Day 14 – California Red Moscto and Mature White Cheddar
A variation on Day 4’s pairing, here we have Red Moscato replacing the Pinot Noir. Moscato has that florid, alluring nose that can almost be like perfume – your nose in the glass might be said to be nuzzling the aroma. On the tongue, a sweet almost cloying flavor but without the lingering layer of sweetness that sometimes almost coats the tongue – here the aftertaste departs quietly without the need to be flushed and slushed away. But that does not mean the next small bite of cheese is not welcome, and the two alternate well. Not as subtle a pairing as the Pinot Noir, but one that comes close to succeeding and needs not to be belittled.
Another almost summery day, no snow and the only hint of Christmas in sight the decorations and lights that have been appearing with regularity all week on our block. Today or tomorrow the last day to mail cards and gifts if they are to arrive at their destinations before the Holiday. So here, in digital form, is another of my watercolor Christmas cards:
Day 13 – California Sauvignon Blanc and Red Leicester
My first encounter with Red Leicester – a hearty cheese, just enough moisture to hold it together, on the way to crumbling, perhaps but not yet on the verge, lovely deep apricot color. Reminiscent of cheddar, but richer, a bit smoother than a sharp cheddar but with real depths of flavor. And a green, grapefruit-tinged, extremely refreshing California Sauvignon Blanc to balance that richness with a cleansing lemony acidity. This was a fine pairing, the wine and cheese the yin and yang of one another, nearly perfect, and I nibbled and sipped and slurped my way slowly through them wishing all the while that I had more of both.
And here, on this day destined to be in the upper 70s, with gusty winds tonight and more spring or fall like than wintery, is another of my little watercolor holiday cards:
What a change from Day 11 to Day 12! A much more approachable and successful pairing. The black pepper gouda with just the right amount of ground pepper to lend a distinct aftertaste, the California Merlot with a rich varietal character and fruity straightforwardness that allowed it to tame and match the cheese in complexity and interest. This deep purple Merlot matched the “little blackbird” name with its inky depths. A combination that was very effective and a pleasure in which to partake.
As part of my ongoing learning the craft of watercolor painting, I tried painting a few Christmassy scenes onto Arches 140 lb watercolor paper and sending them to some folks. I didn’t keep track of who I sent which card and didn’t take photos of all of the scenes, but here is one of them, a wooded snow scene after an artist named Rick Surowicz:
OK, there’s always room for a joke in a tasting event, right? This one is it. I mean, who would even try to pair a wine with jalapeno gouda? A hot pepper cheese begs for a cold Mexican cerveza with a lime wedge in the neck of the bottle. I mean, ok, a very generic “Reindeer Red” – a grape wine of indeterminate origin with unnamed sweet fruit flavors added (it tasted sort of like strawberry pop) did cut the heat of the peppers, but it was not a match made anywhere close to heaven…or even purgatory.
That inappropriate pairing brought to mind one of our Holiday trips back in the 1980s. We took a trip to Australia and New Zealand, leaving just before Thanksgiving and returning home the day before Christmas. Not a trip I would have the stamina for these days. It was marvelous: we hiked the Routebourne Trail in the New Zealand alps, spent time in Sydney and Melbourne Australia, and had a real fun trip. But seeing Christmas decorations and hearing those great accents made the whole thing seem surreal. All those folks getting ready to depart on their summer holiday trips over Christmas reinforced the idea that the world was upside down Down Under. Kind of like mixing jalapeno gouda and Reindeer Red wine.
Day 10 – California Riesling and Double Gloucester
The Johannisberg Riesling grape is a wonderful berry, yielding a fragrant, delightfully fruit-filled wine that can run from dry to semi-sweet to sweet, but always a special treat. This California Riesling proved to be true to the variety, slightly sweet, a pale light lemonade color, deliciously fruity, with a tinge of that apricot-nectar flavor I particularly treasure in Rieslings. I am most familiar with German and Washington State Reislings, but found this example from California very pleasant. That apricot fruit hint fit as well the lovely apricot color of the Double Gloucester cheese. A bit of sunshine on a mostly cloudy December day. This was my first taste of Double Gloucester but won’t be the last. A slightly firm exterior, giving way to a texture that was creamy on the verge of flaky, very satisfying both in mouthfeel, fragrance, and taste. A right proper pairing to explore further in other incarnations of milk and grape and locality or origin.
We set out for our walk today with visions of the high 60s temperature I had experienced as I returned from my doctor’s office trip, only to find the cold front had just arrived, with blustery north winds and temperature already in the 50s. A quick duck indoors for a hoody and sweater, and we were off again. Our path takes us south first, so that initial brawling brute had moved on by the time we turned back north and our trip home was much more pleasant. Bracing, as the Brits might say, as here we and Old Earth went on, pirouetting towards the year’s shortest day.
How euphonius! Chardonnay and Cheddar! Easy on the palate as well. Pleasant Chardonnay and a cheese with a bit more body and mouth feel and lingering complexity than the edam and goudas. An overall hearty combination that invited a slower, lip-smacking consideration and appreciation. Kind of wished I’d also had a chunk of warm crusty bread right out of the oven to go with it.
The first week of December now firmly ensconced in everyone’s rearview mirrors, Christmas decorations are appearing at an increasing rate so that our block and the one to our north (we are on a corner lot) is now almost a dazzling display of demure daintiness, esteemed elegance, or unfettered exuberance, depending on the whims and predilections of the homeowners. Walking safely at or just after dusk is possible because all the lights illuminate the sidewalk in their colorful glow and even we old codgers can navigate without worrying overly much about tripping.
Advent seems to be almost scurrying by to all of us adults, especially those who have been around many decades, but remember, it is going by achingly slowly for all the little ones, so keep an eye on them, take a second look at the lights and mangers and Santas through their (or your remembering) eyes, and bask in the warm glow and familiarity of the Season.
Day 8 – “Snowberry Blend” Raspberry Wine and Gouda with Red Pesto
A fun pairing once again. A fruit wine, this raspberry concoction did indeed have the scent of raspberries – a bit sweet and of course, berry fruity flavor. Interestingly it brought out a hint of sweetness in the sun-dried tomatoes and roasted red peppers interspersed through the gouda that I had not noted when I tasted this cheese with Chardonnay on Day 3. So a neat little lesson that you can always experiment with what might at first seem to be strange pairings and find that they do work together.
Today’s pairing reminded me of my most successful attempt at a fruit wine. In the days back when I was making wine in my basement and experimenting a lot, a friend and I made a batch of cherry wine. He had two cherry trees in his yard, one a sweet cherry and the other a tart one, and that year was a banner one for cherries – a huge crop and the sweet ones were indeed high in sugar. So we did a blend of sweet and sour cherries. I think we bottled three or four cases. We each kept a case and used the rest for gifting. The wine was pretty much loved by everyone who tried it. I was sad when we drank the last. My friend moved away the following year, and I never made another bottle of cherry wine, but still can almost taste it all these years later.
Ah, and we have begun “recycling” – the Cheese Advent Calendar has only 12 varieties of cheese, so there is some repetition – we get a second chance at the cheeses as it were; the Wine Advent Calendar, however, does have 24 different kinds. On Day 1, the pairing was a Brut Rosé sparkling wine with Edam, on Day 7, today, a non-sparkling Rosé with Edam. The wine with the typical rosé insouciance – a tiny bit (perhaps a first kiss sort) of sweetness, and forthright (not too shy to be proud of bestowing that kiss) fruitiness. I felt the lack of carbonation allowed the nuttiness of the Edam to make itself evident, allowed it to take center stage whereas on Day 1 the Edam was more of a secondary actor with only responsive, never assertive lines. Enough personification and metaphor. A week in and still having fun!
Today is grandson Daniel Howard’s 35th birthday (Happy Birthday, Daniel!!). He was born in 1986, which was a good year for French Bordeaux; I bought mixed cases of designated crus, including Pichon-Lalande, Gruaud-Larose, and Lynch-Bages. These I tasted at intervals, saving examples for Daniel’s 18th birthday, and even having some left to include in a wedding gift, for Daniel and his wife Kalyey, of older vintages from my cellar. Now, these wines were far removed from today’s light and simple little plastic-bottled quaff, but that is one of the lovely things about wine. It needn’t be all esoteric and exotic and expensive. There is some wine, somewhere, that will make your lunch or dinner a bit more special. The fun is in the search, and in the finding.
Day 6 – Cabernet Sauvignon and Gouda with Mustardseed
(Sorry, ALDI, I couldn’t go with the label “Mustard Gouda”) – This was a welcome variation on the flavored gouda spectrum, the mustard seeds adding a hint of a spicy bite. Another pretty good pairing. This California Cab, as you can see, had a strong dark color and, as you can’t, but Icould inhale, a true Cab nose. The nicest of the varietals thus far, and I thoroughly enjoyed sipping this one between nibbles of the cheese.
Ah, winter approaching now; it got below freezing last night (actually, in the early morning), hitting 31 degrees. Cloudy off and on and a cold front making its way from the plains of Alberta. Time to unearth the gloves and wool socks, the scarves and knit caps, ear muffs, long johns, all the accoutrements of wintry days and frigid nights and wind chill and red nose and steamed glasses (a double problem now with masks and cold temps).
A somewhat melancholy day. Stephen Sondheim died at the end of November, Robert Dole yesterday. Old men, with 11 and 18 years on me, respectively. That’s the kind of number play you become acutely aware of when you reach the 80s, I’m afraid. Oh well, where’s that next pairing of wine and cheese? You live in the present – enjoy it!
Day 5 – California Pinot Grigio and Mediterranean Gouda
What a happy day – how can one go wrong with a playful California white varietal that is light and refreshing and actually fun to drink? Pinot Grigio always sounds to me as if it should be the name of one of those carefree typecast Italian guys, always smiling, full of life. That’s kind of what this varietal is like – nothing serious, just a barrel of laughs. And what should accompany it but another flavored gouda. I mean, how many different ways can you think of to throw something at a tub of gouda to see if it will work together, as if the gouda is simply a canvas and it accepts any color of paint, a Jackson Pollock cheese? No ingredients list, but I detected some sun-dried tomato, some basil, (some garlic?)… a lighter touch than the pesto-infused example of Day 4. And the combo worked, and as I sat there at 11:00 pm sampling today’s pairing, I could almost feel the warm Mediterranean sun on my neck, smell that seaside breeze stirring olive tree leaves. Salute!
A Fateful Tale – “An Ice Skating Party, a Twist of Fate”
I promised to tell the tale of how Pat and I met back on Day 3 of this Advent calendar, and included an mp3 file of the song Kelley Hart and Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg wrote and Kelley performed for our 50th anniversary ten years ago. So here goes:
People talk about fate bringing them together. We do as well. Of all the cockamamy, mind-blowing, absurdist comedies of how the planets align and the paths of strangers intersect, ours is truly dependent on some quite incredible happenstances.
Let me take you back. December 28, 1958. Beckemeyer, Illinois, population 1000 (it had been that number for decades), a little village in the middle of southern Illinois corn and dairy farms. I was 17, a senior in high school, my dad had died of leukemia in May, and my mom, brother, and two sisters were getting by after a trying year. We were in that lull between Christmas and New Years, Still high on Holiday spirit, low on dad’s absence. Restless, I asked mom for the car keys and got in our 1951 Hudson Hornet – a black beetle of a car, and drove to La Paloma to pick up a pack of Pall Malls, played a couple rounds of pinball. Still a bit aimless, I left there and pulled up to Highway 50. Two choices: east or west, 3 miles to Carlyle, 5 miles to Breese. I turn left, thinking of Wally’s Diner and a burger.
Highway 50 was one of those old two-lane, narrow highways. The stretch between Beckemeyer and Breese crossed Shoal Creek, and a mile or so of levee where there were no shoulders, just a 15 foot drop to bottomland slough and woods. Not a stretch you would choose to drive if the roads were icy, but no problem this clear, almost springlike night.
So I was driving along, just crossing Shoal Creek bridge, when a car I recognized came from the west. Jim, a guy a year older who lived a block over from us flashed his lights and braked hard. I looked back, saw him waving out the window, so I pulled over in my lane. He yelled, got out of his car, ran over. “Hey, this is great. I was going to go to Carlyle tonight to hang out with Connie and she said when she asked her friend Patty Means if she wanted me to pick up Carl and bring him over, she said no, she wanted to meet Roy Beckemeyer. I didn’t see your car when I drove by your house, so I drove over here and got Carl, but if you want to go, I’ll take him back and drop him off and meet you at the Phillips 66 station in Beckemeyer and pick you up.”
I looked over at Jim’s car, and could see Carl’s face looking back at us. “Sure, I said, I’d like to do that.”
“Great!” said Jim. We both swung 180s and he headed for Breeze, I drove back to Beckemeyer, parked and waited.
So here we have a couple of coincidences already. I turned left, not right. I wasn’t home when Jim went by to pick me up. Jim recognised my car as we both happened to be passing in the dark night on the levee road. I stopped instead of just driving on. And he was willing to take Carl back and tell him Patty had wanted him to pick me up instead of Carl (who she was currently dating).
Jim picks me up, we drive to Carlyle. Patty opens the front door, Connie standing behind her. Jim walks in. I follow. “Here we are – I just happened to run into Roy on the highway over near Breese,” he said. Just dumb luck, I guess. I said “Hi.” Patty looked a little surprised, but smiled. We chatted, had a great time, I asked if I could call her and if she would be interested in catching a movie on New Year’s Eve. She agreed. Jim and I left after a couple of hours, and I was really happy. This holiday was looking up.
We started going out and never looked back. In a few months we were going steady. I just under 3 years we were married and heading off for this life together.
I didn’t know how fateful our meeting REALLY was until a month or two after we first met. I asked her one night why she had asked Jim to bring me over that night instead of just picking Carl up. Here’s the scoop.
She had been at an ice-skating party a couple weeks before Christmas. She saw this guy she liked the looks of, and asked one of her friends who he was. Her friend said, “Oh, that’s Roy Beckemeyer.” Patty took note. And, being in a festive mood that night we met, she blurted out to Connie that he should bring me over instead of Carl. The only problem was that I was NOT at the skating party. She had seen someone else, and her friend had mistaken that guy for me. So when I showed up at her house with Jim, she was totally surprised. Fortunately, she didn’t let on, didn’t show her disappointment, and I was lucky that we hit it off.
Now, that is a tale of fate and coincidence! And those little quirks of fate led us to being together now for 63 years, married for 60. So lift a glass, let’s toast fate and happenstance and teen-age love that blossoms and matures. Hallelujah!