In January of 2020, I embarked on a project bigger than anything I could’ve imagined; a van build-out. And, as I started to design the layout of my new 2019 Ford Transit van and glanced at the ever-growing to-do list, I realized what a mammoth of a project this was. I might’ve bitten off more than I could chew.
You see, in my life up until that point, I’d largely avoided building projects. Table saws and drill bits just weren’t a part of my vocabulary. Even when I owned a house for 5 years in a SE Portland neighborhood, I delegated responsibilities and shied away from trying complicated things myself. My initial instinct was to hire experts who could get the job done correctly and efficiently, having little faith in myself to do so. However, once I realized how much experts charge for a van build-out, I had to change my tune. I discovered that my only logical option was to buckle down and attempt the job myself.
So, I downloaded ebooks, perused blogs, watched youtube tutorials, and talked to friends with experience. I jotted down notes, made lists, and started gathering supplies. After weeks of heavy research, I started in on the most logical first step, the flooring, aka the easiest part of a van build. But easy doesn’t mean free from mistakes. I learned very early on in this process that I would make one blunder after another, but that I couldn’t let them deter me from pressing forward. So when I realized I had unknowingly installed the cedar ceiling incorrectly, causing it to split and break, I tried my best to take it in stride, knowing full well that I would need to rip it out and replace the cedar planks with something more durable.
I’m not trying to insinuate that I breezed through the van build process with confidence and determination. I had many tearful moments curled up alone inside the echoey chamber of the unfinished van. I desperately sought out information online to solve, what seemed like, the countless issues I was running into. I made phone calls, sent emails, and met up with folks to solve problems that were blocking my progress. I got extremely frustrated and overwhelmed by wiring diagrams and electrical instructions laid out before me in a language my brain wasn’t built to understand. I lumbered through this process feeling like a toddler just learning to walk, gazing around for affirmations to build confidence and keep me motivated. But, at every turn there was a new skill to learn, whether it was hooking up a plumbing system, wiring light dimmers, cutting giant holes in the van for a fan and a window, or connecting my auxiliary batteries to the alternator so they would charge while I drive. It was a heap of new information and I was overloaded with decision fatigue.
Author and public speaker, Brené Brown, describes these kinds of experiences as FFTs (effing first times). She continues by saying “When we have no relevant experience or expertise, the vulnerability, uncertainty, and fear of these firsts can be overwhelming. Yet, showing up and pushing ourselves past the awkward, learner stage is how we get braver.” Not only does it make us braver, but each mountain successfully climbed undeniably builds up confidence and strength that we may not have previously possessed. Going into this van build was a real experiment in self-actualization. What I believed I wasn’t skilled enough to do at the beginning of the build was something that I miraculously achieved with grit, determination, and the help and guidance of others.
I truly couldn’t have completed this project without my father’s assistance building the bed and cabinetry. His years of woodworking experience were imperative in the completion of my van build and he was the perfect person to bounce all my build ideas off of. Without him, the countless van builders who had showered the internet with helpful tips, and the support and cheerleading of my community, I’m not sure I could have made it through this behemoth. I owe so much to every single person who believed in me. And even though they can’t all take a ride with me in my new home on wheels, they will always be there with me in spirit.
Words and Photography by Brooke Weeber.
For the uninitiated, JP Caldcleugh is the Director of Winemaking here at Union. What that means, basically, is that although it is a huge team effort preparing, perfecting and producing our wines, if you have recently enjoyed a can or bottle of Union, you at least in some way have JP to thank for it.
JP is the best sort of amalgam, making him a perfect fit for the Union family: a totally laid back dude (he was born and raised in New Orleans so that kind of comes with the territory) while imbued with just enough wine-geekiness to make sure he takes his job and responsibilities extremely seriously so as to create the product that we have all come to love over the past few years.
Having honed his skills working with winemakers in California, Australia and New Zealand, we were lucky enough to join JP at the top of his game. Aside from the impressive bio, we wanted to share the real JP—the man behind the man, if you will, and of course that story wouldn’t be complete without including the woman behind the man as well: his wife and traveling companion, Mandy. The two originally met at LSU (Mandy being a native of the Lafayette area) and have been together ever since. Mandy is not personally involved in the winemaking process, but she does spend several days a week out at the Amity Vineyards, cultivating an amazingly verdant and diverse garden of flowers, fruits, vegetables, and herbs, which she shares with all the Union employees.
For our interview, we asked JP to make a traditional dish, so he chose a chicken and andouille gumbo. We will get to that all in good time, but first, we wanted to learn a little more about JP’s interests when he isn’t busy at the winery. JP, like most people, is working a little less these days (though not very much less) so he has had a little more time to devote to his personal interests.
So JP, what are you listening to these days?
JP: We’ve always got something going on the turntable when we are at home. These days we have been listening to The Comet is Coming, Quantic, J.J. Cale, and of course Miles Davis. Always Miles Davis.
How about Podcasts. Any standouts?
JP: Well, this one is an old tried and true podcast, but for us, you can never go wrong with Josh and Chuck from Stuff You Should Know. One of the most recent episodes, all about hummingbirds, was pretty great. (You can check that out right here.)
I couldn’t help notice the guitar in the corner, a classical strung with steel strings…very bold. Learning any new songs presently?
JP: Actually, I have been working on Queen Bee by Taj Mahal.
How ’bout literature? Reading any good books?
Sounds like you have many irons in many fires. Gotta say that’s not surprising at all. But now I think it’s time we got to that Gumbo. Wanna give us a general ingredient list and then a simple How To?
JP: Absolutely. There are lots of substitutions that can take place in a dish like this but here is how I prefer it:
JP’s Chicken & Andouille Gumbo
2 lbs bone-in chicken thighs
1 lb smoked andouille or other cajun sausage
3 stalks celery, diced
1 white onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, diced
1 green bell pepper, diced
7 C chicken broth
1 1/2 C white rice
1 C butter or other high heat fat (such as avocado oil)
1 C all-purpose flour
Salt and pepper
3 stalks green onion, diced, for garnish
*Cook rice and set aside
*Heavily sprinkle chicken with salt, pepper, cayenne, and garlic powder. Sear on both sides and continue to turn in the pan on medium heat until chicken is cooked through. Set aside until ready to shred.
*Remove the chicken and heat the remaining butter in the same cast iron until just bubbling. Add the flour, lower the heat, and stir continuously, whisking until the roux becomes a deep chocolatey brown.
*Add the diced vegetables and cook until just softened, about 5 minutes.
*Meanwhile, bring your stock to a boil. Slowly add the roux/vegetable mix and simmer for 45 minutes.
*De-bone and shred the chicken. Add chicken meat and sausage to the gumbo. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
*Put a heaping pile of rice in a shallow bowl, ladle gumbo over the rice and garnish with the green onions.
*Enjoy with a Riesling or White Burgundy.
Speaking of wine pairings, I feel we would be remiss if we didn’t talk about what you like to drink on your evenings off.
JP: I obviously drink and enjoy all sorts of different wines, but the bottle we are having tonight is one of my favorite styles. I absolutely love the chardonnay grapes grown in Burgundy. For my money, it’s the best Chardonnay in the world. How do I put this…there is just a tension of flavor that you don’t get anywhere else. Today we are drinking this specific Puligny-Montrachet. It’s definitely one of my favorites.
Well, speaking for JP, Mandy, and the whole Union Family, we hope you are staying safe out there, practicing your social distancing, and washing those hands!
’Til next time, stay safe, Bon Appétit and keep those #pinkiesdown.
Here at Union, we obviously love to drink our wine, but we are also always looking for new and interesting ways to enjoy them. Today we bring you a delicious and incredibly simple recipe for fruity, blueberry polka dotted Frozé Ice Pops. With just a little patience and a few simple ingredients, you will be the hit of the party this summer.
Here’s what you will need to get started.
Pink and Polka Dot Popsicles
12 oz Underwood Rosé
6 oz pink grapefruit juice
4 oz fresh lime juice
4 oz cranberry juice cocktail
2 oz simple syrup
1 container fresh blueberries
Combine all of the ingredients except the blueberries in a large mason jar. Stir well and put this in the refrigerator until very cold.
To ensure even placement of blueberries, you will need to build the ice pops in three stages. The reason for this is that blueberries float and if you were to put the blueberries and liquid into the molds all at once, by the time the pops froze, all the blueberries would be bunched up at the bottom of the popsicle.
Place 2 or 3 blueberries in the bottom of each mold and pour just enough of the cold liquid to cover them. Place the mold in the freezer until liquid is completely frozen—not just slushy. Also, do not add the sticks at this stage.
Add 3 or 4 blueberries to each mold and again add enough liquid to cover. At this point place the top on the mold and insert sticks into each one. Return to the freezer and leave until completely frozen
Very very very carefully remove the top of the mold, making sure to hold each stick in place as you do. (Since the molds are not completely full, the sticks will want to move around.) Now, add 2 or 3 more blueberries to each mold and cover with liquid—leaving about a 1/4 inch of space at the top of each one. Put back in the freezer and leave until fully set. No need to replace the top at this point, as the sticks should be frozen in place already. When ready too remove the pops, run a little warm water over the bottom of the molds to loosen each pop.
If done with love and care, you should have ten pops that look roughly like this:
Once out of the freezer, make sure to pass around the pops quickly. Since there is wine in them, they will freeze solid, but will start to melt more quickly than if they were made of only juice. If there are going to be kids around, you can always follow this same recipe, omitting the Rosé, so that they can enjoy the popsicles as well as the grown-ups.
Feel free to try different variations of the fruits. You can use raspberries, slices of strawberry, a combination of all of them, or even leave the fruit out completely. If you choose the latter route, you will not have to do the popsicles in three stages, but can fill each one and place the stick in all at once.
These popsicles don’t only look fun, they are a delicious sweet surprise to the end of any summer inspired get-together.
Bon Appétit and keep those #pinkies down!