An Experience to Savor

Aug 19, 2012 -- Posted by : fran

Sometimes what begins as an ordinary day turns into the extraordinary. Such was our experience recently when a good friend stopped by the vineyard. The next day he wrote about the experience. This blog contains no photos, but if you like words and word pictures, you might just enjoy his account of the day:

I had thought that the Young Oenophile at our house might be interested in seeing a vineyard‑‑Marilyn and Larry's‑‑that was just getting underway, and courtesy of a gracious invitation from them, we spent a good portion of yesterday at theirs. YO and I set out mid‑morning, and, after lunch at a York diner (where the YO allowed as how it was the first time he'd been in a diner sober in a long time, thereby bringing something that was not yet either joy or pride to his father), we wound our way through the vales and swales of western Lancaster County to 1489 Grandview.

It was hot. The vineyard lies on a south‑facing slope and the lane to their house runs along the upper edge, winding back into a small wood wherein stands their house. Larry and Marilyn met us at the winery, which is under construction, and Larry and YO were soon talking wine porn left and right: cabs, chardonnays, pinots, and why California merlot was the object of such derision in the movie _Sideways_. (It's apparently too hot in CA for the merlot grape, so CA merlot strives to reach even the level of indifference.)

But YO and I also learned how fragile the crop can be: a small amount of rain at the critical time when the blossoms are just accomplishing their work will impede the setting of the fruit, thereby diminishing the harvest. And we learned that leaves covering the fruit must be stripped off so that the sun can happily kiss the grapes themselves. And that the vines must be tied up within the trellis lest they sprawl in an unseemly manner and interfere with their neighbors. (There appears to be no end to this. I remembered to Marilyn Henry David Thoreau's comment about the plight of the farmer: "Having set a trap to catch a living, he turns around only to find his own leg caught in the trap....")

Being a gracious host, Larry invited us to stay for an early dinner so we could taste some of the fruits of their labors. I immediately volunteered YO's services as chef and the die was cast. We hied off to the shade of their house, where Marilyn rummaged in the freezer a bit. Knowing that Larry was a great hunter, I wondered if there was any venison in the freezer. As it turned out, there was, and we soon had a couple of nice chunks of frozen Bambi defrosting in a pan in the sink.

YO and I made the menu on the way to the grocery store, where we laid in supplies. The look on the young produce stocker's face was utterly and pricelessly blank when we asked him about fresh fennel. So we moved on.

The menu was seared venison steaks in a tarragon‑mushroom sauce, roasted sweet potatoes slathered with gingered butter, and a small salad w/walnuts and dried cranberries and Asian pears and dressed with a quick fresh vinaigrette that included lemon, garlic, and a touch of honey. Yours truly threw together a quick steamed blueberry mush for dessert. (We whipped the cream left over from making the tarragon‑mushroom sauce and used it to top the steamed blueberry mush.)

Venison must be served rare to medium rare, although not of course so rare that it bleats when you put a fork to it. YO had never done venison before and was quite pleased with how it came out. I don't think it was cooked for more than 5‑7 minutes total: a few minutes searing on each side and then a few minutes more finishing in a very hot oven. I prepared the salad and was pleased with how little actually fell onto the floor while I was washing and tossing it. Of course, I forgot to put in the Asian pear, so I got an F for yesterday. YO showed his knife skills by slicing the pear into almost translucently thin and even slices, and left it to me to fling the slices about on the salad in everyone's little salad bowl.

Of course, we were sampling wines as we went along. YO used some of the cab to deglaze the skillet in which he had seared the venison and added that goodness to the tarragon‑mushroom sauce. We even tried the elderberry wine, which was a first for both YO and me.

A great time was had by all, although there could have been a touch more ginger in the gingered butter that was spread onto the roasted sweet potatoes. (The fresh ginger root at the supermarket had a bluish cast to it, which is fine if you are a cheese, but not so fine if you are not. We opted instead for candied ginger slices, which also caused some hemming and hawing from the floor staff at the market. The young man to whom we addressed the question replied "My mom gets it at Wegmans..." which is fine if you're at Wegmans but we were somewhere else. In any event, we finally found it in the Asian foods section, hiding behind a display of wooden spoons.

After a fine time of wining and dining and speaking of shoes, and ships, and sealing wax, of cabbages and kings, YO and I headed back towards Takoma Park. Thanks so much to Larry and Marilyn for their hospitality, and the tasty bits of Bambi courtesy of Larry's skills with a rifle and a butcher knife. YO allowed as how he had had a very enjoyable afternoon indeed. His pop agreed.

What a great description of the day! My version would vary only slightly. . .

Yes, Larry is always the gracious host, and when he spontaneously invited our friends to stay for dinner, I nearly went into panic mode. I'm not sure why I hadn't thought to extend the invitation ahead of time...I'll blame it on the recent weeks of working in the vineyard long hours in the heat of the day. Fried my brain? Anyway, as I was wildly thinking about what I could make, yet another suggestion...YO could cook for us. (YO recently completed two years study at The Culinary Institute of America) YO's Pop says it was his offer, I would have said the suggestion came from Larry. From wherever the idea arose, our guests graciously agreed, and so we headed to the house to see what we could find. I did recover my good graces enough to offer to make a run to the grocery for any items they might need, but they offered to do that, too. So, with the venison defrosting, our guests headed to the store, and I hurried to the shower to wash off the residue of my day in the vineyard, then cleaned up the kitchen from breakfast and lunch.

The culinary experts soon returned and made themselves at home in the kitchen while I sat at the table enjoying the conversation and the running commentary. Larry came in as the meal prep was underway and we began the wine tasting. Larry and YO had interesting conversation about the various characteristics, bouquet and flavors. I just sipped and savored...the wine and the moments.

The meal was exquisite, the conversation delightful. A truly extraordinary evening!


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