2020 has been a strange year for birthdays, weddings, and graduations. We’ve all had to adapt and get extra creative with how we celebrate. It’s been challenging just figuring out what a party can look like during a global pandemic. Can we throw one while still socially distancing? How many friends and family can safely gather?
40th birthdays feel like a pretty big deal. It’s a day I’ve gently held in the back of my mind for years. My original plan to throw a big party for myself and two of my best friends (whose birthdays coincide with mine) quickly went out the door when I realized how serious and long-lasting the pandemic was going to be. So I tucked away my disappointment and decided to take off in my van and drive from Oregon to Colorado instead. There, I met up with my dear friend, Abi, who’s 29th birthday happens to fall on the day after mine.
We determined that a backpacking trip into the mountains was the perfect solution to our birthday woes. Since we both love spending time outdoors, it seemed like the most fitting way to celebrate. In order to make our backcountry adventure even more special, we packed in 2 cans of Underwood Bubbles and a vegan chocolate cake. Always worth the extra weight.
Once we landed on doing the beautiful Missouri Lakes trail in the Holy Cross Wilderness, we loaded up and drove the three hours to the trailhead where we camped overnight in our vehicles.
To beat the crowds, we aimed for an alpine start the next morning. Our hiking entourage consisted of me and my dog, Huxley, and Abi and her two dogs, Kodi and Kuma; each of us carrying our own fully loaded backpack into the wilderness.
Abi and I chose a relatively easy trail for this particular overnighter because we both wanted the trip to feel fun and easy. So the 4 miles in with 1500 ft of elevation gain was mostly a breeze, and by the time we reached the lake and our destination for the night, we still had plenty of energy to explore the area.
So we set up our tents and dropped our Union Wine cans in the creek to chill for later. We grabbed our cameras, quickly tied on our raincoats, and headed up the trail to explore a wildflower-covered ridgeline. There were some dark clouds preemptively accumulating in the distance, and Colorado is known for its summer afternoon thunderstorms, so we knew our time to explore was limited.
We wound our way past some smaller lakes, the shores dotted with eager fishermen. We heard the recognizable whistle of marmots and the chirps of pika echoing from the fields of talus, teasing our dog companions into a frenzy. But patches of snow covered the steep hillside, creating small playgrounds for our rambunctious dogs, where they slid and chased each other, bearing their teeth and digging them deep into the snowbank.
Mountain peaks popped into view as we zig-zagged our way up the trail another 1000 ft., finally topping out over the ridge. The views on the other side made the extra effort well worth it and we paused to snack and take it all in. However, it wasn’t long before we heard thunderclap and immediately started the trek back down to camp, quickening our steps as we walked. Back lakeside, Abi and I eagerly pulled our wine out of the creek just as heavy drops started to fall, each of us retreating to our respective tents to hide away from the thunderstorm.
The hours passed inside our tents, dogs snuggling up close, trembling lightly from the sounds of the storm. We each made dinner while cheers-ing one other from afar. It wasn’t exactly the “party atmosphere” I had hoped it would be, but we made the absolute most of the moment, knowing it would pass.
When the rain finally subsided, night was already beginning to fall. As darkness descended upon us, we excitedly emerged from our tents ready to make up for lost time. I cracked open the bubbles and sliced deeply into the chocolate cake. We cheerfully sang the “happy birthday song” to each other, guzzled our crisp and refreshing beverages, indulged in giant bites of chewy cake, and danced and talked until we could no longer see one another through the black. Finally giving in, we tucked ourselves in for the night, tired and satisfied.
The next morning as the sun lit up the peaks, we brewed ourselves some coffee and finished off the rest of the chocolate cake, a perfect breakfast to fuel the hike out. We hung around just long enough to enjoy the morning views and soak in the mountain air before slowly packing up and retreating back to civilization.
Some of the best lessons I’ve learned from this wild and unpredictable year include the ability to embrace flexibility and a willingness to adjust. Even though I had to seriously alter my birthday expectations (along with so much more) many times over, it still magically came together. And guess what? It ended up being one of my most memorable birthdays ever. Remember to always strive for adaptability, because sometimes plan B, C or even D might be better than plan A could have ever been.
Words and Photography by Brooke Weeber.
It’s been a wild summer and we’ve been trying to keep up with all that is going on around us, while still hoping to provide some great recipes and ideas you’ll enjoy! This week we wanted to do a Summer Round-up of yours—and our—favorites from the last several months.
This recipe, our Radler brined rack of ribs, was a huge hit! I hope some of you tried it or will try it soon!
Who doesn’t enjoy a homemade popsicle during the hot summer months? We were particularly proud of these beautiful and tasty pops made with Underwood Rosé and fresh berries—our Pink & Polka Dot Ice Pops.
The times have certainly changed of late and we want to protect as many people as possible, starting with our employees. This post on how to get creative and make your own mask was educational and inspirational. Joanna is a pro at making fun and stylish masks and we were so happy she shared her sewing secrets with us.
And finally, who doesn’t love to follow along on other people’s adventures when they are as amazing as a day in the life of Cheney?! Cheney is a winemaker at Union and an active guy —it can be hard to keep up with him when he’s having fun. This post helps us enjoy the ride without going to too much trouble!
Those are our favorites. We hope you enjoy them as much as we did.
Take good care out there! Be careful and keep safe.
I honestly don’t know how the whole thing got started. When most people think BBQ skewers, they envision a full meal on a stick: chicken next to onions next to peppers next to more (raw) chicken. You even see this at many meat counters around town. But that’s just not the way to get the job done. Ignoring for a moment that you really don’t want your raw chicken, seafood, or beef crammed up next to your uncooked veggies, all of those ingredients have different cooking times, and it’s crazy to think they can all be cooked correctly, all jammed together, over an open flame. And since undercooked protein is never an option, it’s always the poor veggies that suffer.
But don’t fret, we’ve got you covered. There are two main rules for successful BBQ skewers. First, each ingredient gets it’s own skewer, and secondly, go big with your ingredients and cut sizes, ensuring that everything stays safely secured to their sticks during cooking. You can always cut everything smaller before serving. I found it best years ago to invest in metal skewers but if you use wooden ones, just make sure to soak them in water for several hours beforehand so they don’t burn on the grill.
With this approach to your dinner, you will want to have a slightly more involved game plan for the meal, since you will need to remove all the cooked food from the skewers before serving. So what we planned was a family-style meal of grilled shrimp and vegetables with Soy Vay Teriyaki Sauce and fresh Rau Ram (Vietnamese Coriander—more on that in a bit) over rice. Here’s what you will need to feed 2-3 people:
1 large sweet onion
1 large red bell pepper
1 large yellow bell pepper
About 8 large crimini mushrooms
8 to 10 large Tiger Prawns
1 bottle Soy Vay Veri Veri Teriyaki Sauce
1 & 1/2 C uncooked white (or brown if you prefer) rice
1 bunch of fresh Rau Ram
Olive Oil, kosher salt and cracked black pepper
1 ice-cold bottle of Underwood Pinot Gris
In these times of COVID, when I have a long shopping list, I will go to a big supermarket. But when I only need a few ingredients, I have been going out of my way to visit and support some of the small and often times open-air markets around Portland. Right down the street from my studio is a small produce market called Berry Good Produce (5523 SE 28th Ave). I picked up my peppers, onions, and mushrooms there. They always have a great selection of locally grown fruits and vegetables and no long checkout lines.
Next, I swung by ABC Seafood (6509 SE Powell Blvd). If you’ve never been, it is definitely worth checking out. For a very small shop, they have an amazing selection of locally caught seafood. It’s the only place around town to get fresh large Tiger Prawns. During Dungeness crab season, their live selection and prices are unbeatable.
I was also able to pick up some fresh Rau Ram there. If you’ve never tried this herb, it’s wildly memorable, to say the least. It’s kind of like a cross between basil and cilantro, but also has a distinct flavor, unlike any other herb I have ever come across. Here it is pictured below. Once you try it, you will always be able to immediately identify it.
You can pick up the Soy Vay at most small supermarkets. This is a delicious and versatile product that we will be using both as a marinade for the shrimp and as a sauce on our final dish.
Now that our shopping is done, let’s get to prepping. Years ago, when I was cooking at Paley’s Place, a dishwasher there showed me a quick and painless way to peel and clean ‘shell on’ shrimp. With a pair of kitchen scissors, clip halfway down the top of the shrimp, just cutting slightly into the flesh, to both make peeling easier and opening up a channel to “devein” it as well. (That’s when you remove the little center intestinal track.)
To prep out the onion, cut it in half straight through the base, peel it, and then cut each half into segments, leaving just a little bit of the stem to hold the pieces together like this:
And now we can finally get to skewering!
I try to cut the peppers into large uneven shapes to make them more secure and pick up better grill marks:
People often ask how to skewer mushrooms without having them split. Well, the first way is to get bigger mushrooms so there is more to work with, but also, if you skewer them at an angle, instead of straight through the stem, they will hold much more firmly, and also have more of the cap open to the grill surface:
Finally, I always skewer my shrimp fat side down to make sure the tip goes straight through the thickest part, rotating 45 degrees each time:
Once these are all complete, fire up your grill and start cooking your rice. Pour 3 Tbs of the marinade over the shrimp skewer and liberally oil, salt, and pepper the vegetable skewers. When the grill is good and hot, place the skewers on and tend to each as necessary, flipping and removing each when cooked through.
Allow the skewers to cool slightly and then remove the shrimp and veggies. You can leave everything whole or cut into smaller pieces at this point. Put everything into a bowl and mix in another 1/4 C of the Soy Vay. Spread your cooked rice on a platter and spoon the shrimp and veggies over the top. Garish with the fresh Rau Ram leaves.
Get out the chopsticks, crack open your ice-cold bottle of Underwood Pinot Gris and you are in business!
Bon Appétit, please stay safe out there and keep those
Happy Labor Day Everybody!