As lovely as traditional holidays such as Thanksgiving and Christmas can be, they often also feel like "crunch times," with the flurry of shopping and gifting and baking and more baking. This strange year has already given me a new perspective on how important it is to keep alive the spirit--gratitude, giving, sharing--of these holidays, even when things look so drastically different for so many families.
In my 10/25 blog post, I reflected on the joy of inviting the Thanksgiving spirit, on a smaller scale, into an otherwise ordinary day. I have continued to actively think of ways to honor both traditions and pragmatism, and have found great pleasure in taking one special "holiday" food tradition at a time and sharing it with those close to me.
These thoughts remind me of Carl's often-shared belief that there's often no reason to hold on to "great" bottles of wine (unless they are some of the few which could benefit from further flavor development through bottle aging), waiting for some "special occasion" to occur. He says: Just go ahead and pop that cork and--magic!--the special occasion is now happening.
You know what can wear a person out? Baking five kinds of Christmas cookies all in one day. By the end of a long session attempting to re-create every single flavor of all our childhoods, my enthusiasm for the project has usually waned. The huge influx of cookies can also be a bit overwhelming, with all of the flavors and choices.
This year, just because, I baked one batch of shortbread cookies in November. They weren't holiday cookies--just little autumn leaves, with some raspberry jam sandwiched in between. Doing just one batch, unexpectedly, and then sharing them with Allegro folks, was really fun. Why not commemorate the season, maybe every season, with a little something extra sweet, extra special? The activity actually boosted my energy.
One holiday tradition which I've had ever since I was a kid is the eating of lox and bagels for Christmas breakfast, a vestige of time my parents had spent in New York. It wouldn't be Christmas morning, I've thought, unless the bagels were toasting and the cream cheese spreading.
Turns out, however, that It's not sacredly held that Christmas morning should be the only time that we enjoy this delicious pairing. I get this now. So--sprinkled into our rotation of "regular" dinner meals, and following an example shared with me by my friend Tracie--now sometimes, at times suddenly "special," it's Bagel Nite! We toast the freshest bagels we can find (though still nowhere close to my favorites, from the Bagel Chateau in Maplewood, NJ, on the morning after Thanksgiving, back in the Age of Travel). We get out pickled red onions and capers, slice good cheese very thin, and set the beautiful smoked salmon on top of our creations. So. Good. Carbs, Christmas, comfort. Bagel Night.
I had another successful tradition transplant for the family recently: Fondue Nite! In "normal" years, we get together with our friends the Welshes for New Year's Eve. We write predictions, get caught up, and then melt chocolate and dip everything we can find into it. Usually, for us, fondue is a once-a-year kind of thing. Well, not this year. I made a cheese-and-pilsner fondue for our bread, potatoes, and veggies, and then tried out a new chocolate fondue recipe, with all the potential dessert dippers I could find. There we were, huddled around the bowl of chocolate, and it wasn't even New Year's Eve! But still, it felt like a celebration. Maybe time for a new resolution.
In the olden days, a huge everybody-in holiday meal would involve huge amounts of preparation, dish after dish all to be shared all at once. Sometimes it's hard to appreciate the wonder of each part--the cranberries, the stuffing, the pie--because the parts are all piling on top of each other, and we can often feel exhausted. What I'm trying to do more consciously this season is to mindfully share the very best parts of holiday traditions, even if sometimes it's only one dish at a time.
Making the everyday special definitely helps us make it through.
Winegrowers and winemakers don't often get many opportunities to travel. The needs of the vineyards and cellars keep them tied pretty close to home, during busy seasons overlapping throughout the year. Since our coming to Allegro in The Brogue in 2001, we have managed to tear Carl away from the property as often as feasible, though of course there have also been many times when he wanted to join the boys and me for trips but simply couldn't, due to his responsibilities back here.
It's notable, then, that during our tenure here Carl has managed twice to make it out to a rather remote vineyard site near the southern shore of Lake Erie, out in Conneaut, Ohio: Markko Vineyard. Both times, he came away inspired and gratified by his interaction with East Coast wine pioneer Arnie Esterer.
Esterer passed away a few days ago, on October 28th. His passing has given Carl and others (such as Linda Jones McKee, in an article for WineBusiness.com) an opportunity to reflect upon this remarkable man, his achievements, and his influence.
Arnie Esterer was born in Germany, came to the U.S., studied economics and engineering, and then joined the winegrowing and winemaking industry as a follower of Dr. Konstantin Frank. Frank (originally from what is now Ukraine) is credited with successfully bringing European vinifera grapes (such as Chardonnay and Riesling) to the Northeast, founding Vinifera WIne Cellars near Keuka Lake in New York's Finger Lakes region in 1962. Esterer was one of Frank's student "cooperators," and, following Frank's advice, planted his own successful vinifera vineyard in Ohio in 1968 and founded Markko winery in 1972.
During a nearby year--1971--Bill Radomsky had searched Pennsylvania for his own vinifera vineyard site. He chose The Brogue and, in 1973, planted the first Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon in what would eventually come to be called Allegro Vineyards.
John and Tim Crouch, the brothers who bought the vineyard and would establish Allegro WInery in 1980, knew of the legacy of the pioneers of commercially-successful East Coast vinifera grapes and vines, including Dr. Frank, Arnie Esterer, and Doug Moorhead of Presque Isle WIne Cellars in North East, PA.
John and Tim certainly didn't travel much, themselves. After purchasing the vineyard, they only took two notable trips together which we're aware of: one to visit famed Horseshoe Curve near Altoona, PA (for train-buff Tim); and the other, around 1976, to visit the pioneers of Lake Erie winegrowing: Presque Isle, Mazza, and--yep--Markko. Here are a few old slides from their Ohio sojourn:
John talked to Carl about his visit to Markko, using Esterer's name in a pun which apparently only winemakers would understand: an "army of esters" (har, har).
Carl got his first chance to meet Arnie Esterer in late 2005, when I headed to a wine marketing conference up on the very cold shore of Lake Erie. I drove out to the conference with Linda Jones McKee, and then Carl came out to pick me up. First, he made the pilgrimage to Conneaut, where he found Esterer in the vineyard, hilling up vines to protect them from the coming winter. (Vinifera vines' survival through winter had long been the challenge for East Coast growers.) Esterer was the kind of winegrower who grew to know the needs of every one of his vines (reminding me of Jim Law, of Virginia's wonderful Linden Vineyards). Esterer had even developed his own training/pruning trellis system.
Stepping into Markko winery, Carl was absolutely floored. The evocative smell reminded him exactly of Allegro's own distinctive scent, a combination of fermentation and the "terroir" of mold on the walls, reminiscent of Burgundy. In tasting the wines, he found a similar taste profile to John Crouch's wines: vibrant with acidity, clean, well-structured, alive.
All of these winemakers have held a special connection to Europe and its well-known vinifera, from the Rieslings of the Rhein region to the red Left Bank Bordeaux blends. (John had recalled how excellent Markko's 1991 Cabernet had been, particularly, showing extremely well against the 1990 Bordeaux from a similarly hot growing season.) Carl himself spent several of his young years living in Germany and feels a definite European connection. Together, we have thoroughly enjoyed our wine-focused visits to Germany and France. Our Pennsylvania climate is most similar to that of Bordeaux, and Carl continues the traditions of these East Coast wine producers who have upheld European styles and methods for six decades now.
Carl and I returned to Pennsylvania in late 2005 with a bunch of Markko wines and a renewed sense of our connections to the roots of our industry in this part of the world.
Several years later, Carl took one more opportunity for a pilgrimage to Markko. In August of 2018, he and our older son stopped for a visit. Octogenarian Arnie Esterer led them around the vineyard at a fast clip, and then to the winery and tasting room to kick the tires of recent vintages. The no-frills aesthetic felt quite familiar to Carl by now, still reminiscent of the Allegro we first met in the spring of 2001. Again, the wines--referencing Germany, France--were remarkable.
The picture of Markko's founder setting the pace in the vineyard is one which Carl holds fondly, recalling it this week as news of his passing came our way. Arnie Esterer was humble, generous, and energetic, with a devotion to the vineyard which he expressed in terms both poetic and reverential. (Markko's annual "Blessing of the Vines" vineyard walk every May is one of its most cherished traditions.)
Carl broke out a nice bottle of Cadenza this weekend and we talked about East Coast winemaking, about John, about Esterer. "He showed us what's possible. Sometimes I feel," he told me, thoughtfully, "that I'm standing on the shoulders of giants."
A recent article in Condé Nast Traveler, entitled "The Case for Getting Rid of the Holiday Travel Calendar," certainly gave me food for thought. The author basically takes the opportunity to advocate for our being creative and flexible and pragmatic around the planning of pandemic family holiday get-togethers. The actual day--or even the month or season--of Thanksgiving or Christmas isn't as important, author Noah Kaufman asserts, as our commitment to get together when it is most safe and practical.
I get it. Makes sense to me.
Our family has done our absolute best to keep each other safe and sane during this crazy year. One son is currently away, having a safe (and shortened) college semester; the other three of us are here together in The Brogue, working daily to achieve a balance between care and normalcy. We keep in touch with the rest of our extended family through weekly Zooms, texts, and emails. As the year-end holidays approach, we certainly all understand that it will be the spirit of the season which matters, more than the ability to all hold hands around a feast table.
This weekend, we had the wonderful opportunity to put this flexible celebration model into practice. My beloved father, who used to live here on the winery "estate" with us in The Brogue, came and spent a wonderful (and carefully socially-distant) time with us here, taking advantage of a beautiful harvest weekend. We ate together outside, shared pantomime hugs, and enjoyed happy hour together by the fire pit. It was really great to be together--a cause for true gratitude.
I'd known, as I planned for his visit, exactly what it would be: Thanksgiving. Yep, it's not November. Yep, the rest of the family couldn't join with us this time. But four of us would be carving out a special time for fellowship, and I can't think of a better name for that than "Thanksgiving."
It makes me think of the Grinch's epiphany moment, upon realizing that Christmas is more about the spirit of the thing: "It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes, or bags"...yep.
So we did it. I happily added the trappings and trimmings of the season, spending a happy day preparing traditional Thanksgiving foods (much to my dad's surprise and delight): the turkey, the stuffing. Potatoes and cranberry sauce.
What really mattered, though, was knowing that the most important part of the tradition had already been achieved: Wherever, however, whenever, we'd honored our time together with conscious gratitude. Amen.
In a recent conversation, my friends and I talked about our methods of making bread dough. Some (including me) opined that we mostly use a dough hook on a stand-up mixer when kneading. My friend Linda chimed in that, for her, the physical act of kneading bread dough by hand is actually an essential part of her process. It's a large part of why she makes her own bread in the first place, experiencing a comforting set of sensations, from turning the ingredients into a soft dough under her own palms to the scent of the bread baking, which is honestly just about the most wonderful sense experience in the world.
Our lives are topsy-turvy. We live in isolation and under stress. "Normal" things seem to be lost to us, while fear and divisiveness seem to have become "the new normal." So many people are struggling right now.
Some days I can't seem to put all of my thoughts together in the right order. Ever since March, I have learned to diagnose this fuzzy-brained overwhelmed condition. It's not new to me, by now. I often prescribe myself an activity to offset some of the negatives. My favorite go-to activity: baking.
Baking is formulaic, but also creative. It's an act of self-care and care for others. It is built for sharing.
After thinking some more about our dough conversation, I decided to turn this week's breads into hand-kneading activities. Rather than plug in the ol' mixer, I used my hands. It was interesting how my hands always just know what to do, how much flour to add, what gestures to make. I definitely felt more connected to the process, just as Carl does in the winery when he takes on the harvest chore of punch-downs (which I wrote about in yesterday's post).
My first bread project of the week was a favorite of my son's: hamburger rolls. I use King Arthur Flour's beloved "Best Burger Buns" recipe, which makes a lovely buttery roll. It was great with burgers, but also in an egg-and-bacon-and-cheese breakfast sandwich the next morning. it was easy to knead by hand, ready for proofing in almost no time.
My second project, chosen in anticipation of an Indian feast, was my Pocket Bread. This dough felt entirely different than the bun dough--whereas that one featured butter, this one includes milk and whipped-smooth yogurt, making for a tighter, more refined feeling. Again, the kneading process was quite easy, and that dough hook remained idle.
I was actually disappointed that my next bread project of the week requires no kneading at all. This is a fascinating recipe, for several reasons. It's the New York Times recipe for "Simple Crusty Bread." It has only four ingredients--yeast, salt, water, and flour--and stays very loose, going through the proofing phase after being simply stirred together. The dough keeps well in the fridge, but takes on a life of its own when being shaped or moved--it's like some sort of living creature that can't help but permanently attach itself to everything it comes near. Whereas I couldn't wait to get my hands on the other doughs, this one can't wait to get ahold of me. Making it always becomes a slapstick routine.
Other than its sticky nature, this bread is really easy to make, and very versatile. This time I baked two of the four loaves right away, and they are destined to be in the stuffing of a special Thanksgiving-in-October meal that I'm working on.
My bake week's final recipe was a new one to me: a recipe for Angel Biscuits which I just saw in the Thanksgiving edition of the Food Network magazine. It was my first time making this hybrid of biscuits and yeast dinner rolls, and what drew me to the recipe was its hands-on components. Not only is it hand-kneaded, but no rolling pin is needed for forming and shaping the biscuits. The resulting biscuit/rolls, topped by flaky sea salt, are really wonderful: buttery and soft, while still layered and light.
My friend Linda, whom I have to thank for my hands-on breadmaking this week, spent her career teaching young children, and she made bread with those little ones time after time after time. She expresses what a wonderful activity it is for them, to knead the dough and experience all of the feels and smells. It really is an act of pure goodness, something we can definitely all use a taste of these days.
I'm pretty good at a lot of things. I can carry a tune, make art with pastels, drive across the country, order another beer in German. I tend to hold myself to a pretty high standard with most things I do, which of course can also keep me from taking part in other activities which I'm not particularly good at: gardening, running, parallel parking.
I love to cook and bake and have definitely gotten much better at these endeavors ever since a year ago August, when I made a decision to increase the quality of every bite I take/make. I can make an authentic curry and a (finally) a pancake which is memorable for all the right reasons.
I don't often fail in the kitchen.
This is probably why yesterday's bread experience came as such a shock.
I thought I had done everything just right. The intention was to recreate The Pioneer Woman's Homemade Cinnamon Bread recipe, in anticipation of our older son's quick visit home from college. The recipe has always seemed a bit odd to me, in terms of its time-frame, but I have learned to allow more time than printed for preparation, and to be rather sceptical of its 4-hour (!) rising time. I heated the milk, cooled the milk, mixed the ingredients, kneaded the dough, supervised its first long rising, shaped it into beautiful cinnamon-sugar-filled rolled logs, and put the pans in the slightly-warmed oven for a second rise.
Then I headed off to the grocery store, to gather piles of my son's favorite snacks. Maybe that's where things went wrong?
As my errands grew to take more time than anticipated, I called home to ask my younger son to take the rising loaves out of the oven and turn the oven on.
After a couple minutes, this is what he sent me:
We've debated ever since exactly what it was that I did wrong, and there are many theories floating around. It was likely some combination of time, temperature, and that Saran Wrap.
Whatever the cause, there it was: what the kids used to call an "epic fail."
Success and failure are, of course, matters of perspective. Sometimes a bigger "fail" can be more satisfying than a little one. A big blob-monster of dough might be better than a potato soup which ended up being just a little too salty or a quiche which didn't quite get set in the middle. In AJR's song "100 Bad Days," perhaps we can all relate to:
"...Maybe a hundred bad days made a hundred good stories
A hundred good stories make me interesting at parties..."
A friend on social media once recounted the story of her pickle of a morning. Rushing around, working to deal with family needs while getting ready for her work day, she somehow knocked an entire. Huge (I'm imagining Costco huge). Jar. Of ginormous dill pickles. Pickles. And brine. Out of the fridge, to shatter on the floor.
For some reason, her response to this catastrophe (which caused no cuts or bleeding), as she stood there, splattered in green pickle vinegar, pickles swimming around her feet, was to have the presence of mind to decide she basically had two options: She could either melt into a puddle of despair right along with the gherkins, or she could laugh like a madwoman. As I recall, she chose the later.
I guess this story has stayed with me because, reading her story, I'd hoped that I, too, would chose to laugh rather than to sob. I'm not much of a sobber, but...
In a world gone rather mad, some well-intentioned loaves of over-risen cinnamon bread certainly don't rank high on the list of the world's cares. Still, I do like to be able to predict success in my endeavors. And I did want to serve my "kids" the most delicious cinnamon toast comfort food the following morning.
But no matter. There I sat in the grocery store parking lot, looking at the photo. I called Dylan back. "So..." I began, "about the bread," and took a breath. "What the hell did I do..." And then I laughed, and then we did, together.
Viticulture is certainly farming, even though we tend not to call ourselves farmers. (I have heard Carl only occasionally talk about being a "grape farmer," which for some reason sounds strange...) Owning two vineyard properties, growing grapes, and turning those grapes into a consumable product does link us to our farming neighbors in many ways. In the spring of 2019 we were honored and surprised to be named York County's Outstanding Farm Family for that year.
My father's extended family in Iowa was a farming family; all four of his dad's brothers owned and worked farms there. I grew up with a deep appreciation for land and for farming. When Carl and I lived in State College and I was studying for my graduate degree, I began working at Tait Farm nearby. I did everything from picking basil, apples, and asparagus to helping bottle fruit vinegars and shrubs. When Tait's didn't have enough work for me one month, I became connected to Mount Nittany Winery, where I began working in the tasting room. Eventually Carl came on board there, became their winemaker, and the rest is our history.
Many of my fondest memories of working at Tait's were of working with my friend Sabine Carey. (I'll never forget the day I became the one and only person to ever flip the Tait Farm asparagus buggy--Sabine laughed so hard!) Sabine now runs Full Circle Farms in Penns Valley and is active in local, regional, and national organizations including Centre Markets (which could use our help currently, as they fundraise to buy a new delivery van) and Farm Aid.
Farm Aid is an amazing national organization which this year is celebrating 35 years of supporting family farms and farmers. Their annual music festival is certainly their highest-profile fundraising event, and for eight years Sabine has been one of their official photographers. I have really enjoyed seen her annual photography of Farm Aid legends such as Willie Nelson and Neil Young.
This year's Farm Aid concert will be held tomorrow evening (Saturday, September 26th) as a virtual event. The list of artists performing looks amazing.
This morning on ABC's Good Morning America, they did a nice segment about Farm Aid and a focus on small family farms. They produced some nice storytelling and a performance of the song "Colors" by Eric Burton and Jack Johnson.
Thanks to Sabine, who rounded up photos from family farmers whom she knows, Carl and I got to play a tiny part in the photo montage which played during the song. If you watch the song (which I recommend, because it's very cool), right near the end you'll see a split-second shot showing our photo on the screen outside the Times Square Studios.
So...we're not exactly famous, but we are happy to do whatever we can to support Farm Aid and the other wonderful family farmers who provide food--and wine--to their communities.
Social media reminded me today of what I was doing exactly four years ago. Turns out I was cataloguing photos from our trip to South Africa and Zimbabwe. On this particular day in 2016, I was curating photos of one of the most amazing birds I've ever seen, and one I'm sure I had never before know existed: the lilac-breasted roller. It is an incredibly vibrant, colorful, and unreal creature.
Seeing pix of this amazing bird today filled me with nostalgia. It doesn't even seem real, that we ever got the chance to travel to such amazing places to see such awe-inspiring things. It made me feel both grateful for those opportunities and anxious to know if and when we'll get to go so far again.
I have loved birds my entire conscious life. I remember sitting in my closet (?!) for hours as a kid, poring over my Audubon Field Guide to North American Birds. I would draw some of the birds and just wonder over others, earmarking some for particular consideration: the scarlet tanager, the cedar waxwing, the painted bunting, the snowy owl.
A lot of my interest in the subject came from, and was much later reawakened by, my mom's younger brother: Uncle Dale. He's a bit of a myth in and of himself. When we'd visit him in Canada when I was a kid, I was entranced by the fact that chickadees in his yard would come right up and land in his hand in order to receive sunflower seeds. Decades later, I've had the pleasure of accompanying him on two successful quests to see the last of my top four childhood wish birds: the snowy owl.
I have had many many opportunities to photograph incredible birds in the past five or so years. I go to Conowingo Dam--just 45 minutes away--to see bald eagles quite often, and photographing them has given me the training to catch wonder in the air and just above the water. I've also traveled as far and as widely as I can manage, getting the chance to see a lovely variety of warblers and raptors, chickadees and cranes, from many corners of our country and others.
So...back to today. There I was, feeling all nostalgic about the past and the birds which I have gotten to opportunities to see. To combat the blahs, I decided to head out toward the vineyards in The Brogue, to see what I would see within the space of just one hour. Then magic happened.
My eyes were quickly drawn to some of the endposts in the vineyards, where interesting birds were landing. I crept closer to investigate, and realized that, in a certain corner of the vineyard, we had a coming-together of incredible birds species: multiple American kestrels, northern flickers, red-bellied woodpeckers, and blue jays. I have no idea why these four strong species were co-existing in this particular corner for this particular time, but it made for some incredible bird-watching. I saw kestrels and flickers squabble; I saw them make amends.
Later, as I've got the chance to look through the photos that I took during this hour, I've realized how incredible each of these local bird species actually is.
American kestrels: These are on my current top-five list of super-cool birds. These tiny and colorful falcons can hover, perch, and claw their way into my heart every time. Thanks to our friend Scott, who built kestrel boxes into the vineyard years ago, I get to see these beauties every year.
Northern flickers: These woodpeckers, when you really take the time to look at them, look like a species formulated by a committee whose members have imbibed some odd drug. From their blue eyeshadow and red crowns to their polka-dot coats to their yellow-backed tailfeathers, they certainly seem like anomalies. Whatever. They make themselves right at home.
Red-Bellied Woodpeckers: These gregarious birds show up often in our trees and at our feeders. The red on their heads would seem to be a better marker for nomenclature, but occasionally we do also get a glimpse of their namesaked belly color.
Blue Jays: These are busy birds. They are social, loud, opinionated, and gorgeous. I aspire to achieve their level of we've-got-this-ness.
So...well, lucky me. The thing that I most crave--an ongoing connection to nature and its creatures--is to be found right here at home. I feel these blessings. I see this beauty, and I honor it.
John Crouch, the winemaker from whom Carl and I bought Allegro Winery back in 2002, was quite an amazing person. In addition to his winemaking, he was an accomplished music composer and food and wine aficionado.
John kept his house here on the winery property by subdividing the property at the time of sale. So he was very much a part of our lives and the continuing work of the winery until his too-soon death in the spring of 2003, at the age of only 55.
John, Carl, and I shared many a happy hour together down at the winery deck here in The Brogue. John would also invite us to his house to listen to his music compositions (through an electronic MIDI) or to have supper. We'd talk about poetry and writings, food, wine, and his beloved Westie, Dudley.
On one memorable occasion, John showed me how to make gnocchi here in his kitchen. While I really enjoyed cooking, I'd never tried my hand at fresh pasta. I saw how fun and easy it was to make, and how the texture made the pasta such a perfect cradle for the simple marinara. Perfectly delicious.
My big culinary project yesterday was to create an Olive Garden-style supper, just for fun. I used every pot, pan, and measuring cup in my kitchen. John's kitchen! Yes--Carl and I now live in the house that used to be John's. After he passed away, our friends Margaret and Scott purchased his house, since Carl and I had already built our own up near the vineyard. After Margaret and Scott moved away, my parents bought the house and we spent several glorious years living here in a three-generation estate, in houses across the field from each other. When my folks moved back to State College (my hometown) two years ago, we swapped houses, turning our "old" house into a rental property and moving into John's old house, which had been dramatically renovated during my folks' tenure here.
All of that background is here just to show the path leading up to yesterday, when I found myself making gnocchi in this kitchen for the second time. It took me right back to that wonderful supper with John and Carl.
In addition to the gnocchi with a spicy tomato cream sauce, I made a whole feast of other recipes culled from Olive Garden copycats found on the web: air-fryer mushroom ravioli with marinara, chicken parmesan with penne and cream sauce, well-dressed iceberg lettuce salad, and -- of course -- breadsticks brushed with butter, garlic, and Italian seasoning. We paired the feast with Allegro's 2019 Dry Rosé.
I enjoy reflecting back on all of the wonderful meals which have come out of this very same kitchen: John's homemade pasta, Margaret's homemade pizza, my mom's incredible mac 'n cheese. My family and I have been so fortunate to share the table with all of them, right here at home.
Friends of Allegro Winery, especially those who buy wine by the case, have surely seen our tagline, which appears on those cases: "Drink Like You Live Here." Maybe people instinctively know what this means, and it certainly can have different connotations for different people. This will be my first post giving some perspective on the phrase, with more to follow.
This week's perspective comes from a classic movie, and from butterflies.
Who can forget Robin Williams' voice, playing the character of John Keating in Dead Poets Society, admonishing his teen students to "Carpe Diem": "Seize the day, boys." And, quoting poet Robert Herrick:
Gather ye Rose-buds while ye may,
Old Time is still a-flying:
And this same flower that smiles to day,
To morrow will be dying.
This sentiment of seizing days is relevant to what it means to "drink like you live" at Allegro.
Carl's sentiment about drinking great bottles of wine is one I've heard him express whenever someone says that they are holding on to a nice wine "for a special occasion." He tends to turn the sentiment around, asking, "Why not make a special occasion by opening that bottle today?"
There are certainly notable wines, including several of Carl's, which do develop and improve with age, but for the most part wines are best consumed earlier rather than later, today rather than tomorrow.
Seize the cork! Share special wines every day! Drink like you live here.
And...about the butterflies?
How do butterflies drink? Well, they sip, but they really also seem to sip everything, tasting so many vibrant colors and nectars. I like learning from them.
And, on Tuesday I felt a kind of "Gather ye butterflies while ye may" moment.
Thanks to this summer's zinnias, we have had an incredible summer of butterfly-watching, right here near the vineyards in The Brogue. I've seen more butterflies, and a greater variety of butterflies, than in any other year, and I've made a point of spending time in appreciation of their beauty.
Tuesday I had a kind of melancholic thought. I often celebrate firsts and first visits--the first indigo bunting of the spring, the first monarch sighting of the year--but can never really know which days will bring lasts. Hindsight is 20/20 (and what a 2020 we are having!)--often, only later do we recognize that what we once had has now flown. Who could know which butterfly visit will be the last of the summer? When will the monarch migration begin? Somehow I knew that day was close.
I spent a couple hours photographing as many butterflies as I could--there were still so many! Monarchs and swallowtails, cabbage whites and buckeyes. Those wonderful zinnias made for many very colorful vignettes. I tried to take in as much as I could.
And then--I shared them. On Wednesday I sent butterfly photos to dozens of friends, some people who I still see quite often, some whom I haven't seen in years. I sent them along, just to share the wonder and to give a bit of unexpected brightness to people's weighed-down lives.
And here's the crazy thing: On our rather dreary Thursday, I looked out to the zinnias, and the butterflies were gone. With the exception of the cute little skippers, there were no butterflies to be seen. Not one monarch, not one swallowtail, not one fritillary. Their time had come and gone, just like that. I'm so glad that this time I made a record of it happening.
So: Cheers to gathering rose-buds, popping corks, sipping as many experiences as possible, recognizing beauty where it lives, and sharing wonder with others today.
Drink like you live here.
What a summer we have had! Rather than traveling to distant places, we've spent the whole summer together here at home. Being home, I've appreciated all of the nature and wildlife which surround us here next to the vineyards in The Brogue. I have been much more deliberately aware of all of these treasures than ever before.
One very special kind of visitor to our place every summer are ruby-throated hummingbirds. We put the feeders out for them every year and keep the sweet food in those feeders (a ratio of 4 parts water to 1 part sugar) well supplied.
This year our first hummingbird visitor was a female who showed up in mid-May. She had a preference for sitting on the fence right outside my office window, so I had many great opportunities to observe and photo her up close.
Midsummer, the hummingbird sightings continued, both at our feeders and among the garden flowers, particularly the zinnias. It was always females or juveniles that I spotted. Any day that I took the time to record a certain bird hovering over a bright bloom was a good day.
At this point in the year, turning the page into the next season, I start wondering when our hummingbird friends will take leave and head south again. Knowing that their sojourn will be finite makes me appreciate the times when I do still see them.
Today was quite remarkable, actually, in terms of my time with these birds. I spent a while this morning watching one bird with a single jewel in its gorget. Even though there wasn't much sunlight, every once in a while, while this one darted around the honeysuckle blossoms, there would be a little sparkle of gold.
And finally, this drizzly afternoon, I had a moment which I've been hoping for, for years: a chance to watch a fully-throated male sipping at the feeder. I'm not sure exactly why the males always have seemed to elude me, at least until now.
This boy actually came right up to our living room picture window and stared me right in the face while hovering. "Come on out," he seemed to be saying. "Here I am. I'll stick around for a bit." Sure enough, because I took the time to go and watch, I was rewarded with a lovely couple of visits.
I always think that we must seem so ponderously slow to hummingbirds, who move and sip and have heartbeats so much faster than our own. They aren't engineered to be able to do something as slow as walk; we aren't engineered to see them as anything other than tiny darting wonders.
Thank you, summer, for bringing our two worlds together, if only for a while.