Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Sharing Wine in Weardale

Meet Axle, one of my three cats. Although he doesn't drink wine he does live in a place called Weardale, like me.

On one Saturday a month for the last six David and I have attended wine tasting evenings with a group of 11 locals. We were first invited by our neighbors who have been attending for a few years and because another couple had just quit the group they kindly saw fit to invite us along.

Our friends in the group assure us we are learning, even though it doesn’t seem so, not yet anyway. When the night begins you are eager to learn and your scribbled notes are coherent, your handwriting unyielding and legible. You taste a few white wines and then a few reds. As the hours pass discipline is sneaking out the door, your limbs have loosened and you realize that actually, the company, the conversation, the laughter – these are the treasures. And then, suddenly you realize that your notes are being scribbled on the host’s table and the dog begging beneath the table is actually licking in between your toes! (Perhaps an exaggeration…)

I have never actively tried to develop my palate, beyond cooking and trying different edible and drinkable substances. During one of the first tastings David was convinced he could taste cat urine in one of the wines. I quietly discouraged him from saying that out loud but he indeed did share and it turned out to be a sign of a certain white grape!

Due to the fact I am a novice my natural reaction is to sit back and listen, keeping my impressions to myself for the most part. I do regret this because as I loosen up as the night passes and the comments flow I am reminded that being open when you are inexperienced does enable the learning process and speed things along.

I will now share one of my crowning moments.

On this particular night the plans had changed. Usually one person in the group hosts the evening supplying the wine and food with a theme to the wine tasting that you try and guess throughout. The host for the night called in sick so there was quick scramble and we all were asked to bring a bottle of wine and something to eat and show up at the alternative location. I brought a bottle of Prosecco (one that I had been given at Christmas) and looked up what kinds of food this might be paired with because I had no idea. A pasta dish was hastily prepared.

All started well with an appetizer of cod roe on toasted baguette slices with a glass of our first wine. Since we usually start with a sparkling wine (Champagne or otherwise) it was decided my Prosecco would be second taste and I was assigned the duty of opening it. Most were settling at the table including myself. I stood up, removed the wire surrounding the cork and before I realized what happened the cork flew like a rocket at maximum speed across the room with the loud “POOF” you would expect. I was mortified. Face blood red. There was a brief silence and without being aware of my actions (David told me it appeared as if I had taken aim) I had turned to the left with the bottle in hand and suddenly the Prosecco, being determined to cause further embarrassment was spraying out in an arch and directly onto the head of a lady named Pru. The arched trajectory of the liquid reminded me of playing with a hosepipe on a scorching summer’s day. The trouble was I had bathed Pru in wine on a cold English winter’s night. She had arrived late after having a rushed and stressful day and sat down to what should have been an effortless and jolly evening. I then shampooed her hair in Prosecco.

I could not have been more humiliated. The good news, however, is that we were invited back. That could be, of course, just to see what I would do next.

-- Laura

Saturday, 17 April 2010

Tuesday Nights

For two years, Tuesdays have been long. From 8 to 5, I work at the Library for the Blind, assisting patrons with various talking book needs and come home to eat quickly, change into comfortable clothes, slip my jingle tap shoes in a bag, and reenter the car to meet Ron, my 66 year old clogging partner. We travel across nearly three counties in rush hour traffic. He drives while I sometimes nap or knit, but there's always conversation. Ron has been living in Raleigh his entire life. He has watched the planting of strip malls and belt-lines, the infiltration of new ethnicities living next door. Ron could be a cynic. He could spend the 45 minutes complaining to me the hassles of watching things change, memories die. But he instead tells me he took scrap bread to the lake today to feed the ducks and met a nice young boy catching his first fish. We listen to pop music and swap stories of our weeks. I give him advice on healthy eating, since his recent heart problems. He shakes his head at whole grains and broccoli. He asks of my love life. I shake my head at the slim pickings.

We reach Atwater Farms, the home and retired dairy of fellow clogger, Don. There's a one-room wooden building, built for the special purpose of dance, tucked behind his home and garden plot. Once inside the building, the open windows frame lovely moving images of grazing cows. I also feel tucked away, protected, here. I am reminded where I am from, the constancy of surrounding countryside. I rest my eyes on what the window frames. I hear the taps jingling on tapping feet. I turn around when Pam, the team mother of sorts, says to me, "Come give me a hug, sugar dumpling!" As she squeezes me, I forget what lives outside this very space.

Finally, we get to dancing! For those that don't know, there are a lot of variations of clogging. Some people always start on the left foot, some on the right. Some cloggers use jingle taps, some use regular tap shoes. Some kick high, some aren't so sure. Within the community, this causes tension and disagreement. I say, any dancing at all is better than none! And if anyone is interested in such an old folk dance, they should be encouraged to learn, regardless of the particulars. For me, dance is the purest form of feeling free. It provides a euphoria of sorts, but only if one feels comfortable. To have a community especially for dance is special because you grow in relationships as you grow as a dancer, making the impulse more organic. May I just say, holding hands with people of all shapes and ages while dancing freestyle in a circle stretches my smile to greater territory each time. I am so thankful for these people.

I never sleep on the car ride home. Sometimes I ask Ron to stop at the grocery store so I can pick up a couple things for the week. I take him through the fresh produce section. I pick up an avocado.

"What's that?" He said.
"An avocado."
"It looks like a hand grenade. What do you do with it?"
I laugh. "You can use it to make guacamole or just put it on sandwiches as a spread or topping."
"I don't eat anything I can't pronounce," he says. We are in the check out line at this point, with a lady in front of us.
"Well they say it's good for women's reproductive organs, so you might should give it a chance."
"Oh! No, you didn't!"

We all laugh. I've forgotten by this point how I'm usually in bed by this time most other weekday nights. Ron drives me back to my car. I get home and put away my groceries, thinking of a healthy meal I could get Ron to eat next week.

When The Seed Was Planted

I don't recall seeing many photographs of my grandparents' garden or rose bushes. When I was seven I didn't realize that the plunge of my hand into a metal tin filled with cool, grainy bird seed or my grandfather, a teacher, lifting the tarp on the compost heap with an explanation on decay would somehow become a memory that I would call upon as inspiration at the age of 27.

These days I am cultivating a nascent "green thumb" which I believe is rooted in these early experiences and is also an attempt to keep my dear grandparents alive in my memory. The mental images may be faded and blurred around the edges but I will make new ones which are vivid and distinct! I am lucky because presently in the UK there is a glut of media attention being paid to growing your own vegetables and making simple and beautiful food using your own home grown ingredients. I am a novice at best yet already there is so much joy to be found in watching my little plants grow!

I am starting small, being restricted in terms of climate (living in an exposed and hilly spot) and time (with commuting to a full-time job and renovating the stone barn we are living in) but with enthusiasm I am nursing some herbs along into what will hopefully become my own little aromatic herb garden!

Even this morning when I came down downstairs, before even turning on the kettle for a "cuppa" I felt it necessary to check the progress of my seedlings, wondering if they might be thirsty or if today they would lodge a request to move to a sunnier post.

Here are my little ones about a week ago, some thyme and lemon balm.

Onwards and Upwards may they go!