Monday, March 31, 2014

Road Trip: Grand Rapids, Michigan

After being cooped up, it was time to hit the road again for a regional road trip.
I won't show all the photos I took at IKEA and Trade Joe's when
friend Kate and I hit there on a gloomy first day of spring.
You've probably seen the catalogue!
But I will share a little of my road trip the following day to Grand Rapids, Michigan, where I discovered something new!

The Grand Rapids Downtown Market and Heather Lane Pottery
(in nearby Ada -- next post) are a perfect day out for those of
you who live in Michigan or are vacationing in the
Grand Rapids area. We'll start with the market, located in the city.
 It's filled with vendors who work largely local and make wonderful
artisan delicacies. Upstairs, they have a greenhouse and
there is also a demonstration kitchen for classes.

We started by going around the perimeter -- glancing at the
 Sweetie-licious Pie Pantry and Bakery, knowing we'd be back before we left!

Then it was on to Thornburg & Company, which sold fabulous jam.
The cherry I bought (and there are samples!) had grappa in it.
 Wonderful combinations added herbs and spices like lavender,
hibiscus, rosehips and more to the traditional fruit.

I don't have a photo of the chocolate shop (where I did NOT indulge!)
but beside it was a deli that included fabulous take out meals.
My friend Pat took care of her evening's dinner there!

Field and Fire is the bread store and it was fabulous!
In addition to rustic loaves and baguettes, they had a nice selection of pastries
 including and herbed gougere that was perfect to tide me over till our late lunch to come.

There was a splendid meat counter and fishmonger as well. Another time!

But oh! At Aperatif, the cheese store, I succumbed to the fabulous camembert
and a Spanish blue, along with some wonderful tasty sweet appetizer peppers.
My favorite spot, I think.

Although, my very-close-to-that favorite was the Spice Market.
I've never seen so many spices and the fragrance was great!
You can buy pre-packaged by the ounce or in larger quantities.
I found a couple of spices I haven't been able to find here, so home they came!

We could watch them making ice cream at the ice cream shop
 (the roasted strawberry and balsamic sorbet was a good choice!).
Across from them we could taste olive oils and vinegars.
I didn't buy any but the ginger vinegar may be something I fiddle around with making.


After our visit, we headed to the restaurant Marie Catrib's,
 not far from downtown, where the food was delicious!
I will remember the Trenton sandwich and big bowl of spice potatoes!

Then we were off to Ada and a visit to Heather Lane. Stay tuned for glorious, colorful pottery!

Friday, March 28, 2014

Cork Poppers Go Italian!

When Cork Poppers meet, we can count on several things. Good food, good company and good wine! The recent gathering focuses on Wines of Italy.

Each couple brought a wine to serve and explain. The day started out with a bit of history on Italian wines and the region.

OK -- let's be fair. The day didn't start with that -- we started with champagne (not Italian) and Prosecco (definitely Italian!).

Of course, in the good food category, you have to acknowledge the amazing pre-dinner treats for tasting, including crackers by me, bread by Rick, cheeses from Pat and Dick..

...and a great antipasto platter from Pat.

As usual, the reds won out in the quantity category, but the first wine from Jim and Dar was a lovely white -- a Pinot Grigio from the northeast area of Italy, not far from the Alps.It was an Attems Pinot Grigio 2012.

It was clean, crisp, dry and I found it an excellent white. While we didn't have the exact cost, it was estimated to be between $18-20 at Costco.

Pat was next witih the first of the Barbera wines we enjoyed. Barbera d'Alba 2010 by Stefano Farina was from a period in which the Barbera grape was particularly good (2010-2012).

Barbara is in the Italian Piedemonte in Northwest Italy. Barbera is a hearty grape, the third-most planted in Italy. It was quite tasty (Dick, in an effort to one-up Barb before she could say it, said "It was the best red we've had today!" -- and the first!). Cost: $14.99.

Roger was next with a Catina Zaccagnini DOC from Italy's Abruzzo area (between the sea and mountains). It was from the area of Montepulciano.

It had nice legs (the drippings down the side of the glass (and, as Roger noted, "Why else would I love it?"). Rick noted it had nice tanins, too. Roger got it on sale for $12.99 (regular price is $15.99) and Meridith noted of her husband, "I'm just proud because you spent more than five dollars!"

Mike and Barb brought the Petra Zingari Toscana 2009. It was described as a "generous wine graced with expressive fruit and a long finish." Dick called it "a nice everyday red." Barb (who brought it) said "I'm not crazy about the wine, but I'll have a little more."

Our offering was a Bricco Dei Tati Piemonte Barbera 2011 DOC.

Like Pat's Barbera, this, too, was from the 2010-2012 period where the grapes were particularly good and the wines of that region praised. It has a full berry fragrance and a wonderful finish. I paid $13 for it at the restaurant where I first had it; online I saw it for much less.


Anne and Clayton offered the Meliani-Chianti Borghi d'Elsa 2012. From Tuscany, the wine was a rich red, dry with slight tanins and a berry fragrance. Rick said "It's not bad" (rather enthusiastically) and Dick said "That's high praise from Rick!"

The cost of this wine was $12 but Clayton said that on sale you can find it for $10 or less.

We wrapped the tasting portion of the day with Dick's Leone d'Oro Vino Nobile di Montepulciano 2008 DOCG. This was from the Village of Montepulciano in Tuscany and is a special blend for the Sons of Italy, a society for Italian immigrants started in 1905.

It was rich and full, dry and with a smooth, long finish. Barb said she loved it and Rick said it was his favorite of the day,
coming in at $20.

Here's a good thing to remember -- we had a lot of decanted wines. A red -- even a relatively inexpensive red -- can be almost instantly upgraded with a half hour or so in a decanter.

It was on to the dinner portion of the evening. Keeping with the theme of the evening, the meal was Italian. Of course, Barb's table settings matched with wonderful dishes...

...and individual roses with our place cards which we got to take home, which of course makes me smile. (A tutorial for this is coming soon.)

Take a close look. She made these by simply gluing corks to small vases and vials to serve as a base. Elegant and simple.

Her centerpieces were equally simple and elegant.

Of course, we started with Meredith's salad...

...enjoyed the lasagna...

...and ended with delicious canoli -- perfect after lots of snacks and lasagna!

Another Cork Poppers over... and somehow, we can't wait till the next one!

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Going Crackers

Our Cork Poppers group was planning to meet and Rick and I volunteered to bring bread for the tasting and dinner and crackers for the tasting. There's always an elaborate cheese platter and pretty much everything on it is eaten by the end! This selection is from last summer's gathering.

It was suggested to me by my friend Kim that perhaps I should make the crackers. After all, Rick was making the bread.

Good idea. So, I searched for cracker recipes, coming upon those by all the one-named cooks: Ina, Julia and Martha. And there were many more. These are Ina's. Not bad -- not really "crackery" -- more buttery like a sable. In fact, she should have named them sables, not crackers. But a tad rich.

Then I tried three recipes with varying degrees of success. The long, flatbreads are from the "Toledo Blade" and would have been fine if I'd rolled them thinner, but the dough kept springing back. The big round ones were Julia's and I gave them a big zero. The little round cheesy ones are from Joy the Baker.

Those were good. But I needed more than one kind. When moaning about this to blogger Marilyn, she shared her recipe for me, which reminds me of biscotti.

You bake loaves of bread with lots of seeds and cranberries. Refrigerate the end product and the next day you cut them into cracker pieces and bake again for awhile on a low oven to make the crisp and dried out -- very crackery!

Yay! Blog Land comes through!

The Poppers got Joy the Baker and Marilyn the Blogger. And, since Marilyn's dry-out method worked, I was able to rescue the Toledo Blade.Here's the finished basket (the ones in the bowls were the Trader Joe's {Plan B.)

Ina is worth another try. Less butter or maybe better kneading. But apart from Marilyn's, I really recommend Plan B unless you have lots of time and are feeling particularly adventurous! (Note: I'm going to try Marilyn's method with other savory quick bread recipes, too!)

Coming next -- Our Cork Poppers reviews of the Wines of Italy!

Sunday, March 23, 2014

A Treasure from Vivian Swift

Certain artists make my heart sing. Vivian Swift, author of "Le Road Trip" and "When Wanderer's Cease to Roam" is one of them.

So, when I learned last year that the author/illustrator of two of my favorite books had a blog, I had to follow! And in almost every one, Vivian offered a watercolor lesson, demonstrating her technique of creating magical illustrations. (Right now Vivian's blog is in "hibernation" as she finishes her current "Secret Garden" book, but please take a look at the archives, especially if you are interested in painting. For example, here she shows how to paint an autumn leaf.) Below, a spread from "Le Road Trip."

In one of her posts shortly before her hiatus, Vivian told us How To Paint a Cat. And guess who she used as a model!

Vivian painted sweet Lizzie -- and after, she was kind enough to send me her original and the preliminary sketch she did for the painting. I was overwhelmed! And delighted, too!

She captured my sweet girl so perfectly down to the tiniest detail and the curious, alert look in her eyes. (I think eyes are SO hard to do!) I finally found a perfect frame, so now Lizzie and Vivian are on permanent display!

I'm so very grateful for Vivian's generosity! I'm eagerly awaiting her next book and her blog return with new posts. Till then, I'll cherish this, her wonderful books and keep mining her blog for new painting ideas and techniques!

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