The Gourmet Colony
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. 

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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.  

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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.      image

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.      image

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.      image

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.

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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. 

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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.

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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!

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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…
Ahoy!
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.  
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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.

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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.  

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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.  

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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.  

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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”

 
Wine Pirate
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Places in History

There are places on this earth that transport you back in time, placing you in a specific event in history.  For example, Dealey Plaza in Dallas, Texas, takes you back to Nov 22, 1963.  A visit to Ford’s Theater in Washington D.C., will make you feel that you’re in the midst of the closing days of the Civil War, on an April, 1865, evening.

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I expected to have that feeling when we visited the Palace of Versailles, but as our tour bus pulled into the parking lot, it was greeted by an ocean of tour buses and a throng of people waiting in line to purchase tickets to enter the palace.

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Alas, the heat of that June day combined with the hordes of tourists lessened some of the aura of the palace and that acute sense of history.  The crowds were so large as we went through the living quarters that, as an individual, you had almost no control of where or how fast you moved.  Instead, you simply followed the flow.

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That feeling of being transported to a different time had escaped me until I stepped away from the crowd toward the windows and turned to look out.  What I saw as I looked down from the second floor to the courtyard, the marble courtyard where in 1789 Citizens of Paris had rushed up from the gates to the marble court and forced King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette to travel to Paris and eventually meet their fate at the guillotine.  

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Looking down towards the gates of the palace and seeing a throng of people waiting to get in I could easily imagine how it looked in October of 1789 as the crowd rushed up to the palace and eventually unto the marble courtyard.

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Eventually, we left the palace and walked down the slope to the town below and enjoyed a leisurely lunch amid the shade of the trees in the boulevard.   A glass of wine, the plate du jour, but - with all due respect to the Queen - we did not eat cake.

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Finding Hidden Gems

For our final evening in Paris, our goal was to experience a neighborhood Bistro, something off the beaten path.  We strolled out of our small hotel and meandered a couple of blocks down a near side-street and happened upon a rather plain looking restaurant with a large chalk board perched just outside the front door.  With my limited French food vocabulary I thought it looked promising and so we decided to give it a try.

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The interior was quite quaint but, alas, there was only one diner - a young lady sitting at a window table.  I walked up to the bar/counter and asked for a table, to my surprised the gentlemen behind the counter opened his book and asked if we had a reservation.  I think I chuckled as I looked around the empty dining room and said, “No I don’t.”  He looked back down in his book, made a mark and then said, “Please, this way.” 

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Seated at a centrally located table he brought a large floor standing chalkboard that contained the menu in French.  As I pulled out my handy Rick Steve’s pocket French Dictionary, he said, “Allow me to translate.”  He helped us with our selections and brought us a little something to enjoy with our glass of wine while our first course was prepared.

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In due time, the other diner finished her meal and, from her thank you and his reply, I could tell she was an American working in the area and a regular customer.  Those facts where comforting and led me to think that we had found a hidden gem; which in fact, we had.

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The food was classic French, expertly prepared with wine recommendations perfectly to our food.  As we finished our meal the little bistro began to fill up.  Apparently, we had beaten the rush.

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Sometimes when you go looking for “hidden gems” you find fool’s gold but this time we got the real thing.

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Seine River Cruise

When people make recommendations about a dining experience you might hear them say “you go there for the view”. 

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That line can either says a lot about the scenery or very little about the food.  That is certainly the case for many “attraction” dining spots around the world.  Quite often you are paying for the atmosphere/scenery/entertainment and the food is an afterthought. 

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I had those concerns when we booked a Seine River Dinner Cruise in Paris last June.  The idea is you push off at dusk and travel up the Seine which runs through the heart of Paris.  You see all of the famous sites - i.e., the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, and Notre Dame, all while enjoying a meal cruising the river at a leisurely pace.

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As we cruised along, to my delight, not only was the scenery great but [somewhat] surprisingly, the food was spectacular, as well! (Leave it to the French to have great food with a view)!  In typical French food fashion the quality was excellent, the presentation and service was immaculate.  Add those ingredients to the scenery the evening was a huge success.

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It got me thinking that maybe we should do an Amana Mill Race Dinner Cruise?!?  We could serve a fine Amana meal as we cruise by such famous sites as the Middle Amana Overflow, the Middle Amana Hill Top Marina, and the Middle Amana Slough.  With all these attractions I have a feeling people would say “you go there for the food”.

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An American in Paris

About this time last year we visited Paris.  It was a memorable experience with  a spectacular view strolling around the Montmartre area near the Sacred Heart Cathedral. 

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The Cathedral sits atop a hill, one of Paris’ highest points and on a clear day you can look out over Paris and see the lay of the city.  To the west of the Cathedral, just a around a corner you come to a lively little square that is full of shops, bistros and artists. 

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It’s a lively place filled with “struggling artists” painting and selling their works - it made me think of the old musical starring Gene Kelly —”An American in Paris”.    

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Gene Kelly’s character from the movie was an American in Paris: an artist, living there after World War II and soaking up Paris and selling his art work to pay his way.

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On our visit, we dodged rain drops and to avoid getting soaked we popped into a side walk café.  Escaping the soaking precipitation allowed us to really “soak-up” the atmosphere of this quaint little area of Paris, so we opted for a seat, ordered a bite to eat, a beverage and sat back to enjoy the rain.

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There is something about a soft shower that is very appealing when you are outside, yet under cover and somewhat shielded from the elements.  It’s a cozy feeling and when you couple that with some real French Fries and  a glass of Chablis,  well that is pretty hard to beat for this American in Paris.

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The Wine Pirate’s Italian Feast.
Ahoy!
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Some years ago, me mates and I started an annual local “Open That Bottle Night” party, in response to wine writers from the ‘Wall Street Journal’ who called for everyone to finally drink up all those old forgotten treasures that’s been sitting in closets and racks, collecting dust over the years.  Since it had all been polished off, the crew morphed into ”food pairing”.

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We had our first go-round not long ago with ”Italy” as theme.  24+ sailors participated, each responsible for bringing a food and/or wine.  Here is only a sampling of what was served with the food/wine listed.  

 
Italian Wedding Soup/09 Feuddi de San Gregorio Greco di Tufo (Greco)
 
Choppino/04 Tenuta Argentiera Bolgheri Villa Donaratico (Red Bordeaux Blend)
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Osso Bucco/06 Tenuta Sette Ponti Crognolo Toscana IGT (Super Tuscany Blend)

 
Penne w/Roasted Asparagus & Balsamic Butter/Langhe Arneis Doc (Arneis)
 
Chicken w/Sausage and Peppers/07 Rivetto Dolcetto D’Alba
 
Primi Piatti Pasta Bolognese/06 Ferrari Perle Sparkling & 07 Argiano Solegno (Tuscany)
 
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Risotto All’Aragosta/61 Brut Berlucchi Franciacorta Sparkling

(Chard/Pinot Blend) 
 
Lemon Ricotta Cookies w/Lemon Glaze /NV Moscato D’Asti DOCG Vittoria (Muscat)
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Of course, the evening was delicious in all aspects and lots of fun.  We will continue with this quarterly.

Yum ~ I can’t wait for the next one!
 
"Ar, ar"
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Wine Pirate
D-Day 70 Years later

June 6th will mark the 70th anniversary of D-Day, the Allied invasion of France and in particular the Normandy region which was occupied by Nazi Germany.  As a history enthusiast, I often imagine what might have happened on those beaches of Normandy on that day 70 years ago.

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Walking those beaches of the battle site and gaining a closer connection to that piece of history is on my “bucket-list” and I plan to do that within the next decade or so.  Needless-to-say, my experience will be completely different thanks to the efforts of those brave souls of what has been dubbed “the Greatest Generation” that fought their way ashore that day. 

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One of the most interesting aspects of my travels is discovering the local cuisine.  In Normandy, that would be the 4 C’s of Normandy Cuisine: Camembert; Cream; Cider and; Calvados.

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Normandy seems to be the Wisconsin of France, famous for dairy products. In addition to the cream for many sauces found in French cooking those Normandy cows provide the base for a wonderful cheese-Camembert.  It’s creamy texture and wonderful flavor is familiar to most of us as it is available in every supermarket… for me, a glass of wine, and French Baguette and a hunk of Camembert is difficult to beat.

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Another product of the region is apples and with it comes cider; and, where there is cider there is brandy.  The brandy of Normandy is called Calvados.  Made from over 100 different apple varieties, it is distilled and aged in oak for a minimum of 2 years.  I will admit that I have tried Calvados only once (honestly, it reminded me of a German Brandy I had over indulge in during my college days leading to a very long next day)! 

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Looking back at that day of fighting a hangover and thinking how rough it was I now just shake my head as I remember what the generation before me went through when they were that age.

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This June 6th take a moment and think about what happened 70 years before and raise a glass or eat a little Camembert as you toast the “Greatest Generation”. 

Professionals- Walter the Waiter

I love working with Professionals.  These people are knowledgeable in their business and use it on a regular basis.  How does one know when you’ve worked with a True Professional? First, it’s a memorable experience, and, secondly, you tell others about that experience.

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For me, Walter the Waiter, was truly A Professional.  Several years ago, Mary and I were in Napa Valley and booked a table at an Italian restaurant named Tra Vigne.  At the time, we were aspiring “foodies” and, based upon research, we knew the restaurant had a reputation for good food.  But alas, what we received went far beyond the food.

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Allow me to explain:  Our Waiter, Walt arrived at the table to explain the menu and as we asked questions he quickly surmised that we were there for a culinary adventure.  We hoped to experience food and wine pairings… so, Walter asked us what type of ingredients we liked.  With this information he suggested a 4 course menu for each of us that included half portions so we could each taste the other’s food and an individual wine glass to complement each course.

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As you may well imagine, the food was delicious.  Yet, what really made for a memorable evening was Walter’s ability to make the meal an event.  He described each course and then told us about the wine he had selected for each dish.  The amazing thing was when the meal was over and the bill was presented he had also saved us money.

Almost 20 years later I still remember the experience and the feeling of discovery that we enjoyed with each course.  There’s just nothing like working with a True Professional.