Weekly Photo Challenge: Afloat

Our theme for the Weekly Photo Challenge this week is:  Afloat.
Our instructions:  This week, show us what afloat means to you.

Some of you may recognize this handsome devil.  I first published him in a blog post I wrote about punching a shark in the face on our trip to the Abacos, Bahamas.  I’m not kidding.  I punched a shark.  In the face.  (And that pretty much wrapped it up for me and snorkeling).

This is why I like sea turtles more than sharks.  Sea turtles are nice.

I never did get around to taking that marine biology class, but I think this is a green sea turtle — we named him Leo.  I took his picture one morning while we were on the boat dock.  I couldn’t believe how cooperative he was with having his picture taken (especially with a couple of pre-teen girls standing there squealing, “OMG!!  He’s sooooooooooooooooooo cute!!”

And no, we can’t keep him.  😉

Nikon P510
ISO 100 | 12.4mm | f/3.9 | 1/500 sec


Wine, Words & Wednesday, No. 47

lincoln-assassinated-newspaperYesterday marked the 150th anniversary of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.  Ford’s Theater in Washington, DC is hosting scores of special events and tributes this month, including a special exhibit called Silent Witness: Artifacts of the Lincoln Assassination.  That exhibit includes artifacts carried by Lincoln on the night of the assassination — his top hat, his great coat, and the contents of Lincoln’s pockets (two pairs of glasses, a handkerchief, a pocketknife, a watch fob, nine newspaper clippings, a wallet, and — get this — a Confederate five dollar bill). Now that the Cherry Blossom Festival (aka the National Traffic Jamboree) is over, I may brave a trip downtown to check out the exhibit myself.

What does this have to do with wine?

Our 16th President wasn’t much of a drinker.  In fact, most scholars assert he was pretty much a teetotaler.  Lincoln said alcohol made him feel “flabby and undone” (it makes me feel flabby and undone, too, but in a good way 😉).  Lincoln gave several lectures on temperance, but he wasn’t morally smug about his abstinence.  Lincoln’s idea of temperance wasn’t strict abstinence, but moderation.  “I am an apostle of temperance only to the extent of coercing moderate indulgence and prohibiting excesses”.1  I can get behind that.  Everything in moderation, including moderation.

Lincoln’s law partner, friend, and bodyguard, Ward Hill Lamon, once observed an interesting exchange between Lincoln and the wife of a law associate, Dr. Scott.  Lincoln had just delivered an impromptu temperance lecture (reportedly, he did that a lot, the man was a gifted orator).  After the lecture, Lincoln, Lamon, and a bunch of law buddies attended a reception at the home of Dr. Scott.  Mrs. Scott handed Lincoln a glass of wine and quipped, “I hope you are not a teetotaler, Mr. Lincoln, if you are a temperance lecturer.”2

Mr. Lincoln’s response?


And on that note, I’ll raise my glass to Abraham Lincoln, and the habitual drinking of wine.



All quotes are attributed to:

Lamon, Ward Hill, and Dorothy Teillard. Recollections of Abraham Lincoln, 1847-1865. Chicago: A.C. McClurg, 1895.

Carpe Vinum’s Tour de France: Alsace

If you follow my Carpe Vinum adventures, you know that a couple of us are heading to France on vacation this summer (I’m going Paris and north; my girlfriend is going Paris and south). Last month, we embarked on an in-depth study of the French wine regions where we’ll be traveling — our very own Tour de France.

For every Carpe Vinum tasting, I try to do a research post on our chosen topic.  It’s part of my self-guided continuing wine education.  Here’s the ongoing list of our Tour de France stages (the research post is listed first):

Stage One: Provence and our Provence Tasting
Stage Two: Alsace and our Alsace Tasting (today’s post)
Stage Three: Champagne

The biggest takeaway from my Alsace research was this:  Alsace grows and produces almost exclusively cool-climate, white wine varieties (with an occasional Pinot Noir).

For our Carpe Vinum tasting, we wanted to have a good representation of the major grape varieties of Alsace, so we brought six different grape varieties to pair with three dishes (along with a cheese & dessert course).  The designed pairings are noted, however, the Gewürztraminer and the Riesling were last minute guests, so they don’t have designed pairings.  But, in the interest of education, we tried them with each of the other dishes.

Alright.  So, here are the yummies:

Artichoke-Rosemary Tart with Polenta Crust
I’d be happy to just sit and eat an artichoke sprinkled with rosemary.  I’m not sure whose idea it was to make polenta into a crust, but that’s brilliant.  Yum.  I was surprised by how much heat the black pepper added to the dish.  It made for an interesting contrast in flavors.

Julia Child’s Quiche Lorraine
The filling for this quiche has just seven ingredients (and that’s including the salt, pepper and nutmeg).  How can something with so few ingredients taste so amazing?!?  Julia says the original Quiche Lorraine has no cheese, but she’s given her permission to add it (see the link).  I love this so much, I went out and bought myself a quiche pan (I usually just make quiche in a pie plate like a big rube).  I made this the other night and added some leftover gruyère . . . so, that’ll be a keeper!

Ina Garten’s Croque Monsieur
Translated literally, Croque Monsieur means, Mr. Crunch, which sounds more like a cereal than a sandwich to me.  A Croque Monsieur is a grilled ham and cheese sandwich smothered in a béchamel-gruyère cheese sauce.  It’s like eating a ham & cheese sandwich topped with cheese fondue!  Mmmm.  Another version of the sandwich is topped with a fried egg, and called a Croque Madame.  Btw, my teenage son’s criteria for a “good” sandwich is this:  Can you put an egg on it?  He’s gonna be a happy camper in France this summer.

DSC_4069-1Alsace Willm Crémant Brut Rose  ⭐⭐⭐/86
Pale pink hue.  Light-bodied, with strawberry, rhubarb and almond flavors. Zippy and refreshing.  Not overly complex, but for $15?  Yes, please.  I’m so drinking this on my patio this spring and summer.

Artichoke-Polenta Tart 👍
Artichokes are notorious wine killers, but they can’t kill the delicious bubbles in this Crémant.  Very enjoyable.

Quiche Lorraine 👍
I’m imagining Julia Child sipping Crémant on Sunday morning while eating Quiche Lorraine and reading a French newspaper.  Winner.

Croque Monsieur 👍  (designed pairing)
The bubbles were a perfect balance to the rich, gruyère cheese sauce on the sandwich.  This will be a repeat pairing, for sure.

DSC_4039-1Zinck Pinot Blanc Eguisheim 2012 ⭐⭐⭐/86
A pale straw color.  The nose reminds me a little of Orangina.  Tart citrus flavors, with minerals and chalk on the back end.  Light bodied, crisp, and acidic.  12.5% ABV.   $17.

Artichoke-Polenta Tart 👍 (designed pairing)
The tart tames the acidity in the wine, and the wine brings out the rosemary in the tart.  Very nice.

Quiche Lorraine 👍
The textures of the wine and quiche compliment each other very nicely.  And the acidity provides a nice balance to the creaminess of the quiche.

Croque Monsieur ↔
It’s not terrible, but it’s not awesome, either.  Let’s go with neutral.

DSC_4066-1Cave Vinicole de Kientzheim-Kaysersberg Pinot Gris Schlossberg Alsace Grand Cru 2012 ⭐⭐⭐/87
The nose is all perfume — I wasn’t expecting that in a Pinot Gris.  It’s almost like this Pinot Gris was going to a masquerade party as Gewurztraminer. Medium bodied with a rich, almost creamy texture.  Slightly sweet, but a great dose of acid balances everything out.  $25.

Artichoke-Polenta Tart 👍
The slight sweetness in the wine balances the pepper, but doesn’t completely destroy the artichoke.

Quiche Lorraine 👍 (designed pairing)
Lovely.  The slight sweetness of the wine compliments the creaminess of the quiche, and the acid makes the whole pairing harmonious.

Croque Monsieur
We forgot to taste this with the sandwich.  Boo, us.

DSC_4057-1Zind-Humbrecht Gewurztraminer 2012  ⭐⭐/83
Wine Spectator rated this wine 91 points, and I totally don’t get it.  Smells like someone wearing too much perfume in a floral shop.   The balance seems out of whack.  Looking for the acid.  Maybe flawed?  This is unlike Zind-Humbrecht.  $27.

Artichoke-Polenta Tart 👎
No.  No.  A thousand times, no.  Like drinking sweet perfume.

Quiche Lorraine 👎
Strike two.  Terrible.  What is going on here??

Croque Monsieur 👎
Strike three (though the most bearable of all three dishes).  The Gewurztraminer is out!

I have much better luck with I pair Gewurztraminer with spicy Asian foods.  I’ll keep doing that.

DSC_4055-1Domaine Weinbach Riesling Cuvee Theo 2013 ⭐⭐⭐/89
Beautiful pale straw color.  Tart and light, with flavors of green apple and lemon. Mineral driven, with a great backbone of acidity.  $30.

Artichoke-Polenta Tart 👍
Very nice.  The Riesling brings out the lemon highlights in the tart and doesn’t fight with the artichokes.  The artichokes make the Riesling seem a smidge sweeter, too. Works for me.

Quiche Lorraine ↔
This is really more of a meh pairing.  The quiche isn’t doing the wine any favors, but it’s not beating it up, either.

Croque Monsieur 👎
The sandwich is good.  The Riesling is good.  The sandwich and Riesling are not good together.  The balance is just weird.

DSC_4076-12008 Zind Humbrecht Pinot Gris Heimbourg SGN ⭐⭐⭐⭐/94+
It kind of blows my mind that a wine so sweet and plush can be so perfectly balanced.  Unbelievable texture, like licking a silk pillowcase (and yes, I put that in there to see if anyone really reads these reviews).  Mango, coconut, pineapple, melon.  It’s all in there.  But the most unusual and memorable thing about this wine?  There’s a hint of mushroom on the nose.  Yep, mushroom.  Weird, but unbelievably appealing.  $70.

Roquefort Cheese 👍
I don’t care for the Bleu Family of cheeses.  Every time I eat bleu cheese, I want to re-enact that scene from Big where Tom Hanks tries caviar and wipes off his tongue like he’s just eaten a swarm of bees.  But I don’t want to be closed-minded, either, so I tried Roquefort again.  I still want to wipe it off my tongue.  It’s less terrible paired with the wine, but terrible nonetheless. My girlfriends who like Roquefort enjoyed the pairing, though, hence the thumbs up.

Brilliat Savarin Cheese 👍
This cheese reminded me of a nutty Brie — sooooo much better than the Roquefort.  The wine took on a Sherry like quality with this cheese.  Very interesting match.

Pear Tart 👍👍
This was lovely.  Lovely.  Would it be gauche to lick my plate?

Stage Three of Carpe Vinum’s Tour de France will be . . . Champagne!


Glory, There’s a Whole (Go Big Red) Glob of Us!

Sometimes, you need to step out of your life for a few days, and change the scenery — hit the reset button.  It’s therapeutic.  Over Spring Break, my daughter and I spent a few days in Omaha, Nebraska (back to my midwestern roots) for a 3-generation girls weekend.  Our three-generations crew included me and my daughter, my mom, my aunt, my cousin, and her 3 girls. In the very fantastic words of my Aunt, “Glory, there’s a whole glob of us.”

My aunt lives in Omaha, the rest of us are scattered (Colorado, Ohio and Virginia) — but Nebraska is still home for all of us.  And every time I come home to Nebraska, I’m reminded how much I miss it — the wide open spaces (Nebraska is a claustrophobic’s dream), the Runzas, the Dorothy Lynch salad dressing, the steak (if you ever want to get a Nebraska farmer really excited, just suggest that grass fed beef is superior to corn fed beef), and how genuinely nice everyone is.  Not that folks in Virginia aren’t nice.  They are (mostly).  They’re just not Nebraska Nice.

This is a photo from my family’s farm in Axtell, Nebraska.  You see what I mean about the claustrophobic’s dream?  Nothing but sky and space.  This . . . is my Serenity Now.

The pivot 10

Getting to Omaha was anything but serene.  There were delays (waiting on an inbound aircraft), an epic sprint through O’Hare, and more delays (due to mechanical problems) before we finally arrived.

Sidebar:  I’m always kind of surprised when people complain about delays due to aircraft mechanical problems.  Sure, it’s inconvenient.  But I prefer to fly in planes without mechanical problems.  Do whatever you need to do to make sure important bolts aren’t falling out at 30,000 feet.

We grabbed our rental car (even Nebraska Nice doesn’t sell me the extra insurance, thankyouverymuch), and made a b-line to my cousin Barry’s wine bar — Wine 121.  If you live in Omaha, or near Omaha, or you just want a really fun road trip, set your GPS to Wine 121. Tell Barry Cousin Chardonnay-nay (that’s me, and a story for another day) sent you.  He’ll take good care of you.

As you can see, Wine 121 has an extensive wine library, specializing in cult wines from California, Oregon and Washington.  Barry has tasted and given a thumbs up to all the wines at Wine 121. You won’t find any Little Penguins, Yellow Tails, or wines with scary arsenic levels on Barry’s shelves.  😉


500 bottles of wine on the wall . . . 500 bottles of wine . . .

Barry gave me carte blanche to try anything I wanted (I wanted to try everything).  My top three wines of the weekend were (in no particular order):

  1. Smith-Madrone Cabernet Sauvignon 1992 — Barry read my blog about Smith-Madrone and thought it would be fun for me to taste an older Smith-Madrone Cabernet.  And fun, it was.  1992 was an outstanding vintage for Napa, and this wine is holding together beautifully.  A good deal of tannic structure, yet an elegant and restrained wine.  Lovely.  Just lovely.
  2. Soter Vineyards Planet Oregon Pinot Noir 2012 — Another entry into the Oregon can do no wrong with Pinot category.  And . . . Bargain Alert!!  It’s only $20.  I love this comment from their website:  100% Oregon Pinot Noir that is uninhibited by unfriendly pesticides, unnecessary processing or pompous packaging.  Pompous packaging.  I’m totally stealing that.
  3. Chanson Pere & Fils Vosnee Romanee Cote de Nuits 2005 — Damn . . . this is good.  Not sure what else I can add to that.  Except to say it again.  Damn . . . this is good!!  Naturally, it’s about $100/bottle.  I don’t buy a lot of Burgundy, specifically for that reason.  C’est très cher!  (I’m pretty sure I just said, it’s very expensive.  But I speak only 16 words of French, so it’s just as likely that I said, your goat is pretty.)

It’s kind of impossible to bring my cousin a bottle of wine he hasn’t tried, but I did it (and I’m still patting myself on the back, too).  I brought a bottle of the 2009 Muse Vineyards Clio from Virginia — the winner of the 2015 Virginia Governor’s Cup.  It met with hums of approval (and some surprise — this is Virginia wine?!?) from everyone who tasted it, so I’m gonna chalk that one up as a win for both me and Virginia.

Barry decanted the Muse using this super handy wine gadget I’d never seen before (and I thought I’d seen all the super handy wine gadgets).

This is the Menu Winebreather Decanter.  Barry says it decants wine better than anything else on the market.  And bonus . . . you can entertain all your friends by leaving the bottle upside down in the middle of your table, and watch the decanting unfold.  This is exciting as decanting gets, folks.


After the show is over, you can either pour straight from the decanter, OR you can flip the decanter over and double-decant the wine back into its bottle.  Fancy, huh?  You can also use these handy Menu blade gadgets to decant straight from the bottle (they’re kind of like a Vinturi that attaches to the bottle).  One drawback?  There’s no screen to catch potential sediment.

I bought myself a decanter and a set of those blade thingys the minute I got home.  My intent is to do a little decanting experiment.  Stay tuned.

Wine 121 also has the most extensive selection of whiskeys I’ve ever seen (even one from Virginia!).  If you’re a whiskey lover, you need to stop by.  Hell, make a pilgrimage.  One of the perks of having a cousin who owns a wine bar is getting to sample something from your bourbon bucket list.  This trip, Barry pulled out a bottle of Pappy Van Winkle’s 12-year old Special Reserve Bourbon Whiskey.  Unbelievable stuff.  The smell is hypnotic — I’d wear it as perfume if it wasn’t so damn tasty.  And $30 an ounce.

This side of my family (aka “the drinking side”) will gather in the Finger Lakes later this summer for our tri-annual family wine trip.  So that’ll be the whole glob of us + the men folk.  Table for 16, please . . .


Weekly Photo Challenge: Blur (2)

Our theme for the Weekly Photo Challenge this week is:  Blur.
Our instructions:  This week, we’re supposed to keep our cameras purposefully unfocused, and “find beauty in a blur.”

Wait.  I’m supposed to blur my photo . . . on purpose?  I’m twitching a little.  I’m the one who compulsively deletes photos that aren’t in focus.  This is going to be awkward for me.

For this challenge, I returned to a previous subject, my African violets.  I decided this was a good opportunity to practice a couple of photography techniques I have zippy experience with: panning and the zoom effect.

I posted my panning picture yesterday, and today, I’m posting my zoom effect picture.  (I think the Weekly Photo Challenge photos display better in the WordPress platform/feed if they are singular).

Sometimes called a zoom burst, a zoom effect adds the illusion of movement to a photo with a burst of lines from a center focal point.  To get this effect, you’re supposed to use a long(er) shutter exposure and, while zooming in or out, press the shutter.  Easy peasy, right?

Sort of.  This is definitely a technique that requires a lot of practice and trial and error.  My first attempts were without a tripod (because I was feeling lazy), and they turned out looking like a psychedelic dream sequence (my daughter said they looked like tie-dye shirts).  So, I set up my tripod to see if I could get some straight (or at least straighter) lines, and a better focal point.

DSC_4816-1Overall, I like this picture (I probably wouldn’t post it if I hated it).  I like that there’s a reasonably cohesive focal point, and that the lines are mostly straight.  The lines on the right side of the photo look like they’re leaping off of the violet in tubes, which is kind of cool.  I have no idea how I did that.  I’m a little overexposed, and I should have adjusted the shutter speed, but that’ll have to be a correction for another day.  As far as you know, I did that on purpose — it’s edgy and avant-garde. 😉

Nikon D800
ISO 100 | 29mm | f/6.3 | 1.0 sec


Weekly Photo Challenge: Blur (1)

Our theme for the Weekly Photo Challenge this week is:  Blur.
Our instructions:  This week, we’re supposed to keep our cameras purposefully unfocused, and “find beauty in a blur.”

Wait.  I’m supposed to blur my photo . . . on purpose?  I’m twitching a little.  I’m the one who compulsively deletes photos that aren’t in focus.  This is going to be awkward for me.

For this challenge, I returned to a previous subject, my African violets.  I decided this was a good opportunity to practice a couple of photography techniques I have zippy experience with: panning and the zoom effect.

I will post the panning picture today, and the zoom effect tomorrow.  (I think the Weekly Photo Challenge photos display better in the WordPress platform/feed if they are singular).

Panning is supposed to be used to emphasize or suggest movement (and you have to have a lot more experience than I do to pull it off successfully).  Ideally, the subject is in focus and the background looks like it’s in motion.  It’s supposed to be done with a moving subject, but I broke the rules by using a stationary subject, and no tripod.  I used a slower shutter speed, and a slight downward-dragging motion of my camera when I took the picture.

You learn by experimenting, right?


I love the contrast of the magenta and green.  And I like the way the white, ruffled edges of the violet look almost like they’re being vacuumed into the air.  Other than that, it kind of makes me dizzy.  😉

Nikon D800
ISO 200 | 300mm | f/5.6 | 1/6 sec


Wine, Words & Wednesday, No. 46

In preparation for our trip to France this summer, I’ve been collecting travel books (my kids say I’m one book shy of a hoard).  I’m not sure why I think I need this many travel books — I’ll never read them all, and I can’t take them with me.  I guess they make me feel prepared, even if I’m not.  Last night, I was leafing through one of my books about Paris, and I started reading about the Montparnasse district, and its reputation as a literary hive of the 1920s.

And you can’t talk literary hive of the 1920s in Paris without . . . Ernest Hemingway.

bookErnest Hemingway is one of my favorite writers of all time and ever.  Today’s words come from Hemingway’s first novel, The Sun Also Rises, a book about the aimless wanderings of the Lost Generation — a phrase coined by one of Hemingway’s literary BFFs, Gertrude Stein.  The Lost Generation refers to a generation of young people shattered by World War I, disillusioned by the world, and searching for a new self identity, all while trying to cope with feelings of alienation and detachment.

Wow, that was really English-teachery.  Sorry.

But the teacher in me can’t abide words without context (it makes me all twitchy), so grab a glass of wine, and indulge me.

If you’ve never read The Sun Also Rises (or your copy has a half-inch of time and dust on it), I’ll summarize the plot for you as quickly and painlessly as possible (this is in no way an academic or complete summary):

In a nutshell, a group of 20-something expats sits around in Paris cafes, drinking absurd amounts of alcohol, and having a lot of conversations about, well, nothing.  I swear some of their conversations are like an episode of Seinfeld (it’s a show about nothing!). But those conversations spark a compulsive wanderlust.  The group decides to take a road trip to Spain (so they can find themselves), where they watch the running of the bulls, see a bullfight, have an epic fiesta, and go fishing in the Pyrennes.

Which is exactly what I do when I’m feeling detached and want to find myself.

The protagonist, Jake Barnes, is an American World War I veteran.  He was injured rather, um, mechanically, during the war (that’s my delicate way of saying he’s impotent).  He’s paralyzed by his masculine insecurities, and represents an entire generation of men damaged physically and emotionally by war.  (Psst!  Jake = Hemingway).  Jake is in love with a British socialite flapper/social predator named Lady Brett Ashley.  Brett served as a nurse in World War I (which is where she met Jake).  Brett says she’s in love with Jake, but they aren’t together because she can’t/won’t get past that whole impotence thing.  That, and she’s engaged to a Scottish war veteran named Mike Campbell, who is a raging, often violent, drunk.  Jake’s frenemy, Robert Cohn (the only non-veteran in the group), falls madly in love with Brett (it seems like the entire Lost Generation is in love with Brett), and they have an affair.  But Brett doesn’t give a squat about Cohn.  Because she’s set her sights on a a 19-year old bullfighter named Pedro, who the group meets while they’re in Spain.  And then more drama happens.

How’s that for an awkward group dynamic?  What can I say?  These people have issues.

And that brings me (finally) to today’s words . . .

At this point in the story, Jake and the rest of the gang have finally surfaced from an epic fiesta in Spain (think Animal House, the morning after).  It’s really a wonder none of them ended up in the emergency room.  They all go their separate ways, and Jake returns to France for some rest.  He’s alone for the first time in quite a while, and, without the chaos of group drama, he starts to feel a little serene:

sun also risesChâteau Margaux?  Well played, Jake.  Jake seems to be dealing with the alienation and detachment issue just fine — he’s finally found a little peace in solitude.

Until Brett sends a telegram from Madrid saying she needs him there, immediately.  And off he goes.  (Don’t worry — he finished the Margaux before he left).