New York State of Mind

Just a brief post to say we’ve all recovered and we’re bound once again for one of our favorite destinations! Finger Lakes New York here we come! Hopefully Hobbs will keep himself out of trouble while we’re away! What do you think? 

 

If all goes as planned, we’re hoping to bring back some fresh cherries, wine and a lifetime of memories. We then hope to have a delicious cherry recipe to share too. We’ve been dabbling in the kitchen, but haven’t given it our official spoon ratings yet. It does appear to be blog-worthy though as Mr. N did declare, “You should make this more often. It’s delicious!” Perhaps I found a non-dessert 4 spooner? 

 

So, until next time…we’re on the road again – laughing, smiling, singing, planning, scheming and probably breaking up a few sibling squabbles along the way (“He’s touching me.” “She started it!”). Frankly, we wouldn’t have it any other way.

A Pie Assignment

Last week I asked Mr. N what he wanted for this year’s birthday meal. He thought for a while and wasn’t really coming up with anything. Then he said, “I’d like pie.”

birthday boy

Great! What about for dinner? “Pie.”

little sister

Then he laughed and said, “Pie for dessert and I guess something that goes with that Brazilian cheese bread from the blog.” Okay. Easy enough. I can handle pie. In fact I love making pies. As for dinner, I needed to work around the Pao de Queijo (which incidentally was the recipe where we first came upon our good friend Sally for which we have been grateful ever since). That’s when we came upon Eva’s recipe for Barbeque Sauce and the plan all came together.

new bike

But you remember that old saying…best laid plans. It was one of those weeks. It started last Friday. The kids wrapped up school for the summer. What’s normally a happy celebration for Mr. N and Miss A, was a touch more bittersweet this year. Mr. N wrapped up elementary school, saying goodbye to his familiar classrooms, friends, teachers, hallways and bus friends. He’s now off to Middle School, which also means he and Miss A’s years of schooling together are finished. While the end of each school year is always a mix of happiness and a pinch of sadness for Mike and I, the kids felt it this year too.

schooling sibs

Then we entered the last weekend of Mr. N’s show. Each show of the weekend was sold out. Friends and family, old and new came to cheer him on. But all good things come to an end and so too did his second big show. It’s always hard to say goodbye to people you work closely with (particularly in acting where you really get to know people on an emotional level), but even more so when you’re only 10-going-on-11 and aren’t used to these types of goodbyes. Fortunately we still had the birthday to look forward to and it was only a few days away.

scissortail cast

A few long days away. Mr. N ended his Monday evening on a high. He was congratulated by someone from a local news station who told him, “You can really act. I mean really act. It was amazing.” So, you can imagine his absolute elation. Someone from tv!!! Mike and I too were on a bit of a high – proud of our baby boy, wound up from closing night and also a tad bit relieved that our trice weekly trips into the city were over for just a bit. It was a late night. Mike and I couldn’t sleep, so stayed up far too late watching tv. We finally turned in only to be woken two hours later by the doorbell. last day of school

Now this in and of itself was slightly alarming. Who rings a doorbell at 2:30 in the morning? We both creeped down the stairs and saw people shining flashlights in our door and window. We turned on the lights, hoping that would send them running. No such luck. I now understand the saying, your heart is pounding out of your chest. I thought it was about to bust its way right out of my chest. We heard whispering, and then the door knob jiggling. I ran for the phone, called 911 and breathlessly explained the situation. The calm operator took my name and information. She said to give her a second and to stay on the line. When she came back, she said, “Those are my officers at your door. Your alarm sounded.” What? No it didn’t. We hadn’t even set our alarm that night. How on earth could it have gone off? Besides we would have heard it. So after a few minutes of assuring the 911 operator that we were unarmed, we were told to open our own door. Everything was quickly sorted. Mike headed back to bed and was snoring within minutes. I, on the other hand, was full of adrenaline and not able to sleep a wink. So after 20 minutes on the phone with the alarm company, I headed to bed. I was asleep for maybe another 20 minutes when the alarm went off again. This time audibly. Fortunately (or disturbingly) the kids slept through it. Mike made sure the house was safe and returned to sleep. How does he do that?! I spent the next 45 minutes sorting things out with the alarm company on the phone. Not happy. No sleep for me.

middle schooler

Then I went to work. It was one of those non-stop days. We’re short-staffed and I’m feeling the pinch. Not to mention there were some unnecessary political issues. Just what I needed on no sleep. I finally made it home. Late. Upset. I fired off an email and wound down slightly watching Miss A’s hoola hoop show. She does not like when I’m stressed or upset and always puts on some kind of show to cheer me up. It worked. So we went in the house and began to wind down for the evening. That’s when I noticed Hobbs didn’t come to greet me at the door. Both cats always greet me. Odd. So we started looking. And looking. And looking some more. At this point the kids are panicking. Mr. N is near screaming, Miss A is crying, and I was about to lose it. Mike got the kids outside to look, so I could concentrate inside and listen. Really listen. I thought I had heard him a few times. Hobbs

Now, you might imagine the thoughts running through my head. Especially so soon after we lost our little Charlie last year. What now?! Not on Mr. N’s birthday week! Then he appeared in Miss A’s doorway. I ran to pick him up and instantly knew something was wrong. He was wet. He was breathing with a rasp and his eyes were not right. More than that, he clung to me. Something was wrong, but what?! I grabbed a blanket and my keys, stopped to show Mike and the kids I found him, and I was off to the vet ER.

Hobbs

After several hours at the vet ER, it was determined he’d need to stay overnight in the oxygen bed. They didn’t know what was wrong, but something had happened and he was in severe respiratory distress. He either choked on something, nearly suffocated in something or ate something he wasn’t supposed to. This made total sense. This cat eats everything. Truly. I’ve found him in the bag of spinach trying to sneak away with a leaf. He’s eaten through bags of lentils, powdered sugar and rice when the pantry has been left open. He even makes off with Mr. N’s LEGOs on a regular basis. Not surprising at all, but scary nevertheless. Remember this pic? He’s one that will keep us on our toes.

my tree!

Fortunately, after two nights at the hospital and sleepless nights for me, he returned home. It was great to have him home, but that too presented problems. He wouldn’t eat. He needed rest and our other kitty, Chipper, was not so happy with Hobbs getting so much attention. So it turned into two more nights of sleeplessness as we had Hobbs shuttered in our room so we could keep a close eye. He spent much of the night kissing my face or nibbling at my hands to be cuddled, all the while Chipper was head butting our door to try and get himself in the room (we had to keep him out so we could tell if Hobbs was eating or not). Seriously? They look so innocent don’t they?!

chipper

Well, it was finally Mr. N’s birthday. Hobbs was home and eating again. All was right with the world, which is when I of course woke up sick. It’s no wonder. It was bound to happen. You can only be pulled so far in so many different directions. Probably a sign that I should slow down. But I powered on. We got through Mr. N’s laser tag extravaganza with his friends and were finally ready for the birthday meal. I wasn’t going to let this special dinner go by the wayside. He needed this. That pie was still on his mind. No wonder – a week of goodbyes, I’d need pie too. husking

We stopped at the farmer’s market in the morning and Mr. N decided on a peach, rhubarb and blueberry pie. Done. Mr. N and Miss A spent the day playing while Mike and I organized the house. If you can imagine how cluttered a house can get after weeks of not really being home and everything coming home from school…it’s not pretty. So first floor accomplished. Then we started dinner. The kids husked the corn to go with the slow cooker pulled pork that I knew would pair well with the Pao de Queijo.

pao de queijo

We served our slow cooker pulled pork with a sauce, inspired by Eva, next to the Pao de Queijo, adapted from Sally, corn on the cob and our balsamic fingerlings. We ate our BBQ dinner on China, because, well, why not! It was a celebration after all and after the week we all had, we were ready to celebrate. The kids even busted out their Goose Watch Grape Juice, while Mike and I enjoyed a Lamoreaux Landing Estate Red (a perfect match with the BBQ).

fancy bbq

The true highlight of the meal though – what we all had been waiting for – was dessert. Our pie. While Mr. N may have needed a little pie, it turns out it was just what I needed too. You may remember, I (rather oddly) find therapy in making pie crust. Today’s pie crust was no exception. It was probably the equivalent of a few spa treatments or hours with a psychologist and at least three yoga classes. Whew! Do I feel better!

pie ingredients

We tossed together the peaches (peels on), rhubarb and blueberries and soaked them in sugar, flour and Verjooz.

fruity cobbler

We poured them over the first layer of our pie crust. We opted for the 9-inch by 13-inch pan and made this more like Grandma’s Blackberry Cobbler than a traditional pie. Incidentally, this was the first year, in many years, Mr. N didn’t request the blackberry cobbler for his birthday. I guess he was feeling a little more adventurous this year! Perhaps it’s the 11-year old in him now!

cobbler fixins'

The top layer of crust was laid over the fruit and the cobbler (or pie) was baked in the oven for 60 minutes at 375F.

cobbler

The pie came out of the oven bubbly and golden brown. We could all barely wait to dig in. We again broke out the good dishes and settled in for some serious dessert time. The kids chose to have their cobbler with milk (same way they eat Grandma’s). Mike and I chose without.

peach rhubarb cobbler

Cream or ice cream is probably more common to serve over cobbler and pie, but in my family it’s been tradition to serve it with milk. Everyone eats it with milk. Admittedly I’ve never eaten it that way and never will. I prefer mine straight-up so the sweet and sour can shine. The kids, however, have taken a page from a long line of milk and cobbler eaters. They never eat it plain.

cobbler and milk

One thing we did all agree on – this was a four spoon dessert. All. Around. Four. Spoons. Maybe it’s the sour bite of the rhubarb and Verjooz or the sweet bite of the peaches and blueberries. Then again, maybe it’s just that this is just what the doctor ordered for us all. Whatever the case, this is a bright, happy and filling summer cobbler. Fresh fruit macerated in sugar, served warm with a crispy, shortening crust – delicious!

peach rhubarb blueberry cobbler

And tonight we’ll all tuck in with full bellies. Summer is here with lots of fun in store. Hobbs is rapidly improving, although, still trying to eat everything in sight. Apparently he learned nothing from this ordeal…

no no Hobbs

Our little boy is happy, healthy and now 11 years old. Speaking of health, this cold appears to be the 24-hour variety and I’m on the mend. And barring all emergency room visits and silent alarms, I think I’ll make a point to take this week a little easier. And if things don’t go according to plan, at least I have this left over pie to shovel in my face, I mean eat gingerly and ladylike.

Print this recipe: Summer Cobbler

Truthfully though, tonight we’re sitting around happy and full. While it was a trying week, we’re all here together. Healthy(er) and ready for a fun summer. I think we’re all even ready for the next adventures that are fast approaching. I believe I mentioned a while back that we’d be sharing some news shortly. Well, we’re just about ready now. Stay tuned…Until then, this Summer Cobbler is waiting to be made. Even if you’re not in need of a little therapy-by-food, it’s just darn delicious.

summer cobbler

Wining Without Whining

From our last several posts you can tell we love the Finger Lakes Region of New York. We’ve been drawn to the area from the first time we stopped in with the kids years ago. While we love the quaint towns, friendly people, scenery, museums, etc., a large part of what drove us to stop in the first place was the wineries.

That's one big tank at Swedish Hill Vineyard & Winery on Cayuga Lake in New York.

That’s one big tank at Swedish Hill Vineyard & Winery on Cayuga Lake in New York.

Mike and I have been visiting wineries since a trip to Southern California early in our marriage. We were on our way from Palm Springs to San Diego, enjoying the desert and mountainous drive along I-15, when I needed a pit stop. We were both hungry, so figured we’d stop to eat as well. We ended up getting off the highway near Temecula, California and stumbled upon a winery. We had never been to a winery before, but we figured there was a good likelihood that it had bathrooms and food (plus we enjoy wine). It was a beautiful, old world looking building called Thornton Winery. While there we did our first wine tasting, enjoyed a snack and decided that since this was so much fun, we’d stop at one more down the road before getting back to the Interstate.

The first of many winery stops in our lifetime.

The first of many winery stops in our lifetime, Wilson Creek Winery.

Our next stop, Wilson Creek Winery, was the one that permanently hooked us on wine and viticulture. We’d apparently just missed the vineyard tour and Gerry Wilson, the proprietor, felt bad. We had no idea that there even was such a thing as vineyard tours, but he showed us around a little bit anyway. We listened, at first to be polite, but before long, we were having a fascinating conversation about wineries and life. We spent quite a bit of time with Gerry that afternoon and from then on, stopping and visiting wineries on vacation has become what we do.

2002 at Wilson Creek Winery.

2002 at Wilson Creek Winery.

We don’t consider ourselves to be oenophiles. We’re still learning how to identify the nuances of wine and couldn’t tell an aroma of currants from an aroma of blackberries, but we’re getting there. Most importantly though, we know what we like and we’ve developed a palate for wines from a wide variety of regions – not just California. In fact, we’ve stopped at wineries in 20 different states as well as Canada. The wine industry has exploded and has made for some fun pit stops on our many road trips throughout the states.

Even the wild west has wine to offer!

Even the wild west has wine to offer!

And yes, this includes trips with and without the kids. You see, Mike and I both recall having to stop with our parents at “boring” historical sites along our vacation routes (like the Sod House), and can each recount our “dreadful” experiences at the Amana Colonies along I-80 in Iowa. (Ironically the Amana Colonies now offer wine making walks!) While these stops are likely not at all boring or dreadful, and our negative feelings surely had more to do with our ages, Mike and I still vowed not to put our kids through such “torture.” Instead we take them to wineries!

A little tech time at a winery in the Niagara region of Ontario.

A little tech time at Stratus Vineyards in the Niagara region of Ontario.

While our kids at times roll their eyes and say the proverbial, “Aw, do we have to?” Mike and I just remind them that it could be a lot worse. “Back in our day…” Truthfully, for as much as the kids might initially complain about stopping to do something we like to do (it is a right of passage after all), we generally all have a great time. Mike and I make sure to make it an enjoyable experience for the kids and we’ve actually had some of our most memorable and relaxed meal time conversations and family games while at wineries. And then afterwards the kids make us stop at roadside historical markers for their enjoyment – oh the irony!

Mr. N was frequenting wineries before Miss A was even born!

Mr. N was frequenting Ontario wineries, like Chateau des Charmes, before Miss A was even born!

Truthfully, that’s how we pull it off. We spend our vacations doing a mix of activities that everyone enjoys. If Mike and I pick a winery, then the kids are on deck to decide what’s next and somehow or another, we all manage to have fun no matter where we end up – winery or a kids’ museum.

Kids love big tanks and barrels!

Kids love big tanks and barrels!

So since we’re often asked how we end up at so many wineries on our vacations and since it is travel and winery season, we figured we’d share a few tips for visiting wineries with kids in tow. We should start by saying, we don’t recommend planning a weekend evening with friends at a winery with the kids (unless it’s a private event for families); we wouldn’t suggest spending hours drinking the day away (we don’t visit wineries to “drink”); and we certainly don’t condone drinking and driving while intoxicated under any circumstances. However, if you’re looking for a relaxing lunch stop, enjoyable evening sunset or are truly interested in learning a little bit about wine and viticulture, then visiting wineries with your kids is perfectly acceptable, and it can be fun.

Kids don't always need tech to be entertained.

Kids don’t always need tech to be entertained. Baroda Founders Wine Cellar

Tips for visiting wineries with kids (Mr. N and Miss A both started around age 3):

1. Prep your kids for winery behavior.
Having done this more than once now, the kids know what we expect when we say it’s time for “winery behavior.” Basically it’s similar to restaurants, museums, stores, etc. We ask that they stay with us, or in an area we designate as kid-safe, don’t touch things that don’t belong to them, keep their voices lower, no running and be polite. You’re the best judge of your own kids and can determine what they can handle. For us this means we sometimes select the few wines that we want to try, make our purchase and leave. Other times, this means that we have a few minutes to enjoy our tasting, ask the host questions and savor our sips.

Instead of naps in the car, we relax deckside.

Instead of naps in the car, we relax deckside at Fielding Estates Winery.

2. Avoid weekends if possible.
This isn’t always possible, but if it can be avoided, wineries are much less crowded on weekdays. Crowds can be difficult with kids, not impossible, but it’s certainly easier when the wineries aren’t overflowing with groups and crowds. Wine hosts are also less harried (justifiably) on weekdays and it can make the whole experience more enjoyable. You’re also more likely to meet an owner on a weekday. If you’re into wine making and the business of wine, wine owners are fabulous conversationalists. These are some of our favorite visits!

We had this place all to ourselves on a Monday afternoon.

We had Good Earth all to ourselves on a Monday afternoon.

3. If avoiding weekends is not possible, choose places with large outdoor areas, kids’ activities, or restaurants.
Sometimes you only have time for weekend travel and if you’re wanting to stop at a winery, consider places that you know have restaurants or large outdoor areas. Restaurants are great places to enjoy your tasting while feeding the kids, and large outdoor areas can give the kids room to run. Some wineries even have kid’s activity areas that include games, toys, coloring, etc. One of our favorite stops in Estes Park, Colorado, Snowy Peaks Winery, even has a playroom visible from the tasting area where kids can play while you taste. Genius if you ask us!

Wineries with lunch, tables and live music can be an exception to the  no-weekend rule.

Wineries with lunch, tables, playrooms or live music can be an exception to the no-weekend rule. Shady Creek Winery.

4. Make sure to have something for the kids to do.
Obviously not all wineries will have playrooms. In this case, come prepared. We bring small games, books and of course electronics – iPods, iPads, etc. to keep the kids occupied. If you plan to have a glass of wine after the tasting on a veranda in the sun, or to watch the sunset, never underestimate the power of a deck of cards and a good game of “Go Fish.”

“Fishy, fishy in the brook…” from the beautiful deck at Contessa.

5. Don’t plan more than 2 to 3 wineries in one day and make sure to stop for kids’ activities in between.
Some trips we’ll plan one winery visit over lunch or for dinner. It allows Mike and I to squeeze in our interests while feeding the kids. On other trips, we travel through wine regions with the intention of stopping at more than one winery a day. In this case, we usually stop for a tasting mid-morning, lunch and sometimes late afternoon. On days like this we’ll make sure to spend the rest of the time doing activities the kids choose – museums, historical stops, hiking, parks, fairs, mini-golf, the beach, etc. No one complains on these days!

This winery had a little park!

Hickory Creek Winery has a little park and hang out space!

6. Limit your time at the tasting bar.
This is one of those where you need to follow your kids’ lead. If the kids are entertained, occupied and content, you can enjoy your tasting a little longer. Perhaps ask the host about the grape varietals, where they’re grown, how they got into the business, etc. Wine hosts and owners are generally very passionate about their wine and wineries and appreciate when people want to learn about what they do. Alternatively, if you want to stop and enjoy a tasting, but also spend some time with the kids, sample a few of your favorites and purchase a glass to sit outside and enjoy some snacks together. However, if you know you’re on borrowed time with the kids, sample a few of your favorite wines and make a purchase to enjoy at a later date.

Outdoor patios are a great place to play and sip.

Outdoor patios are a great place to play and sip like this one at Snow Farm Vineyard in Vermont.

7. At the winery do your tasting at the end of the bar or near a seating area for your kids.
When wineries aren’t crowded, it’s often easy to find a table or picnic bench that’s within close proximity to the tasting area. These tables are a great place to set the kids up with their activities. If it’s a bit more crowded and seating is limited, the kids will stay by us at the end of the tasting bar. They usually end up finding a spot along the wall to sit and read or play their game. The key is to keep them out of the way, but close enough so that the winery staff knows you’re on the ball. This leads well into our next point…

Some wineries have designated kid play places!

Some wineries have designated kid play places like 12 Corners!

8. Do not leave your children unattended.
Wineries are not meant for children. That’s not to say that children aren’t welcome, as we mentioned, some wineries plan for them. However, wineries are intended to be adult establishments. Wine hosts and other patrons will not appreciate your child running a muck through the gift shop or in the vineyard, no matter how cute you think they are. This is not a time to let them test their independence. Keep them close, entertained and behaving.

Winery pets are not there to babysit, but are fun to play with!

Winery pets are not there to babysit, but are fun to play with at Silver Hills!

Miss A was crushed when she realized we only bring home the plush variety of winery mascots.

Miss A was crushed when she realized we only bring home the plush variety of winery mascots. Mackinaw Valley Vineyards

9. Ask if the winery has sparkling grape juice available for tasting or purchase.
Some wineries will have both red and white sparkling grape juice which is always a thrill for the kids. They love to do a tasting and pick which one they want to purchase. It’s a great way to make the kids feel involved and an easy way to keep them entertained.

Kids love bubbles!

Kids love bubbles! Fox Run has it all with grape juice, plush fox toys and food. 

10. Reward good behavior.
As we mentioned we often let the kids pick activities in between wineries and let them share in the vacation planning process. It generally keeps things running smoothly and often times makes it more enjoyable for us all. I’m sure the kids have led us to adventures we never would have otherwise experienced! But that said, we’re also not above bribery every now and then, and have been known to let the kids pick a souvenir from the gift shop. You may recall Miss A’s winery mascot collection!

Tasting crackers and biscuits are a fun treat and go great with sausage and cheese.

Tasting crackers and biscuits are a fun treat and go great with sausage and cheese. Did we mention Fox Run has a great balcony too?

11. Don’t push the kids beyond their limits.
Don’t plan to visit a winery when the kids are over tired, and if they are hungry choose a winery with food options.

Did we mention kids like tasting crackers?

Did we mention kids like tasting crackers? Miss A did at Silver Hills Winery in Nebraska.

12. Research wineries ahead of time.
Some wineries will mention kid friendly areas, games or even outdoor walking paths on their websites. Hikes are a great way to get the kids outdoors, exploring and off the beaten path (just make sure to stay out of restricted areas and do not touch grapes or vines!). Our travels and tastings have led us to discover frog ponds, donkeys, Bocce ball and even petting zoos!

This sure beats McD's playland!

Shram Vineyards sure beats MickyD’s playland!

13. Thank your host.
If you enjoyed your experience and your wine, we believe it’s important to purchase a bottle (or two or three). Wineries don’t make a fortune at the tasting bar (in fact many offer free tastings), but rather their income is generated from selling their wine. Purchasing a bottle is a great way to bring a part of your trip home, and most importantly, it’s a way to thank your host. They also make great gifts for family and friends.

IMG_6405

While these were purchased on our NY trip sans kids, we’ve been known to bring home a case or two from our travels.

14. Leave it as you found it.
If your kids have a snack or are playing with their toys, make sure to clean up the space before you leave. Wipe away the crumbs, put away any toys or games provided by the winery, make sure your kids’ personal belongings are accounted for and throw away any trash.

Don't leave baby in a corner!

Don’t leave baby in a corner at Four Chimneys!

15. Finally, when you leave the winery, if outdoor space is available, let the kids run.
Before we load back into the car, whether we’ve stopped for lunch on a long drive, or are heading back to our lodging nearby, we make sure to “shake the sillies out.” While the kids are good about “winery behavior,” we realize it’s not their preferred state of being. So we always get a bit of movement back in our bodies. When a winery has a large open area, we run races, play tag or have tickle fights (making sure to avoid crowded areas and be respectful of other patrons of course!). If there’s no outdoor space, we’ll play follow the leader back to the car where Miss A determines when we walk, skip, gallop, jump, or run. In fact, when we pull into a winery now, the kids immediately evaluate the landscape and make our post-visit game plan.

Cartwheels only need a small amount of grass.

Cartwheels only need a small amount of grass but Snow Farm had plenty.

Who can get to the end of the row fastest?

Who can get to the end of the trail at Hidden Bench fastest?

Tag! You're it!

Tag! You’re it! Americana has room to roam.

What do you think? Is a winery now a part of your family vacation game plan? I know it’s a part of ours! In fact, we’ve got an opportunity to head back out to the Finger Lakes for a bit of family fun this month and I would say the kids are just as excited as we are – and we’re excited! Amazing how a few stuffed animals, games of tag and grape juice can change their perspective. Truthfully though, it really is all about quality family time. Whether we’re doing something Mike and I enjoy, something the kids love, or something we will all have fun at, it’s about being together, making memories and seeing the world; it just so happens we learn a little bit about wine making in the process.

Turning your kids into photographers makes for fun memories too!

Turning your kids into photographers makes for fun memories too! Miss A found lots of photo opps at Dancing Dragon Fly.

We’ll be back next week with a special birthday boy’s recipe request and then we’re off on our travels where we hope to share a few more recipes with local New York fare. Happy June everyone!

Ties that Bind

One of the reasons we love the Finger Lakes region of New York is the sense of community. Everyone we come across at the wineries, in the restaurants, along the hiking trails or in one of the many quaint towns along the lakes is friendly, helpful and welcoming. They are always excited to share the stories behind the wine, their wineries, the fresh local fare and creative recipes as well as the many places to visit and things to do; but they’re also just open to simply making friends and sharing experiences. This has been the case both when we traveled with and without the kids and it’s what makes this an area to treasure (and an area we hope to call home someday). our view

Do you ever think about where you plan to live next? Or perhaps you’ve already found your home. Well, for Mike and I our plan is to relocate as soon as these munchkins are grown (but you never know how or when new doors might open). There are just too many things to do and see in this world and we want to explore. After our first trip through the Finger Lakes, it fast became a top contender for our next home – and much to our surprise as this was an area we had never really heard of and stopped through on a whim! So we went back this time trying to be skeptical – playing the devil’s advocate so to speak. You know, perhaps we had just been seeing things through those rose-colored vacation glasses and it wasn’t really everything we remembered. Fruit Packing House

Then we met Tina, our airbnb host for this beautiful little house on their family’s sixth generation farm and vineyard. Tina greeted us like we were long-time friends. We stayed in the old fruit packing house which had been lovingly converted into a beautiful private residence for her mother-in-law to live in when she returns for the summers from Florida. When she’s in Florida the house is rented as a little getaway for two. Her mother-in-law is a painter and many of her works adorn the walls, and the home is filled with natural light and inspirational views out every window. We’ve used airbnb (and similar vacation rental sites) numerous times, and this is easily our favorite of the bunch. While Mike and I spent the majority of our time touring the area, visiting wineries and hitting many of the area’s delicious restaurants, we also spent time with Tina and her husband Eric, which led to one of our most idyllic vacation moments. tying vines

As we drank local wine, shared stories and listened to a local band with Tina, Eric and their good friend Laury (at one of our favorite restaurants which we’ll post about soon), Mike and I expressed our love for the area and for learning about wine and wine production. The next thing we knew Tina invited us to help down at the vineyards. It was time to tie the vines. So, the next morning we met Tina at the farm and she gave us a brief lesson on how to carefully, but securely tie the vines. We spent the next four hours on the side of the hill, with Lake Seneca behind us, vines all around us and the sun on our faces. So much for playing devil’s advocate! The Finger Lakes, once again, called us home. heaven on earth

We learned a few things that morning as we tied the vines of one of our favorite varietals, Cabernet Franc. (Hopefully my black-thumb won’t ruin the 2015 production!) Wine production is an incredibly hands-on and intricate process. It’s labor intensive. It’s detail-oriented. It’s time consuming and it requires a great deal of knowledge. But it’s also peaceful and meditative, challenging and interesting, consistently unique and something that allows for creativity and inventiveness. In fact it’s not unlike cooking to us in that regard. It’s absolutely something we love. We could have stayed out there for days! Alas, we were running short on our time and wanted to squeeze in a few more wineries and restaurants. So after our zen-like morning, we dusted off and stopped in at Red Newt Cellars & Bistro just up the road. Red Newt Cellars

Our motivation for stopping in was three-fold – 1) We wanted to see if they had any little stuffed Red Newt animals to bring home to Miss A (we were tasked with finding her as many winery mascot stuffed animals as possible), 2) We heard they provided a delicious, fresh lunch and had a beautiful deck on which to enjoy it, and 3) They sell Verjooz. Verjooz, or verjuice, was created by our very own hosts – Tina and Eric and the Finger Lakes Food Company, and from the very same grapes we had just been tying! It’s a green juice, harvested from Cab Franc grapes at a Brix measurement of about 10-12. In layman’s terms, that means the grapes are young and still primarily sour. Most table wines are produced from grapes harvested with a Brix measurement between 21 and 25. Verjooz is not something you’d want to drink, but rather use to enhance recipes. It brings freshness to recipes and enhances the flavors of the dish, similar to using a splash of citrus (That’s why they refer to it as the “lime of the vine.”). verjooz

The two recipes that follow, are hardly recipes. They are simple dishes, easily prepared and they hardly need instruction. That said, they are flavorful, delicious and ideal for summer lunch on the deck, in the sun, while enjoying a glass of wine (red or white pairs nicely). They are also perfect for using Verjooz! The first is a grilled cheese sandwich inspired by our lunch at Red Newt (which incidentally was another place we enjoyed meaningful conversations with the tasting room hosts and guests). It’s served on house-made anadama bread with New York state sharp cheddar. Additional ingredients are available including bacon, kale and, when in season, tomatoes. We’re also sharing a recipe for a side dish (which I have been eating as a light lunch as well), a cucumber-dill salad. lunch at Red Newt

The salad is easily assembled in about 10 minutes. Using a mandoline, we sliced an English cucumber and a shallot. cucumber and shallots

Then we chopped up about 1/8 cup of fresh dill. I never used to enjoy dill, but lately I find myself absolutely craving it – on fish, in salads, even on French toast! Interesting how our tastes change over time. dill

We then tossed the veggies with white wine vinegar, Verjooz, honey and salt and pepper. cucumber dill salad

The result is a sweet and sour salad that makes for a great light lunch with some French bread, or a side dish to a picnic meal. Mike and the kids typically don’t enjoy cucumber, but since we were doing a little “cooking around the world” stateside, they were willing to indulge me. (The kids were actually really excited to be cooking for the blog again. They both even stopped playing to help in the kitchen the entire time!) I gave the salad 4 spoons (it’s a winning combo of flavor, simplicity and ease), Mike and Mr. N gave it 3 spoons and Miss A, 2 spoons.

Print the recipe: Cucumber-Dill Salad

bread and butter

For the grilled cheese, the kids buttered the bread and massaged the kale (it really does work!). We also toasted the buttered side of the bread on a griddle until golden brown. massaged kale

We then sauteed the kale with shallots, garlic, a splash of red wine vinegar and Verjooz. kale and shallots

Next we assembled our sandwiches. I chose kale, tomato (heirloom – frozen from last summer) and bacon. The kids opted for only bacon, no surprise there. While I’d prefer they tried the kale, in the spirit of Red Newt, sandwiches are made to order! grilled cheese

Once assembled, we baked the sandwiches at 300F until the cheese was good and melty. I should note here, we didn’t use homemade bread or NY state cheddar, but if you have it on hand, go for it! If you don’t, any bread and sharp cheese combo will do. We used sourdough and Kerrygold Dubliner Cheese. Grilled cheese and kale sandwich

It’s no surprise the sandwiches went over well. It’s hard to go wrong with a grilled cheese sandwich. A hint of sourness from the bread and Verjooz, a salty bite from the bacon and cheese, sweetness from the shallots and tomato, and a slight bitterness from the kale, not to mention the crunch of the toasted bread – it covers nearly the entire flavor profile wheel! Mr. N and Miss A both voted 4 spoons (Actually, Miss A was insisting it was 5 spoons – off our charts!). Mike and I gave them a solid 3 spoons. However, what was surprising is that Mr. N requested to try a bite of my sandwich, kale and all, and liked it! He even said he’d eat one that way next time. Nicely done Verjooz! I think a new slogan might be in order – Verjooz, for making vegetables your kids will eat!!

Print this recipe: Grilled Cheese and Kale Sandwich

Side note: while we didn’t find a red newt for Miss A, she did make out like a bandit from this trip!

Miss A's winery friends.

Miss A’s winery friends posing for a “family picture.” Photography by Miss A.

And a Red Newt (well, black in this case) still made it home. Red Newt Cellars & Bistro

Marks of Time and Travel

We sure are happy May has arrived! Speaking of May, do you have any traditions for the spring festival, May Day? When I was growing up my mom would help us gather flowers from around the house. We’d bundle the flowers, place them on a neighbor’s doorstep, ring the doorbell and run. It was a mother-approved game of ding-dong ditch!may day

Fast-forward 30-some odd years and my children and I have put our own little twist on the tradition. Each year, we pick-up a bouquet of flowers, or a nice outdoor flower arrangement, and we leave it on my mom’s doorstep. The kids take this very seriously – there are many heated discussions about the best place to hide, who will ring the doorbell, who will carry the flowers, and ultimately how they will run back to the car (which I’ve parked down the street well out of sight). 30 years later

Some years my mom is surprised, other times she does a good job of appearing surprised. Sometimes we drive away with the kids in fits of giggles and so proud of their stealth-like maneuvers, and other times they hide at the side of the house and pop out just as my mom wonders aloud where the flowers possibly could have come from! This year was a hide at the side of the house year; however, still complete with lots of giggles.girl scout

Giggles. This house is full of giggles. Especially with Miss A around. She’s either making herself giggle, or making the rest of us giggle. She is definitely a character, and definitely keeps us on our toes! She’s been spending a lot of time practicing dribbling a basketball. However, don’t ask her if she’s going to play basketball, which is what Papa recently asked her. She quickly replied as though it was the most ridiculous of suggestions, “Papa, have you not looked at me lately,” referencing her small height while looking way up at the basketball hoop. Then she continued dribbling before running off into cartwheels. Constant motion this one!

Photo Credit: Adapt Theatre

Photo Credit: Adapt Theater

Speaking of Papa and Nana, they have joined us for the past few weeks. They are up from Florida to help us through Mr. N’s busy play season and also to give Mike and I a little respite! We’ve all been so grateful for their visit. I don’t know what we would have done without them these past few weeks!

Photo credit: Adapt Theatre

Photo credit: Adapt Theatre

Mr. N’s show opened a few weeks ago. It has since received a Jeff Recommendation, a big deal here in Chicago theater. He’s having the time of his life and again, we couldn’t be more grateful or proud. I’ve often said there are few things I enjoy more than watching him perform. It’s such a mix of so many emotions – pride, love, amazement, excitement, happiness, surprise, and peace. Then of course there’s the emotions he elicits through his character, and this play takes you on quite the roller coaster. I have yet to leave with a dry eye and I’ve seen it three times already!

Photo Credit: Adapt Theatre

Photo Credit: Adapt Theatre

We still have a few more weeks of performances to go, but I can feel the wind down coming. There’s a calm on the horizon. Hopefully it’s not one of those calms followed by a storm!

Photo Credit: Adapt Theatre

Photo Credit: Adapt Theatre

I’m dying to get back in the kitchen, especially with summer on the way. I’ve been drooling over many of the recipes on my favorite blogs. It’s been near torture seeing these beautiful recipes and photos and knowing I just don’t have the time to put much thought into cooking right now. Soon though. Definitely soon. In fact, I’m going to have the kids do a little cooking around the world with us on our first free moment to commemorate our latest travels.

Finger Lakes Region, NY 2011

Finger Lakes Region, NY 2011

Thanks to Nana and Papa, Mike and I got away for a week this month for our 15th anniversary (which is actually coming in June). We toyed with several different places to go, but one place kept coming back to us. It’s a beautiful slice of the world we stumbled on randomly on a road trip back in 2011.

Watkins Glen State Park, NY 2011

Watkins Glen State Park, NY 2011

And it’s a place we returned to on purpose in 2013.

Grape juice tasting  - FLX, NY 2013

Grape juice tasting – FLX, NY 2013

The Finger Lakes Wine Country of New York drew us in, spoiled us with all of its charm and beauty and kept a piece of our souls. It has a way of welcoming us into its fold and keeping us coming back.

Anniversary in FLX, NY 2015

Anniversary in FLX, NY 2015

How could we not spend a special anniversary in such a place?! And I have to say this adventure did not disappoint – in the least. So in the next week or so, to keep the memory of this trip and the fire it ignited within us alive, we’re going to break our hiatus and cook up one or two dishes inspired by our latest (but certainly not last) visit.

Until then, I came across this quote yesterday and it summed up exactly how the Finger Lakes have repeatedly made me feel. We love to travel, we’re lucky to have seen many amazing places on this earth, but we’re especially grateful to have experienced places that call to our souls.

“Travel changes you. As you move through this life and this world you change things slightly, you leave marks behind, however small. And in return, life – and travel – leaves marks on you. Most of the time, those marks – on your body or on your heart – are beautiful. Often, though, they hurt.” Anthony Bourdain

P.S. I had no idea this was going to be such a lengthy post! I guess I’ve missed both writing and cooking!

Torrents of Spring

Torrents of Spring – a comical little story by Hemingway if you like satires and are familiar with the writing style of his generation. It’s also a rather fitting description of our life.

Hello! It has been quite some time since our Chopped Challenge. As you may have noticed, we are on a bit of a hiatus here at Eat, Play, Love; however, before we continue the self-imposed pause on our journey, I wanted to share the winning recipes from our big day, a few updates and a teaser.

You may remember, our appetizer basket required the use of rice flour, macadamia nuts, Parmesan cheese and spinach. Miss A and I made a roasted garlic macadamia nut hummus with spinach and macadamia pesto served with rice flour fry bread. While it was delicious it was no match for Mike and Mr. N’s hand-made rice flour pierogi filled with potato and bison meat and served with a butter macadamia nut sauce. pierogi

Print the recipe here: Pierogis

Then we had a meatless basket which challenged us to combine cauliflower, kale, apricots and chili. Miss A and I opted for a slow cooker recipe since we had to jet out mid-event to the birthday party on that cold, snowy day (doesn’t seem fair that months later we’re still waking up to snow!). The strategy paid off in the end when our chili nachos won the round against Mr. N and Mike’s fried vegetable spring rolls with chili apricot sauce. The funny thing is, that I much preferred the boys’ dish. In fact I prefer their take on spring rolls to those I’ve had in restaurants. But the majority rules, and the chili was a hit with the boys who ate leftovers for the rest of the week! chili nachos

Print the recipe here: Chili Nachos

Last, but definitely not least, was our dessert round. This is often the toughest round and typically where Mike’s teams have lost in the past. Dessert is his weakness. It was much the same this year since Miss A and I brought out the berry semi-freddo using the basket ingredients of puff pastry, oreos, peppermint schnapps and cream cheese. It was the clear victor over Mike and Mr. N’s oreo crusted, mint-infused cheesecake. berry semi-freddo

Print the recipe: Berry Semi-Freddo

Thank you again for participating in and following along with our annual Chopped Challenge. It’s one of our favorite things to do as a family each year. Speaking of family, we’re all doing well. Thank you to those of you that have reached out. We are all alive and well, just busy, busy, busy. The kids’ schedules and a few trips and adventures on the horizon have turned our lives a bit upside down once again. We’ve had to reprioritize some things and sadly blogging had to take a back seat.

Miss A is rolling along in first grade and still loving every minute of gymnastics. She and Mike also found time to hit the daddy-daughter dance again this year (notice all those missing teeth!). IMG_4479

IMG_4445

As for Mr. N, well, he’s found himself in another play in the city! He auditioned last month and rehearsals are now underway. He’s the only child in the play and has about 100 lines! It is an original screenplay about the Oklahoma City bombing, which was now 20 years ago! He’s very excited, as are we.play practice

Well, that’s all for now folks. I have to run get Miss A’s dinner made before gymnastics. We miss you all and want you know we’re still silently lurking in the blog world. We hope to be back sometime over the summer, at which point we might have some news about our next big adventure. Until then, cheers!