Archive for ‘Vino’

January 6, 2013

Synopsis: Holidays 2012

First and foremost, I’d like to note that I am finished with that evil, wretched, awful class!!!!  Me=winner.  Or survivor?  Either way, I’m done.

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This actually occurred, by the way, around Thanksgiving, and I am just getting around to announcing it now.  These things will happen when you’ve shackled yourself to a university that decides, for the first semester of the first year, they will teach you graduate level knowledge in a college style format (i.e. four hours of lecture a day, five days a week).  Also, they make you learn the whole shebang in the beginning; not just your intended field, but everything you never wanted to know about cell biology.  This is where young people have the advantage: they still have the dog-like obedience of youth towards authority figures.   That and the capacity to stay up all night studying and drinking coffee without having to use words like “irregular”.  By the time you’re my age, your brain has simply decided that it’s not going to do things it doesn’t want to do just because some grown-up told it to, which made for difficult learning when brain found topics uninteresting.

And now, on to the holidays…a topic I finally got to consider once I finished the semester at the beginning of December only to realize to my horror that it was barreling down on me, and I hadn’t done a single thing to prepare for it!

I’m happy to report, my table runner made it onto the Thanksgiving table this year.  Knitted by me for my aunt and uncle last Christmas, I finally acknowledged I had made it too narrow when I had already spent too long on it to start over.  So, I have decided to start spreading the rumor that this was intentional in order for it to be utilitarian.  Most people simply have a table runner; they now have a table runner AND a scarf long enough for them both to wear at the same time.  See?  Versatility!  You’re welcome, relatives!  Some autumn-colored daylillies complement it nicely…

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I had unprecedented baking success this year!  Nearly everything turned out just perfectly except for one pumpkin pie that mysteriously collapsed in the center like a soufflé, the latest victim of the custard killer that is my crappy oven.  Nothing will set properly in that damn thing!  I also made a pair of pecan pies, one of my specialties for which I receive scads of unwarranted praise considering that I use the recipe from the Karo syrup website and there are about three ingredients total.  Nevertheless, this year I found a way to make it at least a little my own.  Inspired by my first pie that used the last of the crumbled pecans in a bag, I decided to coarsely chop the pecans before adding them to my filling.  This is math even I understand: chopped nuts=more nutty surface area to be candied.  And while it is highly unlikely this wasn’t previously thought of by a thousand bakers before me, I thought of it independently and shall take credit for it.  Apple tart tatin, part deux, was also delicious.

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This year, I also took my first shot at a yule log.  Named after the large log burnt in the hearth on the evening of the Yule festival, a religious celebration of the Germanic tribes that then became the Christian celebration of Christmas (that’s right, kids: Christmas used to be a pagan holiday!), it is now a jelly roll cake made to look like a log.  The flavors were spot on, but the log was a little droopy. Perhaps my log actually better represents the giant, heavily decomposed logs one would find in the primordial forests of Northern Europe where Yuletide was once celebrated or perhaps I just wasn’t aggressive enough when I was rolling up the cake, afraid that I was forcing too much mousse out of the cake, and need to roll the log more tightly next time.  Either way, it’s not bad for my first try.  The recipe is here.  I used extra virgin olive oil instead of hazelnut oil, a deep cookie sheet instead of a jelly roll pan, and mini marshmallows and Hershey’s Kisses instead of the meringue mushrooms in the recipe.  Improvisation is the key to being a truly good baker, folks!  Some of the best cooks I know have old or few kitchen supplies and teeny, tiny kitchens.

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And miraculously, I got everything accomplished…with improbable pluck and panache!  Although admittedly, some of my international relatives may have still not received their Christmas cards :(.  And acknowledgement must be paid to the Greek who really stepped up to the plate this year and did the majority of the nightly ritual of wrapping gifts for the holiday visit with family the following day.  This includes his gift to me, beautifully made himself, my reward as the evident victor of a ludicrous argument we’ve been having the past few years in which he no longer thinks he needs to wrap my gifts and I, um, disagree, culminating in me returning his gift to me last Christmas because, I reasoned, we have all joint funds; if he doesn’t find some way to make it special, I might as well have bought it myself!  When you’ve been together as long as we have, you have to start finding more creative ways to spice things up.  But isn’t it lovely?  Worth it.

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UntitledAnd now to conclude this post, I think I shall do what I did last year: have a glass of wine and reflect on 2012 and my goals for 2013.  This year, I had a glass of Rondel Brut Cava sparkling wine: dry, tasty, and $7 a bottle!  A fortunate discovery during an especially high concentration of gatherings this past summer that required economical bubbles.  Sadly, my first goal of the new year was last year’s as well: while I AM in graduate school, I was unsuccessful in getting into a coveted PhD program and instead applied to the Masters program.  So, I’ll be giving the doctorate a go again.  I also hope to see a revival in the things I enjoy doing and yet haven’t been doing a lot of lately; unfortunately, my goal of last year, in addition to being incomplete, kind of left me no time for doing anything else.  Perhaps this explains why I happily volunteered to do so much holiday baking despite having less places to go this year and was able to approach it with such zeal despite the academic ass-kicking that left me so exhausted.  Finally, I want, as I want each year, to try new things: not always a successful thing (see: gardening and mountain biking) but a necessary one I think.  Happy holidays, all!  And a Happy New Year!

June 19, 2012

Wine (website) pairings worth mentioning

Wine pairs well with many things. Wine pairs well with cheeses. Wine pairs well with chocolates. And wine pairs well with great deals on wines. Similarly, a wine website that offers great advice and recommendations on wine pairs well with a wine website that gives you great deals on high-quality, hard-to-find wines.  These websites are Snooth.com and Lot18.com, respectively.  I have online relationships with both websites, owned by the same NYC-based company, so I was naturally quite excited when I noticed they had joined forces, so to speak.  Snooth, which was first introduced to me back in 2007 by a dear friend who used to be a contributor, is a unique, social, online wine-shopping experience.  I use it primarily to find different types of wine and reviews on wine.  And with its recently beefed-up settings, it can now pair me with experienced “mentors” based on my preferences in regions and grapes who can guide and educate me in everything wine.  And once you have selected a wine, the website allows you to compare prices from over 10,000 merchants worldwide!  You can also save your favorite wines to your profile and leave your own (frighteningly amateur) reviews.  It’s a great little community!  My Snooth membership also earned me an invitation to Lot18 about a year ago, but they did not really interact with one another so closely until now.  Lot18, which boasts a beautiful website (these things are important to me), secures “lots” (Aha!  I get it.) of sought-after wines at reduced prices.  They also sell gourmet foods and luxury trips if your budget is significantly more substantial than mine and $80 olive oils and private dining experiences with Eric Ripert are your thing.  Some other attractive features: you can set up your email preferences easily to ensure that you don’t get inundated with deals and specials, and they are now doing this thing where you can buy wines and they won’t ship them to you until you accrue a half case worth and then the shipping is free, even if the wines come from different wineries!  They also have a fantastic blog.  And now, my Snooth Daily Deal emails connect me directly to great wines available through Lot18!  Both are great websites, and now both work together to bring you everything you’d ever need to expand your palette (and knowledge) and try new wines you might not otherwise have access to.

June 15, 2012

Greek Fest! (BYOG)

I originally had a fairly clever opening for this post; it’s based on a running joke that the Greek and I share.  Whenever we happen to pass by a Greek festival, of which in this area there are actually quite a few, I like to laughingly remark to him that I would be permitted in because I “brought my own Greek”.  As if bringing my olive-skinned and abundantly hirsute suitor is as good as a ticket of admission.  A gentle poke at the rigid racial exclusivity of being in and belonging to the Greek community, a conclusion I’ve drawn entirely from “My Big, Fat, Greek Wedding”, which is the equivalent of watching a Tyler Perry movie and deciding it applies to all black people.  FYI, watching a movie about the comically extreme aspects of a culture and applying it unconditionally to every member of that ethnic group: not a great idea.  Nevertheless, the joke does bring me little periodic morsels of mirth (and the Greek tender bouts of annoyance) and has expanded to include all Celtic festivals as well since the Greek is actually half-Scottish, a fact I don’t often mention although I must say, that fairer lineage does rather handsomely soften his otherwise commanding Mediterranean features.  But sadly, of all the activities the Greek and I do together, he did not accompany me to the Greek festival, a gathering that should have guaranteed his attendance (his name IS in the title) and my ability to talk about it afterwards complete with bad joke tie-in (although I suppose I did discuss it anyway…at length).  This is because my Greek is a bad Greek.  He doesn’t speak the language.  He dropped out of Greek school (and has the t-shirt to prove it).  He doesn’t play the bouzouki or enjoy the taste of ouzo.  He’s approaching his mid-thirties and with no wife and no children (having instead a half-Chinese, half-Caucasian American live-in girlfriend…ahem, that would be me), which makes his YiaYia cry.  And when there is a Greek festival taking place, held by the Greek Orthodox Church that his Yiayia attended for thirty years, he’s nowhere to be found.  Such was the scenario a few weekends ago when I attended the Greek festival of the Saint Sophia Greek Orthodox Cathedral in DC solo and met up with my various white friends.  Despite our lack of Greekness (we had one friend there who, with golden blond hair and an Irish last name, still purports to have Greek ancestry), we still managed to have a good time complete with Greek food and pastry, Greek dancing, and (naturally) Greek wine.  Lots and lots of Greek wine!  By a Greek winemaker called INO.  Now, Ino was a mortal queen of Thebes who, after her death and transfiguration, became the goddess Leucothea, “the white goddess”.  She was Dionysos’ aunt and supposedly helped raised him.  She also, struck by Dionysian insanity, murdered her own child.  Apparently, coming into contact with Dionysos can cause madness.  And evidently, the ancient Greeks also had a mythological explanation for getting wasted.  Not the most fabulous omen for one’s Greek company but whatever.  We went through several (and I mean SEVERAL) bottles of their chilled Dry White Wine on that hot and sunny spring afternoon, but they also have another wine called Retsina, which is a white wine flavored with fermented pine resin.  A truly traditional and original Greek wine, unchanged since the bacchanalias of the ancients.  According to one friend, it is the grossest thing you will ever taste; according to another, it is what awesome tastes like.  I didn’t try it; given the fact that I do not appreciate the woodiness of a Chardonnay, it seemed like the right choice.  So, you’ll have to let me know what you think.

More photos of the beautiful church…

 

 

Nightfall and still more wine…

 

May 11, 2012

Wool and wine

Festival season is upon us!  And, unfortunately for me and as it sometimes tends to go in life, people were inconsiderate and did not stagger their various events leading to several already jam-packed weekends this summer alternating with several weekends in which I have absolutely nothing to do.  Take last weekend for example: I organized a Cinco de Mayo happy hour at work complete with margaritas, sangrias (which I’m aware are Spanish), and an enormous amount of Mexican beer; I attended a bachelorette party with appropriately inappropriate party favors, Mardi Gras beads, and phallus-shaped nametags with naughty names written on them (Carrie Rubbers, at your service!); then, I attended overlapping festivals on the same day that were held 40 miles away from one another, the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival and the Bud Break Festival at Sugarloaf Mountain Vineyard.  Take into account the fact that I had to make a pit stop between festivals to pick up the Greek, who with his handsome olive skin and Mediterranean ancestry is not terribly fond of wool but is immensely fond of wine (his favorite at the festival: EVOE!, a red wine named after the shouts of joy uttered by ancient Greeks during festivals honoring Bacchus, the god of wine), and I drove about 120 miles total on Sunday!

Here are just a few photos of the weekend’s fun-filled festivities (only from the festivals though as tequila and heavy, expensive cameras are not a good mix):

What would a wool festival be without sheep!  Any kind and color you can imagine!  All as equally displeased with life and your kind…

 

 

Some scenes from the festival…

 

 

There were all kinds of other animals there as well, including alpacas of course (freshly shorn!) and a pair of French Angora rabbits (on their cage was a bag of velvety-soft rabbit wool; it was so soft it felt like finely ground sand or some sort of creamy liquid!)

 

There were all different kinds of artisans showing off their craft…

 

…and competitions galore!  No doubt laughably unexciting to the athletes and die-hard sports fans out there, but I thought it was interesting.  The ladies in the snorkeling gear were competing in the Sheep-to-Shawl contest.  Yes, she is ingeniously using a drill to spool the yarn.  Teams must shear their sheep, spin the wool into yarn, and weave the yarn into a shawl, and the entire competition takes less than four hours!  All the teams had their own customes, themes, and team names (like “The Black Purl”).  The folks in the bottom two photos are shearing their sheep the old-fashioned way…with really sharp blades and what I assume to be a whole hell of a lot of expertise.

 

 

They had herbs too!

A few other observations:

1.)   There were an inordinately large number of sheep named “Mitt Romney” at the event.  Contrary to the beliefs of my more politically savvy friends, this was not some sort of witty satire or symbolism.  They’re just really into Romney, earning them the name (by my ever clever Greek) of “Sheepublicans”.

2.)   It seems in poor taste to put the lamb kabob stand right beside the show pavillion; the poor sheep can smell their brethren cooking!

3.)   There were not nearly enough cotton candy vendors given how aptly themed (and delicious!) the snack was at that particular venue.  It would actually end up being my only purchase because, as it happens, there is such a thing as too much of a good thing; the sheer (shear?) volume of choices for yarn and accessories caused my brain to short-circuit and I left with nothing.  NOTHING!  Next year’s plan: come with an actual plan.  I’ll bring a whole list of projects and specs and clean them out properly, which I’m sure the Greek will be just delighted to hear!

Next on the agenda was a wine festival celebrating the beginning of the grape growing season, when the buds are breaking on the vines (hence the name “Bud Break Festival”).  Not as many pictures at this event as wine, crab cakes, and lying on a blanket in the grass saps the motivation.  They’re great pictures though.  You’d be surprised the exclusive access you can gain when the vineyard owner catches you scaling his wood post fence in an attempt to get your camera over the 8-foot deer wire fence for a better shot.  Nice man.  I bought a bottle of the Sugarloaf Mountain Vineyard Pinot Grigio, but I also thoroughly enjoyed their sangria.  It’s made from their 2011 Stomp sweet Merlot, the product of an annual event in which the vineyard’s guests participate in an old-world style, barefoot grape-crushing competition, a fact that I pushed from my mind while I drank.  The sangria contains fresh peaches and blueberries put in the glass just before the sangria.  A capital idea, because this girl does not like her sangria with bits of partially metabolized debris in it.  The sangria we made for my work happy hour was made the morning of with citrus fruits only, which tend to stand up better to the alcohol and sugar.  That’s the way to do it, people!

 

 

January 8, 2012

Synopsis: Holidays 2011

The holidays began for me as they do every year…with baking.  In the end, I’d made three batches of cookies, baked six pies, bought one carrot cake (to replace one burnt apple pie), and made one breakfast of beignets (from a mix; I’m not a machine!).  All-in-all a success, aside from my nemesis apple pie, which, despite six attempts made during the last decade, has stubbornly refused to both look appealing and taste delicious at the same time.  Irritatingly, my most beautiful pie tasted by far the worst ending up tart and watery despite the addition of homemade caramel.  A frustrating bafflement.  And my unanimously declared most delectable pie being the ugliest; it was notoriously named “Frankenpie”.  My most recent pomme failure was a pie completely scorched on the top, possibly because I brushed the crust with milk instead of egg white having used the last of my eggs, or possibly at the hands of my erratic oven which I mentioned in a previous post has a suicide pact with several other kitchen appliances.  The most recent member of their ranks: the kitchen faucet who sprung a leak and flooded the cabinet below the sink on New Year’s Day, an appropriate occurrence considering the curse of bizarre mishaps that always seem to happen to us on and around New Year’s.  However, this became a rare opportunity for the Greek to demonstrate his renowned MacGuyver-esque skills to, quite literally, use a straw, a paper clip, and a rubber band to allow us to continue to use the kitchen sink until our replacement part arrives in 10 to 14 business days.

 

Now, I pride myself on my present-wrapping.  I actually enjoy taking the time to make sure every gift is wrapped beautifully despite the fact that we can’t display them under the tree lest our feline terrors shred them and that most of my delicate handmade bows get smashed en route to each holiday party.  But this year acknowledgment must be paid to the Greek’s mother Ann for her sparkly blue bows of abstract art inspired by the fascinator (most recently popularized by Princess Kate).

 

These pair of photos I have aptly named “The Frenzy” and “The Fallout”; they are as close as a still representation can come to describing the Greek’s nephews during the unwrapping of presents.  And I learned a valuable lesson this year: always dress your little ones in the most adorable, preferably matching (this is why you have two) outfits for present-unwrapping.  For one, they’ll likely go along with whatever you chose as long as it involves opening presents, and, as many a childhood Christmas morning photo of mine can attest to, it’s less cute when they’re wearing dingy pajamas and mussed hair.

  

Kayla’s tolerance knows no bounds.  Good dog.

2011 was a big year for me.  I began a blog, and within it I recorded all the things I’d resolved to do that year…and then actually carried them out.   Imagine that.  And while the Greek and I didn’t do anything even remotely exciting this year (we sat around and watched the DIY network and read books; he fell asleep at 11:54 pm), I thought such a personal feat should be somehow commemorated.  So, I had a glass of Viognier.  I think it’s a $6 bottle of wine.  Nothing exceptional about it except that I bought it in Paris in spring 2010.  I thought this occasion was special enough.  Plus, it was a prime opportunity to use my lovely stone wine stopper, a gift from my sister.  So I drank it slowly and thought about what my resolutions are for next year.  In 2011, I applied to grad schools.  In 2012, I shall get into one of them.  Try new things.  Keep making the time to do the things I enjoy.

When I was a child, I lived a very transient life moving from one place to the next (no, my father was neither in the military nor on the lam), and my family was and remains scattered all over the world.  Since I moved near my aunt and uncle’s to go to college and decided to stay put for the foreseeable future and since my mom joined us over a year ago and we were thankfully able to convince my sister to visit us for many years in a row and since the Greek’s family all remained within a stone’s throw of one another, I now find myself in an unprecedented rich concentration of family that I have never before experienced.  I should be basking in the warmth of the knowledge that a dream, so hopefully and longingly wished for, had finally been realized.  But what do I do; complain about how tiring it is slogging from one place to the next each holiday season.  Which I shall do next season.  Christmas is invariably a 3-4 day affair, a veritable marathon of several cycles of baking, wrapping, driving, and merriment.  Nonetheless, it was wonderful spending the holidays with you all, and I love you all dearly.

August 12, 2011

What was the argument against direct shipping in Maryland again?

The list of wineries that are able to ship directly to consumers in Maryland is growing quickly!  And I just so happen to have the link: http://compnet.comp.state.md.us/Motor_Fuel__Alcohol_and_Tobacco_Tax/Alcohol_and_Tobacco_Tax/Static_Files/DWSApplicants.pdf.  There are now 22 in-state and 268 out-of-state wineries who have approved or pending Direct Wine Shipper’s permits.  These include Barboursville (home of the sacred Octagon) and Tarara Vineyards in Virginia, favorites of mine such as Bonny Doon and Frog’s Leap, Cakebread Cellars which I’m sure would be another favorite of mine if I could afford it, and more well-known brands like Turnbull and TwistedOak. “Wine Friday” at Lot18 is now a lot more exciting for me!  To that end, I’ve just purchased the 2007 àMaurice Columbia Valley Syrah Duo from àMaurice Cellars in Walla Walla, Wasington for $11 per bottle!  That’s the same price as the Barefoot Pinot Grigio I just bought the other day in the liquor store next door to the Bottom Dollar.  I’ve never drank wine from a Pacific Northwest vineyard that I know of.  It seems to be an emerging region for quality wine though.

July 5, 2011

Lot18 membership anyone?

I have just gotten my first “by invitation only” online membership.  Lot18 offers great deals on wines and wine-related accessories.   Hurry up and apply for those licenses to ship your wines to Maryland, wineries!  As of now, I think only 23 wineries are able to ship to Maryland, and of those, eighteen ARE in Maryland!  Yuck!  Speaking of which, anyone know of a Maryland vineyard that doesn’t suck and/or offer strawberry-flavored wine?  Also, anyone interested in a membership to Lot18?  I can send you an invite, and I get credit money if you buy something.  And as you know, the only thing I like better than the feeling of haughty exclusivity associated with by-invitation-only memberships…are savings.

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