Category Archives: summer

spicy cucamelon cocktails | why culinary treats are the best travel souvenirs

First of all, happy almost-end-of-summer!! I’m excited to share the story behind this spicy cucamelon cocktail that I created after returning from a trip to NYC, where I toured and savored its verdant famers markets. I’m definitely reveling in these final days of summer and doing my best to capture their vibrancy by making jams, jellies, relishes, chutneys, and, of course, cocktails.

This particular trip to New York City in the fall of 2019 just might be my favorite culinary trip I’ve taken. Yes, I’ve had some incredible food-and-wine-centric trips throughout my wine career. Traveling to historic places like Burgundy, France; visiting the Vinho Verde region in Portugal; exploring the Piemonte, home to Barolo and Barbaresco, in Italy; and touring the vineyards in Ribero del Duero y Rueda in Spain were all career and personal highlights for me.

None of these trips, however, compared to traveling to New York City two years ago with several of my favorite chef and sommelier friends within the culinary industry. There is nothing like rolling out of bed (maybe a little hungover?) and exploring the city’s various farmers markets to source produce, flowers, or meat that will be served at a dinner later that evening, with the very chefs, who will be cooking the dishes.

In 2019, my husband and I were chosen, along with our industry friend and colleague, Jen Mattioni, to be the beverage component of the Colorado FIVE, a group of five talented chefs, who are changing the face and direction of the Colorado culinary scene. I’ve shared one of the epic dinners we’ve thrown in another post, to reference the kind of scale and pomp these dinners have. Throughout the summer season, each of the five chefs within the Colorado FIVE team hosts a five-course dinner at his or her respective restaurant, we pair the drinks, and we all raise money for charity.

The year culminates at a dinner that we host at the James Beard House in New York City.

Yes, that James Beard.

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the peach blossom | a cocktail inspired by a flower farm tour at deer tree farm

I’m not that good at self-care lately. I’m just being honest. This year has beaten me up, but there hasn’t been time to recuperate. Perhaps I should rephrase that – I haven’t taken the time to recuperate. There is always time for what you deem important.

I came in a little early this evening to share this post and recipe I shot and created earlier this week. Today was exceptionally smoky and hot. Here in Colorado, there are four wildfires burning, two of which are relatively close by. I’ve been working outdoors in 97ºF weather, while wearing an N95 mask to keep my lungs protected. I could have finished weeding two more rows of Riesling, but I opted to take a late-afternoon bath and pour myself a little sip of wine from said Riesling.

It was a priority shift.

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I haven’t checked in here in a while, and I could share some war stories from the past few months. I think we call could do that, given the unrest, the tumult, and the uncertainty this year has gifted us. I use that word intentionally – gifted. While the process is is beleaguering, going through periods of unrest, tumult, and uncertainty can be poignant periods of growth, if we are willing to embrace it.

Right now, I’m crying mercy. And choosing to share something beautiful. I hope I can embrace what I need to learn, but I seriously want some reprieve. So, I took that late-afternoon tub bath. I took my medicine.

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Jen Mattioni of Q House garnishing her Five-Spice Old Fashioneds.

five-spice old fashioned | knapp ranch dinner with the colorado FIVE

Just over two weeks ago, Steve and I helped host and orchestrate a dinner at the most epic location. Expansive hillside views, lush and abundant wildflowers, and cool and fresh mountain air, alongside a culinary team of which dreams are made. Hosted by Chef Bryan Redniss of The Rose, in Edwards, Colorado, this Japanese kaiseki-style dinner was a bucket list event not only for us, who helped produce, execute, and capture the dinner, but also for the 80 people who were lucky enough to snag a seat before the experience sold out.

That evening was one of those moments that doesn’t come along very often, where you look around and take notice of what’s actually happening – you truly can’t imagine someplace else that you’d rather be. It felt like it may have been the highlight of the Colorado food scene this year. The scenery was so beautiful that photos can’t even capture the magnitude of the  S P A C E  there at Knapp Ranch. For the design enthusiasts and foodies out there, this property is owned and curated by the former owner of Architectural Digest and Bon Appétit magazines, Bud Knapp. I had the pleasure of meeting him and touring his home and expansive gardens at his ranch that sit at 9,000 feet above sea level.

I am sharing one of my favorite cocktails that evening from my friend and fellow Colorado FIVE beverage team member, Jen Mattioni, owner of Q House in Denver. She crafted this bright, savory, spiced version of the classic Old Fashioned cocktail for the appetizer course at the Knapp Ranch dinner and paired it alongside savory bites like Duane Walker of Morin Restaurant‘s panko-fried confit chicken thighs with black garlic, sweet chili fish caramel, spicy mustard, foie gras aioli, and furikake.

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a summer dinner among the vines | thoughts on hospitality

I just finished writing a blog post for our winery project, The Storm Cellar, telling a few stories and showing off some of the gorgeous photographs that Irene Durante captured for our very first dinner in the vineyard back in the middle of June. The evening couldn’t have been more beautiful, and the food any more delicious.

This dinner was the first time that we formally released our freshly finished wines into the world. There was a moment, when Steve and I were walking behind the guests, as they were seating themselves at the long, communal table we set, right in the middle of our Riesling vines. We paused and watched the scene of smiling faces, full wine glasses, friends and family, and a prep station ready to plate. Tears filled our eyes, as we pulled each other close.

Our dream was being realized.

All of the hard work, late nights, early evenings, uncertainty, and excitement had lead up to this moment that we had been waiting for for nearly three years.

Steve and I recently dined at Tavernetta, Bobby Stuckey’s newest restaurant located in Denver’s Union Station. Stuckey is known for his iconic, Boulder restaurant, Frasca, which recently won the 2019 James Beard Award for Outstanding Service. Frasca was the only Colorado nominee finalist and winner at what is basically known as the “Oscars of the Culinary World.”

I bring up Stuckey, who is also a Master Sommelier, because of his vocal, and now internationally recognized, stance on the practice of hospitality. He mentions in a Denver Post interview that the concept of hospitality is “not about what we do to somebody; it is about how we make them feel.” Every night, at each of his restaurants, what his team figuratively does is “open the door and give every guest a bear hug.”

Steve and I couldn’t agree more with this philosophy of placing the guest experience above the tasks we execute. We could plate up the most beautiful food, serve the most exquisite glassware, source the most colorful flowers, and host a dinner in the most breathtaking setting, but without making our guests feel welcomed and special, the entire event would be flat, disappointing, and unmemorable. Continue reading

negroni d’pampe | on that extra slice of cake, making room for beauty + the war on bunnies

I woke up this cloudy morning to the loveliest of sounds, a sound I hadn’t heard here in nearly two months. Slow, steady, peaceful rain, falling outside my open window. And the SMELL!! Isn’t it wonderful? That moisture-filled aroma of damp earth is both calming and invigorating all at once. I snoozed my alarm another 30 minutes and closed my eyes just to lull myself back asleep to this beautiful scene.

As someone who works the land, I view every moment of daylight as an opportunity to get work done. I can’t prune vines or thin shoots in the dark, so each moment of sunshine counts. Whenever I’m forced indoors, which is a rare event, I seize that moment of fortuity to either relax or sleep in or get caught up on postponed computer demands. Today, I chose to catch a few extra minutes of rest, lounge over breakfast on the front porch, and get after a blog post. Writing – and sleeping in – are two things I’ve missed this season.

No guilt on taking this one day to indulge just a little.

I know I’ve referenced a lot about self-care this year, and it’s a concept you’ve probably heard a lot of buzz about in the media, as well. It’s something I’ve been working through and promising myself to integrate into my daily thoughts and routine. I find it so easy to just throw myself out of bed, slap on sunscreen, don my sunglasses, and get after the day’s chores, but that’s so unfulfilling. And it leaves me tired, feeling like a robot moving through the motions.

So, I’m slowing down, even when it’s hard. And I’m intentionally embracing beauty in the little things, like thrifted glassware {these cocktail glasses were $2 apiece at the Habitat for Humanity Restore!}, earlier mornings, and lazier Sundays. Another thing that I did this year, since we don’t have time for a serious garden, is sign up for a flower CSA. Each week, I already have to drive our recyclables to the recycling center, so I brightened up the chore by swinging by Zephyros Flower Farm and collecting a bouquet for the week. This past week’s assortment of blooms was a showstopper {isn’t that yellow and black lily INSANE!?}, and I knew I had to match it with a cocktail.

I’ve also tried being more conscious to get up earlier in the mornings, so that I can take time to stretch or write or read. Or make that second round of French press and just breathe before the day’s pulse starts to dictate my steps. It’s my moment of quiet, where I can call the shots and start my day with peace and intention. Are you the same way?

As the clouds gathered in the late afternoon yesterday, I gave our potted plants on the porch a little water and then gathered the essentials for a riff on one of my favorite classic cocktails, a summer-influenced Negroni — citrusy gin, gentian-forward Suze, and a favorite, new indulgence of mine, Vin d’Pampe Vermouth Rosé. It’s a brightened up, punchy-hued, citrus-floral version of the bitter, rich classic.

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