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Wednesday, December 21, 2016

White Wine In Winter? With Red Meat? Hell yes!

I confess, I’m a rule breaker.  Too many musts and must-nots get in the way. I can make up my own mind!  I say, free yourself from those iritating rule shackles!  

White wine goes with fish.

Red wine goes with red meats.

Only serve sparkling wines for special occasions.

Bad luck to walk under ladders.

Step on a crack and break your mother’s back.

Of course, the last two are absolutely true.  But, the wine rules?  Toss ‘em!  Lately, I’ve had some wonderful whites that I drink anytime I damn well please!  Last night we had friends over for a chili party.  Nope, not talking about hamburger chili.  I’m talking hunks of beef, simmered for hours and hours, until the meat falls apart and people wander in off the street, following the aroma.

The first drink I served was Margarita Tea.  Well, that lasted no longer than you could say, “Gimme another glass!”  After that, I cracked open a chilled bottle of my newest favorite white wine, UBY Collection Unique 2016 (about $12 ).
Ok.  You’re intrigued by Margarita Tea, so I’ll patiently give you the recipe before getting back on track with the white wine.

14 Cups brewed tea
2.5 Cups Tequila
2.5 Cups Triple Sec
Simple syrup to taste  (Dissolve 1 Cup sugar in 1 Cup water)
Juice of 1 lime or lemon or to taste.  Serve over ice.

If you stand too close to the punch bowl, you’re taking your life in your hands, so don’t be greedy.  Grab a glass-full and move swiftly outta the way!

See how you’ve distracted me?  Back to the fav white wine… I’ve had several UBY wines from Domaine UBY , a family vineyard in the southwest of France.  I’m only sorry I didn’t marry into the fam.

Look in the southwest.  See Armagnac?  UBY vineyards are close to the c.

UBY’s full range of wines goes from the lusciously sweet Number 4 to the fruity, dry Number 3.  All are delicious.  Then comes the latest product, Collection Unique.  Well named, Collection Unique is light, but with a fruity nose that makes you think you’ve landed face down in a grove of ripe mangos and been pelted with peaches.

So, it’s sweet, right?  Not at all.  Dry, with a well-rounded finish.  For the uninitiated, when I say well-rounded, I mean a smooth-ending, with none of the bitterness or harshness normally associated with the title “dry.”  The huge question is: Can a light, fruity white stand up to the heavy spice of chili?  Oh, hell yes!

Don’t hold back! Buy a few bottles of UBY Collection Unique.  You’re going to need them as your guests polish off your chili, hold out their empty glasses and give you a look that says “We ain’t leavin’ yet!”

UBY Collection Unique 2016 is a blend of three grapes, Colombard, Ugni-Blanc, and Sauvignon Blanc.  Very different tastes, but put them all together and the balance is amazing.  I know 2016 is young, but that’s the kind of wine this is.  Young and frisky and as fresh as a stroll through the springtime vineyards.  Best to drink it within a year.



No trouble recognizing Colombard and Sauvignon, but Ugni is a different matter, even though it is France’s most commonly grown white grape.  You may not recognize the name. That’s because Ugni goes under dozens of names, spread across a dozen countries. The taste ranges from very acidic to more politely nuanced.  Want to impress your wine-snob buddies?  In its home region, Tuscany, Ugni is known as Trebbiano.

And, my main point (which almost got lost as I rambled) is that you can toss out the wine rules.  The only important rule is that taste rules!  Pick a wine that suits YOUR palate and forget the snobs at the other end of the table who mumble under their breath about your lack of sophistication.

Now, a little more chili and a top off for that glass of UBY?  I thought so. Good choice!

And, the rules about symmetry?  Don’t even get me started!

Here’s where to find out about the full range of UBY wines and Armanacs?

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Mushy Peas to Warm a Beer Drinker's Heart

Everyone who has ever sat in an English pub…..and by that I mean a REAL English pub, with hand pulled ales, dark wood everywhere, and real Victorian era mirrors, not some make believe abomination in a drive-by mall with faux wood beams and where all the beer is fizzy and cold enough to crack tooth enamel….

So anyway, anyone who has sat in an English pub begins to salivate at the mere sound of the words mushy peas, which is pronounced, by the way, mooshy peas.

I know my well-traveled readers are salivating now!  But, but for the times you’re home-bound, and in my undying quest to bring you sights, sounds, and especially food from mother England, I offer this simple, handy, mouthwatering recipe for the fabulously green concoction I just mentioned.

Now, just relax, pour yourself a pint of England’s finest…but, first a word about English beer.  No, it is not flat.  No, it is not warm.  But, rather than being infused with gaseous waste from a cylinder, English beer or REAL ale is a product of natural fermentation, meaning the amount of fizz is just what mother nature intended.

And as for the temperature, in England pubs, barrels of real beer are kept in the cellar, at a natural temperature of about 55 degrees Fahrenheit.

Ok, so you’ve poured your cool English brew.  Now what?  Another question for the curious, and by that I mean beer drinkers.  Where do peas come from?

In a few words, peas come from the deep dark time before recorded history.  Evidence points to domestication of Pisum Sativum sometime around 7800 B.C.  Now they’re served all over the world, including China and India. Yeah, but who decided to mooshy the peas?  No idea.  Now, take another sip and let’s get to the heart of good cooking.

Mushy peas (a traditional accompaniment to fish & chips, or meat pies.)

This recipe is part Jamie Oliver and part your author’s scintillatingly delicious interpretation.

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 lb bag of frozen peas, cooked according to package directions (and quickly drained, but not dry)
About 10 fresh mint leaves, finely chopped
½ medium red onion, finely diced
2 generous pats of unsalted butter
salt and pepper to taste (do not go heavy on either)

Put the oil in a medium sized frying pan and bring to medium heat.  Add the peas, mint, and onion.  Stir once or twice and periodically after that.  Allow the mixture to steam until the onions are soft, about five minutes.

Put the pea mixture and butter in a food processor (or use a potato masher) and pulse until the peas are well blended, but not silky smooth.  See photo.

That’s it!  Fry your fish and chips (we call them French fries), or bring your meat pie out of the oven and add a big spoonful of mushy peas on the side.  Hey, folks, if you’ve been doing this correctly, it’s time for another pint as you listen to applause from your enthusiastic crowd. 


Thursday, December 8, 2016

My Father Goes to War: Pearl Harbor Attack 1941

In 1939, my father, raised in the small town of Chester, South Carolina, joined the army.  During basic training in Charleston, someone in his chain of command asked if anyone thought they could pass a mechanics test and qualify for the Army Air Corps.  It was from that simple raising of his hand that he found himself two years later at Hickam Field on December 7, 1941 and a place in history.  But, before telling of his going to war, it’s important to know the details of a life that led him to be there.

Dad spent his high school years building and rebuilding a Model T Ford with his neighborhood friends.  The Model T, or Tin Lizzie first rolled off the line at the Piquette Ave plant in Detroit in 1908.  It would continue to be made until 1927.  They were cheap and plentiful.

I assure you my Dad's didn't look this good.

With little money, but a need for transportation, Dad and his friends picked up a broken down, rusted hulk and salvaging parts here and there, put together something barely road worthy, that looked roughly like an engine with four tires and a steering wheel.  You have to remember in the 1930s when my dad was a teenager, there were few driving rules beyond “Don’t hurt yourself and don’t hurt anybody else.”  Driver’s license?  Safety devices?  Minimum driving age?  Nonsense and balderdash. If you could get your jalopy to run through the swirling dust on rutted roads, you were doing exceptionally well and to be commended.  In those days of John Herbert Dillinger, George Baby Face Nelson, Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker, and other bank robbers and murderers, the local police stayed busy with serious stuff.  Local cops only gave you trouble if you brought it on yourself.  With minor vehicle incidents, the conversation went like this:

“Does your daddy know you’re out here acting like a maniac?”

“No, sir.”

“Well, the next time I see you acting like you own the road, I’m going to tell him!”

“Yes, sir.”  Accompanied by fear and trembling.

Dad first drove his father’s laundry truck in 1928 at the age of ten.  My grandfather had to fasten wooden blocks on the pedals so my dad’s feet could reach.  He had to sit on cushions so he was high enough to see through the windshield.

It was no great surprise that Dad passed the mechanics test.  After much training he became a side gunner on a B-17, Flying Fortress.  The Army Air Corps did things a little differently in those days.  When the flight engineer on my dad’s aircraft had to go back to the states on emergency leave, the aircraft commander, a Captain Sweeny, ask dad to take over the job.  They were standing inside the aircraft, just behind the cockpit when the order was given.  My father, at that time being a corporal, and an independent and outspoken young man, piped in with, “Captain, if you’re going to make me the flight engineer, why don’t you make me a buck sergeant (one rank higher), too?”

That was followed by a fist to the chest, which left my dad sprawled on the floor.  “Corporal, when I want your opinion, I’ll ask for it!”

Many years later, when he reflected on that moment, Dad just shrugged and said, “That’s the way it was.”

Life in the military in Hawaii wasn’t harsh all the time.  Dad flew training missions, drank beer, soaked up the sun on the beach at Waikiki and did all the things young men normally do with their free time.  And in short order they got used to sleeping in on Sunday mornings, in spite of the Navy, which often held Sunday cannon drills on the ships anchored at Pearl Harbor.  The early morning booms from the powder-only firings didn’t bother you after a big Saturday night in Honolulu.

Sunday morning on December 7, 1941 began as any other Sunday morning.  My dad was fast asleep when at 0755 the Japanese attacked.  The attack hit not just Pearl Harbor and the U.S. Navy, but also the airfields at Hickam, where my dad was, Wheeler, Ford Island, Kaneohe, and Ewa.

“Just the Navy firing practice rounds,” was my father’s first thought.  Then plaster began to rain down on the bunks.  In those days, there were no private rooms, just open bay barracks, with row after row of bunks.  The plaster got everyone’s attention and sleepy-eyed men in shorts or pajamas, some with undershirts, some bare chested, blasted out the door with not a clue about what was going on.  Thirty seconds later, with Japanese aircraft bombing and strafing, and explosions going off everywhere they looked, their first thoughts were to get to their aircraft.  Officers and non-commissioned officers were everywhere in the bedlam, waving arms, shouting orders over the din of roaring aircraft, bomb blasts and through clouds of gray, white, and black smoke.

Destruction of my dad's barracks

“Over there!” someone shouted to Dad, pointing toward the parade ground where one lone anti-aircraft gun spewed bullets at the sky and a line of men waited in the open to take their turn when those in front of them were strafed and fell to the ground.

Seeing this as a poor option, my dad sprinted for the flight line.  Chaos reigned.  Japanese planes owned the sky.  Aircraft hangers blazed into crumpled piles of twisted metal, pouring black smoke.  The long concrete parking spots, once featuring placid rows of shiny aluminum aircraft, were now disordered hunks of smudged and burning wreckage.  Like swarms of angry wasps, Japanese planes, with the big red ‘meatball’ makings on the fuselage and wings, dived toward buildings and aircraft again and again, their roaring engines signaling the coming of more death and destruction.

Kate type 97

Scrambling, stopping, taking cover and sprinting to his aircraft, my dad saw a guy kneel down beside a truck and hide behind one of the tires, his knees drawn up, his hands on the back of his neck.  Meanwhile others jumped in the truck and drove away, leaving the kneeling guy out in the open, but probably safer, my dad thought, than kneeling next to a truck, which had to be a prime target.

Dad ran on.  He saw another guy leap into a ditch and lay down flat, using the ditch for cover.  Just then a Japanese fighter came in low, guns blazing, hitting the guy on his ass and immediately flipping him into the air. Seemingly unfazed, the guy landed on his feet, held onto his damaged posterior and ran off in another direction.  Medics? At that point there was nothing more than dying or not dying, running for cover, or just running.  The men must have felt they had been pushed through the fiery gates of hell.

Seeing there was nothing left of his aircraft, dad joined a big group of guys moving en masse toward the armory.  Getting there and finding the doors locked, they demanded the Sergeant on guard duty open up and pass out weapons.  In the loud voice of authority, he declined and was immediately and roughly shoved aside and the doors broken down.  Arms for the multitudes!  Like all the others, Dad grabbed a gun, but forgot to grab bullets.  All around him, sporadic gunfire broke out, apparently without effect.  Ever tried to hit a bird on the wing with a rifle?  Try hitting a maneuvering aircraft going over two hundred miles an hour!

Attacks across the island lasted for two hours and twenty minutes.  In that time, more than 2400 Americans were killed and another 1200 were wounded.  Eighteen ships were sunk and more than three hundred aircraft damaged or destroyed.

This unprovoked attack was indeed a day that will live in infamy.

After Pearl Harbor, the Army Air Corps was hungry for pilots.  My father got into the Aviation Cadet Program and earned his wings flying PT-17s and T-6s. After graduation he trained in the B-24 Liberator.  In 1943, he was given a free trip to the garden spot of New Guinea in the south Pacific.  There he flew missions for the best part of a year and after postings around the world, including Japan, he retired in 1963 as a major.  His decorations included the Silver Star, the Distinguished Flying Cross, and the Air Medal.  In those days, the Silver Star ranked just below the Medal of Honor.

I found it strange, that while he, my mom, my brother, and I were living in Japan, I never once heard either of my parents say one derogatory word about the Japanese people. In fact, they praised their work ethic, their friendliness, and their determination to pull themselves back onto their feet.  On my dad’s part, it went deeper than ‘forgive and forget.’  Although having no advanced, formal schooling outside the military and with only a high school diploma, I think he knew in his heart, mind and having been to war, how little control the common soldier, sailor, marine, or airman has over the swirling winds of conflict.  In short, he saw people who shot at him and bombed him as wartime enemies.  When the war was over, those who had once been enemies reverted to their roles as fathers and sons who worked hard to put bread on the table and keep their families safe.  My father bore the Japanese people no ill will.  He understood very well what it was to be tossed powerlessly into that uncertain fate called war.