Tuesday, November 15, 2011

So Long, TomTom

  Way back about 8 or 10 years ago, when Josh first started out in 4H, we decided that we were more interested in dairy goats than market animals like steers, pigs and sheep. Market animal raising is a nice, clean, short term deal. You buy a steer calf (or lamb, or pig), you feed it and raise it for a few months, you show it, you auction it, it goes to the processor and the buyer gets his animal in nice little frozen packages. You count your money. You don't learn very much.

  Dairy being in our blood so to speak from way back when I was a kid (the family dairy farm my aunt and uncle managed) , we chose goats. Raising dairy goats is a labor of love. In order to show a dairy goat doe, she has to be in milk. The only way to get her in milk is to breed her and have babies.  A youngster involved in a dairy project learns a whole lot more about the cycles of life, breeding, birth, and finally, death.

  We bought our first two does, Samantha and Rita, from someone we knew well who had a pretty well known herd of Toggenburg Dairy Goats. Samantha and Rita were supposedly already bred to a good buck. Samantha had a false pregnancy that year and did not, ultimately, give birth. Rita however, let us know late one night that she was in labor, and we hooked up lights and got ready to sit it out with her. I will never forget the look on young Josh's face when Rita's single birth; TomTom, flopped out onto the straw all gooey and struggling. Rita, a veteran mom already, dutifully licked him dry and got him to his wobbly feet and pushed him to the teat for his first sip of life giving milk outside the womb.

  I will never forget the look on young Josh's face 5 days later, when the poor guy had his little horn buds burned off with cherry hot dehorning irons heated on a wood stove, and his testicles sliced and scraped off with a razor blade and butter knife by June Meacham, our aged and wise goat guru.

  TomTom grew like Topsy. Rita's milk made him strong and playful and it wasn't long before he was jumping in our laps and pestering his mama and aunt Samantha and becoming the devil incarnate for our poor old sheep. He loved to goof on the sheep. Sheep are kind, passive, gentle and not very intelligent creatures, and TomTom delighted in finding new ways to bedevil them.

  There were times when we thought of selling or giving TomTom away. A wether (castrated male) is really of no use to a herd. He can't breed, and of course he can't be milked. He was our first born here, and as a result wasn't ever going to see the butcher's knife or the freezer. One family wanted to have him for their kids, who rode in 4H horsemanship and rodeo events. The kids would use him to practice for an event in youth horsemanship called, "Goat Roping". I won't describe goat roping, but my answer to their interest in him was a polite, but firm, "you're kidding, right? I LIKE this goat. NO, you can't have him."

  In spite of his lack of hormone producing gonads, TomTom became quite the ladies' man. He dutifully flirted with and tried to boyfriend all the does who joined the herd after him. He only tolerated Josh and me because we were the ones with the hay and treats, but he adored Kate. She would sit outside and once he got too big to be a lap goat, would amble over and lay his big old head and horns (which had regrown in spite of our efforts) in her lap while she scratched his ears and rubbed his nose. Not only Katie, TomTom loved all the girls with equanimity.

  The Toggenburg is normally a medium sized breed. TomTom, as a result of stealing milk from his indulgent mama WAY past the time he should have been weaned, grew into a 200+ pound giant. The does, who usually only barely tolerate castrated males and will take every opportunity to push them around, gave him a wide berth, and never questioned or argued when he decided he preferred to eat THEIR hay.

  Late in life, TomTom became afflicted with what we believe is a congenital arthritis. His joints slowly began to fail him. No supplements, no vitamins, no miracle cures helped him. In the last year, he had become a liability to himself and we knew it was only a matter of time before he would break something and be downed permanently.  Still, he persisted in bossing everybody around. Persisted in being the surrogate boyfriend for all the girls who had no buck during their heats, persisted in tormenting the sheep and snuggling up to human women who couldn't resist his clumsy, sometimes stumbling charms.

  Friday morning, Veteran's day, Josh and I found him down. He'd been actively involved in the amorous adventures of two does in heat the night before and had apparently hurt his back legs and gone down. He'd dug himself into a mud hole struggling to get up and was cold, shivering, hungry and weak. We got him up and he shakily gained his footing but it was clear his back legs were injured. For the next two days we got him up every few hours to eat and pee, and he'd lay back down in a few minutes, no strength left in his spindly old  legs. No apparent connection between his joints and the muscles and connective tissues that should have strengthened them.

  The ruminant animal, the cud chewer, the multi-chambered stomached goat, sheep, cow, alpaca, deer, bison, giraffe and others have in my opinion the most highly developed digestive system of any furred creature, including us. They're able to convert indigestible plant tissues into digestible nutrients, largely through the process of fermentation. Their first stomach chamber, the rumen, is nothing more than a fermentation tank, more similar to the fermentation tanks that give us beer, wine and whiskey than they are different. This fermentation gives off a lot of gas, which has to escape the animal in the form of burps. I like to sit outside at night with a beer or glass of other fermented beverage, and listen to the contended animals happily burping and chewing their cuds. Sometimes in the air is a whiff of those burps, not unlike burnt cabbage. It's the smell of contentment, nutrition, caprine and ovine happiness.
  For all their evolutionary perfection, a ruminant that can't get up and move around is destined eventually to bloat. Bloat is a condition in which the rumen fills with gas which can't escape. The ever swelling rumen causes pressure on the animal's lungs and hearts, eventually leading if not remedied to to either suffocation or heart failure.

  I went out to check on TomTom Sunday night- Monday morning about 1:30 a.m. It was clear he was bloating. Baking soda is sometimes a remedy. TomTom had always loved it and would eat it out of our hands, but Sunday night he wouldn't have any. I massaged his rumen trying to get him to burp. I got him up, he tried and then went down. I got him up again, again he went down. Short of unacceptable extreme measures, there was nothing to be done. In the end, he gasped a few times, his big beautiful head in my lap, and finally relaxed. I'm sure his heart had stopped. I went in the house, woke Katie up and told her TomTom was dying, and we held him and told him goodbye. And we cried.

  Earlier on Sunday,  Josh had said his goodbyes to TomTom before leaving to go back to NAU. He knew the old guy wouldn't last the week. We talked about all the things he had taught us about himself, about goats, and about ourselves. And we cried and were grateful.

  Alan Watts has posited that god is playing hide and seek with himself in trying out the various guises of different living things. It escapes me why he kept going after trying out being a goat.

  There are eleven goats and two aging sheep in the pasture still. There is no doubt we'll be crying again sometime, and it'll be all right. So long TomTom old bud. Thank you.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

A Very Spirited 25th Anniversary

 Twenty five years ago yesterday, about 125 people came together at L'Auberge in Sedona to help us celebrate our marriage. It was a big old time for sure, but we're a tiny bit more "mature" now and decided to celebrate in a somewhat more subdued fashion.
  We first thought to return to L'Auberge for dinner, but the place seems to change staff every two months and the current management have the reputation that ogres aspire to, so we demurred. The Yavapai Room at the Uber NewAge Enchantment Resort had a very interesting menu. We "applied" for a reservation (I am not making this up) and upon being accepted were informed in no uncertain terms that "resort casual" attire was required for men. "Slacks, closed shoes, and a collared shirt." I emailed them back and cancelled the reservation saying  "sory but i don own no shirt with no collar and at yer prices i darn shore can't aford won, pleez give my table to sum other sumbitch".
  We realized that in the times we'd been to The Asylum restaurant up at the Jerome Grand Hotel we'd never had a meal that we could find fault with. I can find fault with almost any meal, in 25 years' marriage I've learned to keep my criticisms to myself until after the meal so as not to spoil things for Kate. She's much more forgiving. I'm sure that aspect of her personality is a big part of why she's still putting up with me.
  Our friend Tony, who manages the place, got us a great table. For those unfamiliar with the Grand and Asylum, it's the creepy old Jerome hospital where countless miners and other residents of the Verde Valley were "treated" for generations. There are unsubstantiated reports of people actually surviving the experience and getting better. The hospital rooms have been converted to hotel rooms with antiques and period furniture. The old lobby at the hotel's side entrance has been re-imagined as the Asylum Restaurant. It's beautiful inside and there are tables facing the windows which at this time of year are open to the breezes and look out over the valley lights at night.
Somebody say mojito? Arrrrrrr matey
  Reputedly haunted, the staff has gone WAY overboard decorating for the season. Tony tells us that doors regularly slam, books fly across the room off shelves, bar bottles are rearranged over night to some other-worldly tippler's preference. Maybe the ghost is looking for Rye Whiskey. See below. It's been on a number of TeeVee ghost hunter type shows.
  The menu doesn't change much, but everything is well done and though pricey, first rate.

  While we chatted with Tony, Kate had a nicely made Mojito. Personally I don't know what the big deal is with Mojitos, but the're apparently all the rage right now. Rum, sugar, club soda, mint. Meh, it's like an unblended daquiri. Sadly, our server didn't know what rye whiskey is and when sent to find out, came back with the news that there wasn't any behind the bar. Not surprising. You can't even find Old Overholt in stores around here. So I settled for a very well poured Knob Creek. I don't know if it was because the manager was sitting with us or what , but that straight up bourbon was at least a double and a half. Knob Creek isn't bad for corn likker.

  I had a top notch 12 ounce New York, grilled to the extremely rare way I like my steaks. Around here; reputedly beef country, a grill man who's not afraid to cook a rare steak rare is rare indeed. Kate had a prickly pear jam glazed and grilled pork tenderloin. Again, sometimes it seems like all the cooks who didn't get the memo about pork no longer needing to be cooked into shoe leather to be safe live in the Verde Valley. None of them work at the Asylum. Kate's tender was just barely pink and very juicy. Both meals came atop great garlic mashed potatoes and nicely done local sauteed vegetables. Mine had the additional crunch of deep fried sweet onions and a tasty horseradish sauce. Our wines were a glass of a decent but forgettable Syrah for me and a new discovery for Kate. Monkey Business Zinfandel. A fruity, spicy Lodi, California zin that I've got to get into the store. At a suggested retail of 16 bucks we'll sell a lot.

  A nice meal well prepared and served. I've heard complaints about service there. Maybe from people who expect to be chatted up by their wait-person. Our server was competent and blessedly silent. I don't want to know my server's life history or hear about the book he's writing or the locavore gluten-free restaurant he's getting ready to open. Bring the food. Be invisible until we need you. If I want to gab with a server I'll sit at the bar or go to Denny's.

  The Asylum turned out to be the perfect place for Kate and I to celebrate a quiet, peaceful 25th. If I make it to our 50th, chances are someone will be feeding me gruel with a spoon, so we won't wait that long to go back. Here's a link to the Asylum's website. Take a look at the hundreds of wines on their wine card. Impressive by pretty much any standard but a real rarity around these parts, where supposedly everyone's a wine connoisseur.  I'd recommend it to anyone. Salud!

Friday, September 30, 2011

The Last Corn Post, or I Have Sweet Corn in October and You Don't

I may have mentioned in a previous post that I only bought corn from Hauser Farms in Camp Verde once this summer. It came to my attention through the grapevine or something that Hauser's was planting Roundup Ready Corn, brought to you by The Satanic Monsanto Corporation of the World. When I found out it was true, I decided Hauser's could take a flying jump before I'd ever again grace their cash box with my money.

I hadn't grown sweet corn since forever because Hauser's corn was so good, and so reasonably priced there was no profit in spending all the water and time and angst over growing my own. Not anymore.

This year, on a sort of lark, I decided very late at the end of July to plant some sweet corn in a little plot next to the giant Red Corn That Isn't Red Anymore. That plot had steadfastly refused to produce any beans and was just sitting there. I'd always heard that you could get two corn crops in a season around here but never really thought much about it.

A trip to the nursery here in Cornville yielded empty seed racks and puzzled looks on the faces of the guys at the nursery. "Nobody buys corn seed in July, it's too hot". A bit later in WalMart I found a rack gathering dust that was full of jumbo bags of Golden Bantam Late Season Heirloom Hybrid corn. Late season,...hmmmm....It was dirt cheap and clearly not a single pack had been sold and the little spinny rack the packs were displayed on had been gradually relegated to a dusty corner in the garden center.

So into the ground it went a day or two later. Must have been around the 29th of July or so as Josh was in the canyon and I planted by myself. It came right up and flourished. You can see it about half grown in the foreground of the picture I took of the red corn in the post below.

Today I started picking. It's been so long since I grew corn that I'd forgotten how to know when to pick so I've been peeking the last few days. You can carefully peel back just enough husk to get a look and not hurt the ear much. I strip off a piece of green husk and tie it around the end of the ear after I've looked if it's not ready. Keeps the ear tip from drying out before the rest of the ear is ready.

A little reading turns up that this variety goes way back to the beginning of the 20th century and predates all the modern super sweet hybrids. Personally, I like my corn to taste like corn. The modern stuff tastes like it's had sugar dumped on it to the point where you can't taste the corn, or maybe there's nothing to taste besides sugar. The modern corn also, to me, has no "tooth", there's no body, no substance. I'll take it crisp but a bit chewy thank you very much, and hint the sweetness to me will you? I don't need to be slapped in the face with it.

Anyhow, there's a lotta corn out there in the 6 little rows I planted. Looks like it's going to come on in nice stages of eight to twelve ears at a time over the next week or so. Perfect. I'll be planting this again. The photo here was taken today, right after I brought in the first ten ears. Katie and I immediately steamed up two of them and sat down at 9 in the morning and chowed them down, making all sorts of Homer Simpson eating sounds. All you people lamenting the end of sweet corn season, eat your hearts out!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Willie Nelson, Two Beers You Won't Get To Taste and Kate Hikes the Canyon

  As I've said before, there is no better time than right now in the history of this country to be a beer fan. New beers come out daily. Two that I've had the pleasure of trying lately are in very short supply and unless you've got a beer store on the mega scale of BevMo or a dedicated specialty store like Plaza Liquors nearby, you're unlikely to get your hands on them. It's worth trying. Really it is.

  The first is New Belgium Brewery's Lips of Faith Dunkel Weiss. "Weiss" is German for wheat. Most beers are brewed almost entirely from barley malt. Wheat beers contain some barley but a majority of malted wheat. The Belgians probably have the oldest tradition and widest variety of wheat beers. Some are made using indigenous wild yeasts that float around in the air in their ancient breweries. The vast majority of wheat beers are pale and cloudy with residual yeast. They're very refreshing, low alcohol and often served with lemon. Great summer beers for lots of folks. NB's Dunkel Weiss is a different animal. Dunkel is the German term designating a dark beer. In this case, REAL dark. This wheat gets it's darkness from the addition of dark roasted barley malt along with the wheat. The yeasts use give off a lot of fruity flavors. Dark fruits and clove flavors come through with a distinct black pepper finish. It only comes in 24 oz. bottles and checks in at 9% ABV. Share one with somebody if you can find it.

  Alaskan Brewing Company has been making tasty brews for 25 years. One of their beers was voted Best Beer in the U.S. some years back in a big competition. In celebration of their quarter century mark, they've introduced a limited edition big bottle of a very special brew called Perseverance Ale. This is a Russian Imperial Stout and thank goodness it's in short supply. Imperial stouts are strong, dark and on the malty side, just the way I like them. The brew is made with Fireweed honey and Alaskan Birch Syrup. The syrup adds a tartness that is unique. It's produced in Wasila, across the bridge to nowhere. It's real nice to now have something pleasant come to mind when Wasila is mentioned, but I digress. This stout pours dark and chewy, with a lasting head and many layers of flavor. It also clocks in at 9% ABV. I happen to know where the last two bottles of this stuff in the Verde Valley are, and as soon as I post this I'm going to go and snag them. My go to beer store was only able to get a dozen.

  In other news, Willie Nelson played the Stargazer Pavillion at Cliff Castle Casino last Friday. Josh came down from Flag and we went and had a big old time. He played all his hits and a lot of new stuff for an hour and a half to a packed house. The guy is 79 years old and has a concert schedule that I'd bet would put the typical superstar rocker in rehab in no time. My kid is no music snob, and will listen to almost anything that's well done. He enjoyed it I think. I know I did. Here's a shot of him playing that Josh took.

  Katie wanted to see Willy, but she was finishing the last leg of what seems to be becoming a semi-annual Grand Canyon hike. This time she and a group of friends did the plush route, hiking down to Phantom Ranch and staying two nights in a cabin there before hiking back out. They had a lot of rain and some group dynamics issues, but it was, like any Canyon trip, unforgettable and worth every sore muscle. Here's a slide show of some of her photos. For larger versions you can click on the center of the photo and it will take you to my Picasa album where you can watch the full sized slide show. Cheers and happy fall!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Red Corn Resolution

  Let's see, this is supposed to be a beverage blog, so how to be on topic..... got it. Bourbon is made from corn. It's corn whiskey. There, it's all connected now. The corn below however, is not whiskey corn. Whiskey corn is the same corn they feed to cattle and hogs.

  Some time back I wrote about planting our friends' red New Mexico corn they grew a long time ago down on the Verde. Well, it came up and grew with great gusto. Some of the stalks were close to 15 feet tall. People driving by slowed down to gawk at it. One guy even pulled over.

  "Hey what kinda corn izzat innyhow?"
  "It's red grinding corn".
  "Izzit sweet?"
  "Well then what's it taste like innyhow 'fit ain't sweet?"
  "Um...it tastes like corn."
  "Oh, well innyhow it shore is purty!! You gonna feed it to them goats?"
  "No. I'm going to grind it and make cornbread"
  "Ooooh Corrrrrnnnnnbreeeuuud, now I like me sum cornbread!"

  Just having it out there made us feel good whether it actually made any corn or not.  The picture above is from earlier in the summer when it was only about 7 or 8 feet tall and hadn't begun to tassle yet. Here's another picture of it standing tall behind the bantam sweet corn I planted just a few weeks ago as an experiment. I took that shot just a few days ago. It was finished at that point, dried silks and leaves beginning to dry.

  This wasn't a big plot of corn mind you. We planted 200 seeds in a plot about 12 or 14 x 25 or so. Yesterday Josh came down from NAU and we harvested it. I wasn't planning to pick it so soon but after picking a few test ears I could see it was ready and I was worried about mildew with the high humidity we've had and are still having, so down it came.
  I'm pleased to report that it produced splendidly. We had ZERO worm damage. It's nicely productive and most plants produced two ears with many reaching full maturity. We haven't counted, but we picked I'm sure well over 200 ears. It's drying inside now on a really inconvenient rack in the living room, until I can figure out some raccoon proof place to keep it. Last year's puny blue corn harvest provided the party snacks for a club of raccoons that invaded our neighbor's barn where it was drying. Not going to happen this year no. 
  Truth be told though, it's not red corn anymore. John and Susun grew a variety of grinding corns that summer back in 91, and it appears they all got together and pollinated each other! We can see traces of the Hopi White, Yellow and Chin Stripe corn that were neighbors to the Red. We don't care really and aren't terribly anal about seed purity, although we know we probably should be. Heck, every year I can't resist planting more than one variety of heirloom squash and then save the seeds. Sometimes the next year's plantings are edible and sometimes they're not. I think that old monk Gregor Mendel would have loved to see the outcome this year. Much more interesting than the silly Sweet Peas or whatever it was he was experimenting with. 
This one is worth clicking on for the larger version
  This picture is of some of the exemplary ears we saved to look at for a while before they're ground. Now Kate has to take it all up to Moencopi when it's dry and run it through the sheller and grind it and we'll be baking cornbread for John and Susun's return in November. 
  There is the barest hint of fall in the air. The morning light is softer, the air the tiniest bit crisp. When the sun gets up a bit higher it doesn't slap you in the face. The does have begun their morning fights, pushing and shoving and bloodying each other in the annual fall ritual of pecking order determination for the boyfriend who this fall won't appear. The poor girls are gonna be date-less all winter.It's been hideously hot this summer and unbearably humid. For once I'm kinda looking forward to fall, if not winter.  

Friday, August 26, 2011

Nature, Nurture and Shit From Shine-ola

photos are clickable for bigger versions
  Today Josh moved to NAU to begin his college career. It's only an hour away, and with today's modern communication even if it was across the country, he'd still be only a tweet, a text, a cell call away. And yet, tonight the house, the pasture are strangely empty.  We took this pic this morning during packing. His first car and his new car. First cars and first loves are almost interchangeable for boys; they both ultimately break your heart when they go, and leave a hole that is never quite filled. Here his beautiful old classic Benz poses alongside Josh and his more utilitarian Subaru. The Benz is saved from the ravages of the salty winters in Flagstaff and the Subaru will carry him safely on his new adventures.

  We raised Josh in nature. Rather than showing him nature through parks where you have to pay a fee, follow a trail, read signs and stand around looking at nature as an outside observer, we put him right in the middle of it. When he was four, he got his flock of chickens. He watched babies hatch and old or sick hens die. He gathered eggs and learned all he needed to know about managing money from selling eggs. As he got older, he moved across the taxonomic order and began raising sheep and dairy goats. He learned his birds and bees at a real early age watching goats go after it in the fall, and came face to face with the realities of birth by pulling gooey babies from their mamas and encouraging them to take their first hungry sips of milk. He dealt with the death of babies and learned to come to grips with the realities of physical ailments about which he had no control. He learned that all living things have their place in the wheel of life and his interest in the science and spirituality of life was born. 
  When he became a man in the Hopi way, he began to participate in the activities of Hopi men. The cycle of ceremonies and helping in the fields with weeding and harvest taught him the fragility of life and the intimate connection to the earth that he is heir to. The Hopi way has awakened in him an interest in the connections to the infinite that science cannot reach. Through his music, art and writing he explores that inner connection. 
  Today, shortly before leaving, Josh and I went out on the porch. Borrowing from one of the all-time most quintessentially philosophical movies ever made, I asked him to show me the difference between Shit and Shoe Polish. He passed with flying colors:

  He's done well, and we know he will continue to do well. He can tell shit from shine-ola and has a deeply personal sense of what's important and what's not. Tonight as he embarks on the next leg of his life's journey, our only wish is that he finds his joy. We are heart-fillingly proud of him, and heart-breakingly lonely. God bless him.
Sacred Mountain, the view from Josh's Dorm room

Thursday, June 9, 2011

1991, Nostalgia ain't what it used to be....

 In 1991, we'd been here just shy of two years. Our house was new and the trees were small. There was no fence. The Javelina roamed the place at will and ate my sweet potatoes. There weren't any chickens, no goats, no sheep and only three cats. Josh waited off in the ether. He would have to wait two more years before being summoned into existence. No Josh, no goats, looking back It makes me miss them in reverse, or something.  It doesn't seem possible that there was ever not a Josh or not goats, sheep and poultry in our lives.
  We barely knew Johnny M. and Susan, or maybe we didn't know them yet, I forget. It doesn't matter. They lived in a tiny little trailer perched in questionable fashion on the talus slope above the floodplain on the Verde down a rutted-out trail that somebody had actually bothered to name Blue Sky Drive. Below, on that cobblestrewn sandy flood plain Johnny and Susun managed to grow a pretty wide variety of produce. They grew spinach and kale, turnips and radishes, tomatoes and watermelons and corn. Sweet corn and grinding corn, blue corn and yellow corn and Supai striped corn and Hopi white corn that the raccoons had a feast on one horrible late summer night. And they grew the red corn I wrote about earlier. A ruby red grinding corn from northern New Mexico that they'd originally sourced from Native Seed Search in Tucson.
  John gave me a big quart jar of seed and I forgot about it until Josh and I found it this year, twenty years since it's last seen the sun. Josh and I planted it the day after he graduated; Today it's poking it's head above ground and reaching for the sun. Welcome back! It's companion red lima beans aren't stirring yet, but I figure we'd get at least a few sprouts out of any batch of seed and since they can't all be duds, they're just taking their time. We'll see.

  Yesterday Josh and I went to Manzanita Outdoor in Prescott to pick up his new boat. It's his graduation present. We started looking for boats in the early spring and missed a number of them on Craigslist and also locally. Josh went back and forth between canoes and kayaks. Finally realizing that for now, a kayak wouldn't be a great first boat as a kayak is much more group dependent . He isn't likely to take a kayak out by himself, and at present isn't connected to any experienced kayakers with whom he can get out often enough to really learn. I'm pretty sure when he gets connected to the river running community in Flagstaff next year that will change. Being the roller blader and skateboarder he is I expect the first time he has a chance to kayak he'll be smitten. For now, he wants a boat that he can explore the rim lakes in and paddle the Verde and Oak Creek.
  We had a chance to look at a couple of different used Mad River Adventure 14s. We found two different 14's but missed buying both of them. They both sold for very close to retail price and one of them was 7 years old and pretty beat. As spring wore on canoe sales began to pick up and by Memorial Day there weren't any for sale, so we negotiated a pretty good deal with Manzanita on a new one. The Benz did a great job of bringing it home over Mingus Mountain and The Kid is already planning his first trip with a buddy.
  Josh's hard work at Red Rock HS continues to pay off. We got word of two more scholarships that have come in, both from foundations that provide scholarships to high achieving native American students. He won't be notified about Hopi tribal scholarship money until next month, but in looking at his NAU financial statement online, it looks like he's  going to be paid in full with what he's already received. I don't know how it works in other states, but for Arizona resident students, if you're not a high achiever you better have parents with deep pockets or you're going to be 80k dollars in debt when you graduate. Josh's class is the last one to be awarded the AIMS high achievement tuition waiver. The morons in our legislature and on our university Board of Regents have decided that helping deserving resident students is a bad idea. What's WRONG with this picture??
  Before coming home we stopped at Park Plaza Liquor and Deli, just off the square in Prescott. What a store. This place has a huge selection of wines and specialty liquors and something like 500 beers with over 300 of them available as singles. You can mix and match your own custom six packs and with 6 or more you get a 10 percent discount. They have a great kitchen with really good and affordable burgers, deli sandwiches and wood fire baked pizzas. The burgers are great, there is no foo foo artsy fartsy snobbishness to put up with, prices are reasonable and I can't wait to go back and try the pizza.
  Well, it's 7 a.m., only 60 degrees but the chill is waning fast and I'd better get out and feed the beasts and have a pep talk with the lazy lima beans.  Salud!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Graduation, lima beans, twenty year old corn and deposit bottles for wine

  It's been real busy around here lately.  Josh's graduation is Wednesday. It's been a typical last minute affair getting announcements written and mailed out. For some reason the kid will absolutely NOT blow his own horn and had no clue why anyone would want to get one of his announcements. It was like pulling multiple teeth to get him to actually sit down and fill them all out. He's done very well at Red Rock, graduating near the top of his class, National Honor Society membership, lots of scholarships including a recent juicy one from the Herman and Katherine Peters foundation. Good thing too, it's still boggles my mind every time I think about the fact that it costs IN STATE students about 20K dollars per year to go to any of the three state universities. Tuition is within a few hundred bucks of 10K, add in books, room and board and you've got twice that. I thought the whole point of the state land grant college system was to make college available and affordable for local kids. Boy was I mistaken. I remember paying 320 bucks a year at ASU for a full load. Shoot, textbooks cost more than tuition. I think I left college with a total "educational" loan debt of around 3K bucks, and I'd used that money to buy cars!

  Grownup beverages continue to be interesting around here. There are at least two new wine-themed restaurants and tasting venues in Old Town Cottonwood. I plan to get over there and write about them when the diploma-dust settles and the garden is finally all planted. The tomatoes, squash, onions, shallots, red chard and herbs are all in and up and the strawberries are producing more than they ever have in the last couple of years, which means you can actually pick enough to bring into the house instead of just happily grazing on them in the garden. It's been fairly cool so far and they seem to like that and flower more. They'll shut down too soon though, soon as it gets really hot. We still have Hopi red lima beans to plant as well as Johnny M's New Mexico Red grinding corn. He grew out that corn along the banks of the Verde in 1991, and gave me a quart jar of seed tightly sealed. The jar got stashed in one of my seed boxes and lay forgotten in the pantry ever since. Josh and I found it this year and put 20 kernels in wet paper towels ala elementary science class, and 18 of them sprouted in less than a week. So in a few more days it'll all be in the ground and I can get out a bit to check out the beverage scene a bit more.

  Yesterday was an off day for me at Desert Market, but I stopped by because the folks from Kind Vines in Flagstaff were there sampling out their new products. This three person company has a really great idea and I have high hopes for them. Their concept is pretty simple. Go out and find two good, reasonably priced, highly drinkable California wines, and one good locally produced beer. Flag has a number of decent local breweries. Come up with a label that is baked-on enamel, not paper. Invent a really cool reusable silicon gasketed glass stopper instead of a cork. Price the bottled products reasonably, and give a 2 dollar discount on the next bottle when the it's returned with it's stopper. Sanitize and refill the bottles. Zero waste wine and beer! It's also a real deposit. In other words, you can take your bottle and stopper back in and get your two bucks back if you don't want another bottle, or you can get two bucks off a different purchase if you want.
  The problem is, in order for this idea to fly, you've got to have a product that people will come back for. They've done well choosing their initial offerings. The Cabernet is spicy, mellow, with even tannins and just enough fruit to make it interesting but not the kind of cab you have to think about real hard. Barbecue cab, steak cab, roasted potatoes, carrots and onions cab. Their Chardonnay is a standout. I say this as a person who doesn't like Chardonnay in it's normal California Oakey configuration. If you're looking for the typical greasy  "buttery" chard that's been aged in oak, forgeddaboutit. This is a crisp, grassy, herbal chard that's done in stainless steel. Very nice. Their beer selection was a smart start, but I won't be drinking any of it. It's an IPA brewed by Lumberyard in Flagstaff. I understand their reasoning. IPAs are all the rage now among micro-brew drinkers, who apparently think beers so heavily hopped that they make you pucker up and bark like a dog are good. Me, not so much, but they'll sell beer. The college crowd will be all over it.
  Local buyers will find their offerings in Basha's and they are expanding slowly but surely. Several local restaurants have them too. I really hope they can pull it off. The simplicity of their plan is breathtaking. They tell me they are trying to hit up the local winemakers for product too, and that can only be a good thing.
  I stopped by Desert Market again late this evening and it turns out that they sold ALL of the two cases the distributors brought with them. Normally, when I work, we sell 20 or more bottles of wine in a day. On off weekends, it's been running more like a dozen bottles. Not bragging, just saying. I can sell wine. People today were jumping all over the idea of returnable wine bottles, buying bottles of each kind. It looks like the idea may have legs.  Watch for Kind Vines and give it a try.

 Salud to everyone, I doubt I'll be posting again till after the last strains of Pomp and Circumstance have faded into the sunset and the corn and beans are in the ground.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Fair Food

  The Verde Valley Fair has ended for another year.  We didn't show any goats this year, so our participation was minimal. For the last eight years, "fair week" has meant that we had to rearrange our schedules, take time off from work and school and be generally stretched real thin for 7 full days. Going to the fairgrounds every day, twice a day, to feed, water, clean pens, attend livestock shows and the auction and help the younger kids in the poultry and goat clubs. It was a real burn-out, but one we looked forward to. Josh's senior schedule and new job at Orion Bakery made him simply too busy to participate. He stayed in 4H, but did a photography project instead.

  Since Josh had photos entered, Katie decided at the last minute to enter one of her paintings in the art show too. It's an older one, sorry I don't have a pic of it, a watercolor of a little ruin that's in Chinle Wash, about a mile upstream from the wash's confluence with the San Juan River in Utah. A favorite place of ours for many years. She entered as an amateur because amateurs entry fees are only a dollar versus a ten dollar fee for "professionals". Somehow, in typical Verde Valley Fair fashion, she won best of show in Professional Class, and got a real spiffy ribbon and....drumroll.....a THIRTEEN DOLLAR premium!

  Josh's photos didn't win any ribbons or lucrative prize money, but he got lots of positive comments on them. Seeing the photo winners, it was pretty obvious that the judges were looking for "pictures that grandma would buy", as my friend Bobdog Brubaker says. You know, pretty closeups of flowers, or some old rusty car or wagon wheel. Josh's photos are gritty, require some thought. Here's one of my favorites, it's worth clicking on the image to see the larger version:

  As a result, we were able to actually attend the fair as regular fair-goers, gawking at all the carny type people and munching fair food. Fair food, in case you've not noticed, is a culinary genre with a huge following. It's also a category of food that's growing and changing all the time. It's truly amazing to see the novel ways that fair food chefs can transform the five food groups; sugar, salt, potatoes, grease and meat into gustatory delicacies designed to delight young and old.

  Skipping fair food while attending the fair out of some kind of silly nose-in-the-air culinary snobbery is to miss out on one of the main ingredients in the fair experience. You gotta at least get a funnel cake, and spill powdered sugar all over your shirt, or a big greasy barbecue sandwich, or a giant block of curly fries, or one of those enormous mutant-turkey legs. Roasted corn on a stick, all slathered with "butter" and lots of salt?  Come on. It's once a year, dive in head first.

  Katie has a particular fondness for the Grand Daddy of Fair Food Delicacies; The Corn Dog. A weenie on a stick, dipped in cornmeal batter and fried to golden deliciousness. Somehow, she missed getting one, so last night we endeavored to recreate them at home. Ours came out really well. Your author had never made a corn dog before, but I figured, how hard can it be? So I used blue corn flour to make the batter. It's simple really. Half a cup each of blue corn meal and white flour, a teaspoon of baking powder, an egg, half a cup of milk and a pinch each of salt and sugar. Get a big pot of oil going to about 360 degrees. You can test it by dropping some batter in; if it puffs up and turns brown, it's ready. I used Farmer John smoked sausages on bamboo skewers. Make sure the sausages are dry, dust them with flour, dip them in the batter and dunk them in the oil until they're all nice and puffed and brown. Mustard and Ketchup are the traditional condiments, but it occurred to me that since these were smoked sausages and not just your average weenie, I'd try some maple syrup as a dunk instead. A revelation, lemme tell ya. An ale from Prescott Brewing Company and some Flat Tire ale were the wash downs. The curly fries pictured are another story I'm just not going to tell.

  There's a disorganized slide show below of the arcane corndog cooking process if you're really bored. Meantime, it's May second and my tomatoes are crying to be planted.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Wine Tasting and Troy Bilt Tillers

  You can't drive anywhere in this valley without ending up behind some minivan with a decal of  a happy family of stick figure parents and kids in decreasing size and a "god is my copilot" bumper sticker.  In that same spirit, I have my own version now. Presented without further comment.
 It's now official, I'll be pouring wine at Desert Market every other weekend, which, according to my careful prosthesis, comes out to twice a month. I've done two sessions so far, the second being last Saturday. I didn't write about the first session, as it went well but ended in a pretty bizarre fashion and I didn't know exactly what to say about it and was concerned that it might be my first and ONLY time there. Several good friends dropped by, including Johnny Montezuma and Susun, neighbors Greg and Nancy, and lots of other folks who formerly knew me as only their kids' teacher. Yes Virginia, it's true. Teachers have other interests besides your kids' ability to reason and do not crumble to dust and blow away after they retire. The day went well and we sold a lot of wine, not to mention beer.

  Things ended in a less than pleasant fashion. A couple known for their, um, FIRM political and religious opinions came in and tag-teamed me during the last hour of my tasting. This fellow had, HAD a business relationship with the owner of the store and so felt it was OK to take liberties and began pouring his own wine. I'll cut this short by simply describing it this way. Imagine, you're stuck behind a tasting bar, people are drifting in hoping to sample some wine and beer, and a loony-tunes and his even nuttier wife are both preaching to you. Looney Tunes is blaming the entire history of the United States and every wrong ever committed on President Obama and "The Socialists", while simultaneously, his deranged spouse, eyes wide and looking reminiscent of the eyes of that guy who shot Gabrielle Giffords, is showing you a carefully highlighted copy of a book of morals written for young people by Noah Webster in 18 hundred and something that she just happens to carry around with her. In addition, she's explaining how the Constitution of the U.S. is based on the book of Leviticus.

  I don't claim to be an Old Testament scholar, but the book of Leviticus is a book of laws. Most of these laws involve what ancient Jews could and couldn't eat, who got stoned to death for fornicating with whom, and under what circumstances it's necessary to take a sheep, a goat, or a chicken to the temple to have it's throat cut by the priests and burnt on the altar as payback for some sin. Granted, there is the phrase towards the end "Proclaim Liberty Throughout The Land", which happens to be on our Liberty Bell, or carved in the lintel of some D.C. building or something. Maybe that's the part she was talking about. Please be aware that I am not anti-Any Religion, I am Anti-Stupidity. She also managed, somehow, to blame virtually all of humankind's illnesses on, and I'm not making this up, GLUTEN. I had no idea what an evil, foul,  insidious, downright EVIL agent gluten is. And here I thought it was just a simple protein found in wheat and other grains that expands and knits things together, making risen bread possible. BOY are my eyes open NOW.

  Neither of this pair appeared to be aware that the other was talking. Each of them felt they had a BIG fish on the line and they weren't about to let me off the hook. My conversion was apparently what they'd been living for for some time. Having no spare Xanax in my pocket (note to self) and having nearly chewed through my tongue being nice, I had to beat a hasty retreat and got out of there as fast as I could.

  It turns out that Mike, the owner, was way more than sympathetic and we now have a nice "No Politics, No Religion, and No Cell Phones" sign posted right on the front of the bar. My second tasting went really well last Saturday. A steady trickle of folks beginning around noon. It turns out that Desert Market is ideally located to catch incoming folks from the valley who are headed to the tasting rooms at Page Springs, and also those who have already been there and are headed elsewhere. I actually like the ones who've already hit Javelina Leap, Page Springs Cellars and the others. They are nicely loosened up and ready to buy more. We sold 22 bottles of wine between noon and 5 out of that little store. I think we can do better as the tourist season cranks up.

  In other news, it's gardening time. When we first moved here, my neighbor, an aging and experienced gardener lectured me; "Don't plant until the mesquites are budding AND you can't see any snow left on the mountain".  That sage advice worked for years, but now, not so much. It's getting hotter earlier each year. One week it's freezing and then  whammo, it's summer and your tender plantings are keeling over in the heat. I never manage to get it quite right, stalling and worrying that it might freeze again. This year we want to have everything in by the first few days of April.  Our oldest garden spot, which now doesn't get enough sun to support a lot, is devoted solely to strawberries, a few herbs, and I planted the rest of it in onions and shallots. Last year's newer, sunnier and bigger plot will be strictly tomatoes and some kind of squash I can manage that won't turn into a monster. French Ronde de Nice round zukes I'm thinking. We're also fencing off the largest and sunniest spot out in the pasture. It has to be well fenced as it will be a big attraction for the goats. It will be for Hopi Red Lima beans and corn. We're going to plant a New Mexico heritage variety of red grinding corn originally grown down by the Verde by Johnny Montezuma his-self. He gave me a big jar of seed years ago and it's finally going into the ground.

  This plot hasn't been planted before, and the other day it dawned on me. "This is a big plot, you need a tiller." Last year, for the smaller space we planted, we utilized Home Depot's "rental" program and bought a little Honda Mantis-type cultivator to bust it up, and took it back for a refund when finished. I don't abuse Home Depot's liberal return policy very often, but hey, money was tight last year. If you've ever known anyone who works for HD, you probably don't have a whole lot of sympathy for that store anyhow.

  As soon as I realized we're gonna need a tiller, I came in the house and opened up good old Craigslist and there, at the top of the farm and garden for sale page, is a 35 year old Troy Bilt Tuffy listed for 25 dollars. Must be a misprint. Years ago Katie's grandfather gave me an ancient Troy Bilt that had been peacefully rusting away under a Cottonwood tree for many years up at Moencopi. "It ran good about 10 years ago". I brought it home and changed the plug and fluids and cleaned the rust out of the gas tank and it fired right up. A few years later a friend of mine was delighted to pay 300 dollars for it.  There is no such thing as a 25 dollar Troy Bilt. Must be a misprint. So I quick called the number on the ad. It turned out that this one was owned by this older fellow in Camp Verde and no, it wasn't a misprint. His comment was almost identical to Katie's grandfather's. "it ran good about 10 years ago, last time I used it".  He had sold his home and was clearing out the typical Camp Verde barn full of all sorts of strange machines, industrial junk and old farming stuff. An interesting fellow, he had gone to school at the one room schoolhouse at the old Child's Power Plant on Fossil Creek. After hearing lots of Verde personal history, he helped me load it up.

The 86 dollar Troy Bilt
  I brought it directly to Ken Bishop's shop in Cornville. Ken and his son Wayne and grandson Coawin can fix anything from a chinese tractor to a 53 Chevy pickup. If there was any life left in that little Troy Bilt, they'd find it. Sure enough, 61 dollars later, it runs like a top. An 86 dollar Troy Bilt. To quote Wayne R. through Johnny M. : "all in a day's Karma".

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Corned Beef and Cabbage

  Q: What does this post have to do with wine? Or with the Verde Valley?
  A: Nothing, deal with it.

  Today is the feast day of St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland. It is a day when the whole country, some 60 or more percent of whom can claim some Irish blood, get really drunk and do things they'd just as soon not admit to and wear silly green hats and pinch each other. God love America and her holidays. We go nuts over Cinco de Mayo (even though we really wish they'd all go home),  a minor observance in Mexico and NOT their day of independence, so why not use our alleged Irish-ness as a reason to do silly things, drink too much and eat supposed "Irish" foods.

  For generations, the Irish have been known not for their food, but for their booze. Legendary distillers of some of the finest whiskey ever made, Bushmill's and Tullamore Dew are beyond compare. Then, there's Guinness. What would life be like without Guinness? I'll tell you. Dismal, that's what. I know you've heard me extoll the virtues of Bitch Creek here. No doubt about it, Bitch Creek is a great beer and my stash is almost gone, but Guinness is, well, Guinness. Guinness is perhaps the highest expression of the brewer's art. Their newly available Foreign Export, at over 8% ABV is beyond compare.

  In the food department, the same cannot be said. Imagine an island, surrounded by the cold, clean waters of the North Atlantic. A North Atlantic filled, brimming, JUMPING full of edible delights. The people who call this island home have a significant seafaring tradition. An ocean full of fish and a population that knows how to navigate those waters ought to equal a seafood culinary tradition beyond compare, right? Well, not so much. What have the Irish traditionally eaten? Cabbage and potatoes. Their legendary dependance on potatoes ( a decidedly native American plant) is what caused so many of them to flee their homeland and come to this country when the crops failed. An ocean full of the healthiest food on the planet and you're running away because the POTATO crops failed? WTF is wrong with this picture??

  I count myself among the smallest minority in this country. Someday I may start a fund or political action committee. PWANI. People Who Are Not Irish. We will stand up for our rights, just you wait and see. In the meantime, we'll just have to eat corned beef and cabbage on St. Patrick's day like all the other Suddenly-Irish Persons in the country.

  Before talking about cooking the above mentioned delicacy, we need to allay some myths. First: Saint Patrick's favorite color wasn't green. He's most often depicted historically in BLUE. Google is your friend, look it up. Second, and most important: CORNED BEEF is not Irish. You will most likely find actual Irish persons eating boiled bacon and cabbage. Irish bacon is more like our salt pork than our bacon. They might also boil up a joint of some mutton, or an un-cured joint of beef with the ubiquitous cabbage, but corned beef is a decidedly American addition to the tradition. In fact, it's more Jewish than it is anything else. The laws of Kosher require beef to be sapped of all it's available blood before cooking. Blood is a big biblical no-no (see Leviticus if you don't believe me). The practice of soaking beef in salt or salt brine is a tenet of Kosher food preparation. In addition, the word "Corned" comes not from any modern use of the word but from the ENGLISH (as in ENGLAND English) word for the size of the salt grains used in salting meat. As any practicing IrishPerson knows, the English are the Devil's Own.

  Somehow, never the less, corned beef and cabbage has become what silly Americans associate with St.   Patrick's day. All ethnic considerations aside, it's a great dish. Salty meat, cabbage, potatoes, what in the world is there not to like? It doesn't go with wine. It requires beer, stout beer, ale, good stuff, GUINNESS.

  I was in WalMart today buying a piece of corned beef and a head of cabbage. As I passed through the checkout, the lady checker said "you better get home and put this on if you want to have it tonight, mine's been in the CrockPot all day".  I smiled and said "I barbecue mine, doesn't take so long". "Oh", she said, looking at me like I was some alien spoor come to spoil her "tradition".

  Here's how to cook corned beef so it tastes better than the stringy stuff we all grew up with.

  SOAK: soak your piece of corned beef in tepid water for at least 2 hours to remove the salt. Change the water at least twice or three times if you can. Reserve the water from the last soaking.

  SIMMER: your beef in the last soaking's liquid until a thermometer registers about 140 degrees on the inside of the beef. Don't boil it for God's sake. It'll take an hour or so. Save the simmering liquid.

  SPICE: your beef with the paltry amount of seasoning that comes in the cheesy packet you got with your roast. Add to that more pepper, coriander seeds, etc. to cover the fat side of the meat.

  ROAST: your beef using offset heat on your grill. Light one side, put the roast on a sheet of foil to catch drippings or a pan that fits if you have one. Your grill should be not hotter than 250 American Degrees. It'll take about an hour. When it's up to 160 American Degrees inside, take it out, cover it with foil and let it rest.

  BOIL: your potatoes and cabbage, putting the potatoes in first and adding the cabbage during the last 5 minutes or so (see Vlad and Corina's cabbage abomination in a previous post) in the liquid you simmered the beef in.

  Slice the beef, scoop out the taters and cabbage, open a Gunness and enjoy.

 As me sainted grandmother never in her life said, "What's a fookin' crockpot?"


Friday, March 4, 2011

A New Sampling Gig

  Well I've worked out a deal with Mike Anderson at Casey's Corner Desert Market, right here in Cornville. For those who are unaware, it's right on the corner of Page Springs and Cornville Roads. Mike has been really pumping up his wine and beer selections recently, and his tastings are getting popular. They're also the best deal going pricewise.

  In most of the other tasting rooms, you pay around 15 bucks and get to sample 6 wines and keep the glass. Typically, you get a one ounce pour for each sample. This equates to about a glass and a half total. Mike noticed that lots of folks only wanted to try one or two wines, and so has come up with a new pricing schedule. You can get a teeny, half ounce taste for free in a plastic sample cup. You can also get a nice 2 ounce sample and keep the glass for 2 bucks, additional samples are a dollar each. We'll be sampling three wines, so you'll pay 4 dollars for sampling all three and keep the glass. We are also going to be sampling 5 different craft beers. Small craft samples will be free, or if you find one you'd like to try more of, you can buy a bottle and legally drink it on the premises.

  In addition to the featured wines and beers, Mike has tons of specialty liquors available for sampling. He's even got a mead that's made from Prickly Pear fruit and local desert honey, and is being produced in...wait for it...I'm NOT making this up....RIMROCK!! Tasty, strong and VERY pricey stuff. I haven't researched it yet but am planning a separate writeup on it. Gotta get to know this maker and hopefully get a tour. I don't know if I still have my Viking hat or not.

  We will be sampling the following wines: Novellum 2009 Chardonnay. A very nice French Chardonnay. Done in the French style in stainless steel, without the oak aging that I've ranted about before. Grassy, herbal, fruity, without the "buttery" (oily?) notes of so many California Chards. Blackstone Vineyards Sonoma Reserve Pinot Noir. This one should be interesting but a bit risky. Pinot Noir is the hardest grape to grow and the most financially troubling for winemakers. Pinot grapes like a cool growing season followed by increasing heat near harvest time. Low yields and a picky personality can produce some pretty awful Pinots. I don't know this one well so am going to sample it again before work. Chateau Bonnet 2007 Bordeaux. A French 50/50 blend of Merlot and Cab Sauvignon. Tasty stuff, tobacco, dark fruit, bitter chocolate.

 For those who pay for a taste, all wines are 10 percent off. I'll be there tomorrow, Saturday March 5th from 11 to 5. Come by and have a taste. Salud!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Valentine's Weekend Miscellany

  Sometimes you just need to ramble so this is going to be a quickly written, unedited, rambling post. Valentine's Day, officially tomorrow I guess, is to this old curmudgeon a made up holiday, like Easter and Halloween, designed to pick the pockets of guilty suckers, who spend more than they can legitimately afford on fleeting pleasures like roses and chocolate, in a vain effort to make up for a full year of complete emotional negligence. Uh huh, feel all better now? It's secondary purpose is to cause angst among tween and teen boys and break the heart of every girl over the age of 10. An added benefit is lots of business for dentists. Humbug I say. Every day is Valentine's day at our house. Just ask Mrs. Goatherder....wait, maybe you better not. Anyhow, this weekend turned out pretty nice and since the Missus works tomorrow, we had a great time together as she was off all weekend.

  We had good friends visiting from the Frozen Wastes of Terre Haute Indiana, wherever that is, somewhere in the east I'm told. Mike and Terre are old friends who we don't get to see very often. Mike and I went to high school and college together and have had more than our share of misadventures over the years. They came out so Terre could run in the Sedona Marathon on Saturday morning. While Terre and Mike's son's girlfriend were huffing and puffing up the hills of Sedona, we were having breakfast at The Coffee Pot Restaurant, "home of 101 omelettes". Not a bad breakfast. It included the added feature of a case of heartburn. I never get heartburn. I did yesterday. Also included was a visit with Mike's first wife and the mother of his oldest son. She lives in Sedona it turns out. He has lots of sons. Lana was not only Mike's first wife at an extremely tender age, she was a crush of mine in the 6th grade. I used to walk her home. We hadn't seen each other since. Pretty strange but amusing none the less.

  Our pals went back to Flagstaff to spend the day with their son Devin. Devin works for Nackard Distributing, the 800 lb. gorilla of liquor distributors in N. Arizona, and he knows and has ins with all the restaurants. They spent the day eating and drinking too much. Kate and I came home and after a rest and a big slug of pink stuff, we went over to the recently re-imagined Casey's Corner, now known as Desert Market. You can look at their new website here. They were having their wine tasting. This wine tasting, as I've mentioned before, is the best tasting deal in the valley. They now charge 2 bucks for the first taste, and a dollar per taste after that. Taste 3 wines, it's 4 bucks and you get to keep the glass. One thing Desert Market has that you won't find at ANY other tasting: Beer. For the price of admission they'll also have usually 4 microbrews that they're featuring. No charge for samples. I had a chance to talk further with owner Mike Anderson and we are definitely going to work together. I'm going to start taking a few tastings a month and doing some private events for him. We'll see what develops after that.

  When we came home, I decided to put together an elk stew. Browned two pounds of floured, seasoned elk meat with a big sweet onion till they were caramelized, then added half a bottle of Bitch Creek, a handful of mashed garlic cloves, lots of pepper, some jalapenos I roasted on the grill, and the basics of celery (including the leafy tops, don't throw out the leafy tops, ever) carrots and whole baby yukon gold potatoes. Topped it with stock and stuck it in the oven for about 4 hours. The celery and onions melted down completely and it thickened into a real dark, tasty ragout. Went nice with a bottle of Malbec we picked up at Desert Market, followed by a few tiny bites of  artisanal chocolate confections that are being sold there, made by some very talented hippy girl from Cottonwood. Or Clarkdale. Or somewhere.

  Today, we met back up with Mike, Terre, Devin and Devin's lady friend Lindsay, who is a first year, rookie middle school psychologist in Flagstaff. God bless her. We went to the Camp Verde Wine and Pecan Festival which had been going on since friday. This festival gets better every year. Hundreds of people enjoying the sunshine, the antiques, the barbecue, the vendors of arts and crafts and cigars and of course, the wine. The valley's wineries were well represented, with the notable absence of Merkin and Caduceus. Nobody seemed to know why Maynard had decided not to sample his wines in Camp Verde. He missed a bet is all I can say. The booths were doing land office bottle sales. Mike and Terre took The Stronghold's reserve Chardonnay back to Indiana with them. I would suggest to anyone who wants to spend a pleasant early warm-up February day, this is the place to do it. A fine time all around.

  For those who aren't aware, Cornville has it's very own mission. The mission provides free food to all comers, and these days it comes very welcome by many who are struggling in our community. The mission is the single-handed success of Greg Roeler, who took it upon himself to fill this need a couple of years ago. In that short time he's managed to gather food donations from all over the northland, has opened a very nice thrift store at the corner of Page Springs Road and Cornville Road, and today, managed to pull off what Cornville has always been known for: a fantastic community come-together for a good cause.
  Greg organized a community dinner to benefit the mission. A seven dollar donation got you a very nice dinner prepared by noted retired chef Al Kramer, former owner of The Manzanita Inn, a Cornville landmark. The dinner was held at the Living Water Retreat Center, a place I often refer to cynically as "The Jeezus Hotel" at the end of our road. Josh has worked there bussing tables since he was 13. Finally, when they realized what a great kid and sterling employee he is, they quit trying to proselytize him. He never got the "Another Boy For Jesus" T-shirt. Recently, he became a prep cook there. He assisted Al Kramer in the meal tonight, all volunteer. He spent 8 full hours busting his backside and loved every minute of working for a real chef. Kramer is notoriously, shall we say, brusk. I had suggested to Josh that he practice saying "yes chef" and "right now chef" and it paid off. When we got there for dinner Kramer had nothing but praise for him. Well done son! It turned out that Greg had sold only 57 advanced tickets, but in typical Cornville style the whole darn community seemed to show up. There were at least 300 people there by the time we arrived, and the food ran out early. I forsee a yearly event. Greg was beside himself.
  We're now closing out this Valentine's weekend watching romantic comedies. I keep hoping we can watch a movie that has explosions or cowboys in it, but I'm betting it's not to be. Better get another Bitch Creek open and settle in. Salud!

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Sampling Wine at Sam's Club?

  I know it's been a long time since I've updated this blog. Very little in the way of wine has happened since the holidays. Mostly, I've been trying to figure out how to get rid of the 6 pounds that found their way to my gut thanks to all the Bitch Creek I've been downing in place of wine. No solution so far, as Suzy Q market still has a few cases of that frothy goodness left, and I am not quite broke yet. It's the best beer bargain on the planet. But I digress.

  WalMart is the Devil. Satan incarnate. Killer of local businesses and abuser of employees world wide. We all know that, yet we shop there anyhow. Go figure. Cheap is cheap. Principles be damned when the price is right. I stumbled into a gig working for a nationwide product promotion outfit and was offered the chance to sample some wines at the Prescott Valley Sam's Club. What the heck? Twenty bucks an hour plus mileage there and back. A big nationwide day before the Stupor Bowl promotion. First place winner in bottle sales for each state gets a hundred dollar Sam's Club gift card. Who knew they sampled wine at warehouse stores? Curiosity got the better of me and so I said yes.

In order to work for this outfit, I had to complete the Arizona Dept. of Liquor License and Control's alcohol server's certification. The company paid the 35 dollar fee, and I took the course online. It took half an hour and included such thrilling topics as how to recognize a drunk person, how to spot a fake I.D., how to cut someone off who's had too much, and how to handle an aggressive drunk. (call the cops, duh). The questions were multiple choice and tough. Here's an actual example which I am not making up:

You have refused service to a customer who has clearly had too much to drink. The customer becomes aggressive and argumentative. Your best response in this situation is:
A. Threaten the customer with a club or other scary weapon.
B. Acquiesce and give the customer another drink strong enough to make him pass out and be harmless.
C. Agree to serve the customer but slip him club soda with lemon instead of alcohol.
D. Notify management for help and then call law enforcement without confronting the customer.

It reminded me of the military test I saw during the Viet Nam war that had a picture of a flower, a cow, a hammer and asked "Which picture best illustrates a tool?"

Anyway, I was somehow able to pass with flying colors and now have a cool certificate. I also have one for the state of Texas, because the company initially sent me the wrong log in information and NOWHERE in the lessons and text did the word 'Texas' appear until I'd passed and had my certification.  For the record, Texas' course is a whole lot easier than Arizona's. Now I can bartend in private dry-county clubs in the Texas hill country. I feel ever so much more financially secure. When things get real bad here, "There's always Texas".

Next came a half hour conference call with the company to "train" me in how to contact the manager at Sam's club and arrange for set up of my sampling table. It also covered how to pour a half ounce sample and dire warnings about leaving open bottles unattended, and strict instructions on how to dispose of unused product at the end of the shift. No, I didn't get to take the half consumed bottles with me. They had to be poured down a drain with the manager on duty watching and I had to do it, for some reason. What they didn't cover is what to do if you arrive at your Sam's Club and NOBODY knows you're supposed to be there.

Me: "Hi Ms. Manager Person, I'm here for the Prestige-Trincheros Nationwide SuperBowl Wine Demo"

Ms. Manager Person: "The what?"

Me: "The Prestige-Trincheros Nationwide SuperBowl Wine Demo, it's going on at Sam's Clubs across this land of ours. They told me you'd know all about it."

Ms. Manager Person: "Huh. So you want us to set up a table or something?"

Me: "That'd be great, or just tell me where the tables are and I'll do it."

Ms. Manager Person: "That's OK, I'll get Eddie to do it, hang on a few minutes."

I hung on for half an hour until Eddie, who turned out to be a really funny and helpful guy could be found and got me set up. Thank goodness for the Eddies who work at Sam's Club, the managers are clueless. In this day and age, this little episode sure begs the security question. The kit bag I was lugging into that store coulda been loaded with ten or twenty pounds of plastique or a Glock with a few 30 round clips and nobody would have known the difference. Kinda scary.

The Prescott Valley Sam's is really nice. Spotlessly clean and has a great product selection and, apparently, almost no customers. We're used to going to Costco there, and on a typical Saturday it's packed. I figured this Sam's would be too, what with it being the day before High Holy Day. I fully expected to see hordes buying giant bags of fozen cocktail weenies, pizza bites, huge plastic barrels of "cheese" puffs and other savory delights for the big day parties. They weren't there. The majority of those who were there apparently go to Sam's for lunch. There are people handing out samples on almost every aisle. Shrimp cocktail with BIG shrimp, Fettucine Alfredo, beautiful pizza, all sorts of tasty looking stuff. I lost count of the number of people I saw pushing around empty carts that had the kid seat part folded out so it could hold a veritable smorgasboard of samples. Munching happily, they didn't appear to be actually buying anything. I commented to the guy handing out the shrimp that it looked to me like a lot of people just show up for the free food. He said "yup, 40 bucks a year and you can eat lunch here every day free." Apparently, nobody cares. Who knew?

The wines I poured were largely forgettable. A pretty good German Reisling in a cutesy trick bottle that has a 3D label, a puckeringly dry Italian sparkling Prosecco, which you'll definitely want to have on hand if you follow Giada Dilaurentis' cleavage recipes on Food Network, and two reds. One, Barrel Box Cabernet, I can't even find a link for online, and the last and only decent one was The Show Malbec; an Argentine import. We've had this one before as well as The Show Cabernet, and they are both quite tasty. The Malbec has really heavy tannins and oak and desperately needs to breathe in order to open up and mellow out. Out of the bottle there's only one word for it; bitter. Given a little air, it's great. I had been given strict instructions NOT to pre-pour samples for security reasons. Wouldn't want some wino or pimply teenager stealing a teaspoon of wine and getting all cranked up. After watching customers screw their faces up into knots and hearing "boy is that stuff BITTER" about a dozen times, I threw the pre-pour rule out the window and let The Show air out a bit. Afterwards, I sold 5 bottles of it. There are some wines that really do need some elbow room.

Altogether, my experience sampling cheap wine at Sam's was interesting and fun, albeit a bit demeaning. Will I do it again? Sure. Easy money is easy money.

On the way back home, I decided on a whim to stop in at Casey's Corner, now renamed "Desert Market" for some beer. Mike Anderson, the owner was there just concluding his Saturday wine and beer sampling. I told him what I'd been doing and we got to talking and it turned out he's going to hire me to do his tastings periodically. I'll also be doing a custom private sampling for a wedding in April. Some horsey couple is getting married at the Dancing Apache Ranch and then bringing their entire guest list to Desert Market for a private tasting. I get to pour. That's another story though, and I'll report on it later. Salud!