Monday, June 30, 2014

Wine and Climb

June brought a wide array of adventures in and around the Finger Lakes, two of my favorite involving wine and the outdoors. I went to a Gewurztraminer (say that fast three times) wine tasting at Keuka Spring Vineyards on Keuka Lake, just outside Penn Yan, with my parents earlier in the month. I was thrilled that they were hosting an event like this because Gewurztraminer became my favorite wine when I first tried with Alsatian grape at a wine and food exhibition in Rouen--it's smooth, earthy, a bit sweet. It was a gorgeous day and we sat under a white tent with sommeliers who enthusiastically described the origins of the grape, the wine-making process, and guided us through five varieties of pressings. Years ago we visited Keuka Springs in late November for a holiday-themed tour (I of course drinking grape juice), so it was great to return and experience the vineyard in the summer. It's in a stunning location with Keuka College across the lake in clear view, and a very friendly staff. I hope we can go back for their other wine and tasting events later in the season.

 Taking notes on the technique and grape sourcing while indulging on their crudités, brie and crackers, java-rubbed pork loin, and chutneys all regionally-sourced.

This past Friday, I went on a mini-hike with Kristen and Deonza at Grimes Glen. I've been there a few times because it's so close, just off Main Street in Naples. Despite it's close proximity to the village and even residences just beyond the park driveway, it's a wonderful shaded area with smooth shale creek beds, clear water (that wasn't too cold), and a few waterfalls. The park management even encourages exploration; there's permanent ropes tied to tries along the waterfalls so they can be scaled. I scrambled up both of them, feeling more confident than the first time I visited a few years ago because of muscle memory from the climbing wall. I always forget how magical, albeit crowded, the glen is, and I hope we go back again soon and trek in further.

 The second waterfall. 

The view from the top of the second waterfall, which has three drops. 

Climbing up was never the problem, it was always how to go down! The hills were muddy from past nights' rain and other visitors, making it hard to gain traction.

 Climbing up the first waterfall!

I feel like the majority of my posts during the summer unabashedly promote how awesome the Finger Lakes are, but hey, I'm proud of where I live. Come visit me!

 Listening: "Tous les Memes" by Stromae (a Felmish-Rawandan dreamboat from Belgium)

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Gibbs Street Groove

The annual Rochester Xerox International Jazz Festival just came to a close. I live a solid hour from downtown, but I managed to make it there Thursday. I went with my close friend from school, Jenny, whom I haven't seen since graduation. Her family has generously welcomed me to their house these last few years, so it's always nice to catch up with all of them. 

The Jazz Festival runs the entire week at venues throughout the city, many centered in the East End near the Eastman School of Music. Janelle Monae was the premier kick-off concert, and Earth, Wind, and Fire were the closing; Steve Martin always makes it back with his banjo, and there were dozens of performances with groups from around the country. My pathetically small budget couldn't afford the club passes, so we headed for the open-air community stage wedged on Gibbs Street. In between the food tents and trucks, lawn seats, cafe tables, and other attendees, we squeezed into the front row to dance!

We grooved to the funk jazz tunes of Soul Stew through the golden hour and into the night. 

 Jenny and I

 Between sets we took a break in a cafe, and I ran into my old friend from work, Katherine! It was a thrilling shock because I haven't seen her in two years, especially since her family moved nearer to Rochester. She was the first person I went to the Jazz Fest with a few years ago. Catching up over cheesecake and ice water (it was a steamy night) was wonderful, and seems things are falling into place really well for her. 

I always enjoy visits to Rochester for cultural events like this. Temporary funderemployment aside, I hope to own a vehicle and have more mobility to take advantage of these festivals. At the end of the night, though, I like returning to the dark, star-filled solace of the countryside.

Listening: "Don't Count Me Out" by TeamMate

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Hong Kong and Happy Hours

One year ago, I was navigating the hectic, sensory-charged streets of Hong Kong. I was craning my neck beneath one of the densest urban spaces in the world, slurping hot noodles, haggling for jewelry in between fish and produce stalls an an outdoor market, squeezing in between natives and tourists and unforgiving drivers, figuring out how to renew my visa and return to China, all while trying not to sweat through my clothes (that was hopeless). Organizing the trip was a choice driven by desperation, and I owe a lot to Peter who literally wrote stop-by-stop metro directions for when I landed in Shenzhen and walked across the border into Hong Kong. I was largely alone, and it was an exhiliarating two days. I still remember and cherish my awe. Even more amazing is considering how much life has changed in this year.

Back to the year 2014:
Strawberry you-pick fields extend forever in the Finger Lakes. We went to a farm between Penn Yan and Geneva that allows you to harvest quarts for only $2 each. I was astonished at how bountiful the fields were, and the seductive red and juicy roundness of every berry. Families of all ages were voluntarily crouching beneath the expansive, sunny skies, diligently plucking at stems with stained fingers. We picked so many strawberries that some are frozen, jam, a crumble, muffins, eaten with ice cream and oatmeal, and my favorite way--enjoyed raw. I'd love to go back there in a few weeks for raspberries, then later in the season for tomatoes.

Eating these is a sound reminder of why we should reject grocery market berries from California and elsewhere: there is a reason that Earth has seasons, and these treasures are only supposed to be enjoyed during their small window. What we find in stores is likely genetically-modified (you notice how giant they are?), picked early and obviously out of season, then shipped thousands of miles and wasting significant water and fuel resources. The product is a lackluster frakenberry, lacking juice and semblance of their pure state. Summer in the northeast is an agricultural dream, so I say get out there and become part of it at local pick-your-own fields, and try to purchase most of your produce from area farmers. One of these days I'll come up with a more articulate argument against industrial agriculture, but for now my point rests at I like strawberries as much as you do, but once summer is over, it's not worth it.

Another Sunday evening at the Sandbar on Canandaigua Lake, luckily with a lot fewer patrons and our parents in tow! Alcohol isn't everything, but you can't beat kicking back in the Finger Lakes during the summer with your friends and cheap cocktails. We went across the street for dinner at a sports bar after. Kristen, Caitlan, and I had a perturbing, though amusing, encounter with a man that couldn't have been too older than us, trying to pick us up. I was at a loss for words, though Caitlan managed to say, "Can you leave? We're with our families" after giving him the benefit of the doubt (and him tremendously flopping). HA, bar dynamics.

Listening: "Hyperparadise (Remix)" by Flume

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Summer Solstice

With the longest day of 2014 now past us, I welcome summer with open arms and a radiant smile. Humans measure time as a way to quantify passages and changes that are beyond us, and yesterday was just one of those annual milestones that means everything and nothing at the same time. I love scrolling through my weather app at all the places I've lived and traveled to see what time the sun would rise; 5:31 AM in Honeoye, 6:40 in Dakar (Senegal), 5:10 in Canton, and so on. I'd like to think I made the most of my first day of summer. 

The evening before I played pick-up ultimate fribee with a new group just twenty minutes from home. It's a rag-tag group of people who went to high school together, but a few of them play with the Rochester summer league and they were generous enough to let me join. I had a fantastic time because everyone was friendly, hilarious, and skilled enough to be competitive but not egotistical. I also had a lot of disc-handling time which was nice because I need the practice. I also ran into my brother, sister-in-law, and nephew who was playing in a soccer match in the field next to us! Needless to say, the 585 doesn't seem that big once you've settled into a routine. 
Photo credit of this creek that runs along the park goes to my dad.

Saturday we took off to western, southerntier New York where my dad's aunt and uncle live. I've visited many times, though I finally received a full tour of their house that they've lived in since 1960(!) because they wanted to show us the remodeled bathrooms. They're such good-humored, lovely people. Here we have my dad and Uncle Dewane going through bamboo Filipino spears that were gifted to Dewane's father when he was a medic in the Philippines during WWII. The craftsmanship was incredible, I've never seen anything like it. There had to be at least 15 spears, and each one had a specific purpose, which we could only guess.

"I never took them out from the garage rafters because I thought my kids would use them against me!" mused Dewane.

They also have giant, kind cats and ornate gardens that attract golden orange orioles, red-winged black birds, wood peckers and more.

It was a beautiful day. As the sun set at nearly 9 PM, I sat back in the hot tub with a tumbler of Bird Dog blackberry whiskey (my god, did I go to lengths to get my hands on this stuff) and thought to myself: life is good.

Listening: "Tame One" by Your Friend on the Utne Reader music blog.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Summer Occupations

Busy weeks are better weeks.
I have a weekly routine to dine and wine with my two best friends here at home. Two weeks ago, we made stir-fry; last week was zucchini and potato pancakes (below); yesterday was chili. Kristen and Caitlan work full-time, so I'm always thankful to catch up with them and kick back. And laugh our asses off or commiserate about all the bizarre things going on in town.

Then, on Friday I rode with Eric, a classmate, Ruckus Bus teammate, and good friend from the Finger Lakes, six hours east on I-90 and the on Massachusetts Pike to the suburbs of Boston. We crashed at another teammate's house then reunited with the rest of the Ruckus Bus on Saturday morning for a tournament in Keene, New Hampshire. I actually didn't take many photos of the day because my phone battery was zapped from all the Google Mapping, but it was a glorious weekend for ultimate frisbee!

We actually had enough St. Lawrence-affiliated people to field two teams: Varsity and JV Quarters (yes, in reference to the drinking game--!). The tournament is hosted by the Keene State alumni though there were many high school teams. They were pretty ridiculous to play; they have athleticism, but their knowledge of the game, immaturity, and 17-year old egos were something to combat. The sun was relentless and us four ladies basically marked boys for the day, though our loss in the quarterfinals was by a close margin. Man, I've missed hustling around yelling, "Here we gooo, BUS!" That was the most frisbee (and movement) I've played in over a month, so needless to say, my body did not react kindly.

After our other team, JV Quarters, won the tournament and the $300 pot, we split into groups going separate ways. That was hard. Initially it just felt like the end of a tournament, and then we'd all head back to school, loaf and campus, and return to class Monday sore but pleased... so yeah, that's sad this isn't the case anymore. It'll become easier with time.

As for me, I headed to Zach's family house on Mononomac Lake near the NH/MA border. The lake is small, but the properties around it are breathtaking. His family graciously offered hot showers and waited to eat dinner, which was steak with chive-horseradish butter, asparagus, pasta salad, and beer and wine. They also let me sleep on the second-floor master bedroom with the balcony, which meant a rousing 5 AM wake-up for the sunrise and subsequent risings every hour after that, but I am not complaining!

The lake house was a perfect way to unwind after playing. It was another dreamy weekend. I know I'm always pronouncing my love for the Ruckus Bus, but I've played with a few different groups now, and there's nothing like them (us). I loved how Zach explained it to his aunt, when she inquired why and how we all knew each other: "It's because St. Lawrence is in the middle of nowhere, so we all become weirdly obsessed with each other." It's true; we'll go hours out of the way, dish hundreds of dollars, and wreck our bodies for the sake of the sport and camaraderie.


Since I was away Saturday night, I missed dinner with my siblings. Luckily I was back for actual Father's Day and my mom saved a few lobsters and grilled shrimp. Hats off to this old (ha!) man who I couldn't love more. Despite my stubbornness (which I learned from him, no?), he has always tried to provide me the best opportunities and advice. I hope everyone had time to appreciate the father figures in their lives!

Listening: "The D Bag Rag" by the Avett Brothers off of A Carolina Jubilee (2003)