Jackson Hole’s Secret Jazz Club

When you first think music and Jackson Hole, country at the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar is undoubtedly at the top of the list.  Tourists gingerly balance on the saddles at the bar, sipping Wyoming Whiskey, while seasoned local dance pros two-step, country swing and waltz visitors across the dance floor.  Around the corner at The Wort Hotel, country is also found, but mixed with bluegrass, reggae, folk and rockabilly depending on the night.

But for those looking for that non-traditional piano bar, where you can enjoy a nice glass of wine and carry on a conversation without yelling over the music – where to go?

For many years, one of my favorite fine dining restaurants in Jackson has been The Granary at Spring Creek Ranch, just outside of Jackson and peering down over Spring Gulch. Whether enjoying a glass of wine on the deck during the summer, cozying up to the fireplace bar or restaurant during the winter, The Granary provides spectacular views of the Teton Range and the Spring Gulch ranches.

The Granary is also home to what I call Jackson’s Secret Jazz Club.  Jackson is blessed with two incredibly talented Jazz musicians – husband and wife, Keith and Pam Phillips.   Almost every young local pianist has taken lessons from this duo, creating a bevy of kids who “get” jazz and classical music at a young age.

Typically, Friday and Saturday evenings you will find Pam twinkling the ivories at The Granary’s bar.  Cole Porter, Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, or Diana Krall, you name it, she plays it, with flourishes that will keep your toes tapping.  On Friday evenings, Pam is joined by a variety of musicians, further bringing the jazz club to life.  One of Pam’s regulars is bassist Bill Plummer who lovingly embraces his bass like a very special woman, making it sing.  Plummer has played with The Grateful Dead, Quincy Jones and Tony Bennett, just to name a few.

Before moving to Jackson, Pam conducted for Evita and Crazy For You on Broadway, in addition to playing with the Glenn Miller Orchestra and the Manhattan Rhythm Kings.  You can find her music on iTunes and in many of the local stores.  One of my all-time favorites is “Woolly Bugger Rag” (it’s a fly fishing thing….)  Make a request and you won’t be disappointed.

So next time you are in Jackson, and if you love piano and jazz, make a point to spend an evening at The Granary, experiencing Jackson’s Secret Jazz Club.  Order a bottle of Hahn Pinot Noir, very affordable and perfect to enjoy with the Smoked Trout Dip, creamy flaky smoked trout mousseline with Parmesan Reggiano cheese, served with crostini.  You also must try the Game Sausage Plate, exploding with flavors that will excite your taste buds.  If you are having dinner, the elk tenderloin is not to be missed.

If you miss Pam at The Granary, she also is the music director at St. John’s Episcopal Church.  Trust me, the lady can wrap up a church service with a version of Amazing Grace that would bring anyone to their feet with a serious AMEN!

Check the local newspaper, or contact The Granary at 307-733-8833 to confirm the music schedule as it varies by season.

Christmas Krumkake

Hands down, my favorite Christmas cookie is krumkake. How does a Scottish girl who adores shortbread, slip over to Scandinavia?  Decorah, Iowa and Fran Leeman.

Holiday Krumkake cookies ready to eat on a white serving platterGrowing up in Northeast Iowa, a common Norwegian slang term is “oof-dah!”  Translated: Oh my!  I remember the first time I had krumkake and oof-dah was what my taste buds said.  That sweet, crispy, paper-thin cookie, rolled like a lace ice cream cone tasted like heaven.  I fell in love but realized it was a treat I would only get to enjoy when I was in Decorah at the Norwegian Festival, or at Fran Leeman’s house.

Mrs. Leeman was my 4th-grade teacher, a dear friend of my parents and I thought she was one of the most beautiful women in Guttenberg next to my Mother.  She had the best humor and a great laugh.  She also knew how to make krumkake and lefsa, and I spent a fun afternoon with her one day, learning the art of Norwegian treats.

Years later I was given a krumkake iron for Christmas and the pursuit of duplicating those perfectly toasted cookies began.  It’s been a few years since I dusted off the iron but I had a good reason.  Tomorrow is the Murie Center Holiday Cookie Swap.  Mardy Murie, the Grandmother of Conservation, each Christmas season would invite friends to her cabin in Grand Teton National Park for a “cookie swap.”  That tradition is carried on in that same cabin which is the centerpiece of The Murie Center.  In honor of Olaus, Mardy’s husband’s Norwegian heritage, it was time for me to make krumkake.

The two things to remember when making krumkake: First, set aside several hours, it’s going to take some time.  Second, have ice cubes and aloe handy, you will undoubtedly burn your fingers.

This is the best recipe I have found and it also has a great step-by-step illustration.  I usually add a touch of cinnamon in addition to cardamom to the recipe.  http://scandinavianfood.about.com/od/cookierecipes/r/krumkake.htm

It doesn’t matter whether it’s your first time making krumkake or your fiftieth, the first few cookies you make will not work.  It takes a little tweaking to heat your iron just right – so don’t sweat it, you have plenty of batter to make mistakes.

It usually takes between 20-40 seconds to toast the cookie and it all depends on your type of stove, gas or electric, and your iron.  Carefully lift one side of the iron and peak in to see how it is progressing.

If the edges of the cookie are turning brown, it’s usually time to roll it off, as it cools it typically browns just a bit more.  I like to use a table knife to lift the cookie and slide it over the rolling cone.  You need to move quickly once the cookie is taken off the iron and wrap it around the cone as it will crisp up and you won’t be able to shape it.  This is where you have to be careful of your fingers!  It is easy to slip and touch the iron, so be careful…

You can’t get distracted when making the cookies, so again, make sure you have plenty of time and don’t start doing other things as you will burn your cookies if you don’t check them regularly.

But all that time and effort is worth it!  I enjoy krumkake plain with a little powdered sugar dusted over them.  You can also fill them with whipped cream, fruit or other goodies – it’s your preference.

Take time to stop and make your favorite holiday cookies this year and if you have the opportunity, invite a young cook into your kitchen and teach them how to make a special holiday treat.  And Mrs. Leeman, thank you for being one of my favorite teachers and one of my Mom’s dear friends.  I wish I could share these with you, Merry Christmas!







Susan Balbo Surprise

In any trip I have taken, a pleasant surprise always occurs.  Whether it’s a hidden photography gem down an alley, the Mom and Pop restaurant, or something you trip over because you were not where you were originally supposed to be.  Fate, kismet, dumb luck – I don’t care what you call it, I’ll take it.

After two days on airplanes, John and I were ready to collapse when we arrived a Lares de Chacras, a wonderful boutique hotel just south of Mendoza.  As we entered through the massive front door that pivots at a unique angle, we took a quick step back as we realized we were walking across the glass ceiling of their wine cellar.  We both smiled as Franco welcomed us and we knew we made an excellent choice in accommodations.

A welcome shower and a two-hour nap are exactly what was needed before joining the other guests in the dining room for our first wonderful dinner in Argentina.  We selected an Alta Vista Single Vineyard Serenade 2010 Malbec from the wine cellar to start the evening.  Instead of the typical bread, we were presented with addictive warm, melt-in-your-mouth herb biscuits.  To start, we enjoyed “wrapped seafood” a delicious mix of seafood and mushrooms wrapped in phyllo, and a wonderful winter soup of pureed pumpkin drizzled with pureed beetroot and touches of green onions and jalapenos.  We both could not resist the opportunity to enjoy our first Argentinian beef.  While John enjoyed a perfectly grilled filet mignon with chimichurri sauce, I tried the skirt steak.   I was very pleased that my steak which can be overcooked at tough at times, was juicy and perfectly medium rare.  The simple spices allowed the flavors of the meat to shine.  While we didn’t think there was room for dessert, there always is.  The caramel, coconut flan was too much for me to resist and it did not disappoint.

The morning arrived and we headed south with the spectacular Andes mountains as a backdrop.  A fresh dusting of snow brought them to life, even though another 90-degree day was predicted in the valley.  The cold and snow we left behind in Jackson Hole made us smile.

Our first stop was Catena Zapata.  A number of years ago I had the honor of meeting Nicholas Catena at a wine dinner and he made me promise if I ever visited Mendoza I would make the winery my first visit.  I kept my promise and was not disappointed.  The Catena wines have always been one of my favorites and were my entrée into Malbecs years ago.  I cannot say enough about the staff at the winery, Tatianna and Mercedes, who were exquisite hosts.  They were also a godsend when we had some transportation difficulties and they didn’t even blink before jumping in to assist us.

The winery is designed after a Mayan ruin, paying tribute to the history of the country.  But this history of Argentine wines has been built squarely on the shoulders of the Catena family.  It was Nicholas who first planted vines at a high altitude (6000+ meters), and while everyone shook their heads and thought he was crazy, it was he who proved them wrong.  Today their Adrianna vineyard has generated over 500 Malbec varietals.

Every element of the winery was beautifully designed, from the brass staircase in the center of the building that ascends to the roof, to the 300 barrel wine theater where the best of their wine is aged, to the impressive Catena and European (read – the competition) wine cellars.  We so wanted to poke around the European cellar and see what was hiding under the dust covering many of the labels.

While we only tasted the wines available for export during our tasting – wines I have already tried, we were able to enjoy a wonderful DV Catena Malbec 2010 Malbec while we waited for our ride to arrive.  Well worth the wait!

My hat is off to Laura Catena who is now in charge of the winery.  She is blazing trails for women in the wine industry and is making her Father, Grandfather and Great Grandfather very proud.

Another woman making advances is Susan Balbo – our wonderful, incredible surprise of the day.  We didn’t originally have Dominio Del Plata on our radar screen, but thanks to a last-minute recommendation by a Jackson Hole wine rep, we were able to book a visit.  We arrived early at the winery and famished, so we asked if we could slip in for lunch at Osadia de Crear.  Our hotel manager, in addition to our wine rep, said it was a must.

Osadio only opened in March and it has an amazing future with Chef Jose Cacciavillani  at the helm.  Osadia de Crear translates to “daring to create” and is the perfect name.  While the seating is limited, I have never experienced a restaurant where the chef comes to each table with each serving and provides a description of your meal.  Raw talent and creativity are his foundation, and then he intoxicates your palate from there.

I highly recommend the Susan Balbo prefix meal for approximately $80.  It includes a starter, entrée and dessert, along with two glasses of wine and coffee or tea.  We each ordered different wines so we had the opportunity to try four Signature Balbo wines.

We began with a Signature 2011 Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon.  The Malbec was beautiful with strong chocolate and spices.  Initially, the Cab was light, more typical of a French Bordeaux, but by the time the entrée arrived, its flavors sang.  Again, warm, fresh bread was brought to the table, but accompanied with a light olive oil and very different guacamole that was spiced with coriander and smoked Tabasco.  Its flavor was perfect.

I decided to live a little and ordered the blood sausage and quince dumpling for my starter, while John ordered the German sausage, vegetable and fruit fondue.  Let me just state here that Chef Jose’s presentations are exquisite.  From the brush of balsamic vinegar to the bright colored flowers, each plate is a work of art.

One bite of the blood sausage and quince dumpling and I was a puddle.  It truly fits in my highest score – the culinary orgasm.  The sweet and tart flavors make your taste buds happier than they have ever been.  I could have stopped right there, not had another bite of the meal and died happy.  Run, fly, take a train, but you have to try this appetizer.

If I smoked, I would have stepped outside, lit one up and recomposed myself, but our entrees arrived and we had to see what surprise was next.  I enjoyed a very simple plate of Patagonia trout, seared with the perfect amount of salt and pepper, and paired with a sweet potato, squash and garlic puree.  John’s leg of lamb ratatouille had been slow cooked for 10 hours and fell apart when touched.  Enhanced with olive oil and duck fat as it is roasted, the flavors were immense.  Both the Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon were excellent compliments to the meal.

Dessert, you knew it would be heavenly.  While I am not a big sweet wine drinker, the Late Harvest Malbec and Torrentes were perfectly chilled and what can I say, we both giggled after sipping our respective glasses.  Paired with a green apple strudel and a crème brulee, we were spent, finished and happy.

This trip was number two on my bucket list and I sometimes worry, what happens if it isn’t as fabulous as you imagine?  Any such thought was pushed aside.  Our first day in Mendoza was complete and I received my “surprise” the first day.



That Special Bottle Of Wine

It was Easter 1984 and the family sat down for our traditional spread of honey-baked ham and Mom’s oh-so-succulent turkey that had been slow-roasting since before we left for sunrise service.   Dad had just delivered the blessing when my sister followed up with, “And God bless Chris and Chuck’s engagement.”

I screamed, Mom started crying, Dad let out a howl and Chris uncovered her gorgeous engagement ring, while my future brother-in-law, Chuck, sat there with a Cheshire grin on his face.

My family were not major wine drinkers at the time, but when we did imbibe, it was usually along the lines of Riunite Lambrusco.   When everyone came down off of the euphoria cloud, Dad noted we didn’t have a bottle of wine to celebrate.  Shock, gasp, appalling!  At that moment I ran upstairs and pulled from under my bed a very dusty bottle of wine I brought home from my year living in Australia.  Sadly, I can’t even tell you what it was…. I came bouncing back downstairs, set the bottle on the table and Dad looked at me and said, “I thought you were saving that for something special?”

There was a moment of silence and then everyone burst out laughing. The wine was opened and toasts were made, while my sister glowed.

Today, I’m not a sommelier or wine expert, and I don’t play one on TV. I just love drinking wine.  It was several years after my sister’s wedding when a good friend invited me to one of Dornan’s winter wine dinners.  It was a vertical tasting of cabernets sauvignon and I had no appreciation what I was tasting.

At one point, Bob Dornan, master of ceremonies and a man who I love and adore, as does much of Jackson Hole, said, “Can you taste the chocolate in this wine?”  I thought the man had lost his mind – chocolate in wine?  I was such a rookie.

Years later, much more versed in wine and the enhancing flavors, I opened a bottle of wine, took a sip and stopped.  I took another sip and, I’ll be, chocolate.  Dark, rich, luscious chocolate, masquerading as a bottle of wine.  It was pure heaven.

For those of who want to learn about wine, it’s simple. Go to your local wine store and ask for recommendations.  Or, throw a brown-bag barbecue with your friends.  Everyone brings a red and white bottle, wrapped in a paper bag.  Your guests taste each wine and then vote.  You’ll discover some fabulous and very affordable wines this way.  Just keep tasting until you find something you like and keep notes.  The Evernote and Vivino apps are my best friends when it comes to keeping a list of wines I want to remember.

Pick up Wine For Dummies and learn the difference between a Pinot Noir and a Pinot Gris.  And for you history buffs, Wine & War and the Women of Wine are two fabulous books that will keep you turning the pages.

Sip, breathe, eat and enjoy.  It’s the best way to learn about wine, plain and simple.

Chris and Chuck are celebrating their 30th wedding anniversary today.  Like a good wine, they have gotten better and better with time and, they have become major Malbec connoisseurs – love swapping recommendations with them!

So happy anniversary you two, I raise my favorite glass sparkling wine, J Brut, to my best friend and her incredible husband.  You remind us that love, friendship and most importantly, communication are paramount to making a marriage work and last.





The Cutters Run So Children May Walk

Each WinterFest Week, Jackson Hole residents and visitors can enjoy two very exciting and unique events benefiting the Shriners Hospital for Children in Salt Lake City: The 44th Annual Cutter Races and the 3rd Annual North American Ski Joring Championships.

Hosted by the Jackson Hole Shriners, the Cutter Races are held Presidents Day weekend.  The races were originally on the streets of downtown Jackson, but the event has grown so much that it is now held just south of Jackson, off of South Park Loop Road and Melody Ranch. The Ski Joring event was created several years ago as a bookend event to wrap up Winterfest Week in Jackson Hole.

For those not familiar with cutter racing, think Ben Hur, but instead of a colosseum, imagine two horses and a carriage moving at top speeds across the snow. Ski joring gets a little more crazy as skiers are pulled by running horses through an obstacle course filled with jumps and speed runs.  Click here to watch exciting videos from previous events.

The locals know to show up early and park their trucks, flat beds and RVs, then proceed to set up elaborate tailgate parties complete with grills, music and specialty flags so their friends know where to find them.

Calcutta betting is used to raise additional funds and create further competition in the events.

The net proceeds from the events are donated to the Shriners Hospital for Children in Salt Lake which serves children of the Jackson Hole community. The hospital is committed to providing the best care for children in their specialty areas of orthopedics, burn care, spinal cord injury and cleft lip and palate, regardless of a family’s ability to pay.

The Shriners and the hospital have helped countless children and their families in the Jackson Hole area receive care they may otherwise have never been able to afford. This care changes lives, brings hope and smiles to the faces of children and parents, and simply is priceless.

The 2014 Cutter Races are held February 14th and 15th at 12:30 pm. The Ski Joring event is February 21st and 22nd at 12:00 pm. There is a $15 entry free for the Cutter Races and $10 for Ski Joring.  Children under 12 are free. For more information on the events, visit www.jhshriners.org.

Chateau Margot 1900 & Charlie Trotter

Last week I had the opportunity to attend the first Jackson Hole Culinary Conference, hosted by the Central Wyoming College Culinary School.  Intrigue in the event had grown since announcing that famed Chicago Chef Charlie Trotter would be the keynote speaker.

I loved watching Charlie Trotter’s cooking show years ago and was always inspired by his creativity.  The first time I picked up one of his cookbooks, I gasped when I looked at what appeared to be very complicated recipes.  Then the challenge kicked in to see if I could actually pull off one of his dishes.  Let’s just say some worked and some didn’t.

I think Charlie would be pleased that I just tried.  He also would have been pleased if he had joined attendees at the farewell brunch at Local Monday morning, prepared by the CWC students.  Through experimenting, trying, failing and creating, each of these students are learning to make meals that are sometimes simple, sometimes exquisite.  The seafood frittata accompanied by acorn squash pancakes, topped with cranberries and pecans was divine.  The hash browns, let’s just say that was a learning experience.

The conference had many high points in addition to Trotter.  Meeting Judith McQueen of Sun Valley who participated in the chef cook-off was like being reintroduced to an old friend.  Chef Judith McQueen squared off against Chef Jason Mitchell and they were presented with their “secret ingredient” – Idaho Potato Flakes.   The look on their faces was priceless when it was unveiled.  Both created wonderful dishes with beef sirloin, but Judith won the judges’ favor with her stacked russet and sweet potatoes sprinkled with mushroom dust and the potato flakes.  Sans blender and several other basic tools, she also created a pomegranate buerre blanc that added beautiful color and flavor to her dish.  Judith shared her other talent Monday evening at Rendezvous Bistro when she sang a sultry jazz love song.  Who would have guessed this catering chef used to open for Joan Rivers!

Attendees had the opportunity to participate in five workshops ranging from spices to butchering and smoking techniques, sustainable seafood or farm-to-table discussions.

Chef Jarrett Schwartz who has opened a sushi and Asian fusion restaurant in Jackson educated us on the importance of seafood and working with sustainable fish.  With increased mercury and toxins in our waters, there are serious does and don’t of buying seafood.  Chef shared the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s sustainable seafood cheat sheet and mobile app for easy reference when shopping.   We were then treated to one of Chef’s delectable sushi treats, kombu (seaweed) marinated salmon with crème fraiche and tomato, fennel relish.

My favorite workshop was the one and only Essie Bartels, owner and creator of Essie Spice.  Vibrant Essie is originally from Ghana and learned how to cook next to her Mother.  Her love of Chinese food kick-started her love of spices.  As she experimented with a variety of spices in her cooking, she eventually created her own spice line.  I can’t wait to try her Tamarind-Oh! Paste, a sumptuous blend of ginger, tamarind and guava, in my next pad Thai recipe.  Her Meko Dry Rub is a subtle blend of Eastern and West-African flavors and spices –  perfect for dusting steak, adding just enough flavor without overwhelming the richness of the meat.  But then Essie made my day…  She concocted a mixture of cinnamon, African nutmeg and a variety of other spices and marinated plantains that she deep fried.  Dietary, no, sweet candy heaven, yes.

So back to Chef Trotter.  We were all in shock Monday morning when we learned of his passing.  It seemed surreal that we had just been listening to him hours before.  His speech had its bizarre moments, but he kept coming back to three things.  First was the importance of details – paying attention to them and then attending to them.  A perfectionist he was, but I doubt you ever heard of anyone having a bad meal or a bad experience at his restaurant.  Second was giving back.  Trotter shared the number of charities that he contributed to and how he would often feed the homeless a meal in the back kitchen to ensure they were getting their nutrition.  He wanted to make sure that students had the opportunity to learn and gain the education this self-taught chef never received.  Finally, language.  I will forever think of Charlie Trotter as the Poet Chef.  Words are important he said,   We need to be creative and not use words like industry, customers, etc.  It’s about food and wine and guests, be poetic.

The Culinary family has lost an amazing, talented friend.  But in his place, lined up in the wings are the future of the culinary theater, learning, rehearsing and waiting for their moment to take center stage and creatively design our next dining experience.  It is my hope that the Jackson Hole Culinary Conference grows and further expands the futures of many chefs, as well as providing educational opportunities to community members.

A question posed to Trotter at the end of his speech was, “What would be your last meal if you had a choice?”  He eventually answered, “A Chateau Margot 1900.”

In closing, a toast with a rare and beautiful wine, to a unique poet chef who studied Nichtze and Socrates, who clearly adored his wife and family – may new culinary creations never end.