School Hot Lunch
Remember school lunches? I can still see the class being told to line up at the door in alphabetical order, and walking down to the lunchroom (“Boys and girls, keep your hands to yourself and zip your lips.”) With our lunch ticket in hand, each one would hand it to our elementary school secretary and she would punch it for us. Then, we’d grab the silverware, napkin and the plate/plastic trays with the raised dividers, eagerly anticipating our lunch for the day.
In those days, I don’t remember there being a printed weekly menu, it didn’t matter anyway because there weren’t any options. You ate what the lunch ladies cooked and baked for you that day.
I think growing up in Amana we were a little spoiled because all of the “Lunch Ladies” were mothers of our friends. They were all from the Colonies …..so, of course, they were also good cooks.
Personally, I liked the school lunches, (with the exception of the canned beef stew) and considering I knew all these ladies I could always get a little more if I asked for an extra helping.
Upon graduation from high school, I went off to the University of Iowa. While the dorm lunches certainly offered more choices and didn’t feature those plastic plate/trays, they surely couldn’t compete with the entrees offered by those Amana Lunch Ladies.
One of the more fun and fascinating things to experience is a “vertical tasting”. That means sampling one producers exact same product from differing vintages.
Unfortunately, unless you are or know a long time collector who has such an inventory, or maybe have access to a winery willing to host one, it’s not necessarily an easy thing to accomplish. After all, most people don’t hold their wines very long nor do many buy the same label, year after year.
Lucky for me, I buy more than I drink and having done so, have the capability to hold “verticals” for the crew every now and then. It can be quite an education. Not only to note changes that “time in a bottle” brings but also the variances between vintages in regards to fruit quality and it’s particular flavor characteristics. Wine does change with the years, often dramatically. When comparing vintages, you can get a sense of what to expect from other wines of the same time period. Often, old wines tend to drink more earthy and less fruity. They mellow, sometimes even getting ”port” like.
So, the next time you are out “roaming the racks”, think about picking up a couple of extras just to hang on to. Sure, it takes discipline to collect and keep em’ for so long but the payoff later just might be a real treat.
USA in First Place
We Americans are a very competitive bunch; we loved to be in first place and to win in everything we do.
Well, guess what? The final numbers have been tallied, the USA is now the World Champion in overall wine consumption. That’s right, first place in overall wine consumption. I for one, could not be happier - not only the aforementioned reasons, but also because I love wine.
The French still lead in consumption per capita (I’m doing my best to boost the USA numbers) but the fact that we have surpassed them in total volume is a positive statement regarding the increasing popularity of wine here in the USA.
Yet, our customers continue to self-report they only drink wine at parties or before a meal and [almost never] enjoy a glass with a meal. They treat wine like a beer or mixed drink and for that reason often prefer a sweeter wine. From our Food and Wine Pairing 101 Class, I find the reason is that many are quite naive when it comes to different wines and certainly don’t know which wine will best complement a meal. Let’s face it, there are a lot of wines! Few know which one is “BEST” and fear they will make an error. If you are in that group here is the best advice I can give you—the only mistake you can make is not serving any wine at all.
I hope that more people will considering enjoying a glass of wine with a meal and a good place to start is the next time you make pasta with some red sauce. Grab an Italian red wine like a Chianti and give it a try. While you’re at it, pour a little in the red sauce and a little in a glass to have with the meal. I think you’ll love it.
Give it a try and who knows maybe we will be in first place in per capita consumption same day.
The Flying Grilled Chicken
Our first home came complete with a deck that had a gas grill attached to it.
The home had a walk-out basement that opened to a severely sloping lot that over looked a wooded “ravine”. We loved it, as it allowed for some privacy and the deck was elevated 10 feet off the ground so the bug issue was never too bad.
Both Mary and I love grilled chicken but one of the problems with chicken on the grill can be flare-ups so I always had a little water in a squirt bottle ready to put out the flames. The weather on this day was slightly threatening but I figured I could beat the rain so I fired up the grill, threw the hind quarters on and dropped the lid.
The chicken was coming along nicely while the weather become increasingly threatening and the wind was starting to gust. As I recall, we were probably 10 minutes away from enjoying our meal of grilled chicken, salad, some bread and a nice white wine when I noticed a large flare-up. I sprang into action and opened the lid of the grill, as I turned to get the water bottle a huge gust caught the opened grill lid that had instantaneously become a sail. The grill snapped at the base, which had apparently rusted through, and went sailing done the ravine with that evening’s chicken dinner! I’m sure I just stood there stunned for a couple of moments processing what had just happened.
As a result, we turned to another Rettig Family staple for the evening meal—the Frozen Pizza.
Selecting the right club.
If you play golf, then you understand the importance of having the right club in your hands. Watch a professional golfer work with his caddy and you’ll notice the discussion going on before each shot.
They’re analyzing the distance to the pin, the wind direction, where the trouble is before the golfer reaches for the club. This is all done before each shot because they know without the right club the result is going to be less than perfect. Should he used a 6 iron and hit is hard or is an easy 5 iron the shot?
While I’m not a golf professional by any stretch of the imagination, I certainly found out this year the same process they use in a tournament holds true in grilling. For my entire grilling life I have used basic (read as inexpensive) equipment. My first grill was a small Hibachi and although it worked, there were certainly limitations.
I then graduated to a hand-me-down full size charcoal grill that was on its last leg. That grill had been installed on the deck of our first home and had just a single burner. One particularly windy day, a gust got the better of it, but that’s a story for another day. So, we needed to quickly replace that grill and I opted for the cheap route and purchased a Sears model that looked similar to the one that came with the house.
It wasn’t until this year that my caddy (Mary) gave me great advice to go get a grill that would make the cooking easier. As always, I took her advice (she had been giving me this advice for several years; funny how my hearing isn’t very good). I purchased a Weber with 3 burners (separate controls for each), a temperature gage and plenty of power and … What a difference it makes! There are so many things I can do now and even the most simplest of cooking is completed faster, with better quality and far less effort.
Take my advice, the next time you line up that shot take your caddy’s advice and hit the easy 5-iron. Just don’t take 2 years to do it.
How long to let wine age?
Lately, I have noticed that some professional writers/publications have changed their tune on what is the “proper” length of time to age fine wine. Of course, there is no “one right answer” but generally speaking, the time frame is getting shorter.
About 30 years ago, starting with the French, wine makers got more picky about what gets thrown into the fermentation vat. No longer is every grape bunch dumped in, regardless of maturity. Grapes harvested today are much more carefully selected which produces a better and slightly different product. This effort, especially not using under ripe fruit, has helped eliminate much of the excess and/or “rough” tannins.
This means many of the better wines no longer need decades to balance out properly. Today, I feel the “good to go” date is no longer than 10 years. Not that some wines won’t and can’t change for the better if held longer but the risk in doing is rather high, so why take a chance. Time and again, I’ve had old wine that is clearly ”over the hill” or just plain “bad”, disappointing both me and the person who kept it so long.
Also remember that unless your wine storage area is very cool, wines tend to age quicker. I’ve said before at least 95% of wines produced today are for immediate consumption. That is a good thing for both producer and consumer, no waiting, but that 5% or less which has the need or potential to get better with time needs special care if you plan on holding them for a decade.
In my experience, I think more cellar-able wines start hitting a good ”drinking window” at 5 years. That’s for both reds and whites. With very few exceptions, they drink really well so start pulling those corks! Just remember the golden rule, if you are not sure, drink them early rather than late.
Get a taste Explosion
Tasting something wonderful for the first time is an WOW experience.
Flavors explode in your mouth and your taste buds send signals to your brain trying to figure out what you’re tasting. You quickly compare it to all those things you’ve tried before and then realize it is something new. You can see it in the person’s eyes as it happens. WOW, is this good, Wow, that’s wonderful!
It must be like that for children but in most cases they aren’t thinking about the flavors - they’re too busy enjoying. I’d often wished that I could have that “wow” sensation more often; an explosion of flavor, the discovery of something new. Well, sometimes you should be careful of what you wish for.
As a two-time cancer and chemo survivor, that wish came true a few years ago. Interestingly, it occurred with a glass of wine.
When you have chemo treatments the chemo does something to your taste buds. It deadens them and changes them so flavors are not the same and certainly not as vivid. Although you eat, often you don’t really enjoy the flavors. In some cases, the food almost has a metallic taste. For me this lasted for some time after the chemo treatments stopped … But then one day I experienced that flavor explosion!
It was with a glass of relatively inexpensive red wine. I took a sip of it and WOW! I felt like I could taste the grape right off the vine. The flavor was vivid once again and it was wine. I was drinking wine again, not some metallic-laced, nondescript juice. How wonderful it tasted. Since that day I have looked and tasted each glass of wine differently.
It is said that distance makes the heart grow fonder and while I’m not sure that’s true, I can tell you that if you really want to taste something like it’s the first time you’ve tasted it, just give it up for a while. Six months to a year should do it, then take a bite, you’ll have that WOW experience.
The Favorite Amana food—-
If you ask the visitors that frequent Amana restaurants what their favorite item on the menu is you might be surprised. Oh sure, you will hear Fried Chicken, Weiner Schnitzel or maybe Swiss Steak but just as often it’s the fried potatoes. Yep, that’s right, a simple potato.
I think we take Rohgeroesti (raw-fried potatoes) for granted in Amana. Heck, most of us grew up eating them at least twice-a-week and sometimes more frequently. The funny thing is most of my friends from outside the Amana Colonies don’t make this version of potatoes very often.
Now all real potato connoisseurs know that not all potato varieties are created equal - or, at least not all make exceptional Rohgeroesti. Over the years I heard my Dad mention the name Kennebec with great reverence. It makes the best Rohgeroesti. Now this guy would know since he not only ate is fair share but was in charge of cooking them in our house.
As with all things, a tried and true system works best and Dad’s system was to use an electric skillet with the temperature control set to a specific point. A certain amount of oil in the pan and a minimum number of flips along with salt and pepper in the exact amount and the lid on the pan for only a certain time frame. Sure, you might argue that it could be done differently and still produce an edible potato, but to be done to perfection, this method must be followed. Mom could help but there was no question who was in charge.
I’m sure this system was developed over years of practice (but it certainly wasn’t learned while he was a cook in the Army). Rather, this was refined in the Rettig Test Kitchen through trial and error. Thank goodness Mr Kennebec developed that one strain of potato. It became the key ingredient in a very finely tuned process.
Living on the Edge
Some people live “on the edge”. As a youngster, I lived “on the Ridge” – Waterloo Ridge, that is, where potlucks rule. I don’t think I can recall my first potluck, but I do know that potluck knowledge (or lore) is fully entrenched within my soul.
The best potlucks have no assignments regarding what to bring. In a community where potlucks happen on a monthly basis, the menu simply works and there is always ample variety spread out on the tables. As my Mom once said, “I make what I’m inspired to make on Saturday.
As such, her contributions included 3-4 items including a “hotdish” – often in her big red Pyrex casserole (a wedding gift back in 1949). She was partial to hotdishes that called for potatoes, ground beef, a couple cans of creamy soups and some seasoning. Since most people had their own sweet corn, some frozen corn might be added, too.
Although the church potluck is the best known, sometimes a potluck was spontaneous and relied on whatever the Moms had “on hand.” Since they were stay-at-home moms, and unplanned gathering could yield an interesting conglomeration of foods. I recall one summer night when we were with my parents Card Party Crowd. One Mom thought we needed a little more to make a full meal and opened a can of Van Camp’s Pork and Beans. We were allowed to dish it right out of the can!
When you’re on the Ridge, that’s about as close we ever came to living on the edge.
A Rose’ by any other name…
Many people, especially novice drinkers, seem to be confused about Rose’. They think ”White Zinfandel”. While it can be, most Rose’ is not made from the Zinfandel grape at all. A few decades ago, here in the US and before the country turned into the “wino” nation it is today, “White Zin” was introduced to the masses primarily by “Sutter Home Winery” which at the time, practically had the market to itself.
Historically an inexpensive jug wine, it’s a quaffer that is typically sweet, soft and low in alcohol. It had tremendous appeal, especially with gals. They sold oceans of the stuff for many years. Perfect for newbies and porch sitting on hot afternoons.
Rose’, also called “Blush”, regardless of varietal, is produced by pressing red or black grapes but limiting juice contact with the skins. The longer the contact, the more red the juice. Rose’ is one, if not the oldest known type of wine. The color can vary from very light pink to almost near red or purple. Some have an orange tint. Rose’ can be made still, semi-sparkling or sparkling with a wide range of sweetness levels from bone-dry Provencal to the sweet White Zin written about earlier.
Rose’ wines were first introduced here in mass quantity by Portugese producers “Mateus” and “Lancers” in the 60’s. They made and sold a ton of it. Today, Rose’ is made from a variety of grapes and can be found anywhere in the world.
Most Rose’ drinks fruity and light but make no mistake, some do have fairly substantial alcohol levels. Last weekend, I pounded one down at a BarBQ. Although it tasted just right and refreshing, the label said 14.1%. I was shocked, much higher than expected which maybe explains my “tipsiness” afterwards.
Nothing goes better with summer. Last June, while pillaging southern France, me mates and I had Rose’ with lunch every single day. It was wonderful. Although not as popular as it should be, get with the program and don’t miss out. With it’s very low price, Rose’ is a screamingly great value and more than worthy of your time, effort and glass. ”Ar, ar”