Thursday, February 24, 2011

Wine for Comfort

The weather has been extremely overcast, rainy and chilly here in Northern California lately; so much so that they are actually predicting snowfall here in San Francisco on Saturday.

Now I know a few dusty flakes are nothing compared to the deluge of snow that much of the rest of the country has been subjected to for the past few months, but i felt it to be worth mentioning nonetheless.

Winter weather of course leads me to thoughts of comfort: comfort food, comfort clothes, comfort drink, and comfort entertainment.

When Steve and I were traveling, we each brought with us a selection of DVDs of both television shows and movies; selections that we thought might be fun to watch, but also selections that brought each of us comfort in one way or another.

I'm sure you know what I'm talking about; those movies or TV programs that, for whatever reason, fill you with a sense of calm and happiness whenever you put them on. Those movies and shows proved to be lifesavers on our recent trips.

In moments when I was feeling sick or especially nervous, I could immediately find solace in watching an episode of Gilmore Girls, or the movies Tootsie, Ghostbusters, The Bourne movies, Casino Royale, Julie & Julia (what's not to love about a movie in which two ladies cook and eat constantly?!), Back to the Future or The Lord of the Rings (although I made a grave error with this movie in only bringing the first installment, so that we were left to watch the first part of the trilogy over and over).

Since coming back, Netflix has been a lifesaver, allowing me to find solace and nostalgic happiness in such favorites as Romancing the Stone, All of Me, Fawlty Towers, Superman, Vacation, Private Benjamin, and A Room with a View.

For Steve, the comfort viewing ranges from The Good, The Bad and the Ugly, Jaws, Where Eagles Dare, The Thing, Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid, Midnight Run and The Italian Job (all of which I love too).

By far Steve's favorite is the TV show The Rockford Files, which he watched as a kid. What could be more relaxing than watching James Garner play the nicest PI alive, one who almost never gets the girl, certainly never gets paid, and who is repeatedly getting thrown out of cars, punched in the stomach or whacked over the head with frying pans?

Since we're talking comfort and cold winter's evenings, let's add a beverage to the mix. My Wine for Comfort is not a wine at all, but a warm apple cider cocktail. I have seen it in restaurants as a Hot Apple Pie. This consists of hot apple cider, Tuaca and whipped cream. Simple, but ultimately warming and delicious.

Tuaca is an Italian liqueur which was supposedly created 500 years ago for Lorenzo de Medici, Florentine ruler. It is made from a blend of Italian brandy, spirits, sugar, citrus and vanilla. The warming and rich flavor is a perfect complement to the clove and spice of the cider.

If you are going to make this at home, don't use plain apple juice that you've heated in the microwave! Trader Joe's sells a terrific spiced cider, or you can make your own by heating apple cider (again CIDER, not watery juice) in a pan with spices like cinnamon sticks, cloves, nutmeg and allspice. Star anise can be nice, too.

Mull these together over low heat for about 15-20 minutes and then pour into mugs. Add a shot of Tuaca and top with whipped cream from a spray can (one spray into mug, another into mouth).

What better way to spend a cold, rainy, snowy evening than curled up with this delightful treat with a movie that makes you feel that all is right with the world? OK, maybe cookie dough would make it better. Give it a try and let me know.

Now I'd love to hear from you: what are your ultimate comfort movies or TV shows; ones that just make you feel good when you watch them? (I think one of my dad's will be Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory)

What is your favorite warm drink for a cold winter's day?

Please share!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Wine for the Love of Bathrooms

Just to keep everyone up to date, we unfortunately didn't get the condo we put an offer in on a couple of weeks ago. But never fear, we will live to search another day, and I know eventually we will find just the right place for us.

The place we made an offer on was lovely, but was by no means perfect (no place ever is). One of the issues we had with it were its bathrooms, which looked kind of like someone 10 years ago had decided to cross Santa Fe with a Grecian urn. This wouldn't have been a big deal except that the offer we made was stretching our budget to the point where we wouldn't have been able to fix the bathrooms for many many years.

I must admit i do love a fancy new bathroom; they, along with remodeled kitchens, feel like the height of luxury to me.

Even when I was younger, I was always a big fan of bathrooms. When my family would go to a restaurant, at some point during the meal I would invariably excuse myself and spend the next 20 minutes in the can.

This is not because I had odd potty training issues, it was just because I liked checking bathrooms out, seeing how they were decorated, and the nicer the bathroom, the more private the bathroom, the longer I stayed.

OK, I'm not being entirely truthful; the niceness of the bathroom did have an effect on how long I would hang out in it, but the bigger factor was how many mirrors said bathroom contained. What can I say, I was very fond of looking at myself in the mirror. I would look, I would perform, I would dance, I would do toothpaste and gum commercials. The more mirrors a room had, the more angles it provided from which I could ogle myself.

In my bathroom at home, I spent many an hour giving my Oscar acceptance speech, staring at my at-once overwhelmed and overjoyed expression as the envelope was opened and my name was called. This reaction shot was even better when I did it in slow motion to get every nuance of facial expression as I went from apprehensive, to shocked, to ecstatic, to tearful.

Invariably my bathroom-mirror-Oscar-speech was a triumph of wit and emotion, and I would tearfully thank my parents, my cast and crew and my husband (who at the time I believe was Stewart Copeland of The Police), all while looking meaningfully at the toothbrush holder and soap dispenser.

I also enjoyed enacting great dramatic scenes in the bathroom, as well as dancing. Since the bathroom I used when growing up was very small, both of these activities inevitably led to damage to both the bathroom and my own person.

Once while doing a great weepy dramatic scene, i threw myself against the shower doors in what surely would have been the Oscar-clincher for me. The shower doors unfortunately were not particularly impressed and they promptly crashed out of their ruts and fell, with an incredibly loud noise, into the shower itself.

My father came running, wondering what the hell was going on, and I immediately made something up about falling into them by accident. He was still mad at me, but a lot less mad than he would have been had I said that I was in the midst of a stunning performance and would he please not interrupt me again.

Another time I was doing a very exuberant and expressive dance routine which involved me kicking my foot against the toilet and bursting the blood blister I had on my toe. That was not as good as the time I was doing a dance-kick routine in the kitchen and broke my toe against a kitchen cabinet, however.

Then of course there were the dramatic weeping shower scenes necessary to every 80's movie drama. For me such scenes meant me trying to make myself cry in the shower until I had used up all of the hot water and had to explain to the rest of my family that it wasn't my fault they all had to take cold showers, it was just that it took me a very long time to rinse conditioner out of my hair.

Then there were the bathroom Today Show interviews, but don't get me started on those.

Needless to say, I don't spend nearly as much time in bathrooms anymore, certainly not public ones, though I will admit that every once in a while I still can't resist the occasional bathroom "I'd like to thank The Academy".

My wine for the love of bathrooms is a Domaine de Durban Muscat de Beaumes de Venise. This is a wonderful sweet dessert wine from The Rhone Valley in France, and is a type of wine known as a Vin Doux Naturel.

This means that lovely sweet, ripe, Muscat a Petits Grains grapes are fermented, but about halfway through fermentation, grape spirit is added which yields a wine that is naturally sweet and relatively high in alcohol.

This wine is sweet without being cloying, and has a light, fresh and wonderful floral quality, like honeysuckle and orange blossom combined with dried apricots and peaches. It is an absolutely delicious way to end a meal, and goes really well with fruit desserts. And Academy Awards.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Wine for Putting in an Offer

Making an offer on a house is a little bit like asking someone to the prom. You spend a long time imagining your dream date, and once you find him (or her), you spend a while feeling sick at the thought of asking if said dream date will want to go with you, if they have already been asked by someone else, if they are waiting for someone better to come along, and how to make it clear to them that you are the best option for a prom date they are going to get.

The whole issue of what you're going to wear, whether or not you should rent a limo, or what you're chances are of getting lucky at the end of the night all have to wait until later.

The lead-up is the worst part; pacing back and forth in your room, deciding on just the right moment to ask, and of course, how best to phrase the invite, checking your breath. Then finally, taking a deep breath and just going for it.

Then once the question is out there in the ether, there is the pause, that awful pause while you wait for them to say something....preferably yes. That pause where you wonder if they are pausing because they are so excited by your invite they can hardly breathe, or pausing because they are thinking of the six other people they wish had asked them before you, or pausing because they don't know how to tell you that that horrible zit on your nose has just burst.

All this is to say that this morning we put in an offer on a lovely condo, and we are currently waiting to hear if our offer will be accepted. There are two other offers on the table from two other buyers, so we'll see if we wind up being the ones they want to dance with or not.

My Wine for Putting in an Offer is a 1975 Petrus. Now this is not a wine I will probably ever be able to actually be able to buy, as it would cost about $2,000 a bottle. But one of the wonderful perks of my current vinternship at Masa's Restaurant is getting to taste some extraordinary wines.

This particular bottle was brought into the restaurant by a man who was celebrating his 60th birthday and had saved the bottle since he purchased it 12 years ago for this very occasion. He and his wife were extremely sweet; he even wore a tux. He was so excited to share the wine with Alan, me, and the chef.

I had never tasted such a mature wine prior to this, nor a wine from such an iconic house. Chateau Petrus is one of the legendary Chateaux of the Pomerol region of Bordeaux France, known for making some of the most wonderful Merlots anywhere.

This wine had an amazing nose of cherry, evergreens, cedar, earth and mushroom, with a lovely round mouthfeel and slightly drying tannins at the finish. The palate was a rush of milk-chocolate-covered cherry followed by tobacco and earth.

But probably the most wonderful thing about tasting this wine was knowing that this wine had been waiting in bottle essentially since I was born, having its own journey, going from France to any number of any other countries to wind up in the US where it was purchased by our diner, who then kept it in his home for 12 years (when I was living in Brooklyn), only to be opened and shared by total strangers at a San Francisco restaurant a few weeks ago.

That wine waited almost my whole lifetime to be uncorked and drunk at this man's 60th birthday celebration, constantly maturing and changing in the bottle. That is one of my favorite things about wine: they take their own journey, and they are a part of the journey we take.