Monday, August 31, 2009
Thursday, August 27, 2009
Here's my "healthy" meal: pan-fried pork chops, homemade french fries with pan gravy, turnip greens and tomatoes = FAIL.
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
Seriously, I hold the trophies in pretty high regard. In the end, it's all about fun, and my dubious distinctions are there to remind me that it's always a good idea to laugh at myself once in a while (or often, I guess).
Tuesday, August 25, 2009
I'm writing in Apple TextEdit right now. Cable's down. TV's down. Internet is down. My Blackberry is a sole lifeline to the interweb. I feel naked. Confused. It's tough to believe I didn't even have a cell phone 10 years ago.
At least there are some entertaining emails coming through on the work address. One lists a great collection of universal truths:
#5 That's enough, Nickelback.
#16 The only time I look forward to a red light is when I'm trying to finish a text.
#18 Was learning cursive really necessary?
#20 I have a hard time deciphering the fine line between boredom and hunger.
#23 Whenever someone says, "I'm not book smart, but I'm street smart," all I hear is "I'm not real smart, but I'm imaginary smart."
Ah, #23, hitting so close to home. As I sit, now one day removed from FINALLY taking my Certified Specialist of Wine exam, I happily free my still-crammed brain of fifth-growth chateaux and ponder if ol' #23 really carries water- or wine- in the case which I'm thinking. Yes, I'm still thinking about wine. Get off my back.
Seems to me most of the "vinophiles" or "oenophiles" I meet spent most of their formative years tasting wine, drinking wine, visiting vineyards, and building cellars. Through practical application and experience, they became "street smart" in the cabernet-soaked back alleys, winding avenues, and endless intersections of wine appreciation. They've sharpened their keen, primal senses; instinct the only weapon in surviving a blind tasting or navigating a 4000 selection restaurant list. Ask a street-wino to name the primary nutrients a vine needs to survive or to discuss the 13 allowable grapes in a Chateauneuf-du-Pape, and he's stuck...fight or flight. Then, out of nowhere, he's barking out aroma profiles of vegetation you've never heard of, describing "front ends" and "mid palates" and "long finishes" while you're still looking at your glass, trying helplessly to determine if the legs are big or small. You, my friend, have been schooled by the skreets.
It's an all-too-familiar scenario for me. I came up the other way. My love of wine begins dubiously with a fancy for Carlo Rossi cannonballs back in college. Even then, I knew I liked wine, but I couldn't fathom how someone would want to study it. As I aged (poorly...thanks, cannonballs), I developed a greater appreciation for fine food, and wine followed in tow. I began reading cookbooks, wine books, visiting wine shops and reading the labels. Needless to say, it was overwhelming. However, the desire to experience great culinary and oenological culture led my wife and I to San Francisco and Napa Valley for our honeymoon, and- as they say- the hook was set. I read all I could read about wine. I visited blogs. I looked up videos about wine on Youtube. Even pursued and (hopefully) acquired a CSW certification. However, being part of a relatively-young married couple with a taste for the finer things, finding the money to try all the great bottles in my studies was (and still is) not an easy task. Information- conversely- is often free. I had become "book smart"; a fancy-lad of wine knowledge who couldn't last two seconds on the mean streets of blind tasting.
But not all is lost. A bottle of wine can really be looked at two ways: a source of intellectual stimulus or a means of sensual pleasure. Both- in my opinion- lead to discussion. Discussion leads to a sharing of ideas. Sharing of ideas leads to heightened awareness. Bring a "book smart" wino together with a "street smart" wino, throw in a couple glasses and some vino, and I guarantee both part ways smarter. And while I may whine about the grass being greener in the expert-taster's world, I bet there's another blog out there where a pro-drinker wishes he knew more about the stuff in his glass that smells like mulberries. Maybe I can help that person, as long as he'll tell me what the hell a mulberry smells like.
So, I think I've answered my question. Wine appreciation is about serving two masters, one no more important than the other. And while I need to make a better effort honing my "street smart" sensual skills, I hope I can impart some "book" knowledge in a common setting. Ultimately, it all comes back to a reoccuring theme in much of my writing: Wine is about the experience. Wine brings people together. Wine is- when you boil it down- all about enjoyment. Whether one arrives at that by taking tasting notes or by analyzing the labels on the bottle (or both), hopefully it all ends in laughter, conviviality, sharing of ideas, downright revelry, and maybe even some music.
As long as it's not Nickelback.
Thursday, August 20, 2009
Wednesday, August 19, 2009
Continuing the Buford Highway oddysey, my buddy Brad headed down to El Rey del Taco, a taqueria of some local acclaim.
Monday, August 17, 2009
My wife and I have decided that we're going to run the annual Atlanta Half-Marathon on Thanksgiving Day; a 13+ mile endeavor that- I must admit- I'm fearing with the same terror that Jimmy Buffett must experience when asked to explain how to write good music.
And why would I possibly agree to do this? A couple months ago, I sweated, trodded, grunted, and shuffled my way through my 4th Peachtree Road Race, and annual gathering of 50,000 folks in the streets of Atlanta- coming together with the stupid idea that running a 10K in the July heat is a good idea...
...alas, there's a void in the "ill-conceived Atlanta street gathering that causes many traffic woes" game that forces the Peachtree Road Race to persist. RIP, Freaknik; we hardly knew ye.
Quite frankly, I've agreed on the half because I need the exercise. I need to get on a program and shed a few pounds. While I'd rather settle- once and for all- whether Funyuns or Sour Cream & Onion Pringles are the true king of onion-centric snacky treats, I'm not getting any younger, and preventative measures now could ensure me several more years on Earth, full of tortuous workouts and Healthy Choice-brand food-like substitutes. If a product has to tell me that it "tastes good", that as sure sign that it sucks...ever seen a package of bacon say that it "tastes good"? Not needed. Your reputation proceeds you, bacon.
I'll stick around long enough to subject myself to grueling tests of endurance, only to be rewarded at completion with rice cakes and club soda labeled as "beer". Seriously, the end of the Peachtree is always soaked with bottled water and Michelob Ultra. After all our hard work to cheat death, our society tells us to "celebrate" with dumbed-down versions of our vices. It's as if they're saying, "okay, now that you're a 'runner', it's time to deny yourself the pleasures of the world. Healthy living can only be achieved through sacrifice, deprivation, and struggle."
But is my mentality way off? Am I in need of a paradigm shift? It's the classic "binge & purge" mentality of our culture. Society tells us not to, so we overcorrect in rebellion, overdo it, and then our guilt causes us to again overcorrect- and this vicious cycle causes all sorts of stress. It's exactly everything that's spit-in-the-eye by the Bordeaux Marathon. No wonder France is kicking our butt in life-expectancy.
Sunday, August 16, 2009
Usually, I need music to stave off any attention-deficit tendencies during monotonous activities: exercising, running painful reports and analyses at work, or studying. And while there's been much talk about the effect of music on brain development and health, I wanted to find songs that would zone me out, while not interrupting my reading and retention of information.
Wednesday, August 12, 2009
I'm really excited to be part of Wine Blogging Wednesday. I need to give credit where it's due: to Lenn Thompson of Lenn Devours for creating WBW, and to @Sonadora of the Wanna Wino Wine Blog for posting this one so I could weasel my way into participating.
This month's theme is "I Have Zinned"...the title is apropos, as Widespread Panic's "Me and the Devil Blues" pulses through my headphones (hopefully rocking me out of a serious funk of writer's block). And while drinking Zinfandel may not result in an audience with Ol' Scratch, it is kind of the "bad boy" of red wines: powerful, spicy, alcoholic, and all-American...a perfect compliment to folksy rock n' roll. But something is missing-
Bluesy Jams + Jammy Booze + BBQ Ribs with a Zinfandel Glaze- okay, now we've got something worth writing about.
Since my Bentley's in the shop and both my yachts are costing me an arm-and-a-leg in dry-dock, I opted for a Zin with a price point of $10.99. Plus, I wanted to give something a try from the Sierra Foothills AVA, so this Cartlidge & Browne 2006 Amador County Zinfandel fit the bill. I've had a lot of great Zin in the $20-30 range, so it's nice when I find a gem in the $10-12 "broke wino" range (yes, it's true...the Bentley/yacht talk was a farce).
No earth-shaking find here, but not bad. On the nose, I got berries: blueberries, strawberries, blackberries. Also, some violets, spice, and pepper. Nothing interesting; it was a pretty typical, rather subtle Zinfandel nose. In the mouth, I got some decent fruit, average acidity, and some smooth tannins. It was pretty easy drinking and not incredibly structured, with a rather short finish. In the end, I found it to be a servicable Zin. Not terrible, not great- really what I would expect for the price point. If you're knocking back a bottle on a Tuesday night, you could do a lot worse, and you certainly wouldn't feel like your $11 bucks went to waste. However, for $3-5 bucks more, I think you get a lot more value out of a Ravenswood Sonoma County Zin or a Cline Ancient Vines Zin (both which can be found anywhere). Depends on your "Bentley" situation, I suppose. Also, always keep in mind that these are my taste buds talking, not yours.
Suffice it to say, I'm a sucker for good BBQ. If my [ample] belly could talk, it would say "gimme some BBQ, sucka!" Yes, my belly would talk in a Mr. T voice. "T" and I especially like good BBQ with Zinfandel; the big berry fruit works great with a sweet sauce and the smoky flavor, and the acidity and tannin help balance the richness of pork ribs, which are high in tasty fats. However, unable to decide on pork ribs or beef ribs, I went for both. I used the "Lone Star Steak Rub" from Steven Raichlen's Barbecue Bible: Sauces, Rubs and Marinades. I kept the rub as-is for the beef ribs, and then added a cup of light brown sugar for the pork. I cooked them over indirect heat on my Weber kettle with some hickory smoke for 3 hours at 275 degrees. This produced ribs with tender meat, but just a little pull off the bone, which I like. Before I served, I got another hot fire going, then basted the ribs several times with a Zinfandel-BBQ glaze, which turned out great:
Zinfandel BBQ Glaze
1 Cup Red Zinfandel
1 Cup Apple Juice
2/3 Cup Brown Sugar
2/3 Cup Soy Sauce
2/3 Cup Ketchup
2 Tablespoons Deli Mustard
2 Tablespoons Lemon Juice
1 Tablespoon Worcestershire Sauce
1 Tablespoon of the Rub used on the ribs
1 Teaspoon Garlic Powder
1 Teaspoon Black Pepper
Add all contents to a saucepan and simmer until reduced by half
Oh, and the other thing on the plate is Sweet Potato Hashbrowns...in theory, a good idea, but they just didn't pan out the way I had hoped. Let me get back to the lab on that one.
The wine was not bad. The ribs were pretty solid (not tooting my horn here; just that good ribs are a hell of a lot easier to make than good wine). Together, I actually had wished the Zin hadn't been so easy-drinking. I wanted more fruit to stand up to the spicy rub on the ribs (and I usually NEVER want a fruit bomb with food). Also, there wasn't quite enough acid in the wine to balance the nourishing fats. Lastly, the alcohol (at 15%+) was just a little too hot for the pepper in the rub; it really amplified the "heat" factor...not that I mind, but it took away from the smoky goodness. In the end, I'll say this: make the ribs (comment below with any questions); they were solid. The wine didn't work great with them, but give them a try together- what I taste is not necessarily gonna be what you taste. And listen to some blues when you're making BBQ. It just works. Most importantly, though, eat the food and drink the wine with people who you love. If no one's available, maybe you can have a conversation with your belly.
Until then, Cheers, Sláinte, Salud, Prost, Skål, Konbe, and Kampai!
Sunday, August 9, 2009
Wednesday, August 5, 2009
The lovely amber color of this beer draws you in first...like a deep tan on a beautiful swimsuit model; way out of the league of a pale, balding Irishman. On the nose, the fistfuls of flowery and herbal hops mingle perfectly with malty, sweet, honey and caramel aromas, with just a whiff of alcohol. In the mouth, the nose manifests itself into brown sugar, toffee, malt, honey, and chocolate. The chocolate is really evident at the finish...it tastes like taking a cup of hot cocoa, pouring some honey and vodka in it, and chilling it down. Really, I mean this in the best way possible (though it does harken back to some birthday shots in college). The whole time in the mouth, these flavors are packaged in a very pleasant bitterness...the 142 IBUs stand up to the significant sweetness and alcohol, but do not overpower. If you've ever had mead or Dogfish Head Midas Touch, this has got some similar nuances, but it's way more hoppy.
Sunday, August 2, 2009
When in the vicinity of a major metropolis, there's usually a lot of great food options. Yeah, fine dining's great, and it's really cool that Atlanta's starting to make some noise as a major food city (3 of the contestants for the upcoming "Top Chef" are from here). But way overshadowed by all this pomp and $40 beef cheeks is the incredible assortment of ethnic foods one can find if just a bit adventurous.
Atlanta has huge populations of Mexicans, Southeast Asians (especially Vietnamese and Cambodian), Koreans, and Chinese. In my opinion, nowhere is this mix more prevalent than on Buford Highway, running on a northeast-southwest axis in the northeast quadrant of the metro area. Fortunately, the heart of the "ethnic strip" is not far from my office, and I'm currently making it a point to each cheap (and eat well)- avoiding the plethora of fast-food chains and seeking out the good stuff in the strip malls and cook shacks of this unassuming stretch of U.S. 23.
Unfortunately, I haven't documented my first two trips, but I will tell you where I went. First stop was El Taco Veloz, serving up tender barbacoa and tacos de lengua (yeah, that's beef tongue, and you REALLY need to give it a try)...for next to nothing.
My second stop was a very modest place called Food & Dim Sum Heaven (I couldn't find a website...this place really was a hole-in-the-wall), serving up Chinese tea-house-style dumplings of all assortments, fried treats, and lots of nether-bits of pork cooked up in copious amounts of garlic, scallions, and ginger. Despite a sizable language barrier, our server Lisa was very friendly and eager to serve us their best. I can't say that same amount of pride is projected when I go to the nearby Panda Express. And best of all, my buddy Brad and I left the place stuffed for $17 total (including his beer...don't worry, it was after 9 AM).
There's a lot more Buford Hwy. to go...Vietnamese, Korean BBQ, more taquerias, and perhaps food from countries non-existent to the average "Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader" contestant. I hope something I write inspires you to go out and try something adventurous. Remember: if it looks sketchy, it's probably good. And if anyone has a great experience (or a bad one), tell me all about it! Or, if you have a place I should try (whether you've eaten there or not), let me know, and I'll try to break it down for you.
In the meantime, I'll just dream of tacos...
A common site when driving down Buford Highway: Taquerias. Taquerias aplenty.