Saturday, August 28, 2010

On the Menu: Brunswick Squirrel Stew


I’m in Brunswick County, VA, sitting on a blue tarp on the side of a rocky hill 50 feet from Lake Rawlings. Rawlings is an old rock quarry-now-scuba destination for legions of wannabe divers from Rocky Mount to Rockville. Rick is here to check out his new, lightweight gear in preparation for our trip to Indonesia later this year.

I can’t be bothered. So instead I’m reading the Visitor and Newcomer Guide to Brunswick County, and it turns out I am smack in the middle of Brunswick Stew Country. This excites me no end. Stewww. That homiest of homey meals. The meal that stirs memories of seven Bauers packed around the kitchen table on cold winter days, eyeing the dwindling stew pot and barely bothering to chew – the better to be first on seconds.

That’s how good was my mom’s beef stew, with big chunks of potatoes and carrots, melting onion, the occasional bay leaf, and, the best part, kernels of corn and lima beans in the bit of gravy at the bottom. Brunswick stew, as I now know, is squirrel-based, with a pound of butter, some onions, a bit of stale bread, and heavy seasonings of black and red pepper. Or at least that’s how Uncle Jimmy Matthews, the creator, cooked it back in 1828, along with a shot of brandy or Madiera.

Over the years, the recipe evolved to become a lot more like my mom’s stew, and a lot less like Uncle Jimmy’s. The Story of Brunswick Stew (page 4) attributes this to “squirrels being harder to come by,” and I think: have you stepped outside in the last decade? In my little piece of Virginia, squirrels are the new Japanese beetle. They are everywhere.

Bobbing and weaving on the driveway. Pawing through the basil. And kvetching. Oy. Like they own the joint. Little do they know there’s a stew out there with their name on it.

In fact, back here in the Lake Rawlings wilderness, I’m noticing that the woods and picnic pavilions are surprisingly squirrel-free. And I see here in the Visitor’s Guide that the big Brunswick Stew Cook-Off is coming up in just a few weeks.

Coincidence? I think not.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Wine Bloggers Like Us Are One in a Million

We’ve been operating without business cards. And without a card, you are nobody. A big nothin’ ball. Because (as we heard loud and clear at one winery recently) there are a million of us out there. “Us” being wine bloggers.

I was vaguely aware of this when we started our project. But in the fifth-largest winery-producing state in the vast landmass that is the U.S. of A., I figured there was room for all. And besides, we are TRAVEL APP WRITERS, not wine bloggers.

(Pay no attention to the blog behind the curtain!)

(Okay, okay. We're wine bloggers. You caught us.)

That said, I still believe there’s room for all, but having a business card doesn’t hurt.

We try to keep it low-key at the tasting bar – we’re doing research (fun, fun research), not looking for handouts, and not doing investigative journalism. But Rick’s big camera click-clicking away and my note-scribbling do tend to attract some attention, and if asked, we do tell. We say we’re doing a travel guide app on Virginia wine country.

Which is exactly what we said one stop after the “there’s a million of you out there” winery. And waddya know, the lady at the end pipes up: “Hey, I’m a wine blogger, too!” She was ultra friendly (we wine bloggers are) and offered up her expertise on how many wineries to visit in a day. Three, if you’re wondering, unless you want to completely blow out your taste buds.

We here at Virginia Wine in My Pocket don’t have time to stop at three, of course, because we have a schedule to keep, and miles to go before we…get to drink any wine but Virginia’s. (Good thing things have come so far since we first drove these roads in search of vino.)

And we don’t have to worry too much about palates and such because… we’re not really wine bloggers. We know as much about wine as the average citizen (who is crazy about wine, takes wine classes, goes to tastings…you know, the typical D.C.-area wonkety wonk). But we are not aficionados – we focus on the travel, where to stay, where to eat, the beauty of Virginia’s trails, the infatuating people you meet along the way. We are travel app writers that specialize in Virginia’s beautiful wine country.

And you’d know that. If only we had a card.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Beer?? Everyone knows it’s WINE before waltz


Just like you and your spousal unit, when Rick and I were engaged, we thought it might be prudent to learn how to dance. Nothing fancy, just a neat little waltz or maybe a watered down samba.

So we signed up for ballroom instruction, and rendezvoused in the parking lot before class. I don’t remember whose idea it was to bring beer, but we got into the habit of having a quick, cold one before heading in, to loosen us up.

The beer did not help. We did not magically click on the dance floor. It was not effortless. We stepped all over each other. Kind of like building our second app.

Our first app was easy – I wrote it, Rick photographed it. Rick built the web site, I promoted it. Clear division of labor.

The Virginia Wine in My Pocket project? A little different. We’re more ambitious with this one. Rick’s got big ideas about online winery maps and merchandise; I’m scribbling notes to myself about travel articles and interviews. We’re moving fast. But that doesn’t mean we’re dancing to the same beat.

For example: Rick thinks we should banter in our blog (this is the blog). Make it a he said/she said kind of thing. I think of Gene Weingarten’s face-offs with Gina Barreca in the Washington Post Magazine, and decide, “No way.” We’re just not that interesting. But I go ahead and offer up some provocative hooks to pull Rick into the blogersation, and…nothing.

Several days later I say, “Why didn’t you jump in? I gave you an opening!”

And he says, “That was an opening? I didn’t have anything to say!”

Well, we did dance on our wedding day. We busted out our best 9th grade dance moves, wrapping each other in a big bear hug and swaying to Valentine. And someday we may actually be in step on Virginia Wine in My Pocket, too.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Murder and mayhem on the Chesapeake Bay Wine Trail

Three months ago, Rick and I published a travel guide for the iPhone, called Rehoboth in My Pocket.

It took many, many hours and has yielded teeny tiny bits of money.

“Let’s do another!” we said.

So we settled on Virginia Wine in My Pocket as the second travel app for our In My Pocket Guides label. (Impressive, huh? We hear the editors at Frommer's Guides are trembling...).

In April, we launched a web site, so you could follow our wacky antics and zany exploits. And so you’d be standing breathlessly in line (virtually) when the app queued up for launch in early summer.

And then May rolled by, followed closely by June, and no app. “What’s the deal?” we asked ourselves. “Where’s the Virginia Wine in My Pocket app? Why the hold up?” (No one else was standing in the virtual queue yet, so we queried ourselves.)

Life, as you’ve probably guessed, intruded. People got married, people had birthdays. And, surprisingly, Rehoboth in My Pocket did not shoot to the top of the iTunes charts overnight, and needed some cuddling and encouragement.

I fretted; my rule-bound approach to marketing required that we first publish the app, and then hit the road to promote it. Ergo, we could not begin visiting wineries until we’d published the app. Meanwhile, the summer skipped by.

Rick, not being the marketing strategist that I am, suggested a different approach: “How about if we put the rules aside and just have fun with this?”

Nervous, I was. That was just crazy talk. We’d be digging ourselves into a deeper behindedness if we spent precious weekends running off to wineries instead of bent over our computers. But it was July already, and our backs were against the wall.

So we scrapped our strategic plan. “Let’s just drive,” we said. Like when we were dating, a decade ago. Back then, we just wandered, visiting tasting rooms, feigning interest in residual sugar and harvesting schedules when we really just wanted some free wine and a seat in the Adirondack chairs, looking out toward the Blue Ridge.

Now, of course, it’s our business. Or, at least, we want to make this our business and cut loose the 9-5 yoke. Traveling around, meeting eccentric wine makers and brave winery owners. Taking pictures that land on magazine covers, and getting patted and pinged by readers. A life with a new mission statement: “How about if we put the rules aside and just have fun with this?”

So there we were last weekend, whizzing along the Chesapeake Bay Wine Trail on Virginia’s Northern Neck, approaching winery number 30 on our “150 Wineries in 150 Days Tour: Virginia.” It must have been butterfly season on the Neck, because swallowtails were everywhere and, sadly, we nailed one.

Rick said, “You know the last thing that goes through a bug’s mind when it gets hit by a car?”

“No, what?” I asked.

“Its ass,” he said.

Rick is completely heartless, of course, and a babe in the woods marketing-wise. But he’s got a great sense of direction, and I like where he’s taking us.