Wednesday, December 28, 2011

And so That was Christmas

It's the 28th today and life is getting back to some degree of normalcy after the juggernaut that was Christmas. For us the whirlwind began blowing on the 22nd when "The Grands" arrived from Kelowna and concluded this morning when wife headed back to work. I have been off since the 23rd, we go dark for the 24th-26th, and will decide later today if I will go back tonight or delay my return by a day.

There is much that I love about Christmas but almost each positive seems to have a countering negative; I actually like to do the Christmas shopping but I hate wrapping presents for example. Overall though the chance to spend time with family and friends is a rare opportunity, we can't dodge it as easily during the holiday season so the visits actually take place.

We have a traditional Turkey dinner on the 24th, a throwback to the days when I worked on Christmas day, which is to me much less stressful than having to cook a big meal in between opening gifts and long distance phone calls. The bird this year was a 15 pound free range and it was excellent,wife stuffs the bird with a bread/sausage/mushroom/onion/celery/sage combo and I use a traditional 350 degree roasting oven , basting every half hour and it turned out perfect in 3 1/2 hours. Sides were stuffing, mashed spuds with cream cheese and sour cream, green beans and brussel sprouts sauteed with bread crumbs and romano cheese, dessert was Christmas baked goods and the wines were Joie Farms PTG 2009 for red and Gehringer Brothers Classic Auxerrois 2009 for white. Coffee with Bailey's for wife and 15 year old Glenfarclas for Granddad and I post meal.

Christmas Day we opened our stockings and had croissant before the Grands arrived at 10:30ish for the full scale gifting. All lovely, not over the top but lovely, gifts all around then a quick cleanup before our Christmas day open house, featuring copious Mimosas, smoked salmon, rich cheeses and charcuterie along with more of those Christmas baked goods. As an added wrinkle this year we headed over to the R's house for a prime rib feast and much more good company.

Boxing Day should be recovery and was, with leftovers for dinner and then on the 27th our niece arrived from Winnipeg, in town for a conference, so one more night of revelry ensued before hopefully everything gets back to normal today. I feel like I need a week of nothing but sleep, steamed veggies and water, but New Years Eve is just around the corner before, hopefully, life returns to more normal patterns in the New Year.

In closing I hope the Holidays were happy for all and that the Mayans were wrong about 2012.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

A Christmas Case - Part two

Part two of the Christmas case made for some really hard choices, there are probably easily 20-30 wines that I could have chosen to make up the seven bottles of red table wine,in fact when I looked at the wines that got left behind I immediately saw the need for another post.

When trimming the list down to the seven finalists I took into account varietal correctness, the ability to enhance food and tried to avoid duplicating styles and varietals as much as possible. I was not really surprised in the end that I had no wines from France, Italy or the United States as these regions rarely provide good value in the sub $20 range here in BC. So enough rationalization, on to the wines.

Beso de Vino - Seleccion 2009, Spain. I wrote about this wine in October and have gone back to it a couple of times since then with pizza, ribs and a braise. The wine is a blend of Syrah and Garnacha and is nice with food but soft enough to drink on its' own as well. I think it's a steal at $12.99 and it has good distribution.

Colonia Las Liebres, Bonarda, Argentina is a great little wine for any occasion, the hares on the label are racing as fast as this wine is with it's plump fruit flavours and earthy bouquet of chicory and fresh raspberries. Bonarda is the second most planted red grape in Argentina but is mostly used in blending to add colour and fruit but this stand alone varietal bottling is a great value at $12.99 with reasonable, though not great, distribution.

Jacob's Creek Reserve Shiraz, Barossa, Australia is an incredible value from one of Australia's most consistent producers . This is a deep red classic Australian shiraz, with plum and fruitcake on the nose and spice and pepper in the palate. This wine used to retail in the $20 range and was reasonable value then but at $14.99 it's an absolute steal, it's in reasonably wide distribution so seek it out and buy it.

Jean Bousquet Malbec, Organic, Argentina is a beautiful example of Malbec, Argentina's signature red varietal and one of the hot button wines of the past two years. You can get decent Malbec in the $10-13 range but for the holidays step up and buy this wine with lots of spicebox, coffee and black fruits in the nose and a warm full mouth filling flavour mix of plums, cherry and white pepper, plus it's 100% Organic. This wine has good distribution and retails for $15.99 .

The People's Pinot Noir, Central Otago, New Zealand is another wine I recently posted about, I just tried it last month and it's already in regular use in the house. This wine is amazing value for Central Otago Pinot Noir. The nose has a nice sweet aroma of cherries, licorice and a bit of pepper and the taste is bright and clean, with more cherry, a bit of chocolate and coffee and little of the candied strawberry that tends to define inexpensive Pinot Noir. The mouth feel is creamy and the finish long and most importantly obviously, unequivocally, Pinot Noir. It's on sale for $15.99 with good distribution .

Bodegas Montecillo Rioja Crianza, Spain is a perfect example of classic entry level Rioja, made with Spain's greatest varietal Tempranillo. The nose is full of malted chocolate and cherries along with the classic chalky cut hay aroma typical of tempranillo, In the mouth it has notes of sour cherry with leather, tobacco and slightly rough edged tannins. This is old world Rioja without the fruit bomb but with rich flavours, nice tannins and a long rich finish. Maybe not for everyone but I really like it and at $16.99 it's a fair value.

Graham Beck The Game Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, South Africa is simply a great bottle of Cab. I used to drink more Cabernet Sauvignon than any other red varietal but of late was often disappointed with the dumbing down of this majestic grape, but not with this bottle. This Cabernet features all the dark berry, cedar, spicy notes the wine should possess and it's not shy in the mouth either with full bodied tannins and gobs of black fruit, plums and spice with a huge finish. I reviewed it in January of last year when it was on sale and at $19.99 it's still great value with reasonable supply though maybe not on the shelf at your corner boozer. If you are one of the Prime Rib for Christmas Dinner crowd this is the wine for you.

So that's it, the Christmas case is complete and under budget. The total cost of the thirteen bottles, with deposit, is $194.13 which leaves about six bucks left to search out a 650ml of Dead Frog's Christmas Beeracle, but be quick the 2010 production sold out in less than three weeks.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Does anyone answer "Yes" to this question?

It's the Holiday season which means increased police presence on the streets in the form of the police roadblocks to check for impaired drivers.

As I have to cross a bridge to get home from work I generally run into these roadblocks a few times over the Christmas period. So far I've only encountered one, this past Thursday on the Cambie Bridge, and since I never drink before leaving work it simply means I'm delayed a minute or two in line waiting to be questioned. The procedure is pretty standard, or it was before this last stop, an officer will ask where you're coming from and whether you've consumed any alcohol and then decide whether or not you need to be tested further.

On Thursday after being asked where I was coming from, "On my home from work", and whether or not I'd consumed any alcohol, "Not yet", I was then surprised by the next question:

"Do you have any illegal drugs or firearms in the vehicle with you ?.

I paused a second, then answered "No, it's Thursday" which got a small chuckle from the officer and a wave to go on home.

The rest of the way home all I could think was: Does anyone ever answer "Yes" to that question?. I mean seriously, if I've got a kilo of weed and an RPG in the trunk is it likely I'm going to say "Damn, I was hoping you wouldn't ask but yeah I guess you've got me now" ?

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

A Christmas Case - Part one

So rather than go through a litany of all the wines I liked this year I thought what I would do is send myself on a virtual trip to the BCLDB and pick up a case of wine for the holiday season. My goal was to grab a dozen bottles for Christmas dinner, Christmas morning and everyday holiday drinking, I gave myself a budget of $200 and was surprised at how easy it was to come in under budget. I was actually able to grab thirteen bottles, a baker's dozen, and still end up with change in my pocket.

The case consists of three white wines, a bottle of bubble, two bottles of "stickies" and seven bottles of red so you can easily mix and match if you drink more white by doubling up on one of the whites and dropping a red, or sticky. Without further ado here is the Christmas Case 2011 Part One - Bubble, Whites and Stickies

Veuve de Vernay Blancs de Blanc, Brut, France is a great everyday bubble, nice balance, good clean flavours and works well on its' own or with OJ on Christmas morning, as it is consumed in my house. It is widely available and retails for $13.99.
Big House White, California is an homage to the fragrant light bodied white wines of the Friuli region in Italy, but better value than the wines it imitates. This wine is a blend of Malvasia Bianco, Muscat Canelli, Viognier and Gruner Vetliner and thus has an inherent fruitiness and floral quality to it, it pairs well with spicy foods, like my crab dip, and is sort of like Cunundrum Light for those of you familiar with the Godfather of Californian fragrant white blends. It's in good supply and a steal at $11.99.
Frisk, Prickly Riesling, Australia is another slightly off dry white, perfect for rich or spicy holiday bites. From the cool climate Alpine valleys of the Victoria region this wine tastes like $14 German Rieslings used to taste but now to get this quality out of the "Old World" will cost you $20. The wine has lots of floral notes and great citrus flavours with the great bracing acidity you want from Riesling and just a touch of tingle, the frisky part, on the tongue. Excellent value at $13.99 and in good supply.
Spier Chenin Blanc, Signature, South Africa after Riesling Chenin Blanc is certainly my favourite white wine grape and like Riesling it can be made in many manners. In South Africa Chenin Blanc, or Steen as it is referred to, is the "worker bee" white grape. This example from Stellenbosch region is classic South African Chenin Blanc, tons of fruit in the nose and pale green/gold in colour the wine has crisp acidity, notes of peach and kiwi and a touch of vanilla on the finish. This would work nicely with the Christmas turkey, it's only $12.95 but supply is spotty.
Vina Errazuriz, Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc, Chile the first of our "stickies" is an old favourite from Chile, a late harvest wine made primarily from Sauvignon Blanc grapes that have experienced "noble rot" and late picked Gewurztraminer.The incredible heat before the rot sets in produces very high sugar levels so the wine was able to achieve over 11.5% alcohol while still remaining sweet. The nose is fragrant with honey, apricot and candied lemon and the mouthfeel is big and rich with apricot tart flavours. The wine is not at all cloying but is rich in mouth feel with a long finish, perfect with creme brulee or the holiday baked goods, it's a tremendous value at $13.99 for a 375ml bottle and has reasonable distribution.
Taylor-Fladgate Late Bottled Vintage Port2003/04, Portugal this is for the cheese plate, or if you are lucky enough to have real Christmas pudding with dinner. Originally conceived as an alternative to vintage port for the restaurateur, LBV offers a wine with more complexity and concentration than the younger Reserve ports and Taylor-Fladgate were the first port house to label their wines with the Late Bottled Vintage designation . The wine has a deep purple colour and an aroma of raisins, bitter chocolate and spice box, the flavours are rich with plums,dried cherry , more chocolate and vanilla the tannins are still in force so a half hour to breathe is a good idea . Good value at $15.99 and well distributed in the lower mainland.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Drink a decent Bottle, help the Food Bank

The other day while cruising the aisles of my local government outlet I noticed bottle toppers on some decent Chilean red, Casillero del Diablo Carmenere stating that $1 from the sale of each bottle would be donated to the Vancouver Food Bank.

On the back of the tag was a listing of the various wines to which this applied, seventeen in total, all represented by Select Wines an old established importer in the BC market. I think this is an excellent form of philanthropy, and while I wish Select Wines would apply the donation to their entire portfolio they are to be commended for their actions. December is a busy month for wine sales so even the limited exposure should get $2-5,000 into the food bank coffers.

I'm not familiar with all the wines Select are donating from but some I know and can recommend are the aforementioned Carmenere, as well as the same brand's Merlot, additionally I can stand behind the Little Yering Pinot Noir, the St. Hallett Poacher's Blend and, for a bit more, St. Hallett Faith Shiraz .

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Stop the Presses ! I found good inexpensive Pinot Noir

I was all set to post about another pizza red but last night for wife's birthday dinner we had pan roasted pork chops with lemon risotto and I chose a bottle of New Zealand Pinot Noir to accompany dinner.

The chops had an herbal, garlicky component to them and along with the richness of risotto I wanted something lighter to drink. I actually went to the store intending to grab a Cru Beaujolais but the selection and pricing didn't suit me so I wandered over to the New Zealand section and noticed that there was a Central Otago Pinot Noir on sale for $15.99. This was surprising to me because Otago Pinot Noirs are scarce in the BC market and I've never seen one below $20 before but since I had backup at home in the form of a nice Chianti Classico I thought "Why not give it a shot ?".

Just before plating I cracked the screw cap and poured, the colour was deeper than I would have thought, a good sign, and the nose had a nice sweet aroma of cherries, licorice and a bit of pepper. The taste was bright and clean, with more cherry, a bit of chocolate and coffee and little of the candied strawberry that tends to define inexpensive Pinot Noir.The mouth feel was creamy and the finish was long and most importantly it was obviously, unequivocally, Pinot Noir.

The search for inexpensive Pinot Noir is almost Holy Grail-like, time consuming, wrought with failure and can be obsessive to the point of institutionalization, the whole Sideways thing. People ask me why do we seek inexpensive Pinot Noir and the simple answer is because Pinot Noir, properly made, is so delicious that we deserve to drink it more often .

Anyway, the wine is called The People's Pinot Noir, it's a boutique project of Constellation brands, the world's largest wine company and owners of a number of wineries and vineyards in New Zealand. Constellation's sheer size means the cost of production is lower so that's why, even at it's regular price of $17.99 this wine is excellent value. The wine has good distribution but there isn't a ton of stock currently available so I would recommend grabbing a few bottles to have on hand for the holiday season, that is if you can avoid drinking it before the holidays arrive.

Thursday, November 17, 2011


I made myself porridge for breakfast this morning, a sure sign of winter, and it was marvelous. These days most people refer to the hot cooked cereal as "oatmeal" but it was always porridge in my house and it'll always be porridge to me. I grew up in semi Northern Ontario where the winters are cold and porridge was a staple for breakfast, often three or four times a week, but never on Sunday. My mother is of Scots heritage so her porridge was thick and salted and that's still the way I like mine. As a child porridge was always served with warmed milk and brown sugar but these days I prefer mine with honey and fruit, or apple sauce.

Instant oatmeal is not a substitute for porridge, I'm sure it's a fine product but it's not porridge and it's not going to be on my breakfast table. Porridge requires a time commitment and if you aren't willing to make that commitment then just toast a bagel and be done with it.

There are dozens of varieties of cereal grains out there that can be turned into porridge but my preference is for steel cut oats, rolled oats tend to make a porridge that is lacking in texture. Steel cut oats are easy to find, the ones from Quaker are fine but I prefer those from Bob's Red Mill, they are available at IGA Marketplace and, I believe, Whole Foods.

I earlier alluded to the time commitment porridge requires, set aside half an hour to do it right, so if you're dashing off in the morning then porridge isn't for you. The cooking of porridge is simple and requires little attention, here goes. Bring water to a boil, you'll need two parts water for one part oats and I need 3/4 of a cup of oats for my breakfast, once the water is boiling add the oats and bring down to a simmer, stirring occasionally . After about five minutes add a three finger pinch of salt and stir well to incorporate it into the mash, mean while set half a cup of milk on to warm at low heat.

Porridge texture is very much a personal thing but it will take at least fifteen minutes for the porridge to be fully cooked, I cook mine exactly eighteen minutes, but once it reaches the desired texture remove it from the heat and cover it. Leave the porridge, covered off the heat, for three to five minutes then ladle into a shallow bowl, warmed in the oven is a nice touch, and top with brown sugar or honey before pouring the warm milk around the outside of the porridge. You may add fresh, or canned, fruit or my personal fave, home made applesauce and breakfast is served.

Please note you should not drink coffee if you are having porridge for breakfast, it's just wrong, make a pot of tea and linger after the porridge is finished. After all, if you are having porridge for breakfast it's not like you are in a hurry.

As a side note it is extremely frustrating for me to post these days as wife decided a couple of weeks ago that my keyboard needed cleaning and as a result I have a wonderfully clean keyboard with a space bar that routinely sticks. This is, apparently, my fault .

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Ribs Tonight

It's like a holiday in my house tonight, the sun was out all day, daughter broke out of her scoring slump on the soccer pitch today and back ribs are on sale at IGA Marketplace.

Ribs are hands down daughter's number one thing to eat, she even changes into old clothes so as not to have the experience lessened in any manner by having to worry about barbecue sauce ending up on a favourite shirt, and it's easily in the top ten for wife and I. My druthers are for sideribs that have had the tips removed, the so called St. Louis cut, but they are hard to find and most commercial cuts of siderib are full of cartilage from the tips. Windsor Meats on the North Shore have the most consistent sideribs and I just learned they have an outlet in Vancouver now so maybe my siderib luck will change.

For now though I'm reduced to Costco or the vagaries of on sale backribs, which is how this whole post started. Marketplace IGA's weekly flyer advertised Chilean baby backs on sale for a ridiculous $2.99 a pound so I dashed down just before kickoff and was pleasantly surprised to find that the ribs were in abundance and Canadian. There is a tinge of nationalism involved here but mostly my joy was that Canadian ribs are longer and generally meatier than the Chilean racks. Ribs were bought and bundled home before soccer and are now just waiting to be eaten.

Ribs need a touch of work before cooking, the membrane on the bone side should be removed for added tenderness, just put a sharp knife under the membrane near the narrow end of the rack and force up enough so that you can grab the membrane with your fingers, the membrane can be slippery so paper towels or a kitchen towel may help, then just pull the membrane off. Now comes the wonder of ribs, so much taste so little work, I just rub them with a mixture of coarse salt, fresh ground black pepper, dry mustard powder and smoked paprika and roast them in a 300 degree oven for 2-2 1/2 hours until the bones wobble or use a smoker at 250 degrees for 3-3 1/2 hours. Drain off the fat, baste with whatever tomatoey, spicy sauce you wish to create and roast again at high heat, 450+, for 5 or so minutes to glaze the sauce and then dig in, if it's grilling weather you can finish them off on the grill which is even better but the oven is fine.

I allow at least a pound per person, serve with plain white rice or boiled spuds smashed with butter and Italian parsley and coleslaw or simple green veg and some full throttle red with big fruit, or cold pilsner, and you are good to go.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Yet Another Pizza Red

Well I wasn't supposed to be writing about Pizza Red this weekend because Pizza wasn't on the menu but life took a turn and we ended up with Pizza for dinner on Saturday night.

Daughter began feeling ill on Thursday night and by Saturday was full blown miserable, so much so that she willingly gave up a sleepover at BFF's, while wife was beginning to show signs of coming down with something so when the opportunity to take Saturday night off work, long weekend Saturdays being spotty at the best of times, was presented to me at 2ish I said: Sure, I'll take the night off.

My first thought was to dash out and grab a ham for a pre-Thanksgiving dinner but miserable daughter reminded me that I had said she and wife could order pizza for dinner so I changed plans. Instead of Ham and ???? we would order pizza, I'd make a salad and we'd watch a movie. Earlier in the week I'd grabbed a bottle of inexpensive Spanish red and so I cracked the Stelvin and poured it with the pizza.

Before I get into the wine though I have a question: What's with all the Pizza Nazis out there ?

I mean you can't go to any food sight without reading these tomes about how bad the pizza is in Vancouver, or those where foodies wax on and on about whichever new authentic Neapolitan pizzeria has opened in some depressed area of the city . I mean seriously folks, it's Pizza, at it's best it's very good and at it's worst it's awful but really do we need to make such a big deal about it ? The best thing I've ever eaten out of a pizza oven in Naples was bacon and eggs, but that's another story, and while I've had great pizza in Italy I've also had mediocre pizza in Italy, just as I have had in Vancouver . There is no need for the gnashing and moaning, find a reasonable pizza place near where you live, or make your own but stop whining about it.

Our "Go To" pizza outlet is The Firewood Cafe, conveniently located on Cambie at 14th within easy driving distance for while I don't mind occasionally ordering pizza I hate waiting for delivery and having the pie arrive in less than optimal condition. Despite what some people say in their blogs about Firewood I've always found the pizza to be consistently high quality, they have a real wood burning brick oven so the thin crust is nicely crisped and the toppings are of a good quality. If you live anywhere near them I recommend them for your takeout Pizza needs, though they are not a "late night" spot.

Back on point, the wine I served was a Syrah/Garnacha blend from the Carenena region just outside Zaragosa in Northeastern Spain. This is one of the oldest Denominacion de Origen's in Spain and has been producing wine since the middle ages but it is not at the top end of Spanish wine production. The region is best known for early drinking reds made primarily with Garnacha Tinto, a spicy fruity red grape that tends to be low in acidity but high in flavour. The wine we had on Saturday was Beso de Vino a 2009 blend of Garnacha (15%) and Syrah (85%). The label and name are a little cutesy but hey, they've gotta do something to make the punters try it so I'll cut them some slack.

The name means Kiss of Wine and there's a picture of a cartoon bull kissing a glass on the label but what's inside isn't to be made fun of . The wine is very deep coloured, dark and opaque and the nose is full of cherry and blueberry while the taste adds a bit of cocoa, spice and coffee. The tannins are soft but they are present and the acidity shows up at the finish to allow the wine to work well with the tomato/cheese/pepperoni combo .

At $12.99 with wide distribution this cartoonish steer, his name is Antonio, may well end up pairing with a braise or two as the winter goes on. I can easily recommend this wine for everyday drinking, and that's no bull.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Pizza Red - Part Three is a bust

Once again I must qualify this post as we didn't actually have pizza, but we might as well have.

Tuesday night is Choir night for daughter and now that she's been accepted in the uber choir it is a lengthy session, 90 minutes, that doesn't get us home until 7:30 . On nights that wife is able to pickup that means I can make dinner and plate just as the girls come in the door so we still have time to eat before Glee at 8:00 pm, Glee is must watch TV for daughter. Last night, however, wife was unable to do pickup but would be home so I prepped fauxsagna for dinner to be reheated for dinner just past 7:30.

Fauxsagna is made by preparing a bolognese sause and cooking whatever noodle you wish, last night I used rotini but shells or tortiglione or penne are all acceptable. Toss the cooked noodles with sauce then put a layer of sauce in a baking dish followed by half the noodles, more sauce, a layer of cheese (I use a blend of Mozzarella and Romano), the other half of the noodles, more sauce and more cheese. Bake this in a 350 degree oven for 30 minutes and serve with salad or green vegetable. Fauxsagna has virtually the same ingredients as pizza so the wine should be a Pizza Red.

Last night's wine was a Primitivo from the Puglia region. Puglia is the boot of Italy on the map and is the largest wine producing region in the country, for years most Puglian wines were cheap, simple and of poor quality but in the past decade or so more care has been put into the wines, particularly with the Primitivo grape. Primitivo should produce rich fruity wines that are ready early. The wine I chose for last night was one I had not tried before, and won't again, it was featured in a Vino Italia promo at the front of the store and was reasonably priced but it just didn't deliver. The wine was Primitivo 2009 OGIO $12.99 with wide distribution. Primitivo should be lush and full with mouth filling red/black fruit flavours and a spicy backnote but this wine was dull, overly dry and lacking in any finish.

I have to give a thumbs down to this week's Pizza Red effort, maybe next week I'll actually make pizza .

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Redefining "Epic Fail" and a Haiku

The term Epic Fail is a part of our culture and often gets tossed around too freely. much like the terms love and hate but that's another topic. Yesterday, however, the Boston RedSox redefined the term with the greatest choke in the history of major league baseball.

That's right the Red Sox, the team with a Nation of followers, (you can actually spend $10 and become an official member of Red Sox Nation) did something that had never before been accomplished in the 140 year history of the major leagues, they blew a nine game lead in the month of September. This year's edition of the Atlanta Braves had a nearly Epic Fail September as well but the Red Sox failure was better, or worse, and really the Atlanta Braves failing just isn't very interesting. To put things in perspective, the 2011 Red Sox winning percentage in the month of September, you know crunch time, when the tough get going all those other cliches, was worse than the team who are synonymous with futility, the 1962 New York Mets .

This, my friends, is Epic Fail on so many levels I can't begin to cover them all. From the winter signing of Carl Crawford, the trade for Adrian Gonzalez, the emergence of Jacoby Ellsbury as a superstar this was the Red Sox year ...... and yet they failed. I tried to console my Red Sox friends today with the fact that they did achieve something historic but it didn't seem to offer much solace.

My disdain for Red Sox fans, and all fans of the New England area teams is previously documented here but I thought I'd add a little variation on Japanese poetry to sum up yesterday's events.

Haiku is a form of poetry in Japan that has been converted to English, in the English version Haiku consists of three line poems which follow a format of 5 syllables in line one, seven in line two and five again in line three. As an homage to Japan and the Red Sox, I present my first (self) published Haiku entitled:

A Nation Mourns

Red Sox fail again
this should not be surprising
but is to Massholes

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Pizza Red - Part Two (sort of)

OK I'm cheating a bit here because I didn't actually have this wine with pizza, but while I was drinking it all I could think was Wow, this would be great with Pizza so I'm putting it in the Pizza Red category.

The wine is produced by the Dao Sul group, a partnership of four wineries that was formed in 1989 to make wines from the prime Dao producing area. The partnership went well and expanded into, among other areas, the Estremedura region near the capital of Lisbon. The wines of this area had never been noted for quality, more vast production, but some new producers, such as Dao Sul, are taking advantage of the warmer weather and moderating coastal climates to produce excellent everyday value wines.

This wine Cortello Touriga Nacional is produced from Touriga Nacional grapes, the backbone grape of most Port, but the warm climate in the Estremedura region allows the grape to ripen and take away the harsh acidity that marks the grape in the Northern Douro area. The coastal cool nights keep the fruit in check and the result is a big, rich, full flavoured red without the brooding character of many hot climate reds.

There is lots of dark fruits (blueberry, plum, blackberry) in the initial taste along with oak and green herbs and the nose displays the classic floral, violet aromas of Touriga Nacional . Given time in the glass the wine develops earthy, mineral and spice box character and a nice chalky acidity that makes it much more interesting. It has a long finish and while it may be not right for those who want fruit bombs I enjoyed it a great deal with pan seared beef, sweet peppers and noodles and it would be a lovely pizza red.

The wine has limited distribution at the BCLDB yet had a "New Listing" tag on it at the Mothership so I'm not sure whether it is newly arrived and waiting further shipping or is a one time buy. If you see it I would suggest you grab a couple for pizza night or any slow cooked red meats or ragouts, at $11.99 it is very good value.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Searching for Pizza Red, an Ongoing Saga

So it appears that fall has truly come to us quickly, clouds and rain, highs in the teens and chill over night. Without the clouds and rain it would be perfect, as I prefer my temperatures in the teens, but I do hope the sun will keep shining until at least November.

With the fall comes a change in menu at our house, the summer season is grill and saute', salads and steaks and all that stuff but with the cooling temperatures it's time for the oven and the slow cooker. It's also time for home made pizza, which is among daughter's favourite things and one of the more versatile dishes known to man.

I occasionally make the dough from scratch but more often than not I employ the frozen dough from Calabria Bakery, the bakery is located on Victoria just south of 33rd avenue and well worth the trip (try the sfogliatelle stuffed with nutella if you go) but most often I buy the dough at Stong's Market in Kerrisdale.

Take the dough out of the freezer the night before you want to have pizza and leave in the fridge overnight. On the morning of Pizza Day I take the dough ball out of the fridge and coat with a bit of olive oil then place it in a bowl, cover with a towel and put the bowl in our laundry closet while I do two or three loads of laundry. The heat and humidity created in the small laundry space helps the dough rise and by 3 o'clock or so it's ready to punch down and roll.

I use rectangular bake pans rather than the stone because I'm lazy and can cook two pies at once that way, dough is stretched to fit the pans and topped with simple tomato basil sauce . I generally cook down a combo of good quality canned diced tomatoes with some basil, oregano, shallot, salt, pepper and whole garlic over low heat. After 15 minutes or so I remove the garlic and discard then give a quick puree with a hand blender and add some Passata to get the texture I want. Sauce the crusts, sprinkle with chiffonade basil, add cheese and whatever else you want and bake at 500 degrees for 15-20 minutes, I like my crusts crispy, and serve with a salad of mixed greens and dinner is done. I generally make enough so that there is leftover pizza for daughter's lunch the next day and an after work meal for me .

Pizza requires wine as a partner, burgers and Asian food can get by with beer but pizza needs fruity red to bring out all its' glory . The wine must be dry, but must have fruit to counter the acid in the tomato sauce, but the wine also needs acidity on its' own to work with the cheese so really simple reds aren't likely to be enough.

We generally have pizza 2-3 times a month over the fall and winter season so this year I'm going to chronicle, as often as I remember, the wines I buy to go with the pizza and how they fare. It should be noted that our House Special Pizza is topped with meat (pepperoni for daughter/wife, prosciutto for me), cheese (generally a blend of mozzarella, fontina and romano), roasted cremini mushrooms and sauteed spinach (the veggies are cooked ahead of time to release the water in them that would otherwise make for soggy pizza).

This week's pizza red was a Rioja from Bodegas Antano the Rioja Crianza 2008, which retails at a very reasonable $12.99 at the BCLDB and has wide distribution. The BCL site waxes long and eloquent about the profile of this wine, I found it fruity with a nice balance, some spice, cocoa and dried cherry on the nose, as with most wines made primarily from Tempranillo there is a bit of a dusty character and a hints of tobacco leaf/leather and coffee in the palate. The wine finishes long and was a very good match to this week's pizza .

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Feel free to ignore this as well

I'm just posting here as a test of the feed to Google Reader which I've set up .

Please feel free to ignore this, although it's interesting that the RedSox have chosen to play in September much the same as they played in April. Maybe MLB should go to a four month season in best interest of The Nation - that's RedSox Nation of course.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Happy that's it's Fall

I know that most will not share my feelings on this but I am happy that we seem to be done with our September heatwave.

I know it's been great for the farmers and G-man may actually not finish the summer of 2011 in the red but when you work at a restaurant with a huge patio and most of your summer staff have returned to school a long, hot, dry September is a major pain. I've been working extra shifts all month and, quite frankly, am too old for this stuff.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not praying for rain but a little cloudy and 20 degrees will be just fine for a week or two. Plus I'd really like the feeling of a blanket over me while I'm sleeping instead of a crumpled ball of sheets around my ankles.

There is also the fact that I'm getting tired of grilled and am hankering for braised, roasted and slow cooked with all the rustic flavours those preparations entail. In anticipation of the Fall hearty food season I bought a bottle of a newly listed Chilean red on the weekend:Junta Reserva Syrah-Carmenere 2010, this is new world wine with some lead in its' pencil but really it's more suited for the grill/roast rather than the braise.

The wine is deep reddish purple with a ripe fresh nose, on the palate there are tones of leather, smoke and spice to mingle with dried cherry and black fruits. The fruit dominates but there's enough tannin to carry burgers or simple roasted meat, At $14.97 it's not a great buy but it is a good bottle at a reasonable price and worth a try, the wine has wide spread distribution so should be easy enough to find.

I do question the naming of the winery however, while the back label assures me that Junta is a Spanish word meaning to gather for a purpose, or collaborate, I just can't get the image of intellectuals being marched into soccer stadiums at gunpoint out of my head .

Monday, September 12, 2011

A small tracking device

In order to try and make it easier for my loyal follower's to access the blog I'm doing some work with Technorati, ignore this post unless you find U68QM2V8JKBE to be interesting.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

A little, literally, Wine Note

The other night I got off work earlier and stopped in at the newish BCLDB Signature store at Alberni and Bute street. I was looking to pick up some beer and did, though the selection is poor, but while standing in line I saw a cut-case display of 250ml bottles of Cabernet-Syrah Vins de Pays D'oc from JP Chenet for $4.49 so I grabbed one just for curiosty sake.

Now for some background, JP Chenet is the export label of the massive French producer Grands Chais de France a bottler and exporter of wine in France. Grands Chais de France do not make wine, they buy it in bulk and ship it to one of their huge bottling facilities in France, filter and then bottle the wine, this is industrial wine but that doesn't mean it is without merit. The JP Chenet line produces good quality, varietally true, if not exciting, wines but to me the quality/price ratio has never been enough to encourage me to buy or recommend the wines.

Last night i sampled the Cabernet-Syrah and my feelings are still mixed. The wine is fine, it has no flaws and presents some decent cherry, black fruit, spicebox flavours. The tannins are very subtle, it's a new world style, but it was fine with pizza and would be a decent partner to most red meats or chicken. At a prorated 750ml price of $13.47 I wouldn't buy it again but the beauty of this product is its' size.

At 250ml this is a perfect "big glass" of wine, enough to carry dinner and I know that many people can't finish a bottle of wine at dinner so this provides a low cost alternative. The bottle is also a great size for packing on a hike, or going to a picnic and the "no waste" factor means that for these occasions it represents good value. Back in the dark ages when I was a wine importer the BCLDB would not approve listing for 250ml, or 500ml, bottles because they weren't a standard package unit but it appears they have loosened their stance and that is a good idea in my mind.

Friday, September 09, 2011

Really Bad Tagline in Infiniti Ad

There is currently an ad campaign running for Infiniti that wants you to challenge the status quo .

The ad opens with a shot from space of a sunrise over planet Earth and the opening line is, I kid you not, "If no one ever challenged the status quo the Earth would still be flat.

Um, no it wouldn't because the Earth was actually never flat so it could never still be flat .

This ad was produced by TBWA\Chiat\Day Los Angeles, who should be ashamed of themselves, plus didn't anyone at Nissan/Infiniti hear that line and go : "Wait a minute"

You can watch the bad ad here

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Beer Economics 101, save the Tree

In a previous post I lamented the fact that we live in a region that produces wine and yet that wine is less affordable than imported products. Today I'm going to delve into the Economics of Beer and how the same situation occurs, with the exception of one enlightened Okanagan producer .

I am a beer drinker, first and foremost, I am the son of a beer drinker and beer was a way of life growing up. It is still the first beverage I have when I come home from work and generally my companion while preparing food. When I was younger and often drank just for the sake of doing so I even had a "beer number system", it went like this:

A beer, or one beer, was two beer

A couple was 3-4

A few was 5-7

More than 7 was "a bunch", as in "I don't feel great today, I had a bunch of beers last night".

I realize that the plural of beer is beer but within the common lexicon the use of beers is perfectly acceptable, and anyone who says otherwise is probably suspect and definitely not a beer drinker

I no longer drink for sport and now when I say I had one beer that's exactly what I mean, but there is the issue of portion size and that's where the economics come in. The Canadian industry standard for beer is 355ml, this is because in the pre-metric days a standard unit was 12 ounces, but 355ml is a sham. No self respecting beer drinker is satisfied with 355ml of beer, it's just not enough so what happens is that two beer are needed. The least expensive Canadian beer in the marketplace is currently regularly retailing at $7.55 per six pack, or $1.26 per unit but since 2 units are required for satisfaction the real beer drinker is paying $2.52 per ABCU or "appropriate beer consumption unit".

Now outside of North America, and even in some enlightened areas within it, it is generally accepted that an ABCU is 500ml, roughly 16 ounces. In British Columbia the consumer has a vast selection of imported beer that retails in 500ml packages for much less than the $2.52 required to make up a domestic APCU so once again we are faced with the necessity of drinking imported product.

But all is not lost, up in Kelowna there exists a very good local brewery that has seen the folly of the 355ml package and now produces three very good distinctive beer in 500ml cans and all for lass than $2.52. These visionaries are Tree Brewing and they deserve our support.

Tree produces three products in 500ml cans, a Pilsner, an Amber Ale and an absolutely outstanding Pale Ale all of which have excellent distribution and all better than the mass produced beer from Molson/Labatt/Pacific Western whatever. So do yourself, and your wallet and your local economy, a favour and seek out the fine family of 500ml Tree Brewing products.

You'll be glad you did.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Off to the Okanagan

What's better than friends with benefits ?

How about friends with cottage .

Once again we have been gifted a week at our friends' cottage in Summerland. and the timing is perfect. After a slow start summer appears to have landed on the west coast with a vengeance and the hot weather means scores of patio diners and late nights with accompanying frustrations. I'm not going to get into the dynamics of doing 350 covers in a restaurant with a kitchen designed to do 150 covers but suffice to say that we all earn our money in the dog days, so the opportunity to slip away for a while is blissful.

Sadly our trip does not coincide with the R's annual stint in Penticton and daughter's BFF is unavailable to join us as she is in horse camp next week so it will just be the three of us, but that's okay. Lots of trips to the beach, maybe some exploring further south in the valley, copious consumption of ice cream and our continuing viewing of the Harry Potter saga will keep us active.

I plan a couple of winery visits but am unlikely to bring much home, the price points on BC wines still don't make sense to me, and I'm hoping the German butcher on highway 97 is still there. Last summer he was talking about closing shop but his organic meats, wild game and house made sausages will be sorely missed if he has, in fact, pulled the plug.

With the cooler summer I'm not sure what will be in season when we arrive, maybe cherries will still be around along with apricots and peaches, regardless there's always lots of fresh fruit on the table along with farm fresh veg and the grill gets used pretty much every night. Grandma and Granddad are in Kelowna so we'll see them a couple of times but mostly it'll just be chill, and that's just fine.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Nice Aussie Riesling

It's, sort of, summer and a man's fancy turns to white wine, at least this man.

Last Friday featured Prawns on the Barbie and as an homage to Paul Hogan I unscrewed a bottle of newly listed Australian Riesling, Frisk Prickly Riesling .

I will be honest, I love Riesling. It is probably the white grape I drink the most with Chenin Blanc in second place, because it is light, refreshing and always a good complement to food. I had heard a bit of buzz about the Prickly Riesling but really was going in blind. I ended up very happy with my decision, this is old school Riesling in that the fruit is the star, it's a touch sweet and has that little tingle on the tongue that acidic fruity whites should have.

Wife and I sat at the table post dinner sipping the last of the bottle and almost as one said: "You know, we really should drink white wine more often". It's unlikely we will but the wine was good enough that it made us consider it.

The wine is newly listed and has broad distribution and while not cheap, at $14.99 per bottle, is certainly worth having in house to crack on a warm night with grilled fish or spicy Asian flavours .

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Polenta is the new........... ?

A few weeks back we hosted G man and Auntie Mads for dinner at our house. As always the conversation was excellent, and wide ranging but generally at some point during the evening G and I will get in depth over some food item or another. The evening's menu featured simple soft polenta, rich with butter, grated Romano and some fresh herbs so that was the focus of our food discussion.

I love polenta, to me it is one of the great comfort foods, a conduit for butter, cheese and whatever else you may choose to add. I like my polenta best when it is soft and warm, right out of the pot, G man prefers to cool his, let it soften and then grill or fry. I'm a live and let live guy, food wise anyway, so either way is cool with me. Polenta is also one of those old school time consuming dishes that I have eschewed traditional preparation methods to lighten my work load.

Traditionally polenta, in Italy, is cooked stovetop in a heavy pot. Water is brought to a boil and then the corn meal is added in a slow stream, temperature is turned down and the dish is micro managed for 45-50 minutes with constant stirring before butter and cheese are added at the finish. This results in a silky, buttery rich dish that is superb: but really who has the time, or inclination, to stand over a stove for 45 minutes stirring anything ?

My polenta preparation was inspired by an LA Times article a couple of years ago and goes like this:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Combine cornmeal, coarse cut, and water in a large ovenproof dish. Use a ratio of 4/1 water to cornmeal and add 1 tablespoon butter and 1/2 teaspoon salt for each cup of cornmeal

Bake, uncovered, for an hour and twenty minutes. Stir, bake ten more minutes and remove from oven.

Stir in some more butter, grated romano/parmesan/asiago/whatever, and some fresh herbs (not necessary but a nice touch).

Let sit for five minutes and serve.

That's it, no fuss, no muss just great soft polenta.

You can top this with sauce, mix in sauteed mushrooms, shredded meat, whatever or just eat plain. The leftovers can be saved and grilled or sauteed the next day and they will be delicious.

But I digress, our polenta discussion continued as G man made the statement that:
Polenta is the new Risotto.
This is a worthy analogy, they both have roots in Italian cuisine, they both were highly time consuming dishes that can be reduced in their labour requirements, they are both starches that serve as a vessel for other flavours.

To me, however, risotto is not the comfort food that polenta, and risotto is simply a bit too precious. Even faux-sotto, short grain rice cooked slowly but without the manic stock adding, constant stirring that risotto requires, isn't as simple a pleasure as polenta. Polenta's humble roots, as a simple mush and the staple of Roman legions, and no pretense cries out for something other than the much feted risotto.

For me Polenta is the new mashed potato, except it's better as a leftover than the spud, and that's alright with me.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Things come in Threes so I'm still Waiting

There is an old expression that states that: Good things come in Threes, so I've got one more to come, or maybe that's trouble come in threes. Anyway a couple of good things happened lately.

First off on the list was yesterday's overdue announcement of Doug Gilmour's induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame. This is indeed a good thing, Killer was one of the great players of his generation and the spiritual leader of the last Toronto Maple Leafs to be truly dangerous. The 1992-93 Leafs were a great team that came within one game, some would say one blown call, of the Stanley Cup final. In that 1992-93 season Gilmour, all 155 pounds of him, finished with a Leaf record of 127 points and was named the leagues outstanding defensive player. It still confounds me how Gilmour could be 8th in offense and the best defensive player and not be the MVP but that's another story.

Gilmour lead the Leafs to the conference final again in 93-94 but never got the Blue and White further. Gilmour's stay in Toronto was only six season's but they were great yaers and he was the leader of that team. Gilmour had been passed over in previous HOF voting but this year they finally got it right.

I had the good fortune to serve Doug Gilmour a number of years ago, you can read about my feelings here.

The second piece of good fortune is likely more relevant to my readers, my house wine has dropped over $1.00 in its' retail price. For those with short memories I have been drinking the delightful La Casona, an old vines gem from the biggest producer in the Yecla region of Spain, Bodegas Castano. The wine is old vines Monastrell (Mourvedre/Mataro) and it's both consistent and delicious.

The wine was $8.99 when I first discovered it a few months and then quickly jumped to $9.50, still good value, but today at the boozer I picked up a couple of bottles and noticed that the price was down to $8.50. It's a good thing indeed, at least as long as it doesn't mean they are stopping shipping it. Hmmmmmmmmm, maybe I don't have #2 yet, but in the meantime buy a few bottles of La Casona, it's perfect for grilling season, assuming we are going to eventually get grilling season.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Trouble with BC Wines

With Canada Day just around the corner I got to thinking about our domestic wine industry and what is wrong with it. Don't get me wrong, I have great respect for the men and women who are working in the local wine industry, I've been around long enough to remember when the quality was abysmal and Canadian wines were things like:


So while we have come a long way we still have a long way to go.

The quality of BC wines overall is good but the pricing and consumer access is abysmal, in the mid range and the top end the prices are too high, and there is no bottom end/entry level. What I mean is that among 100% BC wines there is only one available in the LDB system that sells for less than $12.49 per bottle so the bottom end of the market has been abandoned.

There are 160 wines listed at $12.49 - $19.99 and with rare exceptions I can guarantee you that there are many, many examples from Spain, Portugal, Chile, Argentina, South Africa and Australia selling for $2-$5 a bottle less that will kick the crap out of the locals in quality .

At the top end there are some genuinely terrific BC wines but you either can't buy them, due to limited production, or they are unrealistically priced again, or both. I am fortunate that my position allows me to sample a great many of the Super Premium BC wines and I can tell you I have yet to drink one that could not be blown out of the water by less expensive wines from other countries. I mean really $45 for Cedar Creek's Platinum Malbec ? I can buy a half a dozen Argentinian reserve Malbecs for less than $30 and they will all be better than the Cedar Creek .

Then there is the distribution setup that makes it ludicrous for BC wineries to sell their product in the Government stores, the winery receives 20-50% more by selling direct or through private stores. The result of this is that the wines are not in wide distribution and, since most private stores add additional markups, the prices are even higher, compounding the value for dollar issue even further.

Listen there are a number of reasons to buy BC wines, patriotism, carbon footprint, romantic folly but none are sound economically. We may live in the only wine producing country in existence where imported wines are cheaper than domestic, and before you start in on :

But the labour costs and land costs are so much higher, I have two points for you:

1) I don't care, if your business model requires you to sell equal, at best, quality products for a higher cost it's a damn poor model.

2) Germany

It will eventually get to be grilling weather this summer and when it does I'd love to slap some burgers on the grill and reach for a nice cheap full throttle BC red to go with the burgers, but I won't. What I will do is crack open something from Spain, or Chile, or Argentina that is solid quality at $10-$12 a bottle and wish it wasn't so.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Too Old ? The Wine version

The other day I was in the government store at Arbutus Village, which is a well stocked and well run store it should be noted . While cruising the aisles looking for new plonk I came across a floor stack of a couple of cases of a Portuguese Red, Cortello, which was deeply discounted from $13.99 down to $9.79.

I recalled having drunk the wine a few months back and thinking it was reasonable so I grabbed two bottles for the "discount taste test" and headed to the counter. The "discount taste test" is something I do whenever an unknown wine, or very old vintage, is deeply discounted. I grab two bottles and taste then that night, or the next day, to see if there is a major flaw that has resulted in the discount, and there often is. In this case I couldn't think of what the flaw might be but at checkout I was surprised to hear the clerk say: "Oh I guess it's on sale because it's almost past it's due date".

I quickly checked the bottle, expecting to see something in the 2003 range, but no the wine is a vintage 2007. When I expressed my surprise at that comment the clerk replied, Oh 2007, that's pretty much over the hill.

I did not reply, but it is a sad commentary that someone who sells wine, theoretically, for a living would think that a wine that was still fresh fruit on the vine three and a half years ago would be too old.. There is an old chestnut in the wine world that 90% of the wine made in the world is meant to be drunk within two years of bottling, even if that is true it doesn't mean that iut HAS to be drunk within two years of bottling .

Anyway the Estremedura Cortello is drinking nicely, it's a good value and solid for the, hopefully, upcoming outdoor grilling weather. There is lots available, over 4,000 bottles as of this morning, so grab a bottle or two of this ancient vintage and enjoy .

Sunday, May 22, 2011

NFL Strike Bigger than we Imagined

So for the last couple of months the billionaires that own the NFL teams and the multi-millionaires that play the game have been wrangling over how to split the roughly $9 billion in revenue that the league generates annually.

The argument basically boils down to the owners' position being: "Hey we put up all the money and financial risk (of which there really isn't any) and in return we want a bigger slice of the pie" .

The players position is basically:"We are the product, without us there is no game. We have a short lifespan as players and want to be compensated even further for our pain and suffering".

It should be noted that the average salary in the NFL is roughly $1.8 million per year and the average career length is 3 1/2 years, which means the average NFL player picks up around $6.3 million for his troubles, so it's not as though the NFL is really "modern day slavery" as running back Adrian Peterson claimed in an interview with Yahoo sports in March.

Regardless of which side you support, or even if you don't give a damn there are other consequences, many lost jobs, hours of television programming to fill, bookies with nothing to make money off etc. but what I hadn't considered was that the lack of NFL games will lead to an increase in crime.

Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis,who knows a bit about crime , explains in this interview that crime, and evil in general will increase without the NFL because, quite simply, without the games "there's nothing else to do".

Mr. Lewis does not explain why crime doesn't spike in the off season of non labour stoppage years but I'm assuming it's because the mere knowledge that the NFL will return is enough to keep evil at bay.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

The New Math is Awful

Here's a quick math question: When did 24.3 become equal to 54.2 ?

The answer, sadly, is on Monday May 2nd.

The results of Canada's latest federal election are in and the sweater vest crowd would have you believe that they have received a resounding mandate from the populace to make all the political decisions for the next 4-5 years. That is, of course, because the Conservatives won 167 of 308 seats in Parliament (54.2%) and a s a result the NDP/Liberals/BQ/Elizabeth Mays' can grouse all they want but the bottom line is the Steven Harper Government (remember when it used to be called "the Government of Canada" ?) have a majority in both houses and can ram rod through whatever legislation they want.

Of course this is because the majority of the Canadian people voted for the Conservatives, right ?

Well no actually it only took 39.6% of the vote to capture the 54.2% majority, but still 39.6% of all Canadians support the Conservatives, right ?

Well no actually since only 61.4% of Canadians even bothered to exercise their right to vote it means that only 24.3% of all eligible voters in the country support the Majority Government.

The bottom line is the system is badly broken, the outdated "First past the Post" system we have was never intended for a world with more than two parties and was certainly never intended for a world where only 61.4% of people can get up off their ass and bother to vote.

Electoral reform is needed, either an MMP system as New Zealand uses or an Alternative Vote system like Instant Run Off need to be explored because it is absolute insanity that 24.3% of the public can create a government that has carte blanche for 5 years.

Of course mandatory voting might be an idea as well but heaven forbid we tread on our citizens' inalienable right to be too lazy to help determine the political course of their country.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

I, almost, feel sorry for them

The Vancouver Canucks that is.

I say almost because the truth is I loathe the Canucks, I never liked them but after John McCaw swooped down and fleeced local boy Artie Griffiths and the team became a group of carpet baggers I lost any affection at all. The sale to the son of a slum lord, local though he is, did nothing to bring me back and the Canucks fans are the icing on the cake.

I can't imagine having the sense of entitlement Canucks fans have when your team has been in the league for 40 years and never won anything, but that's not really the issue.For me tonight my empathy is with the players and coaches .

These are guys who for whatever reason now find themselves in a "must win" situation about three weeks earlier than might have been expected, and should they lose they will be forever tarnished. Yes, the team won the regular season crown, the President's Trophy, but ask the average man on the street who won the President's Trophy last year and I bet less than a third will know. Team success in the NHL is measured by one thing alone, winning the Stanley Cup, apologists will drone on about Conference finals and consecutive playoff appearances and blah, blah, blah but it's all a sham.

Win the Cup or you have failed as a team, a year's efforts are wiped away and you have to rev up the engine again in October to try again.

The Canucks have had a marvelous season but lose tonight and they are forever footnotes. There is always the possibility that the team will rise to the task tonight and this first round struggle will be what galvanizes them on their run to a Championship .

Don't worry though, if they do lose it will be someone else's fault.

Monday, April 04, 2011

MouseVille Chronicles, a South African Classic on sale and my new Hero

So we're back from "not so sunny" Southern California after a spring break vacation, wife, daughter, daughter's BFF and myself. All in all it was a great trip, weather notwithstanding, Disneyland, San Diego Zoo, Santa Monica beach and pier all included plus an unscheduled stop in East LA just for excitement .

Among the high points were seeing a two and a half day old giraffe at the Zoo, bonding with Otis the Hippo, BFFs' maniacal laughter when frightened by rides,takeout from the legendary SoCal institution In'n Out Burger (double/double animal style), daughter getting one on one time with Pluto and getting my picture taken with Sully. The girls are the perfect age to enjoy the Mouseville experience, old enough to be comfortable with doing "little kid" things but not so old as to be jaded.

The low points were rare but breakfast at Denny's and the fact that it took us longer to get from LAX to our hotel than it did to fly from Seattle to LAX are certainly under consideration. This was our second trip to Disney with daughter and I doubt it will be our last.

On the wine end the economic slowdown in California is certainly a boon to the consumer, supermarkets routinely have solid everyday drinking wines on for $5-$7 a bottle and a dozen Sierra Nevada Pale Ale could be had for $11.99 .

Back here in the land of monopoly there is a nice deal on at the BCLDB this month with venerable South African claret KWV Roodeberg, CSPC#7817 on sale for $11.99 a bottle. Roodeberg was, for many years, the flagship red wine of the Paarl empire and it is still a great example of South African red wine, a warm climate red made with Cabernet and Pinotage that has lots of berry and spice in the nose, a touch of mineral and chocolate in the mouth and is damn good value at $11.99, even at $13.99 its' regular price.

As for my new hero, in a recent new York Times article Chicago's uber chef Charlie Trotter make this observation:

“You know the old adage that the customer’s always right?” he said. “Well, I kind of think that the opposite is true. The customer is rarely right. And that is why you must seize the control of the circumstance and dominate every last detail: to guarantee that they’re going to have a far better time than they ever would have had if they tried to control it themselves.”

Words to live by mes amis, words to live by.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Off to MouseVille

Spring break is upon us and it's time to hit the road. The long gray winter of our discontent will soon be shrugged off as we head to "The happiest place on Earth", that's right folks we're off to Disneyland .

This is our second sojourn to MouseVille and promises to be just as good, or better, than round one in the fall of 2007. This trip will not be confined to Anaheim however as we will venture further south to San Diego for a trip to what many believe is the best zoo in North America and, time and weather permitting, may very well include a day at one of SoCal's legendary beaches, most likely Huntington.

Daughter has already called out "It's a Small World" followed by "Pirates of the Caribbean" for the first two stops in MouseVille and she has acknowledged that she owes me a flight on "Soaring over California" .

Those things plus a pilgrimage to "In 'n Out Burger" for a Double/Double animal style and a Neapolitan shake are all that's on this trip's bucket list for me but I'll keep you posted.

Monday, March 07, 2011

Funky Monkeys Season ends

Yesterday was the final game of the 2010-11 U12 girls soccer season for our beloved Funky Monkeys . It was a season that had more moral victories than the other silly kind but it ended on a high note as the girls played a very solid game and emerged as well deserved 2-0 winners.

Our game was originally scheduled for 12:45 but with last week's snow wiping out a round of "Cup Games" we got shuffled down to 8:15 am on the turf at Van Tech. Strangely daughter prefers the early morning games and if I didn't work nights I probably would as well. Anyway it was a beautiful morning and a close fought match, the opposition Dunbar 99 Dynomites had most of the territorial play in the first half but some good work by our keeper kept the sheet blank .

For a while it looked like the result would be 0-0 but around the middle of the second half daughter struck the opening goal off a well placed corner, hard to really call it a set piece but the ball did go high into the middle of the box and daughter did settle it nicely before striking a nice shot high to the near post to make it 1-0 Monkeys.

The goal seemed to take a bit of the edge off the Dunbar attack with most of the play taking place near the mid field mark, then amazingly with less than five minutes to go the FM's scored a second goal, and it was a real goal . By that I mean that the girls moved the ball quickly up field from middle over to the right side where daughter, again the catalyst, calming beat one defender and having drawn a second defender to her slotted a perfect pass to left middle for Victoria to calmly run in on alone, and onside, before knocking one home from just around the 10 meter mark . While I horrified the players on the bench with a post goal "Shakira shake" I noticed daughter shaking her head . When the game ended I asked why and she said "I blew it, if Vic hadn't scored I'd have had the first goal of the year and the last " - and they wonder about those arcane sports records.

The day continued to a perfect conclusion as we joined up with "across the street" neighbours to dine at former downstairs neighbours for a "family dinner" ending with ice cream cake for daughter's recently passed 12th birthday (Sponge and Patrick Star on the cake) .

The game also, in all likelihood, marked the end of my coaching career as I've decided that it's time for someone else to step up . I love the games and don't mind the practices but the six month time commitment, and sleep deprivation on many Sundays, is just more than I'm willing to go through for another year.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Daughter gets "Down with Webster" and Snow - again ?

Last night marked, soon to be twelve, daughter's first concert experience and the world as we know it has changed.

Daughter and two friends, along with a parental couple (God Bless their Souls) attended an All Ages show at the Vogue Theatre headlined by Toronto based "rap rockers" Down with Webster and although the opening acts were apparently totally lame the headline act was totally awesome plus like it was just so great and LOUD, and great .

My first concert experience was at the advanced age of 13 and was Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention who may just have ended up slightly more important than DWW but who knows . All I know about DWW is that they did a cover of Hall and Oates "Rich Girl" and that there seem to be a lot of them in the videos I've seen. I'm not sure if daughter's obsession with pop music is normal or healthy but it is what it is so there's no point in fighting it.

On another note it snowed a couple of inches yesterday to,hopefully, put the punctuation mark on one of the strangest winters I can ever recall here on the Coast. Snow in November, nothing in December/January and then more snow on the last weekend of February .

Truly bizarre.

I blame Gary Bettman.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

A trip not to remember, return of the Leafs and a wine note

Not sure why but I've been in a bit of a funk these days, maybe it's the freakin' Arctic weather, maybe it's going back to the Tundra for my Mom's 90th birthday, maybe it's the depression attached to seeing your Mom at 90, who knows.

Regardless I didn't want to let the whole month slide by without a post so here goes.

As I alluded in the opening I spent six days in semi-Northern Ontario this month and Christ was it cold. I grew up there but 30 years on the West coast have completely stripped me of any natural resistance to the degree of cold I was facing -25C was an average day and while it is, as they say, "a dry cold" really at -25C it doesn't matter it's just too damned cold. Besides the cold there was the lack of definition to the landscape, miles and miles of lightly rolling hills all the same colour with varying degree of tree cover, toss in a quick glimpse at mortality and all in all it's a trip I'd rather forget.

Upon return to Vancouver I was initially greeted with our regular weather but now it appears the arctic blasts are following me as it is minus something everyday and they are calling for snow today . I'm hobbling around with a badly shattered toe on my right foot, business is slow at the restaurant and it's still winter , bah humbug.

At least I have the return of the Maple Leafs playoff drive this year, something lacking the past couple of seasons. I don't really think they have the horses to make the post season but at least things seem to be heading in the right direction. On any given night the Leafs, the league's youngest, or 2nd youngest, team, provide speed effort and excitement, three things the teams of the past decade rarely offered.

I'm a big fan of Brian Burke and the way he builds teams, he may have made a mistake or two but he's got a young core and has added a good deal of organizational depth.

Yes he's got a contract or two that he probably regrets, Mike Komisarek springs to mind.

Yes the team doesn't have a legitimate #1 center but neither to half the teams in the league.

Yes it seems odd that he traded away two offensively skilled defensemen and now is looking for one but the assets have dramatically improved and the team is playing well. I even thought I saw Ron Wilson smile last week but it may just have been a trick of the lighting.

Hope always springs eternal but this time it appears there is some rational basis for the spring .

Upcoming in March is daughter's 12th birthday and a spring break return to the Magic Kingdom. When queried as to what she wanted for her birthday dinner daughter pondered aloud "It's tough to choose between ribs and mac n' cheese." When I responded "How about both " it may very well have been the first time I have ever seen her speechless.

Nothing much on the beverage front, although we have a new House Wine, nice little Spanish red from Bodegas Castano, La Casona which retails for $9.00 and is widely available. It's House wine folks so don't expect miracles but for $9.00 it provides consistently pleasant red wine for everyday consumption.

The wine is made from "Monastrell" grapes, or "Mourvedre" as they are known in France and California, which produce quite tannic, spicy reds. This wine goes through Carbonic maceration and thus much of the tannins are removed leaving more fruit and spice with enough acidity to carry food.

Bodegas Castano are one of the larger producers of Monastrell wines and offer solid choices in a variety of price ranges, I have no trepidation in recommending any of their wines .

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Graham Beck Cabernet Sauvignon "The Gamekeeper's Reserve"

As many of you know I like to save a dollar when I can, perhaps it's my Scots heritage. I don't think of myself as cheap but rather value driven, to paraphrase a car ad "Cutting your own hair is cheap" whereas buying quality products when on sale is value driven.

Recently while strolling the aisles of the Mothership at 39th and Cambie I came across a discount on a South African Cabernet that I had been meaning to try Graham Beck Cabernet Sauvignon "The Gamekeeper's Reserve" . The discount was not large, two dollars, but on this occasion it was enough to sway my purchase and I'm glad it did. The wine is delicious and at $17.99, on sale, an excellent wine for a weekend dinner.

Graham Beck was a larger than life South African icon who passed away this past summer at the age of 80, he became massively rich in coal mining then quit the mining game to raise horses and make wine . He was as driven and committed in these pastimes as he had been in becoming a billionaire in mining and the wines of Graham Beck Estates are consistently high quality. Graham Beck Sparkling Brut gained huge press when President elect Obama chose it to celebrate with on election night but the winery has been no secret to wine lovers for years.

The Cabernet Sauvignon "The Gamekeeper's Reserve" is a classic Cabernet, muscular but with a lovely seam of rich fruit and the tannins are well in check so the wine can easily be enjoyed now, or cellared for a year or two. The nose is full of blackberry, cedar and leather and on the palate it shows dark fruit and peppery spice with a long finish and subtle tannins. The acidity level is slightly muted, in a new world style, but still is present enough to make the wine a very good match to red meats and the ragouts of winter .

"The Gamekeeper's Reserve" is on sale this month at the BCLDB, with reasonable distribution, for $17.99, I recommend picking up a bottle or two to toss in the rack for Sunday night dinner . On a side note part proceeds of this wine, and many of Beck's wines, go to fund a wildlife preserve in South Africa that provides habitats for endangered, and threatned, species so your not just drinking good but doing good as well .

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Nice Portuguese Red

I was trolling the aisles at the Mothership last week and I came upon a Portuguese red, on sale, that I had never tried .

Bought a bottle, brought it home and had it with dinner . Dinner was Pork Back Ribs with a mildly spicy/sweet sauce and the wine was a lovely match so I went back and got another bottle because often a discounted price and an older vintage can indicate bottle fluctuation but bottle #2 was delicious as well, this time with home made pizza.

The wine is Vinha Do Algueve 2006, it generally sells for $12.99 but is on sale for $10.99 this month. There is reasonable distribution in Vancouver, with 10 stores stocking it but not much in any store. The wine is made from a blending of traditional Portuguese grapes as well as Cabernet Sauvignon, the wine is fermented in stainless steel and then receives six months barrel aging in French oak. The wine is medium to full bodied with nice red berry flavours and a pleasant balance of oak, fruit and acid . Interestingly enough despite almost four years of bottle age the wine is fresh and vibrant, not something you often see at the sub $20 price point, and probably why I haven't tried it before.

While not a "must have" I would certainly recommend grabbing a bottle or two of this wine for partnering with the hearty winter meals that we should be eating at this time of year, it's good value at $12.99 and very, very good value at the reduced price.