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Friday, April 23, 2010

OMG! A "Journey"... to Israel!

The Hubby of the Sweepstakes Queen really did it this time- he made my dream of taking him home to Israel a reality! He just won us 2 tickets to Israel from American Associates of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev! I have spent years telling friends, and not in jest, that I'd only be able to take Dan back to Israel when I won a sweepstakes- and then HE won the sweepstakes! A dear friend in California- who once owned the Jerusalem pub where I tended bar while I was serving in the Israeli Army in the mid '80s- sent me an email link to a sweepstakes from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, the amazing school in the Negev Desert in Israel. And since the Negev- with the marvelous Ein Gedi Spa and Herodion National Park Nature Preserve, Nature Preserve and Antiquities Park with Canaanite, Israelite, and Roman ruins-and the waterfalls I hiked thru with archaeologist friends and with my mom when she visited me while I was in the Army; Massada, with the 37 BCA ruins of King Herod's mountaintop fortress, which I first visited with my father in 1973 at dawn, and where IDF soldiers are sworn in; Qumran of Dead Sea Scrolls fame, the extraordinary Kibbutz Ein Gedi, that proves the desert can truly bloom, Arad, the pollen-free city (a haven for those with asthma) & home to the Arad Festival where I first did the Macarena in public (LOL), and (my Absolutely Favorite Place), the Dead Sea of mineral mud Ahava beauty-product fame that clears Psoriasis and heals IDF soldier's broken bones and all sorts of illnesses from Rheumatoid Arthritis to the Leishmonaisis wounds I got from the Jericho Rose Fly (as well as  my Psoriasis)- is basically my favorite place on earth, I simply Had to enter! And then, naturally, I sent it to a bunch of friends, and got Dan to enter, too! And last week he got the call- he'd won! To say I'm "over the moon" would be an understatement- I've basically been dancing around the room for days! This is Truly a dream come true- and the opportunity of a lifetime for Chef Dan & his Foodie Wife to have wonderful new adventures together in the land of my heart! The wineries of the Golan! Meurav Yerushalmi al ha aysh (Mixed Grill) in Jerusalem! Yummy meat-filled Syrian "Kubeh" dumplings in lemony chicken soup! Cigarim Morocaiim (Moroccan "cigar"-shaped meat filled pastries)! The fabulous Crusader-era market in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem and the Western Wall! Cafe Hafouch ("upside-down coffee",
a.k.a. cappuchino) in a cafe on the Midrochov in Jerusalem! The wondrous medieval city of Safed! The fiords of Rosh Hanikra! Eating fish in Tiberius on the Sea of Galilee and in the gorgeous cafes of Old Jaffa! Playing golf in Caesarea! Snorkling in the Red Sea off Eilat! And hopefully visiting my old Kibbutz & seeing friends...

I was still in a state of shock when Dan handed me a lovely while box tied up with a green satin ribbon the other night... within which was a tiny box of Godiva chocolates & a gorgeous rosewood box... within which was... a DiamondNexus 7-stone "Emotions Journey" pendant!
Life is a "Journey", all right- and B"H it will be a marvelous journey for us to Israel!

The funny thing is that Dan and I were in Israel- and in almost the same place- ca. 1985, but didn't meet! (And if we had, we probably wouldn't be married now! LOL) But now, some 25 years later, I have the chance to do what I've wanted to do since we met in 2001: take the love of my life home to show him "my" Israel! As readers of this blog know, Dan took me home to Vietnam, (and Korea & Japan), on our honeymoon in 2008, and showed me his love- countries I promptly fell in love with, too! And now, thanks to Ben-Gurion University, I get to share my "before we met" life with him! Woot! Shiga'on! Here's to "Journeys"- and a belief that life will take you wonderful places- if you let it...

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The days of (West Virginia) Wine and... Ramps!

Through no fault of our own, heaven knows, we missed the 71st Ramp Fest of Richwood, West Virginia. :-( And we were Seriously bummed, because the "Feast of the Ramson", in THE Ramp Capital of the World, is something Chef Dan and his Foodie Wife have been aching to attend for 8 years!
As readers of this blog know, Dan and I are planning two very special events at the Elkhorn Inn in May: our "WV Wine-Tasting Dinner Weekend" May 14-16, and our "Dueling Dining-Car Chefs" Weekend May 28-30, with Guest Chef, James Porterfield, railroad historian and author of "From the Dining Car" & "Dining By Rail"! We've spent months working on both events, having a Ball "researching" a bevy of WV wines (our WV Wine Shortlist will be my next post), and sourcing fabulous WV specialty foods, and asking our "fans" on Facebook and Twitter (Tweet us @elkhorninn) for suggestions! (A desert of West Virginia Jones Cabin Run Vineyard Port Wine & Holl's WV "Aztec" chili-chocolate truffles was the lastest & greatest suggestion, and yes, we're planning to include that!) Dan and Jim have crafted their menus for our "Railfan Gourmet Throwdown", and we've posted them under "Events" on the Elkhorn Inn's Facebook fan page: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Eckman-WV/Elkhorn-Inn-Theatre/53453051478?ref=s
And now: Back to the Saga of the Ramps! Ramps are a wild leek, an allium of the onion-garlic family, and while made fun of in West Virginia (as are a lot of things...), they are a gourmet delicacy in France, Japan, Canada, and other countries, and are both rare and endangered- and they grow wild here in our West Virginia mountains! Kirkwood Winery in Summerville, WV even makes a fabulous Ramp Wine (pictured above in our selection of wines for our May 14-16 WV Wine-Tasting Dinners Event) that Chef Dan uses for marinating meats and in reduction sauces! Because the Elkhorn Inn & Theatre is located in an (oddly for WV) Ramp-Free Zone, for some time Dan & I have wanted to plant ramps on our property, in the hopes that they'd go wild, live long, and prosper. And so, after phone calls and basically a solid week of planning, come Sunday, April 18 (the day printed in West Virginia South magazine), we drove 2 hours up and down the winding mountain roads of southern WV all the way to Richwood High School, practically Drooling with anticipation... only to find that the Ramp Feast had been on SATURDAY, April 17! AAAAUGH! Sounds silly, but we were SO mouthwateringly ready for a Feast O' Ramps, that I was nearly in tears! Driving back out of town, Totally down-in-the-mouth, we pulled into the Gateway Cafe to get a bite (of Anything), & I spied "Rampburgers" on the menu... Full of hope, I poured out our Sad Saga of Missing The Ramps Of Spring to the owner, and she offered to make us the Classic WV Ramp Breakfast they serve during the few short weeks of WV's spring ramp season! Delicate spring ramps sauteed in butter, accompanied by hashbrowns, perfectly scrambled eggs, crispy, meaty bacon, red pinto beans, & cornbread! TOTALLY YUM-O!
And Then she told us we could buy ramps- to cook or plant in our garden- just up the road a-piece at Donaldson's Greenhouse!
So we trundled up the road & got us a bushel & a peck (and a hug around the neck) of ramps, and a copy of THE Ramp Bible: "Having Your Ramps... And Eating Them, Too" by Glen Facemire, Jr.! (And yes, he is related to the late Rodney Facemire, who started Kirkwood Winery in Summerville, WV that makes the AbFab Ramp Wine- as well as wonderful Ginseng & fruit wines- AND Real (legal) WV Whisky!) And so Chef Dan now has a whole Mess of Ramps to plant tomorrow behind the Inn, in a Nice Shady Spot that will hopefully appeal to the tres tempremental little bulbs! I read Facemire's book in the car while we tooled thru the mountains, and learned an Awful lot- including that they Are tricky little devils to raise- the seeds can take 18 months to germinate! :-O

Happily sated by our excellent ramp brunch, we drove the 12 minutes to Lewisburg, and took in the ultimate moments of the the "Extreme Horsemaship" events at the Horse Show at the WV Fairgrounds, watching some Seriously talented men and women display some pretty damn fine horsemaship, steering untrained horses through an obstacle course ranging from barrel jumping to bridges, to pulling 350 lb. haybales and filled water cans, to turning in perfect circles and walking backwards... fine stuff! We also stopped to read the historic markers along the way, and to see the Miner's Memorial in Quinwood, WV, especially important this week, given that 29 miners just lost their lives in (yet another) West Virginia Mine Disaster... The memorial, simple and tasteful, has granite memorials engraved with the names of hundreds of our miners who have given their lives to keep the lights on all over America, and the flags were at half-mast, as they are all over West Virginia now...
And then, at the end of a Wonderful West Virginia Day, we got to drive home along the roads cut thru our frankly amazing mountains, in their various spring stages of turning green and pink, loving all of it: the red bud trees in bloom, the geese crossing the road oblivious to it all, the deer grazing and the cattle chowing down in the valleys between the mountains, the log cabins that have been here since the 1700s...
C'mon down and have a peek! :-)