For years, I’ve been hearing about the Friends of the Sims wine tasting dinner. Finally, this year, I had an opportunity to attend.

Held recently at Oak Knoll Country Club, this dinner is an annual fundraiser for Southeastern Louisiana University’s Sims Memorial Library. Thanks to Ms. Janie Branham, interim library director, my husband and I had a reserved seat at the table with my nurse friend Nicole and her husband, local attorney Doug Brown.

Starting off this six-course wine and food pairing dinner, patrons were offered a taste of Red, White, and Brew’s new champagne. Slightly fruity and slightly dry, “Brew Bubbles” is a private label, which comes out of California. Retailing for $11.99 a bottle, this bubbly has been consistently selling out during the holidays, according to Red, White, and Brew owner Todd Delaune. Assorted hors d’oeuvres, including salmon bites, were passed by staff of Oak Knoll, allowing guests to mingle and browse the silent auction items, which ranged from a hand-crafted charcuterie board to baskets of books, and, of course, wine.

As guests took their seats in the club house’s dining room, festooned with white lights, Vice President of the Friends of Sims Library Board Jeffery Talbot gave the welcome address and introduced the emcee for the evening, Past President Lacy Landrum. As guests enjoyed a dry white wine from Hungary, along with an elaborate array of cheeses, cured meats, and fruit spreads, Lacy enlightened the crowd with facts about wine. Since the last wine dinner, which was pre-COVID and over two years ago, Lacy said, wine sales have soared, with Sauvignon Blanc being the leader.

A Riesling from South Africa served as the next wine. Paired with a savory lobster and corn chowder, this sweet white wine was served to me by Sims board member Christie Wiltz. Following this was a rosé from Portugal, paired with a chicken breast tenderloin, topped with spinach and bacon. For a second main course, guests were offered grilled salmon and asparagus paired with a Pinot noir from Chile.

Just as enjoyable as the food was the company. Also seated at our table were retired SLU English teacher Ms. Anne Wilbourne and her friend, Glen Dawson. In chatting with Ms. Wilbourne, my friend Nicole recalled taking one of Ms. Wilbourne’s writing classes.

While the staff of Oak Knoll prepared dessert, guests were invited to take a last look at the silent auction items. As final bids were made, jazz pianist Michael Noble-Hodge played, accompanied by Cade Vallot on the bass. Luckily, I was the winner of the beautiful, handcrafted charcuterie board. And a lady, who declared herself “a fan of this column,” received the boxed set of my autographed books.

Bringing the dinner to a sweet end, the dessert course consisted of a red wine poached pear, topped with vanilla whipped cream, accompanied by a glass of J. Lohr Tower Road Petite Sirah. A brilliant red color, this refreshing pear – my favorite dish of the night – was special ordered for the dinner, said Oak Knoll General Manager Mary Monteleone.

Speaking of sweet endings, this wine dinner also served as a tribute to recently retired Director of the Sims Library Eric Johnson. Serving Southeastern for over 23 years, Eric officially retired in May 2020, but the pandemic prevented him from enjoying a retirement party.

Continuing to function as a voting member of the Sims Executive Board, Eric is also a fellow Hammond Regional Art Board member and an active member in our community. So, cheers to you, Eric Johnson, as you enjoy your busy retirement. And cheers to the success of the 13th annual Wine with Friends of the Sims!

Originally, my column was planned to end with the above paragraph. But moments before its submission, I received official news of Daily Star Editor Lil Mirando’s retirement. So, I could not pass up this chance to express my extreme gratitude to her for giving me the opportunity to start this column almost five years ago! Mrs. Lil, thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for taking a chance on me and for this amazing journey in writing about the social life of the people in Ohmy Hammond. I wish you all the best for a happy retirement.

I’d also like to express my excitement in welcoming Connor Raborn back to Hammond and to The Daily Star. Congratulations, Connor, on becoming the new editor of The Daily Star!

Bankston, R.N., is the published author of the Frizzy Frieda Books, and HRAC board member.

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