Everything You Need for the Perfect Labor Day Party

One thing we’ve always liked about Labor Day is that we don’t have to feel guilty about enjoying it purely as a day off. What better way to pay tribute to the hard work we all put in, day in and day out, than to enjoy a little rest and relaxation?

Still, there’s often a feeling of melancholy attached to Labor Day. After all, it’s the end of summer. Even if you didn’t spend much or even any of the past three months beachside lazily working your way through a pile of novels, or hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, or in the bleachers at Wrigley or Fenway – or whatever exquisite vision of summer resides in your imagination – Labor Day can presage a return to a reality that’s a little less bright and hopeful.

All the more reason, we say, to pack your Labor Day with as much summer as possible – summer food, summer drink, summer fun. Call it a Farewell to Summer Party, a last sunshiny fling that will not only end the season on a high note, but inspire you to welcome fall and its abundant charms.

First, you need a great festive look. We’ve got that covered with a ton of cool decorating ideas on our Pinterest Page, but one easy way to give your table a colorful spark is by turning empty protea bottles into vases (it’s the simplest upcycling idea) for your centerpiece, like this:

centerpiece

What’s on the menu? We’ve scouted out some great recipes from around the Internet:

Guacamole hummus from Martha Stewart
Summer corn chowder from Food52
Barbecued spiced shrimp and tomato salad from Food & Wine
Summer fruit with wine and mint from Giada De Laurentiis
Blueberry cobbler from Real Simple

There’s one more recipe we love for the Farewell to Summer Party – shish kabobs that your guests can then assemble according to their own taste. The building blocks include vegetables galore, as well as three proteins: citrus-tarragon chicken and lemon-garlic shrimp, each of which would pair nicely with the protea Chenin Blanc; and a Dijon-rosemary steak to go with the protea Red.

Meanwhile, it wouldn’t be summer without play, so be sure to have the badminton, bocce or croquet going – and if your party is thick with kids, check out these party ideas for keeping them busy and smiling.

Have fun!

How to Remove a Wine Label (or Not)

Did you know that 45.4 percent of all the data currently taking up space on Web servers around the world consists of instructions on how to remove a wine label from a bottle? OK, that’s an exaggeration, but there sure is no shortage of advice out there.

DIY experts ranging from Martha Stewart to Popular Mechanics have weighed in. The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal have their own takes. A wine blogger has made a goofy demonstration video. There are even commercially available products!

What do we recommend?

Well, it depends on what your ultimate intention might be – whether you’re looking to make use of the bottle, or the label.

For upcycling purposes, you don’t have to worry about preserving the label. You just want a nice clean bottle, label be damned.

Soaking the bottle in a water-ammonia solution was a winner in tests done by Popular Mechanics: “Use enough ammonia and the label will just dissolve.” But ammonia, as the magazine notes, is nasty stuff, and we’d understand if you want to avoid it. Plus, after hearing about the experience of Debbie, a dedicated protea upcycler, we suspect ammonia could be a bad fit for our bottles.

Debbie used a commonly recommended and seemingly less toxic solution of water, vinegar and dish soap, and look what it did to her bottle:

bad bottle

As you can see, the solution didn’t get the label off especially well, and worse yet, ate away at the design painted on the bottle – the very thing that makes a protea bottle so special!

So instead, after soaking your bottle in plain hot water for a half-hour or so, gently peel what you can off the bottle. Even if a lot of your label comes off, you’ll still have glue residue to contend with – we can’t deny it, the glue is stubborn. But Debbie was able to rub away what remained by applying some vegetable oil and scrubbing with a paper towel.

If you’re looking to preserve the label for a scrap book or tasting-notes compilation, the methods available break down into two main camps – wet and dry. We’ve long enjoyed pretty good success with steam, simply holding the bottle above a kettle spout at slow boil. And that was our preferred method until we saw Wine Folly’s video, the one we linked to above. Goofy, yes, but it works!

A key to the technique is that she heats the bottle in a 200-degree oven, not the 350-degree oven that Popular Mechanics tried; this just might be the perfect temperature that loosens the glue while not overheating it and creating a sticky mess.

Got your own method that’s foolproof? Let us know about it, in the comments here or on our Facebook page.

Art and Urban Ag: The Sustainable Connection

city farm google maps

How is a protea bottle like a vacant city lot? Both can be turned into something beautiful and useable, that’s how.

Upcycling ,or “creative reuse,” often takes an artistic form – you can see that with many of the protea bottle projects we’ve highlighted – but at its root is the quest to live more sustainably. That’s something it shares with the trend toward turning empty urban lots into gardens or even farms.

While still a small part of the wider agricultural picture, the urban farming movement is surprisingly robust. Forbes contributor Jeff McMahon reported recently that in the city of Detroit alone, “community gardens now produce 200 tons of fresh fruits and vegetables per year.” Not only is this inspiring more healthy eating — residents who work in the gardens eat two and a half more servings per day of fruits of vegetables than their neighbors, McMahon wrote – but “property values near the gardens are rising by up to 20 percent.”

In Chicago, a leader in the urban farming movement is City Farm, where the mission is to transform “fallow, vacant land into amazingly productive farmland.” City Farm says it uses chemical-free, small plot production farming techniques to produce 25,000 pounds of produce from a mere acre, growing thirty varieties of tomatoes as well as beets, kale, chard, garlic, carrots, potatoes, gourmet lettuces, herbs and melons.

Emphasizing the interconnectedness of art, agriculture and sustainability, City Farm recently hosted an event that caught our eye – “Sustainable Vows,” which featured everything from music and dance performance to upcycled fashion to fresh food workshops. The event was put on by Art Depth; check out their Facebook album to see some photographs. (Art Depth is also planning another collaboration involving urban farming – learn more about that here).

Another organization drawing the connection between art and ag is the New Orleans based Life is Art Foundation. The art came first for this post-Katrina project in the St. Roch neighborhood of New Orelans, then came the urban farm –  a kind of art of its own. As the foundation put it, “The seamless introduction of a living, food-producing ecosystem introduces beauty at the center of a blighted environment and begins a ripple effect that addresses equally the human impetus for creativity and sustenance.”

Image: City Farm in Chicago, from Google Maps.

A Dessert Recipe to Go with Chenin Blanc

bars basket wine

Let’s talk about dessert wines. No, not wines that have loads of residual sugar or that are fortified with spirits, but dry wines that can go with dinner and still provide sipping pleasure when the dessert course comes out.

You see, the pour doesn’t have to be sweet – nor does the dish have to be that old standby of fruit and cheese – in order to make the wine-dessert connection.

In a post on StarChefs.com, Jeff Harding explored a trio of dry wine/dessert pairings offered by the Menlo Park, California, restaurant Madera and sommelier Paul Melkis, who matched a Rhone Syrah with plum and chocolate-themed desserts, a Kabinett Riesling with a parfait of sorts, and a Chenin Blanc with a fancy rice pudding.

As you might imagine, it was the Chenin Blanc that really caught our eye. And yep, we’ve got a recipe to go with it – one that plays off the protea Chenin Blanc’s citrus notes – courtesy our colleague Nita Lewis.

This recipe can be found on several websites, but seems to wind its way back to Rita’s Recipes, where it’s identified as a Lemon Brownie. Nita says a better name might be Citrus Shortbread Bars – in part because she didn’t find it to be very brownie-like, and because the recipe works great with a range of citrus. Such as orange or, as you see here, lime….

Zesting

The zesting, by the way, is the hard part of the recipe. “It’s a good thing that grating fresh citrus peel is such a pain,” Nita says, “otherwise I’d be making these way too often.”

A few further notes on the recipe:

• Gluten-free flour works well in this recipe.
• The recipe doesn’t specify, but you’ll need two fairly large lemons or oranges, or three or four limes, to get enough zest (you will have juice left over).
• Go easy on the glaze – cut that part of the recipe in half and you’ll still have plenty.
• The bars are very delicate and can be difficult to get out of the pan without breaking. You can cut them while they’re warm, but definitely make sure they’re all the way cooled through the center before trying to take them out.

Enjoy!

Benito’s Wine Reviews on protea’s Wines & Designs

Where to focus when writing about protea? Some journalists talk about the wine, others the unique packaging. In a new post, Ben Carter, author of the award-winning wine blog Benito’s Wine Reviews, takes in the whole picture, delivering praise for the Chenin Blanc and Red, while also noting the unique bottle designs and their re-use possibilities, as well as the brand’s recent collaboration with ceramics designer Jono Pandolfi.

Here are the wine reviews; click through to Ben’s article for the full story.

(Chenin Blanc) Once you peel off the label you can call it Steen and be true to the region. This is a delicate summer sipper with a profile of lime zest and pear, light white fruit, low acidity, and a gentle finish. Perfect for mild seafood dishes like steamed mussels where the salt will bring out the flavor in the wine.

(Red) This wine brought back a lot of memories from my South African wine tasting and dinner in NYC. Luscious aromas of dark cherry and coffee with hints of chocolate. Dark berry flavors and medium tannins with a long, lingering finish. Highly recommended for grilled lamb dishes.

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Ben Carter has been blogging about wine since 2005. His site, Benito’s Wine Reviews, was recently named one of the top wine tasting blogs in the 2014 Millesima Blog Awards, and was a finalist in the 2012 Wine Blog Awards in the Best Wine Reviews category.