It’s time for the Wine Pairing Weekend crew to gather again, and this month we’re sharing pointers on Giving the Gift of Wine. We’ll discuss tips on picking the perfect bottle for the wine lovers on your list, as well as holiday-worthy menus featuring delicious pairings. And if you’d like to join the conversation and contribute a few ideas of your own, meet us on Twitter this Saturday, December 9th at 11 am ET. Our chat follows the #winepw, so make sure to append that to all of your tweets.
If you’re running short on inspiration and even shorter on time, check out our suggestions on how to wrap up your preparations with just the right wine. Scroll down to the bottom of this post for links to each of December’s #winepw posts.
Wine, Food, and Family: The Gift of Memories (#WinePW)
As I tried to come up with a title for this month’s post, I found myself reminiscing about Christmases past. Not in the sense of Ebenezer Scrooge receiving unwelcome visits from fearsome ghosts, but rather basking in the memory of special moments with my mother. What surprised me was that most of those happy times occurred relatively recently, within the last 15 years. The memories that made me want to travel back in time were not from childhood; in fact my mother and I weren’t close when I was young. It wasn’t until much later in life that we grew together, probably when I had faced my own adult challenges and could appreciate her story much better.
The same might be said of the bond with my sister, although we started out thick as thieves. Only a year apart, we experienced many of the same things at the same time and, even today it’s hard to imagine a day when we weren’t together. But after graduating high school we blazed separate paths, and they shared little common ground. I’m happy to say that has changed, and we have reconnected. Our common interests, it seems, are greater than whatever broke us apart. And it all goes back to the kitchen.
A Family of Cooks
My mom grew up learning how to cook by helping her mother in the kitchen. My grandmother was the eldest of nine, and served as her mother’s right hand, whether that was watching the other kids, preparing dinner, or seeing to farm work. She was a no-nonsense lady who, even in her later years, maintained a vegetable garden and rose with the sun each day to tend it. My grandfather hunted and fished, and Mom-mom was an expert in preparing whatever he brought home. Mom learned everything first-hand, and became a fantastic cook in her own right.
Some of my earliest memories are of standing next to my sister in Mom-mom’s tiny kitchen, waiting to be assigned a task (or to snatch a scrap of turkey from the carving platter!) As apprentices, we mixed dressing for the cole slaw, shelled beans and peas, or stirred gravy in the big roasting pan atop the gas stove. We didn’t realize it yet, but we were learning to cook.
A Modern 1970s Mother
Our home probably looked like a million others in modest neighborhoods– split level, small kitchen, a few bedrooms. But my mom had this crazy creative spirit that infused everything she did: cooking was a hobby and she outdid herself with every meal. An avid member of the garden club, she created festive holiday arrangements for family and friends. But her most magnificent project was her stained glass lamps.
She claimed a damaged windshield from an auto salvage yard and brought it home to the basement. After smashing the glass into mosaic tile-sized pieces, she painstakingly dyed them in a rainbow of colors. Then she glued them onto large glass globes, fitting the pieces together like a jigsaw puzzle until they covered the surface. The grand finale was the lighting of a votive candle inside the globe: all the colors came to life, bathing the room in an enchanting glow. She made a half-dozen and gave them to close friends and family. My sister has the only one left.
Unfortunately, those early memories were clouded by what came later: my dad’s struggle with substance abuse and my mom’s desperate attempt to keep him sober, raise us kids, and maintain a household. That’s too much for anyone, and something had to give. In my case it was a close relationship with my mother.
Many years later, while I was suffering through a devastating divorce, my mother and I got a second chance at our relationship. We became friends. She visited me frequently, and we had some hilarious adventures together. When I moved to Florida, we’d talk on the phone every Saturday night, each of us cooking our own dinners and chatting while we ate. I called them our Saturday Night Dates, and I treasure them to this day.
One of the best weeks of my life happened back in 2009, when my sister and my mom came to visit me in Florida. The trip coincided with my mother’s 70th birthday, and I was excited to plan a lot of fun activities for the three of us. I made reservations at two local restaurants for special dinners out. But the best part of the planning was what we would cook together.
Meal #1: Indian Spiced Chicken Salad with Domaine Saint Amant La Borry Viognier
With their arrival scheduled around noon, I figured a nice lunch would be appreciated after a long morning of flying. I put together this aromatic and tasty chicken salad and chilled a bottle of La Borry Viognier. Most of the prep for the salad can be done the day before, and it’s a cinch to assemble and serve. Viognier makes a perfect accompaniment to the fragrant Indian spices in the chicken. The pairing was a hit all around.
Meal #2: Rack of Lamb with Coconut-Mint Sauce and Glazed Peas with Stolpman Vineyards Estate Syrah
This was the first meal we cooked together. The three of us flipped through an issue of Food and Wine, and decided upon this recipe from Eric Ripert. As with the chicken salad, it is a flavorful and satisfying dish that is quick and easy to pull together. We jostled elbows as we worked in my small kitchen, but it felt familiar: we had traveled backward in time, to the holidays in my Mom-mom’s house.
Meal #3: Seared Cod with Spicy Mussel Aioli with Domaine Ricard “?” Touraine Sauvignon Blanc
Another winner of a recipe from Eric Ripert, this luxurious fish dish had us congratulating ourselves on our cooking prowess. The plates looked like something from a restaurant, and we felt like we were being spoiled. Don’t be put off, though – the execution is super-simple! As for the wine, this bottle is my hands-down favorite Sauvignon Blanc. I’m not much of a fan of the variety in general, but this rich, smooth, delight can sit at my table any time.
What Sticks with You
The holiday season will be over almost as quickly as it arrived and, pretty soon we’ll be awash in reminiscences and New Year’s resolutions. Memories of what we ate, what we drank, and the gifts we received will fade, replaced by the next big events on our calendars. But, in my experience, who you share those moments with is what sticks with you long after the excitement has subsided.
I know this because three months after my mom’s 70th birthday celebration, she had a stroke, the first of several. On Thanksgiving Day of 2009 she was hospitalized for several months and was ultimately placed in a full-service nursing care facility. She no longer recognizes us and has no joy in her life. We won’t have any new holiday memories with her to add to our reflections; she is gone. That’s why I am thankful each day for the times we shared, even if it took a long time for us to get there.
Best wishes to all of you, for a happy, healthy holiday season. Pay attention to the small moments, the silly conversations, and the family traditions. Trust me, you’ll feel them forever and they’ll always be with you, regardless of the food you shared or the wine you drank. Cheers!
Thanks for reading my contribution to this month’s Wine Pairing Weekend chat. Here’s what my talented colleagues are sharing:
Jade from Tasting Pour will tell us “How to Choose a Wine Gift.”
Jeff from foodwineclick will share “Holiday Wine Gift Ideas: Not Just Any Champagne.”
Cindy from Grape Experiences will post “Wines from The Hess Collection – Will You be Naughty or Nice?”
David from Cooking Chat will write about “Christmas Wine Gifts: Tips and Bottles To Give.”
Wendy from A Day in the Life on the Farm will share “Spreading Christmas Cheer.”
Michelle from Rockin Red Blog is telling us “How to Give the Gift of Wine.”
Gwendolyn from Wine Predator will share “Good Gifts Have Good Stories: 4 Wineries from Napa.”
Culinary Adventures with Camilla is talking about “Sips Worth Sharing.”
Jill from L’Occasion will share “Wine Wrapped Up: The L’occasion Gift Guide.”
Here at The Swirling Dervish I’m blogging about “Wine, Food, and Family: The Gift of Memories.”