(The Long Overdue) Paso Robles Part 2

We’ve been so busy enjoying the wines from Paso Robles, I’ve been quite remiss in posting Part 2 of our travels. So much wine, so little time to drink and post at once.

When last we were together you might remember that I said I always learn something new on wine tasting trips. In Paso Robles, I learned of some new-to-me varietals thus expanding my repertoire of California wines.

Tablas Creek

Show of hands: How many of you have heard of Counoise? Tannat?

Tablas Creek Counoise and Tannat

Although a name you might not recognize, Counoise (pronounced Coon-wahz) is used in many Châteauneuf-du-Pape wines. Tablas Creek has been growing Counoise since the early-1990s. 

Counoise is a medium intensity wine with a bit of spiciness and plenty of fruit. Think of it as a Syrah with the volume turned down a few notches.

In particularly noteworthy vintages, Tablas Creek bottles Counoise as a single varietal wine but more often it is used in red blends to soften and complement bolder wines.

Tannat came to Tablas Creek purely by chance when their French supplier decided to throw some of the vines in with others that had been ordered. A happy accident that has resulted in a very successful and relatively easy to grow wine.

Tannat can be pretty intense. In fact, in Europe Tannat is blended with Cabernet Sauvignon to calm it down. But this bold wine loves the growing conditions and climate of Paso Robles which allow it to more fully ripen, releasing its beautiful true self.

The Tablas Creek tasting room is worth the stop to explore a wide range of varietals. Plus, they have a killer gift shop.

L’Aventure

L'Aventure Tasting Room

How gorgeous is this place?

At L’Aventure we tasted a wonderful Rosé (made from a blend of Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre and Petit Verdot) and three additional blends from some combination of these same red wines with a bit of Cabernet Sauvignon thrown in for good measure.

L'Aventure Estate Cuvee

This 2014 L’Aventure Estate Cuvée (50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Syrah and 15% Petit Verdot) convinced us to join the wine club.

If you are keeping score, that is wine club number 14 for us – the first, but not last, wine club we joined on this trip.

The stop at L’Aventure was also educational as they displayed this sample of bark showing how corks are born.

Cork bark

Pretty cool, right?

Caliza

We quickly learned that wine tasting in Paso Robles is all about fun and wine blends and more fun.

Caliza

At Caliza we started with yet another Rosé, this time a blend of Grenache and Syrah. It has taken me a while but I can honestly say that after this trip I am firmly on board the “Rosé all day!” train.

Next, we enjoyed a series of red wine blends – combinations of Syrah, Petite Sirah, Grenache, Mourvèdre, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Tempranillo.

Caliza’s wines have garnered some great and well-deserved scores from the experts.

Thatcher

Our visit to Thatcher on this gorgeous day started with a taste of – what else? – Rosé. Thatcher didn’t make much of this wine, only 90 cases, and I’m sure it sold out fast!

Thatcher Winery

Thatcher also poured two single varietal wines: a Syrah and a Zinfandel. After tasting so many blends, it was interesting to get back to a couple of wines in their “pure form”. I’m a big fan of both Syrah and Zinfandel. These did not disappoint!

Of course, we also sampled some of Thatcher’s blends (combinations of Syrah, Zinfandel, Mourvèdre, and Grenache).

Thatcher is serious about their wine making but has a great sense of humor in naming the wines. Oxymorons are their game.

“Controlled Chaos”

“Constant Variable”

“Original Copy”

“Normal Deviation”

“Resident Alien”

You get the idea. Well played, Thatcher.

Our visit to Thatcher also coincided serendipitously with the occasional visit from our most beloved, the sentimental favorite, will always be #1 in our hearts, Paso Robles wine producer:

The Farm

The Farm

The Farm winery is tiny; proudly boasting a mere 4 employees. They do not have their own tasting room nor really enough wine to supply a full-time tasting room so twice a year or so they set up a folding table on the patio at Thatcher and share their magnificent wines.

The Farm’s stated goal is

“to make small amounts of fine red wines with the very best fruit from Westside Paso Robles (Adelaida and Willow Creek Districts).”

And YES they do!

The Farm Wines

We first met Jim and Azmina at a Family Winemakers of California tasting event. The Farm was brand new – this was their first or second vintage. My husband had not heard of The Farm before and he was curious. Because they were so new, their table wasn’t mobbed with fans so we had the opportunity to chat with Jim and Azmina and hear their story.

Their partner/winemaker is Santiago Achaval, the legendary winemaker from Argentina.

The wine was love at first taste. Big, bold reds beautifully crafted, expertly decanted, a joy to drink.

Jim and Azmina

Since that first meeting we have (of course) joined the wine club and introduced The Farm to friends and family who have joined as well.

By the way, if you are in the Paso Robles area, there are a couple of places you can taste The Farm’s wine by appointment and I would enthusiastically encourage you to do so.

We always look forward to crossing paths with Jim and Azmina. Seeing them reminds us why we love to visit wineries and attend wine tasting events, particularly the Family Winemakers of California event.

Having the opportunity to meet the people responsible for the wine and to learn about their journey and their passion adds so much to the enjoyment of the wine.

Well, not only was this post long overdue, it is LONG. I will save the rest of our Paso Robles tales for Part 3. Look for more fun, more wine blends, a craft project and a character. I’ll be back soon!

 

No one paid me to say this.

Do not drink and drive!

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Paso Robles Wine Tasting – Part 1

Each time I go on a wine tasting trip I learn something new.

For instance, on our recent trip to Paso Robles, California, I learned that I have been mispronouncing “Paso Robles”. Rather than using the Spanish pronunciation of “Paw-so Row-blays” locals go with “Paw-so Row-bulls”.

Or you can just stick with “Paso”.

Paso Robles

We have been trying to schedule this Paso Robles wine tasting trip with family and friends from California for quite some time. The California gang made a few reconnaissance trips without us, diligently doing research for this excursion and compiling a list of favorites for us to visit.

Located on California’s Central Coast about halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco, Paso Robles has been in the wine-making business since the late 1800s. Paso grows over 40 different types of grapes some of which, I have to admit, are completely new to me.

See? Wine tasting is educational!

Paso Robles Wine Festival

Paso Robles Wine Tasting Festival

Serendipitously, the dates chosen for our trip coincided with the Paso Robles Wine Festival. This four-day event takes place in the park in the middle of downtown Paso Robles and features wine and food from local businesses.

We chose to sign up for only the Reserve Tasting Event on Friday afternoon figuring the crowds would be at the festival all weekend and we would have wineries’ tasting rooms to ourselves.

Paso wine festival reserve tasting

The Reserve Tasting featured the best wines from a limited number of wineries along with tasty bites from local restaurants. It was a great Paso Robles introduction.

EPOCH ESTATE WINES

Epoch Estate’s tasting room is a gorgeous blend of old and new.

Epoch tasting room

Originally the home of York Mountain Winery –  the very first winery in the Central Coast, dating back to 1882 – this structure was destroyed by an earthquake in 2003.  Seven years later, the owners of Epoch Estate, purchased the land and the rubble and set out to reconstruct the historic building using all of the original materials, painstakingly, piece by piece.

Epoch even managed to bring back York Mountain’s 100+ year-old wine press which now holds a place of honor in the open loft of the tasting room.

Epoch wine press

Our tasting flight included a lovely Rosé (made from Mourvèdre, Grenache, and Syrah grapes), a white blend (Grenache Blanc, Viognier and Roussanne), three red blends (varying combinations of Syrah, Petite Sirah, Grenache, Mourvèdre, and Tempranillo) and one 100% Syrah.

Epoch White and Rose

I brought these two bottles home for Girls’ Night In.

Guyomar

In 1996, modern day pioneers Mareeni and Ishka Stanislaus moved west to Paso Robles. Mareeni was recruited to be the area’s first OB/GYN and Ishka set his sights on starting a winery.

While we didn’t get to see Mareeni or Ishka on this visit – he was out of town and she was on call at the hospital – we did enjoy a lovely tasting, complete with a cheese and charcuterie platter, in the dining room of their home.

Guyomar tasting

We enjoyed tastes of Guyomar’s Rosé (made from Grenache grapes) and four different red blends (varying combinations of Zinfandel, Grenache, Syrah and Petite Sirah).

Guyomar The Editor

Given the fact that the majority of our group was made up of journalists and English majors, Guyomar’s delicious blend (69% Grenache, 22% Syrah, 5% Zinfandel, and 4% Petite Sirah), “The Editor”, was a fan favorite.

Law Estate

Law Estate

The California gang discovered this fabulous place on their first visit to Paso Robles and have been anxious for us to meet Law’s yummy wines.

Law Estate barrel roomOur young winery guide, Maggie, impressed us with her knowledge and delighted us with her stories about discovering her passion for wine at the family dinner table and her dad’s help in furthering her wine education. Maggie’s dad is being rewarded now with the family discount at his daughter’s place of work and access to some incredible wines.

While nestled in the gorgeous room just beyond the barrels, Maggie poured us an array of red blends with descriptive names like “Audacious” and “Sagacious” (combinations of Syrah, Petite Sirah, Grenache, Mourvèdre and Cabernet Sauvignon) and”Intrepid”, of 100% Syrah.

The names of these blends prompted us to imagine what we might name our own signature wines. As you might guess, the English majors and writers among us were more skilled at this game than we accountants.

The best I could come up with was “In The Red” which doesn’t have the greatest connotation although it does describe the financial situation of many who try to start a vineyard.

Still, I think I will leave the wine naming and winemaking business to talented and experienced professionals like those crafting the delicious wines at Law.

mocadeauxFolks, we are just getting started on our tour of Paso Robles.

Up next, some wine varietals you may have never heard of and our #1 sentimental Paso Robles favorite.

Stay tuned!

 

No one paid me to say this. Do not drink and drive!

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Disney Vacation Club – Disney’s Vero Beach Resort

After spending a bajillion dollars on Disney vacations over the years, we finally wised up and joined the Disney Vacation Club.

Disney Vacation Club locations

Disney Vacation Club is kind of like a timeshare but, rather than buying specific weeks at a specific location, members buy points which can be used anytime at a variety of Disney resorts and hundreds of non-Disney properties.

Welcome home

Even with a pretty generous carryover policy, points do have an expiration date. Recently, Peter and I found ourselves with a handful of points that had reached the point of “use it or lose it”.

Reviewing our options and taking into consideration that we already have reservations for an upcoming trip to Walt Disney World with the entire family, Peter suggested a getaway to Disney’s Vero Beach Resort on Florida’s Atlantic Coast.

Disney's Vero Beach Resort

A little back story…

I am a native Floridian; born in St. Petersburg. In my youth, the city was known as the retirement capital of the world. The downtown streets rolled up at 4pm to allow everyone to get in line for the early-bird dinner at Morrison’s Cafeteria.

Today, downtown St. Pete is swanky-town where you can pay a cool million for a condo with a view of the water and a plethora of museums, galleries and hip restaurants at your doorstep.

But I digress.

The point is, back when I was growing up and the state’s population was largely concentrated on the two coasts with a whole lot of nothing but orange groves in the middle, we Floridians felt a strong affinity for our locale.

An East Coast – West Coast thing.

Florida's Best Coast

There was no ambivalence. You were “Ft. Myers” or “Ft. Lauderdale” – not both.

I will always be a true-blue, loyal Gulf Coast gal.

The West Coast, the Best Coast.

So, when Peter suggested vacationing on Florida’s EAST Coast I was not immediately on board.

Old misconceptions die hard.

But, this is Disney after all, so I decided that I could cope. Look at me, walking in the flip flops of others to understand our differences.

Flying into the Orlando airport, we had momentary buyer’s remorse as we headed to our rental car rather than the Disney Magical Express bus to Walt Disney World.

Those feelings were quickly dispelled by the scenery upon our arrival at the resort.

Ocean view

After spending some time relaxing by the pool we enjoyed dinner on site at the Wind and Waves Grill and cocktails on the lovely porch at the Green Cabin Room. Their wine list was not great but the Agave Nectar Margarita was a delicious Plan B.

We spent one entire day lounging under an umbrella on the beach. This fair-skinned Irish gal was also under a hat, towels and a double layer of SPF 50 sunscreen.

Under my umbrella

The cooling breeze and the sound of the waves made for the perfect setting to enjoy my magazines and take a nap.

At one point, we ventured into the surf to frolic in the waves, reminding me of two truths:

  1. As I am no longer 17 years old, my boogie board should have been retired some time ago.
  2. The monster waves of the Atlantic Ocean are much meaner than the gentle, rolling swells of my beloved, placid Gulf of Mexico.

Most of the rest of our time was spent relaxing by the pool.

The pool

Although we resisted the temptation to join in the poolside games like bingo and dive for sharks, we were powerless over the two-story waterslide as a vehicle for somewhat more age-appropriate thrill seeking.

Pool slide

We patiently waited in line among the children and there is no truth to the rumor that we elbowed little ones out of our way or distracted them by shouting, “Hey, look! There’s a shark!”.

After three glorious days, it was time to say goodbye to Disney’s Vero Beach Resort and head off on our next adventure.

Spoiler alert: the next adventure involves wine.

As my friend Mickey says, “See you real soon!”

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Baby Sister And Retirement – Take 3

Recently, our family has experienced two momentous events.

A few weeks ago we welcomed our fifth grandchild and first granddaughter!!!

Baby sister

To say that girls are scarce in our family would be an understatement. Baby sister is the first female to be born on either side of our family in almost 25 years.

She’s kind of a big deal. And she is beautiful.

Her twin older brothers, Chip and Dale, are quite besotted with her. The household is settling in nicely; that is to say, they will be once the wee darling gets a little better grasp on night vs. day.

To celebrate her arrival, we opened a bottle of 2009 Wallis Family Estate “Little Sister” Proprietary Red Wine from the Diamond Mountain District of Napa Valley.

2009 Wallis Family Estate Little Sister Proprietary Red

Perfect, right?

We discovered Wallis Family Estate at a Family Winemakers of California tasting event about 5 years ago. Pouring wine at their booth on that day were both Mr. Wallis and his younger daughter, AKA the Little Sister.

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Shortly after Baby Sister’s arrival, Peter started retirement.

For the third time.
Peter Begins Retirement

Retirement #1 never really happened even though the date was set and we completed the planned relocation.

You see, Peter is a team player. When the company came to him saying, “We’ve had a bit of a situation and we really, really, really need to have you stick around for another six months or so. Pretty please???”, he couldn’t say no.

Retirement #2 proceeded swimmingly for a grand total of three months.

During that time we packed in all sorts of fun activities like concerts and wine events.

I became quite accustomed to having Peter cook dinner, pairing it with the perfect wine, as I perused my People Magazine.

Well, that arrangement came to a screeching halt when Peter received a call asking if he could help out on a teeny, tiny project  – “should last no longer than a couple of months” – which turned into a big, big project consuming about fifteen months.

Now, finally, all is as it should be in Maison Lux. Peter is home and splitting his time, once again, between his two happy places: the kitchen and the wine cellar.

Wine Spectator magazine’s website has a series called “8 & $20” which features wonderful recipes (with suggested wine pairings) serving up to 8 people for $20 or less (not including wine, obviously).

One, in particular, caught Peter’s eye and he decided to give it a whirl.

Braised Chicken Thighs in Mushroom Sauce

Braised chicken thighs in mushroom sauce.

Now I was a little wary of this dish for two reasons: I don’t like dark meat chicken and I REALLY don’t like mushrooms. Other than that, it sounded great…

But, if Peter was doing the cooking I figured the least I could do was to be a good sport and try the dish without complaining. Besides, I knew it would be served with a great wine so not a total fail.

I may not have instantly become a dark meat/mushroom convert, but I will tell you that this combination was delicious! Check out the recipe here.

Peter paired this yummy gem with a 2012 Foxen Melville Vineyard Pinot Noir.

2012 Foxen Melville Vineyard Pinot Noir

Located in Santa Barbara County, Foxen makes a wide variety of wines including single-vineyard Pinot Noirs like this one, as well as Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Syrah and red blends.

The Foxen tasting room in Santa Maria is a simple and rustic but beautiful place and one I highly recommend to anyone visiting Santa Barbara County. Just a tiny bit down the road is their second tasting room, known as The Shack, where visitors can enjoy selections from Foxen 7200 which focuses on Italian style and Bordeaux wines.

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Now that Peter has more free time, I’m looking forward to many delicious meals, great adventures and lots of time to spend with the five grandchildren: Baby Sister, brothers Chip and Dale and cousins Andy and Harry.

Life is, indeed, good!

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Boston Fun And Pi Day

Hi, folks! Checking in to let you know what I’ve been up to and to wave my nerd flag proudly, wishing you a Happy Pi Day.

Recently, I spent several weeks in Boston for part one of my current granny nanny stint when our daughter, Annie, returned to work following her maternity leave.

I was in charge of the newest arrival, Harry

Baby Harry

(as you can see we are already turning him into an Irish fan)…

and his big brother, Andy (whom we are apparently turning into a fan of lifestyle magazines like the Real Simple he is about to peruse in this photo).

Andy 2017

There is a reason that babies are born to those who are young and energetic rather than those of us who are older and, let’s say, more sedentary. Still, I managed to hold my own with these two guys.

They made it pretty easy.

On-time feedings, attention to the nap and diaper changing schedules along with perpetual song singing and book reading were all they asked of me. In return, the boys accepted my non-stop smooching, cuddling and picture taking.

We got along splendidly.

Because both of our children and all of our grandchildren live only a couple of miles from each other (approximately 1,000 miles away from us but practically next door to one another), we get to spend time with all the little nuggets when we visit Boston.

Although my granny nanny duties kept me busy, we did manage to join Chip and Dale for play dates, trips to the trampoline park and playground and general fun.

Chip and DaleChip is still in his PJs here because he was a bit under the weather. Dale, having just returned from pre-school, was helping his twin brother pick out some “quiet time” books for Momo to read.

The timing of my trip allowed me to attend a beautiful luncheon at the home of my dear pal and superstar blogger, Katie Clooney of Preppy Empty Nester.

Lunch prepared by The Mister

What a treat to spend time with this group of smart, interesting and hilarious gals. I’m eager to crash their next party join them for another get together soon!

Katie Clooney's lunch guests

Hostess Katie (with the help of her husband, the chef du jour) outdid herself. Her beautiful home, warm hospitality, and all-encompassing awesomeness made for a perfect afternoon!

Now back home I’m spending time with my folks as my mom recovers from a little something-something.

In honor of Pi Day, we enjoyed a ridiculously delicious chicken pot pie from the Centerville Pie Company in Hyannis, Massachusetts.

Centerville Pie Company

My dear pal, Ellie, sent a couple of these pies as a “get well soon” treat. And what a treat it was!!

Half the pie is gone

We gobbled down half of the pie before I could snap a picture.

You are probably wondering what wine we paired with this extraordinary pie.

2008 Argyle Spirithouse Reserve Series Pinot Noir

This 2008 Argyle Reserve Series Spirithouse Pinot Noir came from our cellar but you can find Argyle Pinot Noir at your favorite wine (maybe even grocery) store. In addition to the single vineyard, reserve wines, Argyle produces quite a lovely, reliable, everyday wine.

Before too long I will head back to Boston for nanny granny part two and to wait for the arrival of our next grandchild – OUR FIRST GIRL!!!!!!  A shower of pink is coming our way!

So stay tuned for that excitement and, of course, more wine.

Happy Pi Day!

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A Grandmother’s Guide To Toddler Books – Part Two

I love reading books to my young grandchildren. I especially like it when the toddler books are entertaining and do not make me want to poke a sharp stick in my eye.

Please let me share with you some of the books I recommend. You can find more in Part One.

(By the way, as in Part One, this post contains some affiliate links which means that if you buy something after clicking on the link, Amazon will send a few pennies my way. I will promptly send the pennies back to Amazon as I buy new books for the little ones. I thank you and they thank you.)

I will be spending lots of time reading these and other favorites to the little guys during my upcoming stint as granny nanny.

 

Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site by Sherri Duskey Rinker, illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld

Goodnight, Goodnight COnstruction Site

Even the toughest equipment on the construction site needs to tuck in at night to be rested up and ready for the new day. This story helps rambunctious four-year-old twins realize that they do, too.

 

Pom Pom Panda Gets the Grumps written and illustrated by Sophie Henn

Pom Pom Panda Gets The Grumps

We’ve all had those times when we get out on the wrong side of the bed and everything that can go wrong throughout the day does. Pom Pom Panda’s friends help him to turn his day around.

 

Little Penguin Gets the Hiccups written and illustrated by Tadgh Bentley

Little Penguin Gets The Hiccups

This sweet and silly book illustrates the pitfalls of serving chili to a penguin. Little penguin needs help to vanquish his hiccups and he calls upon the reader and the audience to help.

 

Spoon by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, illustrated by Scott Magoon

Spoon

There is something about this book that I absolutely adore. Captivating illustrations depict this creative tale about Spoon who thinks those around him (Fork, Knife, and Chopsticks) lead more interesting or, in the case of Chopsticks, more exotic lives than he does. His parents, Mr. and Mrs. Spoon, help him to realize that there is something special about each of us.

 

Giraffes Can’t Dance by Giles Andreae, illustrated by Guy Parker-Rees

Giraffes Can't Dance

As someone who was kicked out of ballet class at age six because the teacher thought I was “too clumsy”, I feel vindicated by this book. With some encouragement and the right music in our hearts, we can ALL dance.

 

Finally, you can’t go wrong with ANYTHING by author Mo Willems. True, I might be drawn to him because of his awesome name but just look at these examples…

The Pigeon Needs a Bath! written and illustrated by Mo Willems

The Pigeon Needs A Bath

The Pigeon series (including other gems like “Don’t Let Pigeon Stay Up Late” and “Don’t Let Pigeon Drive The Bus” are silly tales about a cantankerous pigeon. He doesn’t think he needs a bath; he had one last month. Our little guys find the Pigeon books to be hilarious.

 

Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale written and illustrated by Mo Willems

Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale

Even from the cover of the book, you can see the personality that comes out in the illustrations.

Wee, little Trixie and her beloved knuffle bunny go along on a trip to the laundromat with dad. Unfortunately, knuffle bunny gets left behind and Trixie can’t get her parents to understand baby-speak. Finally, determination wins out and Trixie speaks her first real words, “knuffle bunny”.

 

The Elephant and Piggie Series

Elaphant and Piggie boks

There are 25 books in the Elephant and Piggie series. The books tell of the adventures of best friends Gerald the Elephant and Piggie the pig. The books are entertaining for all ages – seriously, I could read these over and over and over again.

The Elephant and Piggie books are also written to be “easy readers”. No dumb “See Spot run.” nonsense for this generation. The brilliant and talented Mo Willems helps children learn to read and want to read.

We Are in a Book! (An Elephant and Piggie Book), in particular, engages young readers.

Here is how the New York Public Schools Library Journal describes the hilarity:

“…the best buddies star in a witty metafictional romp replete with visual gags, such as Piggie hanging from a speech bubble and Elephant blocking the author’s name on the title page. Willems revs up the fun when the friends realize that someone is watching. Who can it be? Cautious Gerald asks, “A monster?” while savvy Piggie answers, “No. It is…a reader! A reader is reading us!” Mirth ensues as the delightful creatures comprehend a newfound power: “If the reader reads out loud,” they can make the reader say words.”

 

All of these books would be great additions to any family’s library. And, without a doubt, instilling a love of books in children is one of the greatest gifts you can give.

Happy reading!

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How Do You Hygge?

Am I the last person on earth to learn about hygge?

hygge

On the Oxford Dictionary’s short list for 2016 Word of the Year, hygge is a lifestyle trend that has apparently made a splash in the last year or so in the U.S.

Hygge (pronounced something like HYOO-guh) is a Danish word with no exact translation. It is a feeling, a mood, an experience – deriving joy from life’s simple pleasures.

As best I can glean from my tiny bit of extensive research, hygge denotes coziness, contentment, simplicity, and peacefulness. A combination of the people, places, and things that make you happiest.

No electronics allowed.

Hygge is something that the Danish people take pride in elevating to an art form.

Hygge can be as simple as a cup of coffee enjoyed while wrapped in your favorite blanket, curled up in your favorite chair.

blanket and coffee

Or it can be, like feng shui, a guiding design principle for your home or office.

While previously ignorant of the concept, it seems I have had my hygge-groove on around our house for a while.

After having moved a number of times, one gets really, really tired of “stuff”. Stuff to pack and unpack, stuff to arrange, stuff to dust and stuff to move aside to make room for new stuff.

Since retuning to Chicago, we have purged our shelves of tchotchkes and are trying to create a relaxed and (without even knowing it) hygge home.

Sure we have pictures of family and friends and a few sentimental objects around the place but these are things that bring us joy – add to the hygge in our home.

Oh, wow! Now I’m really in the groove. Soon I will be a hygge expert!

Even my daily rituals suggest a bit of hygge. I have a few favorite coffee mugs which bring back great memories related to particular trips or experiences.

Cowgirl Coffee mug

And some that just amuse me.

Shhhh there's wine in here

A cup of coffee in one of these mugs starts my day off right.

All day, every day, I have one of my beloved Nest candles burning. The delicate aroma makes the house feel cozy to me.

Nest Candle

My monthly “girls’ night in” get-togethers are overflowing with hygge. They are always meant to be casual, low-key evenings spent catching up with dear friends.

Girlfriends Gather Here

Last month we had “Soup and Pajamas” night to which my pal, Mare, wore her green, full-length, fleece onsie. If that’s not a hygge outfit I don’t know what is.

My sister-in-law has an extraordinary talent for creating hygge. If I didn’t know that she was 100% Irish, I might assume that she was Danish.

This gal has an extremely stressful, high-stakes, high-power job and needs every ounce of hygge she can get.

As often as possible, she will end the day by lighting candles all over her living room, grabbing a glass of wine and a cozy throw and taking time to breathe and decompress. The hygge is at its peak when this scene includes family and friends.

Fire Pit

 

Living in California means that she can enjoy outside hygge year-round where the candles are replaced by a firepit but the wine, cozy throw and loved ones are still part of the equation.

The concept of hygge, according to the Danish Ambassador, is a type of meditation – even done in a group – during which polarizing subjects are off limits in favor of focusing on what makes us happy.

I guess we all have stress, turmoil, and angst in our lives to one degree or another from time to time…or constantly.

It seems we can all use a little more hygge in our life.

How about you? Have you heard of this lifestyle movement? How do you hygge?

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Brewer-Clifton Hapgood Chardonnay With Crab Cakes

I have such fond memories of the three-month period during which my husband, Peter, was retired.

We went on great adventures together and he cooked dinner nearly every night.

That was before he accepted a consulting gig which was to last 3 months and has turned out to be more like 14. Alas, the project will eventually end and Peter will retire again;, perhaps more successfully this time.

But bless his heart, over the weekend he rolled up his sleeves, temporarily stepped back in the kitchen, and made delicious crab cakes.

Not only is Peter a pretty darn good cook, he also takes great pride in finding just the right wine from our cellar to pair with the dish he is making.

I’m a lucky gal.

crab cakes with Brewer-Clifton Chardonnay

Peter prepared crab cakes (see recipe below) over a bed of arugula and roasted carrots seasoned with sumac and cumin. He paired this with a 2012 Brewer-Clifton Hapgood Chardonnay from the Santa Rita Hills area of Santa Barbara County.

Brewer-Clifton’s tasting room is a “must stop” place when visiting Santa Barbara County. Located in the Lompoc Wine Ghetto (really just an industrial park), the Brewer-Clifton tasting room is hip, sleek and modern. A cheese board was available at our tasting which showed that the folks at Brewer-Clifton ascribe to the adage:

Taste wine with bread

Visits to the vineyard and barrel room are available by appointment.

The vineyard sits on a relatively small, very specific part of the Santa Rita Hills, surrounded by the Pacific Ocean. The impact of this location on the soil and the effect of the salt air are used to their greatest advantage in making this delicious wine.

Its deep, golden color suggests a richness that is present in every sip.

2012 Brewer-Clifton Hapgood Chardonnay

Here is what the winemaker has to say about the 2012 Brewer-Clifton Hapgood Chardonnay:

“The 2012 Hapgood Chardonnay displays bright golden color. A clonal selection from the Mount Eden vineyard, the wine supports bright and explosive aromas with hints of petrol. On the palate, the wine broadens to give full and voluptuous flavors of exotic fruits with beautiful acidity.”

For a long time, I was not much of a fan of Chardonnay. Visits to places like Brewer-Clifton, Lewis Cellars, and Sojourn have made me realize that I was just drinking the wrong Chardonnays.

Say it with me: “Life is too short to drink crappy wine.”

And now, for your dining pleasure, is the crab cake recipe (adapted from winespectator.com). Peter insists it is quite simple. I wouldn’t know since I was blissfully surfing the internet the entire time he was chopping, mixing and cooking.

Crab Cakes With Old Bay Tartar Sauce

  • 1 pound jumbo lump crab meat
  • 2 teaspoons of Old Bay seasoning
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 Tablespoons of mayonnaise
  • 1 Tablespoon of yellow mustard
  • 1 Tablespoon of butter, melted
  • 1 teaspoon of lemon juice
  • 1 Tablespoon of chopped fresh parsley
  • 1/2 cup of panko bread crumbs
  • Cooking oil (vegetable)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Arugula 
  • Tartar sauce
  • Another couple of teaspoons of Old Bay seasoning
  • Lemon wedges for serving

In a medium bowl, combine eggs, mayo, mustard, melted butter, lemon juice and Old Bay seasoning.

In a large bowl, combine crabmeat, parsley, panko and a pinch of pepper. Combine these ingredients by folding, rather than mixing, to keep the crabmeat in nice big chunks.

Fold the wet ingredients into the crabmeat mixture. Once combined, shape into the desired size of patties.

Heat a large frying pan to medium heat. Add oil, place patties in the pan and cook 6 minutes per side until golden brown.

Combine 2/3 cup of tartar sauce with 2 teaspoons of Old Bay seasoning. Serve alongside the crab cakes over arugula with lemon wedges on each plate.

Serves 4

Stay tuned for more of Peter’s wine pairings in the future.

Cheers!

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A Grandmother’s Guide To Toddler Books – Part One

If you have been to a baby shower recently, you may have been asked to bring a book instead of a card with your gift. Hallmark may not be happy but new parents love this idea as a way to build their family library.

But shopping for children’s books can be overwhelming. There are so many great options – and some stinkers, too.

I thought I’d share with you some of the toddler books that have become my favorites after hours of reading to my little grandchildren, ages 2 months – 4 1/2 years old.

Sure, you can’t go wrong with the classics like “Goodnight Moon” or anything by Dr. Seuss but thinking outside that box, you might consider these gems.

(By the way, this post contains some affiliate links which means that if you buy something after clicking on the link, Amazon will send a few pennies my way. Then I will promptly send these pennies back to Amazon as I buy new books for the little ones.)

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Little Blue Truck and Little Blue Truck Leads the Way by Alice Schertle, illustrated by Jill McElmurry

Little Blue Truck

Little Blue Truck Leads the Way

These sweet books tell the tale of the Little Blue Truck who shows by example that kindness is best.

 

Llama Llama Red Pajama by Anna Dewdney

Llama Llama Red Pajama

The headliner in the Llama Llama series, this book is written in a melodic tempo which makes it a delight to read.

Caution, however, if you are reading this to a young one who is suffering from separation anxiety you might want to skip the page that says,

“Llama llama red pajama feels alone without his mama.”

Just a little word of advice. From experience.

 

The Pout-Pout Fish by Deborah Diesen, illustrated by Dan Hanna

The Pout-Pout Fish

Featuring whimsical illustrations, The Pout-Pout Fish tells of a gloomy Gus who learns to turn his frown upside-down. The story is particularly riveting when the reader uses a different voice for each of the friends as my son does when reading to his twins.

Again, there are a number of “sequels” in the Pout-Pout series but you will want to read this one first.

 
Click, Clack, Moo Cows That Type by Doreen Cronin, illustrated by Betsy Lewin

Click, Clack Moo: Cows That Type

Farmer Brown’s cows have some demands which they present to the farmer in the form of a typed letter. Negotiations go back and forth until – spoiler alert – the animals win.

 
The Gruffalo by Julie Donaldson, illustrated by Axel Scheffler

The Gruffalo

A tiny mouse uses bravery and quick thinking to outwit those who would like to have him (as in EAT him) for lunch.

 
Digger, Dozer, Dumper by Hope Vestergaard, illustrated by David Slonim

Digger Dozer Dumper

The important jobs of each digger, dozer, and dumper are described in a rhyme. Truck-obsessed children like the ones in our family will love this.

 

Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña, illustrated by Christian Robinson

Last Stop on Market Street

This award-winning book first came to my attention when I saw it on a list of children’s books that encourage kindness to others.

CJ and his grandmother ride the bus across town together as they do every Sunday. Through their conversation along the way, Nana open’s CJ’s eyes to the goodness all around him.

The beautiful message and captivating illustrations won my heart immediately. And might have even brought a tear to my eye.

 

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Stay tuned for Part Two of my toddler book recommendations – more great stories that have earned the Momo seal of approval.

In the meantime, what are your favorite books for young children? I’m always looking for suggestions!

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Women’s March Chicago – A Beautiful Day And A Beautiful Event

On Saturday, I participated in the Women’s March Chicago along with my husband, my sister-in-law and 250,000ish of our closest friends.

Women's March

Chicago has a, perhaps well deserved, reputation for bad Winter weather. Well, someone was looking out for us marchers because Saturday was an absolutely glorious day – sunny and 60+ degrees.

I heard one marcher say, “Today is the one day I’m ok with global warming.”

I’m sure they were kidding and they are NOT ok with global warming but it was nice to have a sunny day.

Our little, mighty band of marchers decided to stay in the city on Friday night to avoid traffic on Saturday morning.

We went down to the hotel’s Starbucks about an hour before the gates were going to open at the rally venue. Already the lobby and Starbucks were packed with pink hatted folks.

By the way, a giant shout-out of thanks to my fabulous daughter-in-law, Lily, for knitting hats for us so that we would be properly adorned.

As we left the hotel, we started to get a better sense of how many people were joining us.

Women's March Chicago Art Institute

Note that the bus is jam packed. We passed by an “L” stop and folks were just streaming out of the trains on onto the streets.

As recently as the beginning of last week, the Women’s March Chicago organizers were estimating 22,000 marchers based upon the number who had registered on Eventbrite.

On Thursday they sent out a notice that the number had jumped to 50,000 then 60,000.

As we walked down Michigan Avenue heading for the rally, there were people in the streets and on the sidewalk as far as you could see.

We looked at each other and said, “Toto, this is going to be WAY more than 60,000 people.”

Women's March Chicago entering the park

The organizers sent out a plea, asking all participants to stay off the grass at Grant Park since they would be responsible for the cost to repair any damage done. (The Cubs had to pay $388,000 for repairs after the World Series Champions rally in November.)

God bless all the cooperative midwesterners. We did stay off the grass.

WOmen's March Chicago stay off the grass

Even though we arrived at the rally over an hour before its scheduled start time, this was as close as we could get.

Women's Rally Chicago stage

The crowd continued to build. Not just an event for women, there were plenty of men showing their support, too. And lots of Cubs fans.

Women's March Chicago cubs fans

Soon the message started filtering through the crowd:

Rather than the expected 60,000 participants, the crowd is estimated to be 250,000. The park is completely full of people. All of the streets around us – Michigan Avenue, Columbus Drive, Jackson, Van Buren, and more – are shut down to traffic and flooded with people. The entire length of what was to be the march route is packed with sign carrying folks.

This is AMAZING!

Although the organizers said that officially the “march” part of the day was canceled you sure wouldn’t know it by the streams of people who peacefully walked through the closed streets of Chicago for hours.

women's march Chicago marching

Women's March Chicago people everywhere

Every participant had their reason for joining in on this event. While there certainly were a number of signs expressing dissatisfaction with our new President, overall the message of the day was one of strength, respect, sister (and brother) hood, and action.

And love for our country.

Women, men, families, grandparents, babies in strollers, lots and lots of little girls and boys, veterans, people from across the entire spectrum of our citizenry joined together.

The Women’s March Chicago was a beautiful, powerful, happy, uplifting and moving event and I am thrilled to have experienced it.

Women's March Chicago Kindness Counts

Why did I march?

Honestly, for me it was less about protesting the election results (although I’m pretty sure you know where I stand on that) and more about what kind of country and world I want for my children and grandchildren.

Women's March Chicago my sign

I marched because I believe in equal rights and respect for all people.

I marched because I realized that I need to be a better citizen; a more responsible and engaged citizen.

I need to be the change I want to see.

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