Blossoms are Blooming

We’ve mentioned before here and here how much we love visiting the Finger Lakes Wine Country in New York. The lakes, the wineries, the local food scene, the people, the community and well, everything.

NY Sunset

It’s always been a special place for us, but when Mike and I visited for our anniversary in May, things went to a whole new level. Have you ever had a travel experience where stars align and opportunities present themselves almost as though they had been planned all along?

Seneca Lake

We’ve certainly had our share of adventures. Random, like the time we stood up in a wedding in the Dominican Republic for two Canadians we had just met only days before. Awe inspiring, like the time we got lost on a scary, one-way dirt road in my rear wheel drive sports car in the mountains of Arizona, only to emerge at a summit for a stunning sunset. And even wild, like the time a black bear came to the door of our cabin in the woods of Colorado. But this trip…well, it was magical and downright unbelievable.

Fruit Packing House

You might remember we stayed at this adorable Airbnb house where we met Tina. Tina and her husband Eric run Sawmill Creek Vineyards and are the creators of Verjooz. They are both the kindest, most fun and friendliest people. Frankly, we consider them our New York family now.

NY family

Well, while Mike and I were out to dinner at the Stonecat on Seneca Lake (one of my favorite all-time restaurants), Tina walked in with Eric and her friend, Laury. Quick introductions were made and it was instantly as though we had always known one another. Bottles of wine were ordered and time seemed to stop as we laughed, talked and did I mention, laugh!

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So in our conversations, we learned that vines needed tying. We learned that winter sounds equally as fun as summer in FLX. We learned that Laury was the president of the Finger Lakes Wine Country travel and tourism organization (a job similar to one I had applied for a few years back in another location…and we share a similar PR background!). Needless to say I was thrilled to get to pick her brain. And we also learned that Tina’s cherry trees had blossomed.

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Well, you already know that these conversations led to this…

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But, they also led to this…which likely requires a little explanation.

cherry blossom shoot

So it turns out that Laury had been hoping to capture Tina’s cherry blossoms in a photo shoot to promote the region’s spring beauty. As we tossed back a delightful Cab Franc, Laury suggested that Mike and I take part in the shoot. We could be the authentic tourists in the photos! Well, we all got a good laugh at that. An hour or so later, after more laughing and stories, we retired for the night.

tying vines

Fast forward to early the next morning and we’re tying vines. Somewhere in the middle of a row, Tina asks if I checked my email. Intrigued, I quickly grabbed my phone and found a message from Laury and her marketing team. If we were game, they lined up a photographer for the evening and would love to take shots of us at sunset not only in the cherry blossoms, but the vineyards and on a picnic as well! So this happened….

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But it didn’t end there. It turns out they had also read our blog and loved it. They wanted to bring us back, kids and all, in June for a photo shoot of us touring the region and all it has to offer. I read and re-read the email. Was this for real? And what was probably the most exciting thing, Laury offered to bring me back in August for the wine bloggers conference in Corning, NY. She said not only would it be fun, it would be a great opportunity for me to make some new connections toward finding my new path! I’m telling you, it was surreal. I kept asking Mike if this was all really happening. It was all too good to be true, and while I was beyond excited to return the next month (made going home a little easier), I was still in disbelief when we returned home. Did this all really happen? Yes, yes it did…

party at the oasis

We’ll get more into the kids’ visit in our next post, as it certainly deserves a post. It was incredible! What an adventure and what an opportunity. Before we leave you though, we’ll share one last thing. Remember those cherry blossoms? Well on our trip in June, the fruit was ready for picking. We met Tina on the Sunday morning of our return and she graciously let us pick cherries. It was a very special treat as the orchard didn’t open to the public for another few days. She had three varieties, black, white (or sweet) and sour. Of course we sampled them all! Tina even taught the kids how to properly pit a cherry – by biting into the cherry and spitting the pit at a hand made target on the wall! You can imagine their excitement! Someone telling them they get to spit at a target!

cherry picking

We of course came home with several bags of cherries and set straight to work! We’re working on Tina’s cherry liquor recipe (which we’ll share when it’s complete around the holidays!). We’ve made a sweet cherry pie, a sour cherry pie (both to come), and this – Seared Scallops with a Cherry Sauce.

seared scallops with cherry sauce

This is an easy meal to prepare, and elegant to serve. It’s especially easy to prepare if you have cherry pitters on hand to assist.

cherry pitters

While Mr. N and Miss A weren’t allowed to spit at the wall inside, they were still full of giggles. Note Miss A’s safety goggles!

pitting cherries

Just a warning, if you do have little pitters, your kitchen may appear as though it’s a crime scene once they’re done. Still, watching these two make each other laugh and spit into a bowl they designated as a target when they thought I wasn’t watching was a trade off I’d make again!

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For this recipe we used the black cherries, but have also used white. (The cutting board is a map of the Finger Lakes.)

NY cherries

Hand made. Gorgeous.

cutting board

Once the cherries are pitted they are chopped for the sauce, which combines shallots, garlic, cherries, tarragon, crushed red pepper and thyme.

chopped cherries

We also used a dry Chardonnay from FLX. Any dry white will work, but keep in mind if it’s not drinking quality, it’s not cooking quality. A better wine will make a difference. Not to mention cooking wine has more added salt. Rule of thumb – if you wouldn’t serve it, don’t cook with it.

ingredients

We finished the sauce with a little butter and it was ready to go. The scallops were simply patted dry with a paper towel to help promote a good sear, and seasoned with salt and pepper.

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Keep a close eye on the scallops as they cook. They only require a minute or two per side depending on thickness, and turn rubbery if over cooked.

searing scallops

We served the scallops immediately garnished with the sauce. We also served a little extra sauce on the side for dipping (it’s too tasty not to!).

cherries and scallops

This was a 4 spoon meal for Mr. N and I, a 3 spoon dish for Mike and a mixed review of 2 and 4 for Miss A. She loved the scallops, but not the sauce. She prefers her cherries straight up and raw.

seared scallops

The sweetness of the scallops paired nicely with the slightly tart and spicy cherry sauce. It’s easy to prepare and pretty to serve.

black cherry sauce

The leftover sauce also went well with white fish for Mr. N the next day at lunch. He said I could make this for him anytime.

Print this recipe: Seared Scallops with Cherry Sauce

I have a feeling this recipe will stick around in our house for some time. If only cherry season lasted a little longer! Many thanks to our dear friends Tina and Eric for the cherries and to Laury and team at Finger Lakes Wine Country for this experience.

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We’ll be back next week, actually posting from a special trip with my parents in Colorado, with the sweet cherry pie and the rest of our crazy FLX adventure. And in two weeks, I’ll post from the Wine Bloggers conference! Stay tuned.

Seventh Heaven

Well, for those of you that tuned in Saturday only to be taken to a dead link, my apologies. Hopefully this will be worth your wait! Last month, as you may recall, Mr. N enjoyed a “pie” for his birthday meal of choice. It was an easy decision for him. Miss A, however, took her time deliberating. a-theater

Perhaps she was too busy preparing for her big show weekend as Bert Healy in a musical production of “Annie.” Miss A has watched Mr. N perform for years and last year decided to take it up herself through summer camp. She had so much fun singing and dancing, she insisted on going back again this summer. Needless to say, if you want to know any words from the soundtrack, just let me know. After four weeks of Miss A’s nightly rehearsals in our living room, we’ve got you covered! a - theatre

With her love of all things song and dance, would you be surprised that she picked a Rock Diva theme for her 7th birthday party this year? (Ironically, and I just realized this right now, my 7th birthday was Madonna themed!) rock diva

The party was perfectly suited to Miss A. We walked into the venue promptly at 10:30 a.m. on a Sunday morning and were greeted by very enthusiastic high school girls (our party hosts) squealing in delight over the birthday girl, and Taylor Swift blasting through the speakers. After a moment of stunned sensory overload, Mike and I noticed Miss A had already been whisked away for her costume change. She and her friends picked costumes and then had their hair, nails and make-up done. Once they were proper divas, they bounded up on a stage and performed karaoke all morning long. (Need to know the words to any Taylor Swift songs? I know all those now too!) one direction

The girls all seemed to enjoy the festivities, especially Miss A who had a smile on her face the entire morning. So did I as I didn’t even have to make the cake! diva cake

Or worry about any of the clean-up! Great idea for a party Miss A. birthday girl

After Miss A was all rock diva’d out, we then prepared for her special birthday meal. In past years she has chosen some rather interesting and sometimes sophisticated options for her birthdays. One year I was tasked with making a sourdough bread and chocolate balsamic cookies (which I didn’t even know existed). Another year it was BBQ ribs and cherry crisp. This year, she again demonstrated her love for gourmet food and chose a Truffled Lobster Mac & Cheese. lobster mac & cheese

I think it’s fair to say, we were all excited for her birthday dinner this year! We boiled four lobster tails and shredded the meat, which was plenty for our family. We also chose to use Dubliner Cheese and Gruyere as well as shallots and garlic. Truffled Lobster Mac & Cheese

We livened the dish up a little with a bit of Dijon mustard, nutmeg and chives. We also topped the lobster mac with breadcrumbs and of course, the truffle salt, before baking. IMG_5403

The mac and cheese only took about an hour to bake, but goodness did I have a lot of dishes! A pot for boiling noodles, a skillet for the garlic and shallots, a pot to boil the lobster, etc. It was definitely not a one-pot meal or an easy clean-up. That said, it was out of this world delicious! It was creamy, cheesy and delightful with the sweetness of the lobster. It easily earned 4 spoons from every one of us! (As do most of our lobster dishes – I’m noticing a pattern there.) cheesy lobster pasta

The only thing I might do differently (if it wasn’t for Miss A’s consumption that is) was to add a little cayenne pepper. I think a bit of heat would have been the perfect complement to round out the dish; however, Miss A likely has a few more years before she develops a palate for spicy foods. Then again, you never know with this little firecracker!

Print this recipe: Truffled Lobster Mac & Cheese

cheesy pasta

It’s amazing to think that Miss A was only two and Mr. N only six when we started this blog. Their tastes have certainly come a long way; and I have a feeling they’ll come along even more over the course of the next year. But more on that soon… siblings

Of Fairy Godmothers and Cinnamon Swirls

I’m exhausted. Those of you reading along the past couple of weeks know that we’ve been busy. We’ve had our share of ups and downs. Life is like that though. The inevitable roller coaster ride. Sometimes we glide along smoothly and at other times we’re taken up, down and around. I should be in bed. I should be asleep. Or at the very least, I should be using these early morning hours when I’m tossing and turning to catch up on laundry, my work, the mundane list of to do’s that’s been piling up this busy summer, but when words are spinning around in my head, sometimes I just need to put them down.

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Writing has long been the way I work through life’s ride. Well, writing, cooking and eating! Anyway, I hope you’ll bare with me. We will be back later this week with two delicious cherry recipes and tales of our adventures in New York (and adventures they have been!). First, though, I have a recipe that I need to share, words I need to say, and memories I need to record for my kiddos to someday look back upon. While this may get a little more mushy than I typically like to get, I promise a good recipe too!

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Cinderella has never been one of my favorite fairy tales, but who wouldn’t want a magical fairy godmother – someone to take away life’s troubles, make dreams come true and ensure you live happily ever after. While I’ve never seen pumpkins turn into carriages; rags transform into beautiful ball gowns; and know that happily ever after is relative, and something we have to work hard to create and maintain; I have known the love, tenderness and encouragement of a one-of-a-kind person. My mom comes from a family of six with two younger sisters and a baby brother. One of those sisters was my Auntie Karen (read “anty” for those of you outside of Chicago), and she also happened to be my godmother. Or as she liked to say, my “fairy godmother.”

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It’s hard to put into words Auntie Karen’s larger than life personality. She was exceptionally caring, definitely a mother hen, thoughtful, silly, loud, and occasionally slightly foul-mouthed (which of course always had us laughing). She was stubborn, fiercely loyal, sensitive and for a big part of my life, one of my number one cheerleaders.

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Growing up, my extended family was a big and vibrant part of my childhood. We got together at least once a month to celebrate a birthday or holiday and spent many other afternoons and evenings visiting and playing. We were a tight-knit group with inside jokes, laughter and seemingly endless fun.

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Of this group, my mom and Auntie Karen were the first two married and the first two to have kids. Their life situations being so similar, they were natural best friends. They spent countless hours on the phone; at each other’s homes; or hanging together at Grandma’s. As a mom myself now, I understand the importance, and frankly necessity of these types of friendships to make it through the parenting years. We all need someone to get us through this kind of joyful insanity!

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Us kids benefited immeasurably from this relationship too though. I can’t tell you the number of sleepovers, outings and crazy afternoons we spent with my Auntie Karen and cousin Jason (five years my junior). Some of my favorite times, however and the ones that are flooding my memories this week, are the dinners my sister and I would spend in absolute fits of laughter with Auntie Karen, Uncle Jim and Jason. I can’t even recall what we would laugh about, but oh how we would laugh – to the point of tears, snorts and even our drinks being blurted past pursed lips as our hands reached up to clasp our mouths.

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I’ve been lucky not to have experienced too much sorrow early in my life. In fact, aside from my beloved beagle pup as a kid, my greatest losses have only happened in the past seven years. And of these losses, two were aging grandparents (the other two aging cats). While there is never a good time for a passing, or the right time for those of us suffering the loss, some deaths follow a natural progression.

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Others, however, come unexpectedly, too quickly and hardly seem fair. Six months ago my Auntie Karen began treatment for a very aggressive, small cell lung cancer. The prognosis was not good. At the time they discovered the cancer it had already spread to her bones. There was shock and sadness. The family rallied by her side as she resolved to “beat this garbage.” And while it took her all too soon, and rather unexpectedly this week, she fought through discomfort, pain, too many treatments, doctor appointments, fear and I’m sure an endless stream of emotions I can’t begin to fathom. She reconnected with family, she celebrated her son’s marriage, helped him move into his first home and adopt his first puppy. She got to see that her family would be okay. Given what we know now of how far this cancer had spread and how aggressive it truly was, it’s nothing short of a miracle. She may not have beat it, but she kicked its ass.

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One of the things I’ve learned these past few years about loss, is that it comes with a gift. Each and every passing I’ve experienced has brought with it a flood of memories. Pieces of the past that have long since been buried, resurface and find their way into my consciousness. Moments, conversations, events and details that I haven’t thought of in years are suddenly clear and almost tangible. It’s wonderfully comforting. Well, one such memory of my Auntie Karen that came rushing back involves a delicious cake. I knew I had to bake immediately. Yes, a cake!

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For those of you that know me well, you know I don’t make cakes (unless by special request from a birthday boy). I’m a pie, crisp, cobbler type of baker (you’ll find lots of those sprinkled throughout this blog). Cakes, however, are just not my thing. Auntie Karen, on the other hand, made a wicked, good cinnamon streusel cake – and she would make it just for me. I can’t even recall how many birthdays I made this special request. I wanted Auntie Karen’s cinnamon streusel cake, and only hers. She always delivered. Honestly, it was likely from a box mix, but it didn’t matter. It was moist, full of brown sugar and cinnamon and absolutely the only cake I would eat for a long time. (To this day I’m not much of a cake fan – unless dad is making my birthday cake!)

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So to honor my Auntie Karen’s memory and to share a meaningful recipe with my family, I dove in and made a Cinnamon Swirl Bundt Cake – from scratch!

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And I’m happy to report success!!! I was slightly optimistic when I pulled the cake from the oven and it actually looked like a cake. I wasn’t about to count my chickens before inverting it onto a plate though. Last time I attempted that, half the cake remained in the pan. Miss A and I held our breath as I carefully ran a knife around the sides of the pan and turned it upside down. Then Miss A yelled, “Mommy you did it! You made a cake!” We looked at each other, smiled and high-fived. Mission accomplished…well, almost. We did have to try it first to know for sure!

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After cooling, we added a light sugary glaze over the top. It probably could have used more, but I ran out of confectioner’s sugar. We didn’t mind though. The cake was full of that brown sugar and cinnamon-y goodness!

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It’s not my Auntie Karen’s, but I’ll still give it a solid 3 spoons. Mike agrees. The kids both gave it 4 spoons and devoured their slices. They were both very proud (and surprised) that I pulled it off!

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And in some small way I feel better too. I feel connected to my fairy godmother. I only wish it wasn’t too late and I hope she knows how much she meant to me. You see, I do have a regret and I’m nothing if not honest about feelings. I haven’t really spoken to my Aunt in about 15 years. Off and on, here and there, but as sometimes happens in passionate, tight-knit, stubborn families, there was a falling out. Being one of the “kids” I wasn’t really privy to the details. In fact, I don’t know that anyone really knows the real reason for the fallout, but it opened deep wounds and left painful scars. I’ve often believed the greatest of loves can also cause the greatest of hurts.

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Us kids were largely innocent by-standers, but we did take sides. Of course you’re going to be protective of your own mother whether they are in the right or not; and since we didn’t really know what was going on, we stuck to our immediate families. My mom and her siblings were divided. We stayed close with my mom’s other sister and family, and they have been a big part of my kids’ lives. My Auntie Karen and my mom’s brother and families, however, aligned and drifted. My cousin and I would see each other occasionally, but there was always an elephant in the room. Things could never really be the same. I remember at the time it was a difficult loss and something I spent a lot time grappling with and working through.

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The loss of my grandparents brought another gift though. The past few years, my mom and her siblings have been rebuilding relationships. They would meet for breakfast and talk on the phone once again. It wasn’t the same, nor can it ever be, but the walls did come down. So when Auntie Karen’s diagnosis hit, they rallied. They were a family. They did what families do.

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And when we got the call to come say goodbye, we again did what families do. All of us. We came. We cried, we shared and we laughed. By this time, my Aunt was sedated, but she squeezed my hand. I believe that she heard me. I believe that she knew we were all by her side. As I watched family members that had stayed close with her cry and grieve, I had an overwhelming sense of guilt. I feel, in a way, like I don’t have a right to my sadness. I wasn’t there for her or her family for more than a decade while others have been. They have a right to their sadness, but do I?

I wish things could have been different. I wish we would have stayed close. I wish families didn’t have to come with struggles and I wish cancer didn’t have to get to those that we love (or anyone for that matter!) – especially so soon and too young. But we’re really not in the driver’s seat. Sure we can choose our actions and reactions, but many, many things are just not for us to control. The fallout happened. She did get sick. That said, I also know that I do love her. I know that my childhood is inextricably linked to her. I know that the impact she has had on my first 23 years is immeasurable. I only hope she knew these things.

And there lies a few more of death’s gifts – it reminds us that life is short, precious and unpredictable; and that we have to embrace the day, embrace those we love and don’t leave things unsaid.

Or in this case, unbaked. Print this recipe: Cinnamon Swirl Bundt Cake

cinnamon swirl bundt cake

I will work through the grief, and this silly guilt, I know I will. Death has a way of flooding the mind with a million different thoughts and emotions. I do know I have every right to be sad. I know my hurt is real. I know time will provide healing. I know the connection we shared was something that wasn’t really ever broken, just lost for a while. I know that I’m going to continue to use the lessons she taught me, and I’ll take to heart the lessons she’s teaching me through her loss.

She wrote me a letter when I graduated college. Her words, many of them, are still applicable (some strangely so). Most of them I will keep to myself, but these seemed particularly apropos, “Just remember to enjoy life to the fullest and that the best in your life is yet to come. I Love You and will always be here for you.”

I’d say I had someone better than a fairy godmother making wishes come true. I had my Auntie Karen who taught me how to make wishes come true.

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.”

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Great! What about for dinner? “Pie.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?!

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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.

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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!