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!