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Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Cork Poppers Go Tuscan!

Our Cork Poppers group recently went Italian, sampling wines of Tuscany. After sampling the six wines our guide Dick brought, Cayton summed it up when he said, "This was the best! There wasn't a bad one in the bunch!"
We started the tasting with a Tenuta Caparzo Rosso Toscana IGT 2009.This blend of Sangiovese, Syrah, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Colorino grapes was a full flavored hit, ruby red and smelling divine!
A little lesson, courtesy of Dick. Italian wines have several designations, which are based on certain expectations and growing requirements -- DOC and DOCG. You'll note that this wine is an IGT. These are also called Super Tuscan wines and as Dick said, some are indeed "Super!" This classification came out because some winemakers wanted to experiment with grape varieties and blends not allowed by the DOG regulations. They tend to have significant Sangiovese grape compnent with other grapes not traditionally associated with Italy (like Merlot or the Cabernet Sauvignon).

This wine (2009 vintage) is best consumed between 2011 and 2013, so if you take my advice and pick up a bottle or two (or as Clayton said, "This is worthy of a case!") don't save it too long. And really, why would you want to at a great $10 price -- an amazing bargain.

Next, Caparzo Rosso di Montalcino 2009. This was ruby red and very fragrant. 
Rick said this was a little more aggressive than the first and a bit more peppery and spicy. He preferred this one but at $22.50, we're more likely to consider the Tenuta our go-to Italian.

The third wine was Villa Dante Toscana IGT 2004, and again a Sangiovese/Merlot combo. It should be allowed to breathe before serving.
This is another Super Tuscan and a reasonable $12.50. We nearly had a marital spat here when Roger said, "You must have a more discerning palate than I do," and wife Meredith replied with "Rog, you killed your taste buds a long time ago." (All was well in the end!)

Rocca Delle Macie Chianti Classico 2008 DOCG was next. "Classico" indicates it is from a limited area in the Chianti region. Rick loved this one and it has an aging potential of 5-6 years. That said, it was pricy at $18.
The Borgo Scopeta Chianti Classico 207 DOCG was $16. Rick declared it was "my new favorite" and we determined  that Rick was the "new Barb" (Barb loves everything!)
Our last wine was a Banfi Chianti Classico Riserva 2007 DOCG. I declared "This is wonderful!" while Mike said, "I'd throw away my money on this." Wonderful, yes, but I'd think twice about $20 for a wine, although the label was gorgeous!
We kept our stomachs full with Pat's delicious cheese platter during this tasting including an amazing buttermilk blue that was again a hit. 
After the tasting, Roger took us on a boat cruise along the Grand River. 
 
It was a gorgeous day -- we've had a mighty hot summer, like so many have. But this Sunday was the perfect temperature, the sky blue, and the company wonderful!
 
We returned to a terrific dinner. Meredith had a fabulous pasta, keeping with our Italian theme, and even the table was set for the occasion.
 
I particularly loved her centerpiece.
 
Her party favors were gag gifts -- literally (very old and very bad wines that she said we should dump and not even consider drinking, along with lovely hand-knit dish cloths).
 
Rick and I brought a salad using our basil, tomatoes and fresh mozzarella. We called it Caprese Panzanella. And we wrapped up dinner with a birthday celebration -- Rick, Dick and I all had summer birthdays and Barb made a completely decadent and delicious cake!
Another great tasting! I really do recommend all of these wines. Try one! And let me know if you like it!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Best Christmas Gift Ever

It came to him as ideas often come to Rick -- on the seat of a bicycle. One of his favorite 100-mile stints at the lake is to Torch Lake. Fifty over, fifty back.
It's a spot that is meaningful for him, because in the long-ago, his mother's family had a cottage there. During a half-way point in his ride, he stopped by and the people there directed him to the owner's place down the road. She was a distant cousin. After a lovely chat, he hopped back on the bike to head home.
On the way he thought, "What if... what if we could get my brothers and cousins to give a Christmas gift to my mom, aunt and uncle that was a week together at Minisa."
It wasn't as easy a project as it might seem. Rick didn't know all the cousins on his mom's side as well as those on his dad's and as many families are today, they were spread throughout the country.

Some didn't want to join in, but most did and on Christmas Day all the cousins joined in a conference call with the three senior siblings inviting them to the lake!
As some things go, it wasn't clear right off the bat if all really wanted to go. Reconnections after a long period apart aren't always the easiest thing. But in the end, they gathered at Minisa for a week to remember.
Rick stayed north, going back and forth to Minisa from the lake until he finally just found a bed and stayed. Other cousins rented a cottage down the road and everyone would gather for fun in the sun and meals on the porch. I came on the weekends.
Part of what made Minisa special was the cabin itself. It was a genuine log cabin, built from the forests of Bellaire, Michigan in the early 1900s.
The fireplace was heavy stone, and the living room was filled with photos and memorabilia that would make an Antiques Roadshow junkie go crazy!
The bedrooms had beautiful quilts. Most faced Torch Lake and when the windows were open, a lovely breeze came through.
There were so many wonderful touches. Here are a few. The bathroom...
 Reading materials in the rooms...
Vintage pans...
Unique decorations.
And much more. 

It was interesting, coming the first day, then the second weekend. People who barely knew one another, despite the bloodlines, were at first a bit tentative. Glad to be together, glad to meet new family, but a tad more formal.
By the second weekend, all were old friends with that familiarity that only spending extended time together can bring. Those times were enhanced by long talks, dips in the lake, games...
 
...and fabulous meals that seemed to appear with relative ease.
 
Rick made his "best pancakes in the world"...
 
...and I loved the kitchen with its log walls and tall, rustic cabinets.
There was time for contemplation...
 
...and time to hunt for Petoskey stones.
 
Lots of photos were taken -- we all had family portraits!
 
The sunsets were dramatic and always drew an audience.
 
Even the trees seemed to pose.
 
There were campfires...
...sunsets...
...photo and family memorabilia sharing...
Smiles.
For Rick's Aunt Lou, a first-time visit with her new baby grandson.
For Uncle Jim and Becky, a return to the spot they spent their honeymoon.
For Rick's mom, Kitty, time with all her boys and many of their children.
It was a time to revel in the beauty of nature...
 
...the magic of family connection...
 
...and the steadfastness of tradition.
 
For everyone, it was a time of love, sharing and family. With the parents, all of whom have health challenges of one sort or another, it was a reunion at a critical time, when all could enjoy the time together at a beautiful place.
To distant cousin Mary, who now owns Minisa and made it available, a big debt of thanks. Something tells me that we may return again!

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Missing Gypsy - Three Months Later

It has been three months since I said goodbye to my sweet orange boy. Where am I?
Sometimes I don't know. I never knew I could feel such despair for the loss of an animal. I wonder if I was happier in the rest of my world if I would feel quite so desolate. I guess that's a moot point.
Gypsy always reminds me of himself in the oddest ways. Sometimes it's via the small knitted mouse I carry with me everywhere I go or the fleecy blanket that I wrapped around him as we said goodbye. I keep it close where I can reach it at night when it's so dark and my head flies in too many different directions. Just as I used to pet him, it settles me. 
He comes into my head as I toss clothes -- especially black clothes -- on the bed and don't have to worry about them looking hairy. (Wrinkled, maybe. Hairy, no.)
I go to the garage to bring in groceries and can leave the door to both the house and outside open, not worrying that he would slip outside when I didn't see. And I don't have to worry about him slipping out the cottage door when we're at the lake.
It's easier to travel to the lake on the weekend, not worrying about leaving him in the car on a hot day or having to take him inside a restaurant.
Or worrying about him hurling in the car. 
I don't clean litter boxes or wash cat food dishes.
I don't have to measure pee or poop or monitor how much water he drank. 
I don't spend a chunk of time every day giving him fluids.
But I also don't have the pleasure of watching him chase treats or try to break into the treat box.
I don't get to hear his purr or feel him snug in so I can rub his soft little tummy or gently grab his tail as he walked by and feel the soft fur go through my finger. 
I'm not awakened by his gentle pestering and followed patiently around the house till he's fed. He was always a chatty little boy.
 
I miss my office assistant. Kitty on the keyboard.
 
I miss rubbing his sweet little paws.
 
I miss looking into his eyes -- those pools of green and brown flecks. And his spotty little nose.
And I miss having him sit up for each dinner!
Or treat.
I miss his skill at catching mice at the cottage. 
 
About the only thing I don't miss is his bringing me his catch when I'm in bed. 
 
I know Rick misses him, too, which helps. He always treated Gypsy like a dog and Gypsy loved it.
They were play pals and that always made me smile!
During his last months, he got "table" privileges. (He may have thought he had them before but was smart enough not to do it when I was around.) My caretaker Jan took this picture of him as he helped her make beaded jewelry. It was his last photo.
I've had signs that Gypsy has given me permission to get a new cat. One the day of Greg's art gig in Detroit, as I was sharing with my friend Kate the note Dr. Anne had written me and the donation she had given in Gypsy's name, a mom-cat and three kittens walked across Rick's front porch. It was a sign.
I've been so enchanted by the Seven Kittens videos that I keep thinking maybe it's time for one. This blog post by new blogger Susan Hoyle Bailey is the best summary I've seen and if you love cats and kittens (Sorry, Arti!) don't miss this link!
And I've even "auditioned" some kittens and their mom-cat found by a colleague. I'll check them out again and see if we bond. And maybe one day, we'll bond as well as Gyp and I did.
But still, even with those signs, I cry every day. I know it gets better. But I sure wish I knew when I'll smile again. I mean, really, truly smile and keep it there and mean it.

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