Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Not Your Average Frenchy Wine Tasting Party: Hospices de Beaune

When we got this invitation from Tim and Francoise to their wine tasting party, we knew it would be something special. (And it wasn't cause of the fancy flyer.)

Check out their collection of the glasses. Each year there's a different image. (We used these at the party--a good way to remember which glass belonged to whom.)

Tim has a fetish for Burgundy and has a sick (read: amazing) wine cellar chock-full of the stuff. For this event he pulled out his Hospices de Beaune. For the uninitiated (like myself), the story of the wine is as interesting as its nose.

On hand was Jeanne-Marie de Champs, a celebrity (in the Burgundy aficionado world) importer-exporter of some really quality shtuff (and Tim's primary connection--right, Tim?). Her position is defined under French law as a "negociant en chambre," meaning that, unlike brokers, she buys wines from her producers and, unlike ordinary negociants, she buys finished wines rather than lots to blend herself.

Jeanne-Marie (in ascot and glasses)

About Jeanne-Marie, Michael Franz of writes:

"Her manner is very light, breezy and funny, with no apparent intention to impress...But ask her a question about one of the wines, and WHAM: she answers comprehensively and in intricate detail, demonstrating a powerful mind that has sought out and mastered every little nuance about the domaine and the wine and the vintage and the growing site."

She's exceptionally knowledgeable and engaging. So when she explained Hospices, everyone was tuned in to the story:

The Hospices de Beaune or Hôtel-Dieu de Beaune, was a XVth century charitable almshouse . It received the first patient on 1 January 1452. Elderly, disabled and sick people, with orphans, women about to give birth and the destitute have all been uninterruptedly welcomed for treatment and refuge, from the Middle Ages until today.


Over the centuries, the hospital expanded, joining similar establishments in the surrounding villages of Pommard, Nolay, Meursault. Many donations - farms, property, woods, works of art and, of course vineyards - were made by grateful families and generous benefactors. The institution has thus become one of the best and oldest examples of an historical, philanthropic, and wine-producing heritage, and has become linked with the economic and cultural life of Burgundy. And in November of every year, there is an important wine auction.

So there we were in Tim and Francoise's home, mingling with the likes of Jeanne-Marie. We had the vintages above as Tim explained to us the characteristics of each...

Nice shirt!

...He also quoted some fancy-pants wine connoisseur friend of his, who made the prediction that we all would guess wrong on the "mystery bottle". (Tim had decanted one of the vintages and had us figure out which it was.)

With dramatic flare that would make Yale Drama proud, Tim showcases the mystery bottle with a spotlight.

As we drank and tried to figure it out, we also savored Madame Francoise's lovely fare, including this Basque cheese:

...Some lovely Gougeres (French cheese puffs, a typical appetizer)--I ate about 20 of these:

And in the kitchen, we found Francoise herself, grilling up the WONDERFUL sausages:

They included Venison, beef and pork with merlot wine and blueberries; Wild Boar with cranberries and Shiraz; and (the best IMHO--that's "in my humble opinion" for you fogies) Smoked Duck Sausage with Apple Jack Brandy. She had a stew of onions and pear (or was it apple?) to accompany the simple but wildly flavorful meat. So smartly done!

Then we had this loooovely pear tart with almond ice cream.

There were some Hospices de Beaune whites around as well (the frumpy younger sister, if you will). But to be honest, though they were good, they were anti-climactic compared to the reds.

So did anyone guess correctly, you ask. Well in fact G did! He was the only one!!! (I'm especially proud of him because there were a lot of people from Tim's wine club there.) The "connoisseur" friend predicted that most of us would think the Volnay in the decanter (the mystery wine) to be the much younger and greener-tasting Pommard (that's what I guessed--but what do I know).

It was a wooonderful evening. As always, they did it up nice, long on authenticity and short on pretense. We learned a good deal about this area of Burgundy and had a great time mingling with Tim and Francoise's neat array of friends!

Monday, April 27, 2009

A Foodie Fest Shower: Suprisingly Nice and Humbling

I should be ashamed of myself. I had low expectations for my bridal shower. As you may know, there was a little bit of tension in the planning of it. I had felt that my BMs weren't into it, and I was over it. So this weekend when I arrived at my mom's house with my friend Michelle (to whom I protested), I was VERY surprised and seriously humbled by the huge effort everyone made on my behalf.

My mother, BM Abby, and my sister pulled together a wonderful and thoughtful event that came together beautifully. My mom cooked up a storm of Vietnamese lunch goodies. Abby made the cutest guest gifts of spatulas and cookie cutters.

And my sister coordinated the whole thing--despite being a busy lawyer commuting between Tel Aviv and New York. I chalked her harried/hapazard planning to not caring. (But seriously, if I had her schedule, a bridal shower would be the last thing on my priority list, for sure. Very perspective-giving.)

Saturday was the warmest day in Washington so far this year; it finally felt like Spring. And it certainly looked it at my mom's house. Everything was blooming, including the tulips she potted for the occasion and the ton of bouquets displayed.

Though there was not a lot of planning (my sister arrived in town the night before on Friday), the details did not betray this. My sister got everything together last minute, and used the leftover ribbon from the ring pillow to tie together the utensils. The table looked beautiful with sparkly glasses, Champagne, china, cutesy napkins. And of course Abby's colorful bouquet of guest gift spatulas added to the fun.

I asked that Vietnamese food be served for the lunch part. Because none of the (pretty international contingent of) guests was Vietnamese, I thought it would be nice to have them taste a little bit of "the homeland"! So my mom obliged with green papaya and shrimp salad, tofu and noodles, spring rolls, and shrimp chips (no those aren't pork rinds!). The most popular item (that I forgot to picture) were the summer rolls--a salad of greens, herbs and shrimp rolled in thin rice paper.

It was such a good time opening up gifts and tasting the food! We didn't do any of the usual shower games, as we apparently didn't need them! The afternoon was chock full of lively conversation that ranged from the wedding, to our significant others, children, then inevitably to travel and ethnic culture. It's funny, food has a way of bringing people together (who doesn't love food?), making them distinct (plenty of culturally diverse food gifts), as well as highlighting commonalities (my mom's yucca cakes that she made for dessert was apparently also something that Brazilian lovely, Desi, makes as well).

Everyone was sooooo creative with the gifts they brought. Since G and I did not register for any gifts, my sister specified in the invitation that people come up with something interesting and food related for "the foodie".

Garlic and garlic baker; fun condiments including Filipino banana catsup, truffle oil, pear vinegar and more; neat spices including Britannian fleur de sel and herbs de provence rub, Bhutanese lemongrass tea; Spanish smoked paprika, Russian spices, herbs Pariesian; fancy shimmering and rose petal sugars; ethnic pantry items: french oyster hot toast spread and English curry beans; fantastic jams and sweetners: Malawian honey, Brittanian caramel; pineapple chutney, sour cherry jam; a sh*tload of salt: lavender, Himalayan, fleur de sel, English sea, and French grey.

There was definitely a salt theme! I love salt! I now have a serious array of the seasoning that spans from French grey, to fleur de sel, to English sea salt, to two varieties of Himalayan pink salt.
One was the large variety rocks that comes with its own grater! I love it!

There was a ton of interesting spices to represent some of the nationalities present.

One gift of spice was particularly neat and appropos! Abby gave this lovely box of various seasonings, along with this very special spice tin. Around the world throughout history, food and spices have been given as wedding charms. In a Chinese chard box (which, unbeknownst to Abby we collect!), there were various charms including Rosemary for rememberance (a la Shakespeare); nutmeg (the German and English give this) for a sound marriage; star anise (given in China to represent all centeredness (or something like that). There were some peppercorns in there too--I'm guessing to keep things hot!

My sister gave a wonderful box of cheese from Artisanal fromagery and bistro in Manhatten. She with the help of the chef hand picked the three different cheeses, along with tomato jam for the gift box. G and I looooove cheese, especially the stinky ones!!! And this box was ripe!!!

There were other thoughtful touches, including a large goody bag from the lovely English belle, Fay! She included things from her homeland like curry beans, a pineapple chutney (that she made), the garlic and garlic baker above (we love spreading roasted garlic on bread!) and something to prep us for our Italian honeymoon: A magazine of Italian gastronomic adventures--the Cucina Italiana!

We joked about all the ethnic stereotypes including being late. We were expecting one more: Miss Cecile, who is French. The French are always fabulously late!

And she blows in an hour and a half later with fabulous gifts, including caramel (which of course contains lovely salt) from her grandmother's hometown of Brittany, a vintage Champagne, and many other things from her travels, including Bhutanese lemon grass tea and an every day favorite of oyster toast spread!

Ever the jokester, my long lost (and recently reacquainted) friend, Eileen, who had been emailing me about her diet trials, gave this bottle of lemon detox (for all the bloat that is inevitable of a high salt diet and any potentially crazy bridal weight loss frenzy)!!!

And as if all the talk and giving of food wasn't enough, we had dessert of cupcakes, tropical fruit, yucca cakes, and Jasmine green tea. It was a little east meets west; the Vietnamese usually have fruit and tea after a meal, and what modern American bride is without cupcakes!!! My sister picked up these red velvet and cream cheese frosted lovelies from Suzannes, one of the new local cupcakeries in the area!!

And after everyone left, my mother, sister and I relaxed on the couch as they opened the hostess gifts I brought: wine glasses for my sister and pinking sheers for my mother (Abby got Chinese coasters that I sent in the mail).

Later that evening, G showed up to get the debrief, some leftovers, and help me pack the car with all the goodies!

It was a fabulous time with so much genuine love and kindness, that I have a renewed sense of gratefulness for my friends and family.
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