Day: September 1, 2014

Caribbean Connection, From the Bay to the Blue Ridge

Island Customs: A Guide to Etiquette in the U.S. Virgin Islands

There is no question that the turquoise waters and alabaster shorelines of St. John are some of the most beautiful scenery one can enjoy. There are few things in this world more relaxing and more awe-inspiring than dipping one’s toes in the clear Caribbean Sea as the tropical sun shines down from above with lush green hillsides all around. But step off that beach and walk into Cruz Bay in nothing but your bathing suit, and you’ve likely offended someone. It is customary here for ladies to don their coverups and men should put their t-shirts on after they leave the beach. Traditionally, U.S. Virgin Islanders are a conservative people who aren’t particularly pleased to watch bikini-clad women walking down the street. Although the cooks at Skinny Legs never mind when one of those bikini-clad vacationers walks into the restaurant, you’ll get more smiles from people if you throw on a coverup when you leave the beach. It’s also customary for people to greet each other when they walk down the street and definitely when they enter a shop or restaurant. A friendly “Good Morning” or “Good Afternoon” is all it takes. And don’t get confused when someone says “Good Night,” they mean “Hello” not “Goodbye.” That one confused me for a while when we first moved here. Manners and friendliness are the name of the game here. Virgin Islanders are so friendly, in fact, our recently installed roundabout in Cruz Bay often comes to a standstill when one motorists stops mid-way around to let a friend or relative to enter the circle. The fact that circles are not supposed to function is beside the point entirely. The overly courteous maneuvering certainly makes for friendly, albeit confusing, motoring. Since we’re on the topic of driving, you know of course that…

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Grapevine & Vintner Profile, Wining & Dining

Cooper Vineyards: For the Perfect Wine Tasting!

A visit to Cooper Vineyards is a must for Virginia wine lovers, both for the excellent wines they produce as well as the beauty of the landscape and elegance of the facilities. The award-winning “green” Tasting Room officially opened in 2011 and shortly afterward received the coveted LEED Platinum certification, which goes only to construction projects that meet the highest-rated standards in green building technology. Not only are the construction features “green”, the aesthetics of the design with the surrounding landscape, create the impression that the wine tasting room is an outgrowth of the vineyard itself, similar to the way that the flavors of wines express the terroir of the vineyard soils. Located in Louisa, Cooper Vineyards is nestled amongst rolling hills in a traditional farming community. It is just a short drive from Richmond, Charlottesville and Fredericksburg. Cooper was licensed as the 53rd Virginia Farm Winery in 1999 and the first block of two acres was planted with Chardonnay, Vidal Blanc and Norton that spring. The original farm covered 36 acres with two natural springs and a pond from which the grapes were irrigated. Over the years, land holdings increased from 36 to 150 acres. Ten different varietals are planted over 15 acres with a goal to achieve quality fruit that will produce world-class Virginia wines. With an original production of 250 cases, Cooper Vineyards now bottles some 6000 cases per year with over a dozen wines poured for guests visiting the Tasting Room.   All the wines are hand crafted from 100% Virginia grapes, with approximately half estate grown. They offer a number of distinctive wines that appeal to widely varying tastes, including the nationally acclaimed Norton Reserve and Noche, their “almost cult status” chocolate infused dessert wine. The winery includes a spacious tasting room with custom concrete bar,…

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Arts & Entertainment, Gallery Beat

Lida Moser 1920-2014

Lida Moser passed away last month a few days before her 94th birthday. This grand photographer was not only one of the most respected American photographers of the 20th century – respected by fellow photographers, curators and all human beings — but also a pioneer in the field of photojournalism. Her photography has been in the middle of a revival and rediscovery of vintage photojournalism, and has sold in the five figures at Christie’s auctions and continues to be collected by both museums and private collectors worldwide. In a career spanning over 60 years, Moser has produced a body of works consisting of thousands of photographs and photographic assemblages that defy categorization and genre or label assignment. Additionally, Canadian television a few years ago finished filming a documentary about her life; the second in the last few years, and Moser’s work has been for years in the collection of many museums worldwide. A couple of the years ago, the Smithsonian Institution purchased over 800 photos and slides and negatives by Moser of her beloved New York. She was once called the “grandmother of American street photography” by an art critic, which prompted a quick rebuttal by Moser, who called the newspaper’s editor and told him that she wasn’t the “effing grandmother of anything or anyone, and would he [the writer] ever describe Ansel Adams or any other male photographer as the ‘grandfather’ of any style.” I once sold one of her rare figure studies to a big famous photography collector from the West Coast (who collects mostly nude photography). There were four or five prints of the image, taken and printed around 1961, but one had all the markings and touch-up evidence of the actual photo that had been used by the magazine, and thus I sent him that one….

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Financial Focus, Pets, Places, & Things

Tips for Minimizing the Tax Bite on Retirement Assets

For many investors, a large percentage of their assets are held in tax-advantaged accounts such as 401(k)s and IRAs. While these accounts can be ideal for sheltering retirement savings from taxes pre- and post-retirement, because these assets are included in the account holder’s gross estate, they can be highly exposed to tax issues in an estate if managed improperly. In short, the combined estate and income taxes owed by beneficiaries could potentially erode the lion’s share of the value of these assets. Proper Naming of Beneficiaries Many problems that arise when transferring retirement plan assets occur around the naming of beneficiaries. Consider these tips to help avoid problems in this area: Be sure to have a named beneficiary. Naming the account holder’s estate as the beneficiary will trigger the “five-year rule,” which states that retirement plan assets must be paid out immediately or by the end of the five years following the account holder’s death. Review and update beneficiary designations. Life situations change frequently and those changes can affect your beneficiary designations. For example, many times after a divorce, participants forget to update their beneficiary designations. Make sure one or more contingent beneficiaries are named. Without contingent beneficiaries you may face the same consequence as not naming a beneficiary at all — particularly when a primary beneficiary is no longer living. Spousal vs. Non-Spousal Beneficiaries Retirement plan assets that pass to a surviving spouse may qualify for the unlimited estate tax marital deduction, whereas retirement plan assets that a non-spouse beneficiary inherits may be subject to estate tax upon the account holder’s death. In addition, after the account holder’s death, the surviving spouse may roll over retirement plan assets to an IRA in his or her own name or elect to treat the retirement plan as his or her own….

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Arts & Entertainment, Last Word

The Fault in Our Stars

When I first heard this book’s title, I had two subsequent thoughts. The first recognized the reference to the quotation by Cassius in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars / But in ourselves, that we are underlings.” I next mused that Cassius would be spinning in his metaphorical grave these days. As Kim Kardashian and Miley Cyrus rump-shake their way to stardom, we so-called underlings—managers, bank tellers, teachers, nurses, and such—live quiet lives of hard-working routine while watching their faked reality-star shenanigans light up TV screens at night. The author, John Green, has a more profound point than mine, although related. In his highly popular young adult book The Fault in Our Stars, his protagonists yearn to be more than they are, which is teens with cancer who meet each other at a support group in a church basement, as far away from stardom as they might imagine possible. Hazel Grace Lancaster has a form of thyroid cancer that has spread to her lungs, and she wheels an oxygen tank to attend the depressing group that their testicularly challenged group leader and cancer survivor says takes place in “the literal heart of Jesus.” One day she comes in part to see her equally depressed friend Isaac, who has lost an eye to cancer. There she meets a boy named Augustus Waters, who catches her own eye through staring at her as if he’s seen a ghost. A former basketball star who has lost a leg to osteosarcoma, Augustus is like no one she’s ever met: a sarcastic, attractive seventeen-year-old on her wave-length, who wins her over with such arguments as those against the misuse of the word “literal.” He sees her as a young Natalie Portman in V for Vendetta and invites her to…

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From the Bay, From the Bay to the Blue Ridge

Solomons Plein Air Festival

Solomons Plein Air Festival September 17 – 21 Enjoy a weekend in beautiful Calvert County at the annual Plein Air Festival. What is Plein Air? Simply put, it is painting outdoors rather than in a studio. En plein air is a French expression, which means “in the open air” and is particularly used to describe the act of painting outdoor. Artists have long painted outdoors, but in the mid-19th century working in natural light became particularly important to the Barbizon school and impressionism. The popularity of painting en plein air increased in the 1870’s with the introduction of paints in tubes. Previously, painters made their own paints by grinding and mixing dry pigment powders with linseed oil. It was during this period that the “Box Easel”, typically known as the French Box Easel or field easel was invented. These highly portable easels made treks into the forest and up the hillsides less onerous. Still made today, they remain a popular choice even for home use since they fold up to the size of a brief case and are easy to store. French impressionists painters such as Claude Monet, Camille Pissarro, and Pierre-Auguste Renoir advocated en plein air painting, and much of their work was done outdoors, in the diffused light provided by a large white umbrella. American impressionist painters noted for this style during this era included Guy Rose, Roer William Wood, Mary DeNeale Morgan, John Gamble, and Arthur Hill Gilbert. The popularity of outdoor painting has endured throughout the 20th Century and in the 21st century. On the weekend of September 17 – 21st, you can observe painters painting en plein air along the banks of the Patuxent River in Solomons Maryland. The artists will paint for three days and some of the paintings will be for sale. The…

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Behind the Bar, Wining & Dining

Behind the Bar with Mark Barrett

Mark Barrett Chez Andree 10 East Glebe Road Alexandria, VA 703-836-1404 How did you get started bartending? As a child growing up in Pittsburgh, my Dad owned a country and western bar and it always intrigued me.  Then when I lived in New Orleans and after seeing the movie Cocktail, I wanted in on the action and did my first bartending gig there.  I loved it.  Plus, I enjoy talking to people and that’s why I like bartending at the Chez and catching up with all my regular customers.  I’m going on my 21st year here, which tells you how great it is to work for the Lecureux family and how much I love working with my wonderful coworkers. What is your bartender pet peeve? Well actually I have three: People snitching fruit out of the garnish tray. That just isn’t right. A drink being sent back because it doesn’t taste like alcohol.  I like to think of myself as a mixologist.  If the drink is made right, it should be smooth and taste like the name of the cocktail, not just alcohol. I call it an air bottle. When you’re busy making drinks and you reach for a bottle and there’s not even a half shot left in the bottle. That usually happens when you’re very busy. What’s the best line somebody used to get a free drink? I’ll gladly pay you tomorrow for a drink today. That’s not happening.  (It might work once if you are a good regular customer.) What’s the most memorable pickup line you’ve heard? Hi! My name is [John Doe]. How do you like you’re eggs? Can you tell me an interesting story? I used to have this customer who would come in 2 or 3 times a week and have 2 drinks and the French onion soup. At one point…

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Master's of Cuisine, Wining & Dining

Chef Larry Blevins

Chef Larry Blevins Society Fair 277 S. Washington Street Old Town Alexandria 703-683-3247 On Thursdays it’s French Steak Night, Larry Blevins Sous Chef at Society Fair cooks and serves a New York strip, rib eye, or filet, potatoes, and Caesar salad. Personal Bio: I am the demo chef at Society Fair. I was born in Natchitoches, LA and spent my childhood moving in a military family. I graduated from L’Academie de Cuisine’s professional program in June of 2012. LAC is a small school in Gaithersburg MD, consisting of 6 months classroom and practical instruction, coupled with a 6 month externship. I did my externship at Acadiana in D.C. where I worked as their pastry assistant and miscellaneous prep guy. After graduation, I stayed on at Acadiana, and worked a different station every night of the week. During the day, I worked right across the street from Acadiana at a small (now closed restaurant) Asian-ish restaurant, 901. I was the daytime fry guy. After overstretching myself, maybe 10 total days off, for 6 months I quit both locations, and started at Society Fair December 2012. I figured if the Mayans were right I wanted my last few work days to be on my terms. Since then I have taken over French Steak night. I have stolen the demo’s and claimed them as my own. The world didn’t end, but I have found happiness in the kitchens here. When did you first become interested in cooking? Why did you decide to pursue a culinary career? In our family everything revolves around the kitchen. Whoever was behind the stove held all the power – they were the creators, the bosses of what and when we ate. They were always the most important person in the building. I grew up an only child of a single army mother splitting…

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Exploring VA Wines, Wining & Dining

It begins again!

Every year we go through the harvest season. We know that every harvest there will be challenges but we try to plan as much as possible, train our team as best we can and hope that in the end it all works out ok. In the midst of planning for this year’s harvest, it occurred to me that the processing of farm products is a critical part of our survival. Our ancestors had to learn how to process and preserve the harvest to feed their families and communities over the long winter months. Sometimes the cost can seem questionable. For example, I have always been amazed that on larger farms, a packing house will sit dormant for 11 months a year. The reality is that for one month during harvest the processing plant is essential for the success of that farm. Similarly, we just purchased a $23,000 press to help us process our fruit better and more efficiently. This machine will be used for only 2 months out a year, which doesn’t sound very efficient or cost effective. Yet it truly is, because it enable us to increase both our yield and quality. With the exception of honey, and some root crops like potatoes and onions that don’t require as much processing, all farm crops need to be preserved in some manner to carry us through until the next harvest season. Think about the saucing, curing, freezing, drying, fermenting, milling and canning for different crops. Scientists research how to help farmers and processors preserve flavor, maximize nutrition and extend shelf life of these products. Remember that all the food and the many jobs associated with the harvest have their foundation in farming. We will always need people to farm, land to farm and a commitment from our leaders to keep…

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