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Valley of the Vine

The Business of Grapes from Ground to Glass

Northern Arizona’s Mountain Living Magazine, August 2017

Written by Gail Collins

Sitting in a trattoria in Tuscany, we ordered the local red wine, served in carafes. Such stuff never leaves the country, and it was the perfect complement to the boar stew. Terroir and taste—as local as it gets.

Over several years, the locavore trend has gained momentum growing farmer’s markets, restaurant offerings and Arizona’s Verde Valley Wine Trail. Cultivating its success was a team effort.

Eric Glomski, owner and director of winegrowing for Page Spring Cellars and Arizona Stronghold, has been in the wine business for two decades. He shunned becoming “just another winery in California,” where costs are prohibitive, and he undertook a statewide search of Arizona before calling Cornville home. His criteria for making wine were climate, soil, water supply, population proximity and demographics. The rural spot was ideal for raising a family, too. That was 14 years ago, and Glomski has learned a great deal and taught it to others, who possess the same passion.

“Since 2004, Page Spring Cellars (PSC) has become the father and mother of products personally and for others,” said Glomski, who helped birth Burning Tree, Carlson Creek, Painted Lady, Gallifant Cellars and more. Winemaking expanded in the region, so he moved Arizona Stronghold to a bigger facility to become “a home for start-ups, an incubator” for making contract, custom brands.

Glomski studied the subtleties of the land and helped define the crops, such as French-American hybrids over pinot noir. Educating the public built loyalty, the industry and recognition. PSC earned 90+ points on Wine Spectator’s scale, yet the bestowing of two Jefferson Cups in 2010 by the country’s top officials marked a turning point. “Arizona is not imitating others—we are confident winemakers in the Arizona marketplace and beyond,” Glomski said.

Winning teams comprise dedicated players, who work together. When Casey Rooney, economic development director for the City of Cottonwood, arrived 10 years ago, he recognized the potential for the wine game. “I’m a cog in the development of Cottonwood,” Rooney said. Old town was underutilized and devoid of businesses then. The mission:  To bring private business to the table to advise city planning.

In 2008, with other power players, such as police-chief-turned-city-manager Doug Bartosh, the wine industry became the focus. It would act as the driver for tourist dollars. As five-year plans were enacted, ancillary business alliances exploded in old town. “We were a sleeping giant with excitement to grow,” Rooney said. “We still feel the times are supercharged.” Wineries, such as Javelina Leap and Alcantara Vineyards, popped up in the countryside, and a tour of Napa and Sonoma confirmed, “We could do this.” Rooney called it “economic gardening,” growing from within to stay local and smart. Seeking solutions to problems benefitted all entrepreneurs, and in 2014, Cottonwood rebranded as the Heart of Arizona Wine Country.

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Cedar House Coffee Shop

Northern Arizona’s Mountain Living Magazine, March 2018

Written by Gail Collins

Women have an innate ability to juggle multiple tasks. Whether it’s prepping dinner with a baby on a hip or making a business call from the soccer practice sidelines, the balls stay mostly in the air. Perhaps, that is why women are natural entrepreneurs, where owners need to manage all facets of a business.

Diving into business is as earnest a commitment as caring for those we love. It also affords the same combination of challenges and rewards. Channeling realistic fear into motivation, expectations into short and long term goals and family support into a community network is a women’s typical to-do list, and it becomes profitable as a business venture. Confidence and competence are gained in the process.

“As a mother, I’m comfortable wearing many hats,” said Wendy Kuek, owner of Cedar House Coffee Shop in Flagstaff. She enjoys the stimulation her family business brings.

Kuek has lived and worked throughout the world from her native Asia to England and the U.S. “Each move built experience, cultural education and opportunities,” she said. And when the family moved to Flagstaff in 2016, the home educator and architect wanted to build community.

“In each locale, we extended ourselves, so the coffee shop is another example of that.”

Growing up in Singapore, food is a significant part of large, family events. Inspired later by Britain’s foodie networks, Wendy and her husband acted as bakers and cooks, aiming to recreate cuisine from their travels. Having a child with health concerns, it also was important to Kuek to make clean, quality food with known sources. She found Flagstaff is well suited for that despite its small town size.

“Food is nourishment and medicine in Asia,” Kuek said, “and Grandma would always ask, ‘What are you eating?’”

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Veg Out!

Finding great flavor in meatless dishes around town

Written by Gail Collins

Striving for healthful, responsible eating means including more veggies, fruits, whole grains, legumes and nuts. Vegetarian dishes often invoke creativity and color urging cuisine in flavorful directions with earthy lentils, creamy cheeses, garden produce, aromatic spices and satiating sauces. Flagstaff has an abundance of such choices on the menus of our ratcheted-up restaurant scene. Here is overview of vegetarian dishes from some innovative kitchens.

Sosoba

This nonstop noodle shop is not just ramen, but a full-service restaurant incorporating authentic dishes with farmers market finds. The starters boast unique concepts:  balls of fire mac ‘n cheese; flash-fried cauliflower with madras curry aioli and scallions; steamed edamame dusted with zippy togarashi and more. The salads add inventive goods, like rice noodles, shaved veggies, nuts and seeds plus citrus-soy dressing. But who are we kidding? We’re here for the noodles. The SUV—So, You’re Vegan—piles noodles with roasted veggies, sautéed greens, squash and rayu’s chili-sesame spice for a Japanese curry. The Mothra bowl layers broccoli, peas, cabbage, herbs, sriracha, fried garlic and marinated tofu over the noodles. And Yakisoba is stir-fried carrots, onion, celery, garlic, scallions and herbs in a Thai peanut sriracha sauce. This noodle house is hot on a winter’s day. 12 E. Route 66, Suite 104

Root Public House

This rooftop bar and grill offer peaks views and comfort cooking. Chef and owner David Smith draws on a southern background for inspiration. Root changes up the menu weekly according to fresh accessible ingredients, but vegetarian dishes are always available. One option is the cold, roasted vegetable salad contains seasonal garden goodies tossed in cream cheese vinaigrette with a scattering of fermented black garlic. Of course, there are salads, like the baby greens topped with tempting bee pollen, feta, candied walnuts and carrot vinaigrette. For a savory main, try the ricotta gnocchi with seasonal vegetables, olive, lemon, Black Mesa Ranch goat cheese, plus pecans. 101 S. San Francisco St.

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Best Bakery

Tourist Home All Day Café

Written by Gail Collins

Donut mountains, bagged sugar cookies, pumpkin cheesecake rolls … the tempting pastry posts of #katthebaker to the Facebook page of Tourist Home All Day Café are continuous. It’s enough to cause a change in the morning’s plans to include a quick stop for sweet treats. That certainly seems to be the case—the pastry case, that is—as the numbers of folks picking up pastries has expanded like a warmed bowl of yeast dough.

Pastry Chef Kat Biemann has had her hands in the flour at Tourist Home for more than two years. In that time, batches of donuts readied for the fryer have literally risen from eight to 80. Three assistants have joined the bakery team to help knead, shape and prep.

Saturday is Donut Day, and with 300 freshly glazed circles of happiness on display, there is still no time to dawdle. “We are more popular because we carry more variety than other shops,” Kat said. Keep it quiet, but there are alternate venues for baked goods. The kitchen also supplies pastries to Rendezvous and macarons to Steep Tea Lounge, as well as the menu of desserts for Tourist Home’s related eateries, Tinderbox Kitchen and Annex Cocktail Lounge.

Other days of note for Tourist Home are Pretzel Fridays and Cinnamon Roll and Sticky Bun Sundays. We knew you had a need to know.

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LEGACY restaurant preserves its Italian tradition

Mamma Luisa Italian Restaurante

Written by Gail Collins

When you put your heart and soul into something, it becomes more than a business. To Tony Martinez, his restaurant became his love. Wife Lisa smiled and said simply, “Mamma Luisa’s was his pride and passion.” After a good night, Tony might say of their maturing business, “‘She’s so beautiful—let’s buy her a gift,’” Lisa mused.

The man in the double-breasted chef’s jacket with a toque smashed over a bush of curls died his unexpectedly in June. “Honoring Tony and continuing his legacy in operating the restaurant is important,” Lisa said, her voice catching. “The community support, sharing memories and celebrating Tony, has been inspiring.”

Tony had presided over the kitchen since 1984. The original owner, Ernesto, built his menu on his Italian mother Luisa’s cooking, and Tony employed the same craft. There are no microwaves, food warmers or vats of sauce, other than the long-simmered spaghetti standard used in a variety of ways. All dishes are made fresh to order, like the renowned stracciatella, a Roman egg-drop soup, and the bread is baked daily.

The guest book contains a long list of regulars known by their first names. “We’ve seen people get engaged, have children, and grow families of their own,” Lisa said. Day-trippers and annual trekkers on cross-country ventures plan a Flagstaff stop to dine. The experienced wait staff has logged nearly a decade on the floor and includes extended family. The kitchen crew apprenticed under Tony and carries his legacy forward.

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Triple Crown: Campus Restaurant Takes Three Firsts

1899 Bar & Grill | 307 W. Dupont Ave.

Written by Gail Collins

Going home is often touted as a better ideal than idea, but when 1899 Bar & Grill harkened back to its roots, alumni and students, as well as the casual traveler or local, garnered more than they imagined. So named for the school’s founding year, 1899 acknowledges both its past and its march forward. Situated on Northern Arizona University’s North Campus, the building started out as a dining hall. Old grads, who stop in for a drink now, hardly recognize it, although the copper fireplace commanding the room is a clue and proper touchstone.

The modern sleekness of wood flooring and paneling blend with historic elements, plus texture and color, while the soaring ceiling and glass offer an airy space with an indoor-outdoor experience. Enjoy the roomy patio, seating 70 guests, and commune with the sweeping expanse of green and backdrop of mature pines. The red stone buildings and trademark conical towers are both fresh and timeless in turns. A pergola, allowing sun or shade, plus heaters for cool nights, create al fresco at its best.

1899 is the kind of place where friends can meet for a drink and stay for an upscale meal. Happy Hours are an everyday occurrence with typical libations and nosh, such as BBQ beef tips and mash, pork belly tacos or a mini Caesar salad. Every Sunday, 1899 showcases live entertainment.

Executive Chef Dennis Reuter pulls in regional foods as possible, but the menu aims for a global arc. Standout entrees include the Southwest brined pork loin, house-smoked with papaya barbecue sauce and served with warm potato salad and veg. The coffee and chili-rubbed hanger steak boasts sweet potato friends and creamed spinach.

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Crema in Cottonwood

Enticing stop for coffee, drinks, all-day brunch

Written by Gail Collins

Destination weddings have become more routine, but the experience is anything, but predictable. Especially when it comes to a world class destination, like Northern Arizona, with its rusty red rock backdrops, San Francisco Peaks majesty, or small towns charms, like Cottonwood.

The city has put itself back on the map with a determined decade’s thrust via the wine industry. Supporting businesses sealed the deal, creating a main street flanked with eateries, artisan shopping, tasting rooms and an upscale hotel. Such a destination can provide an enchanting spot to tie the knot or any other romantic reason.

The Tavern Hotel, built as a grocery 1925, was renovated in 2011 and opened 30 new luxury rooms last fall. With spa facilities and elegance in mind, the boutique hotel aims for an unforgettable experience. Try one of their special getaway packages, such as the Sip & Stay; Date Night in Old Town with champagne, chocolates and roses; or the splendor of a rail excursion through the Verde Canyon. The property is one of several owned by the Haunted Group, which focuses mainly on food in Jerome and Cottonwood.

Crema Craft Kitchen + Bar feeds Tavern Hotel guests and a growing throng, who know a good nosh. With its quirky container bar and shaded patio, plus nonstop brunch, it’s an enticing and solid choice.

“We offer fresh, wholesome cooking,” said Michelle Jurisin, executive chef and owner with husband Eric. “We’ve introduced Cottonwood to the best, where food is as beautiful to cook as it to see as it is to taste.” Organic choices, healthy oils and sustainable products are the norm. Tanner Wakefield, an Arizona Culinary Institute grad, runs the kitchen, focusing on low salt and food’s full flavors.

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Holiday Favorite

Tradition reigns supreme at Little America Hotel

Written by Gail Collins

At the flick of a switch, one million lights flash and glow against fir branches, reflected in the glistening snow. This elicits a collective whoop of joy. It is the official kick off to the Christmas season at Little America in Flagstaff where holiday happiness reigns supreme.

At Christmas, we embrace the simple delights. From glittering lights to sweet smells from the oven, a child’s eye offers the gladdest view. Little America caters to the child in all of us a this time of year.

Beyond decorations and lights, guests can be whisked 3,794 miles to the North Pole to meet Santa and his elves. Riding a trolley through a magic portal, they are transported to the busy enterprise of toy-making and reindeer training. There is private time with bearded man himself to make special requests plus a photo and a chance to help the elves before sipping hot cocoa by a roaring fire. This is the North Pole Experience.

Since 2009, thousands of families have visited Santa this way each year. Little America brought the North Pole Experience to Flagstaff in 2012. The all-inclusive, 90-minute adventure is a multi-generational memory maker—a Norman Rockwell moment we can all live.

Holiday customs have long been the backbone of Little America, and their legacy diners crowd family tables. “We harken back to home and everything wonderful,” said food and beverage manager Sally Maroney.  But it’s done in a bigger way, like the giant, hand-decorated, yard-square gingerbread house.

In 2016, Silver Pine Restaurant received an upgrade. Improvements on the hotel are due to be completed in summer 2018. The result of merging the previous coffee shop with separate fine dining, Silver Pine delivers casual elegance. Colors of sky and stone are echoed in texture like pale wood and denim booths. A vaulted roofline with soaring glass floods the room with light, and during warm weather, the long-overdue patio carries the dining into the garden.  Black and white photographs evoke the area’s history.

Tradition is a sacred thing, and General Manager Fred Reese acknowledged this when the restaurant revamp extended to the menu. “It was anarchy, and we quickly reinstated 85% of the diners’ beloved dishes,” said Reese, “like the decades-old roll recipe—the perfect accompaniment to any meal.”

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People of the Year Honoree, Jim Siebert, Chief Meteorologist Fox News 26

Steering Houstonians through Hurricane Harvey

Katy Magazine, December 2017

Written by Gail G. Collins

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” The iconic opening to A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens could’ve described the Houston area during Hurricane Harvey. The cataclysmic event of wind and water tested the Bayou City and surrounding communities, spawning powerful stories of heroism, help and the human spirit.

Be Alert, Be Calm, Be Wise

Leadership is paramount in times of trial. Throughout Harvey, people needed information, direction and support. Fox New 26 Chief Meteorologist and Katy resident Jim Siebert provided it through television broadcasts, Facebook Live dialogues and Twitter Q & A. Alongside weekend and morning forecasters, the team worked in eight-hour shifts to cover air time and engage the public personally. “Hundreds of thousands on Facebook needed help with specifics for their areas, and we offered feedback,” says Dr. Jim. The overriding message on every front was:  Be calm, be alert, be wise.

A Hurricane Brewing

A week before Harvey hit, the meteorologist sat in his home office, mulling over computer weather models. His wife, Debbie, came in, and was disturbed by what she saw in his face. “I knew it would be bad,” says Dr. Jim. “None of the solutions for the path were good ones.” Stalling was the great fear. “No one anywhere had covered a storm like Harvey. Allison was devastating, but the areas impacted were limited. Every storm has its unique set of hazards,” he admits. “Harvey will go down in the history books.”

Foreseeing trouble, Dr. Jim booked into a hotel near the news station for a week and aimed for six hours of sleep a night. Fox 26 is prepared for extreme situations and can actually house employees for a month. There are cots and supplies, including generators and fuel. Dr. Jim kept up with family through texts. “The worst part of my job is leaving my family.” The Sieberts have a plan to stay safe, and friends support them in the Dr. Jim’s absence.

Social Media

Social media played an integral part in spreading information and personalizing support efforts throughout the hurricane. It also allowed Dr. Jim and team to talk to people in their homes and offer the latest news. Sometimes, bad information was posted by trolls, like the photoshopped shark on the West Park Tollway, but at other times, it was more subtle. This created some fear and skepticism. “The good far outweighed any bad,” he says.

In the storm’s aftermath, one Katy family with horse property near George Bush Park had no electricity or access. They made a Facebook plea for help. A friend of a friend of a friend connected and brought a boat to help with the family and horses. The family, then turned around, and assisted others. “It’s so very Texas, and there are thousands of stories like that,” says Dr. Jim.

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Festive & Fresh

Arizona foods elevate the holiday table

Written by Gail Collins

As the golden light of autumn waned, the brisk afternoon warmed with the happy chatter of guests. Pecks on the cheek, lingering hugs and the joyous anticipation of time with loved ones set the stage for a holiday gathering. The cook mopped a brow with a dish towel, inhaled the stuffing’s fall fragrance and smiled. Nothing can top the celebratory combination of glorious food, home and company. In fact, it is the melding of elements, both festive and familiar, that creates the greatest happiness.

Gatherings can feel stressful, but serving specialty foods and a showcase bird is worth the planning and preparation. Even professionals, like Logan Webber, executive chef at Brix, utter colorful language when the top of the stuffing chars instead of browns, so relax, home cooks—it’s all part of the process.

Sustainable Serving

When it comes to choosing quality ingredients, local is always better. Even a massive bison creates a smaller carbon footprint when the animal is grazed, processed and eaten regionally. Sustainable farming and ranching guard future land use for all. Environmental preservation—avoiding toxic substances or depleting natural resources—builds an ongoing ecological balance. Sustainable practices consider animal welfare, protect public health and support vibrant communities. The good news is that increasing demand for sustainable living is fueling a robust market of products and producers.

The Colorado Plateau offers a wider variety of proteins and produce than might be expected for a semi- arid land. Some of the sources readily available to Northern Arizona include:  McClendon’s Select, Roots Micro Farm, Black Mesa Ranch, Two Wash Ranch, and of course, the local farmers market. Three generations at McClendon’s Select have cultivated nearly 100 acres of certified, organic farmland in Peoria and Goodyear. Roots is an urban farm in Flagstaff supplying colorful micro-greens—vegetables, herbs and flowers—to local restaurants. Black Mesa Ranch boasts the “flavor of the White Mountains” with farmstead artisan cheeses crafted from registered Nubian goats. Two Wash Ranch, a five-acre poultry farm, raises chickens, ducks, geese and pea fowl in a cage-free environment.  For the easiest downtown shopping however, visit Proper Meats + Provisions, an abundant source of regional, quality fresh and jarred items.

“There are many reasons to use sustainable ingredients,” Chef Webber said. “It’s better for the environment, but there is also the chance to talk to the people, who make the food, about their practices and upcoming farm produce. This offers the chance to change up the menu with seasonal items.” Farmers markets are ideal for this, and he also chats with other chefs, who can help with sourcing. Webber, who entice diners with the unique root vegetables in autumn, added, “Local goods taste so much better and have a longer shelf life that extends recipe opportunities.”

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Gathering Place Up the Creek Bistro Wine Bar offers effortless entertaining in a creekside setting

Up the Creek Bistro Wine Bar offers effortless entertaining in a creekside setting

Written by Gail Collins

The best tip for hosting happy holiday gatherings is planning. Though a spontaneous event suggests an air of que sera sera, the anxious reality is we will lie awake plotting anyway. Skip the bad dreams and start a checklist. Whether it’s a corporate or family affair, deciding the details early will increase joy and attendance. It also creates control.

Things to consider:  Is there a theme? Who is on the guest list—employees or adults only or family fun? When is it best to gather the crowd—day, evening, weekend? How about games or entertainment—live music or quiet carols? What is the budget—be honest? Where is the proper venue—home, office or restaurant? The food—should it be home-cooked or catered? Use the answers to build a list that covers all of the activities from several weeks out to greeting the guests. Then, plot them on the calendar. Add items as needs arise, like fresh batteries for the camera or renting extra chairs. On the day, stay upbeat, elevate your guests, and enjoy the party.

As more people eat out on an almost daily basis, partying at a restaurant could be the seamless solution to most hosting duties. Up the Creek Bistro Wine Bar in Cornville, with fine dining in a rustic space perched above the creek, has served brides and grooms or statesmen, like Sen. John McCain, who regularly rents out the 100-guest space for soirees. A party of 10 or 50 can also choose from the same French-inspired European and American dishes.

Owners Mario Aguilar, Michelle Mebine and chef-owner Jim O’Meally opened the revamped space last fall, and despite an off-the-beaten-path location, its popularity has grown. Fiery leaves and a clear stream make an especially inviting environment in autumn. The split-level building’s low-beamed ceilings with stone fireplaces and lanterns project a cozy, lodge feel.

At Thanksgiving last year, the restaurant presented a buffet with 12 roasted turkeys from a Page Springs farm. The menu featured unique and traditional dishes homemade from fresh ingredients: maple-brined pork roast, braised red cabbage, sweet potato and green bean casseroles, roasted Brussel sprouts, ginger-honey glazed carrots, three kinds of stuffing and gravy, plus pumpkin and buttermilk pies.

“People are our guests and feel relaxed here,” O’Meally said, “Often over dinner, tables meet one another, talk, share wine and become friends.”

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