writing, wine, and beautiful automobiles

In February I celebrate working the freelance writing thing for six years. It’s crazy. And pretty awesome.

Freelancing has been my sole source of income since June 2012. That’s no small feat, considering my partner isn’t in a position to shoulder more than his share of our expenses – mortgage, car/home insurance, health care, utilities etc. I know writers who don’t need to rely on their income from writing, and I’m happy for them – I’m just not one of them.

The landscape of this life is a patchwork of individual projects, pitching assignments to publications, and finding the elusive regular/ongoing contract. It’s tedious and tiring, but flexible and rewarding in ways not measured by a bank balance. After several years of juggling competing deadlines and surviving lean ‘quiet’ months, I’ve managed to assemble a less jumbled combination of contracts and regular stints. Translation: the times are a-changin’.

endings

Orofino's 1.6 Mile Dinner with Joy Road Catering
Orofino’s 1.6 Mile Dinner with Joy Road Catering

As I make my way into a few more structured contracts, I’m bidding farewell to a few regular gigs – including one that has been dear to my heart since 2011: EAT Magazine.

Under the guidance of brilliant writer/editor/wine professional Treve Ring, I wrote more than 30 articles for EAT’s digital presence and a number of others in ink. At times the writing world can be cold, but Treve (and publisher Gary Hynes) provided me with a warm place to test my writing chops and push boundaries – my own included. I’ll miss writing with EAT, and I hope to contribute occasionally. I have Treve & Gary to thank for things too numerous to list.

beginnings

fangirl time with pro driver Patrick Carpentier
fangirl with pro driver Patrick Carpentier (photo credit: Voth Photography)

For the last year I’ve been working with the lovely group at South Okanagan Motorsports. They’re the folks building Area 27 – a private Motorsports club & track outside of Oliver on land owned by the Osoyoos Indian Band. With my dad an auto body tech and painter, I saw many cars at an early age and have been in love with beautiful automobiles ever since. (16-year-old me had an enormous crush on Jacques Villeneuve)

Things are moving quickly for Area 27 so I’m dedicating more time to them. It might seem an exclusive group, and it takes more than a few bones to join (it is a private club), but the people involved are some of the kindest I know. I arrive with my beater of a ride and park in a lot stacked with cars most only dream about, but no one cares that my ’91 Accord has a belt squeal or exhaust leak. (I’ve also met Richard Spenard, Patrick Carpentier, and Trevor Seibert – which is totally rad)

the wine part

don't assume the valve can be opened
don’t assume the valve can be opened

After making more than a few trips to Covert Farms in the past few years, I’m smitten with the place. In September 2014, I signed on to work harvest as cellar hand; I had no experience but oodles of theoretical awareness. Why work harvest? I’m a writer – I like to know my subject matter. It was gruelling, cold, wet, and exhausting work. It was also engaging, rewarding, fascinating, and addicting.

Since then, the dynamic duo of Gene and Derek have decided to keep me around for a couple of days per week. It’s a small operation experiencing enormous growth, which means people wear many hats and flexibility is required. My having other freelance contracts makes it easier for them, and they can be flexible and adapt to my crazy schedule. It’s win-win.

Lastly, there’s a super rad contract that I’ll be announcing mid-February. No details until then, sorry.

Keeping my hand in the pot, I’ll continue with a few bits-and-pieces contracts that are meaningful and interesting. It’s been a tough slog to get here and I know the challenges are far from over. I’m fortunate to work with wonderful clients who trust me to tell their stories – and there are many more to come.

I’m grateful to each of you who has supported me, fed me, proofed for me, listened to my crazy ideas, and helped me on this wackadoodle path that is freelance writing. You’ll probably end up as characters in a novel that I never publish.

Here’s to a year ahead of writing, wine, and beautiful automobiles.

~ Jeannette

terra madre: slowing it all down

In a world of fast, slow is what we covet. Or should. Go through (if you dare) a fast-food drive-thru and look for the clock/timer near the window; it’s monitoring the entire interaction from the disembodied speaker voice to the person handing over whatever passes for food.

The fast-growing backlash to large scale unsustainable food production is the slow food movement and Terra Madre: a network of food communities focused on responsibly and sustainably producing quality food – translated, terra madre means ‘mother earth.’

It asks that we get out of our cars and take the time to live responsibly, which isn’t a big ask considering that’s exactly what we say we want to do.

On December 10th I joined 60 people at a Terra Madre dinner hosted by Miradoro Restaurant at Tinhorn Creek. It was part fundraiser for our local Slow Food chapter and part playtime for some of the Okanagan’s most rad chefs involved in the slow food movement and sustainable food sourcing: Jeff Van Geest (host), Dana Ewart and Cameron Smith (Joy Road Catering), Natasha Schooten (Terrafina Restaurant), Chris Van Hooydonk (Artisan Culinary Concepts), Brock Bowes (The Sonora Room at Burrowing Owl), and Derek Uhlemann (Covert Farms). Hell yes, that’s a lineup.

We can talk about being sustainable, eco-friendly, farmers’ markets, foraging, and <insert media buzz word here>. Whether we can support a sustainable food system comes down to how we choose to live and despite what you’ve heard it might not be possible to have it all – if what you want to have isn’t, underneath, sustainable.

It took a team of 7 chefs and I have no idea how many others to bring this culinary feast to our table. They spent valuable hours preparing what we consumed. In the type of life that many of us have constructed, that’s not sustainable with our heavy schedules – the work, kids, commuting, home repairs, caring for aging families, and <insert other obligations here>. Or is it?

We need to cultivate a new definition of success, one that goes beyond acquisition of X. It’s an entire infrastructure that needs supporting – from how we reward work to what we offer as opportunities to succeed. If we can retrofit a more mindful way of how we live our lives, everyone wins – including what we rely on to sustain us.

On a personal note, a hearty and heartfelt thank you to everyone involved in making the Terra Madre day celebration the remarkable experience it was. Each of you rock my world, regularly.

Here’s a glimpse of the awesome.

pre-dinner kitchen love: chef Jeff squeezes happiness into chef Chris, while chef Dana looks on – who seems uncertain about what to make of it.
chefs getting down to business: (l-r) Brock, Cam, and Jeff – with Chris in the background.
on this night, there is no such thing as too many cooks in the kitchen. it takes a community to feed a, well… community.
chef Cam carves out a (small) space of his own. that sausage? local goat.
chef Jeff and chef Brock take advantage of a rare spacious moment in the kitchen.
the food: magnificent. the people: outstanding. it’s hard to imagine what people in large urban centres do for a culinary experience superior to this.
bodies everywhere, producing one brilliant dish after another. owner Manny waits for chef Chris to put the finishing touches on a plate.
local goat, prepared four ways. we happily enjoyed each and every one of them.
the crew, once the culinary dust had settled (L-R): Chef Jeff Van Geest, Chef Cameron Smith, Chef Chris Van Hooydonk, Chef Dana Ewart, Chef Brock Bowes, Chef Natasha Schooten, and Chef Derek Uhlemann.
the menu: ohmygawd the menu.

on being offensive: why we should do it more

It’s not (usually) in our natures to intentionally offend people, unless you’re a raunchy comedian. Even then the offensive material is carefully crafted to poke fun at what we have – passively – decided is acceptable. But maybe we should occasionally piss people off.

Earlier this year I wrote a challenging article for EAT Magazine (From Farm To Table: The Real Story, April 2013). In it, I describe a day at a local farm where I witness a sheep slaughter and butchering. Before the article, I initially mentioned the nature of it to friends and was received with a combination of shock (such harsh words!), disgust (that must have been gross), and confusion (why would you want to see that?). However, with thanks to editors Treve and Gary – who supported my rather unusual and possibly controversial article pitch – the piece ran.

Of late I’ve seen a clip circulating the interwebs that provides a certain shock value in support of the conversation around sustainable food systems; six minutes touted as “quite possibly the most eye opening six minutes ever on film.” It depicts large-scale food sourcing, complete with horrifying-to-comprehend mass farming shot in terrifically beautiful cinema format. This isn’t uncommon – documentaries have been and continue to be made in the hopes of alerting us to the stark realities of corporate farming.

We fear offending people with “sensitive” topics of conversation around slaughter or butchering, and some vegetarian friends were a little squeamish on hearing the details of my day on the farm – but we see worse in action films and first-person shooter video games. Why are we offended by a frank conversation about where our food comes from, but we’ll wrap a copy of Mortal Kombat <insert edition here> and place it under the tree in December?

Here are some images from my day on the farm – a story in photograph, unedited for their potentially offensive nature. I’m asking you to view them, please.

(big respect to EAT for taking a chance on me, to Gene and Shelly Covert for opening their farm doors to me, to Derek for inviting me, to Jeff for allowing me to capture this, and to Van Doren for being her awesome self; if I haven’t said it before, let me say it now – I’m humbled by your trust in me to tell the story well)

The two gents (Barbados blackbelly sheep), who were the stars of the show.
Derek and Van Doren prepare the sheep for a nearby tree, while Gene provides instruction.
Before automation, before electricity… this is what food looked like. It still does, when it’s farmed respectfully and sustainably.
Learning from the pro: Chef Jeff takes advice on technique from Gene.
Respectful slaughter includes taking the time to use as much of the animal as possible – not indiscriminately tossing bits and pieces into a pile.
Van Doren gets a lesson in skinning from Gene. (notice the absence of blood and gore, in contrast to today’s blockbuster action/adventure movies?)
One of Gene’s sons (homeschooled on the farm) makes an educational discovery while helping his father with the day’s work. Cause = effect.
Meat should look like it came from an animal and was handled by mindful people – not from an assembly line, handled by hundreds.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve never seen meat this fresh. The aroma was unlike anything I’d smelled: slightly gamey, almost metallic. Honest.
Delicious-looking crepinettes from Chef Jeff; you can’t buy them because it’s illegal to sell meat slaughtered on private property. After watching shock-docs and then witnessing this day, I’d eat one of these in a second.

the rise of farm dinners

For many, the bulk of our food shopping is done in fluorescent-lit grocery store aisles with a weekly foray to the coveted local farmers market – if we’re lucky. We live anywhere from 4 to 8 process steps away from that vegetable in the ground or fruit on the tree. (don’t get me started on meat – read my thoughts about it here)

There are fewer chances to interact with food in the way we’re meant to – how we’ve been doing so for generations, until the last century. Not everyone can reside close to where our food comes from; and let’s face it, most of our food no longer comes from the farmer down the road.

With the growth of the Okanagan wine industry comes a rise in agri-food tourism. This is a good thing. It gives area farmers a chance to get their wares in front of folks who have substantial buying power – and therefore, consumer influence.

There are some folks doing it right. The Coverts are an Okanagan farm family going back several generations. Today, Gene and Shelly Covert operate the now organic farm and own Covert Family Estate winery. They get it: farmers markets, accessible and good food, mindful farming… you name it. They’re also helping change the face of wine, and I’ll bet they don’t even realize it. For consumer purposes, we’ve romanticized wine production – in the real world, farming isn’t all that pretty.

Gene’s just as likely to be out fixing irrigation as he is to be in the lab testing wine, and the last time I was at the farm Shelly was in a homeschooling session with their two boys. There’s paperwork and payroll, especially in the busy summer season when farm workers multiply exponentially, and their organic home delivery program doesn’t run itself.

So where does the winemaker dinner fit? Instead of adding to the facade perpetuated by so many, this is where the Covert family brings us in – all in – to their real world. (dressed up, yes – but farm glam, not city glam)

Weathered picnic tables line the patio, no linens required. Simple place settings reflect the afternoon sun and illuminate the dinner table. A fish is in the outdoor smoker, and a pig is roasting on the spit. Farm-fresh carrots and potatoes accompany the meal with no fanfare – just great taste.

We sit shoulder-to-shoulder and are served family-style on large sharing plates. Wine is poured, but not glorified. Guests are encouraged to sip and indulge at our own speed. The fish and pig are dressed table-side, right in front of us.

Dusk falls, and voices rise. We celebrate the miracle of pig fat – as a seasoning on vegetables or in the chewy goodness of ‘crackling’. We’re sated, and leave feeling like we’ve just enjoyed a lovely family meal. If Gene or Shelly were to ask any of us for help on the farm the next day, the answer would have been a resounding yes because that’s what family does.

As we invent new ways to remove ourselves from the mess of nature, it’s people like the Coverts who remind us why that might not be what we need. The farm dinner could be one solution to a problem we haven’t even begun to realize is staring us in the face, every day.

Pork fat is the answer – to almost any question. Here, our pig is adding juicy goodness to the roasted potatoes.
If I never see another white linen table cloth, I won’t be sad. The weathered grey of these picnic tables is beauty.
As pretty as it is, it’s not a prop – this old truck serves as a field guide for farm tours. It’s not afraid to get dirty.
The spring salmon goes from smoker to table side. No interruptions.
(l-r) Gene Covert, Derek Uhlemann, and Jeff Van Geest: the three people at the heart of feeding and watering us.
Roast pig, with potatoes and carrots (seasoned with salt, parsley, and pig drippings). Wine: Covert Farms 2007 Rosé (left), Tinhorn Creek 2011 Rosé (right). Did I say delicious? Delicious.
Two of the most badass chefs you’ll ever want to feed you.

my wicked-awesome Okanagan, part iv (en plein air)

Canada sure is pretty.

We’re known for snow, mountain vistas, and hockey. Panoramic wilderness and gritty Toronto sidewalks, unusual food (think poutine), and unpronounceable names – like Tatamagouche and Ucluelet. We’re on the map for a reproduction of Stonehenge made from crushed cars built by an artist who taught geese to fly, an insurance company operating in the world’s shallowest commercial building (where I purchased my marriage certificate), and nine metre (30′) 1951 Canadian nickel. We’re the best place to get maple syrup.

One of my favourite things about Canada is the Okanagan, in British Columbia. It’s pretty, has an abundance of fruit, and is where I call home.

Here’s a bit of the Okanagan I fell in love with – en plein air, without pomp and circumstance. Enjoy the view.

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Lake Okanagan
lake Okanagan, as seen from highway 97 en route north to Kelowna
Dominion Astrophysical Radio Observatory
giant radio telescopes at the Dominion Astrophysical Radio Observatory map the sky we can’t see
Vaseux Lake
McIntyre Bluff looms over Vaseux Lake; no motorized watercraft allowed – the lake joins a bird sanctuary
Black Sage Bench
spring sunshine coaxes life back into vineyards in the south
Covert Farms
being greeted by an inquisitive young highland cow at Covert Farms
Anarchist Mountain view
over Osoyoos, looking north, from Anarchist Mountain
Haynes Ranch
the historic site of Haynes Ranch, south of Oliver
Naramata sunset
sunset over Lake Okanagan, looking northwest from Naramata