Archive | January 2015

MI Road Trip: Starting Michigan with a Beer!

In October, Jon and I took a week off of work and spent 8 full days in Michigan. The trip was dual purpose; a family visit primarily, but we were also able to take a couple of days touring part of the northern area of Michigan’s mitten – the most northern part that isn’t the Upper Peninsula.

Jon and I arrived in Michigan on a red eye flight on Saturday morning. We were both a bit bleary eyed when we wandered into the car rental place that morning, and more than a little confused when the agent told us that he didn’t see our reservation. It took me a minute, but then I realized my mistake (and accidentally let a curse word pop out as I was marveling at my stupidity). We had booked our flight to depart from Seattle on October 3rd, so I booked the rental car for an October 3rd pickup. What I hadn’t paid attention to was the fact that since it was a red eye, we wouldn’t arrive until October 4th. Ooops!

Fortunately, there were still cars available, and he didn’t even charge us for the extra day.   Alamo rocks! We just had to pick a car. Jon was kind of interested in trying a Prius, but that gave me flashbacks to all my government travel, so thankfully I was able to talk him out of it (I think the backup beeper helped him realize how annoying Prius’ are).

Soon we were on our way to a Cracker Barrel breakfast to load up on coffee. After breakfast though, even the coffee couldn’t keep us awake and we ended up settling down for an hour long nap in the car (not while driving). This red eye was much more difficult than the one we took in 2012 – I guess we are getting older!

Jon had big dreams of stopping in Ann Arbor to check out the city, and to stop at a record store, but in the end neither of us had the energy for it.

So instead, after driving about 90 minutes, a tired, un-showered and slightly groggy couple stumbled into the Dark Horse Brewery in Marshall, Michigan (population about 7,000) about 2:30, hoping to get a bite to eat and a brew. The joint was jumping! We were able to snag the last open table – a table for 6 near the door. We ordered our beers and an order of nachos. My beer, the Raspberry Ale, didn’t exactly hit the spot, which was kind of surprising since that is normally exactly the type of beer I would like.  It just didn’t come together on the palate. Jon’s beers were amazing. He had two while we were there; a Double Crooked Tree IPA and then the 4 Elf Winter Warmer.

I especially liked the Winter Warmer, with a great balance of spice on a dark winter ale. YUM! And the nachos, although simple, were sinfully good. Chunks of chicken, tomatoes, olives, shredded lettuce and pepperoncinis, smothered with that fake Velveeta cheese on tortilla chips. Jon prefers a bit more upscale nachos, but I dug right in and was happy with our choice.

Terrible picture, great nachos!

Terrible picture, great nachos!

If you are a regular, you can get into their mug club, with handmade ceramic mugs hung all over the ceiling for loyal customers.  I loved the look!

Mugs hang from every inch of ceiling space

Mugs hang from every inch of ceiling space

After we had been at Dark Horse a little while, we invited a couple who was waiting for a table to sit down and join us. It turned out that they were from Grand Rapids, down for an afternoon beer tour of Dark Horse. They had rave reviews about the tour, offered at noon on Saturdays – next time Jon and I are in Michigan, hopefully we will be able to check it out. They explained to us that Dark Horse is also featured on a reality show on the History Channel (I’m not sure what is historical about a relatively new brewpub but…) about life in a brewpub. We hadn’t heard of it, but my mom had (she knows all sorts of random trivia). We still haven’t seen the show.

Finally we pulled ourselves away, bought some bottled beer to go, and took our leave of Dark Horse. We will certainly be back again.  Please promise me that if you visit, you will check out the crazy toilet in the ladies’ room!  That thing had a panel on the side with all sorts of buttons!  I’m really not sure what it did!

I have no idea what “features” this toilet offers

I have no idea what “features” this toilet offers

Have you had Dark Horse beer?  Have you seen the show?

Did Attila the Hun like hard apple cider?

A new cidery!  Jon and I stopped by my favorite antique store and fruit market on our way home from a weekend trip a couple of weekends ago.  I found an intriguing hard cider in the cooler, and took a bottle home with me.  The Attila “Scourge of God” Hard Apple Cider is brewed in Ellensburg, WA.  They are a brand new producer, and their first year’s production of 5,515 bottles is already sold out.  Luckily, their next release is due out in February!

This cider is made using fresh, Washington apples; perhaps I am biased but I think Washington apples are the best.  It is a light straw color, with a light effervescence.  It has a very dry, apple flavor, with only the faintest hint of sweetness.  It is a wonderful cider!  In fact, it was so good, I regretted offering Jon a taste, because then he wanted some of mine…

Attila "Scourge of God" Hard Cider

Attila “Scourge of God” Hard Cider

I have no idea how it got its name, but I’m sure it is a good story, and I’m positive that Attila the Hun wouldn’t have turned down a glass of this!  At least for now it appears their distribution is central Washington, the greater Puget Sound, and Portland, Oregon.  But Attila is getting rave reviews, so perhaps you will be able to find it in a larger market soon.  If you see it, be sure to grab a bottle – or a case!


2013 Mer Soleil Silver Unoaked Chardonnay

Every now and again, I buy a bottle for the label.  Or in this case, for the bottle.  You know you do it too; that irresistible whimsical label, or the one that is funny or beautiful or reminds you of that time…  Or something you have never seen before.  Like this bottle – a gray ceramic bottle meant to remind one of the concrete tanks the wine is aged in.

The bottle was on sale – very reasonably priced if I remember correctly.  Somewhere in the $10-$11 dollar range.  In looking online, it appears that this wine usually retails in the $25-$30 range.  I brought it home and it has been sitting waiting since December.

 2013 Mer Soleil Silver Unoaked Chardonnay

2013 Mer Soleil Silver Unoaked Chardonnay

Last night Jon was rooting around for an everyday drinking wine and popped this one open.  It has a distinct metal cap stuck into a cork, so we had to figure out how to deal with that before uncorking the wine.  We smelled the bottle – it was an interesting clay and tropical white wine smell.  Not unpleasant, but unusual.  We poured.  The wine was a deep, buttery yellow.  We smelled again – a light butter with the same tropical aroma.  Interesting that an unoaked chardonnay smells so buttery.

We tasted.  Butter.  And funky.  No tropical taste here.  UGH!  I am usually fairly forgiving, but this wine was terrible.  Maybe it was corked, but it didn’t really taste flawed.  It certainly didn’t taste like an unoaked chardonnay though – there was too much butter and oak.  It was… awful.  So awful that neither of us drank more than a couple of sips.

Even though this wine was a dud, I still have a nice bottle to save.

Have you ever had a really awful wine? 

The Applegate Valley Wine

After our visit to Jacksonville, Oregon, we decided to check out a couple of wineries!  The Applegate Valley is one of the most overlooked wine regions in the country, with outstanding wines and a quiet, relaxed atmosphere.  Our first winery stop was Wooldridge Creek Winery. We pulled in to find an amazing covered seating area with cushioned patio furniture, a classy yet inviting tasting room with several books available to read, and another outdoor patio with tables and chairs. Jon’s dad wasn’t interested in wine tasting so he plopped down outside in the shade to read his book.

The winery named after the Wooldridge family who first settled on the property in the 1850s – this isn’t the same family that owns the property and the winery now though.  The first grapevines at Wooldridge Creek were planted in the 1970s; it has now expanded to 56 acres planted in twelve varieties: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Syrah, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Viognier, Sangiovese, Zinfandel, Malbec, Petit Verdot and Tempranillo.  However, until 2002, the owners sold all their fruit to other wineries; at that point they met and partnered with a wine-making couple to start the winery.

We began our tasting in the tasting room, but soon the draw of the warm sunshine was too much. Our server was very gracious about loading up our tasting on a tray with mini decanters and tasting information for each wine. As I think back on it now (on a gray, rainy day in frigid January), I wish I were back there soaking up the warm rays of the sun!

Wooldridge Creek Winery

Wooldridge Creek Winery

The wine was delicious – I did find that I liked the reds more than the whites though.  The French oak aged Chardonnay was a hit with Jon, but a little too oaked for my taste – good for a taste but too much for a whole glass. There was a Viognier that was quite enjoyable – which was a bit unusual because I don’t typically like many Viogniers. Jon’s mom really enjoyed that one. The reds were wonderful – balanced and approachable while still having lots of structure.  We tasted Merlot, Pinot Noir and Malbec.

After Wooldridge, we visited Troon Winery. Jon and I had been there before, and Jon had wanted to go back. We wanted to be outside again, so we shuttled back and forth between the tasting room and the seating area outside. That was a little bit awkward, but it was to be expected as the server had her hands full with other customers. She did tell us a bit about each wine when we came in to get our sample, but it seemed a bit more impersonal than our visit in 2011.

Troon Winery from our covered seating

Troon Winery from our covered seating

That said, Troon’s wine is excellent – not a bad one in the bunch. Ironically, when we visited in 2011 the Druid’s Fluid red blend was my least favorite wine, but it is the biggest seller for the winery. This year, they didn’t have Druid’s Fluid on the tasting menu, so I don’t know if I would have liked it more now.  We ended up getting several wines to bring home with us.  For some reason though, I always forget that Troon now has a tasting room in the Willamette Valley, so we will have to stop by there sometime when we are down that way.

After our two tasting room visits, we wrapped up our day and headed back to the rental house to enjoy one last quiet evening on the river before heading home.  We swam in the pool, read books, watched the Canada Geese flying overhead to their night roosts, and heard the hum of the jet boats as they took tourists back home after the dinner tour (I so want to take that jet boat tour one day!).

Canada Geese flying home for the night

Canada Geese flying home for the night

We had to be up before dawn in the morning, because Jon had misunderstood what days he was supposed to get off from work.  I had planned for us to spend a leisurely day Tuesday driving home and then go back to work Wednesday, but Jon thought we were coming home on Monday.  He had scheduled himself to work at 2 pm on Tuesday, expecting that he would have a quiet morning at home to sleep in and get some things done.  Obviously that wasn’t going to happen!  Considering that the drive home (without traffic) is 8 hours, we set the alarm for 3 am to get home in time.

We were on the road at 3:17 am! It’s not often that I watch a summer sunrise from the road, but I caught this one. Our early morning travel all worked out in the end though, as we made it home with enough time to get some lunch and essentials at the grocery store before Jon had to go to work.  And I had the whole afternoon to take a leisurely nap, unpack and relax for going back to work on Wednesday. It was a nice end to a great long weekend…


A Stop in Historic Jacksonville

It was the third day of our Southern Oregon long weekend and we were headed to Jacksonville!  Jacksonville, Oregon is a historic town just 5 miles outside of Medford.  It experienced a huge boom in 1851 and 1852 when gold was discovered there, and the town became the principal financial center for Southern Oregon at the time.  However, the gold dried up, and so did the town, especially after the railroad passed it by in 1884.  It remained the county seat until 1927, but the economy of the town drastically declined.  As a result of the decline, progress bypassed Jacksonville and a large number of the commercial and residential buildings were left intact.

The Old Drug Store

The Old Drug Store

Now the large number of historic buildings are the stars of the town, drawing tourists to the quiet downtown.  The main street is lined with shops, selling a variety of art, local clothing and handmade jewelry, and fair trade products.  Jon and I visited in 2011, and loved the relaxed little town so much that we couldn’t wait to come back.

A Historic Saloon turned Coffee Shop

A Historic Saloon turned Coffee Shop

We had lunch at the Bella Union – a restaurant in a historic building downtown.  The Bella Union began as a restaurant and saloon in 1864, and operated until it burned on April 14, 1874.  After that it was home to many businesses; a machine shop, saddle shop, saloon, deli and finally a restaurant and saloon once again.  The present restaurant has been in business since 1988.

The outdoor patio at the Bella Union Restaurant

The outdoor patio at the Bella Union Restaurant

I had a turkey cranberry sandwich and vegetable soup; Jon had steamed clams and salad.  Both were delicious.  We sat outside on the patio in the warm shade and enjoyed a relaxed conversation with Jon’s parents.  After lunch, we shopped a bit, and then headed off for our next adventure – wine tasting!

The Treveri Cellars Sparkling Syrah Brut

Jon and I took advantage of the long weekend and took a brief trip over the mountains to Yakima.  We wanted to visit a few wineries and do some relaxing with our precious days off together.  One of the wineries I was excited about visiting was Treveri Cellars, one of Washington’s few sparkling wine producers.

But when we got there – they were closed for maintenance!  There had been no mention about this closure on their website, which was pretty disappointing.  It shouldn’t be that hard to give customers a heads up!  Big fail…

So instead of tasting the Treveri lineup, we just tasted one bottle that we managed to find in a wine shop on the way out of town.  The Treveri Cellars Sparkling Syrah Brut.  This wine is a non-vintage wine; truly a red sparkling wine, rather than a brut rosé.  It has a very light effervescence; the bubbles are much less pronounced than other sparkling wines.

On the palate, there are flavors of dark berries, along with a dry, yeasty tartness that is so important to a sparkling wine.  It is a unique wine that really came together well.  I really enjoyed it.  I just wish I had the opportunity to try their other wines!

Book Review: The 19th Wife

I’m not usually that into murder mysteries.  But when a novel is a cross between a murder mystery and historical fiction?  And when you add in one of the most controversial religious doctrines in American history?  I’m in!  Plus, someone several years ago had recommended The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff, and I was lucky enough to find it at the library book sale.

This novel starts out by telling the story of Jordan Scott, a young man who became a “lost boy” several years before; kicked out of a Fundamentalist Mormon closed community for the minor (and false) charge of holding hands with a girl.  He finds out that his mother, who was forced to cut off contact when he was booted from the community, has been charged with the murder of his father, and is in jail awaiting trial.  He re-establishes contact with her, even though he is still angry and hurt about being abandoned, in order to find the truth.

The 19th Wife, by David Ebershoff

The 19th Wife, by David Ebershoff

The story is interwoven with the story of Ann Eliza Young, one of the true life wives of Brigham Young; the one who renounced her faith and fled the community, at the same time filing for divorce from her husband.  She wrote a book about her experience, and this novel includes excerpts from Mrs. Young’s book, detailing her experiences within the Mormon church, as a plural wife, and her apostasy and attempt to get the U.S. Government to ban polygamy.

While Ann Eliza Young was a real person, and did write a book, it is unclear whether the excerpts in this novel are taken from Young’s book or another piece of fiction.  It probably doesn’t matter; they are well written and believable.  Of course, Ebershoff fills in the gaps of Ann Eliza’s life as well with an intriguing story about how she ultimately ended up as one of Brigham Young’s 55 wives.

As the two stories alternate, suspense builds as Jordan confronts the still raw emotions he feels after being cast out, and as he gets himself into increasingly dangerous situations as he takes the law into his own hands and tries to solve the mystery of who really murdered his father.  Although fiction, the scare tactics used by the men of the closed community to get Jordan to leave well enough alone, well, those are real.

Although fiction, this novel does a great job of shedding light on a religious community that is all too real, and that uses its power to perpetuate a system of subjugating its women and children to the demands of a few powerful men.  It is heartbreaking to reflect on the hopeless lives these women lead, entirely at the mercy of their Prophet.  It is a real page turner – although a long book (544 pages), it kept me captivated from beginning to end.

To be honest, I would have loved the book even if it didn’t have the murder mystery plot line.  I thought the historical fiction pieces of the novel were just that powerful.  But the murder did provide an interesting bit of intrigue and a tie in to present day.  Now that I’ve finished The 19th Wife, I might have to read Ann Eliza Young’s book too!

Have you read The 19th Wife?  What did you think of it?