Monday, November 28, 2016

Carolina Thanksgiving

I'm heading home to snowy Salt Lake City this morning after spending a wonderful Thanksgiving weekend with my sister, Martha, and her family in Durham, North Carolina. My kids always spend the holiday with their mother, and Mark and I had spent the last three Thanksgivings with his family in Colorado (2013), with my daughter in Vancouver (2014) and, last year, with the Koepke family in Portland. This year, the first after Mark's passing, I was grateful to be able to celebrate the holiday with Martha and her husband, Koen.

Lake down the road from Martha's house. The "Carolina blue" sky has been brilliantly beautiful.

It was a simple, low-key time. Sitting outside and talking. Going for walks. Playing with the dogs. Sitting inside and talking. Shopping for wine. Watching episodes of "Will and Grace" in the evening after dinner. Lots of laughter. Martha missed out on that show because she was living in Europe during the early years and busy earning her bachelor's and master's in French during its latter years. For my part, I was deeply ensconced in Mormonism and in the closet, and that show was far too "gay" and risqué for me to watch then. So we both enjoyed catching up and laughing a lot.

Samba - Martha's adorable English Springer Spaniel

Our meals were also low-key but fun and have featured some of the wines I've learned about these past few months in my northern Italian wine class (a subject for a future post).

Aperitivo wine on Thanksgiving Day

Thanksgiving Dinner (most of it) with a bottle of Amarone. Delicious.

Martha lived in Geneva, Switzerland for 10+ years and on Friday night made Swiss Raclette (melted cheese over boiled potatoes and cured meats, featuring San Daniele prosciutto [which I recently learned about in my Italian wine class]). My research had said the best wine pairing would be a bottle of Swiss white - which we were able to find at a local wine store - but none of us were thrilled with the choice. So we opened a bottle of Valpolicella Ripasso halfway through dinner and loved it.

On Saturday afternoon, Koen's children, Isa and Robert, arrived for a visit. Martha made risotto that evening, and we enjoyed a fun dinner capped by a dessert of Amaretti di Saronno cookies, almond flavored macaroons traditional to the town of Saronno in Lombardy, Italy. Upon doing a bit of research, I learned that this town is also the home of Amaretto, the almond and apricot liqueur that I used to enjoy in my college days (pre-Mormon) but haven't drank since coming out - a situation I intend to remedy over the holidays.

Isa and her friends

Robert, Koen and Isa

Risotto with Pomegranate seeds

I had never had these Amaretti before, nor had I witnessed the tradition of rolling up the papers in which the cookies are wrapped, lighting them on fire and then, hopefully, watch the last bit of ash take flight seemingly of its own accord. These efforts were largely unsuccessful on Saturday night except for Robert's, whose wrapper ascended a foot or so into the air before giving up the ghost and collapsing back to the table.

Koen pouring the wine

For wine, we had a Gewurtztraminer before dinner - a wine I had picked up that day that was made in  Alto Adige, Italy's northernmost region known locally as Sudtirol. This is a much drier version of the wine that is made in Alsace, which I haven't in the past particularly enjoyed.

The village of Tramin in Sudtirol where the Gewurtraminer was produced.

For dinner, Martha chose a French red, Vacqueyras, that is from an area through which Mark and I passed on a cycling tour in the fall of 2014. We were staying in Vaison-La-Romaine (in the Vaucluse, just north of Provence) and made a loop ride one day through the wine country surrounding the Dentelles de Montmirail.

The location of Vacqueyras near Vaison-la-Romaine

Mark in a village near Vacqueyras

A beautiful Carolina-blue sky on Sunday morning

Some souvenirs I'm bringing home.
The selection of Italian wine at Utah's state stores isn't what it is ... elsewhere.

Along with the good times, I had time to reflect on my life and where I'm at and what it all means - my life following Mark's death. I've come a long way since last spring. It's nice to have touchstones to make sense of it all. This past weekend provided some of those.

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