As American as Apple Pie.
You might say it’s autumn, but to me it is Apple Season! The orchards are overflowing with a fresh crop of the tart (or sweet) red fruit; roadside stands offer freshly picked bushels while the grocers have lined their produce aisles with all sorts of varieties, including my favorite, Honeycrisp. To me, a great dessert consists of sliced Honeycrisp paired with cheddar cheese and a glass of a very sweet Riesling.
As for an American Classic dessert, well it’s hard to beat one my personal favorites, apple pie. Top it off with a drizzle of caramel and warm it ever-so-slightly and it is truly fantastic.
My mother made wonderful apple. Her signature was really the flaky crust that she had mastered. However, somewhat ironically, as a child, I preferred what my Aunt made at the Colony Inn. Her crust was a little more doughy. As I grew-up my tastes changed and I appreciated the flakiness of my Mom’s creation.. A couple of week’s ago Mary and I entertained some friends at the Ox Yoke and for dessert I enjoyed a piece of their Apple Strudel. They warmed it slightly and it was fantastic. The first bite took me back to Germany and made me think of a little restaurant in the Bavarian Alps.
That got me to thinking-we say “As American as Apple Pie”. Do you think the Germans say “As German as Apple Strudel”?
Well maybe not.
Although wine is our passion, one should not forget about the finer points of beer drinking during Oktoberfest. For sure this iconic event is a blessing for all of us.
On our many plunders of Germany, there is one establishment that we never miss out on. The “Fraundorfer Restaurant” in Garmisch,.
We found it quite by accident on the very first pirate trip in the early 70’s and I never miss the chance to sack and pillage when back. For sure it’s been many, many times. The place is know for old world German food.
Schweinshaxe (including beef, pork and wild boar), giant potato dumplings, hot red cabbage, sauerkraut, pancake soup, gemische salad and apple strudel.
All washed down with copious quantities of fine local beer. Personally, I like the double-bock but all are more than fine. Although most drink from 1/2 liter steins, I prefer nothing less than a full liter and better yet, order the 3 liter boot.
Now make no mistake, between the rich food, fine entertainment and superb beer, many a pirate have stumbled out into the cobble stone streets tanked big time but what a treat. Make sure you stop by if ever in Bavaria.
Ahhh, it’s my favorite season: autumn. And, right in the midst of it is one of my favorite holidays: Oktoberfest! Sure, it might not be an official American holiday, but it’s a holiday to me (and to most of us in Amana). Our celebration here in Amana has its origins back in the 1960’s; as a youngster it was the first place I tasted that classic Oktoberfest food of Bratwurst.
Now I know what you’re thinking –I grew up in Amana and when Oktoberfest first started I was in grade school, certainly I had to have had bratwurst before that. Isn’t the first solid food an Amana child has after being weaned from the bottle …a bratwurst?
Growing up in the Rettig home many Amana foods were cooked in the same fashion that they had been cooked in the communal kitchens prior to 1932. Bratwurst was one of those foods. Due to the large volume being cooked in the communal days, the method of preparation was basically to toss the brats in a pot of hot water and boil them. It was far more efficient than frying them and, after all, the Kitchen Boss had plenty of other preparation to do. Moreover, there weren’t too many charcoal grills in Old Amana.
Like many foods, the method can make or break a brat; trust me, it tastes completely different grilled than boiled in water. The casing snaps and the flavors explode in your mouth when grilled. The water version has a different texture and you end up peeling the casing off of the meat. Image my surprise the first time I was handed a grilled brat in a bun. That was a life changing experience.
This weekend (Oct 3-5) is our Oktoberfest Celebration in Amana. You won’t find any boiled brats but you will find plenty of them on the grill. You will also find me reliving my childhood one bite at a time.
Girls Night Out
Our daily newspaper is running an ad for a Girls’ Night Out scheduled for next month, On it, there is a silhouette of svelte female donning a short, flouncy skirt in stiletto heels, carrying a fashionable tote in one hand a wine glass (of course!) in the other. Sounds like a festive evening on-the-town, doesn’t it?
A night – or, an evening – with the girls can take on various formats. For example, a couple of years ago, a group girl friends from Luther College gathered at our home in Amana where we enjoyed talking, shopping, laughter, wine, dinner and more wine. In many ways, the years seemed to vanish and we were back in Brandt Hall. However, we all retired much earlier than we did 35 years ago.
Last week, I went home and partook in a girls’ night out that took me back to childhood (only I was home with Dad in those days and this time I got to join in the fun). My Mom and BFF Mildred were hostesses for the monthly meeting of Waterloo Ridge Ladies Aid. I got to help! At WR, serving for lunch really means, “Supper” and I don’t think the ladies were disappointed. Mom and Mildred had an array of salads, both savory and dessert-like, with cream cheese and Cool Whip, a selection of open-face sandwiches on the local bakery buns, potato and Tortilla chips and dark chocolates for dessert (after all, we should be health-conscious). Oh, and to drink black coffee or water.
By the time we packed up the extra food, toted it to the car and drove the 6 miles back to town, the night was full of stars – just like I remembered it growing up with Dad, when he would point out the Milky Way on the nights he was in charge, and Mom was at Ladies Aid.
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.