Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Wine for Possibility

I am not normally one for new year's resolutions. To me, they always sound more like punishments: resolve to lose 10 pounds (because you are a big fat cow); resolve to exercise 5 times a week (because you are a lazy big fat cow); resolve to be better with money (because you are a wasteful big fat cow); resolve to keep on top of your files (because you are a slacker, wasteful, lazy big fat cow) resolve to clean the apartment diligently once a week (because you are a dirty, lazy, wasteful, slacker big fat cow-pig living in a pile of FILTH!!!!). You can see what I mean. It seems to me that resolutions more often than not come out of a feeling of failure, which I think is a terrible motivator, and in creating these resolutions, you are inevitably setting yourself up for more failure, which only will make you want to eat more, slack-off more, and let the piles of clothes, work, dirt around you grow exponentially.

Instead I am choosing to set forth for myself in the coming year the goal of living in possibility; opening myself up to whatever new opportunities and challenges come my way. Because I have seen, in both big and small ways, what can happen when I open myself up to the universe and the various things that it brings me.

Here is a funny example: Steve and I went to The Grove last weekend, one of our favorite neighborhood low-key coffeehouse/restaurants. As I approached the counter to order our drinks, I noticed that there was one piece of chocolate fudge cake left, and that the top half of it had fallen over. I jokingly asked the server if the cake was free because it had fallen. I fully expected him to laugh and say no, but instead he laughed, and gave it to me for nothing! Again, it's a small example, but a significant one: putting things out there positively and opening ourselves up to the universe can result in many gifts being handed to us, not the least of which can be free cake!!

A more significant illustration of this has come to me this past year in the form of my sudden and unexpected involvement in the wine business. As I mentioned before, I have been an actor for many years, and it is a profession that is both wonderful and heartbreaking. The wonderful part, of course, is when you actually get to perform, on stage or in front of the camera, maybe even make some money. The agonizing part of it is how unbelievably difficult it can be to ever get work. There are so many disappointments, so many let-downs. It can be draining, and after a while, one starts to wonder if all of that effort is worth it.

I have been given an abundance of support in my life: my parents and husband have all been willing to support me emotionally and financially as I try to make my way in this career. And I have worked in coffee houses, in offices, in people's homes, and as a teacher. But none of those jobs really excited me all that much. And I know, who says your job is supposed to excite you, right? Well, as spoiled as it may sound, I do. And I grew up with parents who also believed that what you do could be more than just a job. It certainly doesn't have to be, but it can be, I mean why not, right?

I had considered going back to teaching, or even getting a degree and becoming a Marriage and Family Counselor. But for whatever reason, I just never wound up pursuing those options. I wondered what else I could do-what skills did I have? What might I be good at? Honestly, I had no idea. And then one night Steve and I went to dinner with our friends Mike and Amy. Mike was working for Audelssa Winery, and casually mentioned that they were looking for another sales person to help them in the San Francsico area, and for some unknown reason, I suggested myself. Crazier still, he took me up on it! I had no previous wine experience, but he brought me to the winery, introduced me to everyone, tasted the wines with me, and released me into the wild. And lo and behold, I discovered I had a feel for it, and what's more, I enjoyed it. Selling wine provided me with an entry into the world of wine, something I had never thought of, certainly never thought I might be able to try and make some kind of a career out of. Possibility, from out of the blue.

Now suddenly, I am contemplating taking a course that would enable me to become a Certified Sommelier. Where did that come from? In all my time of trying to to think of what I could do instead of, or in support of, my acting, never once did I think of wine. And when I blithly offered myself up to Mike as a wine saleswoman, I had zero wine experience and almost less wine knowledge. But I offered myself to the universe, I put myself in the path of possibility, of new experience and the universe met me halfway, and ushered me down an entirely unforseen path.

It is diffciult to make changes in life. It is one of the most frightening things we can do. It can also be the most fruitful and exciting, of course, but as we set out, in my opinion, it's just plain scary. Changing how we live our lives, how we see or define ourselves is downright terrifying. I have only ever been willing to define myself as an actor, and as a result, I live a large part of my life feeling like a total failure. In the past, the idea of taking on another career seemed like the ultimate failure. But I am trying now to live the idea that there is room for more than one passion, more than one interest, more than one career; trying to live the idea that we don't know where life will take us, and therefore to close ourselves off from possibilty and new paths is to close ourselves off from really living. So I am trying to see possibility where I used to see failure, to put myself in the mindset that I am not closing one door, but rather am allowing myself to have two doors open at once, and to believe that there is in fact time and space in the universe to be in two rooms at the same time. It may just be a matter of knocking down a wall and making one big, beautiful all-encompassing room where before there wasn't one. That is after all the way so many people let in air and light, and create the space of their dreams.

So on New Year's Eve, as I embark on this year of possibility, I am popping the cork on a bottle of 2005 Domaine Carneros Taittinger. This sparkling wine was voted Best United States Sparkling Wine by Food & Wine Magazine, and received 92 Points from Wine Spectator. I was able to buy it at my local wine shop for under $20 a bottle. It seems the perfect beverage, not only because champagne and sparkling wine are a New Year's standard, but also because these sparkling wines hold a whole world of possibility, in the form of the champagne cocktail! So many possibilities from one bottle: add orange juice for your standard Mimosa, or branch out even further. Try peach juice and puree for a Bellini, or Creme de Cassis for a Kir Royale. Why not also add Chambord, or muddled raspberries or blackberries, or St. Germaine liqueur, or some pomegranate juice and/or liqueur and some pomegranate seeds? A splash of this, a splash of that, why not?! The dry, sometimes tart, fruity sparkle of the wine is a beautiful balance to many different fruit juices or syrupy fruity-sweet liqueurs.

It's a great way to kick things off: a sharp pop, a splash of foam, a blast of cold bubbles fizzing in your mouth and nose, making you laugh and say " Here's to 2010, and the possibility it holds".

Happy New Year!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Wine for Teasing my Parents

As I believe I mentioned before, many members of my family have descended on San Francisco to celebrate my parents' 50th wedding anniversary.

In the spirit of celebration and familial love, I am now going to tease my parents mercilessly, since no celebration is complete without a good ribbing!

My parents in their many years of marriage have, it seems, begun to share a few of each other's quirks, and these quirks often appear in abundance the moment they sit down at the table.

For some reason, both of my parents seem to have developed restaurant-water-issues of a rather bafflng nature. My mother always wants a glass of water with no ice. Now this in and of itself is not so odd, and one would think that when we sit down and the waiter says hello and offers to bring water she would simply say, "Could I have a glass of water with no ice please?"

This would be an easy request and would put an immediate end to the ice-free water ordeal. But this is never what happens. Instead, she waits for her glass of water to arrive, and invariably she gets the glass that not only has ice in it, but has so much ice in it that it is 99% ice and about 2 teaspoons actual water. She then looks at the glass of water as though its only purpose on this planet is to make her life a misery, and then asks whomever has brought the offending water for an empty glass.

When this glass arrives she takes her fork and proceeds to try and transfer the ice from one glass to another. This process usually takes about 45 minutes, and involves ice cubes being flung indescriminately around the restaurant, landing on the table, on plates, in bread baskets, butter dishes, and occasionally an unsuspecting daughter's cleavage.

She at least has a sense of humor about the whole enterprise, and as we watch with horror, she flings ice with abandon, laughing that we can't take her anywhere, while also seeming to be baffled that there isn't a better way to accomplish not having ice in her water glass.

My father doesn't seem to take quite as much umbrage at the presence of ice in his glass, and he seems to quite enjoy his glass of water. Or half of it, I should say. After that, he develops an inexplicable dislike of the water, and the thought of having any more water added to his glass makes him apoplectic. He therefore spends the rest of his meal with one hand covering his glass of water so that the poor water boy (whose soul purpose in the restaurant, I might add, is to fill glasses) can't add any more of the offending liquid to has glass. The mere presence of the water boy, in fact, seems to fill my father with agitation, and it is all he can do to stop himself from leaping at the offending water boy screaming "Dear God, how many times must I tell you, no more water!!!"

When we ask my father why he is so panicked about the idea of more water being added to his glass, he replies that the he doesn't know how much he drank when they keep adding more. This rationale is so baffling, none of us quite knows how to reply. Is he under some very specific water rationing program? Is he, in fact, living in his own fairy-tale world, where the wicked witch has decreed that he must not drink more than 12 ounces of water at one meal or else he will immediately be turned into a newt, thereby ruining his chances of waking the princess and living happily ever after? Will an excess of water cause him to suddenly melt? Is he concerned that drinking more than one glass of water will cause him to lose the rest of his hair?

Is he worried that, as he used to tell us when we were little and wanted water before bed, he'll "be peeing all night"? This last one might make sense to me if it weren't for the fact that we are eating dinner at 4:30, which, I would think, would give the water ample time to make its exit before bedtime. It is one of life's great mysteries, and I fear it will never be solved.

The Wine for Teasing my Parents is a 2007 Leirana Albarino from Spain. Steve and I shared this bottle with my parents over an absolutely delicious meal at Piperade, a Basque restaurant in San Francisco. The wine is bright and crisp, refreshing and juicy with a light apple grapefruit, lemon-lime freshness and a nice minerality. It was a perfect complement to the fava bean and mint salad, the roast chicken, moroccan lamb and fish stew we had for dinner.

Unfortunately, it did not go well with glasses of ice-water. Go figure.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Wine for a Cold Winter's Night

I love this time of year. The Christmas lights everywhere, the candles burning in people's windows, the overall festiveness. I'm a total sucker for it.

I did not grow up with a Christmas tree, but once I started dating my now-husband, we started getting one together, and it is now one of my favorite holiday traditions. I love the green of it, the sharp, clean smell, the way the colored lights shine and refract through the glass ornaments. Sitting in the dark, with only the holiday lights and Menorah candles to see by is total contentedness to me. If I could add a roaring fire and snow falling outside I would be in heaven, but, hey, I take what I can get. And other than a hot spiced (and rum-spiked) apple cider, my favorite winter-night holiday drink is a hot spiced mead.

I first heard of mead many years ago when I was acting in a production of Shakespeare's A Winter's Tale with a wonderful theatre company called A Noise Within in Glendale, CA. (I have acted in a lot of Shakespeare plays, and in case you were wondering, this performance of A Winter's Tale is not to be confused with the production of The Merchant of Venice I did in NYC, in which I accidentally went on stage for a scene one night without any pants on; but that's a story for another day.)

A Winter's Tale is one of Shakespeare's later plays, and as a result it is long, full of very difficult and convoluted language, and a plot both simple and confusing to the degree that even the actors who are performing it often have no idea what is going on. In spite of that, I think it is a wonderful play, full of great female characters, love, betrayal, shepherds, country wenches, half-naked men doing satyr dances, and a man who gets chased off stage by a bear. In the course of this production, those of us playing the shepherdess wenches had to do research on country weddings and festivals in days of yore, and discovered that mead was a very popular beverage at such events. I then set about finding a liquor store that actually sold mead and brought some to rehearsal so everyone could try it. The verdict was yum.

For some reason, mead seems to have gone the way of things like grog, leeches, and gnawing on whole legs of mutton, but there are still companies that make mead and an occasional restaurant or bar that sells it, and I heartily recommend you try it. It can be served hot or cold, but I prefer the warmed version. Chaucer's Mead comes with a little mulling spice baggie attached to the neck of the bottle, so all you have to do is pour the wine into a saucepan with the mulling spice bag and simmer. Even if you find a mead without a spice bag, you can just make your own by tossing in some cinnamon sticks, orange rind, cloves, etc. Now a wise person, an organized person, will wrap said spices in a bit of cheesecloth, or one of those do-it-yourself tea bags, but I am not one of those people, and I just toss the spices loose into the pot with the wine. The taste is the same, it just means that you have to spend 10 minutes bobbing for spices before you serve the mead. The cinnamon sticks and orange peel are easy to get out, it's the cloves that are sneaky buggers. Worse come to worse, just serve your guests a glass with a clove or two in it. It's not the end of the world, and just tell them it's the way they served mead in the olden days.

Mead is made from honey, in the case of Chaucer's Mead, three different kinds of honey. When I tasted the mead before heating it with the mulling spices, it was surprisingly light and not too sweet, with a fresh smell and taste of orange blossom and honeysuckle. After mulling it with the spices for about 10 minutes, the orange blossom and honey-sweetness were very slightly intensified, and blended with the cinnamon and cloves from the spice bags. I let it steep with the spices for another 30 minutes or so, after which the color darkened, and the sweetness increased yet again. At this point, it took on a much stronger taste of apples, cinnamon, orange and clove. I enjoyed it at every stage, but I think for drinking with a dessert, heating it for 10-15 minutes with the spices gets the mead to just the right place. We drank it with some vanilla and chocolate French Macaroons from Trader Joe's, but I also thought it would be delicious with something like a fruit Pavlova, one of those light desserts made from meringue, whipped cream, strawberries and/or raspberries. Mead would also make a nice poaching liquid for pears, peaches or nectarines.

Now I know that egg nog is the traditional holiday beverage, but it just isn't always what I'm looking for on a cold winter's night. I didn't grow up drinking it (no Christmas tree, no Nog), and I always thought the name was a euphemism of sorts, like an Egg Cream, which as far as I know has neither egg nor cream in it. So I asssumed Egg Nog had neither egg nor nog in it, but oh was I wrong.

My introduction to egg nog came when I was in my twenties, working at a very prestigious Manhattan university as an assistant to a microbiologist who ran a research lab. This lab was full of some very smart, funny, wacky, terrific people, and they really liked their parties. They especially liked their Christmas party and their Nog. The making of the lab's egg nog began about six weeks before the party, when one of the post-docs there (who became one of my best friends) and I would go shopping for the ingredients. When we got back to the lab everyone would gather around the desk in my boss's office and watch while he concocted this brew. I watched that first winter in horror and amazement as he poured sugar, heavy cream, light cream, six gallons of dark and light rum, cinnamon, nutmeg and about a hundred eggs into a steel container and mixed it all together.

The alcohol fumes emanating from the vat got the entire lab tipsy, and made me think that there was no way anyone in their right mind could consume this potion and live. I was assured that by the time we drank it, I would hardly taste the alcohol in it. Because of the size of the container, the only refrigerator we could store it in was the lab fridge; the one that was NEVER supposed to contain any food or drink; the one that housed all manner of things bacteria, microbe and Ebola. The potential cross-contamination however seemed part of the holiday festivities, that you didn't know, with your first sip, if that strange sensation you had was the alcohol flooding your system or your organs starting to liquify.

So in the nog went and there it sat for about six weeks. Every week or so, we would take it out of the fridge, gather around the desk again, and stir the brew.

On the night of the Christmas party I finally got to taste it, my first egg nog, and actually, it was spectacular. And they were right, you couldn't taste the alcohol at all, but those six weeks of mellowing in the fridge seemed to have exponentially increased the alcohol's potency, so that one tablespoon was enough to make me kick off my shoes and dance like Britney Spears, even when there was no music playing. It was a high point for others in the lab, who took pictures and pointed, but a bit of a low-point for me.

So for now, when I want a winter dessert beverage, I will stick with my spiced mead. My hubby and I will put on our jammies, turn the lights off, listen to our Frank Sinatra while cuddling on the couch, sipping our hot drink and looking at the candles and christmas tree lights. In my mind, that's not a bad way to spend an evening. The only things that could possibly make it better would be a snow storm and a roaring fire. And perhaps a roast mutton leg to gnaw on. Maybe next year.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Wine for Writing Holiday Cards

Yup, it's that time of year. Time to write those holiday cards. I confess, I love holiday cards. Sending them, getting them. They make me feel happy, festive. I love to watch the pile of finished cards get bigger and bigger, stamped and addressed and ready to go out into the world. And getting them, of course, I love getting them. Putting them around the living room where my hubby and I can see them and count (on a daily basis) how many people love us. Magic.

Emailed holiday cards, I'm sorry, that's cheating. And I'm not going to lie, I'm not a huge fan of those photo cards either. Mostly because they are usually one flat piece of paper and are hard to keep upright on the coffee table. Of course you can lean them against another card, but then they block the card they're leaning against, and eventually they just fall flat on the table and mess up our people-who-love-us count (because we don't see them flat on the table), or they waft away on a breeze and float under the coach and are never seen again.

Anyway, there are many things I love about the holiday card. The thing I enjoy least is that fact that it seems to take me forever to get them done. This is due mostly to the fact that I have the handwriting of a four-year-old, and the more cards I write, the more tired my hand gets and the worse my writing becomes until I wind up sending my friends cards that look like they came off a prescription pad, where you look at the paper from all different angles, wondering if the doctor has written your prescription upside down, in Sanskrit, or in that backward mirror writing Da Vinci used.

The only way for me to avoid this is to write veerrry slowly and deliberately, and for some reason, to press down really hard. This system allows me to write about three cards per hour, because any more than that and I am left with a cramped hand-claw that hurts for days. I have tried simply writing much shorter messages, and the more cramped my hand gets, the shorter the messages become, until I have gone from "Wishing you and your family a wonderful holiday season" and "All the best in the new year" to things like "Hooray" and, for some godforsaken reason "Go for it", which, when my hand got REALLY tired, simply became "Go!", which, let's face it, is just confusing.

Now, some of you might say: "Hey, it's the computer age. Why don't you just print out your cards, that way your hand won't hurt?" I'll tell you why: because that is cheating!!! Don't you get it people?! If you just print out your cards, and print out address labels, then you're not really writing holiday cards, are you? You're just stuffing envelopes. There should be a certain amount of personal sacrifice involved in the holiday card-writing. If I can't move my hand for a few days, then neither should you, and that's just how it should be. People may not be able to read anything I've written to them, but dammit, they know that that "Happy Nferw yrsd" and "Yippee" and "Go Go Go!" came from me.

So with all that in mind, I have decided to give in to my slow holiday card writing, and just enjoy some wine while I'm writing them. I can say with absolute authority that drinking wine makes my handwriting look better. At least it makes it look better to me. So off I go: card, sip, card, sip and so on. My husband will either come home to find me in chipper spirits, with that lovely rosey wine-glow about the cheeks, or he'll find me sprawled on the couch, empty wine glass in hand, buried in chicken scrawl holiday cards, drooling into the cushion. I'll let you guess which one.

But for now, on to the wine. My card-writing wine choice is a 2007 Audelssa Tephra. Now, in the spirit of full disclosure, before I sold wine for Canihan Family Cellars I sold wine for Audelssa, but I no longer work for them, and therefore get no commission if you run out and buy 20 cases. Though, hey, it couldn't hurt to mention me, maybe they'll feel bad and pony up.

But seriously, I truly love this wine, and I thought it would be best to start off with something I feel certain you will love too. Audelssa is a small Sonoma, CA family vineyard. It is in a beautiful spot, with vines that grow up on the hillside in multi-million-year-old volcanic soil. The Tephra is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Merlot and Zinfandel. It is very food-friendly, meaning you can serve it with a variety of dishes like burgers, pizza, paella, but it is also wonderful to drink on its own. It is fruity and warm with a little bit of the spice that comes from the Syrah and the Zinfandel. It retails for $28 a bottle, which, honestly, I think is a steal. If you can find it where you are, it's a great wine to bring along to a party, or dinner at a friend's, and since it's not so well-known at this point, it will be a great discovery. Try it. I know you will not be disappointed.
Until next week...

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

A New Leaf (or should I say A New Vine)

Well, this is new for me.  A whole new world, this blogging.  I'm a bit behind the times I'm afraid with all this stuff.  My father asked me the other day how and why people "log on" to YouTube.  I thought that was so sweet, my poor 70 year old dad confused about these "newfangled" websites, but now I know how he feels!  I feel like a moron, looking at this empty page wondering how to make it look better.  I went to layout and thought "what's a gadget?", and "what the hell do I do now?"
I guess that's the million dollar question, isn't it!  I want this blog to be about wine, but not just about wine.  I want to talk about food and wine, and also my own journeys as I figure out where I'm going and what I'm doing next!
I have been an actor for many many years, ever since I can remember, when I was six and would stand in front of the department store windows singing and dancing making up my own commercials.
Saying I've been an actor though, doesn't mean I've made money at it (or at least not much), or that I've gotten anywhere near where I'd hoped.  But I still go on auditions and remain hopeful.  It's really hard to let the dream die.
In the meantime, I have been doing other things: writing screenplays, teaching acting, and now, selling wine.  Hooray for wine!  A whole new world of sights, tastes and smells to explore.
Let me say that though I am currently working for Canihan Family Cellars, selling their wonderful organic wines, i am by no means a wine expert.  Honestly I am learning as I go.
That is where I thought we could learn together.  I will try a wine a week, and share it with you, along with whatever else I may be thinking about or doing while I am enjoying the wine.  Hopefully, one day I will be able to share wines from a locale that is not my apartment in San Francisco!
Only time will tell...