Ready for Spring 2016

It really hasn’t been a bad winter but it was still winter. The upper Oyster River below the dams never convincingly froze for more than a day or two at a time. Snow is an annoyance at best and for the working crowd a major obstacle at its worst. I have seen flocks of geese flying over the last couple of weeks and that woke me to the need to place my seed order which, may be just in time as the forecast is looking more and more spring like.

Now, for the last two days we have had 5 swans paddling about Jackson’s Landing:

Swans on the Oyster River waiting for ice out above the dams in Town, ©

Swans on the Oyster River waiting for ice out above the dams in Town


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Looking at German Wines

I am fond of dry, crisp white wines with decent acidity but disappointed with my purchases of German wines regardless of the professional reviewer’s rating or the wine’s price. Their labels are confusing and I have been left staring at the wine shelves only to turn and buy a nice French Picpoul or an Alsatian Riesling or Pinot Gris. I am comfortable with my Old World bigotry but within the Old World I do like to drink around. It is high time that I did some basic research and look at the German system for labeling wines.

Consider these three main issues when purchasing German wine:

Quality Designations:

QbA       Qualitätswein bestimmter Anbaugebiete

Growing region must be shown on the label, it is an everyday table wine similar to France’s VdP designation. Alcohol must be at least 7%, chaptalization is common and the resulting wines range from dry to semi-sweet.

QmP      Prädikatswein, formerly Qualitätswein mit Prädikat

Germany’s best wine regarded as ‘quality wine with specific attributes’. Chaptalization is not allowed but the wines typically show a trace of residual sugar. The Prädikat (ripeness level) indication is designated on the wine label and means:


Typically, semi-sweet with good acidity made from fully ripen grapes.


Typically, semi-sweet and often fruitier and maybe sweeter than Kabinett, the grapes must be harvested, at least, 7 days after the normal harvest. Spätlese equates to late harvest but isn’t as sweet as a dessert wine and might even be a full bodied dry wine.


Produced from extremely ripe grapes, the wine is typically semi-sweet or sweet but might be dry. This designation covers the widest range of wine styles.


Sweet dessert wine


Produced from grapes that were left to freeze on the vine, an ice wine.


The trocken does not mean this is a dry wine, rather that the grapes have been left to shrivel on the vine before harvest. Additionally, these wines are made from grapes infected with noble rot.

Sweetness Designations:

Trocken                Dry or sec

Halbtrocken       Half-dry or demi-sec

Feinherb              Sweeter than halbtrocken


Weißwein           White wine

Rotwein               Red Wine

Roséwein            Rosé wine

Perhaps to make this more confusing there is an Association of German Prädikat Wine Estates indicated by the VDP logo, usually on the capsule, which depicts an eagle grasping a cluster of grapes. VDP members can use two additional designations for their top-level dry wines:

Erste Lage and Grosses Gewächs

Next time its the QmP Spätlese Trocken Weißwein  for me. Certainly not a guarantee for a great wine but likely better than what I bought before.

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Cheese & Wine

Best advice I have is: if it tastes good to you then it tastes good. I’ll swear that the best pairing I ever discovered was a good Roquefort (Carles makes the best) with an ice-cold Diet Dr. Pepper. Anyone suggesting that a definitive guide to pairing exists doesn’t under stand the number of grape varietals, complexity of terroirs, degrees of affinage that exist.

I offer the following as a place to start your discovery, enjoy the trip and hope it never ends.


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Paris, COP21 and Christmas

Delacroix's La Liberte guidant le peuple

Delacroix’s La Liberte guidant le peuple

If you can survive the Occupation than a few terrorists will only piss you off, the loss of life and the tragedies that occurred on 13 November are not taken lightly nor will they be forgotten soon but the French are resilient. They have and will continue to press the agenda against terrorism but they will also get back to their process of living.

We arrived to vacation in Paris along with the 45,000 who came for COP21, passport control was an interesting hour and a half of standing and shuffling along. But everyone understood the additional security and in general, except for those who were missing tight connections, were in good humor. We arrived via Boulevard Malesherbes to the trendy little studio we rented on rue Royale. Metal barriers lined both Malesherbes and Royale but we failed to understand the significance as Malesherbes was the major route for dignitaries heading to COP21 at Bouget the next day. We were up fairly early that Monday morning and found that to cross rue Royale we would need to walk over a mile!

From the Eglise Saint Augustin looking towards Place de la Madeleine, about 3000 feet

From the Eglise Saint Augustin looking towards Place de la Madeleine, about 3000 feet

We saw a few people going to work that hadn’t realized their normal route was blocked. Rerouted bus lines , closed underground parking areas and an abandoned roadway from Saint Augustin to Place de la Concorde except for the occasion blaring of sirens and cavalcade of black SUVs.

There was also a significantly noticeable increase in security in most stores, all of the upscale stores, and on the streets. There were strategically located police staging areas throughout the city:

Police Staging Area

Police Staging Area beside Opera Garnier

On any of the major streets you would find multiple security forces in groups of 3 or 4:

Army on the Champs Elysees

Army on the Champs Elysees

The Parisians and their guests have taken to the streets to protest the attacks and heal their wounds:

Crowds at Christmas market along the Champs Elysees

Crowds at Christmas market along the Champs Elysees

The City of Lights has never shined brighter:

Christmas market along the Champs Elysees at night

Christmas market along the Champs Elysees at night

rue Montorguel packed with revelers

rue Montorguel packed with revelers

Printemps celebrates 150 years

Printemps celebrates 150 years



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All Remember as Life Returns to a New Normal

La Bonne Biere reopens

La Bonne Biere reopens

Sincere Thoughts

Sincere Thoughts

Near to the Place de la Republic cross corner from where the Canal Saint Martin goes under ground on the way to the Bastille in a very busy section of Town, sits La Bonne Biere, one of the sites attacked on 13 November in Paris. They reopened last Friday and people from all countries have come to share a beer, glass of wine or have something to eat. Without the flowers and signs outside you might not even realize what had happened here. The staff was inviting, gracious and busy as hell trying to serve all, add to that the food is great too.

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À mes amis Français

Tuez les Tous! Dieu reconnaîtra les siens.

LaFayette, nous sommes prêts!

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Smoke & Mirrors

Boy, what great news in the latest Durham Friday Updates . We are going to have a 2.2% decrease in the overall Property Tax Rate. Yahoo! In case you didn’t see it, here is the article:

I a very pleased to let you know that today we received the finalized 2015 tax rate from the New Hampshire Department of Revenue Administration. For the first time in many years, the full tax rate for Durham has gone down!

The new full rate is $29.85, a decrease of 2.2% compared to the 2014 rate of 30.52, a drop of $.67.

This decrease is a result in part of the town’s increased tax base due to new development and also a drop in the school portion of the rate due to higher than expected revenues there and in the county portion of the rate as well.

This is good news for the taxpayers of Durham. Kudos to the Durham Town Council, ORCSD, and Strafford County!

 I know better than to get too excited about the PR pieces in the Durham Friday Updates. My first inkling was the kudos given for raising the Town’s local tax rate. Then the flashbacks to my management accounting days reminded me that the devil is always in the detail.

First let’s see what happened to Durham’s Taxable Property Valuation basis (provided by the Town Office):

2014 2015 Increase % Increase
Taxable Property $916,456,045 $965,086,266 $48,630,221 5.31%

Nice increase in the taxable base, so what happened to the actual tax receipts (tax rate times taxable valuation) for 2014 compared to 2015:

Change in Jurisdictional Tax Receipts
2014 Tax 2015 Tax
Town $7,643,243 $8,183,932 $540,688 7.07%
County $2,630,229 $2,692,591 $62,362 2.37%
Local School $15,396,462 $15,634,398 $237,936 1.55%
State School $2,300,305 $2,296,905 -$3,399 -0.15%
Total $27,970,238 $28,807,825 $837,587 2.99%

Let me get this straight, we have a 2.2% decrease in the overall Tax Rates and a 3% increase in overall Tax Receipts and the Town Council receives Kudos for granting a 7.1% increase in gathering overall tax receipts from the Town’s taxpayers.

My, after building a Palace to their memory during 2014 and taxing us for numerous social agendas, that many, if not most of us, never use, and which have now been baked into the Town’s base budget, we find that we need 7.1% more to run this Town year over year!

The other thing that is obvious is that only the State School Tax Receipts were, in aggregate, less than the prior year. Given that projections are currently running around 0% for a Social Security benefit increase this coming new year it seems that Durham could have been a little less greedy.

If the Town Tax component had been held at the prior year’s rate, then the tax receipts increase would only be 5.3%. If the Town Council actually cared about tax payer welfare and held the 2015 budget to the amount of the 2014 budget, then we could have had a reduction in our Town Tax rate of 5% or $.42 for a rate of $7.92 for a decrease of over 4% in our total property tax rates.

The misdirection in the Friday Updates’ message focused you on the change in tax rates and not the implications of those rate changes on tax receipts. Below is a simple analysis that shows the effect of the changes in tax rates as well as the effect of the change in taxable valuations.

Property Tax Variance Analysis 1
Rate Variance Volume Variance 2015 vs. 2014
Town $128,304 $412,384 $540,688
County ($73,316) $135,678 $62,362
Local School ($549,874) $787,810 $237,936
State School ($119,139) $115,740 ($3,399)
Total ($614,026) $1,451,612 $837,587

You can put all the lipstick you want on a pig; it is still a pig.

Before you run down to our local Temple of Doom calling for the administrator’s head, consider that this tax receipt increase and therefore the decision to let Durham citizens suffer with all the congestion in the downtown area without any benefit from the increased taxable property valuations was orchestrated by your elected Town Council. I refer you to Durham’s Friday Updates from 24 October 2014:

The Durham Town Council established the following budget goal as part of its annual goal setting process, and this year’s budget proposal will be consistent with that goal: “Develop operating budgets that limit growth in the Town’s portion of property taxes by the rate of inflation plus new additions to the Town’s taxable base. This goal is for both the near and longer term.”

When you consider that the full taxable valuation impact of the downtown developments won’t be seen until 2016, buckle up. Gives new meaning to the old adage, never give a sucker an even break.

1 The rate variance was calculated by multiplying the change in rates from 2014 ($0.14) times the 2014 taxable property valuation. The volume variance was calculated by multiplying the 2015 Town Tax Rate ($8.48) times the 2015 taxable property valuation.
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Fall Harvest



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Inaugural Boule Season



You could cut the eager anticipation with a knife as the boule court is finally ready for play. The Provinçals call it pétanque, the Italians bocce, the British lawn bowling. But to those of us having observed the game played in Parisian parks, we know it as the adult drinking game.



With all the accessories assembled, ice, cold water and boules we head for the court. After a brief discussion and a pastis or two, we decided the smartest and most talented should begin. A hush came over the crowd as Allison pitched le but (cochonnet or jack) . . .



The competition proved experienced and aggressively attacked the court showing excellent form.

It was an auspicious beginning to the season, looking forward to additional competitors stepping up and challenging for the Durham Boule Championship Cup.

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Tomato Sauce

I like going into fall with 6 gallons of tomato sauce in the pantry. I add it to stews, I braise with it, make barbecue sauce, chili and, of course, I use it for pasta sauce among many other dishes. With the garden in full production right now I spend everyday harvesting drops and ripe paste tomatoes for the pot.

Tomato Sauce 001These are San Marzano paste tomatoes but I also grow Amish paste, Big Boys, Goliath, Sweet 100s and Sun Gold. When there are more ripe tomatoes than we can eat, they all end up in the pot at one time or another. I use mostly ripe tomatoes but I can’t let a good hard green one get away.

I used to peel the tomatoes and de-seed them before beginning the process of reducing to a thicker liquid consistency. A few years ago I read that the pulp mass surrounding the seeds has excellent flavor and so decided to try a different approach. Now, I simply cut the tomatoes into smaller wedges

Tomato Sauce 002and pitch them into a large pot. To get them boiling faster, I use a potato masher to free up some of the tomato liquids. I leave them to boil for a while, separating the skins from the meat and thickening the liquid.

Tomato Sauce 003In stead of using a moulis or similar device, I use a large tamis that nests nicely in a stainless steel bowl.

Tomato Sauce 004When the skins are soft and the pot simmering away, I scoop out some of the hot tomatoes and push them, using a bench scraper, through the tamis  into the pot below.

Tomato Sauce 005The tomatoes are hot and working in smaller batches saves your fingers from being scalded. The juice and meat go through the screen with the skins and seeds remaining behind.

After scooping out all of the tomatoes you are left with mostly liquid that you pour onto the tamis and will discover that many of the seeds separated during boiling.

Tomato Sauce 006

Once all of the tomatoes and remaining liquid are through the tamis make sure, using a clean bench scraper, to scrap the solid tomato remnants from the bottom side of the tamis.

Tomato Sauce 007You now have clean tomato juice, reduce by gently simmering on top of the stove. I use a 7 pint stock pot and fill it right to the top, after it has reduced 3 or 4 inches I will add the remainder of the tomato juice.

Tomato Sauce 008Once all the juice is in the pot and reduced to the desired consistency, I go until my wooden spoon stands straight up, you are ready to can.

Tomato Sauce 009This batch was 5 pints after processing. I sterilize the jars and lids in a 250° F. oven for 30 minutes. Then I fill a hot pint jar half way with simmering tomato sauce and add 1 teaspoon of lemon juice before filling the jar to the top with more tomato sauce. Newer hybrid tomatoes are not always as acidic as the heirloom breeds so I add the lemon juice as a precaution.

Once sealed and the ring tighten down on the lid, I process the filled pints in a 217° F. oven for 12 minutes.








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