Ohio Is For Lovers.

Last week I was in Ohio for work and it turned out being for a little fun too.

On Tuesday, I was at Miami University for the first time in almost ten years. I grew up in Columbus and spent countless weekends in Goggin Arena at ice skating competitions or summer camps. I was even a second away from going there for undergrad.

The campus looked great and I had to laugh… parking was so easy. You know you travel to a lot of college campuses when it makes your day to park right in front of the building your meeting is in, with no meters, no weird permits, no time restrictions, etc, etc!

That night I drove onto Columbus and was able to spend the night with my mom. We split a bottle of wine and stayed up too late catching up. She’s super crafty (… like early Martha inspired crafty) and made Adam and I a cute Valentine. She also got me a perfect glass chicken container.

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I think she’s learning to embrace the chickens.

Wednesday morning I had some meetings in the Union of Ohio State.

I spend a lot of time in different Unions around the Midwest, and Ohio State’s might be one of my favorites. It’s brand spanking new, so that helps its cause, but the people who designed it really nailed it. It is such a spirited building. From the “OH” “IO” door knobs to the tremendously scarlet and grey tiled bathrooms; it’s a lot of fun.

So fun!

So fun!

Ohio Union restroom

After my meetings, my good friend Laura met me for a quick lunch. Laura and I grew up together giggling on the neighborhood swim team and talking on the phone for hours about middle school crushes. She now lives near Columbus with her husband Jay while she finishes up Optometry school at the University.

We still spend a lot of time chatting on the phone, but it was really nice to see her in person.

Our conversation turned to Valentine’s Day plans. We both like to cook at home and have husbands who enjoy cooking as well, so we are often sharing recipes and “what we made.” It sounded like we both were going to have pretty low key nights.

As I was about to hit the road that afternoon, I remembered a great boutique bakery, Pistacia Vera, where my mom used to get treats for special occasions. I could swing in there and pick up something to make our Valentine’s Day home date a little more special.

I looked up their address on my phone and saw that they had two locations. Their stand alone shop, that I remembered visiting, and then a location in North Market, which is just down High Street from the University.

North Market is Columbus’ only true public market and is home to over thirty merchants. The products offered are mainly local, organic or artisan created. You can find anything from specialty coffees, grass fed meats, baked goods, flowers, and much more.

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I had not been to North Market in a while and had forgotten what a neat place it really is. I love the eclectic, yet down to earth energy it has. There were some people clearly doing their shopping and others just stopping in for lunch with their coworkers.

I walked in with the plan to get a unique dessert, and walked out with a full, Ohio produced meal.

Here is what I got for our Valentine’s Day Meal:

A great wedge of Gouda at Curds and Whey.

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Curds and Whey had a huge selection of cheeses, caviar, and other little bites. I asked the cheese monger for the cheeses made in Ohio and he rattled off a few that were in the window, but mentioned that he had a wheel of local Gouda in the back.

Now, just to be clear, I don’t play favorites with cheese… but, if I did, Gouda would be a contender.

He asked if I wanted to try it.

Umm, yes please!

It was slightly soft, but still had a little bite with a salty, creamy taste. Winner.

It was a great little appetizer for Valentine’s Day.

How cool is Curds and Whey's card?! It's like Swiss cheese!

How cool is Curds and Whey’s card?! It’s like Swiss cheese!

Next up was wine.

At The Barrel and Bottle I asked for Ohio wines. The selection of wine was small, but the sales clerk, who was in the midst of a sampling with a distributor, said they are all great and drinkable. She pointed out the bottles that were dry.

There was a cabernet and a traminette that caught my eye. One of our favorite wineries in Indiana has a great treminette, so I gave it a go.

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Adam and I both loved how it complimented the Gouda and enjoyed it as we cooked our meal.

Next, were some grass fed filets from Bluescreek Farms. Bluescreek Farms raises their meat in the Columbus area and does not add growth hormones or antibiotics. They carry beef, lamb, pork, goat and veal. They are also involved in some local CSA’s.

Adam and I are both big fans of filet mignon so I went for the tenderloin filets. Adam prepared them with a little salt and pepper before we cooked them. They were tender and incredibly tasty.

For a side, I picked up some beets from The Greener Grocer. The beets were from the county just south of where Columbus is located. They added the perfect shade of pink to our Valentine’s Day… not to mention, beets are rumored to be an aphrodisiac… it just seemed appropriate for Valentine’s Day.

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And, finally, the whole purpose of the trip… dessert!

At Pistacia Vera I picked up four macarons, their signature treat, and a mini chocolate bombe. The bombe is a decadent mix of cake and mousse. My family has a regular (See also: large) one every Christmas… in fact, it’s so rich that one year it broke one of my parent’s Waterford cake knives in half!

Unfortunately, the bombe had issues on the four hour drive back to our house in Indiana… it was more like chocolate soup.

Gosh Dang-it!

Gosh Dang-it!

But, don’t worry, it still tasted great!

These are so fun and colorful.

These are so fun and colorful.

I can’t wait to take Adam back to North Market. Maybe during the summer when they are host to a huge, outdoor Farmer’s Market.

North Market
59 Spruce St.
Columbus, OH 43215
(614) 463-9664

Parking
On-site parking: $0.25 per quarter hour up to two hours*
* with a validation stamp from a North Market Merchant… So, buy something! You’ll love it!

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Homemade Winter Brews

The weekend after Thanksgiving, Adam and I went to my parent’s new home. They moved to Saugatuck, a small beach town in Michigan this summer. They moved in this summer and I was there quickly in September, but have grown up spending summer’s in Saugatuck. It was Adam’s first time to the house and to the town.

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My dad had lined up an afternoon of craft beer making with a brew master at a local brewery. He wanted to create a beer brand for their new home (he is an ex-marketer, for those of you who might be thinking that’s weird…) so, he befriended the Brew Master at Saugatuck Brewing Company, Dexter.

Saugatuck Brewing Company is similar to any other brew pub: Big wooden bar, traditional pub food, only serving good home brews, so on and so on. One major difference is that Saugatuck Brewing Company shakes up the traditional feel with an area for creating your own unique microbrew, literally from start to finish. Or, from milling grains and barley to bottling.

My Dad’s new pal and our Brew Master had prior conversations about what we would be creating so we started our afternoon with a few samples of similar brews. My dad wanted to make winter beers, so we opted for a stout and IPA, but he also wanted to incorporate flavors that have a connection to the new house and our family’s journey to the west coast of Michigan.

The new house is named “Blue Water Lodge” (Yes. The house has a name… And this was done well before the branding extraordinaire knew it even existed, so he can’t take total credit for it.) It sits on the wooded east end of a long property that sprawls westward to the sand dune cliffs that drop into Lake Michigan. Because of all the trees around the home, we added hints of Pine to the IPA.

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The view to the west is the main focus of the exterior, but on the interior the hearth is the focal point.

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The whole home is very open thanks to a large living and dining area that connects to the kitchen. The hearth is large and made of stone, warming the whole space. We added a light smoky flavor to the stout, in addition to Quaker Oats. My parents worked together at Quaker in Chicago during the eighties. There, they met great friends that took them over to Saugatuck for long weekends and they fell in love with the area.

Dexter lead us to the back where we pulled our grains and barley needed to create each beer.

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His knowledge and passion for beer was impressive. He had precise measurements based on his recipes for each.

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Then we ran the grains and barley through a mill that made them fine, catching them in a long, mesh colander, and headed out to the main room to get brewing.

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We used the kettles the brewing company used years ago before they expanded production. This was very cool because we were using the same tools they started with.

It was here that I realized making beer is kind of like making tea, at least that’s how it seemed to me.

We put the mesh collander full of dry grains into hot water where we let it basically “steep” for an hour. To help spread the flavor we twisted and mashed the grains, discovering muscles in our forearms we never even knew existed.

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After the first hour, honey, molasses, Irish moss and hops were added to the kettle at different times throughout the next hour. Hops bring in a bitter, tangy flavor and help balance the sweetness. We learned here that hops are actually flowers related to cannabis flowers. In the dry state, it looked like green little pellets we used to feed my sister’s hamster, but it did have a definite smell similar to marijuana… Or, so I have been told.

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So, hot water. A sieve of dry ingredients put into the hot water adding flavor. Then adding sugar. It’s just like a cup of tea! (Okay, so minus the hops thing…)

But, what is happening in the next thirty days is what makes it beer: The sugars in the liquid mixture (now called wert) will turn into alcohol.

Each batch of beer will make about seventy two bottles and my dad will come back to bottle our brews around the New Year. He also has been working with my younger sister, who is a graphic designer in Chicago, to create a logo for the Blue Water Brews.

While at Saugatuck Brewing Company I tried two of the beers they create in house. I had the Oval Beach Blonde Ale, which was perfect for me. I am not too daring when it comes to beer and this was light and drinkable. I also tried the Michigan Wheat which was 100% made from Michigan grains, barley and hops.

But, the weekend didn’t end with just local Michigan beers. We also visited Fennville Winery, which is maybe seven minutes from my parent’s new house. Um, amazing?

The wine was great. They make them at the estate and use only Michigan grapes, 80% of which are directly from their vineyards.

Fennville Winery Vinyards

Fennville Winery Vinyards

We enjoyed a free tasting of six different award winning wines of our choice and even got to try some warm, mulled cherry wine that seriously tasted like Christmas in a glass.

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Based on the event calendar, there is often something unique going on at Fennville Winery. Adam and I were particularly interested in a chili cook off in January. Wine and Chili? Can you say heaven?!

But, even if there isn’t an event the next time we visit the Michigan coast we will be sure to visit Fennville Winery again. There is a great tasting room and they offer a big discount when you purchase wine in bulk. Their prices per bottle are incredibly reasonable and they are really tasty!

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And with all this booze, we of course needed a little sustenance. My mom took Adam and me to the Farmer’s Market in Holland. The market runs year round and my mom loves it.

I was a little skeptical because I couldn’t imagine there being much there the first week of December, but I was way wrong.

There were huge bunches of kale. Lots of apples. Baked goods. Christmas décor including wreaths made from blueberry branches, which turn red after blueberries are harvested. And this one particular vendor that caught my eye… at this booth you could fill up a department store bag with any and as many root vegetables that you wanted.

I told Adam this was a deal so we got busy selecting carrots, onions, beets, potatoes, yams, celery root and loaded up our bag so much that Adam had to carry it in his arms versus using the handles.

Some of out root  veggie loot... Spuds!

Some of out root veggie loot… Spuds!

More on this and what we did with these veggies next time… 🙂

Adam and I had a ball in snowy Michgan. And we are so looking forward to a lot fun and local food on future visits!

A chilly, winter sunset our last night on the lake.

A chilly, winter sunset our last night on the lake.

Indiana’s Wine Country

With the craziness of summer, especially this summer, weekends with just Adam have been nonexistent. We have either been running in two different directions or in fast forward with groups of people for some sort of celebration.

While this summer has been a great time, it is sometimes nice to just be a couple.

Last March I reserved a tour of Oliver Winery’s Creekbend Estate Vineyard. It was hard to book something so far in advance but, it was nice to know through all the jam-packed, full throttle weekends this summer, there was this day to look forward to.

Oliver Winery is a very successful Indiana Winery just north of Bloomington, which is home to Indiana University and, is at the forefront of the local food movements across the state. At Oliver, there are a handful of wines made from grapes shipped from California and others that are grown locally at their Creekbend Vineyard, a few miles away from the main tasting room.

Oliver's Bloomington Tasting Room.

Oliver’s Bloomington Tasting Room.

Adam and I have been to the tasting room at the winery many times and fall even more in love with it every time. One of our first road trips together was to Oliver after a long, stressful few weeks in the first year of our careers. Adam even proposed to me over a bottle of Oliver’s Merlot.

Thanks to this special place in our hearts for Oliver, I was excited to have the opportunity to tour the private vineyard.

On Sunday, Adam and I headed out on the two hour drive to Bloomington, looking forward to the afternoon. The drive from the tasting room to the vineyard was windy, hilly and amazingly scenic.

We were welcomed into the vineyard by vast grape vines as far as we could see in either direction. Adam pulled up to an old farm house where two men were sitting on the porch. The older man introduced himself as Bernie, the vineyard manager. The younger man, about our age, was a farm hand named Jay. Bernie told us that we were the first to arrive and that as we wait for everyone else we could explore the farmhouse or the table grape vines planted in the back.

After the long drive, we both needed to use the restroom so we headed into the house to visit the facilities. While I was waiting for Adam, I read a plaque in the kitchen stating that the home dated back to the 1830’s and the original owners were buried on the land. Much of the house is still intact, including the unique chestnut floors in the kitchen.

Adam and I headed out to the back to check out the table grape vines. These grapes are sold in the cheese and fruit platters in the tasting room. I excitedly tested out my birthday present, a new Nikon camera, while Adam was looking around to try and figure out what bird was making this weird call he kept hearing.

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The tour was kept to twelve people and once everyone arrived Jay brought out some champagne to kick off the tour.

Bernie told us the basics about the vineyard, including that the vineyard is located in a microclimate making the growing days and temperature during those growing days very similar to Napa Valley. The soils are great and thanks to the limestone and hills that are predominate in the area, rain runs off easily. There are about 69 acres of vines in the vineyard which re-opened in 1994 after Professor Bill Oliver began making wines in the sixties.

We began our walk around the vineyard with a fresh glass of Chardonel, which was a delicious hybrid grape that is similar to chardonnay.

One of the first questions asked was about the foil ribbons on the end of all the rows of the vines.

Red foil designed to keep birds away.

Red foil designed to keep birds away.

“Bird Control,” Bernie explained.

He mentioned that when the sun hits the flapping foil it reflects light keeping the birds away. They also use recordings of bird distress or attack calls.

I looked at Adam and laughed. That was the crazy bird he was looking for!

The next wines we tried were the Catawba and Traminette. Both of these we had tried before. The Catawba is one of Adam’s sister’s (many) favorites. Bernie snipped a few bunches of grapes and let us try the Catawba grapes. They were approaching harvest and were juicy and sweet.

Tasting some Catawba.

Tasting some Catawba.

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Next we headed up a large hill which actually serves as a landing strip for pilots that can land on grass. Along the landing strip were new grape vines which were planted this spring. We learned that grapes cannot be harvested until they reach three years of maturity, but, if taken care of, can last thirty years.

Adam in the landing strip, with vines as far as the eye can see!

Adam in the landing strip, with vines as far as the eye can see!

While walking up the hill, I asked Bernie how he got the job as the vineyard manager.

He laughed.

“Yeah. What did you study? Did you come from farming?,” Adam asked.

Two farmers, chatting it up.

Two farmers, chatting it up.

“Nope. Definitely did not come from farming,” Bernie smiled. “That’s a good one for the whole group to hear. I will answer that in a bit.”

Bernie, the vineyard manager, teaching the group about the grapes.

Bernie, the vineyard manager, teaching the group about the grapes.

We continued on the last leg of the walking tour. We passed some Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon rows. Here, Bernie grabbed a handful of the Cab grapes and handed them out for us to try. These weren’t as sweet as the other grapes and he asked if we tasted green pepper.

The whole group lit up. Yes!

He explained these grapes were not ripe yet and if you ever have a bottle of Cabernet that tastes similar to a green pepper, it means the grapes were not ready for harvest.

As we walked back to the Farmhouse, Adam and I brought up the rear of the group taking a few more pictures and checking out the last few rows of grapes.

I looked at Adam. “You having fun?”

“A blast,” he beamed. “This is a perfect day.”

Perfect Day.

Perfect Day.

A gourmet cheese platter was waiting for us in the farmhouse complete with Indiana cheeses, including one from Fair Oaks Dairy, as well as a glass of Chamboursin, a dry red wine. Adam and I both declared it our favorite of the day.

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The final bottle uncorked of the tour was an ice wine. This incredibly sweet wine was paired with Lindt chocolates and reminded me of honey. It was good enough for me to appreciate but was much too sweet for any more than a couple sips. I looked at Adam, who seemed to be feeling the same way, and wished we had split a glass, so not to waste the wine.

Bernie thanked everyone for joining him and asked if anyone had any other questions.

I reminded him that he had not answered mine about how he got his start.

“Oh, that’s right! Thanks for reminding me.”

He told us his career actually began in the military and he took a government job that brought him back to Indiana in 1997. Prior to this he worked as a bomb specialist. During the grape harvest, he volunteered at the vineyard with his wife and became good friends with Bill and Kathleen Oliver.

Over a bottle of wine at the end of a festival in Indianapolis, Bill asked Bernie to be the vineyard manager. Bernie said three jaws dropped that afternoon. His, his wife’s, and Kathleen’s.

Bernie replied, “Thank you for the offer but, I don’t know anything about growing grapes.”

Bill responded “You are a bomb specialist with all ten fingers, I can teach you to grow grapes.” Three weeks later, Bernie accepted the job and has been there ever since.

And, he hasn’t looked back.

“My grandfather was a farmer,” Bernie winked, “And I know he’s sending me a big, old high five from heaven.”

Creekbend Vineyard Quick Facts

http://www.oliverwinery.com/vineyardevents
7508 North Woodall Street
Ellettsville, IN 46429

Tours are only offered a handful of weekends in late summer and book up fast. As mentioned, I made this reservation in March. It’s because I tried last summer and spots were not available.

It’s a walking tour (about one mile total) so dress accordingly. Wear good shoes. Prepare for the weather as it could be chilly or hot. They provide umbrellas if it’s drizzly.

Prices are $40 for an individual or $70 for a couple. Heck of a deal. We tried nearly ten wines, some of which are not offered in the tasting room, were fed a beautiful cheese and chocolate platter, and the tour was given by the incredibly knowledgeable vineyard manager.

It’s a hilly, twisty drive on back roads to the vineyard. Use the map on the website versus trying to use a GPS. According to the vineyard manager over 85% of the time the GPS will get you lost.

Creekbend also offers picnic’s in the vineyard throughout the summer where you can bring your own meal, take a stroll through the vineyard on your own, and purchase estate wines by the bottle or glass for the evening. Sounds amazing!

Even if you can’t make it out to the vineyard, check out the tasting room on 37 just north of Bloomington. It’s beautiful, and a lot of fun.

… We made a stop by the tasting room to purchase a case of the estate wine. We already can’t wait to bring some of these bottles out during special occasions in the year to come!

Checking out the Creekbend brand back at the tasting room.

Checking out the Creekbend brand back at the tasting room.

Creekbend wines back at home.

Creekbend wines back at home.

... 'til next time.

… ’til next time.