Thursday, June 25, 2009

A slightly more original tribute to the King of Pop

Hearing the news today, there's no question the blogosphere is mourning the death of a true music icon. Love him or hate him for his controversial life, there's absolutely no question- from a pure musical perspective- that Michael Jackson was one of the most profound influence on popular music as we know it.

I'm sure that there are music videos posted everywhere, and I bet you thought I would do the same. Well, I felt I needed to offer tribute, but forget the videos; you can see them somewhere else. The real question is: how many of you remember MJ's forgettable Sega Genesis game, "Moonwalker"???



Rest in Peace, Thriller. Whether your end led you to salvation or damnation, you truly were one of a kind, and I- for one- am glad you mostly stuck to music over palpably-creepy video games.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Follow Your Nose

I don't really know why I chose a previous post to wail and gnash my teeth about a procedure I had where the inside of my nose was rooted out like that slow drain at your favorite seaside motor inn on the fabulous boardwalk of Myrtle Beach. Could it have been a clever scheme to trick you into visiting another page on my site? Perhaps. I'm that shameless. Irregardless, this subject (the nose) is one of profound importance, especially if your pursuits include an appreciation for wine.

Surely we've all had the thought: what's with all the pretension associated with tasting wine? If it's indeed the "tasting" we're after, practical thought would dictate that simply slugging down that glass of Cabernet, swallowing, and determining whether it tastes good or not should suffice. And yet, there's always seems to be this goofy tool- found anywhere a cork is popped or a delicious Boone's Farm Strawberry Hill is gently quaffed from a paper bag on Bourbon Street:


Your author. Goofy tool emeritus.

The holding of the glass up against the light. The swirling. The description of "legs" and "viscosity" and "hue". And the sniffing. Oh, the sniffing. It seems to go on for hours. When is this jerk going to drink the stuff? Certainly he didn't get that impressive double-chin by smelling his way to a life of "relaxed fit" jeans.

For those who feel this way about the consumption of wine, I can understand why many of you don't really care for the stuff. Why pay $20, $30, $50 clams for something that can often taste bitter, acidic, earthy, tannic (the "fuzzy" feeling that sometimes occurs when drinking a particularly heavy red wine), and that has nary a hint of the sweet, fruit-filled flavors you've known when eating a grape? Indeed most wines- especially fine wines- bear little-to-no resemblance to fruit punch. Perhaps that's why Arbor Mist is so popular. I mean, what better way to wash down the bitter taste of crystal meth? Fruity, boozy Arbor Mist: preferred 2 to 1 by meth-heads everywhere.

-With all due respect to pseudo-celebrity Beetlejuice (right), I can't say for sure that he's a meth guy. Probably Arbor Mist, though-

But I digress. The point I'm trying to make is that if you do have ANY interest in learning more about vino, then it's the aromas- far more so than the taste- that I passionately feel will get you hooked. Think about it- the sense of taste can only detect 5 things: salinity (if you get a salty wine, something has gone HORRIBLY wrong), sweetness, bitterness, acidity, and umami- a relatively new flavor profile that can best be described as "savory" or "meaty".

Mmmmm...meaty.

If you rely on these 5 only, you're going to be left very disappointed. However, the olfactory system is able to detect thousands of scents and compounds. In fact, if you ever really "taste" something other than those 5 mentioned, then it's the work of the nose in conjunction with your chewing (or swishing). If you don't believe me, try the old trick where you take a piece of apple and a piece of raw potato, pinch your nose with a closepin, and eat them. I'm telling you: harder to tell apart than a Michael Bay summertime box office crapfest from a Jerry Bruckheimer summertime box office pile of hot garbage.

So, the next time you pour yourself a glass of juice, take a minute to stick your nose in it. Swirl it if you want; this gets some oxygen into the wine, making the volatile aromas airborne, heightening the experience. Yeah, you've heard the pretentious, goofy tools throw out "fuji apple, lychee nut, white peach, honeysuckle, violets, orange blossoms, blah, blah, blah." Now, in their defense, those who really train their nose can pick these subtleties out, and know that a fuji apple smells different than a granny smith.

But if you're starting out, don't get hung up on all this. I often argue that some experts have heard these "key descriptors" so many times that they've tricked themselves into pulling them out of a wine. Believe me- I've done it myself. The most important thing is to trust your nose. If you smell strawberries, then that's what the wine smells like. If you smell poop (which happens!), then that's what the wine smells like. Don't let someone tell you what you need to be smelling. Your nose is your nose. The "expert" might suggest some scents to look for, and that can help you pick them out. The olfactory memory is pretty amazing; you'll be surprised what you can detect with a little sleuthing. And if you want to get to the point where you can detect "white peach" from "plum" or "horse poo" from "sheep poo", then you can certainly train yourself. Don't think you have to be born with a great sense of smell! Here are some great resources if you want to get serious (you're on your own with the horse/sheep poo thing):

1. Gary Vaynerchuk: The undisputed king of Web 2.0 runs a great website, winelibrary.tv, with far more than a cult-following. He did a great video on tons of flavors you can use to train the palette. Sure, he's eating instead of smelling, but it gives you a great idea of the flavors that can be found in wine: Episode #148: How to get your palette trained

2. If you've got a bunch of dough to throw around, Le Nez Du Vin makes some great kits that have the concentrated aromas of wine in little bottles: http://www.winearomas.com/

3. The best way: go to the grocery store. Go to the local nursery (plants, not babies). Stick your nose in the fruit. Stick your nose in the vegetables. Stick your nose in the flowers. Yeah, you may look like a freak, but let's be honest: you look like a freak anyway.

Remember: start with your nose, and you're well on your way to a truly greater appreciation of wine. And if you can't smell, I know a good doc who can root you out.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Case of the Mondays.

Mercy.

I can understand why the "professional blogger" often opts to write several posts at once, scheduling them to appear throughout the week. Unfortunately, I haven't yet paid my dues in this field to warrant a reasonable income, so I do this in my free time. Today, the 9-to-5 took its pound of flesh (honestly, is there such a thing as "9 to 5" anymore? I rue the day, Blackberry. Rue the day).

As it so happens, the J-O-B put me through the wringer, worked me over, stuck a fork in me, hung me out to dry, and other various and sundry slogans describing a taxing day in the wholesale mines.

Needless to say, my muse hasn't been summoned tonight. I've been staring blankly at this screen for 3 hours, trying to write reviews for some wines I drank, using notes that were written 2 bottles in and then- not surprisingly- spilled upon. Once I realized the notes were total b.s., I felt it just wouldn't be an honest assessment; unfair to both the audience and the winemaker. Call it a wine-tasting epiphany (or wine-tasting rock bottom). Whatever the case, I realized that if my evaluations are to have any value, the notes have to be consistent and accurate. Like any good writing, research and effort is required. I'll make sure to do that for you. Sorry to let you down, reader, writer, winemaker, and grape.

Or, maybe I just have a case of the Mondays.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Shellfish Bastard



A trip to Your Dekalb Farmers' Market for some pepper go awry (as usual). If the image above doesn't look like a downright hootenanny, then- in the immortal words of Ivan Drago- I must break you. Ah, Dolph, we hardly knew ye. With all due respect to I Come in Peace, Red Scorpion, and Masters of the Universe, Lundgren really showed his range in Rocky IV. Cut from the cloth of the true thespian, he was.

[painfully obvious lack of transition]

Van Burin (fellow food-lover and not-fellow Cleveland-sports apologist) and I were playing God. How did we arrive at this divine authority to decide which crawfish were coming home with us, while others were spared? As our tongs- as if the hayforks of damnation themselves- guided the fate of our unsuspecting quarry, I pondered, "will the Rapture be this way? Will mankind be reduced to a proverbial sorting table of clammering crustaceans, only to be pluck'd at will by the Angel of Dea-"

"Dude," exclaimed Van Burin, "they've got fresh blue crabs."

Indeed, this wasn't going to be your daddy's Low Country Boil...


Woodstock Critter Boil

1 bottle white wine (something you'd drink by itself)
1 C Emeril's Original Essence (or make your own here)
1 C Tony Chachere's Creole Seasoning
1 C Old Bay Seasoning
1 C Sea Salt
1/4 C Liquid Crab Boil
4 Lemons, quartered
4 Yellow or White Onions, quartered
5 lbs. White Creamer and/or Red New Potatoes (the smaller, the better)
2 lbs. Andouille Sausage (cut into 1" pieces) - ATL-iens, find Patak sausages!
2 lbs. Polska Kielbasa Sausage (cut into 1" pieces), Patak if possible
6-8 Ears fresh Corn, shucked and broken in half
3 lbs. live Crawfish, purged thoroughly*
5 lbs. (about a dozen) large live Blue Crabs (male)
3 lbs. 16/20 Wild American Shrimp, head-off, shell-on
Old Bay, for seasoning
Butter (go for the real stuff)
Hot Sauce (I'm partial to Texas Pete)


Step 1: Get a big pot. Mine is 25 gallons, but a standard turkey-fryer size (7-10 gallons) would work, depending on the size of the crowd. Oh, and you can bathe in mine. We didn't. That's gross. Anyway, we filled it up to about 2/5-1/2 full. Get that water a'boilin' (putting the lid on the pot helps speed up the process).

Step 2: As the water gets hot, add the Emeril's, Tony Chachere's, Old Bay, and Sea Salt and stir until dissolved. Also add the lemons, onions, and dill. I ended up moving all the solid stuff to the outside of the basket, so it wouldn't mix with the seafood. Basically, we just making a hellbroth of flavor here. Since the food is extracted from the broth, I really don't think you can over-season. Let everything meld for about 10 minutes.


Step 3: Add your potatoes to the pot. I know lots of folks like to add potatoes to a cold pot and cook them as the water heats. As these are pretty small potatoes, I think they'd get too overcooked by the time everything's done.


Step 4: After the potatoes have been in for about 10 minutes, add the corn and sausage. Let cook for 5 minutes.


Step 5: Add your thoroughly-purged mudbugs (aka crawfish) to the pot. Make sure they're submerged so they can soak up the goodness.

Step 6: After another 5 minutes, add the blue crabs to the boil.

Step 7: 3 minutes after the crabs go in, kill the heat, dump in the shrimp, and put the lid on the pot. Let everything steam for 3 more minutes (5 if the shrimp were still frozen).


Step 8: Extract the goodness (use an oven mitt, dummy). Transfer to a table covered with newspaper or foil pans. Immediately cover with melted butter and dust with Old Bay Seasoning. Grow fat off your accomplishment.

I tried several wines (too many that day) to find a good pairing with the meal. If you brush your teeth after dinner, I'll tell you all about them in another post!

Everybody Get Your Roo On! **


**currently nominated for "Worst Blog Post Name of 2009" by the Society of Hip-Hop Lyrics used in Blog Post Titles® Check them out at http://www.shhlubpt.com/

Wow! I'm blushing.

So anyways, with the Scraped Knee Wheat safely created (review coming soon, once Booty is available to taste. Possible video of two people who belong in radio!), it was time to turn our attention to something a little different.

Pale Ale is perhaps the "spaghetti and meat sauce" or "Michael Bay screenplay" of homebrew...anyone can do it. More specifically, when ever anyone starts out or (in our case) creates a recipe completely from scratch for the first time, they often go to something relatively simple. Why Pale Ale? Well, it starts with simple ingredients (no crazy adjuncts or speciality grains), the yeast allows it to ferment at a forgivable temperature (68-75 Fahrenheit; or "room temperature"), and if the yeast get hold of something funky in the beer and metabolize it, the off-flavors are often welcome (fruity and even "banana-y" flavors, created when the yeast metabolize stuff other than pure malt sugars, creating esters with such aromas rather than just alcohol and carbon dioxide).

And with that, feeling somewhat inspired by a love of either Crocodile Dundee films or perhaps even Kangaroos (the pocket shoes), Booty and I decided to name our beer the Raging 'Roo. Quiz time! Why do you think we named so awesomely?

A. The aforementioned, unhealthy (but understandable) obsession with Mick "Crocodile" Dundee and his rugged good-looks






B. A love of the Super Bowl Shuffle and all things pocket-clad footwear






C. The use of an Australian Ale Yeast to ferment and give character to the brew






While I can't say which answer is really correct, for the purpose of education, let's say it's C.

Yeast is incredibly important to the character of anything fermented. Even the winos reading this know the importance of particular strains of yeast; winemakers around the world so often rely on inoculated yeasts to mimic the character of legendary wild yeasts of Burgundy, Bordeaux, Tuscany, and other heralded wine regions. Otherwise, the local wild yeasts would produce who-knows-what (this is why they say you can only get "San Francisco" sourdough in San Francisco, or why obnoxious buffoons from Philadelphia say cheesesteaks everywhere else stink..."it's the bread!" they squawk).


Frankly, we picked the yeast because if operates well at 76 degrees Fahrenheit, the temperature that my cheapskate-a$$ leaves our home in the summer. Other yeasts would get too vigorous at these temps and create more off-flavors.

So, it's bottled, and it's gotta sit there for a least a couple weeks. Come back and I'll fill you in on the brewing process, as well as a review (and I'll give you the recipe if it's not good enough to bury in a mason jar in my backyard).


Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Hope my Social Networking is better than my HTML

Was excited about the lineup of interesting, engaging stories and commentaries I was going to hammer through tonight and schedule them out for your consistent reading pleasure...

...really quick, though, I just wanted to get some HTML written to put some Twitter and Facebook links on the page in plain sight (to the right; aren't they pretty?). Yes, pretty-- pretty much a pain in the knickers. It took me 4 hours to get those stupid things up there. Yeah, my code-writing is wicked-damn rusty. It's certainly not my area of expertise. Biggest chore was figuring out where to upload the images. Poop! Yeah, I just said that.

I just hope my regular writing's better. Anyway, sorry to the 5 people who read regularly. I'll have all my stuff up by tomorrow night. In the meantime, I've been very active on Twitter. Check it out. That stupid thing is addictive.




Monday, June 15, 2009

Cut that umbilical cord!

This post is in response to this Wall Street Journal article posted by @kevinzraly on Twitter. Aren't on Twitter? Give in to the peer pressure and follow me here

Like an old, reliable baseball cap that you can always go to when your hair is just not styling the way you want (see right), all too often, I see white wine drinkers opt for the warm, familiar beanbag-chair-of-wines that is Chardonnay. One of the most widely planted varieties in the world (second only to Airén, a Spanish white grape), Chardonnay has also flourished in myriad climates, from the brutal heat and drought of Australia to the rather cool climate of Champagne, France. For its adaptability, there's no doubt why it became so popular in California; and it's Burgundian pedigree no doubt armed it with marketability-galore...like that kid back in high school who had little going for him but always got the Hypercolor t-shirts. Man, I wanted to hang out with that kid and his fancy-schmancy shirt.

Yeah, my mom made my clothes. I had homemade Jams. Wanna fight about it?! Just don't rip my clothes. It took mom a long time to make them.

The point I'm trying to make is that Chardonnay, of itself, is a pretty boring grape. It doesn't have a crazy flavor profile. Its acidity tanks in warm climates, creating what wine-nerds call a "flabby" wine, and what food nerds call a "terrible wine to go with food" (as acidity generally heightens the flavors of foods and cuts through richness. Ask an Italian. He'll break down the food/wine importance thing).

"But Joe," you say, "I'm not gonna take wine advice from a guy in homemade clothes. Anyway, I've had some AMAZING Chardonnays from Chablis, Mersault, and all them Montrachets in France." Indeed. This is true. Why? Because where Chardonnay really shines (aside from the fact that it will grow anywhere) is that is a blank canvas for a great winemaker to show his art (and enough with the clothes). Does the wine get aged in oak, creating vanilla and butterscotch flavors and aromas? Is it American oak or French oak? What forest did the French oak come from? Will the barrel be new or used? How much will the barrel be toasted? Will the winemaker encourage malolactic fermentation, which causes the tart, apply malic acid in the wine to change to silky, buttery lactic acid, creating a creamy mouthfeel? Will the winemaker employ batonnage, or stirring the lees to add more flavors?

Listen: you get the idea. And in the hands of a great winemaker, Chardonnay can be inspired and, uh, bitchin' (sorry, thought this post was getting too high-brow). But, as the WSJ article bolstered, too many wineries are taking bad grapes, manipulating them with so much oak to hide that bad flavor, and shipping them out to our unsuspecting gullets. And, all the while, tons of INCREDIBLE white wines are sitting on the shelf, like the totally hot nerdy girl in all those 80's movies who was one makeover away from Prom Queen, but the captain of the football team couldn't see it. You saw it, though. And you could've probably hooked that up, because she was a nerd, too. Bet she dug guys with unhealthy obsessions with viticulture and food science. ...and dinosaurs. Amazing dinosaurs.

When was the last time you had Sauvignon Blanc? Riesling? Pinot Gris? Gewurztraminer? Viognier? Torrontés? THESE ARE ALL WHITE GRAPES! There are a bunch more, too! Go try one. You might be surprised how good they are. And, if you're a creature of habit and unwilling to stray, at least give California a break and try something from Chablis, Mâcon-Villages (a great value), or splurge a little more and try something from Mersault for around $40.

Just get out there and try something new! You won't regret it. And even if you don't like it, what have you got to lose? Fifteen, twenty bucks? You could save some much more than that by having mom make your clothes.

Let me know about your adventures! Tell me what you tried and if you liked it!

Friday, June 12, 2009

Happy Friday!

Caught this crazy cat dancing to the "Dealertainers" at Imperial Palace in Las Vegas. How can this crazy-a$$ dancing not put you in a good mood?

Update on the latest batch of beer coming after this weekend. Also, a review of the "Scraped Knee" Wheat, since it's had some time to relax in the bottle.


video

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

...and we ended the night...

...after our trip in Luqillo with a bottle of this!

You can do way worse than a bottle of 2005 Duckhorn Cab. Really balanced. And sentimental!(first winery the wife and I visited on our honeymoon)

Best part: cost us $0. That's right. I robbed a wine store.

Okay, didn't rob a wine store. Got it as a leftover from an event. Gotta love the event planner wife!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Deep Fried Paradise (Puerto Rico 2)

...the epic continues, like a slacker-Bourdain with a disorganized writing schedule...

Waddling out of Lechonera Los Pinos, the prospect of more food seemed unappealing (if not downright gluttonous), so we cruised up the road to Old San Juan, feeling confident our pale Irish complexions, flip flops, and "I [heart] Puerto Rico" airbrushed t-shirts would help us blend in with the locals.



View Larger Map

And so, we did all the things any self-respecting local would do: visited one of the forts, played some roulette at one of the casinos, and bought some souvenirs. My giant foam Uncle Sam hat with the Puerto Rican flag on it really sealed the deal-


-okay, we didn't have all that stuff; I have much more class, and wouldn't be caught dead in a novelty hat

Man, I hate you, me.

So, nothing huge from a culinary perspective in Old San Juan. Pizza Huts, Burger Kings, and Subways were on every corner it seemed, sadly. However, did get a decent pint of microbrew at the Old Harbor Brewery...not too shabby, and it had a great smell, just like my house after brewing a batch of beer. If you're in Old San Juan, I'd say check it out if you can resist the craptacular allure of Burger King.

From there, we moved on to the kioscas of Luquillo. Pretty much, the greatest thing ever (I seem to be throwing that phrase around loosely, huh?). Near the beach and right off the highway, the kioscas are what they sound like: kiosks. Basically, 60-70 concrete huts lined up against each other, some serving traditional street foods; others are more like bars, and others are sit-down restaurants. I thought they looked a little rough at first, but that's always been my first sign that good nosh is afoot.


The unimpressive-looking kioscas of Luquillo. As often, the "divey" appearance housed great food.

We started our quest here at kiosca #3, La Parilla. Quickly, I realized that some of these places were pretty nice. La Parilla had a really nice atmosphere, a big crowd of sit down diners, a pretty impressive wine list, and a great view of the Caribbean Sea. Best of all, the menu included the holy grail of Puerto Rican cuisine: MOFONGO. To this day, my dreams about a Frenchman shouting the Grand Cru of Burgundy at me while he chases me through vineyards (damn memorization) are interrupted by dreamscapes of me swimming through a cavernous Fort Knox of mofongo, a la Scrooge McDuck's money bin in DuckTales (tight science to those who picked up on that reference).

One of the nicest places, La Parilla. "La Parilla" is spanish for "The Parilla".

So, let me break down mofongo, if I can do it without going out to find some immediately. Basically, it's a dish of plantains, which are starchy cousins of bananas, often served green and without the sweetness of bananas. You've walked by them a million times at the Piggly Wiggly, I promise. Anyway, the locals- again depending on our glorious piggy pal- deep fry chunks of the plantain in pork fat. After that, they mash the fried bits with more pork fat and bits of cracklins. Then, it's stuffed or covered with seafood and topped with a sofrito-based sauce (peppers, garlic, cilantro, sometimes tomato). Absolutely unbelievable. I mean, if mofongo were a 1st round draft pick in an NFL-style food draft, it would be Matt Ryan.

For reference, hard-boiled eggs would be the "Ryan Leaf" of said draft, just in case I show up at your house one day and you want to know what to feed me. Make mofongo, not hard boiled eggs.

There it is: Mofongo con mariscos (seafood). This picture is hanging on my bathroom mirror...

With our bellies yet-again full, I figured we might as well go for our own jugulars, and continue to eat. Most of the kiosks served various fried treats: fried seafood, bacalaoitos (tasty cod fritters), fried plantains, fried fried, extra fried, fries fried in fried fryness. Listen, everything was fried. Occasionally, you'd find a guy selling coconuts. They'd just cut off the top, and you drink away. Very refreshing!


Drinking from a "coco frio", or cold coconut. With style, I might add.


Heather, tucking into a bacalaoito. Basically, a funnel cake made out of fish. Really good, though.

From there, we somehow managed to lurch our way back to the hotel. The next day, we continued our fitness routine by sitting around at the pool all day. The weather was beautiful, the food continued to live up to its billing on No Reservations, and I was sad to eventually leave (as was my cardiologist; he's gonna make a killing off of me at this rate). But, this little gem in the Caribbean is only a few hours away, and I really can't wait to get back.

If you've never been, and you're looking for a real deal of a tropical location that doesn't require a passport, put Puerto Rico into the mix. The food, the scenery, and the great hospitality of the people won't disappoint. And, they're totally not uptight:


Just too weird to leave off. There were stores like this all over the place!