Nectar & Green at The Urban Grape South End!

May 26, 2015 by: The Urban Grape

We are very excited to announce that The Urban Grape South End is now a pick up location for Nectar & Green’s freshly made, delicious, and healthy almond milk! 

Run by Laurel McConville, a UG customer and fellow lover of the South End, Nectar & Green’s almond milks are made in small batches and contain only whole, organic ingredients. Unlike store-bought almond milks, these contain no fillers or preservatives (no joke, I just read an article that a container of commercial almond milk contains something like 5 almonds and the rest is filler….that’s a little scary). 

In addition to the natural ingredients, N&G’s almond milks come in great flavors like Sea Salt & Honey, Vanilla Bean, Green, and Lavender. 

So c’mon, place an order to pick up at UG on Tuesday between 2pm and close of business. It’s so good for you that you can totally justify picking up a bottle of wine, or two, as well! 

Congratulations to Nectar & Green on these exciting new products! 

 

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Wine: The Best Gardening Reward

by: The Urban Grape

Moving out of the South End to Jamaica Plain has meant that I’ve had to embrace my very shaky inner gardner. Despite killing every house plant I’ve ever owned, last year my mother and I planted a shade garden together which not only survived the summer, but also came back even better this year. This spring I knew that I wanted to install a perennial flower garden. I knew the “why” (pretty flowers!) but the “how, what, when and where” were still a little fuzzy. 

Luckily my mother arrived for our now annual planting session and together we tackled a large section of our yard that had a few existing peony plants and copious amounts of insidious onion grass. I spent one exhausting day weeding the onion grass out of the bed, a few mornings gathering plants, and then tackled the flower bed this weekend with a little help from the whole family. 

I should clarify that the helping included the cat getting high on cat nip and the boys spraying each other and me with water from the house relentlessly. 

In and amongst the peonies we planted baptisia, butterfly weed, some adorable little mini geraniums, phlox, cat nip, bee balm, yarrow, black-eyed susans, clustered bellflowers and geum. And in the process I shredded my fingernails, weeded poison ivy without any gardening gloves on, gave blisters to my blisters, and one night drank an entire bottle of wine to dull the throbbing in my back. But honestly, the experience was so satisfying and I’ve begun to wonder why gardening scared me so much to begin with. 

I fought moving out of the South End for as long as I could, but strangely am not sure I actually miss the city at all. If anything, I miss the renovated kitchen and bathrooms that we left far more than I miss the ability to walk to dinner. We’re just as active and social when we want to be, but we’ve found a lot of fulfillment in the work that comes from slowly restoring a home that needs a little TLC. 

Last night as the boys were playing football with TJ after dinner, my glass of wine and I walked around and clipped some flowers from to make a bouquet for our table. For a former plant-phobic human being who swore she’d never move out of the city, it was a serene and joyous moment. 

My bouquet: 

What was in my glass (an fantastic bottle of wine, perfect with our steak salad, and coming to our shelves this week!):

Do you have a perennial flower garden? I still have a little more room in mine to plant, please share your favorite plants with me! 

 

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Taco Sunday for Mother’s Day!

May 11, 2015 by: The Urban Grape

I have been a horrifically neglectful blogger. Quite honestly, we’ve been so busy the past few months that I have barely been in the kitchen, much less had time to pop a bottle of wine at night. Blog inspiration has been a little lacking! 

But last night we fixed that with a Mother’s Day feast that got me all fired up for summer. 

 

After getting home from a long bike ride with the kids around Houghton Pond (in which TJ apparently confused our family for a troupe of professional mountain bikers and took us up and down sheer rock face), I was ready for a shower with my favorite sidekick – a cold G&T. We haven’t yet stocked our bar with fun new gins for the spring and summer, but Hendricks – our fall back “house” gin –  never disappoints. 

TJ loves to grill and declares himself the master of the kitchen as soon as the propane gets delivered. I’m all for it – even if he’s essentially helpless in meal planning, prep and side dishes (but makes up for it in wine pairing and dish washing!!). But every little bit helps, and last night I was mighty glad he was around to stuff our whole red snappers with lime and cilantro. I can never bring myself to get too up close and personal with the inside of a fish. 

After he stuffed the fish, TJ grilled them and then pulled the fish off the bone. I poured a cilantro and basil herb oil over the fish pieces for a little extra flavor. We served them with homemade pico, a lime/cumin yogurt, cabbage, avocado and hot sauce.

This was my first homemade pico of the spring, and as much as I try and tell myself that it doesn’t matter if I take the time to make it myself, it really does. Plus it’s so easy – small dice of tomatoes, red or white onion, jalapeño, cilantro, lime juice, olive oil and salt – that it only takes a minute to make. 

We paired this with the Aix rosé but honestly, these would have been perfect with your favorite summer beer, or a bright, fragrant white as well. Maybe even better! 

Don’t forget that TJ and I are on Nantucket for the wine festival this weekend. TJ will be working lots of events including the Gala, the Opus One wine dinner and La Fete, and I’ll be hosting a reception at Follain Nantucket along with Farm & Fable on Friday from 3-5. If you’re on island too, please track us down! 

 

 

 

 

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The 2014 Rosés: All Shook Up?

April 14, 2015 by: The Urban Grape

We’re only two weeks into the rosé season at UG, but it’s been busy start – thanks in no small part to our long, dull, cold winter. Everyone is happy to see a pastel pink wine in their glass! 

TJ and I have been surprised by every bottle we’ve opened at home so far. They all seem to be very bright with a lot of lemony acid on the palate. We’ve had wines from four different countries now (France, Austria, Germany and Spain) and this trend has been pretty apparent throughout. It’s important to note, this brightness of acidity is not a bad thing AT ALL – in fact it makes the wines even more refreshing on a warm day (just think of a tall glass of lemonade). It’s just that the acidity is more aggressive than we’ve seen it in past years. This begs the question – is the 2014 vintage truly more “high-toned” or are we dealing with some bottle shock due to the distributors and the retailers rushing to get this year’s rosé on the shelves? 

Okay, what the hell am I talking about when I say bottle shock? Bottle shock is a state that wines go through after bottling and shipping. TJ and I usually say the wines feel a little edgy – I mean think about how you would feel if you got blasted into a bottle and then shipped across the Atlantic (for a visual, think of Tyrion after he got out of his shipping crate on Game of Thrones). Other people say the wine feels disjointed, or like the elements haven’t melded back together after being riled up. We’ve always thought that rosé is particularly prone to bottle shock because it’s bottled and shipped and sold so quickly. Those three stages of wine are usually more spread out. Again, it’s really not a bad thing, it’s more like you’re walking into a rave instead of someone’s mellow backyard BBQ. Everything is AMPED. This, to us, could explain why the acid in the rosés seems to be front and center instead of integrated. 

We could also be seeing the effect of a difficult growing season in Europe (we haven’t yet opened up any New World rosés at home so far this year). Things were challenging, even in reliably warm climates in Portugal and Spain. The weather was cold at bud break, and then wet and fraught with things like hail during the growing season. Grapes need sunlight to ripen and produce sugars. Without enough warmth and sunlight, the grapes can be a little under ripe at harvest, and that leads to more acidity in the final product. We should see the opposite problem with the rosés from California where the sun, heat and drought add up to sweeter grapes. The good news is, winemakers know how to minimize both issues during winemaking. 

The third reason? After a particularly long, cold winter here in New England, our taste buds might be unaccustomed to bright wines. The shock could literally just be on our tongues. As the weather warms and our meals naturally change, these bright rosés will be just what we’re craving. 

Only time will tell what the real answer is. If in a few weeks the wines seem more integrated than we will know it was bottle shock. If the wines from Europe stay high-toned then we’ll know it was the vintage itself. No matter what the answer, this year’s vintage is going to taste great with food, especially those with a little more fat content that can mellow the intensity. Regardless, we all have many months of backyard drinking ahead of us – you just may have to search around for the region that best suits your palate. 

What have your initial thoughts about this year’s rosé vintage been? 

 

 

 

 

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Love and Marriage…and Business

March 10, 2015 by: The Urban Grape

The number two question I get asked about The Urban Grape is – how do you and TJ work together without killing each other (the number one question is how did we meet)? I don’t mind this question at all, but I do keep a special place in my heart for those that follow-up with – “Do you know how the founders of Pinkberry [or insert any other number of businesses] were happily married and then had a nasty divorce after they went into business together?” 

I thought about this question last night as TJ and I watched The House of Cards. We’ve never had an Airforce One blow out along the lines of Francis and Claire, but I’d be lying if I said that TJ and I haven’t had our share of fights along this journey. And with no visiting monks in our grand foyer to help us reconnect, how do we keep moving forward instead of letting the pressure of running a business together drive us apart? The answer is simple: I have no freaking idea, but I think it comes down to two simple rules.  

Rule number one: we have almost complete separation of church and state at The Urban Grape. TJ is the wine buyer and the head sales person. All things related to wine start and stop with him. He also deals with the money, because he’s seen me try to do simple math and it’s not pretty, and the store operations. I manage the managers, and market the stores. As we like to say, I sell the stores, he sells what’s in them. I don’t work the sales floor because I also manage our kids and home, and my main priority in life is to be the one who picks them up from school at 3 and puts them to bed at night. It doesn’t always work, but I try. Together, we do business development. That is the only place where we really overlap, and while I probably take the lead there it’s is more often split along the lines of who has time to tackle things as they come up. I can make a wine suggestion, he can make a marketing suggestion, but in the end, we trust the other person to make the final decision. In terms of business, this is they key for us.

Rule number two: Know when you’re a business partner, know when you’re a spouse. We used to really suck at this. But now we make time for each other outside of work, and I think this is the key for why we can be around each other all the time and not want to murder each other. Champagne is often involved – last Friday it was a nice bottle of Bollinger. It doesn’t have to be as fancy, but dammit, a little sparkle helps a lot with that spark! 

For Christmas this past year I gave TJ 12 months of date nights to places we’ve been meaning to try but haven’t ever been to. It is a great feeling to shake off UG for a while and just hang out. I also wear lipstick, and get out of my jeans – two things which are probably greatly appreciated by TJ. This past Saturday we did a day date and poked around Beacon Hill. It was almost pathetic how excited I was to sit at Tatte on Charles Street and watch unencumbered people go about their lives – and to be one of them!! I drank a latte in a real cup, everybody. I can’t even tell you the last time that happened, and how much I appreciated being a wife and not a business partner in that moment. 

Is it true that nothing is forever, except for Francis and Claire? I don’t know. I think they’d have a better shot if they drank some more Champagne together. And they really aren’t doing so well on that separation of church and state thing, either (hello nepotism?!). But Francis and Claire are curious folk, and we’re just normal every day people, doing the best we can to grow a business, a family, and a marriage. So far so good. 

 

 

 

 

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Best.Dinner.Ever.

March 5, 2015 by: The Urban Grape

True cooking inspiration hit last night. And thank God, because I was sure that I had lost all ability to cook this winter. 

It started with the October 2014 issue of Food & Wine which I had not read until last week when I sat down to do my periodical cooking mag purge. Flip, rip, dump. Repeat. In the end I only had a few recipes that sounded good, and only two that I really, really wanted to try. This is how low the cooking tank has run this winter.

First up, Butter-Roasted Chicken with Soy-Garlic Glaze, aka a riff on Peking chicken. I’m linking to the recipe, but I kind of winged it to tell the truth. I only had half of the needed soy sauce, so I used a Sweet and Spicy Chili Sauce for the rest. Because it was sweet, I omitted the sugar. I added more ginger and garlic than it called for. I also used avocado oil on the chicken instead of canola oil. Play around with this recipe. You kind of can’t mess it up, and the true key is the butter under the skin anyway. 

You’re supposed to make little pancakes from scratch to go along with this meal, but HELLO, that is not going to happen. I’m a working mother on a timeline, people. I cannot make from scratch pancakes on a Wednesday and survive to tell about it on a Thursday. The recipe called for garnishes of cucumber and scallion, so I made a cucumber salad with greek yogurt, lemon, dill, garlic and scallions instead. Bam – done, and healthier to boot. 

This chicken was incredible. This chicken was the best roast chicken I have ever had. This chicken was devoured down to the bone by my entire family, including my parents who were visiting. I made two chickens, envisioning the easy dinner I would be able to make tonight from the leftovers. There is not one scrap of chicken left in my house. Even the cat had some. 

To top it all off I sliced some Sumo oranges (I have a Sumo love affair going on and I’m not ashamed to admit it. They are almost out of season, so if you haven’t had one yet RUN to the grocery store and get one), and served them with honey and shredded coconut. To my utter delight, Noah devoured his serving of oranges and even declared them “Yum – so good!” Jason said they made his lip hurt and when his lip hurts he has to have an apple, so I’ll take my 50% victory and call it a day. 

Serve this with a creamy Chardonnay. We drank the Liquid Farm “White Hill” Chard from Santa Rita, which we sell for $49. The Byron we had on sale last week would work too if you want a cheaper option. The true pairing will be rosé, so I’m making this again as soon as those 2014s start rolling in. You want a wine with cream and acid. As long as you’ve got that, you’re set for a pairing. 

Make this tonight, you will love every bite I promise. 

 

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An Unexpected Pairing

February 23, 2015 by: The Urban Grape

As we got ready to watch the Oscars last night, I asked TJ to pop a bottle of bubbly for me, and hinted pretty hard that I thought the Billecart-Salmon Sous Bois would be a good choice. Yes, this is a moderately expensive bottle of Champagne ($100), but it’s been sitting in our fridge calling to me. A relaxing Sunday evening of watching the Oscars seemed like as good a cause as any to celebrate. Before he got into the wine with me, TJ shook up a Negroni, a cocktail he’s been working on perfecting for a couple weeks now. 

We had nothing in the fridge, so I ended up making an orange sesame chicken and broccoli (soy sauce, OJ, sesame oil, honey, ginger, garlic, a little corn starch) over white rice that I cooked in chicken broth and olive oil. I wasn’t looking for a perfect pairing, just trying to get something on the table that everyone would eat.

Well, lo and behold, it was an actual perfect pairing. Champagne and chinese food always go well together, but this particular pairing was so spot on that an actual wine pairing moment was had (a wine pairing moment in our house involves TJ exclaiming wildly). The ginger in the sauce brought out all sorts of new notes in the Champagne, really bringing its acid and vibrance to the forefront (the wine for the Sous Bois is aged before second fermentation, so it’s not as fresh and yeasty as some other Champagnes). The creamy, buttery white rice paired nicely with the richness of the wine, giving it an incredible mouth feel in the mid and end palates. The result was a lively yet round and creamy Champagne experience. Please excuse my terrible photo of the moment, the kids were yelling at me to put down my phone. 

Next time you’re whipping up a stir-fry or getting Chinese take-out, pop a bottle of bubbly for a great pairing. It doesn’t have to be the Sous Bois, any sparkling wine will add a little festivity to the moment. 

As for the Oscars, I’m going with ScarJo for best dressed, Jon Legend and Common for best moment (although when Julie Andrews came out….chills), and John Travolta for Hollywood icon most in need of shock therapy. 

 

 

 

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Winter Cooking Slump: Solved!

February 19, 2015 by: The Urban Grape

I am so crazy sick of thinking of what to feed people, I can’t even stand it. We’re basically down to a rotation of beef stew, spaghetti, and chicken cutlets. This has to be the biggest cooking inspiration drought in my career as a homestead chef. All I can think about is that real chef up in Maine who is only cooking with hyper-locale ingredients. I wonder what in the world he’s serving, and if he is so sick of turnips right now. 

With no end in sight to the need for warming comfort food, I turned to my slow cooker with the thought of cooking once and then eating the result throughout the week. So starting with a basic pork shoulder recipe from Against All Grain, I slow cooked and then shredded five pounds of pork. This recipe is super simple – you sear the pork shoulder on all sides, and then in the same pan add onion, garlic, fennel seed and pancetta. Deglaze the pan with some red wine and voila, into the slow cooker it goes for 8 hours. 

Last night, I used some of the cooking liquid from the slow cooker and about three cups of shredded pork to make a really simple but incredibly satisfying pork ragu. The recipe I used is also from Against All Grain. Because I’m desperately trying to lose the weight I’ve put on this winter while sitting on my couch in front of the fire drinking whiskey old fashioneds and eating chocolate cake, I served it over zucchini and yellow squash noodles. The noodles are so filling and comforting and a huge bowl is only something like 90 calories. TJ drank this with the Trillium Rubble while I had water and wept inside. (Also,maybe it is just me, but recently I have found that the gluten free replacements make me feel just as crappy as the glutenized products do. So if I’m going to have pasta, I’m going to just go for the real thing – hence my love affair with a box of Nella pasta this weekend, in front of fire, with a whiskey old fashioned. Cue the need for zucchini noodles.)

Tonight we’ll be rolling in the door just before dinner, so I’ll use some of the pork to make pork and goat cheese quesadillas for the kids and TJ, while I throw some of the pork on a salad for me. Tomorrow night, thank God we’re going out and dammit I’m wearing real shoes no matter what! The last of the pork will top a red lentil soup I’m making on Saturday. If there is any left on Sunday, we’ll top it with poached eggs for a filling breakfast. Cooking crisis solved! If you have any great ideas for family-friendly meals that will break this slump, please send them my way! I love to hear about what other people are cooking. 

Don’t forget that our #BostonWarms donation drive starts today and runs through Sunday. Donations have been coming in like crazy – even from my mom in Mexico and my sister-in-law in Texas! Click here for more details.

 

 

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How to Support #BostonWarm

February 18, 2015 by: The Urban Grape

I have been cold all winter. Cold toes, cold nose, cold ears, cold everything. Unless you have a thermonuclear core, I would guess you’ve been feeling the same way too. The one thing that gets me through the day is knowing that I can crawl into my cozy flannel sheets at night, with a cup of hot (sometimes boozy) tea, a giant hulk of a husband who throws off a lot of heat, and a fur-lined cat who has taken up the role of my personal muffler this winter (I’m not kidding, we’ve been sharing a pillow all winter and sometimes I steal his tail for my neck).

But a report on WBUR yesterday really made me think about how lucky I am to feel the cold through my Canada Goose puffer coat, my giant ski gloves, and my array of jaunty yet warm hats. [photo below from WBUR - hope they don't mind that I used it]

When the Long Island shelter closed this past October, it increased our city’s displaced homeless population by 30% (yes, apparently the homeless can go from merely homeless to displaced homeless). It also closed the majority of beds used for those seeking rehabilitation from substance abuse. Add in our record snow and the bitter cold, and you have what was described as the “perfect storm” of agony for Bostonians living on the street. Temporary warming shelters have opened in the city, but these are not really shelters, more a place to find a bit of warmth, have a bowl of soup, and be triaged by a doctor before heading back out. They are noisy, dangerous, filled with everyone from drug addicts to pregnant women, and the last resort for desperate workers trying to save desperate people. 

I posted about this on my personal Facebook page yesterday, and was pointed toward #BostonWarm, a movement by the fantastic homeless outreach programs at Old South and Emmanuel churches. I spent an eye-opening day at this day program many years ago, handing out sandwiches, talking to people, and working on art projects. It was humbling, to say the least. #BostonWarm has a wish list on Amazon, and the items will make you cry in their simplicity – things like backpacks, gloves, hats, emergency mylar blankets, and hand warmers. The most basic of basic needs that people need to survive this brutal winter. Not to get warm, not to feel cozy, not to feel safe, but just to survive. 

I don’t know about you, but ordering from Amazon for me takes about two seconds. My credit card is in there, my favorite addresses are stored, and somewhere along the line I think I even signed up for free shipping. I can spend $100 on Amazon in about two minutes. Yesterday instead of buying sticker books for the kids or bulk flour, I bought hats, gloves and hand warmers. 

You guys gave us an amazing sales week last week when we desperately needed it. Sending those hats and gloves yesterday felt like the least I could do to say thank you and to pass it forward. We Bostonians may bitch and moan and gripe and bellyache, but we also take care of each other. When you’re pulling on your gloves today, I’d love if you’d consider sending some to #BostonWarm too. 

Coming tomorrow – slow cooker pork ragu, movie and wine pairings, and more. 

**UPDATE: From Thursday to Sunday of this week, we will be collecting donation items for #BostonWarm at both of our stores. If you bring a donation in during this time, you will receive 10% off beer and spirits purchases (no minimum or maximum) and bottles of wine, or 20% off cases of wine (12 bottles of wine). Applies to in-stock items only. 

Donations include: 
- Non-perishable food. Canned items must be in pop-top lids.
- Warm hats, scarves, mittens, gloves and socks. No other clothing items please (they cannot store them on the other side)
- $43 checks made out to City Mission Society with Boston Warm in the memo line. This is to rent storage lockers where the homeless can store their items.

We will deliver all donations to Old South Church next Monday!

 

 

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Spotlight Wine: 2012 Cristom “Jessie Vineyard” Pinot Noir

February 17, 2015 by: The Urban Grape

 

This time of year can be summed up with one word – fatigue. As in, I have clothing fatigue (which wool sweater should I wear today?!), shoe fatigue (hmmm….tall Sorrel boots or short Sorrel boots?), food fatigue (our dinner choices this evening are beef stew, or beef stew), and most of all palate fatigue (oh look, another 10R Cabernet Sauvignon, how original). We’re all looking for something – anything – that can liven up our days. So glad you asked, today’s Pinot Noir is just the thing. 
 
This Willamette Valley wine has me singing “She’s My Cherry Pie” on repeat. It smells like cherries. It tastes like cherries. But it’s got vivacious spiciness that rounds out the fruit, making it interesting, not insipid. Most importantly, it’s got acid. Do you notice what is missing from our months of beef stew? Acid. The bright dance of acid across your tongue will make you feel like you’re drinking cherry lemonade on the front porch in the warm sun of spring. 
 
Make yourself a hearty salad with a nice bright vinaigrette and pour this wine along side it. For a moment, a brief but wonderful moment, you’ll be transported away from this frozen tundra to a world where taste buds matter. Enjoy. 
 
 
Regular Price: $70/bottle
 
15% per Bottle Discount: $59.50/bottle
 
25% four-bottle Discount: $210 ($70 savings at $52.50 a bottle) 
*That’s like buy 3, Get 1 Free! 

 

 

 

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