Tags Posts tagged with "family"


In Gratitude, For Tom, with thanks to Karen

“The days I keep my gratitude higher than my expectations, I have really good days.” – Ray Wylie Hubbard

Paul and Anna Chukan, my great grandparents

Paul and Anna Chukan, my maternal great grandparents. Photo by my sister, Melanie Brown

I’ve spoken before about my life change. In 2010 I won a year long research fellowship at Dartmouth College. I’d done doctoral work at McGill University in Montreal and had a professor position in philosophy at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff. Dartmouth paid me to work in residence on the projects I already had in place. My presence there was meant to support my own work as much as it was to enlarge the already vibrant conversation occurring at Dartmouth through outside influence. While there I contracted pneumonia. At its worst I couldn’t stand and speak at the same time. I visited the emergency room three times, and went through three rounds of antibiotics before recovering two months later. In the midst of it I realized it was time for me to leave academia. I’d devoted my entire adult life and a doctoral program to that career but recognizing the need to leave, I gave myself a year to get out gracefully. I assumed I’d have a new career in place by the end of the year. I returned to Northern Arizona University to do one more year teaching in a town I loved.

The day I turned in the keys to my office and my final grades, thus closing my contract at Northern Arizona University, my daughter, Rachel, was in Alaska visiting our family. The house was empty. I returned home having left academia for the last time and sat on the couch. The house was silent. It was winter so the light was low. And I was alone with no plans before me. I had begun drawing my wine illustrations but did not yet know that would become the basis of a strange new career. At Dartmouth I recognized a path of academic life blazing before me clear and bright. I’d established myself in that profession in a way that delivered clear options before me. Now, it was as if I stood in an open field. No path or trail cut of direction reaching to the horizon. Nothing leading before me. No others standing beside me. No guidance. The terror of that moment was profound. I felt there was nothing to do but let the terror come. Everything in me felt still and quiet while the immeasurable mass of the unknown crashed over me and then crashed over me again. I had walked away from a career I’d devoted myself to and done well in, given up something I was good at simply because my intuition said it was time. It was clear the best thing for me to do was sleep. So I went to bed and slept 14 hour nights for a month.

Tom Wark posted yesterday about Karen MacNeil‘s recent keynote address at the Wine Blogger’s Conference in the Finger Lakes. Karen spoke at the Wine Writers’ Symposium here in Napa Valley in February. There she shared a story about the challenges of beginning her writing career – how long it took to have even one article accepted; how little money she had in the meantime. The contrast between her clear success now and the starkness of her writing roots then was inspiring. There is power in such perseverance. In telling the story of her path it was as if she shared that power with all of us.

In Tom’s article on Karen, he admires her resilience and then also considers a conundrum. How do we invest in a job that seems so unimportant as writing about wine? How do we find our inspiration?

Stephan and Malquay Ivanoff, my great grandparents

Stephan and Malquay Ivanoff, my paternal great grandparents. Photographer unknown

My work as a philosophy professor was something I believed in utterly. My doctoral dissertation investigated the question of what it means to be indigenous. The inspiration came entirely from my own family. I am an Aleut and Inupiat woman from Alaska that was lucky enough to be raised with extended family, our traditional foods, and a multi-generational blanket of family stories. During my doctoral program I discovered I was likely the first Aleut to pursue a doctorate in philosophy. The relevance of that was clear. In doing any of my work I felt my great grandparents, my grandparents, my late uncles, my distant cousins, and generations of ancestors I’d never met standing quiet and strong behind me. Their spirit was there to help push my work forward because I was there, in a sense, doing it for all of us. Any time I sat at my desk to write they were there. If I spoke in front of groups or when I was teaching they were there. Their presence gave me a power to do my work. The most difficult aspect of leaving my career rested there. I had, without meaning to, become a metaphorical conduit for my people. Whether I wrote about my family or not, my family in some way saw my work as about them. For me too, it was. They were a reason for me to invest completely in what I was doing. In leaving my career I was also choosing to leave that role as a sort of intellectual elder, and to risk losing that sense of all my ancestors beside me. When I closed my contract I walked away from work that was for all of them and for the first time stood in that open field alone.

It took time for me to recognize I’d begun a career in wine. In the meantime, it was simply something I was doing because I am a person built for projects, and wine gave me one. I poured all of my energy into building that project. For two years I visited as many vintners as possible for intensive one-on-one tastings and conversations at least five days a week without a break or pay, sharing much of what I was doing online. Posting my project online via this blog and social media was in its origin simply a means for me to circumscribe my own work. I wasn’t attempting to build an audience. Instead, I needed a way to recognize progress. In graduate school I’d developed a process of researching a subject then writing an in depth summary for my supervisors as a way of maintaining a conversation. Without a supervisor in wine, sharing an account of my vintner visits online gave me a way to imagine something like that conversation and see an accumulation of work. It was a way to hold myself accountable. Eventually I looked up and realized I’d built the start of a new profession. My blog writing eventually spread into writing for magazines both online and in print, as well as giving talks or leading panels. In a sense those aspects of the work I do look very much like what I’d done before in academia. My new career has depended very much on the online sharing I’d been doing initially only for a sense of perspective.

In responding to Karen’s key note address, Tom considered the idea of family and how they can serve as an inspiration for our work. In leaving my career one of the things I left behind was the weighty sense of obligation I’d carried for my extended family. I didn’t lose the dedication I have for them, and in a sense the drive I have for excellence (in whatever form) rests deeply in that dedication to them. What I let go of was the expectation that I could ever do something that would fulfill the path of my ancestors. I would no longer be the only Aleut in philosophy. I couldn’t carry my ancestors with me there. It’s hard for me to explain the sorrow of that for me except through that image of for the first time standing alone.

5 generations of my family, photo by my sister

Five generations of my family five days after the birth of my niece, photo by my sister Melanie Brown

Unexpectedly, it is precisely there, in the starkness of that change that I now find my inspiration. Leaving a career I’d invested everything into, including my imagined ancestors, was a moment of erasing all expectations. I could no longer rely on a prescribed path of a recognizable career, nor on the sense of feeling generations beside me. I had no promise of the future. Though my perspective on such change has continuously shifted, in a way that sense of standing in an open field without a promised future hasn’t. The gift of such bareness has been that every wine visit, every written article, every magazine connection has arrived as an unforeseen bonus, an unexpected delight found in an open field. For me, it is there I find a source of immeasurable gratitude. Still with most visits I count myself profoundly lucky to simply listen to their stories, as if they are sharing their ancestors with me and I can see those ancestors standing strong and quiet beside the person I am listening to. Sometimes their ancestors have as much to tell through what the person doesn’t quite say as the person through what they do.

Over time, I have also found a different source of power, one much like I felt in Karen sharing her story. Her being willing to share so honestly the challenges of her upbringing in wine stands as a way of sharing a new form of freedom. New because her path of challenge and success is one different than our own but reveals through its details new insights any of us might choose to continue forward ourselves. Freeing too because of the humanity witnessed through storytelling. In admitting to her own difficulties, Karen offers us a way to see we are like her. That someone we admire has challenges too, so our challenges perhaps are not so unusual or so insuperable.

In writing about Karen’s keynote, Tom concludes with the point that he found the story of her path inspiring, that it makes him want to do better work. I would say that what I find in Tom’s post is the sense that through Karen’s speech he has found a new strength. Ultimately, it is there too that I find my inspiration, the discovery that in persistence and vulnerability we have the opportunity to share strength with each other.


Karen MacNeil has just completed the 2nd edition of her groundbreaking book, The Wine Bible. The new edition will be available October, 2015. It reflects over five years of work traveling major regions throughout the world, tasting over 10,000 wines, and doing thorough research to then write a fully updated book. The new edition is an invaluable reference for any wine lover.

For more information on the new edition you can visit Karen’s site herehttp://www.karenmacneil.com/product/the-wine-bible-2nd-edition/

To read Tom Wark’s blog post on Karen’s talk: http://fermentationwineblog.com/2015/08/karen-macneil-inspiration-and-art-of-wine-blogging/

With thanks to Tom Wark.

Copyright 2015 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com.

Maya Angelou Rest in Peace

As a Native person in Alaska the first question is always, who’s your Grandma? There it’s your family, and the place you’re from that decides who you are.

My great grandparents are Paul and Anna Chukan of Bristol Bay, Alaska. My grandparents are Gordan and Anisha McCormick. My Grandmother is Emily Ivanoff Ticasuk Brown of Norton Sound, Alaska. My parents are Melvin and Katherine Brown. I am the youngest of three daughters. I am Elaine Chukan Brown.


I grew up a mixed race girl in Alaska. My mother’s family was Aleut. My father’s Inupiat. Because of World War II neither knew their fathers of European descent. Instead, both were simply raised Native. For Native families, blood quantum is less a question than how and with whom you grew up. As a result, my sisters and I were raised Native too. In my guts, my head, my understanding of myself, I am simply Native.

I also know growing up mixed meant much of the time we passed. My fully Native friends were often mistreated, called “muks” by other kids in school. At times, overhearing the slurs, I’d demand those same kids I’d thought were friends call me “muk” too. They’d be shocked by my insistence. The point for me being, what do you mean by such a dirty word that applies to people you also love? The difference was I had a choice my more clearly Native friends did not. They had no mixed kid ability to disappear.

In adulthood, I found philosophy, literature, and creative writing as refuges from the confusion of slipping between cultural or racial norms. They were for me expressions of the complexities of humanity that gave room for my experience as perhaps not normal, but surely acceptable.

Still, Native populations across the United States are small, most isolated on reservations away from more mainstream populations. Worse, knowledge of Native life, whether contemporary or historic, by citizens of the United States is even rarer than the Native population as a whole. Mainstream media somehow fails to recognize the existence of still-living Native groups even with pertinent news events occurring daily.

Searching for mentors, or models to guide me forward, then, proved difficult. In my struggle to find exemplars for success beyond Alaska, the women I found, besides those of my family, turned out to be the non-Native writers Lucille Clifton, Alice Walker, and Maya Angelou. My undergraduate education was filled with their language. I was lucky enough too to work with Lucille Clifton in 2003 over a summer poets’ intensive.

Between the three of them, I was able to find voice for racialized womanhood. In a world where life as a woman of color proves an invisible struggle, Walker reminded that happiness must come from yourself even as others might deny it. Clifton celebrated the vibrant sensuality of survival in the midst of almost unbearable challenge. Angelou demanded we recognize our own phenomenal body, femininity, and lives.

Maya Angelou died last week. In high school, her work found me. It was my best friend at the time, Ginny Gallup, that introduced Angelou to me long before Clinton’s inauguration. Through it, Angelou demanded I see myself as not only valuable but beautiful, and vibrant. She also demanded that I must recognize such beauty because through it I could make others see themselves, not by pushing them, but by seeing them, by listening. In her work was the realization that by loving myself, I could better love others.

In 1993, for her to stand at the Inaugural celebration for a U.S. President was a revolution. This morning, the first African American First Lady of the United States gave one of Angelou’s eulogies, another sort of revolution.

Listening to the eulogy I find it hard to explain how much it moves me except to say, gratitude makes me who I am. Please listen. Amen.

With gratitude that family loves me, and mentors found me.

With gratitude too to Katherine.


Happy Birthday to my Mom!

my family

my family when I’m about 8 years old. In back: dad, mom; in front from left: Melanie, Paula, me

One of the brightest memories I have of my mother she is singing in church. I am looking up watching her and she towers above me. Her voice chimes over the sound of the congregation. It is her face I remember most clearly, and its feeling. She is singing old gospel taken by joy filled calm.

My mother was raised in Bristol Bay, remote Alaska on the Western coast at the source of the largest wild salmon run in the world. The area rests on the ring of fire, a volcanic circle in the North Pacific that created a climb of islands, including the Aleutian chain and Alaskan Peninsula.

Bristol Bay is historically Russian Orthodox. As my mother tells it, when the regional priest arrived to town once a season, everyone would quickly get married, buried, and baptised. In summers, I’d attend service with Umma, my great grandmother, while my great grandfather, Grandpappy, assisted the priest.

Orthodox prayers were promises from the bible chanted to sound like singing. At prayer, the cabin sized building would be filled with a lifting, resonant song that at times felt like it could lift the church to flying.

Between the priest’s visits, prayers were kept by Grandpappy who had earned his way to becoming the church Reader. He assisted the priest during service reciting prayers from the back in call and response, and tended the church in the priest’s absence. The role was a deep source of honor for my family. In his 90s, when Grandpappy died he was buried in his gold Reader’s robe.

At home, each room of my great grandparents house held an Orthodox holy picture. They would rise and pray towards the picture, bowing up and down while saying their prayers in Aleut. Prayers would happen again at regular intervals throughout the day, before meals, at tea breaks, before bed.

My mother explained, you’re born Orthodox, you don’t become it as one would in Protestant tradition find Jesus. So there is never a moment of conversion. You are simply born Orthodox, and always will be. In marrying my father, my mom then also became Presbyterian, her Orthodox prayers uniting with gospel song.

In adulthood, I would come to think of that lack of conversion as definitive of my mother’s general character. Without conversion there is no pivotal epiphany or moment of change. There is only devotion. My mother carries in anything she does steady resolve without distraction.

At ten she began commercial salmon fishing with Grandpappy. “I was his only son,” she often jokes to explain how she, a girl, started so young. She was raised by her grandparents, and when he needed a fishing partner, my mother was the one that could help so she did. The launch of her salmon career would become a family tradition, each of us starting in our tenth summer (mine at the age of nine).

The steady resolve that carries my mother forward under-girds her persistence in work as well. Commercial salmon fishing, much like winegrowing, arrives when it is time and comes as fast and hard as that season demands. My mother raised us to understand when the fish came in we were there to catch them. Setting aside any questions of if it could be done would allow simple work to take doubts’ place.

One tide my mother, my brother-in-law, and I alone caught more than 20,000 pounds in two hours in a non-automated open skiff. I can’t explain how it was done but we hauled, picked, and delivered that entire catch ourselves, then returned mere hours later to do it again.

My mother returns in mere weeks to begin her sixtieth season commercial fishing. Today she turns seventy.

More than any other person in my life, my mother taught me it is never a question of if we can do what is in front of us, it is simply a matter of steady resolve occasionally filled by song.

My sisters, my mom, and I

from left: Melanie, my mom, Paula, and I, August 2013 on my parents’ 50th anniversary

Happy Birthday, dear mom. I couldn’t be prouder, or more grateful to be your daughter. Along with Rachel’s, your love, with dad’s matters most.

Copyright 2014 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com


Happy Birthday to my Father

Dad and Me

my dad and I

One of my earliest memories it’s sunny and hot in Naknek on the Western Coast of Alaska. It’s rarely hot in Alaska. We’re in the backyard on my great grandparents’ property just this side of the long grass before the lake and my parents are throwing a party. There are fishermen, cannery workers, and our extended family everywhere. Our house is full of Native food. My dad has never been happier, and I follow him everywhere.

One of my dad’s friends has brought back herring eggs from Spring harvest and dad wants to give me some. He picks me up and sets me down on a saw horse as a seat. There are several all around the yard for people to sit on. I balance there high off the ground as he shows me the yellow-gold mass in his hands. He explains, “These are herring eggs. You’re going to taste them.” I hear it as all one word, “herringeggs,” and have no sense of what kind of food it is but open my mouth to taste. He feeds me. As I bite, the food first crunches, then pops. It is sea fresh salty. The taste lights up the inside of my head as I chew.

The rest of the memory is gone.

Dad and Me

my dad and I, Summer 2012

Until adulthood, that was the only time I’d ever eaten herringeggs, and it was over a decade before I realized what my dad had served me were herring eggs, not herringeggs. The experience had simply remained a sun-filled, crunch-pop memory of my father’s joy.

My childhood is filled with memories of my father and food. It was always Native food that lit that warm glow of joy I could feel from him. On rare school days I’d run up the stairs to discover a relative had given us muktuk and seal oil we’d then eat for lunch. He’d be quiet and happy showing me how to salt the oil just so, then chase it with a glass of orange juice, “to calm the stomach” he’d tell me.

My father grew up in a small village in Norton Sound, on the Western Coast of Alaska, his family eating Native foods hunted and gathered throughout the year then kept in cache. The barge with food from the outside came only in summer. He lived his childhood surrounded by extended family, and close to both his grandparents.

That joy I felt in him sparked by sharing Native foods I’ve always imagined as the glow triggered by the warmth of childhood meeting the warmth of life with his children. The foods we shared were first introduced to him by his mother and grandparents, then he continued the cycle sharing them later with my sisters, and me.

Today my dad celebrates his birthday. My parents are already preparing for the commercial fishing season back in Naknek where he first gave me herringeggs. He flies out later this week to ready his boat, work on the house, and lay the groundwork for the rest of my family to return next month to fish salmon as they do every season–my family’s summer harvest.

Dear Dad,

I give thanks for you. Happy Birthday.

You are my father. I am grateful. May your new year be filled with joy.



Emily Ivanoff Ticasuk Brown

Last week the Nome campus of University of Alaska Fairbanks named and dedicated a Student Resource Center to my grandmother, Emily Ivanoff Ticasuk Brown.

Invitation to the dedication ceremony

In 1984, two years after her death, The Crossing Press selected my grandmother, Emily Ivanoff Ticasuk Brown, as one of twelve women to appear in a calendar recognizing heroines of the feminist movement. The family joke at the time was she’d be proud to appear with the other eleven women, but irritated over being named a feminist. She stood in the month of July. Other women in the calendar included Golda Meir–Prime Minister of Israel; Elisabeth Kubler Ross–a psychiatrist that revolutionized hospice care and our understanding of grief; and Carrie Chapman Catt–a suffrage leader that helped establish the 19th amendment, women’s right to vote.

During portions of the last century Alaska Native languages were not allowed to be used in schools, and various cultural practices were also banned or illegal. My grandmother, Emily, fought to have such laws changed while also encouraging her students to speak their language anyway. As a result, she was fired from her teaching post. The local communities demanded she be reinstated.

Emily went on to dedicate her life to preserving the stories, history, and knowledge of our elders publishing three books and leaving multiple manuscripts. In order to direct her work, she spent her life earning multiple degrees, spending much of her time on the University of Alaska Fairbanks campus. While there she helped start the Alaska Native Studies program, and helped found the Alaska Native Heritage Preservation movement through the state. She was recognized as a result by both a President of the United States, and the Governor of Alaska.

She died in 1982 near the close of her PhD at the age of 78. One week later University of Alaska Fairbanks awarded her an Honorary Doctorate for the work she had already completed.

Dad at the dedication ceremony

my dad at the dedication, photo from Heather Jones

Last Thursday, my parents and extended family flew to Nome to attend the celebration of my grandmother’s life, and the opening of the new Emily Ivanoff Brown Student Resource Center. The Center symbolically brings together Emily’s two passions — preserving and sharing knowledge of our heritage, with an eye towards learning for the future.

In her book, The Roots of Ticasuk, she explains the meaning of her name, Ticasuk. “My Mother explained that my Eskimo name ‘Ticasuk’ meant not just ‘Hollow in the Ground’ but the place where the four winds stored their treasure gathered from all over the world, and I felt very good about my name after that.” For Emily, heritage and education were those treasures.

Thank you to the University of Alaska Fairbanks Northwest Campus.

Copyright 2014 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com



Happy Birthday to my sister Paula

Us Kids

us kids. from left: Melanie, me, Paula

My sister Paula today celebrates a birthday. Ten years older than me, she fills few memories of mine from before she left for college. But in her returning to Alaska before I myself left home, she stands instead as a guidepost through my adulthood. More than any other member of my immediate family, Paula has lived with a kind of malleable steadfastness I admire. The rest of us shine different gifts.

Soon after college my sister Paula returned to Alaska and began a job she still keeps. That was two and a half decades ago. A few years later she bought a condo she was later able to sell and invest from in a house with the man she’d marry a little before I graduated from high school. They still live in that home in Alaska.

Looking back, I see that I have lived my adulthood driven by curiosity and a thirst for improvement through challenge. In the midst of such searching, I’ve come to find clarity with gracefulness as the core of my values. In seeing this finally, I am able too to recognize it is Paula that has given me my example of a person living with strength through clarity. At the center of every decision she’s made there is a commitment to forthright follow through, to family, and, most central for her, to God. Such persistence has made her life a miracle.

Soon after turning thirty, Paula gave birth to their first daughter, also my parents’ first grandchild. Melissa was two months old when, having just returned to work after maternity leave, Paula had a grand mal seizure during a working lunch. She was diagnosed with a lethal brain tumor and immediately rushed to surgery. The prognosis gave her less than two years to live. It’s been now almost twenty.

Doctors have since told us she is one of two people in the country known to have survived such a tumor. Speaking with her about her miracle of health she states plainly that during her ailment she focused on one thing — prayer for her daughter to have a mother.

I return to Alaska once or twice a year. I am often lucky enough to see Paula outside Alaska again one other time a year. Still, I rarely tell her what today I wish for her to know. Here it is.

Dear Paula,

You have taught me the power of steadfastness. Your life is a testament to faith. I am grateful you are my sister. I wish for you to know, I count you among my blessings. You stand as a model to me of clarity, and learning to grow through grace. For by grace you have been saved by faith. Through your clarity, God’s light shines.

Happy Birthday to you. This is a day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.

My love to you. God’s love for you. Amen.

Your sister,



Dinner at Mattei’s Tavern

On Sundays we’d go for pastry. In the 1980s, a small rush of French émigrés made their way to Anchorage, Alaska and started a revolution. They opened bakeries for breads, cakes and delicate sweets.

My family attended Sunday service at the stone chapel downtown. We’d don our best clothes, with long winter coats, and simple shoes then duck-walk across the icy parking lot to keep from falling. After the hour-long service, longer with communion, we’d pile back in the car and stop half way home to pick up Napoleon, Éclair, and cheese Danish when my dad was in town.

He worked every other week at the North Slope of Alaska building and maintaining the electrical needs of arctic oil feeds. On alternate weeks he was home.

Sundays, then, began with a sense of grateful reverence, recognition of how we were blessed. Celebration came through simple silence, moments of prayer communing with god. It continued with simple sweets. The warmth of the prayer coupled with the prickling joy of delicate French sugar. The entire day given a feeling of bright gratitude with the pastries a symbol of the gifts we gained.

Alaska’s food revolution came eventually to include more variation in foods, and my mom’s love for pastries evolved into my parents’ love for bistro fare. Bistros for them a perfect restaurant balance — good food touched by congenial service — hospitality with conversation.

My sister Melanie and I inherited our parents’ love for food. She (along with my friend Fred) sparked in me more than anyone my original love for wine. We found together our enthusiasm first and foremost to bubbles. Together we have devoted ourselves to restaurants around the United States and Canada looking always for food with a deft hand, a delicate intricacy of flavors paired with beautiful wines, in a forum that celebrates warm hospitality.

At its best, eating meals with Melanie feels of succulent revelry — that original sense of simple gratitude our parents gave us through Sundays of church and pastry blooming into a kind of reverence for the beauty of flavor, time together, and relaxing service. Some of my happiest moments have come from these meals.

In the last year, Los Olivos has opened a new restaurant, Mattei’s Tavern, bringing together the history of place — the venue opened for the first time in 1886 — with the intricate freshness possible in today’s farm-to-table restaurant culture.

Chef Robbie Wilson offers a seasonal menu designed to showcase, on one side, foods that might have carried that original 1886 menu elevated with a gentle lift — schnitzel of flatfish kept away from the heavy side, accented with the crunch of pickled mustard seeds and calabrian chiles. On the other side, he offers too foods carrying the cultural flavor fusion that so clearly speaks of now — short rib pot roast put along side lightly cooked vegetables and poured over with fresh made ramen broth. On both sides, the flavors are rich, layered, with a light bite of surprise.

The Mattei’s team also hosts the expertise of wine director Stephane Colling. His wine list shows smart devotion to Santa Barbara wines. He seems to select labels that consistently give clean fruit expression with the juicy and often mineral length that works so well with food. The list treats local wines seriously, however, by offering more than merely what comes from Santa Barbara County, offering too worldwide selections.

The current by the glass iteration, for example, mixes local jewels with worldwide gems. It’s possible, for example, to taste Goodland Wine‘s Happy Canyon Sauvignon Blanc, then follow it with Mulderbosch‘s South African iteration. The intent seems less about comparing the county’s wines to wines from elsewhere, however, and more about selecting beautiful wines for a range of palate interests that can be poured at a range of price points.

Visiting Mattei’s Tavern the thread that winds through the decor space, the menu, the wine list seems to parallel my description of Chef Wilson’s food — layers of interest, warm expression, and bites of surprise. The approach to service and overall presentation bring together the heritage of the place with modern flare. The salumi plate, for example, Felix Mattei’s Dirty Laundry, literally hangs prosciutto (my favorite) and coppa with clothespins over a board carrying pickled vegetables and mustard. One of my favorite details houses the children’s menu within the slides of a working View Master, giving kids their own visual treat for the meal.

Throughout the meal, server Jenny Mitchum offered a comfortable touchstone. She hit the balance I enjoy of showcasing the food as it arrived, checking in to track our needs, and giving us space to enjoy our conversation.

I appreciate the revitalization of the historic Mattei’s Tavern space. Partners Robbie and Emily Perry Wilson, plus Charles and Ali Banks, have navigated the challenge of utilizing a historic landmark in a manner that honors its heritage while celebrating fresh new flavor for the region.

I can’t wait to meet my sister there for dinner.


The Mattei’s Tavern Website: http://www.matteistavern.com/


Thank you to Robbie Wilson and Stephane Colling.

Thank you to Jenny Mitchum.

Thank you to Jason Smith.

Thank you to Charles Banks.

Thank you to Sao Anash.

Copyright 2014 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com



Visiting NYC with Jr

NYC with Jr

our last day in NYC, riding the A line towards midtown

Jr has five places she wants to see–NYC, Sydney, Paris, London, and Japan. She gets to see me head off on trips often, while she stays in our home and schools.

On her birthday this year she turned 14. It’s an age that seems to me old enough for us both to easily enjoy a trip together, not having to plan only for the sake of one or the other’s interests. So, to celebrate we came to NYC for U.S. Thanksgiving and stayed with close friends I went to graduate school with.

It’s been a wonderful, easy going visit. I kept it focused on the two of us going slow, walking neighborhoods in Manhattan, and catching up with our grad school friends we hadn’t seen in several years. It turned out we also spent a lot of time sleeping.

Today we fly back home.

Love to all of you. I hope December has greeted you with warm hearts.


Copyright 2013 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com


Scratching and Sniffing with Jr

It’s not everyday you can read wine books with your kid, not to mention reading wine books first thing in the morning instead of watching cartoons. So, I decided to test out Richard Betts’s new book, The Essential Scratch and Sniff Guide to Becoming a Wine Expert, by reading it side by side with Jr.

Richard Betts has created what he calls “a kid-style book about an adult topic” relying too on spirited illustrations by Wendy MacNaughton, and the design talents of Crystal English Sacca. The book’s approach gives a fun board book layout, complete with faux mirror at the start (for intensive wine study self-examination), actual scratch and sniff circles along the way, and a pull out wine chart at the back.

Even with its playful style (that is, don’t let the playful approach fool you), the book really does offer actual insight into the form that scents and flavors take in wine, including hints at varietal character, terroir, flaws, oak, and winemaking effects. By the end of the text, a dedicated reader with actual wines in hand for practice, can use the Scratch & Sniff‘s format to investigate basic varietal distinctions in wine, as well as essential Old World/New World type casting. It’s a fun process for learning solid wine basics across a vast field of styles and types. In other words, it’s a format you could use to enter into studying wine, or a book you could enjoy for loving wine more.

What the book doesn’t get into is structural components like tannins and acids, but considering the olfactory thematic of the book, that makes sense. It’s hard to scratch and sniff mouthfeel. This is a great gift for your friends that like wine, and are curious but find learning about it intimidating.

In other words, back to Jr. A teenager is a classic “why would I want to do what geeky mom likes to do?” sort of example of how well a wine book plays off outside the wine geek realm.

She’s had to suffer through visiting (not that many but a few top notch) vineyards and wineries, tasting historic wines when I come upon them (including the reasons she should be recording that palate experience in her memory), and even doing (wine) acid tastings to learn the distinctions between tartaric and malic acids. (It ruined her experience with hard candies for a little while.) All that said, she also finds wine boring.

So, what did Jr have to say about The Essential Scratch & Sniff Guide to Becoming a Wine Expert?

From a teenage point of view, she gives Scratch & Sniff the highest compliment. That is, she actually picked it up again for the several-ith time to do this review, and spent a whole lot of time looking through the book repeatedly as well.

Here’s our conversation.

Reading wine books in PJs

from left: Me, Jr, in our robes in the morning

Jr: Mom, of course books on wine aren’t going to be very interesting for someone who cannot enjoy wine, such as a teenager like myself…

Hawk: Wait, can you say more about why as a teenager you can’t enjoy it?

Jr: Because, like, I can’t enjoy it yet, because, um, (laughing) my mouth has not matured to the point where, like, I can fully appreciate it, you know?, although this book’s creative presentation and approach is fun to look at, play with, and see because it has fun comics and it’s interesting to scratch and sniff different things in the book… (turning pages) Like, bacon!

Hawk: But there’s no bacon in there!

Jr: Yeah, there is! Mom! It’s right there!

Hawk: Whoa.

Jr: Wait. I can’t smell it. I can’t smell the bacon.

Hawk: Let me smell. Oh! I can smell it. But it does smell almost like chocolate. I like chocolate. Huh. That’s one of the few pages that has more than one smelly thing on it.

Jr: Nah ahh! You just haven’t been looking closely enough. (smells another page)You gotta full-on feel the whole page to find it. Wait, why do you want me to just rub the smell circles, instead of scratch them?

Hawk: Because then they’ll last longer.

Jr: What? Oh. Does it make the smell go away less?

Hawk: Yeah, it wears off slower that way. I grew up on Scratch & Sniff books. Did you know there used to be a whole world of Scratch & Sniff books?

Jr: (Quietly) No. (Sighs, and cuddles up.)

Hawk: Does it make you sad?

Jr: Yeah.

Hawk: Do you want people to make more Scratch & Sniff books?

Jr: Yeah.

Hawk: Would it help you to smell the cherries again?

Jr: I didn’t see any cherries. What cherries? (looking back through the book again)

Hawk: Yeah! There’s a red AND a black cherry, and they smell different.

Jr: Oh! I like how the black cherry smells better than the red. Oh! There’s even vanilla! Yeah, I like that one, the vanilla.

Reading wine books in PJs

Jr reading about “other” (not earth, fruit, or wood) scents to me

Hawk: So, you know more than the average U.S. teenager on wine…

Jr: Well, duh, Mom! My mom is a wine writer! (flipping through the book) I wanna know what butter smells like. (scratches the book) Oh! The grass smells good! Wait, why doesn’t the wet dog, or the wet newspaper have one? That would be fun.

Hawk: Okay, but you know more than the average teenager about wine. So, can you tell me reading this book, what you still learn about wine that you didn’t know before?

Jr: No. No I can’t. (laughing)

Hawk: If you spend a little more time with the book I think you could.

Jr: No! I was joking, Mom! …So, just talk about stuff I didn’t know?

Hawk: Yeah.

Jr: I didn’t know there were so many white wines. I knew what the red wines were. But some of the white wines, I didn’t even know how to say, and they were weird to me. Also, I like how they were talking about how not all oaks are created equal, because I really like that picture, and I think it’s a good way to approach it and it helped me put my mind around that a little more.

Hawk: Around what?

Jr: How different oaks are. See? This is the French one right here (pointing to the illustration of an oak barrel in a beret, next to another oak barrel in a cowboy hat)

Hawk: Ah-hoh-hoh! (feigning ridiculous French accent and eyebrow raise)

Jr: Yes. Yes. Okay. The French one–cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla, toast–but if you add dill and coconut to all that, then it’s American. See that? Yee haw! American! It’s about oak!

Reading wine books in PJs

She’s sniffing red, I’m sniffing black cherry

Hawk: Anything you wish was in the book?

Jr: Yeah! I wish it had a scent for wet dog and/or wet newspaper! I also wish it had a scent for burnt rubber. I think it would have been cool if on the last page there had been a whole page to just smell all the white wines and all the red wines and you would smell them and identify everything and see what you learned. Then on the next page it would say what most people identify in the wines, you know, like wine descriptions.

Hawk: But isn’t that a lot of wines? What if you just had actual wine next to you instead?

Jr: I don’t mean like every single wine. I just mean, like, how it talks about Syrah, cause I like bacon, then you have a scratchy for Syrah.

Hawk: But there are so many kinds of Syrah, depending on vintage, and climate, and soil, and winemaker, that would be difficult to put into a book.

Jr: Oh shucks. Well, read this book, then instead of that last page you should just buy wine and sniff that instead. Go ahead, go get real wine! Test what you learned like that.


My copy of this book was received at a book release party hosted by the creators of the book, and Cartograph Wines.

For NPR’s look: http://www.npr.org/blogs/thesalt/2013/10/17/236160686/scratch-n-sniff-your-way-to-wine-expertise-or-at-least-more-fun

For Brain Picking’s review: http://www.brainpickings.org/index.php/2013/10/15/scratch-and-sniff-guide-to-becoming-a-wine-expert/

For sample pages and more on where to purchase: http://myessentialwine.com/book/


The Essential Scratch & Sniff Guide to Becoming a Wine ExpertRichard Betts
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Co
22 pages


Thank you to Richard Betts, Wendy MacNaughton, Crystal English Sacca, and Chris Sacca.

Thank you to Alan Baker and Serena Lourie.

Thank you to Carla Rzeszewski.

Thank you to Jr.

Copyright 2013 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com

I was raised in a multi-generational family in which the strongest tradition is sharing what we appreciate, and what we have learned through stories about the history of our own and our family’s lives. In thanks for the people with whom I was able to travel Chile and Argentina, I share this story. Thank you.


Travel from Alaska to Argentina

I was six the first time my maternal Great Grandmother, Umma, left the state of Alaska. As a full Aleut, she’d lived her life on the Western coast in first one fishing village, and then another. The area is Russian Orthodox.

Orthodox priests were assigned regions to lead, rather than individual churches. Every few months the priest would arrive in a village, and the people would quickly get married, buried, and baptized. And confess.

Confessions occurred in the small church cabin painted with holy pictures, and maintained by my Great Grandfather. Inside, the village would gather, most standing except for seats for the elder women. My Umma would sit through the service, as I stood behind her, my hands crossed on her right shoulder.

Villagers would wait through incense and prayers, blessings till time for confession, then stand in a line to speak to the priest. But first the priest would cross to the front to give communion to Umma where she sat, then return to the back to receive all the others.

Confessions in Orthodox tradition occur in full view, rather than to the side in a small box of a room. After the people proceeded past the priest at the back of the church they would continue in a circle around the sides, kissing holy pictures, till they met Umma. Then the villagers would stand and wait to greet and kiss her too. Sometimes they would also bless me. She was an elder of the community. As her great grandchild, I received honor from her too. It was a blessing I carried with me by being her relation.

My mother was the oldest of her family. She was raised by her grandparents, while also close to her parents. It was partially tradition of staying close to her elders, partially particulars of their own family.

As the story was told, when still young enough to walk to the back of the church, Umma met with the priest. My mom was still little. He said to my Great Grandmother, “someday this one will take you much farther than you’ve ever expected.” Our trip out-of-state was the journey.

Our entire family traveled together landing in Seattle, then driving to Oregon to my Aunty for Easter. I sat in the back, on the edge of the seat between my great grandparents on one side, my middle sister on the other. In the front, my parents and oldest sister rode. On the drive we would come around corners and discover another tall building, or a greater expanse through the trees. Umma would grab my back, squeeze, and whisper, Aling-na! her surprise for everything new that greeted her. On our arrival in Oregon we shared a bedroom. She told me the story for the first time of how the priest had predicted our travel.

She told me too how after I was born she would look at me and smile, then say to my mom, I don’t know where that one came from. It was her way to say too she didn’t know how far I would go.

My parents were both raised in coastal villages. My father, Inupiat, originates further North. Their home regions were small enough both chose to board elsewhere in the state for high school. For university they studied in Fairbanks, where finally they met and decided to marry. Both remained close to their extended families but in having children they made a choice to raise their daughters outside their villages. We spent winters in Anchorage attending a mainstream school, summers on the Western coast commercial fishing with our Native family.

My parents’ wish for their children was for us to be clearly based in our Native heritage while capable of asking only what it was we wanted to do, without question of if we could do it. A life migrating between Anchorage for school in the winters, and the coast for work in the summers was part of that.

Reflecting on my recent trip to South America, I find myself overwhelmed by generations of gift. I am the only member of my family, besides my daughter, that no longer lives in Alaska. My sisters are both quite accomplished but have chosen to live their lives there in the state of our birth. In this way, I stand both as a fulfillment of my parents’ wish that we succeed in the broader world, and as the one who suffers an effect of that gift without family near by. Family for Native people is integral to who we are, and part of any accomplishment we keep. It is me that must do my work, but my family that has made that possible.

We departed Argentina recently on their mother’s day, a celebration in recognition of the generations of women that are family. Before leaving we shared lunch with Nicolas and Elena Catena. They are two people that, like Robert Mondavi for California wine, helped carry Argentine wine into the greater international presence it has today. Spending time with them was an honor.

We were asked, each of us, to speak to what we learned in tasting wine in Argentina. Alyssa Vitrano began by realizing the parallels of her Italian heritage with that of many of the people in wine of Argentina. Mary Orlin, Kelly Magyarics, and Mary Gorman-McAdams spoke eloquently about the quality of the wines we’d tasted, and the intricacies of vineyards with landscape. We all mentioned the warmth of people that received us. When it came my turn to speak I was flooded with the voice of my Great Grandmother — her story from the priest and my birth. Sitting with such accomplished, warm-hearted people there in Argentina, my family’s wishes for me had sent me farther than I ever expected.

Thank you most especially to Marilyn Krieger and David Greenberg.

Thank you to Alfredo Bartholomaus, Alyssa Vitrano, Kelly Magyarics, Mary Orlin, and Mary Gorman-McAdams.

Thank you to Nicolas and Elena Catena.

Copyright 2013 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com