Thursday, April 29, 2010

Spring Wine

It's cooler than normal here in the Carolinas, but it still feels like white wine weather. When I get home from work, I want something simple and cool to sip on while I toss the ball for Hogan or put dinner together.

We don't drink lots of chardonnay, but I do like simple, clean chard without a bunch of oak-iness. I picked this up on our last wine run, and it fits the bill perfectly – flavors of fresh green apple and pear with crisp acidity. It's a great spring sip.

Elm Tree Chardonnay Mendoza 2008, $4.99, Green's

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

One of a Kind

Before I start, I’ll warn you that this post is not about wine, a little sad and very sentimental. If you’re not a dog lover, you can probably stop right here.

Early Tuesday morning, our dog, Peanut, passed away. We went from celebrating the birthday of one dog to mourning the loss of another. Having dogs (and other animals) in your life comes with the painful cost of having to say goodbye to them.

Peanut lived a fine and long life – 14 years and some change. We were fortunate to have enjoyed her presence in our lives. A dog like her only comes along once in a lifetime.

As a young dog, she was sleek, graceful and athletic, with boundless energy. A true renaissance woman, she conquered every task put before her: obedience training, agility training, protection training and (for the most part) anti-couch-jumping training.

At the same time, she taught me more about dog training than I ever taught her. I always said that any lack of ability on her part was my failure to explain things properly.

She aged like fine wine – becoming more complex, more interesting and more cherished with the passing years. We called her the grand dame of our household. When we were considering bringing a new puppy into our family several years ago, I knew there would never be a better teacher in the fine art of being a good dog.

A friend of mine describes wines as one-dimensional, two-dimensional or three-dimensional. Peanut was a three-dimensional dog. People who aren’t dog lovers might not believe a dog can have depth of character, but the rest of us know better.

Before she met me, E had never had a dog in her life. When Peanut met E, she instantly recognized her as another smart, strong, beautiful woman and took her on as one of her people. She showed E what it’s like to have a truly exceptional dog.

As I read back over the words I’ve written, they seem so hollow, so insufficient to express how much we loved her and how much she is missed. I suppose that’s because grief is intensely personal – whether it’s for an animal or a person.

I never felt like Peanut was a very dignified name for her. But that was her name when I adopted her as a six-month-old, and I could never bring myself to change it. She was just Peanut.

There will never be another like her.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Our Boy

I’m sitting here sipping a mimosa on a gloomy Sunday morning. We’re having a day of celebration in honor of Hogan’s third birthday.

It’s hard to believe he’s been with us for so long. We still refer to him as “the puppy” and he still frequently acts like one. But there are moments when he looks – and acts – very grown up.

His intentionally ridiculous official AKC name is Park Street’s Colonel Hogan – Park Street for where we live and Colonel Hogan for the TV character from Hogan’s Heroes. He’s a Frisbee-catching, ball-chasing, dog-wrasslin’ goofball. He’s also a fantastically loyal, loving dog and a best friend for our other dog, Peanut.

Hogan came to us because he had a heart murmur as a puppy, and a woman in Missouri who had claimed him decided she didn’t want him. I found out this week his heart murmur has gotten worse, which makes me worry about his future.

But today, he’s right here and happy as ever. It reminds me to enjoy the moment – as dogs are famously good at.

Here’s to you, Hogan. Good boy.

I love a sparkling wine that's cheap enough to make guilt-free mimosas and tasty enough to have a glass with lunch

Louis Perdrier Brut Rosé - $6.99, Green's

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Stormy Weather

It’s Saturday afternoon, and there are some bad storms moving across the Southeast headed our way. To me, the sensible thing to do is to spend the afternoon in the kitchen.

One of my projects for the weekend was to make stock. Ever since I started making my own chicken stock, I just can’t go back to the canned. I also appreciate any cooking task that mainly involves watching a pot simmer and drinking wine.

Years ago I got hooked on cooking bone-in chicken breasts. The meat has so much more flavor and moisture compared to boneless breasts. I’ll cook off several at a time, pull the meat and freeze it for later. I toss the bones in a bag and freeze them too.

So when I need some stock, I throw the bones in a big pot of water with some chopped vegetables – a carrot, a couple stalks of celery, half a red onion – along with two or three bay leaves and a dozen or so peppercorns. Bring it all to a boil, skim off the foam and simmer for an hour or two. Drink wine as needed.

This afternoon I’m sipping on one of our finds from this morning’s wine shopping trip – Mas Carlot Rosé Costières de Nimês 2008.

Green’s is clearing out last year’s rosés, so it was only $6.99. It’s not as fresh as it was a year ago, but it’s still very tasty. The flavors of strawberry and cinnamon are nicely balanced with refreshing acidity and bit of tannin.

Here's the stock in progress.

Later, some of this will go into tonight's dinner – goat stew. More on that later.

Happy Saturday, y'all.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Happy Earth Day

It's nice that people are thinking more and more about preserving the health of the Earth and the earth - and not just on Earth Day. E and I try to maintain our little slice of the universe, which is a long and narrow lot in downtown Columbia, South Carolina.

We don't use any chemicals and practice highly sustainable landscaping, which means our yard is overgrown and unkempt. The upside is that it's a safe haven for birds, butterflies, bees, toads, #!&$@ squirrels and the occasional possum.

Here's a snapshot of one of our numerous shrubs currently in bloom. It's a 'Mount Saint Helens' deciduous azalea.

Cheers to Mother Nature.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Don't Fear The Riesling

Here's a nice little summer sipper that I picked up at World Market for the low, low price of $7.99. It's quite dry, but loaded with juicy peach and apricot flavors - the perfect match for spicy pulled-pork tacos.

Firestone Vineyard 'Discoveries' Riesling 2008

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Long Time Gone

It's been a long time since I last posted, and I hope that this post ties into that theme. As with all my posts, you'll have to bear with me until I get there.

Once upon a time, I was a dog trainer and co-owner of a training, boarding and day care center for dogs. Let me make one thing clear - I make no claim to be an expert on dog behavior (no more than I've ever claimed to be a wine expert). Over the years, I've read extensively about teaching dogs, and talked to as many different dog trainers as I could find, but that wasn't my role in the business.

My friend and business partner, Drake Parker, provided the expertise in dog training. The business we created, Top Dog Academy, is still going strong and is now run by Drake and his wife, Angela, with the help of other trainers that have studied with the man I call the "Maharajah of Dog Training."

Drake and Angela came to visit E and I this weekend. It's been far too long since we last saw each other, but - as often happens between old friends - we picked up right where we left off. Just as I can talk your head off about wine, I can talk about dogs until the cows come home.

No visit to our home goes without some Southern hospitality, even if it's served up by a couple of reformed Yankees. Some of the highlights were E's lasagna, my Eastern N.C. style barbecue and homemade pimento cheese spread.

E's lasagna recipe is top-secret, so I can't reveal that here. My pointers on making crock-pot barbecue are in this post. I know it's heresy to the pit-cooked-whole-pig crowd, but it's awfully good all the same.

I have a bad habit of getting wrapped up in the day-to-day minutia of life, and losing touch with my friends - both online and offline. I need to be better, and that goes for this blog as well.

For some blog eye-candy, here are pictures of a couple highlights from the gift basket (put together by Jefferson's) that came with our guests.

Narcissus in clay pot from New Growth Designs

Emilio Moro Ribera del Duero 2006

Pimento Cheese for Spreading from the Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook

1 red bell pepper, roasted and peeled
8 ounces finely grated extra-sharp cheddar cheese
2 ounces softened cream cheese, cut into pieces
3 tablespoons mayonnaise (I suggest Duke's, if it's available where you live.)
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
Salt and pepper to taste

Dice roasted red pepper. Place diced pepper and any juices in medium bowl. Add cheddar, cream cheese and red pepper flakes. Blend ingredients with wooden spoon or rubber spatula. Season with salt and pepper.

It's not good for you, but it sure is good to you.

Cheers, y'all.