Thursday, May 27, 2010

Wine for Where We're At

Here's a bit of an update on where we're at:

The movers will be here on Monday.

We were unable to get an automatic rental car for the four months that we will be driving in Europe, so we have rented a Peugeot with a manual transmission, which means that Steve will wind up doing most of the driving. I have promised to try to learn, so we will see how that goes. Maybe Steve will take and post photos of me bursting into tears behind the wheel.

British Airways cabin crews are on strike, though at the moment it looks as though both our flight from San Francisco to London and our flight from London to Paris are departing as planned. Hopefully that will still be the case on June 8th.

Steve has gotten a fingerprinting appointment for his citizenship application on June 3rd. After that we will wait to see when he gets an interview.

We are both seriously stressing out, and I think we will feel a lot better once the move is over on Monday.

What makes me feel better is remembering the glorious wine we had at our anniversary dinner at Perbacco Restaurant in San Francisco last week. It was a 2004 Aglianico Del Vulture, "Nocte" from Terra dei Re in Basilicata in Italy. Aglianico is a red grape mostly found in the south of Italy.

Exploring wines made from these types of indigenous grapes found throughout French and Italian wine regions is one of the activities I am most looking forward to on this trip.

This particular Aglianico wine from Terra dei Re is an absolute beauty: it is rich and lush, bold and complex, with a gorgeous nose and palate of black and red fruits, balanced by an earthiness and minerality with layers of dried leaves, leather and anise. The tannins are very unobtrusive, so it drinks nicely on its own, but it also complemented the pasta trio we all shared for dinner (herbed gnocci, homemade tagliatelli with veal bolognese and ravioli with short rib filling-yum).

It doesn't even matter if you know nothing about wine; when the sommelier poured me a taste I forgot all of my vocabulary, and all I could say after I inhaled the aromas deeply was "My god, that smells good", and it tasted even better.

Really, that's all that matters.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Medicine in Days of Yore

I know i don't normally blog on a Wednesday, but I felt inspired, so here we go:

Last night I was reading the second book in the Sandra Gulland Josephine Bonaparte trilogy. The section I was reading described how, when Josephine suffered from a rotten tooth, the doctor carried out the following treatment:

First, he yanked out Josephine's rotten molar (giving her a cuff about the head first, to dull the pain, of course). then he went into another room, where he yanked out the corresponding molar of a poor peasant girl. He returned to Josephine with the peasant girl's molar, jabbed this molar into the place where Josephine's rotten tooth had been; wrapped her head and jaw tightly in a bandage and told her wait a few days for the tooth to take root.

There was much shock and surprise when, as soon as Josephine unwrapped her head, her new molar fell out.

This treatment caused me to have many delightful flights of fancy about other such medical treatments of a similar ilk from days of yore, and I decided to give Sandra Gulland a run for her money and write my own fictional diary. Mine is called "The Diary of Doctor Dumweevil" and below is an excerpt.

July 15, 1795

Patient complains he is going bald. I have taken hair from my goat and glued it to his head with slug slime. Think it looks very good. Have promised him his wife, Grunhilda, will be able to run her fingers through it. He should even be able to go swimming with it, though I do not advise swimming due to the likelihood of catching swamp vapors and dying.

July 16, 1795

Patient has returned. Goat hairs have failed to take root in his head.

August 15, 1795

Patient had arm blown off on battlefield. Couldn't find his arm, but found another random limb on the ground. Attached this limb to his stump with tree sap and dung and tied it on with a bandage soaked in cow's urine. Arm should attach in matter of days.

August 17, 1795

Arm has fallen off. Now stump seems to be riddled with infection.
Think I will bleed him.

August 18, 1795

Patient has died. Hmmmm....

And so can see how this could provide hours of fun.

Female problems would have been much easier for poor Dr. Dumweevil, as they were always caused by the mysterious female organs and their strange disturbances, and were almost always cured by either slapping the woman soundly, removing the offending organs, or using a fancy vibrating contraption on her nether regions to bring about a "spasmodic episode" (otherwise known, nowadays, as an orgasm).

Now that's a treatment modern medicine seems to have abandoned, for reasons that escape me.

How great would it be to call into work and say:

"I can't come in to work today, I'm way too sick. The doctor says I have to stay home and have 12 orgasms."

Now that's good doctorin' !!

Monday, May 24, 2010

Losing It

One week from today, the big moving truck will arrive to pack us up and put all our things in storage for the foreseeable future. It is starting to get a bit nerve-wracking. The build-up, the lead in, the waiting starts to wear on me. My stomach is in knots, I wake up early in the morning and cannot get back to sleep, etc.

We had a great anniversary weekend, but Saturday at brunch, it became obvious that things were starting to affect me. Either that or I was still a little tipsy from the night before, or maybe it's just that my version of a hangover involves my behaving a little strangely.

To be honest, i don't actually think I was acting all that weird. Our waiter, however, thought I was completely insane. First off, I didn't want wine with lunch since I had drunk a bit too much of it the night before, so i asked him what else he had to drink. He started to offer me a cocktail, but when i told him I wanted something non-alcoholic, he mentioned they had sodas.

I then asked him if they had Dry Sodas. This was when I received the first of the many deer-in-headlights, this-woman-is-crazy, looks from him. He repeated the phrase "dry soda" to me while his eyes rolled around in circles as he tried to grasp what the hell I was talking about.

In case you also are wondering what the hell I am talking about, allow me to explain: Dry Sodas are sodas made with less carbonation and less sugar than regular soda, and they are infused with different lovely flavors like vanilla, lavender, lemongrass, etc. They are delightful, and I was under the impression that they were kind of a Napa thing which is why I asked him if they had them (we were having lunch at Bottega Restaurant in Napa Valley, did I forget to mention that?)

In the end, I ordered a ginger ale.

Not long after that, I was using this little teeny spoon to spread some tapenade on my bread. I finished doing so and put the spoon back in the tapenade dish. Our friend Mike who was having lunch with us suddenly started laughing and asked me: "Did you just put that spoon in your water cup?"

The cups this restaurant uses for water are these very cool copper ones, and I picked mine up to discover that yes, in fact, I had put the Tapenade spoon in my water. I then had to ask our waiter, who was still trying to figure out why I wanted powdered soda, to bring me a new cup of water, because mine had a tapenade spoon in it.

My grande finale came when I ordered a glass of Tawny Port which, when it arrived, looked to me an awful lot like a Ruby Port. I of course, motioned him over to ask if he had brought me the right drink. He had. The embarrassing part about this was that I was wearing my sommelier pin (because I am always hoping that someone will see it and will give me something to drink for free).

I can just imagine this guy telling the other wait-staff about the nut-job-sommelier at Table 12 who wanted a powdered soda, stuck the tapenade spoon in her water and couldn't tell the difference between a tawny and a ruby port.

Like I said, I blame the stress...

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Wine for Five Years

Tomorrow is Steve's and my five-year wedding anniversary.

In light of my parents' upcoming 50th anniversary, five years pales a bit in comparison, but it is a milestone nonetheless.

In honor of our anniversary, I have a story to tell. It is a little sappy and a tad on the personal side, but I've already shared my head-in-window incident as well as our post-pee proposal story, so I think you and I are pretty close by now.

Here goes:

I went through a hard few years, stretched mostly over the time we lived in Charlotte and the first year we lived here in San Francisco. I have already mentioned my "slight anxiety issue", but to be honest, it was not so slight. Over those years, it got worse and worse, to the point where I was really not able to live my life fully. It took a while to realize what was going on and to get some help/medication, etc. (which I did with fantastic results).

I was, essentially, trapped in myself, and this is so depressing, frustrating, etc. and over the years, led to a lot of tears. What is hard to realize while going through it yourself, is how difficult it can be for your spouse: to watch someone you love be sad, and anxious and unable to function fully is, I think, agonizing.

Anyway, one evening here is San Francisco, Steve and I had yet another difficult time: I don't even remember the specifics, but I was crying and we were both upset, and we went to bed feeling terrible.

Steve normally bounced back quickly from these kinds of evenings, and I expected the next morning to be no different. But instead he woke up still feeling awful, and he was quiet and down, and when he left for work I thought "well that's it. He's had it with me. He can't take it anymore, and he is going to decide that he no longer wants to be married to me."

He called later to say that he was feeling better, and I confessed my fear that he was going to decide that he didn't want to be married to me anymore; that I and my problems were just too much trouble.

And then he said something lovely. I don't remember the exact words, but the gist of it was that I was not ever allowed to think like that, because going through these things together is what marriage is. It was, he reminded me, kind of the crux of those vows we said to each other when we got married.

I am embarrassed to say that I had not thought about that. The vows, it seems, can just become part of the wedding day, they're just what you say before the party begins. We know them, or a version of them, so well, they almost lose their meaning. Certainly they can be hard to remember on a day-to-day basis, when you're in the trenches, dealing with some of the crap that life can throw your way.

But I have never forgotten Steve's saying that to me, and in some way it re-booted my way of thinking about marriage. Certainly, there are some things that cannot be gotten over, and there are so many reasons that marriages fall apart, so I don't mean to over-simplify, but for me, realizing that those vows we made to each other on our wedding day (namely to love and hang in there with each other through the good and the bad), are not just words, has been immensely powerful and comforting. Vows, they are these tremendous promises that you make to each other.

It's all well and good to make those vows when the going is smooth and lovely, but it is another thing entirely to remember, believe in and have faith in them when the going gets a little rougher. That is, of course, when you need them most. They are called vows for a reason; they are not to be made lightly.

My Wine for Five Years is the truly special Stag's Leap Wine Cellars 2006 Artemis Cabernet Sauvignon. This wine, at $55 a bottle, is not exactly cheap, but we are, after all, celebrating.

This wine is beautifully rich, smooth, and full-bodied, with all those delicious Cabernet notes of blackberry, cassis, plum and baking spice. The finish goes on and on, and the whole wine is beautifully balanced. It is a very special wine for any special occasion.

Monday, May 17, 2010

The Countdown Begins

Two weeks from today, the movers come to pack us up and put everything we own in storage. Steve and i will then move to a hotel where my parents, sister and her family, brother, aunt and uncle will also converge to help my parents celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary.

Steve has been trying to help me rein in my packing insanity. So far, he has convinced me to get rid of three sweaters, one jacket, an extra swimsuit, one pair of shoes, three large bars of soap, two extra bottles of shampoo and conditioner, one bottle of aloe vera, one small wheely-bag, and the massive suitcase I bought at Macy's which could have held all my clothes and medications as well as my niece and nephew.

He was not able to stop me from getting vaccinated for Tetanus, Diptheria, Pertussis, and Hepatitis A and B however. I know, I need help.

On another subject entirely, i just finished reading a wonderful book called Peace Like a River, by Leif Enger. This is one of the best books I have read in a long, long time. Simple, evocative, beautifully written. I don't even want to try and describe what it was about, just take my word for it and read it. You won't be sorry.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Wine for Making Plans

What's that old saying: "We make plans and God (or the Universe) laughs"?

Well, I wouldn't say the Universe is full-on laughing, but it's certainly having a good chuckle at Steve's and my expense.

Here's how:

1. Steve decided to file his citizenship application two weeks ago, and we are hoping that he gets an appointment for fingerprinting before we leave on June 8th, otherwise he will have to abandon this application and start all over again when we return to the U.S. in November.

2. We had this great plan to take advantage of one of the lease buy-back car programs in Europe where you rent a new car from Peugeot, Renault, or Citroen, drive it for up to 5 months, and then return it. This has the advantage of being cheaper than a long-term rental with the added perks of getting a brand new car (and one that gets great gas mileage), full insurance and no restrictions on where you can drive.

However, we have been trying to book said car for the past few days and have encountered the following problem: I cannot drive a manual transmission, and the only automatic car available is the one car that is big (bad idea for small european roads and parking spaces), has bad gas mileage, and costs about $1,000 more.

So our options are either to take this car, or get a manual, which means that essentially Steve has to do all the driving. I can of course, try to learn how to drive the manual car, but as I have mentioned before, I have a bit of an anxiety issue, and anxiety plus stalling car plus not knowing what the hell I'm doing equals panic attack and tears.

3. The medication I have been taking for the past year and a half to help with the aforementioned anxiety has caused me to gain about 15 pounds, which, let's see how do I put this....SUCKS! I am weaning off the meds now, but there is no telling how long it takes for the weight to come off, and I can tell you right now there is no way in hell I am not going to eat crepes in Paris and pasta in Italy. Nor am I going to be the asshole American traveller who asks for whole wheat toast and a soy latte at a cafe in Paris.

So I have resigned myself to elastic-waisted pants and not weighing myself for the duration of the trip.

4. We have just gotten an email from British Airways announcing a possible cabin crew strike between May something and June 9th. This could lead to "service disruptions". We are scheduled to fly to Paris on British Airways June 8th.

5. Ye olde Icelandic volcano keeps spewing clouds of ash, causing airports to close all across Europe.

Ahhhh, travel....

When in doubt, drink wine...

My Wine for Making Plans is a 2009 Merry Edwards Russian River Valley Sauvignon Blanc. I know I'm on a bit of a Sauvignon Blanc kick the last couple of posts, but this CA Sauv Blanc provides a really interesting contrast to the New Zealand one I suggested the other day.

For starters, a NZ Sauv Blanc is hardly ever aged in wood, more often than not they are aged in stainless steel, leading to a lighter-colored, often shiny, super crisp wine. This Merry Edwards Sauv Blanc however, is a totally different beast:

It is aged in 100% French Oak, which imparts a darker color and a very subtle vanilla flavor to the wine. The most unusual element of this wine for me, though was the thick mouthfeel and slightly toasty, yeasty aroma and taste. This is caused by the time that the wine spends on the lees (the wine is aged along with the dead yeasts leftover from fermentation). So in a way, this wine has an almost Chardonnay-like quality of a thicker mouthfeel, slight toast and a hint of butter (super super slight).

It is still, however, Sauvignon Blanc in flavor and aroma, with notes of apple, unripe pineapple, lime, grapefruit and lemongrass. It is unlike any Sauv Blanc I've tasted before and is really worth a try. On the Merry Edwards website, you can buy the wine for $30 a bottle, though I bought it at a wine store for $27.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Wine for The Sprout

I am a lover of the Brussels Sprout. I know sprouts are an often-detested veggie, but even as a kid I loved them. My mom would give us those frozen Birds-Eye ones, the kind that come in a butter sauce. Yummy.

In the past I simply boiled the sprouts, but lately I have developed my favorite sprout recipe, which I will share with you now:

I get the one-pound bags of sprouts from Trader Joe's, as well as a packet of their chicken basil pesto sausage.

I heat the oven to 425, and then I cut the ends off the sprouts, pull off any dirty outer leaves and cut each sprout in half. When I've done all of them, I put them in a colander, wash them off and leave them to drain.

On the stove-top, I heat a dutch oven (something that can go from stove to oven), add some olive oil, and when it's hot I add one of the chicken sausages which I've cut into pieces. I let the sausage brown, then add the sprouts. After about a minute or so, I add maybe a tablespoon of balsamic vinegar, and put the pot into the oven.

They cook for about 40-50 minutes, and it's a good idea to stir them every 15 minutes or so. About 5 minutes before I plan to take them out of the oven, I add a few turns of salt and a handful of raw sliced almonds. After about 5 minutes back in the oven, the almonds become toasted and fragrant.

These sprouts are absolutely delicious, and they are well accompanied by the Craggy Range Sauvignon Blanc I recommended on Thursday.

Steve and I can eat the whole lot of sprouts in one sitting.

Only problem is that that night, we are in desperate need of the Better Marriage (aka Fart) Blanket. Ah's a small price to pay for some of the yummiest sprouts in town (if I do say so myself)!

Let me know if you try this recipe!!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Wine for a Better Marriage

I am extremely excited at the moment, because i have just heard about what I believe might, possibly, be the greatest product ever invented. I mean it.

It is called "The Better Marriage Blanket". The name alone deserves a round of applause. What magical powers could this blanket possess which enable it to actually improve a person's marriage?

Does it put an end to financial woes; make children sleep through the night and late into the morning; does it end snoring, or tossing and turning; regulate body heat so that both people in the bed are perfectly comfortable at all times; does it warm one person's feet so that they are not blocks of ice; does it make you more fertile (or less fertile, depending on what the couple's needs are); increase sex drive; decrease sex drive; end erectile dysfunction?

Could it have saved the marriages of Jesse James and Tiger Woods?? What, I had to know, what on earth does this blanket do to give you a better marriage??!!

I'll tell you what it does:

It absorbs the smell of farts.

Yup, that's right. Apparently all that is needed for a better marriage is an absence of nighttime fart-smell. Who knew?

Obviously this blanket is aimed at women, because men seem to have no problem at all with flatulent odors, in fact they seem to enjoy them. They are proud of their emanations and say things like: "Get a whiff of that!!" and "Deep breaths, there's enough for everyone." Seriously. I know someone who says that. I won't tell you who, but I'm about to go on a very long trip with him to countries known for their tiny beds and an excessive consumption of stinky cheese.

I being a woman, of course, do not toot. Steve likes to tell a story about how one night I fell asleep beside him, had a rather loud gaseous emission, and woke myself up, saying "Was that me?", but it's a heinous lie.

I shudder to think what is in this blanket to make it absorb such aromas, and I don't have any immediate plans to buy one for my household, but I will say that if these blankets actually work, every airline should buy them and force every passenger on every flight to wear one, because I'll take a "Better, Less Fart-Filled-Flight" over the alternative any day.

I hesitate to recommend a wine today, lest it become know as the Fart-Blanket wine, but what can I do? Today is, after all, wine recommendation day.

What I have to offer is a delicious Craggy Range 2008 Sauvignon Blanc from Martinborough, New Zealand. I Love Sauvignon Blanc, and Sauvignon Blancs from New Zealand in particular are so tropical with fantastic aromas and flavors of pineapple, guava, grapefruit, kiwi, starfruit, mango, papaya, and gooseberry (Now I personally have never smelled or eaten a gooseberry, but there is this sort of tropical, tangy tart aroma that I have not encountered before and which folks claim to be gooseberry, so I have to assume that that's what it is) that these NZ Sauvignon Blancs have rapidly become my favorites.

This Craggy Range Sauv Blanc, for all its tropical juiciness, however, is still surprisingly light, so that it is an absolute pleasure to drink. I bought it at my local wine store for $17 a bottle. It's the kind of thing you want to enjoy while sitting outside in the hot sun, eating a fresh fruit salad and pondering the merits of the Better Marriage (aka Fart-Be-Gone) Blanket.

Monday, May 3, 2010

The Joys of Taco Night

I don't know if any of you used to have tacos for dinner growing up, but in my house, taco night was a big hit.

My mother used to buy taco shells, seasoning and I think salsa from the grocery store. Might have been Ortega. Then she'd mix seasoning in with ground beef, and put out little dishes of toppings like lettuce, shredded cheese, tomatoes and cucumbers. It was a quick, easy, fun and yummy meal.

I had completely forgotten about these kind of taco dinners since leaving home. Whatever tacos I had in a restaurant tended to be the soft variety which bore no relation to these store-bought shells.

On a recent trip to Trader Joe's however, I happened to see their taco shells and seasoning and decided to go for it. Steve had never had these do-it-yourself delights, so I took it upon myself to share with him.

I cooked up some ground turkey with the seasoning mix and tomato sauce, boiled some corn-on-the bob, chopped up whatever veggies we happened to have on hand, and we were ready to let the taco fun begin!

As I started showing Steve how to put his meal together, I was immediately reminded of a few of the reasons that tacos can be such fun:

1. Those crunchy corn shells are unpredictable, and in my excitement at the prospect of putting meat into it, I squeezed the shell too tightly, and it splintered into several pieces. This prompted Steve to ask how he was supposed to eat his taco, and I remembered that this is a big part of the game: counting how many bites you can manage to take before the whole thing falls apart, forcing you to eat your "taco" with a fork, or your fingers.

2. It is only a matter of time before one inopportune bite jabs a sharp piece of shell into your gums or the roof of your mouth, drawing blood.

3. Taco escalation: The first taco is always put together carefully and prudently, with just enough toppings to fill the shell without overdoing it. The success of this first taco, and the chance fact that you may have been able to eat it without it making a gigantic mess, creates an inflated sense of taco mastery. The second taco, therefore, is just a little too big for its britches, stuffed just a little too full, and you can maybe get through a third of it before it winds up in a heap. The third taco, however, is always a behemoth, stuffed so full that one bite send the whole lot into your lap.

All of this combined with the fact that these tacos taste delicious make them a truly delightful dinner. I don't know why do-it-yourself eats are so enjoyable, but they just are: tacos, fondue, s'mores, pizza, are just a few that immediately spring to mind.

What are your favorite hands-on meals?