Thursday, December 30, 2010

Wine for a New Year Nubbin

Family: wonderful, terrible, comforting, agitating, funny, loving, maddening, and sometimes just plain odd.

I spent a long Christmas weekend with Steve, my sister and her family, and my parents. I'm not quite sure what happens when we all get together, but we seem, more often than not, to wind up in hysterics over the strangest things.

This time, it all started with a bread nubbin. What, you may ask, is a bread nubbin? Well, I'll tell you: my mother had a loaf of bread on the counter. It was one of those crusty loaves with the split top, and there was a bump of raised hard crust on the side of the split. My mother, for reasons I did not comprehend felt the need to shave this piece of crust off.

I'm not making this up. She took the loaf of bread over to the sink and with a very sharp knife, shaved off this bread crust. This poor discarded piece of crust became known as "the nubbin". When I asked my mother why she had felt so compelled to perform this "nubbin-ectomy", she said that she didn't want anybody to break a tooth on it.

Who on earth, I asked, could break a tooth on a piece of bread. I was then informed that my father had once broken a tooth or lost a crown on a piece of marshmallow, or something like that, so, you know, you can never be too careful.

Maybe it was being around my sister, which can tend to make me get a bit punchy, or maybe it was the fact that it had been a while since I'd had a good belly laugh, but I could not stop laughing about this bread nubbin, and began to think of all the different recipes you could make with said nubbin.

There was lamb with bread nubbin, Chicken and Dubbins (a combo of dumplings and nubbin), and a Nubbin Pot Pie. It was Steve, however, who proved himself Master of the Nubbin, with his suggestion of Chicken McNubbins.

Nubbins aside, this was one of the nicest visits I have had with my family in a long time, and it made me start thinking thoughts that are perhaps better suited to Thanksgiving, but nonetheless...

It is almost the last day of the year, and it is naturally a time to think back on the year that just was, and to think ahead about the year to come. Maybe this is a product of getting a little bit older, but I find myself feeling very lucky and thankful to have the simple things in life: friends, family, health, a home, jobs.

We are taught in this country, to always want more, more house, more car, more money, more more more. But recently, we have had a few loved ones experience illness in themselves and in their families; a friend who lost her mother to cancer, another friend whose mother is fighting the disease, and a beloved member of our own family who is sick herself.

These events reminded me that, really, less is more. It is the simplest things in life that matter the most: the love of family, of a spouse, time spent with friends, any day being healthy, another day lucky enough to be alive, the enjoyment of a beautiful day, a delicious meal, a wonderful wine.

All of these things are extraordinary gifts, and are to be savored, and appreciated, and wished-for. So for 2011, that is what I wish for myself and for you: more of these simple, and simply wonderful things.

My Wine for a New Year Nubbin is not a wine, but rather a liqueur. Domaine Canton Ginger Liqueur. This stuff is delicious: sweet and gingery and perfect for the end of a meal. It is made from a blend of macerated Vietnamese ginger, herbs and spices which are blended with Cognac. It has a lovely ginger flavor without being hot or spicy.

It's delicious on its own, but would also be yummy added to a pomegranate cocktail, a Cosmo, or a Moscow Mule with vodka, ginger beer and lime.

Here's to a Wonderful 2011; nubbins for everyone!!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Wine for Apartment-Hunting

Ahhh, the joys of looking for a place to live. There is nothing more delightful than sifting through Craigslist apartments, trying to decipher the language of lies, and get a reasonable idea of what we might actually be seeing.

Anything called cozy is, of course, going to be the size of a closet. Period details mean that your bathroom will be tiled in bright pink and green and won't have been updated since 1950. If it has character, you are in big trouble, as this means that the apartment will have horrible airplane carpeting, wood-paneled walls, a smell of cats, and sinks in every room of the house, including the closets.

Rents here have gone up significantly, and to get a place comparable to the apartment we had before we left will cost us $300-$400 more than it would have when we first moved here in 2007. Purchase prices however have come down, and since mortgage rates are so low, we have started thinking about buying a place instead.

This brings with it a whole new set of issues. Mortgages are hard to get, and it is often necessary to put down a large chunk of money. This is problematic for a few reasons, not the least of which is that we are considering buying something in earthquake country, and it is horrifying to think that a person could sink several hundred thousand dollars into something that could shake and shimmy its way into the ground.

Earthquakes aside, there is also the question of where to live. The area in which we live now, and the area we know and like the best is, of course, one of the most expensive areas in the city. We will be much more likely to get more for our money and explore buying in less fancy areas.

The problem with this is that less pricey areas are often less pricey for a reason. I hate to be a snob, but I'm afraid I just might not be an urban, up-and-coming grungy-area kind of gal. I like feeling safe where I live, and I have been scared off of a few areas after hearing some of my friends stories.

One such story involves an area of Noe Valley near The Mission. A female friend of mine returned to her rental house, and went to the little cubby below the stairs where the trash barrels live, to find a man lying unconscious inside. Actually, at the time she didn't know he was unconscious; she thought he might in fact be dead.

She ran back inside her house and called 911, who suggested that she go back and first stick her face in this man's face to determine if he was alive or dead, and second, if he turned out to be alive, to stick her mouth on this man's mouth and perform CPR.

This advice is insane on so many levels that she almost lost her mind. She pointed out that this man could be faking unconsciousness in order to attack her once she got closer; this man could be a drug-crazed lunatic who would attack her when she got closer; or he could be riddled with diseases which she would then catch when performing mouth-to-mouth.

When she pointed all of these things out to the brain-trust on the other end of the 911 call, she got essentially no response other than that she should go see if the man was alive and then perform CPR. My friend being a lawyer, she then pointed out that the horrible suggestion she was being given was potentially opening up the city to a massive lawsuit.

The person on the other end of the phone then apparently added a few IQ points and decided to send the police over. When the police arrived and they attempted to revive the man, my friend discovered how smart she really had been to refuse the 911 operator's advice. This man was in fact in some sort of a psychotic drug-state and he woke up and began to lose his mind and flail around and attack anyone and everyone in sight.

What was the police comment to my friend after this incident? That my friend needed a better lock on her garbage cubby door.

In this same neighborhood, this same friend also witnessed an accident of a getaway car driven by some kind local gang drug-lords. This is a story for another day, but suffice it to say that after this last incident, she and her husband moved away from this lovely neighborhood.

It is stories like these that sour me a bit on the idea of living in the up-and-coming parts of town.

Oh well, what can we do? We take our time, I guess; we look around; we avoid garbage cubby-holes, and we try to make our current temporary apartment as cozy and holiday-festive as possible.

And what better way to feel cozy and festive than with a nice, warming port? Specifically a 1983 Ramos Pinto Vintage Port. Alan opened a bottle of this at Masa's, and it is a lovely, smooth, rich, sweet delight, full of fruit-cakey flavors of blackberry, black cherry, cassis, chocolate and tobacco.

What a wonderful way to end a holiday meal. The best part about this delicious port is the fact that you can buy it online on for $36.49. That's right, this baby is a bargain that tastes like a luxury item. It makes me want to curl up with a snifter in front of a fireplace. If only we could find an apartment that has one...

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Wine for the Love of Bond

It seems that every few weeks, there is a James Bond movie marathon on television. I am a big fan of the Bond movies, both new and old, especially the old. These movies are so delightfully irreverent, so silly, and they got away with so many things that could never be gotten away with today.

A woman named Pussy Galore? Dr. Goodhead? Miss Sitonmy Face? (ok, I made that last one up). Does it get any better? Daniel Craig was such a dark, brooding, and real Bond. Sean Connery was its polar opposite: handsome, yes. Debonair, of course. But he treated everything with a sardonic smile and a wink, as if he, too, knew it was all a bit ridiculous.

Most recently , I watched YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE. If you haven't seen this movie in a while, I recommend an immediate rental of it.

This movie has more fab and inexplicable moments of political incorrectness than one person can handle.

For starters, James Bond's adventures take him to Japan, where he must go undercover as a Japanese fisherman. This leads to multiple moments of camp wonderfulness as Bond is transformed into a Japanese man.

How, you may ask? First, he is bathed by many scantily-clad Japanese women, then he is given big bushy black eyebrows, followed by a straight black wig. And viola!! James Bond has turned Japanese! No one even questions the authenticity of this six-foot-tall man who speaks English with a Scottish accent. And why not?

Well, he has a shaved chest! He has thick black eyebrows! And straight black hair! Of course he's Japanese!

To complete the charade, Bond is also given a beautiful Japanese bride, whose name is Suki Yaki (ok, I made that name up).

One day, Bond and his fake bride discover that an evil man carrying a white cat has taken over the inside of a dormant volcano and turned it into an evil lair and launch site for his missiles. She and Bond decide they are going to hike the 10-miles, or whatever it is, to infiltrate this volcano-launch-pad.

What does she choose to wear for this undertaking? Pants? Hiking Boots? A warm jacket? Don't be absurd!! This is a Bond movie! So she wears what any smart woman would wear to hike up a mountain: a white bikini and white pumps!! What else?!

She then spends the next hour running around in this outfit, until Bond sends her back down the mountain to get reinforcements. When she returns with help, has she changed clothes? Maybe put on something a little warmer, more sturdy, something with, say, a little more coverage? Of course not, you dingbat!! Why would she do that?

I must say that Bond's outfit is not much better. He wears clothes that Daniel Craig would not be caught dead in. It is a pair of light blue pants, a loose blue turtleneck, and a hood. Seriously, a hood. It looks like what knights wear under their armor. It looks like a large pair of Underoos. All that's missing is a big B on the front.

What a pair they make: Bond in his black wig, eyebrows, and hood running and fighting the enemy with his bikini'd bride! Does it get any better than this?!

So let's toast to James Bond together. My Wine for the Love of Bond is a Patrick Bottex "La Cueille" Bugey-Cerdon. This is a fabulous French sparkling wine, made from the Gamay grape. This bubbly is a gorgeous rose-petal pink color, with a rich sudsy mouthfeel and a slightly sweet palate of tart strawberry and raspberries.

It is fun, luxurious, festive and delicious. And the fact that you have to pop the cork makes it ripe for any number of dirty innuendo, making it just perfect for the James Bond in us all.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Jury Duty

Yesterday I had to report for Jury Duty. I seem to get called for Jury Duty an average of six times a year. Technically I know that is not possible, but it seems, still, to be true. Just when I have been dismissed from a case in one court, I get called to appear for another.

I'm not sure why this happens, but there do seem to be certain names that never get called and other that are called repeatedly. I did serve on juries, once in Los Angeles and once in Brooklyn. The Brooklyn case was one where guilt had already been decided, and those of us on the jury were tasked with deciding a dollar amount for damages. The case in LA was a DUI that was being contested, and our deliberations lasted for about 3 days, which was absurd. In the end, we wound up with a mistrial because this one dufus on the panel refused to listen to reason.

The process of deliberating with those people made me want to rip my own head off and go bowling with it. Most of them were incapable of following the judge's instructions, and the guy who caused the mistrial admitted that he was probably wrong, but he just wouldn't change his mind on principle. Nothing to do with the facts of the case, he just didn't want to change his vote, even though he knew he should. That experience did make me wonder if the system really works at all.

The case I was in jury selection for yesterday involved art forgery, which I actually think might have been a fascinating case. But I felt torn between being interested in the case itself and dreading the thought of being in a courtroom for the next two weeks or longer, and dreading most of all, the idea of having to deal with deliberations.

Not only that, but having just started two news jobs, I was loath to have to immediately be absent from them.

The pool of potential jurors was an interesting petri dish: professional, unprofessional, and people whom you wouldn't want to sit near on the bus. One guy sitting next to me sat with his eyes squeezed tightly shut, breathing heavily through his nose and rocking slightly. I couldn't tell if he was putting it on to try and get out of service, or if he was genuinely a little off.

Then there are the folks who belong to the "Department of Irrelevant Information" and choose to take any question asked by the judge and use it as an excuse to share personal anecdotes or opinions that had nothing to do with anything.

"I saw some sculptures once, and I didn't think they were very good!", "My blood glucose drives me crazy!" "I once met someone who had a postcard of a badger on his fridge", "I like prunes!". Very, very important information.

In the end, I was dismissed, I think because told them that I am friends with a woman who works in the prosecutor's office at the courthouse. I will wait for next week, when my next summons is sure to arrive.

My wine recommendation for today is not, in fact, a wine at all, but rather a liqueur, and aperatif which I bought in Prague, a little delight called Becherovka. The precise ingredients of this concoction are apparently such a closde secret that only three people in the world actually know the recipe.

The flavor of it is unlike anything I've ever had before: slightly sweet with delicate flavors of clove, cinnamon, allspice, and anise. In Prague they drink it with tonic and ice, but as I am not a big fan of tonic water, I either have it with soda, or by itself on the rocks. It is a nice, winter-time drink with all of those mulling spice notes. It might even be nice as a kind of toddy with hot water and lemon or orange.

Anybody else out there ever had Becherovka?