Connecting with Willa Cather

Growing up in south central Nebraska, it is standard curriculum to read the works of one of our most notable authors, Willa Cather. She did, in fact, spend her childhood only a few miles from my hometown, Bertrand.

My Antonia was the first book that I read. And (I hate to admit it) I was bored.  I mean, I could step outside my house and see what Cather was describing. It wasn’t until I lived in Chicago for a few years that I picked up the book again. I missed my family in Nebraska and life on a farm. I wanted to re-connect.

Reading My Antonia was like stepping back into my family farm. Willa Cather had captured the prairie and I am in love with her writing. Here’s a excerpt from her book:

Alone, I should never have found the garden–except, perhaps, for the big yellow pumpkins that lay about unprotected by their withering vines–and I felt very little interest in it when I got there. I wanted to walk straight on through the red grass and over the edge of the world, which could not be very far away. The light air about me told me that the world ended here: only the ground and sun and sky were left, and if one went a little farther there would be only sun and sky, and one would float off into them, like the tawny hawks which sailed over our heads making slow shadows on the grass. While grandmother took the pitchfork we found standing in one of the rows and dug potatoes, while I picked them up out of the soft brown earth and put them into the bag, I kept looking up at the hawks that were doing what I might so easily do. -My Antonia

I’m on my fifth book by Cather and I plan to read all of her works. Perhaps someday I will attend the annual Willa Cather conference. The 57th annual spring conference is happening this weekend in Red Cloud, Nebraska.

How about you? Which author best captures your hometown?

À votre santé! #ChardDay

Did you know? It’s #ChardDay!  I’d like to step outside of the U.S. and celebrate French white wines.

French whites, often referred to as “Frenchies”, are the well loved wines made from Chardonnay grapes. “Frenchies” are full, fresh, elegant. and delicate. Taste a New World Chardonnay along side a French Chardonnay and you’ll taste what I mean about French white wines being delicate.

So when perusing the restaurant wine list or shopping for a new vintner, here are a few whites to consider:

Puligny-Montrachet. Located in the middle of the Côte de Beaune in France, it is also home to one of the most famous vineyards in the world, Montrachet.

Chablis. [also Petit Chablis, Premier Cru Chablis, Gran Cru Chablis] The grapevines of Chablis, France are almost all Chardonnay, which makes for a dry white wine embodying a pure aroma and full-bodied flavor.

Meursault. Hailing from France’s famous Burgandy region, Meursault produces award-winning white wines from Chardonnay grapes. Possessing a stark oak influence, many have described Meursault wines as “buttery” and “bold” in flavor.

Pouilly-Fuissé. Not to be confused with Pouilly-Fumé (Sauvignon Blanc-based wines), Pouilly-Fuissé is 100% Chardonnay with a pretty and refreshing finish.

Pair your glass of Chardonnay with Brie Cheese, Seafood like Crab Cakes and Lobster, Creamy Chicken dishes, or even a juicy cheeseburger (it is after all, it’s also National Burger Month).

What’s your favorite wine region for Chardonnay? I’d love to hear from you!

Raise a glass to #LanguedocDay!

If you follow my blog or tweets, then you know that there’s a soft spot in my heart for kitschy foodie holidays (it’s the perfect excuse to try something new and to take part in online discussions).  Well, today’s no exception…

It’s Languedoc Day!

A little background: Languedoc (pronounced “long-dock”) wine region is located in the southern coast of France. The Mediterranean Sea, soil blend, wind and sun make the Languedoc region some of the best terroir for winemaking. Languedoc produces a wide variety of grapes, including the well known Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache, Chardonnay as well as (perhaps the lesser known) Grenache Blanc, Clairette and Lladoner Pelut.

Some fun facts: Languedoc is the largest wine region in France and includes over 20 AOP’s. Despite so many disparate AOPs and acres under vine, the Languedoc-Roussillon region produces only 10% of France’s AOP wine. The Languedoc AOP reds are generally a minimum 50% combined Grenache, Syrah, Mourveèdre, and Lladoner Pelut; however, varietal makeup and percentages vary by subappellation.  Languedoc AOP whites principal varieties (vineyard must contain at least two) include: Piquepoul Blanc (max. 50%), Bourboulenc, Clairette, Grenache Blanc, Marsanne, Roussanne, Tourbat, and Vermentino.

Celebrating this day has re-kindled my interest in the wine world (I passed the first level examination with Court of Master Sommeliers back in 2010). I hate to admit that I haven’t put my knowledge into practice. So, today is the perfect excuse to brush up on a region that I haven’t spent much time on. Here’s a few wines that I plan to try out.

Domaine du Silene,  AOP Côteaux du Languedoc – Grès de Montpellier (a blend of classic southern French varieties, including Syrah and Grenache)

Domaine D’Aupilhac , AOP Montpeyroux (predominantly Mourvedre with Syrah, Carignan, Grenache and Cinsault)

Domaine Virgile Joly, Vin de Pays de l’Herault (100% Grenache Blanc)*

*This white wine was recommended by my friend (certified sommelier and mixologist), Sara Fasolino.

I’d love to hear from you!  What’s your favorite wine region? Do you have a recommendation from the Languedoc region?

Want to learn more about Languedoc? Here’s a few resources: Languedoc-wines.com, LanguedocAdventure.comtwitter.com/LanguedocDay

Recipe: Italian Meatballs make Friends

I’ve been thinking about sharing this recipe for a while and today seems like a good day…  it’s National Garlic Day!

These recipes were shared to me by my good friend, Margie Larocca. She invited me over one rainy day to learn how to make her family recipe of Italian Meatballs and Tomato Sauce. Marge’s mother-in-law had taught her how to make this family recipe when she was newly married and has been making this signature dish for her husband and three daughters ever since. I had such a great time learning these recipes while drinking wine and sharing family stories. I encourage you to gather your friends together on a rainy day and try these recipes (you won’t regret it)!

As you’ll see below, there isn’t an exact measurement assigned to garlic or Italian parsley… as would any authentic recipe handed down by generations!

Larocca Family Italian Meatball Recipe

3 lbs ground beef

2 lbs ground pork

1 ½ loaf stale Italian bread

3 cups romano cheese (grated)

3 eggs Italian parsley

Salt & Pepper

Fresh Garlic

Mazola Oil

Mix beef and pork together in a large bowl. Divide bread into small pieces and moisten with warm water. Add drained bread to meat mixture. Add eggs and cheese. The mix should look ¾ meat, ½ bread, ¼ cheese. Add parsley, salt and pepper to taste. Shape meatballs to desired size (Marge makes her meatballs a little larger than the size of a lime). In a large skillet, add Mazola oil and garlic on medium heat. Brown the shaped meatballs until crispy and cooked through. Add more garlic and oil as needed. Save meatball grease in a glass jar to use in tomato sauce or when reheating meatballs.

Tips: Add more eggs if meatball mixture is not sticking into shape. If mixture is too mushy, add more bread crumbs.

Laracco Family Tomato Sauce Recipe

4 large cans whole tomatoes

2 large cans of tomato sauce

1 tablespoon tomato paste

Salt and pepper

Fresh Garlic

Italian parsley

Meatball grease (yes, you read that right –  use the grease left over from the meatball recipe)

Blend whole tomatoes with juice. Add tomatoes, sauce, paste, salt, pepper, garlic, parsley, and meatball grease. Cook as long as you can (Margie keeps it on stovetop for hours). Add water periodically to the consistency that you like. Add meatballs at the end of cooking time (no more than 45 minutes otherwise the meatballs will crumble in sauce). Complete the meal with your choice of pasta and enjoy!

Freeze extra meatballs and sauce. Margie sends a package of frozen meatballs and sauce to her daughter who is now in college. I have two younger brothers and having meatballs handy when they visit makes me look like a hero!

Let me know if you give this recipe a try! I’d love to hear how it goes!

Thanks, Marge for letting me share your family recipe!

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