Thursday, November 17, 2011

Wine for Pepe

On Monday, my friend and co-worker Pepe passed away suddenly.

No one, not even Pepe himself, had any idea he was so sick.

He had been feeling under the weather for a while, and had a variety of different symptoms, one of which was a lump in his lower abdomen.

A couple of weeks ago, he went to the doctor, who diagnosed him with a hernia, and scheduled him for surgery last Monday.

During the surgery, they discovered that the lump was not in fact a hernia, but was actually a very swollen and infected lymph node.

During the rest of the week doctors conducted a number of tests and discovered that he had a very advanced and aggressive form of Lymphoma, and this past Monday, he was scheduled to go in to see his doctor to discuss their plan of attack.

Pepe lived alone, and when his friend arrived at his apartment this past Monday to take him to the doctor's, he discovered that Pepe had died.

He was 47 years old.

This whole turn of events is so shocking and so sudden, I can't quite wrap my head around it. How can it be possible that he is no longer here? How could everything have gone downhill so quickly; how could he have been at work one week and dead the next?

I keep picturing him at work, taking orders, sneaking chocolates off the candy cart when he thought no one was looking, panicking when the restaurant got too busy, humming to himself while he ate his pre-shift dinner, and going behind the curtain so no one in the dining room could see him to do various dance moves and strange stretches for us. He loved to talk about movies and was always asking people if they had a "black swan" inside them, and proclaiming, when he was in certain moods, that he himself was the black swan.

He was from Mexico, and his whole family still lives there, and he would often talk about how he wanted to go back there one day and maybe open a restaurant or bar. He was single, and he would often ask me if I thought it was too late for him to find love. It's never too late, I would always say.

When he left at the end of his shift last Saturday, he was looking forward to his surgery, because he was so excited to finally feel better. We all were excited for him, too, and hugged him good-bye, saying how he was going to have a new lease on life after it was all over.

Like most untimely deaths, it is hard to make sense of it; hard to have it feel real. Hard, of course to not think about ones own life and health, as well as the importance of living in the now.

It is so cliched, I know, but there is no doubt that this kind of sudden passing makes me think about my own life, and health, and the fact that ultimately, none of us knows what the future holds.

There is always this assumption that there is tomorrow, and a day after that, and a day after that. We assume, or at least, I do, that life stretches on, and there is time, always time, to do the things we want to do.

Pepe's death reminds me that that is not always the case. We don't know how many tomorrows we have left, and it is worth it to try, in as much as we can, to live our lives the way we want to be living them now. Make the decisions we have been putting off until "one of these days", go places we want to go, share things with people we have been putting off sharing, eat that gelato you've been depriving yourself of, allow yourself to forgive and move on, take risks, be brave, you get the point.

Above all, selfishly, Pepe's death makes me grateful, and thankful. Those are not emotions we are expected to have or express very often. We live in a culture that is all about wanting more. We are expected to live in a space of "never enough", of permanent dissatisfaction. We are never rich enough, famous enough, thin enough, young enough, successful enough, what have you. To be grateful is seen as laziness, as stagnation, how dare you be happy with who and where you are?

But Pepe has made me think, and the fact that next week is Thanksgiving allows me to put a certain frame around it: I am thankful, indeed.

I am thankful that I have wonderful parents and family; thankful that I have an incredible husband and amazing friends; thankful that I have an adorable puppy, a roof over my head, a job, and food to eat. I am thankful that I am healthy. I am thankful for good food, chocolate, and, of course, wonderful wine.

I hope, this season, you will allow yourselves to feel thankful, too.

Below are a few suggestions for wines that will enhance your Turkey-Day feast:

Schramsberg Brut Rose. A California sparkler that is a delicious way to start the celebration.

2009 Champalou Vouvray "La Cuvee des Fondraux". A beautiful white wine from the Loire Valley in France made from the Chenin Blanc grape. This off-dry wine is juicy and citrusy, peachy and honeyed with heavenly floral notes.

Canihan Family Cellars Pinot Noirs and Syrahs. You can't go wrong with any of these Certified Organic and award-winning wines from this family-owned Sonoma Valley winery. Pinot Noir is particularly good with turkey and cranberries, with its luscious cherry fruits and smoke. Visit their website to order directly.

Skipstone Ranch Winery Oliver's Blend. I have tasted the 2005 Oliver's Blend, but I believe the current release is 2008. These wines are also organic and hail from Geyserville, CA. Cabernet Sauvignon-based blends, these wines are full-bodied, elegant, smooth and rich.

Patrick Bottex "La Cueille" Bugey-Cerdon, France. This sparkling, sweet Gamay is a delightful and festive way to finish a meal. A gorgeous pink color, with sweet red apple and raspberry notes.

Niepoort Colheita Port 1998. When you have finished eating and are sitting on the couch exploding your zippers and popping off buttons, this is the time for an after-dinner drink. And in my mind, there is nothing better than Tawny Port. I am in love with this stuff. Sweet, with notes of dried fruit, apricots and figs. I can't imagine a better end to an evening.

You can find most of these wines through Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant or through their respective websites.

Have a Happy Thanksgiving. I wish you good food, good drink, and good company.

To Pepe, I wish you good night, "[and] flights of angels sing thee to thy rest."

You will be missed.


Friday, November 11, 2011

Wine for Having More Money than Sense

Thanksgiving approaches, and with it arrive new incarnations of the beautiful Williams Sonoma catalogues. Their Thanksgiving editions are always adorned with a picture of the most spectacular-looking turkey on the cover.

This bird looks gorgeous; perfectly browned, crispy-skinned, dotted with herbs and spices. It is the Thanksgiving turkey of my dreams.

It is not the turkey that I cooked several years ago for our friends Bonnie and Chang, which turned out to be just a little on the rare side when we started carving it and putting sloppy piles on a plate.

Luckily, neither of them cared, and they encouraged me to just toss the whole mess back into the oven for a while, which I did. It cooked; we ate, and nobody got sick.

Nor would this pictured bird taste like the one I made the year after that, which had brined for too long, or in too much solution, and was so salty it was almost inedible.

Although, let's face it, that turkey on the cover is probably not even a real turkey; it's most likely made of plastic and photoshopped to look real, in which case it probably does taste like crap.

But I digress. I was admiring the Williams Sonoma catalogue in its entirety, not just the cover. I love to look through these catalogues, if only to wonder who is buying some of the items in it. Some of them just seem so ridiculous.

At least, they do at first. Take, for example, their omelette pan. This pan is a rectangle with three segments, to enable a person to make an omelette that is perfectly folded in thirds.

Now, is this necessary? Is it such a terrible thing to eat an omelette which has only been (God forbid) folded in half? Is it so hard, really, to just use a spatula?

This catalogue, I scoff initially, is for people with more money than sense. I mean, come on. Does anybody actually need these things?

But then, invariably, something happens. I flip through the catalogue, I look at the pictures of the different wares for sale, and the pictures are all so lovely, and the descriptions of the items are all so intriguing and confident, and the actual merchandise so perfect-looking, that i find myself suddenly thinking, well yes, actually, I need them.

I want the omelette that has been perfectly flipped in thirds. And how have I survived all these years without the potato scrubbing gloves? I, like an idiot, have been using a vegetable-peeler!!

Or what about the all-in-one avocado tool, or the tomato corer, the tomato knife, the pineapple slicer and dicer, the melon knife, the banana slicer, the mustard scooper, the donut cutter???!!

I mean for God's sake, I've been using a regular knife and spoon all these years!! What have I been thinking??!!

I need that egg-waffle pan, and the filled-pancake pan, and the waffled-pancake pan, I mean come on!!!! I need waffles, and pancakes...and the Darth Vader spatula with which to flip them.

And what about the toast tongs? I mean, what kind of a moron removes toast from the toaster with her fingers?? Wake up, people, that toast is hot!!!

Not to mention the meatball grill basket. I cannot tell you how many times Steve and I have fired up that Barbeque, and decided that instead of hot dogs, hamburgers or steak, what we really wanted to cook over the burning coals were meatballs.

Well, you can imagine the nightmare of trying to get those meatballs placed just right over the grate, making sure they don't fall through and ignite in a fat-ball-of-flame. But then when I've made them bigger, the number of times I've burned my fingers, catching those suckers as they roll from one end of the grill to another, falling over the edge where I then wind up chasing them around the deck, trying to keep them out of the dog's mouth long enough to get them back on the grill and into perfect cooking position.

All the while shouting at Steve, "dammit, man, I need a basket for these meatballs!!"

My Wine for having more money than sense is actually two wines. Domaine Huet Le Mont Vouvray Sec and Demi-Sec.

We have these wines at the restaurant at the moment, and I believe the Sec is 2010 and the Demi-Sec is 2007.

These wines hail from the Loire Valley in France, specifically from the Vouvray appellation. The grape varietal is Chenin Blanc, which yields a lovely, floral juicy bouquet. The sec is supposedly dry and the demi-sec is off-dry.

I say supposedly because the sec still has a little bit of sweetness to it, and could certainly not be called a bone-dry wine.

These wines are just delicious, and the demi-sec especially makes a lovely aperatif wine, but we also serve it at the restaurant with a beet salad and a roasted squash appetizer, any dish that has a bit of natural sweetness to it.

I think it could be delicious on turkey-day alongside your sweet potato casserole and cranberries.

Just make sure you are using your special sweet-potato-mashing-gloves and marshmallow tongs. From Williams Sonoma, of course.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Wine for Chateau Margaux

Last week a group of 8 friends in their late forties came to the restaurant for dinner. I had been warned that they would be bringing a few bottles of their own wine, but I was unprepared for what actually arrived with this group.

Apparently, periodically they all get together and pick a theme for the evening. This particular night's theme was Chateau Margaux.

For those who may not know, Chateau Margaux is one of the most celebrated wine houses in the Bordeaux regions of France, known for Cabernet Sauvignon-based blends.

The Chateau dates back to the 12th century, and by the end of the 17th century, the Chateau's lands covered 254 acres, one third of which remains devoted to vine-growing today.

Thomas Jefferson himself deemed Chateau Margaux the best wine of Bordeaux in 1784, saying "there cannot be a better bottle of Bordeaux."

Chateau Margaux was deemed a First Growth in the 1855 Classification ordered by Napoleon before the Second Great Exhibition in Paris. The classification system was based on how much the wines cost at the time, with the most expensive receiving the First Growth classification.

Today those first growth wines still command astounding sums, which added to my amazement at the array of vintages this table brought. They brought 10 bottles of Chateau Margaux between them, with representatives from the 2000, 1997, 1989, 1978, 1966 and 1955 vintages. Some vintages had multiple bottles. All told, about $7,000 worth of wine. That's retail. To buy all those bottles in a restaurant would cost two to three times more than that at least.

They opened all of the bottles at once so they could compare vintages from youngest to oldest.

My boss opened and decanted all the bottles, and was given a small glass of each to taste himself, and since he got to taste, that meant that I, too, got to taste.

This was a little bit of wine-geek nirvana. I won't bore you with a discussion of each vintage, but instead I'll tell you about the one which was the clear winner of the bunch. While the 2000 vintage is the most lauded of all, it was the 1989 which was drinking in all its glory.

This wine was exactly what I imagined the perfect Bordeaux should be: a gorgeous nose of dried and stewed cherry, tobacco, leather, coffee, earth and smoke and a beautifully balanced palate with a lingering cherry tobacco finish. I could have sniffed and sipped that wine all night.

All in all, not a bad day at the office.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Wine for Creatures of Habit

My father recently suggested that in this blog, I spend more time on food and wine pairings and less time on "psychic revelations about my youth".

This suggestion caused me to ponder....which caused me, of course, to have a psychic revelation...

I am so used to the way I write this blog, it is a kind of ritual, so to speak. And it made me think of how much we, and other animals, are creatures of habit.

I brush my teeth the exact same way, every time. I have a specific way i wash my face, put on my various creams and hair products, put on my make-up, and if I try to do these things in a different order, I inevitably forget one of the items, like blush, or the eyeliner on one of my eyes, and I wind up looking a bit...odd.

If Steve and I go to Half Moon Bay, one of our favorite places in this area, we always go to the same place and do relatively the same thing. One day Steve suggested going to a different beach, and i immediately felt agitated. "But...but...that's not what we DO!!"

Our puppy Tuco, is, we realized recently, even more of a creature of habit than we are.

On the weekdays, Steve gets up around 6am, takes Tuco out for a pee, and gives him his breakfast. Then he puts Tuco back in his crate and leaves for work.

What Tuco doesn't understand is the concept of a weekend. So even though Steve doesn't need to wake up at 6am on Saturday and Sunday, right around that time, Saturday and Sunday, there goes Tuco, barking away to the sound of his interior alarm clock, telling us it's time to give him his breakfast and take him out. Because that is what we normally do every day.

The same goes for the ritual around actually eating his food. As soon as Tuco hears the sound of a Tupperware container being opened, or the sound of his metal bowl on the counter, he comes running into the kitchen, where he lies on the floor and waits for his meal.

Once we have finished preparing the food, we have him go into his crate and lie down, then we say "OK!" and he runs out, and either sits on his mat or goes right to the place-mat, depending on where we have put his food.

Then he eats, and when he has finished, we give him an extra lick of food off the spoon, and out of the measuring cup. Then mealtime is over.

The other night, Steve was already asleep, and I started to prepare Tuco's lunch for the next day, thinking it would be fine since he'd already had his dinner. Boy, was I wrong.

The second he heard that Tupperware open, there he was, by my side, staring up at me with those eyes. I tried to ignore him, figuring he would remember he'd already eaten and go back to snoozing in his bed.

I finished preparing his food, put everything away, put Tuco in his crate, and tried to get in bed.

Tuco went berserk. I was violating every part of the ritual...this is not how we do things!!! What was I doing??!!

OK, I thought, I'll give him one of his little frozen treats in his crate, and after he eats that, he'll go to sleep. Wrong again. As soon as he finished that treat, the barking started again.

And that was when I realized it wasn't about the act of eating; it was about all of the rituals we do surrounding the eating. Those were what he needed to do.

So that's what we did. I let him out of his crate, and then I had him go back in. Then I said "ok" and he ran out, and I gave him the tiniest bite of food, let him lick the spoon, and put him back in his crate. Where, perfectly contented, he went to sleep, ritual completed.

The final one I'll mention is our trips to Peet's coffee. There is a Peet's a couple of blocks from our house, and almost every day we walk Tuco there, sit outside with him and enjoy a drink. He loves going there. He skips ahead as we get closer, head up, and beelines straight for an outside table.

The problem comes when we try to walk him on a different route, or indeed, try to take him somewhere other than Peet's. He knows the different routes to get there, and if he senses we are not going that way, he will lie down and refuse to move. Be it in the middle of the sidewalk, or the middle of an intersection, he will lie down and not budge, so your options are to pick him up, drag him across the pavement like a sack of potatoes, tempt him with irresistable treats, or turn around and walk toward Peet's.

I have tried them all, with varying degrees of success. I have run ahead of him with an open can of baby food, which is effective but messy; and I have pulled him, but people look at you strangely when you walk around dragging a limp dog behind you, and I have tried to pick him up, but often he just lies down luxuriantly and waits to have his belly rubbed, which is very cute to the passing motorists who laugh at me stuck there in the middle of the road with my prone pup, but a bit frustrating for me.

So often, he wins, and we head over to Peet's. It is, after all, what we do.

My wine for Creatures of Habit is a 2005 Skipstone Ranch Oliver's Blend red wine blend from
the Alexander Valley, CA.

A relatively new winery, the 2005 was their inaugural vintage, and is a Bordeaux blend of predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot with small amounts of Malbec and Petit Verdot.

This wine is ripe and fruity, but not overly so, with beautiful black and red fruits along with earth and spice. What is so nice about this wine is its round plush mouthfeel and balance. Neither alcohol, acid nor tannins shout out to be heard. Instead they all work together.

A while back, at the restaurant, we had a delicious venison dish, with a dried cherry sauce. I think it was cherry, there may have been some other berries in there too. But the sauce was kind of sweet and fruity, and that is what I would want to eat while drinking this wine.

However, since i can count on no hands the number of times I have had venison with cherry sauce in my own home, I would also just drink this wine by itself. With Steve.

It's kind of what we do.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Wine for Why I Can't See the Movie Contagion, Part Two

I think my obsession with cleanliness really took hold when I lived in Brooklyn. One trip on the NYC subway should be enough to male anyone want to take a Silkwood shower.

First there are the close quarters in each individual subway car. Especially at peak travel times, there is not a sneeze or a cough that is not shared by one and all.

Then there are the poles on each subway car, which you have to hold onto when there are not enough seats to go around. These poles are invariably greasy and slimy, and do you know why? It's because many people have sneezed into and/or licked their hands and then gripped these poles. You and I then get on the subway, grasp these same poles, and then hop off the subway and get a bagel, which we, of course, eat with the self-same hands that have just been touching the Ebola pole.

Add to this the fact that I once saw a man cutting his toenails on a subway car, and you can understand why my ideas of what was clean suddenly changed drastically after time in NYC.

People sometimes think it is odd that I don't wear shoes inside my house, and that I ask visitors to remove their shoes as well. I was raised in a house where we didn't wear shoes inside, so for me it has always been the way things are, but I continue to do it, because when I lived in NYC and walked around those streets, I realized how much disgusting matter was on those streets, and how much of it probably adhered to my shoes.

When I thought about how, if I walked into my bathroom with those filthy shoes, I was transferring that filth to my clean bathroom floor and then stepping in that dirt when I was nice and clean from the shower, I vowed to never wear shoes in the bathroom or house again.

Have I taken it too far? Probably. Especially when you consider that once you start really thinking about the nature of dirt, germs and transference, the realization hits that nothing is ever really and truly clean.

And there is mounting evidence to show that all of this cleanliness, and use of anti-bacterials is in fact creating stronger and stronger bacteria and viruses and weakens our immune systems.

But even though I know this, I also know that, were I to sit through a movie which spends two hours focusing on the minute and insidious ways in which germs spread and transfer, with disastrous results, I would be unable to resist the temptation to carry Clorox wipes with me wherever I go, and wipe down every one and every thing I come in contact with.

And let's face it, that might just be perceived as odd.

My Wine for why I can't see the movie Contagion, Part II, is not a wine at all, but rather a recipe for macerated strawberries.

I bought some beautiful organic strawberries from Trader Joe's the other day, and I took a few handfuls of them and cut them in quarters.

I put them in a bowl and added half a tablespoon of super-fine sugar, a tablespoon and a half of Cointreau and a couple of tablespoons of chopped fresh mint.

I mixed it all up and covered the bowl with plastic wrap and let it sit in the fridge overnight.

They are absolutely delicious, goo enough to just gobble up with a spoon. Or, my favorite, spooned over vanilla ice cream or frozen yogurt.

a flavor that is sweet, refreshing and, of course, clean.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Wine for Why I Can't See the Movie Contagion, Part One

I am, admittedly, a bit of a clean freak. Especially when it comes to bathrooms and kitchens. I have gotten a bit of a reputation at work, where I am constantly wiping down liquer bottles and spraying Windex on the bar.

One of my co-workers has told me that I can't see the movie Contagion because I will wind up walking around in a plastic bubble, or refusing to leave my house.

At the very least, I told him, I'm going to start spraying everyone who approaches me with Lysol.

I wasn't always so clean. In high school, I went through a dirty phase where my room was a mini-dump. It wasn't full of dirty food-plates or bugs or anything, but rather piled ankle-deep with clothes and magazines.

When friends came over, rather than actually clean up, I simply threw my bedspread over the offending pile, and hoped no one would notice.

Unfortunately, what actually happened was that one of my friends came running into my room, and the moment her foot hit that bedspread, which covered a slippery pile of magazines and catalogues, she went flying. It was like she was on a slip and slide, only instead of sliding on a film of water, she instead went sailing on a sea of Seventeen Magazines and J-Crew catalogues.

I would like to say that that moment caused me enough embarrassment to force me to finally clean up my room, but I'm not sure it did. My mother would probably remember.

All I know is that my parents actually had to fumigate my room when I left for college. It was that bad.

When I moved to Los Angeles, my apartment was kept clean, but my car became the repository for all things paper and discarded. Again, there were no dirty food or drink containers, but the back seat filled almost to the window with newspapers, magazines, school notes and papers I no longer needed, empty shopping bags and who knows what else.

A guy I was dating got in my car for the first time, looked in the backseat, and said "You know, if I'd seen that first, I'm not sure I ever would have gone out with you."

The exterior of the car didn't fare much better. From the time I left Boston with my friend Maria, and drove the car cross-country, to the time I sold it 4 years later, I didn't wash it. Not once.

I lived in a neighborhood with abundant street parking, and so that car sat outside, all year, under trees, covered in bird poop and pollen.

Only when I was about to sell it did I finally wash it, and my sister and i took it to a carwash and watched as it went through the jets of soap and water, and watched as the guys who buff and dry the cars actually worked on it and laughed. Actually laughed at how dirty it was, even after the washing.

The paint had gone from a bright, shiny maroon, to a dull version of the same color. It had certainly lost its luster. But that car had bigger problems: it would only go about 45 mph on the freeway before the engine light would come on (25 mph if I was driving uphill); the windshield wipers went on one day and wouldn't go off; and the passenger side window rolled down and then steadfastly refused to roll back up. So honestly, i didn't feel too bad that I had neglected to wash it.

I fear this post is getting too long, so I will leave off here for today and continue next week with part two: the clean streak begins.

My wine for why I can't see the movie Contagion, Part I is a 2005 Domaine Drouhin "Laurene" Pinot Noir from Oregon. We carry this particular wine by the half-bottle at the restaurant, but if you can't find this vintage, i highly recommend you try any of their Pinots.

The Drouhin family lives and makes wine both in the Dundee Hills of Oregon and Beaune, France, in Burgundy. Their Oregon Pinots balance beautifully the fruitiness of Oregon with the earth and slightly more reserved character of a Burgundy. The 2005 is quite rich, but still bright with acidity, fruit and spice.

Personally, I also really like that all of the Drouhin wines are made by Veronique Drouhin, one of the small number of female winemakers out there.

They have a wonderful website for Domaine Drouhin Oregon, where you can get info about the family, the estate vines and the wines themselves. I highly encourage you to try one.

Just remember to wash your hands first.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Wine for Our Puppy-Child

The longer that we have Tuco, the more it seems to me that the experience of having a dog from the time he's a young puppy really is very similar to that of raising a child.

Not just in the amount of time and energy they require, but also in the way in which both force us as adults to re-experience the world with them, go through a whole variety of firsts and milestones with them: first car-ride, first bath, first night alone in his crate, first trip to the doctor/vet, first shots, first day of kindergarten, first time away from Mom and Dad.

All the experiences we take for granted and no longer even think about, suddenly illuminated as new, confusing, exciting.

We gave Tuco a baby carrot to eat the other day, and he had no idea what to make of it. He ran around it, he sniffed at it, he picked it up in his mouth and dropped it. Steve finally went over to him with a baby carrot of his own, and showed Tuco that what he did with it was to bite it in half. Tuco immediately did the same. And there is was...yum...carrot...a whole new thing to eat.

We also have begun taking him to the beach. So many new smells and sensations that I no longer notice half the time. To me now, the beach is a whole entity, one solid concept. But watching him at the beach, I suddenly saw again all of the parts that make up the whole: the sand, and how different that feels to stand on than sidewalk or grass; the bits of shell that litter the sand, along with all of the different pebbles, all of those will smell different to Tuco; the bits of seaweed everywhere; the smell, sound and feel of the water itself.

Then there was the surprise on his face when the cold water rushed over his paws; the foam on the surface of the water which he tried to eat, the feeling of the sand sliding away underfoot as he waded deeper into the water; that sense of excitement and fear at the force of a wave; and the accomplishment of pulling a ball out of the water and bringing it back.

Just like kids, puppies lose their teeth, and go through adolescence. Tuco is just entering this stage of his development, and already we see moments of willfulness (why should I sit, Mom?), and bossiness (I want my food! I want to go out and play! I want to walk here, I don't want to walk there. Sine i don't want to walk there, I will lie down in the middle of the sidewalk. Go ahead...drag me.).

Just like with kids, we as parents have to introduce them to the world: how we walk down the street, how we meet other people and dogs, where we poop and pee and where we don't; how we behave when someone enters our home.

Just like parents of actual children, Steve and I are watching as Tuco's natural talents and abilities come to the fore. He is part Border Collie, a herding dog, and in the last few weeks, that herding instinct has made itself known to all of us.

He doesn't even know why he's doing it, but when we're in the dog park together, and another dog runs by, or can be seen running in the distance, Tuco takes off after him, swinging in a wide arc, always staying a certain distance behind, steering the other dog one way and another.

And can he run. He flies. He's only 7 months, and already he is faster than just about every other dog in the park. And it is an absolute joy to watch him run. Because you can see that he was made to do it, you can see that when he is running he is exhilarated, and free, and when Steve and I watch him, I think we then feel some of those things, too.

Finally, there are those lovely, quiet together moments. Tuco hangs out in the kitchen with me while I cook. And it's not that he's hovering by me, waiting for scraps, because he never gets any.

He just lies on his mat quietly, sometimes watching me, sometimes sleeping. He just wants to keep me company. And it reminds me of when I lived at home, I liked nothing more than sitting with my mother in the kitchen while she made dinner; sometimes I was helping, sometimes just telling her about my day.

Granted, Tuco is not chatting with me about his day, but it is that same experience of togetherness, of sharing, that makes me think of my mother, and makes me feel oddly comforted.

I don't mean to suggest that having a dog is exactly like having a baby, but it strikes me that there are a lot of similarities, more than I ever imagined, and i must say I am delighted by it.

My wine for our puppy-child is not an individual wine but rather a category: Cremant d'Alsace from Alsace, in northeastern France.

These are sparkling wines often made predominantly from the Pinot Blanc grape, and they offer an absolutely delicious and less expensive alternative to Champagne. While they may not have the finesse and richness of Champagne, they are bright, crisp and refreshing, as well as easy to drink and extremely food friendly.

Try a Lucien Albrecht Cremant d'Alsace Brut or Rose Brut. Price ranges from $13-$28 a bottle.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Wine for Doggie Doo

Dealing with any baby naturally entails a lot of encounters with matter of the fecal variety. Babies poop. A lot, I've heard.

So it is with puppies. It is not so much the number of poops our beloved Tuco does per day as it is the quantity of matter per poop. We are literally talking piles of poop. For a rather small 30-pound dog, he must generate his own body weight in poop every day.

And these are not what I would consider small-dog bowel movements; one such poop looked like it should have emerged from a 1200 pound walrus. Passers-by looked at us as if to say, "wow, that's one big turd!"

The euphamism "building a log cabin", is not just a catchy phrase. He seriously could be living in a poop-house of his own making by now.

Then there is the whole business of his being afraid of his own poop. I think we have finally cracked this mystery: sticks and mulch. In his poop.

We cannot seem, no matter how hard we try, to make him not eat every stick and piece of mulch he can find. This wouldn't be such a problem if not for the fact that these items don't digest in his tummy. They do, in fact, pass right through. Literally, you can see them right there in his poops, whole hunks of sticks and mulch.

Those bits must hurt like hell coming out, so I can hardly blame him for trying to get as far away from them as he can.

While dealing with doggie poop is not always fun, dealing with baby poop is not much better. People will comment that the advantage babies have over dogs is that they eventually deal with their own poop, while dogs pretty much leave their owners grabbing handfuls of the stuff many times a day for the next 15-18 years. And this is unfortunately true.

However, I must say that by far the most terrifying poop encounter I have ever had was with an infant for whom I was babysitting.

I was in my early twenties, and the baby was only a few days old, and his mom and I were there with him, at his changing table.

The diaper was off, so he was bare butt to the breeze, when suddenly, there was a poop explosion. Really there's no other way to describe it. Poop just projectile erupted from his bum, and sprayed everything in a ten-foot radius. His mother and I both shrieked in shock and jumped back to what we imagined was a safe distance.

The baby bicycled his legs, cooed and looked delighted.

His mother and I stood, frozen, looking at him, and then at each other in muted horror. Then slowly, very slowly, we inched back closer to him.

It was like we were both members of a bomb squad, approaching an explosive device: had the bomb fully discharged its load? Was there going to be a secondary explosion? What about shrapnel? Could we approach now? What could be considered a safe distance? I for one, wanted to put my flack suit back on, or at the very least, a Haz Mat suit.

I distinctly remember thinking, $10/an hour is not enough for this.

I almost hesitate to recommend a wine this week, lest it be known at the dog-doo wine, but recommend I shall.

The wine for this week is a 2006 Kumeu River Estate Chardonnay from New Zealand.

Now i confess, I am not normally a fan of New World Chardonnays. That buttery, oaky thing is just not for me.

But this Chard is different: it's ripe and tropical with peachy, nutty minerality. It's super refreshing and bright and kind of reminds me of a rich Sauvignon Blanc. It's really nice with seafood.

So throw away that poop bag, pour yourself a glass of Kumeu River and enjoy!

Friday, August 19, 2011

Wine for Being Afraid

One of the reasons Steve and I wanted a dog was for the relaxing, healthy benefits of pet ownership.

Especially for me, who has been known to wrestle with anxiety, the idea of stroking a pet in a quiet, soothing manner, was in itself comforting. To have a gentle, peaceful relaxing creature by your side every day, to calm me by its mere presence, held a great deal of appeal.

And so it is with great irony that I now share that we somehow chose a puppy who seems to suffer guessed it....anxiety.

How we did this, I'm not sure, he didn't seem anxious when we chose him, but there you have it.

Now I am the first person to fully understand anxiety, but I have to admit that some of the things that frighten Tuco are really beyond me.

For starters, the first few weeks we had him, he was afraid of other dogs. I found this odd considering he came from a litter of six pups, and was, himself, after all, a dog. But apparently this is common, and now he plays with the best of them, but i will never get out of my mind the vision of him running away from a tiny three-month-old pug who came to say hello to him in our puppy class.

Some other things he is afraid of:

Garbage barrels. This again is not uncommon, considering they make a lot of noise when rolled out onto the sidewalk.

His new treat dispenser: it is a red, honeycomb-shaped device which wobbles if you hit it with a hand, snout or paw, and dispenses a treat out of a small hole in one side. It scares him. I don't know why.

His harness: Tuco is the only dog I have ever met who is not excited to go out. Really, not even a tail wag. When he sees us take out his harness, he runs away, tail between his legs, and we have to coax him out with treats.

This one really baffles me because we only ever take him fun places in that harness: the dog park, daycare, walks.

But wait, you may be thinking, you probably take him to the vet in that harness! Well, yes, we do, but here's the kicker: he LOVES the vet. Loves it there. We live around the corner from the vet, and often on our walks we go right by it, and we can't walk by it without Tuco going inside. He pulls me, strains against the leash, running to get in.

He has to go in, and once inside he is beside himself with delight. He gets low to the ground, he wags his tail so hard you think it will fall off, and he flops over and presents his belly to everyone who works there.

Even when he sees the vet himself, he is delighted. Remember, this vet is the man who just a few short weeks ago was jabbing Tuco with a vaccination needle and grabbing his man-parts.

He also has, inexplicably, become afraid of his own poop. Now on the one hand I can understand, sometimes I'm afraid of it, too. But you'd think since it's his, he wouldn't fear it. But he seems to. Midway through the poop's exit from the ole chute, Tuco will suddenly turn around and look at his rear end as if to say "what the hell is THAT?!" and start running away from it. Needless to say, this leads to some rather interesting poop-dispersal patterns in the yard.

I know I'm one to talk about being afraid of random things. Once when my parents left me alone at home for the evening, I spent the last hour before their return huddled in a corner, because I had seen someone walking in the backyard and was convinced he was going to break in. Only when my parents finally came home did I realize that the ax-murderer I had seen was in fact my own reflection in the glass porch door.

Like mother, like puppy.

My wine for Being Afraid is a 2007 Vezer Family Vineyard "Franci" Black Muscat. The Vezer winery is located in the Suisun Valley of California near Napa. Franci is the name of the Vezer's 10-year-old daughter.

This Black Muscat is a sweet dessert wine, with lovely floral notes of lilac and carnation as well as plump blackberry and blueberry. It has a bright, lively acidity which keeps is from being overly sweet, and it will pair beautifully with black and red fruit desserts, as well as sorbets and anything chocolate. It is also yummy enough to be a dessert in and of itself.

You can order it online from the Vezer Family Vineyard website for $24.95 (375ml).

Just don't bring it to my house unexpectedly: it might scare the dog.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Wine for Wine's Sake

Just for a refresher, I am currently the Asst. Sommelier and Bartender at a Michelin-Star restaurant, and every once in a while, I have a night at the restaurant that reminds me of how lucky I am to have this job, and why I love working with wine.

Periodically, a group of gentlemen rent out the private dining area of the restaurant for an evening of food and some extraordinary wine.

They each bring their own offerings, which we open, possibly decant and serve. My boss at the restaurant, who also happens to be the Master Sommelier there, is an excellent teacher, and he is always incredibly gracious in making sure I get to taste almost all of the wines that we open.

On this particular evening, the wines sampled included a 1990 Trimbach Clos St. Hune, a 1929 Chateau Bouscaut Blanc, a 1959 Chateau Ausone and 1982 Penfolds Grange.

But by far the most extraordinary offerings came at the end of the evening, with the sweet wines. First up was a 1906 Chateau D'Arche.

Let me write that vintage again: 1906. I almost can't get past the date. This wine is 105 years old.

In 1906, the San Francisco earthquake struck; Mount Vesuvius erupted; the Victrola, the first phonograph/record player was manufactured; the first officially recorded powered flight in Europe took place; SOS became an internationally recognized distress signal; the first radio broadcast occurred; the tuberculosis immunization was first developed; the first feature film was released; and gangster Bugsy Siegel, last emperor of China Pu-Yi, German war criminal Adolph Eichmann, writer Samuel Beckett, director Roberto Rossellini, entertainer Josephine Baker, screenwriter Billy Wilder, Estee Lauder, actress Louise Brooks, and director Otto Preminger were born.

This Chateau D'Arche, is a sweet dessert wine from the Sauternes appellation near Bordeaux, France. The wines are made from a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon grapes, all of which have been affected by my favorite Botrytis Cinerea, or "Noble Rot".

The combination of sugar, alcohol and higher acidity makes for wines that tend to age well, and let me tell you, this wine has aged gloriously.

Over time it has darkened from its usual golden straw hue, and the nose and flavors have developed to those of raisin, prune, caramel, creme brulee, rum, port, butterscotch and toasted nuts, with a lively and bright acidity. It was heaven in a glass.

The final wine was one with an even more extraordinary history: a 1931 Massandra Collection A-Danil Tokay.

The Massandra Winery and cellar was built near Yalta in the late 19th Century under Tsar Nicholas II, to provide wines for the Tsar's summer palace, and specializes in sweet and fortified dessert wines.

The cellars took three years to build, with miners blasting deep into a mountainside to create a labyrinth of 21 tunnels, with air shafts providing consistent cooling and spring water adding the perfect humidity.

The Massandra Collection consists of samples of wine from every Massandra vintage as well as other European collectibles.

So impressed was Stalin by this collection in later years, that when he heard of Hitler's impending arrival, he ordered the entire Massandra collection moved to secret locations in the Ukraine.

This 1931 Massandra Tokay has held up beautifully. Though it didn't have the lingering acidity of the Chateau D'Arche, th flavors were still rich and complex, with a sweet. meaty, lingering prune flavor alongside caramel, dulce de leche and butter pecan.

Tasting both of these wines was really an amazing, possibly once-in-a-lifetime experience, and overall, a pretty good day at the office.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Wine for the Thanklessness of Being a Mom

As I recently wrote in my Mother's Day post, moms are often under-appreciated.

I remember my mother one time talking ruefully about the occasional thanklessness of being a mother. She talked about how, with a baby, as a full-time mom, she did everything for
that baby. Ate, breathed and slept that baby; fed the baby, changed it, held it, stayed up all night with it, etc.

And how one day, after putting in all that effort, the baby opened its little mouth to say its first word and what came out was... "Dada"

I am beginning to understand what she was talking about.

I spend pretty much all day one on one with the puppy; I wake up and give him breakfast, I take him for a walk, play ball with him in the backyard, clean up after him, and then do it all over again for lunch. The first few days he was living with us, I slept on the airbed in the office and took him out to pee and poop every three hours.

Not to mention how much time I spend thinking about him, worrying about him, even when I'm not with him.

My point is, I spend a lot of time and energy on him, and yet, when it comes down to it, at the end of the day who who gets all the kisses, all the biggest tail wags, all the uncontainable joy?

Yup, you got it: Dada.

When Steve comes home from work, Tuco throws him a ticker tape parade. He jumps up, he whimpers, he wags his tail so hard he can't remain upright, and he licks every available part of Steve he can find.

This is not to say that Steve does not do a lot with the puppy, too, because he does. He takes the puppy out to pee in the morning before work, and when he gets home from work he doesn't even have a second to sit and relax before he is consumed by puppy madness.

But still, I feel that, as Mom, I often get the short end of the stick.

The first time we gave Tuco a bath, Steve and I put him in the kitchen sink and Steve held on to him while I shampooed him and rinsed him off. When we were finished, I got a towel, wrapped Tuco in it and held him in my arms while drying him off.

Such love I gave him, such cooed words of praise. But did he give me any kisses? Oh no...he ignored me. He would only kiss Steve, only take treats from Steve, only let Steve pat him.

Why, I wondered? What had I done? Steve and I both gave him the fact Steve was the one forcibly restraining him in the sink, but did he hold that against Steve? Of course not! Somehow, the whole bath trauma was all my fault!

He kept giving me such looks of hurt and betrayal, looks which so clearly said "How could you? I trusted you? I thought you loved me." It was just unfair.

It was even worse when we sent him to daycare the first time. He came home and wouldn't come near me, even going so far as to run away from me when I approached (this picture is, in fact, of him hiding from me under our coffee table), again giving me looks and, with his big brown eyes, silently calling me a doody-head.

Once again, Steve was exempt from the blame. Daycare was clearly all Mama's fault, all Mama's idea. I can only imagine how he's going to look at me when we get him neutered. Those looks, I can guarantee, will be priceless.

My wine for Mommy Thanklessness is a 2006 Schramsberg Brut Rose. This Napa Valley bubbly is a vintage rose, so is only produced in particularly good years. This Brut Rose is predominantly made from Pinot Noir grapes, with Chardonnay rounding out the flavors and adding apple and spice notes to the cherry and strawberry that tickle your nose and dominate the palate.

It's lovely as an aperatif, with a meal, or savored with fruit and cheese on a hot summer day.

Plus it's pink, so not only is it yummy, it's also pretty. Which makes me feel a little better when my puppy is blaming me for the fact that his tail won't chase him back.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Wine for the Puppy Menace

Let me start off by saying that I love our puppy. Really I do. After all, who could resist a puppy with such ridiculously big ears? But he is, a lot of the time now, an absolute frickin' nightmare.

He seems to be going through a phase where he has decided he is going to test us. A lot. And then eat. And then just go completely crazy for no apparent reason. And then poop (outside, thank God). And then sleep. And then go crazy again. And then eat my socks.

I think I can sum up how Steve and I are feeling during this phase by saying that at the moment we love him most when he is sleeping. And when he has just woken up. Then he is an absolute darling. He rolls over on his back for belly rubs, he licks our hands and gazes into our eyes lovingly...all the while planning his next path of destruction.

He has decided that when he is in the backyard, rather than playing with the ball or little plastic puppy pool, what he really finds most enjoyable is eating mulch, clumps of dirt, and rocks. Oh and grass of course, lots and lots of grass.

He then comes back into the house and makes various hacking and acking sounds, but clearly is oblivious to the fact that he could avoid these delightful moments by just skipping the dirt-rock-mulch-grass combo. When we try to explain this to him, however, he just looks at us like "what?" and then chews on his foot for a while.

He has also decided that I'm not allowed to talk on the phone, or, for that matter, to anyone but him, and when I do, he starts growling and pulling on his leash and jumping on me to get my attention.

Today, as I tried to talk to my sister on the phone, he grabbed a paper towel off the coffee table and then went tearing around the house with it while I tried to catch him and take it away. Let me tell you, that sucker is fast, and can wedge himself into spaces where he knows I can't grab him, and he was changing direction and scooting past me like lightning, leaving paper towel shreds in his wake.

When I finally put him in his crate and closed the door, he gazed at me with those innocent, soft brown eyes, sweet as can be, one last white paper-towel shred hanging from his tooth, wondering, I'm sure, why Mama was so red-faced and sweaty.

It's not all bad, of course. We had a delightful moment this morning when he was sitting on his mat in our living room. I was trying to get him to lie down, but he wouldn't. He just kept sitting there with a slightly odd look on his face.

All of a sudden, a fairly expressive toot emanated from his rear. He seemed quite surprised by the whole event, and turned around to stare straight at his bum-hole, as if to ask "Was that you?"

Indeed it was. And let me just say that before that toot my hair was curly. Now, not so much.

My wine for the puppy menace is a cocktail that I made up at the restaurant one night when two diners really wanted an apple martini, and then asked for me to make then something fruity and kind of sweet when told that we can't make apple martinis.

The descriptive name is a mandarin grapefruit cosmo, but in honor of this post I will now call it the Mandarin Menace.

Here is how you make it:

In a cocktail shaker combine:

3/4 ounce mandarin vodka
1/4 ounce grapefruit vodka
1/2 ounce cointreau
1/4 ounce Luxardo Maraschino cherry liqueur
1/2 ounce fresh lime juice
1/2 ounce cranberry or pomegranate juice
simple syrup to taste

add ice and stir. Strain into chilled martini glass.
Garnish with Maraschino cherry and a few drops of the red Maraschino juice.

It is fruity and refreshing, but watch out: it's got bite!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Wine for the New Addition

Please welcome the newest member of our family: this little guy named Tuco.

We got him from Border Collie rescue about 3 weeks ago, and he's now 11 weeks old. In true puppy fashion, he has completely taken over our lives.

I have wanted a puppy since before i could talk, and when we weren't able to get one, I used to make my mom take me to a local pet store, and then would proceed to hold the puppies and cry.

Steve and I have been talking about getting a dog from practically the moment we met, and it took us 10 years to finally get one. You'd think that would have given us plenty of time to fully be prepared, but it seems to be one of those things in life for which one can never really be prepared.

The moment we got him home, we immediately felt at a total loss as to what the hell to do with him!

How much food do we feed him, and how often? How often does he need to pee? Poop? How often should we exercise him and for how long? What are all the vaccinations he needs? How much interaction can he have with people, places and other dogs before he's fully vaccinated? How do you control the desire to play tug of war with his leash, bark at us and eat my socks? What the hell is "crate training" and how does one do it? How do we take care of his coat, paws, teeth and ears? What the hell have we gotten ourselves into??!!

But gradually, as with everything, we have taken baby steps together and started to find our way.

The crate has turned out to be everybody's best friend, as the puppy seems to immediately relax and settle down the moment he goes in it, though the first few days were tricky, since the moment we walked away from him in the crate, he immediately started such a cacophony of whining and gibbering, you would have thought we had about fifteen different animals living with us instead of one.

This whining ranged from the chattering screech of a Gibbon in heat, then would give way to a sheep's bleating, and finally would settle down to a shivering quavering sigh, which would have been right at home on the fainting couch. He was like an episode of Wild Kingdom.

Housetraining has been pretty smooth as well, though getting up every few hours throughout the night to make sure he doesn't go in his crate, is not very fun.

And we have had a couple of accidents, all of which were our fault, as we let him out of his crate and let him get very excited before taking him outside to wee.

Two of these events occurred when I came home from work and he hadn't seen me in several hours, and the joy of our reunion proved too much for his little body and he wound up piddling on the floor.

I am ashamed to admit that there is a little bit of an ego boost in this: after all, when was the last time someone or some thing was so happy to see you they actually lost control of their bladder?

We have also been through the first vet visit, which started out very well with Tuco and the vet playing on the floor together, but then sadly took a wrong turn when the vet picked Tuco up and squeezed his as-yet-undescended-testicles to make sure they were where they should be.

After that Tuco moved as far away from the vet as he could without leaving the room, giving him a look over his shoulder which clearly said: "Dude. Really. Not cool."

All in all, I will say I think we are off to a pretty good start. Tuco now will sit, lie down and give a paw for a treat. He is clearly most excited about the paw trick, since he has started doing it completely unprompted, to both me and Steve as well as people he randomly meets on the street.

Really, it doesn't get much cuter than that.

My Wine for the New Addition is actually a cocktail that we serve at the restaurant where I work. It's called a Corpse Reviver #2, and it has gin, Lillet Blanc, Cointreau, lemon juice and a splash of Absinthe.

I am not normally a gin-lover, and sometimes the licorice flavor of Absinthe can be too much for me, but there is something about the combination of the ingredients that yields a delicious cocktail.

It's light, refreshing, slightly sweet, and the Absinthe gives it just the right taste of something special at the end.

It's just the pick-me-up one might need after a night of waking up with the piddling Gibbon-puppy, and I promise if you come by the restaurant I'll make you one, but first you have to give me your paw.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Wine for Chasing a Pig, etc.

People will sometimes ask me if I miss acting at all, now that I have transitioned into the world of wine.

I still go on the occasional audition, for local theatre and commercials, but the truth is, for the moment, I really don't miss it at all. I'm sure that at some point in the future, I will get a hankering to be on stage again, but for the moment, I am not missing the endless cycle of waiting by the phone for word of an audition, then preparing for that audition as if my life depended on it, going to the audition and sitting in the waiting room with at least 30 other women who are dressed exactly as I am, all muttering their lines to themselves, just as I am, and trying to steal glances at the competition and come up with reasons why they are better or worse than I am (and believe me, we are all doing that); then going home after the audition and agonizing over what I did or didn't do in the audition, what I should have done differently or better, and waiting by the phone again for the next few days to hear if I booked the job or not. And in this profession, the odds are against it.

Of course, getting to perform can be a wonderful thing, but along the way, there are some bizarre things that one is asked to do as an actor. I did a play in Los Angeles at the beginning of my career, where I had to, at one point in the play, dance around and howl like a wolf. Don't ask me why; I don't remember.

One night, while I was doing this, I tripped over my pant-leg and went flying, howling all the while. I'm not sure anybody else noticed or cared, though this could have been because there were only two people in the audience at the time, one of whom was my sister, and the other was, I'm pretty sure, asleep.

The most bizarre aspect of auditioning can come during commercial auditions, when so much of what you have to do is look a certain way, and have a knack for reactions.

So often an audition will consist of going into a dimly lighted room, standing in front of the camera and having the director tell you to react to various scenarios: "You're setting the table and waiting for your boyfriend to come over"; "He's really late"; "He's arrived with flowers!"; "He's arrived with nothing."; "He's wearing a sombrero"; "He's wearing nothing"; "He's wearing an ape costume"; "He is an ape". You get the idea.

Recently, I got an email with the casting information for a commercial for a company which shall remain nameless. Here is what they were looking for:

A woman who was good at physical comedy, "will chase pig, etc." (They specified that the wardrobe was "casual-chasing after pig, etc."). I love the etc. after the pig references; you can just hear some person saying: "You know, the wardrobe is casual-just wear what you wear for pig-chasing, etc."

Then they were looking for women who were willing to kiss men and women on the lips, and men who were also willing to kiss both men and women on the lips.

Finally, they were also looking for a "Hot Woman" who was busty and looked good in a bikini, who didn't mind doing the whole shoot in a hot tub, and who wasn't afraid of goats.

You think I'm kidding? I wish I was kidding. All I could think when I read this notice was: man, am I glad I spent all those years and all that money studying Shakespeare. It's really going to come in handy when I'm tongue-kissing women, chasing pigs and getting frisky with a goat in a hot tub (all while wearing a bikini and looking busty, of course).

Ask me again if I miss acting.

My wine for Chasing pigs, etc. is actually a beer. A Lindemans Kriek (cherry) Lambic to be precise. A Lambic is a fermented beverage which can only be made in Brussels, due to the wild yeasts that enter the fermentation vats and which only exist in that part of the world.

The Lambic begins as wheat and malt which are fermented along with some hops. After a rather lengthy process, the brew is aged in oak barrels, whereupon various fruits or fruit juices such as raspberry or black cherry are added, sparking an additional fermentation.

At Masa's, we actually sometimes serve this lambic with dessert. It sounds like an odd thing to do, but the Kriek actually bears more resemblance to the sparkling-sweet Bugey-Cerdon we serve with dessert than it does to any beer.

It is slightly sweet, juicy, bubbly, and with enough cherry flavor to pair wonderfully with our chocolate dessert as well as with the rhubarb one. It's been a big hit with customers, and I recommend you surprise your dinner guests with it; they'll have fun being introduced to something new and unexpected.

Plus it's the perfect refreshment for hot-tub time....when you're busty....with a goat....after you've been chasing a pig, etc.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Wine for Mom

Now you may say that Mother's Day was last Sunday, and therefore I am very late with this post. My response to that is that I am either a little late for this year, or I am very early for next year.

Or, maybe I am somewhere in between.

I always find these greeting-card created holidays a little annoying: Valentine's Day, Mother's Day, Father's Day. Why should it be that I am told when I need to tell my husband I love and appreciate him, or tell my mother or father that? Because let's face it, the day is really not at all about that, these holidays were invented so that people would spend crazy amounts of money on chocolate, flowers, and fancy dinners or brunches.

I have been to plenty of these brunches and dinners in my time, and this past weekend, i witnessed many families who came into the restaurant I work at for a Mother's Day dinner. What always happens at these dinners or brunches is that people snap. It's too much pressure.
So on the day when we are supposed to be taking Mom out to thank her for putting up with all of our crap for the last 40 years or more, what we wind up doing is being annoyed at her while trying to pretend we're not and then feeling guilty about it later.

So I am opting to celebrate mothers on the day of my choosing when there is not so much pressure to do so.

Now I am not a mother myself, but from all of my observations, I can agree wholeheartedly with the cliche that motherhood is a thankless job. Really, so thankless.

The word childbirth should be enough to convince you just how thankless it is. I have witnessed a birth myself, and I will admit it is magical and awe-inspiring, and I blubbered freely into the eyepiece of my friend's camera. But it is also kind of terrifying. If we didn't know that that was how babies came into the world we would be appalled at the notion and would say "I'm sorry, WHAT is supposed to come out of WHERE?!"

Then there are the diaper changes; those alone should make you buy your mom dinner for the rest of her life. These diaper changes go on for years and years. And I'm sorry but that poop is toxic and should be handled only while wearing a hazmat suit.

Have you ever thanked your mother for cleaning up your poop for nine years, or apologized for peeing in her face while you were on the changing table (all you boys out there, I'm talking to you), or for the number of times you spit up on her?

No, you haven't. To be honest, I haven't either, but I'm really starting to think I should.

My mother made us dinner almost every night, and all we did was complain about the various ways in which what she made was not what we wanted her to have made.

She never made us clean up after dinner, or do our own laundry because she wanted us to focus on studying and finishing our homework.

She drove all of us to school, and the other millions of activities we had which were scattered all over the state of Massachusetts.

She made us amazing birthday cakes and Halloween costumes. She came to all of my school performances, violin and ballet recitals. She made Velveeta nachos for me and all my friends when they came over (before you mock the Velveeta nacho, let me just say, they were delicious!).

She put up with all of my teenage horribleness and listened to me cry about all of the boys who didn't love me the way I LOVED them. She typed up all of my school papers and stories and gave me driving lessons, though her facade of calm was shattered by the way she gripped the handle of the door with white knuckles while I was driving our gigantic wood-paneled station wagon.

She suffered through me throwing an absolute fit on the floor when she tried to talk to a friend of hers on the phone, only to have me tell her I didn't want to play with her, I really wanted to play with my sister (I was five or six years old when this happened. It wasn't, you know, yesterday or anything).

She allowed the photographer at my sister's wedding to make her repeatedly remove her glasses for photos, so I'm still not sure how much of the event she actually saw.

And she made me feel better when I accidentally, somehow, popped out her contact lens and freaked out because I thought I had poked out her eye. Again, I was young when this happened. I no longer confuse a contact lens with an actual eyeball.

Let me assure you, my mother was not all perfection: she can take being helpful to the point of hinderance, and she can have the energy of a hummingbird on speed, and she passed along odd old wives tales such as: wearing lipstick would bleach all of the color out of my lips.

And she found miniskirts offensive but had no problem with my wearing tubetops. Go figure.

No, the woman was not perfect, but I got news for you, neither are you (I am, but I'm afraid you're not). She may have had her flaws, but overall she did a pretty damn good job.

And I can say to all of my friends and family who are also moms that I know you do a damn good job, too. Trust me, you do. Even though you only get told that once a year.

My Wine for Mom is a 1995 Niepoort Colheita port. This is a tawny port that is from a single vintage (1995), and has been aged for a minimum of 7 years in small casks. This port is beyond delicious, sweet and nutty with a smooth, rich flavor. Since it's a port it has had a strong spirit added to it, so it has a high percentage of alcohol.

So it's got a bit of a kick, and is sweet and nutty. Just like Mom.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Wine for a New Home

Finally, it's happened. After living in temporary housing since our return to San Francisco in October, with all of our stuff still locked away in storage, we have found a house.

In fact, we have purchased a house, which is something I never really thought we'd be able to do.

And while I am beyond thrilled at the thought of moving into this new space, getting everything we own out of storage and finally feeling like I have a home again, there is also a certain amount of terror, which I think must accompany any home purchase.

First there are the never-ending loan documents and scrutinies, then there is the act of watching all of one's life savings get funneled into a down payment.

These are both followed by home inspections, during which various people inform you of the rotting stairs, the decaying sections of foundation which need to be repaired, and the rotting windowsills which at some point will need to be replaced, as will the small back deck and the fencing around the property.

Not to mention the house is currently painted a rather alarming pinkish-orange, so at some point that, too, will have to be changed.

It can all be overwhelming, to say the least.

But none of that can completely detract from the joy of knowing that we will soon be living in a place that is ours and only ours, and in which we plan to live for a long, long time.

I think a new home calls for a celebration, which is why my wine for the occasion is something truly extraordinary: Richard Hennessy Cognac.

Let me preface this by saying that I am not ordinarily much of a cognac fan. It is normally too much for me; too sharp, too high in alcohol, and, I am embarrassed to say, not sweet enough! I normally would prefer a port or dessert wine to end a meal.

But then Alan, the Master Sommelier at the restaurant where i work gave me a tiny taste of this Richard Hennessy cognac, and my eyes actually rolled back in my head, I was so delighted.

Cognac is a type of brandy from the Cognac region of France, and is made from distilled fermented grape juice. The most common grapes used are Ugni Blanc, Folle Blanche and Colombard, and the fermented juice is distilled two times before being aged in oak casks for a minimum of three years.

The Hennessy Company was founded by Richard Hennessy in 1765, and in 1794 the first deliveries of Hennessy cognac were made to America.

The "Richard" Hennessy cognac was created as an homage to the cognac house's founder,and is blended from some 100 different brandies, all matured in oak to their fullest. Some of the brandies are as much as 200 years old.

The flavor and feel of this cognac are extraordinary: warm and rich, with none of the usual alcohol bite, but rather smooth as can be, with a nose of black tea leaves and dried fruit and a palate of honey, raisins and caramel.

I took one sip and felt my head spin around a couple of times. I think all I could manage to say was "wow". I think I may have actually shed a tear.

I shed even more, though, when I was told the price of this elixer: at the restaurant we charge $150 for 1 1/2 ounces. A bottle retail will set you back $2400-$4000, depending on where you get it.

If you have the means, I cannot recommend it highly enough. I, of course, cannot afford it. I have foundation work and seismic upgrades to pay for, after all.

I will be taking a little break from this blog, but will return in May, once we have moved and settled in.

Until then....cheers.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Drinks to Set Your World on Fire

The restaurant at which i am currently working has a dessert which involves a flaming cinnamon stick.

The dessert is some sort of chocolate concoction which I have yet to try, but the presentation involves the pastry chef sticking a cinnamon stick in the dessert, lighting it on fire, and then blowing it out, so that a hazy, super-fragrant cinnamon smoke hovers over the plate.

The reaction to this cinnamon incense is invariably one of delight, and it reminded me of how much we all seem to enjoy any food item which includes the use of flame.

BBQs are a prime example as are campfires: what pleasure we derive from building a massive fire and then throwing large hunks of food on it. And I think anyone who has ever tasted a steak or chicken breast, even a simple hamburger, hot dog or ear of corn, that has been cooked over an open flame will agree that everything cooked this way just tastes delicious.

S'mores are also always a great crowd-pleaser; who doesn't have memories involving those delicious, sticky melting marshmallows, or remember with a certain delight the moment at which your marshmallow suddenly caught fire?

How about Bananas Foster or Cherries Jubilee served tableside? People take pictures of cherries and bananas that have suddenly gone up in flame with oooohs and aaahhhs coming from every surrounding table.

And let's not forget about birthday candles: staring down at the cake while the candles shine up in our faces; trying to blow them all out at once. What about those candles that refuse to blow out? Sure, now we find them kind of annoying, but when they first came out, the squeals of surprise and joy all around the table...candles that won't blow out!!! Burning on my cake!!! Hooray!!!!

Good, clean, firey fun.

Since we have such fun lighting our food on fire, how about our beverages?

There is a whole catalogue of flaming drinks recipes out there, and I thought to celebrate St. Patrick's Day, we might share some of these toasty treats with each other.

I found the following recipes on

A note on flaming drinks: be careful!!! Don't let the drink burn too long; close any open bottles of alcohol before lighting the drink; don't add alcohol to the glass once the drink is on fire; never, never drink the drink while it is on fire, blow it out first!!!

Cookie Monster:
1/2 ounce Irish Cream
1/2 Kahlua
1 tsp. 151 proof rum

Layer Kahlua, then Bailey's, then rum in a glass. Ignite. After a few seconds blow out flame and drink with a straw.

French Toast:
1/4 ounce Bailey's
1/2 ounce Butterscotch Schnapps
1/4 ounce Drambuie
2 pinches ground cinnamon

In a shot glass, layer first Bailey's followed by the schnapps and Drambuie. Ignite the Drambuie layer and while the flame is still burning, sprinkle the cinnamon into it. Apparently the cinnamon creates sparks! Blow out flame and enjoy.

Mid-Air Collision:
1/4 ounce Amaretto
1/4 ounce Bailey's
1/4 ounce Kahlua
1/4 ounce coffee liqueur
splash of 151 proof rum

Mix all of the ingredients except the rum and pour in a shot glass. Top with rum and set alight. Blow out and drink.

Let me know if you try any of these, or if you have a favorite favorite flaming cocktail recipe of your own!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Wine for Bugs

A few nights ago, I made a yummy dinner with rice and a package of mixed greens I got at Trader Joe's. We have had these greens before and they are a yummy combo of Mustard, Collard, and Turnip greens plus spinach.

I was enjoying my meal when I took a bite and got a rush of a very strong clove-like flavor. Knowing that I hadn't put any cloves in the recipe, it occurred to me that something might be amiss, and I was curious to see what it was that had contributed such a strong flavor.

I spit out the food in my mouth and discovered something slightly black that did indeed look a bit like a clove. When I turned it over, though, I saw the green underbody and legs which let me know i had bitten into a bug! The fact that the bug was headless and partly torso-less told me I had in fact eaten half of the critter.

I have to admit i was a little bothered at first; I didn't like to think I had eaten bug-head, and i found it oddly disturbing to remember that it had had such a strong clove-ey essence to it. Then of course, my imagination took hold and I worried that I had bitten into some strange kind of clove-flavored neurotoxin found only in the Turnip-Green Doodlebug, and that soon I was going to lose control of my bodily functions and fall face-first into my rice-bowl.

When this didn't happen, of course, I found myself thinking about how arbitrary food-rules are. I was freaked out about eating a bug, because in our food culture, eating bugs is not ok. But as we know, eating bugs in other parts of the world is completely normal. Why should it be ok to eat kidney or liver, but not bug? Kidney and liver are, after all, filtering and detoxifying organs, full of waste products. Bugs are just...bugs.

We have a friend who went to Hong Kong recently on a business trip, and when he was taken out to dinner he was served fried jellyfish, fish lips and chicken feet! He said the flavor was fine, it was the chewy texture that got to him. But i take my hat off to him for trying them!

A while ago I was watching an episode of that program that followed Ewan McGregor and his friend Charlie as they motorcycled around the world. When they were in Mongolia, they were invited into the hut of some friendly folks and their families, who were all gathered around the fire, eating bowls of Llama testicles.

Yup, that's right. Balls. Mother, father and children were all happily slurping away at a bowl of balls. Ewan managed to eat a ball with no problem, but poor Charlie spit his out, saying he just couldn't do it. I have to say I wouldn't have been able to do it either!

But it's all a matter of perspective, isn't it? Of what we're used to. Everyone in that tent believed that testicles were perfectly fine and yummy to eat. The westerners had been taught that they weren't ok, so had more of an issue with them.

So many thoughts from one poor half-eaten Doodlebug....

My Wine for Bugs is a 2007 Domaine Tempier Bandol. This wine is from Bandol, in Provence France, and comes from an historic estate and is made from the Mourvedre grape. Mourvedre is most often seen blended with Syrah and Grenache in wines from the Southern Rhone in France.

In the Tempier, however, the Mourvedre takes center stage. It is a wonderful full-bodied wine with more earth than fruit; tree bark and spice dominate. We offered it at Masa's as an alternative to an Italian Brunello and served it with our Venison dish.

It also pairs beautifully with Doodlebug.

What is the most unusual food you've ever eaten?

Friday, March 4, 2011

Wine for The Solid Gold Oscars

Let's face it, more often than not, The Oscars are a train-wreck. Usually Steve and I record them and watch them later so that we can fast-forward through the embarrassing, boring, or just plain unbearable moments. This usually means that we wind up with about 20 minutes of actual viewing.

Who can stand the horrible jokes, the fake laughter, the cringe-worthy blubbery acceptance speeches and the terrifying musical numbers?

This year Steve and I skipped watching it all-together, choosing instead to watch an advance-screening DVD copy I have of The Social Network. From everything I heard about the ceremony this year, it would appear that we made the right choice. It sounds like this year's hosts were more like watching the stoned guy and the chirpy sorority girl at a college talent show.

Here's how I think we can fix the Oscars ceremony: The Solid Gold Dancers. How many of you out there remember that television show Solid Gold? It was an eighties masterpiece on which the top ten songs of the week were counted down and danced to while being hosted by the likes of Dionne Warwick.

The Solid Gold Dancers were men and women who performed interperative dances to each of the songs. I recently watched a collection of these dances on YouTube and was shocked at the fact that this show was considered good family fun at the time. Now, everyone involved in that show would be arrested. For many reasons.

I think the outfits would be the main reason. Well, the outfits and the hairdos. The outfits defy explanation. The women always wear shiny spandex leotards or short-shorts in a variety of shocking colors and the men....dear God the men....wear shiny tight pants and gold lame tank tops. The pants are so tight you can see their meat and two veg. And the shiny blue color only serves to highlight the packages to disturbing proportions.

The dances themselves are so fabulously horrible it is hard to look away. They really are just pole-dancing without the poles. The dances have absolutely nothing to do with the songs themselves, and pretty much always involve four or five women gyrating in purple spandex with two men also in purple spandex who you know would rather be gyrating with each other and their huge spandex-clad manhoods.

In one dance, one of the female dancers (who I'm actually sure was a man in drag) actually performs an entire dance number with a cigarette dangling of his/her mouth.

Just imagine the Oscar ceremony potential with these dancers!! Brokeback Mountain in spandex! The King's Speech with Colin Firth spandex!! Toy Story spandex!!! The hosts...pole spandex!!! I mean come on, it's brilliant!'s Solid Gold!

My Wine for The Solid Gold Dancers is once again not a wine bur rather my much-loved St-Germain Elderflower Liqueur. This sweet delight is made from Elderflowers gathered from the foot of the French Alps and delivered to market by men on bicycles. I kid you not.

These Elderflowers are then macerated, and blended with grape spirit and cane sugar. The result is a liqueur with a beautiful floral note as well as essences of pear, peach and grapefruit zest.

I love this liqueur when added to a glass of ginger beer, or on the rocks with sparkling wine and club soda. However you drink it, it is best enjoyed by people with big hair who dance inappropriately to Lionel Richie songs while wearing tight shiny leotards and high heels.

How would you fix The Oscars?