Monday, September 28, 2009

A Tale of Two Cities

Saturday started out well enough – and ended okay - but it certainly had its moments!

The evening began with us heading over to the W Hotel in Minneapolis to celebrate Joe’s birthday (Joe being a friend and former co-worker of Josh’s). Josh was looking stylish with brown wool pants with a thin white pinstripe and a bold mustard-colored shirt. I looked pretty cute myself :) I hadn’t been to the W yet (in the Foshay building) and it is pretty swanky. The party was up on the 27th floor in the Prohibition Bar, which is all the rage with the downtown party-goers these days. Overall, I have to say I was more impressed with the lobby bar, but I’m sure that’s just a sign of age ;)

Joe is a nice/funny guy and I really enjoyed meeting his friend Nicole. We are now Twitter friends. Drinks and apps were ridiculously expensive there, but at least they had a very good happy hour special. Our waitress was barely clothed.

We stayed for about 2 hours but had tickets to see Mike Birbiglia at the Fitzgerald Theater in Saint Paul at 8, so we bailed at 7 so we’d have time to grab some fast food before the show. Swung up to University Avenue to McDonald’s, and were in DT Saint Paul by 7:30. Imagine our surprise when there is a block party on the street just outside of the Fitzgerald; it turns out Garrison Keillor is giving some sort of free outdoor concert. Had we known, we would have skipped Mickey D’s and gone in for the $5 meatloaf and mashed potato dinner, or perhaps the mini doughnuts.

We wander around outside for a bit but head into the theater at about 20 to 8. Josh grabs a beer at the bar there and I run to the restroom. There aren’t a *ton* of people around, but there are some, and I make the assumption that people are staying out at the free concert as long as they can because, well, this IS Minnesota and it IS Garrison Keillor. We find our seats and sit down, but it gets to be 10 minutes to 8 and we are still about the only people sitting in the theater, though there is a crew up on the stage tinkering around. Josh notices the stage doesn’t seem to be set up for a comedy show and asks me if I have the right night for the event. I say yes, I am positive, but we pull out the tickets to check. Yes, it’s Saturday, September 26. Yes, the show starts at 8 p.m. Imagine my horror when I realize the show is ACTUALLY at the State Theater in Minneapolis.

I am *hugely* upset. Here we had just been in DT Mnpls, and left a party early to come to Saint Paul – where we weren’t even supposed to be. I considered chucking the whole damn evening and just going home, but we decided to hightail it out of the theater and see if we can’t sprint over to Minneapolis, which we do in fairly speedy order. I spent the entire car ride praying there was a first act and trying not to burst into tears.

We get BACK to Minneapolis and valet at Chambers, flying down the sidewalk to the State Theater. We ask if we can be seated (because sometimes they won’t let you interrupt ongoing shows) and the usher says yes, and that they will be going to intermission soon. And I think – YES! At least we will be able to see half of the show. We get to our seats and it is *not* Mike Birbiglia performing on stage, which means there was an opening act and we didn’t miss the important part of the show at all. YAY!!!!!!!!!!!

The opening act sounded pretty good, what we caught of him, and then I thought Mike Birbiglia was just great! This was a mystery date I had planned for Josh, so I am glad it wasn’t totally ruined. Although it is funny now, and makes for a good story, I was supremely UNamused as it was happening.

After the show we popped into Solera for a beverage and a snack, then home and to bed!

A "grape" time

Friday wine tasting
Friday night we went to a wine tasting event at International Market Square that was sponsored by City Pages. We had gone to a similar event in the spring, and we both thought this event was more lightly attended and, fortunately, had more food available to help soak up the wine. There were 64 tables, I think, with probably 50 of them being wine tables, and the others were random – Crispin or beer, massages, movie theaters, etc. I tasted 40 wines (some of which were just a sip out of Josh’s glass). I think we skipped the last 6 or so tables because we were just *done.* We had some good conversations with people and met a guy who reminded me a lot of Dave Llamas, which was fun. We got there right at six and bailed by probably 8.

My favorite wines were a Columbia Winery Cellar Master’s Riesling, Castle Rock Zinfandel, Gascon Malbec, Crios Malbec, and a Mionetto il Moscato. I tried a few pinots in preparation for our trip to the Willamette Valley this fall, but mostly stuck to things I’m pretty sure I’m going to like – red zins, malbecs, rieslings and moscatos. I guess that’s not really the point of a wine tasting, but so it goes! Most of the wines have a really decent price point, ranging in the $12 or less category, and all are available at MGM Liquor.

Grape picking
Josh’s alarm went off at the ridiculous hour of 6 a.m. I had set my alarm for 6:30 a.m. and, not realizing Josh had set his, kept trying to shut mine off – unsuccessfully. We peered outside to determine if we *really* had to go or not since it had been raining throughout the night, but we decided that even though it was foggy and damp, there was probably no getting out of it at this point. So, we hauled ourselves out of bed and I made us a hearty farm breakfast of biscuits and gravy. Pretty tasty, if I do say so myself! We put on plenty of layers, tracked down iPods and sunglasses and gloves, and were on our way.

We get to Parley Lake Winery outside of Waconia by 8 a.m. and are given some basic instructions. We are going to pick the gray block, half of which was picked the previous day. We got a pruning tool and told to hold clusters by the stems. You are to gently lay the grapes in the lugs (yellow carrying boxes), not just toss them in. Each lug can carry about 30 pounds of grapes, though they said new pickers generally do about 22 pounds per lug. I’m guessing mine were closer to the 30 pounds, ’cuz mine were FULL. You have to pay attention when picking grapes to watch out for half clusters or other detritus you don’t want in your wine. It was easy to miss clusters hidden behind poles, etc., so you had to go slow and have a careful eye.

We worked until 11 and, all in all, I thought it was a great time. Don’t get me wrong – it is hard work, and I have a whole new appreciation for farm workers who do this daily for hours and weeks at a time. They for sure deserve big bucks, which most of them likely do not get. I was starting to fade out a little by 10:30. I picked about 4.5 lugs, which should have been about 135 pounds of grapes. Go me!

I was glad to be in the Marquette grape fields, where the grapes were netted, because they had loud “bird in distress” calls over some of the other blocks, which would have driven me out of my tree. It was an absolutely beautiful day, and I’m glad we did the morning shift because it started getting pretty warm later in the day. There were probably about 10 of us working. Josh, me and one other guy ended up working about half an hour longer than anyone else because our last row was simply LADEN with grapes – e.g. I filled almost an entire lug with grapes from one six-foot section. Crazy! It is fairly dirty and wet work, plus my thumb is still purple from the grape juices. On the up side, you could eat as many grapes as you wanted and they were delicious. They were at 25 brix, or 25 percent sugar content. I suspect they will make some darn good wine!

Our "reward” for our hours of free farm labor was a bottle of wine and two wine glasses each (even though the LAST thing we need in our house is more wine glasses). We also got a free lunch, which was a hotdog. Oh well. I was annoyed that when we turned in our tickets for our free wine/glasses that the winemaker’s wife didn’t even bother to thank us for our time. I might have been a little more grateful if I were her.

The winemaker was starting to crush the grapes we had just picked before we even left, and we will have to buy a bottle of the Marquette wine when it is ready, in hopes that some of “our” grapes are in that bottle :)

As we were leaving Josh asked if I had noticed the vehicles of the other volunteer grape pickers – I hadn’t. Josh said they were all nice, yuppie-type vehicles that seemed to clearly indicate their owners were doing this just because it seems fun. Other than the expensive car, what does that make us?!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Happy Anniversary to us!

Well, we didn’t win the lottery.

Friday was mine and Josh’s first wedding anniversary. Since the traditional first anniversary gift is paper, I bought five lottery tickets and put them in a card for Josh before I left the house this morning. Alas – no luck. We decided it’s too bad, because it would have made a great story for the media.

Our anniversary weekend was good. Josh had Friday off from work, so he came and had lunch with me in Saint Paul. We went to Salut on Grand, and had a nice table outside in the shade. Dining al fresco reminded us of many of our meals in Napa Valley on our honeymoon, so even though we didn’t have wine for lunch, it was a nice break in the day.

After work we had an appointment for a couples massage and then went to Chatterbox I in South Minneapolis, site of our first date. Had burgers and beers and played a few games of Yahtzee. Came home and popped open a bottle of Cabernet from Kuleto that we have been saving for the past year. It was… pretty terrible. Turns out it tasted *much* better after it had been allowed to breathe for a bit.

Also busted into the top of our wedding cake, which I was positive was going to be disgusting but somehow was not. I opened the tin it had been in for the past year and was very disappointed to see the cake hadn’t been wrapped up in layers of plastic at all, like they tell you to in all the wedding propaganda. It was just placed in the tin, which was far from air-tight. I had never bothered to open it because I assumed the wedding venue had packaged it properly. Anyway, I was fully expecting to take a bite and toss it directly in the garbage can. However, it tasted pretty darn good! Almond torte with strawberry filling.

Josh and I also exchanged gifts. I had found an artist on Etsy to pencil sketch one of our wedding photos (again, sticking to the paper theme) and had it framed up along with an Emerson quote: “People destined to meet will do so, apparently by chance, at precisely the right moment. – The Law of Spiritual Gravitation". Which I think sums up our meeting and courtship pretty well. Josh went the paper route as well, getting me a wine poster print by an artist I had expressed interest in a while back. Both pieces are now hanging in our home.

Saturday we planned to recreate our honeymoon in mini form by visiting two wineries. The first was Crofut Family Winery near Jordan, which we had never been to, and the second was Morgan Creek Vineyards near New Ulm. While this was a great idea in theory, New Ulm is a bit of a drive from E.P., and even from Jordan, and it ended up being kind of a long day. No matter.

Crofut was having a little event, which included grape stompers, a little flea market and music. The wines were better than expected and we bought a bottle of their La Crescent. I thought the grape stomping would be great fun, but nobody really “stomped” – they just kind of casually walked in the grapes, so it wasn’t much of a show. Still, I would like to do that some time. The flea market was dreadful, and there was a chef who was attempting to make cayenne chocolate mousse, and everything that could go wrong did – the power kept going out on his mixer, the cream curdled, etc. He seemed to take it pretty well in stride.

It was a long drive down to Morgan Creek but at least it was a beautiful day. The tasting room was pretty crowded when we got there so we waited a little bit. We bought a bottle of their Zeitgeist and wandered outside to sit by their bonfire. They have a really nice outdoor area, it’s a farm and so they have this huge lawn with a red barn and a giant tree that we both love (we had briefly considered getting married here). After we finished eating our wood-fired snacks (and a few we snuck in) we wandered down to the tree, drinking our wine and sitting on the wooden swing they have there. It was a pretty nice way to spend the afternoon.

Sunday we planned to go to this Oktoberfest celebration down on St. Anthony Main in NE Minneapolis, along the Mississippi River. I had never been but they had been advertising it as this three-day event, so we figured it was worth checking out. It wasn’t. There were about a handful of booths and probably even fewer people there. Strange. Maybe it will get off the ground in a couple more years. Fortunately, Josh had suggested taking the motorcycle so we just drove past and kept cruising. Got back to the house and watched the last half of the Vikings game. Took a nap, made dinner and otherwise had a leisurely night.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Labor Day weekend

Overall, we had a very nice and stress-free Labor Day weekend. Earlier in the week I had done laundry, and Friday I stopped at the grocery store directly after work, so no real chores or errands had to be accomplished. We ate dinner outside – cheeseburgers on the grill, sweet corn and roasted peppers – and otherwise had a leisurely night.

Saturday we hung new curtains in the bedroom and made BLTs and spaghetti squash for lunch. We then decided to get on Josh’s motorcycle and take it to a couple of wineries west of the Cities that we had never been to before. First up was Woodland Hill Winery just outside of Delano. We only came across this place when we were looking up the other one, but since they were relatively near each other and it was a nice day to be out on the bike, we decided to hit up both. Since we had never heard of it, I assumed it would be a pretty small family operation. Not at all – we pull up and the place is packed to the gills. In addition to the regular tasting, they were having a small art fair with about 20 booths, as well as music and some fair-type food – pork chop on a stick, mini doughnuts, what have you.

The tasting room was packed, but we sidled up to the counter pretty easily. It was $5/person to taste 6 wines – 2 whites, 2 roses, 2 reds. We didn’t care for the reds at all, and liked the first one we tried the best – an apple-y white called Autumn Sky. The tastings were done in 1-oz plastic cups and we had hardly picked up the first cup before she came by to see if we were ready for the next one. People were about 3-deep at the counter, so I couldn’t blame them for rushing us. After tasting Josh bought us each a glass of the Autumn Sky and we wandered around the fair for a bit. They have several nice sitting areas including a bonfire, and it seems as if they have fun events there frequently. Too bad it’s not a *bit* closer to us! We bought a bottle of the Autumn Sky on our way out and headed to the next stop.

The next winery was Parley Lake, near Waconia. It was the grand opening weekend for this winery; their first vintages. I thought they had pretty good traffic for being relatively unknown. The tasting here was also $5/person, but in real wine glasses that you got to keep (I think that brings our wine glass count up to at least 353). The girl who did our tasting was very nice and we enjoyed talking to her. It did start getting a bit crowded so we left to wander around outside. The winery is on a farm, so you could visit rabbits, goats and horses. They also have an apple orchard on the property, so you could buy apples and apple products. We didn’t end up buying any wine there but had a nice time.

Came home, took a nap and made dinner – homemade pizza. Otherwise, just hung out with the TV/computers/books, and I finished “My Life in France” by Julia Child. Fast, easy read, and really makes you wish you could have known and hung out with Julia and Paul Child back in the day. They seemed to have fabulous lives!

Sunday we didn’t have a plan and I was restless. I bailed out of the house around noon to run a few errands and Josh took his bike out for a while. I was back in the house by 2 because my back was acting up again. I spent the rest of the day on the couch, nursing ibuprofen and a hot pad.

Monday we decided to run to Macy’s to get Josh some jeans since his are falling off of him. Got him a belt and two pairs of jeans, plus went to Express and he bought the brightest orange shirt you have ever seen. After that we went to Patrick’s – Josh had a chicken wrap and I had a fruit tart. Came home and packed up to go to Staring Lake. Josh packed his disc golf equipment and I packed a book and a blanket. Really a nice day; perfect weather all weekend.

Came home and Josh decided to watch a movie and I decided to try my hand at Julia Child’s beef bourginon. The recipe is rated difficult and gives the active cooking time of 120 minutes. I wouldn’t say it was especially difficult, but there were a LOT of steps to it (it is a 3-page recipe). All in all, it took about 4 hours of my time AND I think I dirtied every dish in the house. The end result, though – my, my, my. It was absolutely delicious, and very, very rich. It should be, since you use, among other things, nearly an entire bottle of wine. I personally think a few steps could have been cut out/modified, and next time (?!) I’ll use regular bacon instead of salt pork, but it was very, very good.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Porter & Frye

On Monday, we met a friend of Josh’s, who lives in the Chicago area and was in town on business, for dinner at Porter & Frye in downtown Minneapolis. Little did we know there was construction going on so it was very unclear how to actually get *in* the place. Turns out you had to go through the hotel it is attached to; all three of us ended up walking around the building. Let’s get some better signage, people!

I was super jazzed to try this place because it has a reputation of having amazing chefs (all of whom have recently left: Steven Brown, Joan Ida). Anyway, we walk in and it’s kind of a random space. I was expecting a high-end look from its reputation, but it really wasn’t that way at all. It had the industrial-type ceilings, which would have been fine if they were tall, but since the ceilings were low it was more odd than anything. The tables and bar area were okay, but there are four huge columns in the middle of the room that block your view of most of the dining area. When we got there the room was nearly empty and yet the hostess put us at a table right next to the only other table of people in the room.

The drinks were very good. I had two martinis – first a Ginger Mule (Georgia Mule?) and then a raspberry “Come back, lover” or some similar name. Both were solid but I’d pick the Ginger Mule every time – peachy and gingery, refreshing.

For dinner I had the arugula salad with fennel, pear, ginger and prosciutto. The prosciutto was very crispy like bacon and made a nice addition to the salad. I also had the risotto with smoked chicken, fava beans and cauliflower. It tasted fresh, but not as fresh as the food at Spoonriver. And, while the risotto was good, it wasn’t great, such as what you can get at Risotto or, if I may blow my own horn, the dirty risotto I make at home courtesy of a Giada de Laurentiis recipe.

We skipped dessert as none of the options blew our skirts up, and called it a night. All in all I’d say it was very nice to meet Sarah, but I probably wouldn’t go out of my way to go back to Porter & Frye.

Catching up on August

I guess I have been kind of a slacker on the whole blogging end of life lately. Here's what you've missed:

August 16 – Had brunch in Uptown with Chris & Melissa. We ate at French Meadow Bakery, which was it’s usual Sunday morning zoo. Still, it was good to see the Byrneses, as next time we see them Baby Morgan should have joined the outside world.

August 19 – Had drinks with the SPA girls at W.A. Frost’s. We had hoped to sit outside on their fabulous patio, but the weather was once again not cooperating. Always wonderful to see them, even though we tend to dwell too much on the past when we are together ;)

August 20-21 – I was in Duluth for work for a couple of days. Thought everything was highly interesting and I learned a lot. The best part was getting to meet people from throughout our 4-state region, put names with faces, etc.

August 22 – Chris & Mark invited us over for a grill out at their place. Good food, good friends. We played several rounds of Apples to Apples and For Sale before we all decided we are old and tired and had to go to bed.

August 23 – Dee, Dan and JenO came over to our place for a little potluck and sangria. Good times! We definitely need to invite people over more often.

August 29Minnesota State Fair! We managed to eat at least three things in the first half hour alone! A fun day of walking around, eating and people watching. We enjoyed watching the infomercial-type sellers and even caved to one and bought a handheld tile cutter for me. Now we just need to go tile shopping…

Everywhere at the Fair we saw people wearing these lime green Boston Scientific Tshirts with square black and white cows on them that said "I've been spotted at the Fair." They were so cute and I really want one! We even asked a family how/where they got theirs, but it was an employee promotion thing. Darn it! Why don't I have any juice at Boston Scientific?

Went to the Lynyrd Skynyrd/Kid Rock concert in the Grandstand and nearly froze to death. I was so glad when the music started so I had an excuse to jump around and get the blood moving. We had absolute crap seats, second row from the back, but at least we were dead center of the stage and it was still better seats than, say, anything you can get at Target Center (crappy venue). I was surprised I knew as many Skynyrd songs as I did.

Kid Rock was a good performer/entertainer. What he is *not* is a particularly talented singer or rapper. I always thought he has a nice voice on his ballads, but judging from the concert I’d say quite a bit of that is studio work. Still – he put on a good show, whipped the crowd up, etc.

We took an express bus to the State Fair from E.P. for $5/person, and it was totally worth it to be able to sleep on the way home and let someone else worry about getting us there. Will definitely do that again in the future!

Food musts:
bull bites from Axel's
strawberries and whip cream
ice cream from the dairy building