50 blend of Seyval and Vidal blanc, with 3% Residual Sugar  (RS), this wine is just sweet enough and reminds me of a German Riesling.  Of course the nose is sweet, but an interesting twist is that it might remind you of cinnamon sugar. The spice follows through onto the palate, which compliments the wine’s soft, pear flavors. Definitely a wine to sit back and relax with, I brought this wine home to have with my spicy, Thai inspired recipes.

Deweese White – Another Riesling like wine, the Deweese, made from Vidal Hartwood Winery Wine Library 2Blanc,  is more along the lines of a semi-sweet wine than the Rappahannock White.  At 3.8% RS, this wine was a bit too sweet for me, but I can appreciate it for what it is. I definitely tasted the tropical notes (lots of banana) and the melon (think perfectly ripe cantaloupe).  This wine could easily  take on the spice found in the other Hartwood white wines I tasted, but it’s perfectly enjoyable as it is. Now that fall has finally arrived in Virginia, I’ve got mulled wine on the brain and I think the Deweese White could be used to make make a wonderful warm, fall punch.

Blushing Hart – This is Hartwood’s first foray into dessert style wine. Mostly Seyval Blanc, the Blushing Hart blend also has a touch of Chambourcin and Niagra. I loved the nose of this wine: cinnamon! (Different, don’t you think?). Being a dessert wine, it is a sweet blend. However is has a nice tartness that keeps it from tasting like pure sugar, which reminded me of a cherry jolly rancher. You’ll get a lot of dried apricot and cherry flavors after which I tasted a little nuttiness in the finish. The characteristics of the Blushing Hart reminded me a lot of port style wines, but without the fortified punch.  I can definitely picture a cordial of this with an after dinner cheese platter.

Rappahannock Red – The first red on the tasting list is this Beaujolais style wine for which the Chambourcin is aged in stainless steel.  This is pretty different, as most Virginia Chambourcin takes to oak very well.  For some reason, though, the vines from the Hartwood vineyard do not.  To me, it’s all good.  Gamay, which most Beaujolais is made from, is one of my favorites, and this wine reminds of those fruit forward, light red blends.  In this wine you’ll taste black cherry and licorice and even a hint of chocolate in the finish. You can even serve this red lightly chilled, which always gets a thumbs up from Emilie and me! I had to bring this one home.

2012 Claret – A claret wine is, at its simplest, a wine made from  one or a blend of the five classic Bordeaux grapes.  This claret is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon and aged for 10 months in American oak.  You’ll notice that the ruby red Claret is a cloudy wine, rather than clear, which is the complete opposite of it’s sister vintage, the 2012 Cabernet Sauvginon (We’ll get to a in a bit). A dry, medium bodied red, this wine has a nice smokiness with notes of tobacco, leather, cherry, and spice.

2012 Cabernet Franc – One of my favorite Virginia grown varietals! Aged in American Oak, this wine has a lot of similarities to to the Claret, but lighter bodied.  This wine is clean, with lots of bright cherry and peppery spices as a good Cab Franc should.  A very enjoyable, dry red, the softer tannins in this wine is perfect if you’d rather your wine not punch you in the face!

2012 Cabernet Sauvignon –  Believe it or not, this wine and the Claret are twins. It’s the perfect example of barrel variation in wine making and why barrel tastings are so important to the process. Both the Claret and the Cab Sauv are Hartwood Winery Back Guest Lawn100% Cabernet Sauvignon from the same vines grown and harvested in 2012. They were pressed, fermented, and barreled together, too. For whatever reason after that, though, each wine went its own independent way.  Typically, a winery will blend the varied wines to get a single vintage, but Hartwood decided to let these two do their thing. As I mentioned earlier, the 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon is clear, not cloudy like the Claret, and much deeper in color.  It has a raisen-like, dried fruit nose, but don’t be fooled. This wine, which can be aged for a few more years,  is crisp and clean with lots of cherry accompanied by bell-pepper.

2012 Tannat – The last of the day is a beautiful, deep garnet colored wine that you could enjoy now, but for the patient, a few more years will likely bring you reward. Our red wine only  friends will definitely appreciate this wine. The nose of dried fruits, which is more potent than the 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon, will fool you. This wine is dry and earthy, rather than fruity,  with evenly balanced tannins and  a clean minerality. The umami (Thank-you, Kathy, from Casanel!) will make you salivate and crave a big hunk of steak! If I had room in my budget, I would have bought a bottle to “cellar”.

Hartwood Winery Vines

Watermelon Jalapeño Margarita

Watermelon Jalepeno Margarita 3So here it is: my “angry” cocktail;  the culmination of channeling my anger into something positive through creative expression.  Hmmm. That was a mouthful, wasn’t it?  Excuse me while I giggle.

Okay. I’m back.

You know, there is something to be said about anger: it’s not really all bad.  Yes, it is a negative rather than positive emotion, but the impact it leaves on you depends on how you choose to handle it.  Take this Watermelon Jalapeño Margarita, for instance. Rather than let my Inner Critic (She is such a you know what!) goad me into wasting my energy in the elaborate plotting of my revenge, which, after all, would only leave me exhausted, depressed and reaching for a Xanax with a pounding migraine, I channeled that precious energy to re-charge my sorely depleted and neglected creativity stores.

So how do I deal with my anger when I’m not re-focusing it towards a cocktail or other project? Well, it’s a pretty deliberate exercise, but at it’s most simple I run through the following steps which I’ve developed out of my therapy sessions.

Step 1 , of course, is to realize that I am angry!

Step 2 is to take a deep breath breath.Watermelon Jalepeno Margarita 1

Step 3 is where I rate my anger. My scale goes from annoyed to wrathful harpy.

Step 4 is where my Inner Critic tries to push her way in as I do an internal Q&A. Why am I angry? What’s the real emotion under my anger? (Refer to my Jalapeño Simple Syrup recipe where I mention that anger is a response to another emotion.)

At Step 5, based on my answer to Step 4,  I get to decide if my anger is justified or if I “artificially” built it up with what they call “catastrophic thinking”.

Resolution takes place at Step 6. If I decided that my anger is justified, I acknowledge it. If it’s not, I call my Inner Critic out and flick her off my shoulder.  Then I determine what I am going to do to re-channel the negative energy such as making today’s cocktail. My favorite, though, is lacing up my running shoes and take a loop or two around my favorite trail…or kickboxing if I need to punch something.

And you know what? Even though I still get fleeting images of revenge (Can’t help it, he hurt me really bad), I’m not so angry anymore.

Which is great, because the weather man said this weekend was summer’s last hurrah here in the D.C. area and I want enjoyed it with a smile rather than a scowl. Cheers!

Watermelon Jalepeno Margarita 4

Watermelon Jalapeño Margarita

serves 1
Ingredients
  • 6 ounces watermelon juice
  • 1-2 ounces tequila
  • 1 tablespoon jalapeño simple syrup
  • 1/4 of a fresh lime
  • crushed ice
  • optional: cayenne lime salt  
  • Garnish options: watermelon cubes, fresh jalapeño slices,  fresh mint sprigs, lime wedges
Directions
  1. Optional – Rim a large glass (14-16 ounces) with the cayenne lime salt. You can do this by pouring the salt onto a small plate, wetting the rim of the glass with a lime wedge, then carefully dipping the rim into the salt.
  2. Fill your glass about halfway with crushed ice.
  3. Pour watermelon juice, tequila, and jalapeño simple syrup over the ice and stir.
  4. Squeeze the juice out of lime wedge into the margarita. Stir again and serve.

Watermelon Jalepeno Margarita 5

 

Jalapeño Simple Syrup

jalepeno simple syrup straining 2Not too long ago, my psychologist suggested I try channeling my anger to punch through my Great Wall of China sized writer’s block.  All our other attempts had failed and since dealing with anger has never been a strength of mine, I thought, “Sure, why not?” I’ll take the challenge.  So she pulled out a pad of paper and pen and we started a free flow of recipe ideas that could embody “anger”.

Now here is what I have learned about anger in the year since I started therapy: it’s a secondary emotion.  Anger never exists alone. It is sparked by another emotion.  After hearing this, I challenged my psychologist with, “Well, what about the dumb @$$ that nearly drives me into a concrete barrier on 95 that I give the finger to?” Hahaha, got you there! Wrong. “Ruth, why would you be angry at that person?” Uuummm, because he could have killed or hurt me and others?  It was fear that sparked my anger. Darn it. Doc: 1. Ruth: 0.

So back to channeling my anger…

By the end of the session I had settled on using “spice” to represent anger since I had run out of new “red” ingredients.  We also decided that the recipe would be for a cocktail. After all, it’s been ages since we’ve brought you all something fun for happy hour, right?

That evening I was sipping on some watermelon “soda” and craving more lime jalepeno simple syrup straining 3only to find out I had used the last of my stash.  As I substitute, I reached for a lemon.  Then, as I was squeezing the fresh lemon juice into my drink it hit me…lemon and lime…watermelon margarita!! A spicy watermelon margarita that is.  I had a pint of jalapeños from the  farmer’s market that would do the trick.  I immediately texted Emilie my idea who sent me her virtual thumbs up.

My first try, in which I muddled the peppers,  failed horribly to capture the spice of the jalapeño.  Their watery flavor (think bell pepper) also turned the drink flat. Ok, anger, I thought, turn the heat up already! And I literally had to…I went for the simple syrup route. It was exactly what my margarita needed.

We all know that anger can be quite a destructive force. That’s why so many of us are afraid to confront it. The trick is to deal with it constructively and carefully so you don’t end up burned. It might sting a little, like this simple syrup, but at the end of the tunnel something good is waiting for you.

Anger and action

Don’t forget to stay tuned…the margarita is coming next week!

 Jalapeño Simple Syrup

Ingredients
  • 2 medium green jalapeño peppers
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
Directions
  • Slice jalapeños into rounds. For maximum heat, do not remove the seeds.  To reduce heat remove half to all of the seeds.jalepeno simple syrup slicing
  • Over medium high heat, combine all the ingredients in a small sauce pan.jalepeno simple syrup combining
  • Bring mixture to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar.
  • Once syrup comes to a boil, remove from heat.  Allow the  jalapeños to steep for about 30 minutes.jalepeno simple syrup simmering
  • Strain syrup , discarding jalapeños.  Store in the refrigerator until ready to use.jalepeno simple syrup straining 1

Watermelon Agua Fresca, or More Simply, Watermelon Juice

watermelon water 2Those that know me know that saying I love color is an understatement. I am all about color (For the record, my favorite is orange).  Give me bold, bright, and daring hues! For that reason, I’m not too upset about summer sticking around just a little longer. My summer wardrobe is vibrantly more colorful than my fall and winter, especially in the shoe department.  As much as I love my leather riding boots, I will be sad to put away my stop light yellow, watermelon pink, lime green, and neon orange stilettos and peep toes.

And don’t get me started on my running gear.  I have three half H Half Mi 7 Smlmarathons lined up between now and next spring. Training starts on the 15th and all I have to look forward to over the fall and winter are black leggings, black leggings, and oh, more black leggings. You think my work shoes sounds crazy, you should see what I run in during the summer months! Oh wait, running in the summer is crazy enough, huh? I totally agree. That’s why when Sue asked me to sign up for some summer races, I told her she was una chica loca!

She kept pressing me, though. “C’mooooonn, chiiiica! Just a 5K?” To which I responded rhetorically, “Do you know how hot and humid it’s GloStick Group - smudgegoing to be out there?!” Then she found an evening run…with glow sticks…that benefited a cancer charity.  I caved.  Silly me also thought, what’s 3.1 miles after running 13.2? Well, in the heat…3.1 miles feels like a spring half marathon. That’s where this delicious, hydrating (and pretty!) watermelon juice comes in. (BTW how many drinks this pretty are actually good for you??)

Like many of you, there is always watermelon in my house during the summer.  It’s one of the few foods I can handle on hot days. Then, during our family vacation I came across a blurb in Fitness Magazine’s  June issue about watermelon water.  Apparently it’s been fashionable this summer, but this was the first time I had heard of it. Watermelon, water? Sounds tasty to me!

Apparently it’s great for muscle recovery after a hard workout, not just re-hydration,  too! Watermelon has an amino acid, L-citruline (also watermelon water 4found in onions and garlic), that improves oxygen delivery to your muscles.  A study conducted by the Technical University of Cartagena in Spain further explained that L-citrulline does this by helping remove lactic acid (the stuff that causes your soreness) at a faster than normal rate, hence a quicker recovery period.  Did I mention what a pretty pink this watermelon juice makes?

So, summer, as long as you’re sticking around, let the colors and watermelon juice keep on coming!

watermelon water 1

 

Watermelon Agua Fresca

Ingredients
  • 4 cups watermelon, cubedwatermelon water cubes
Directions
  1. Pour cubed watermelon into a blender and puree.
  2. Place a mesh sieve or a cheesecloth lined colander  over a large bowl and pour watermelon puree through the sieve/colander.watermelon water straining
  3. With a flat spatula, gently push the watermelon solids to help squeeze out more watermelon juice
  4. Repeat steps 2 and 3, once or twice more if desired.
  5. Discard watermelon solids and pour juice into a pitcher. Refrigerate to chill.watermelon water straining 2
  6. Watermelon juice will separate. When ready to drink, shake or stir before serving.

Bonus Recipe: Watermelon “Soda”

My favorite way to drink watermelon juice like this: Over crushed ice, fill half to 3/4 a glass with watermelon juice. Top off with sparkling mineral or soda water (preferably lime  or other citrus flavored).  Squeeze in some fresh lime juice and serve. So refreshing!

 P.S. Stay tuned for the watermelon margarita I’ll be sharing in the near future!

~Ruth

Easy Cherry Smoothie – Post Run Recovery

Cherry Smoothie 1A few of you know I am currently training for my first half-marathon.  Those of you that have known me for a long time also know that I HATE running.   It hurts. Who likes pain?  Ok, some people do or else Cross Fit and Insanity wouldn’t be so popular, but  I  don’t like pain.   I can do dance, martial arts, yoga, circuits, etc.   Just as it becomes too painful, you’ve moved onto something else.   Running, on the other hand…well, there are only two ways to escape the pain: stop or push through it.   Now, I know I said I didn’t like pain.  I never said I couldn’t handle it.   I am not a quitter, either, which is why I registered for this race.  I needed something to get out of this rut I’ve been stuck in for far too long.  It’s been funny finding how everything I am going through in my race training has direct parallels to what’s going on in my heart and mind.  That is how I know that when I conquer this race, I’ll have pulled myself out of this horrible pit, too!

Now as I write this, I am wrapping up week five of my 10 week training, which culminated in a very hilly eight mile run.  I never imagined in my Cherry Smoothie 6entire life that I would ever run so far of my own volition.  Of course I also discovered that running beyond my previously usual 5Ks started making my body do some not so nice things.  Two weeks ago, I ran six miles, at the time my longest distance.  After braving the shower room, I began preparing my breakfast of oatmeal and flax at my desk when my stomach began clenching. Despite my hunger I couldn’t bear to eat.  Now, I had researched that you shouldn’t eat anything but simple, easily digestible food before (and during) a run, because your body will focus its energy on your digestive system instead of powering your run.  I guess it works the other way, too.  If you’ve taxed your body for your run, it doesn’t have energy to help your tummy do its job.  After about another half hour, I was able to down some Greek yogurt.  It happened to be cherry yogurt, which triggered the idea for this smoothie.

Cherry Smoothie 4You see, I remembered that cherries, particularly the juice of tart cherries, have been a growing craze in the fitness world for a few years now.  Studies have shown that they reduce inflammation and speed muscle recovery due to compounds called anthocyanins.  Another key to helping your body recover from a tough workout is protein, which the yogurt and milk in this smoothie provides.  Protein, as many of us know, is also responsible for building our muscles and making us stronger.  Not to mention our bones take quite a beating during a run, so the yogurt and milk’s calcium keeps our inner framework strong, too!  Talk about a super smoothie.

However, the test was whether my stomach could handle it after a tough workout.  The following week, I had this smoothie ready to go in the fridge for after my seven mile run.  It took a little coaxing.  My body wanted water more than anything, but after I satiated my thirst I found that I could indeed sip on this cherry smoothie to satisfy my grumbly tummy without upsetting it. Score!

Cherry Smoothie 7

Easy Cherry Smoothie

serves appx 2
Ingredients
  • 1 12 ounce bag frozen dark cherries
  • 6-7 ounces cherry or plain Greek yogurt, appx. 1/2 cup
  • 1/2 cup skim milk
  • 1/4 cup  tart cherry juice or cold water
  • 1 teaspoon honey (optional)
  • mint for garnish (optional)
Directions
  • Cherry Smoothie Blender 1Combine all ingredients except garnish in a blender. 
  • Pulse to puree until smooth.
  • Enjoy immediately or refrigerate for up to 2 days in air-tight containers.
  • If refrigerating,  shake before serving.

 

 

Cherry Smoothie 2

Valerie Hill Vineyard & Winery – A Lovely Shenandoah Valley “Secret”

Valerie Hill Tasting SheetThe last you heard from me, my friends, I had gone apple picking in Virginia’s beautiful Shenandoah Valley at Rinker Orchards.  You may recall that the tradition is apple picking followed by winery hopping.  In my desperate search for an apple orchard that still had apples, I had forgotten to look for nearby wineries! Spotty data service wasn’t much help either, so when I went to buy my apple cider pop (delicious way to cool down BTW), I asked the ladies if there were any wineries in the area.  I was in luck! There was one literally down the street: Valerie Hill Vineyard & Winery.

Valerie Hill is a relatively new winery in Virginia, having opened last summer (2012).  It is also the first winery to open in Frederick County, Virginia, about a half hour from winery spotted Loudoun and FauquierValeire Hill Historic Home Counties.    The next closest winery to Valerie Hill is 20 miles south of town.  I’m not sure exactly which winery this is, but to get to Valerie Hill I drove past Markham and Delaplane, which is home to several popular Virginia wineries like Barrel Oak, Vintage Ridge,  Philip Carter, and Chateau O’Brien.  If you are looking to escape the D.C./ NoVA crowds, which can be notorious on a beautiful day like the day I was out,   the extra half hour is well worth the trip!  Visiting Valerie Hill is like visiting the home of a friend…if you have friends that live in beautiful, historic homes that is, lol.

Valerie Hill Front DoorAlthough the winery itself is new, the home is not.  The Manor was built at the beginning of the 19th century by a veteran of the American Revolution and named for the first owners mother (How sweet!).  The home is beautifully preserved  and has several public areas where you can enjoy a bottle of wine with friends.  I did not get much of a chance to explore, as I needed to beat Sunday beltway traffic home, but of what I did see, I found absolutely beautiful.  If you live close to the area or are vacationing close by, they have delightful sounding Fire-pit Fridays, where firepits are lit on the back patio and chili and cornbread are served, along with s’mores.

Chili, s’mores, and wine all fireside…how awesome does that sound on a fall night?

Valerie Hill FoyerNow that I’m sure I have your attention about the venue, I’m sure you’re wondering, well what about the wine? Well, here we are then!

Valerie Hill offers nine wines, all of which you may taste for $8.  The wines themselves are a collaboration with the winemaker of Veramar Vineyard and Bogati Bodega.  Now I have visited my share of “new” wineries and I  must agree with the other Virginia wine lover reviewers that have visited Valerie Hill. Valerie Hill wines do not taste like “newbie” wines.  They definitely began ahead of the curve.  I did not taste one wine that I disliked and I can only imagine how delicious the wines will become over the years as Valerie Hill continues to grow.

2012 Seyval Blanc

100% Seyval Blanc grown by Veramar, this crisp white is aged in stainless steel.  From the nose to the palate, this wine is just bright and effervescent.  As you bring your glass to your lips, you’ll breath in fresh grapefruit with hints of grass (the tasting sheet says lemongrass).  When the wine finally hits your tongue, you’ll find it delightfully citrusy and clean.  Definitely a wine to bring along to share. If I had had time to stay awhile, I probably would have bought a glass of this to enjoy the sunny day with.

2011 Chardonnay

This wine won a Silver Medal in the 2013 U.S National Wine Competition. Aged for nine months in neutral French Oak,  the owners of Valerie Hill were looking for a hint of oak, not an overpowering oak.  It worked!  Although you will taste it, it is by no means overpowering in this nicely balanced wine.  Like the Seyval Blanc, it is crisp and clean.  I tasted juicy apple and pear and just an itty bit of wood  from the oak.

2010 Chardonnay

2010 was a dry year.  A dry year means lots of flavor! Compared to the 2011 Chardonnay, the 2010 has a bit more body and is bursting with fruit.  A gentle acidity from juicy granny smith apple notes finishes into a toasty finish.  Think the crunchy caramelized top of a creme brulee.  This light charred flavor is courtesy of the toasted French oak barrels the wine was  aged in.

2012 Manor House White

A blended, lightly sweet white, the 2012 vintage has 2.5% residual sugar and  is comprised of 50% Vidal Blanc, 49% Riesling, and 1% Traminette (2011’s vintage was made of 80% Vidal Blank and 20% Reisling).  I found this to be a very pretty wine. Sweet orchard fruits on the nose lends itself to the lightly sweet palate, which is nicely balanced with candied citrus peel and grassy undertones.  Another great Virginia white to go with  spicy Asian dishes, I was torn between buying a bottle of this wine and the following wine.

2012 Cameo 

If you are one to buy a bottle of wine because of it’s label, you’ll definitely bring this one home.  It’s beautifully girly with Victorian like cameos of the owners’ daughters when they were little girls. So sweet! This blush style wine is pretty yummy, too!  At 2% residual sugar, Cameo is a blend of red and white grapes: Mouvdre, Merlot, Chardonnay, and Seyval Blanc.  Each grape is aged separately and the wines blended together in the end to get a beautiful deep blush colored wine. The nose is bursting with sweet blackberries, and despite the hint of sweet, it has a nice herbalValerie Hill Tasting Sheet Red Side spiciness and a slight tartness from notes of pomegranate and red cherries.  This wine would make a lovely sparkling wine (If only sparkling wine weren’t so expensive to produce!).  I bought a bottle since it was made in limited quantities…and the label was too darn cute!

2012 Cabernet Franc

100% Cabernet Franc, this light bodied red (thanks to the very rainy year…remember Hurricane Sandy?) has all your favorite characteristics of a Cab Franc: bright red cherry, earthy pepper and tobacco, and even a bit of cinnamon.   This wine is actually an early release.  The wine I tasted had only been in the bottle for a mere two months as the 2011 vintage had run out.  Come January/ February, you’ll probably taste a whole new wine!

2012 Stone Chimney Red

This deep garnet colored wine is a blend of 65% Chambourcin, 15% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 10% Cabernet Franc.  The sweet, jammy noise leads to a surprise as your initial sip will find a tart wine.  Don’t worry, it mellows out after the first sip and your mind gets passed the, “but it smelled sweet!” thing.  I think this wine would do best paired with food if you find it too tart.   A tangy barbecue  was suggested and sounds pretty perfect to me.

2012 “John Barron” Petit Verdot

Hold your horses, folks!  For all you bold, in your face red wine lovers, this is Valerie Hills answer to you!  Aged 12 months in French oak, this is not a fruit forward wine, but a robust, bold, dry, tannic wine.  The tasting sheet says it all, pencil shavings (they have pencil shavings available to smell if you don’t believe them) and cedar with dark fruit.   I prefer Old World style fruit forward reds, but still appreciated this wine.  Steak, anyone?

2012 Bellaria

100% Vidal Blanc, this dessert wine has 9% residual sugar and is aged in stainless steel.  I loved that I could taste the pineapple as described in the tasting sheet, as often white dessert wines are more peach like and floral.  Like the other whites, it a had a nice clean finish. I also liked that it had a lighter body than many dessert wines. No syrup here!

Valerie Hill Sitting Room

Women’s Wine Weekend – Vintage Ridge Winery

If you are an avid reader of Cork and Spoon, then you know that I find a glass of wine after a rough day (or 3 glasses at the end of a rough week) relaxing. And  many of us can agree that time with good friends is wonderfully restorative. So a day trip with a group of girlfriends to Virginia wine country is a guaranteed way to  improve one’s mood and welcome fall. It’s even better when your friend Ellen organizes a party bus for the group so you don’t even have to deal with traffic. Mad props to Ellen!!

Vintage Ridge Winery - Ellen

Vintage Ridge Winery - the girls

Ellen arranged the day so that the 16 of us were able to visit Vintage Ridge Vineyard and Barrel Oak Winery, with a picnic on the Barrel Oak Winery lawn. Ruth has reviewed Barrel Oak Winery and their wines before and her review is still pretty accurate, so I’ll focus on my amazing experience at Vintage Ridge instead.

Vintage Ridge Winery - front enterance

Vintage Ridge is a beautiful winery an hour directly west of Washington, D.C. with several Virginia Governors Cup medals to their credit. The tasting room is in a large barn area with several high-top tables and a long rustic table both used for larger groups like ours.

Vintage Ridge Winery - award winning wines

Vintage Ridge Winery - tasting room

It also included a lovely outdoor space with a couple of fire pits to keep guests cozy and more tables for enjoying a glass of wine.

Vintage Ridge Winery - outdoor picnic area

The tasting included 7 wines, presented in a format I had never experienced before. Instead of sampling the wines one by one, 6 of the wines were paired together. By tasting the wines simultaneously, I was able to truly compare and contrast similar wines. To provide the best comparative tasting experience, the winery paired 2 single varietal reds from 2010, 2 single varietal reds from 2009, and a red blend & white blend each from 2011. The 7th wine was presented on its own at the start of the tasting because of its unique nature.

Vintage Ridge Winery - dual tasting

Overall, I was really happy with the Vintage Ridge wines, although (not surprising if you know me) I found their 2 white wines the least palatable. My favorite, and the one I ended up buying to take home, was their Ghost Train 2011. The wine is a blend of 60% Cabernet Franc and 40% Merlot, and it has a juicy berry burst of flavor to start with a great spicy autumnal finish that reminded me of that wonderful transition from summer into fall. While I suspect that it would go well with a variety of meals, it was so good on its own that it will be the perfect bottle for cooking Saturday night dinners – that bottle you finish while you are preparing the meal and before dinner is even ready to be served.

My only complaint about the experience would be that the winery staff did not offer up many details about the wines beyond what was written on the tasting sheets. I doubt this was really their “fault” though, and more the result of the fact that we were a large group of talkative women not that inclined to learn much about the wine. However, I plan on asking a lot more questions when I go back for the winery’s Premier Tasting which includes some pretty spectacular food pairings.

Hump Day Happy Hour – Ginger Switchel

The benefits of apple cider vinegar for one’s health have been discussed for years. It can help stabilize glucose levels in diabetics, it helps with weight loss and weight management, increases energy levels, and treats heartburn. Despite all this, I have never been inclined to try adding it to a glass of water and taking it down daily – drinking plain vinegar in water just sounded disgusting to me.Until, that is, I found Bragg’s Apple Cider Vinegar Ginger Spice drink at the local Yes! Organic Market. I would never have guessed that adding a little ginger and a touch of sweetener could turn vinegar and water into a truly tasty and refreshing treat!

Ginger Switchel

After that first taste, I picked up a bottle whenever I was near the market – about once a week, but the over $2.50 price tag kept if from being anything more that an occasional treat, that is until I asked Tom to pick me up a bottle one day, and he accidentally brought home Bragg’s Raw Apple Cider Vinegar (ACV). This accident became a challenge to make my own apple cider vinegar and ginger beverage and I began doing my research. The Bragg drink has a very simple ingredient list- water, apple cider vinegar, organic ginger, and stevia extract – but that did not tell me much about the proportions for making the drink and, while I could certainly mess with the amounts myself, sometimes recreating the wheel just isn’t worth it, so I turned to the Kitchn, my stand by cooking resource, and they came through with a recipe for a ginger switchel. The switchel is a colonial era drink favored by farmers, especially during the hay harvest, giving it its other name- haymaker’s punch.

Starting with the Kitchn’s basic recipe and tips, I have come up with my ideal combination of ingredients (which doesn’t differ much from the Kitchn’s own recipe) and I definitely encourage you to adjust to your own tastes – with some strong suggestions along the way. First, don’t use just any apple cider vinegar. Stick with a high quality organic raw apple cider vinegar, such as the well-known Bragg’s brand. Unlike the pasteurized version of ACV, this will be cloudy and less refined. It is believed that the health benefits of apple cider vinegar come from this cloudy sediment, making the raw vinegar the key to the health benefits of apple cider vinegar. Just as important as the potential health benefits is the taste, so I took the extra step of making the drink with the Bragg’s organic vinegar and the store brand pasteurized vinegar and the flavor of the store brand vinegar was flatter and not as pleasant as the raw vinegar version.

Ginger Switchel - ingredients

Second, go ahead and use honey. Sure the Bragg’s version of the drink is calorie free because they use Stevia, but when I tried splenda and stevia, it just wasn’t nearly as good as honey. The honey provides a richer more complex flavor and to me, that is worth 30 or so calories per serving. Plus, when it comes to sweeteners, natural honey is really the best option.

Ginger Switchel
makes 2 servings

½ hot water
4 teaspoons honey (or other sweetener)
½ teaspoon ground ginger
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 ½ cup cold water

1)     In a container with a tight fitting, leak proof lid (I like large mason jars), dissolve the honey in the hot water and whisk in the ground ginger. Add the water and apple cider vinegar. Cover with leak proof lid and shake vigorously.

2)     Place drink in fridge and chill for several hours, or over night for best flavor.

3)     Shake vigorously before serving. Serve over ice, adding regular water or seltzer water if you want to dilute it slightly.

Cherry Blossom Martini

Cherry Blossom Martini Cocktail 2
This weekend was the finale of the 2013 National Cherry Blossom Festival. How fast cherry blossoms fade away!

Not too long ago, I  enjoyed a stroll around  the Tidal Basin and White House, while the blossoms refused to emerge from their buds.  Yesterday, I watched it rain pink and white petals from my chair in my favorite coffee shop while getting some GRE study time in.  There they were, dancing in the wind, leaving behind them the pale green of the newly emerged leaves.

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The Cherry Blossom Festival is more than an annual Washington, D.C. event for me.  Many of you know that I grew up in Okinawa, so this Japanese tradition was

2006 Cherry Blossom Festival - View of the Jefferson Memorial

2006 Cherry Blossom Festival – View of the Jefferson Memorial

part of my childhood.  It seemed befitting then, that during the heart of the 2006 festival, my sister and I re-united with  two of our closest friends that we had grown up with…over a decade after last seeing each other in middle school.  Taren drove up from San Antonio, Mika metro-ed in from eastern Maryland, and Val and I metro-ed in from Virginia. We found each other on the steps of the  Jefferson Memorial, amidst peak bloom, and the energetic vibrations of taiko drums.  It was like old times enjoying street festivals in Okinawa.  We picked up right where we left off. You never would have known the three of us hadn’t seen each other since we were children.

Japanese taiko drummers

Japanese taiko drummers

So I thought I would share this Cherry Blossom Martini as we say good-bye to this years blooms.  It is based on a recipe from Disney’s EPCOT Center (You know, the “It’s A Small World” park where you can “visit” a number of countries, including Japan).  This pretty pink cocktail gets its color from a splash of cranberry juice, but it’s flavor is all sake (think sherry) and sweetly tart plum wine.  If you like, a delicate sparkling sake is a fun substitute to the junmai sake I used.  Just be sure to use a good quality sake.  The kind you drink warm will definitely not work here!

Cherry Blossom Martini Cocktail 6

Cherry Blossom Martini

based on Disney’s EPCOT Center recipe 
serves 1
Ingredients

Cherry Blossom Martini Ingredients

  • 1 part junmai sake
  • 1 part cranberry juice
  • 0.5 parts plum wine
  • ice cubes
Directions
  1. Add ice to a cocktail shaker and pour in all three ingredients.  Shake vigorously for a few seconds .
  2. Pour into cocktail glasses.

~Ruth

Cherry Blossom Martini Cocktail 4