Friday, February 26, 2010

Shill in the Making?

Analytics suggest that my "unique pageviews" are down. My number of Twitter "followers" has flattened. Facebook "fan page" uh, "fans", are stagnant. shows that my site is not as popular as other regional wine blogs. Comment quantity on posts is not where it was last week. AdSense revenues are...well, were they ever good?

Big deal, right? We all got into wine blogging for fun. For the thrill of sharing our unique perspectives on a subject as infinitely subjective as wine, correct?

No! Well, yes, but I'm an insecure middle child constantly seeking attention and approval (see how I slyly shifted blame over to my parents and their family-building techniques? Slide me some skin, psychology). Basically, there's no good reason for me to stress about this stuff. I got into this for the love of writing, and the love of food and wine. But, as soon as I see anything drop off (usually the normal ebbs-and-flows of website traffic), I get crazy-introspective, and- lately- the burning question to myself has been:


Has [extremely] mild success as a wine blogger gone to my head? Did I go from once "doing this for the people, by the people" to "goon of the marketeers", thus alienating the honest-to-goodness, blue-collar, wine-drinking, blog-readin' public, resulting in my recent, neurosis-inducing drop/stagnation in meteoric growth? Perhaps. Let's take a look at the symptoms:

1) Hardworking blogger makes good. PR firms notice: Okay. Yeah, I've gotten a few samples lately. Every drop of wine I used to write about was sourced from my moth-ridden wallet. Suddenly, a couple intrepid importers and marketing folks want to "take a chance" on a heartwarming story of the wine drinker who became a blogger who became a certified specialist on the stuff. So, what began as a voice-of-the-people evolved into a voice-of-the-free-samples (at least in my own mind). Most readers don't get free wine samples. Losing touch with the regular Joe...

2) Slovenly blogger accepted as part of the "trade": I'm never gonna have the opportunity to taste 80+ Cru chateaux of Bordeaux. If the chance presents itself, I've got to snatch it, right? I mean, if the readers- of whom I am a mere contemporary- are to respect and idolize (tongue firmly planted in cheek) my views, then I need to have an opinion on everything they may taste. But am I pulling a shill move to write about the experience that they cannot share (without an extremely fat wallet)? I don't know. It reminds me of a recent conversation that I had with my pal Hardy Wallace, when he was said that we should just write and not worry about influence, because wine bloggers don't have much anyway. Thanks, Hardy. Which brings me to my next point, er, piece of incriminating evidence:

3) Name-Dropping: "So, I was hanging out with Gary Vaynerchuk.."

"Hey, yeah, Hardy and I were just palling around- as we often do, being Atlanta wine bloggers and all.."

Big-headed, ass-faced Hollywood-wannabe-types always name-drop. Sunuvabitch. Obviously trying to increase our credibility with the "famous", thus increasing our "marketability". Despicable.

I don't really know Hardy Wallace that well, and I don't want to pretend that we're best friends. He treats you like you've known him forever, and he's a tireless in support of Atlanta (and other) wine bloggers. But until we spend that weekend at a hunting cabin with a bottle of whiskey, it's a name-drop.

4) The ultimate low...Merch: See Facebook pandering below.

Pimping anything with my blog-namesake on it in the name of the almighty buck. I'm going to throw up from shame...

So, it's crossroads time. Have Joe Herrig and his [actually not very] popular "Suburban Wino" food/wine/leisure sports blog jumped the shark?

Maybe. But, I don't know for sure. Yes, the samples are cool. But I didn't get into it for the samples. And, I've been fortunate enough to be approached by folks with no pretense. Here are the wines. Give them a try. Write about them if you want. If you like them, great. If not, that's fine, too (obviously smart folks who realize that any publicity is good publicity...wondering why they came to me for "publicity"). This is a win-win situation. It allows the marketeer to get some pub, while not hamstringing the blogger into false-praise fed to a readership that has no loyalty beyond the writer's honesty. And, yes, perhaps it is "unrealistic" for the average folk to have access to all these wines, but at least a source is created from whence they can pick and choose. Similar situation when it comes to events, wine dinners, and trade shows. Plus, I still write about experiences out of my own pocket. And, in all cases, I think I'm giving an honest opinion. Forgive me; I'm just not very mean by nature.

As for the name dropping? Always a douchey move (sorry, that's the only adjective that I felt fit there), but we lowly grunts want to provide validity to what we're saying. Align that with someone the reader knows and trusts, and maybe it gives us one more day with that reader. Hopefully, any of my sparse name-drops are only used if they are/were credible.

Merchandise? Lowest of the low. Unless I'm giving it away. Then, I'm just creating another opportunity where human beings will- inexplicably- do anything for a t-shirt.

And if the designs are cool, then selling isn't so sleazy, huh? It's not like I'd be selling this:

Nobody wants to be a sell-out (well, most people). But, we're all vying for our little piece of cyberspace. I'd like to think I'm doing it the way I did it a year ago. For fun. And for the few appreciative readers who stop by. In the end, it's all about you. If I'm slinging a bunch of bullshit, you'll quit reading. Simple as that.

On that note of no bull and all honesty, I ate an oyster po-boy tonight....

...just seeing how many people read all the way through. Sláinte!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Countdown to Ground Round: 1 Week Down

I've looked on a lot of women with lust. I've committed adultery in my heart many times." -Jimmy Carter, during his 1976 Playboy Interview

Nose through any number of detox and rehabilitation websites out there (done for research purposes, kids), and you'll notice a trend: the first week is always the toughest. And in this week, I've looked on a lot of chicken with hunger-lust. I've committed meal-adultery in my stomach many times. But, have I fallen off the wagon?

Well, 'tis the week for apologies. I started off great. Ambitious. Determined. A two day trip to Mobile, AL (on the gulf coast and home to some of the tastiest seafaring critters around) concluded with a belly full of vegetables, breads, and hummus. One accidental taste of cheese, but I'm gonna chalk that up to a rusty palate for the vegan persuasion. I was on a roll. I'd resisted Neptune's sultry song, as nary an oyster (debatably, an animal) passed my determined lips.

And then...Saturday. I was invited by some old friends to their annual "CarnivoreFest"...twelve hours of grill jockeying. NO vegetables allowed. My contraband Smucker's Uncrustables were smuggled in with the care of Cuban cigars through U.S. Customs. Alas, drinks were poured. Wine was consumed. As plate after plate of baby back ribs, smoked spareribs, BBQ'ed pork loin, roast lamb, and bacon-wrapped smoked chicken crossed my alcohol-weakened gullet, animal instinct took over. By the time the slow-grilled pork belly hit the table, I was more animal than man.

So, beloved audience: like Tiger admitting his problems to his fans, or former President Clinton unsuccessfully wriggling out of questioning, [sigh]....[cracked voice]...

[Random Police Investigator interjects in the middle of this post]: "Son, I know this is tough, but can you please point out on this doll where the pork belly touched you?"

I point to the mouth. I ate some of the pork belly. As it went down, I felt as if God was rubbing my tummy. Mind you, it was only a taste, but it snowballed into a taste of the chicken, a taste of the ribs, a taste of the lamb. No, I didn't get it full-on with the CarnivoreFest, but I definitely went to second base. I felt I needed to admit this to you, the readers. If good blogging is about transparency and open communication, then I must come clean.

I spent the rest of the night in the shower, cowering and trying to scrub the filth of shame off my body.

Okay. Pork demons exorcised, I can move on. Damn, this is tough. Especially since I've been traveling, and I haven't exactly been going to organic food meccas and forward-thinking food cities. However, I have learned that you can eat surprisingly poorly while "vegan". I had a whole basket of fried pickles for dinner the other night. Just fried batter (in vegetable oil) and salty pickled cucumbers. That can't be healthy. I've also learned that fast-food chains (the only options on I-65 between Montgomery, AL and Mobile, AL) are NOT very friendly to non-meat-eaters. A large fries and a wilted side salad is often the only option. Eat that many fries, and you do not feel like taking on the world.

However, I've also discovered the secrets to filling up. Hummus, guacamole, coconut milk, peanut butter, and other fatty, veggie-based goos are very satisfying. The experience has been enlightening towards my views on world hunger. Rice, potatoes, and pasta are very cheap, and they are the substantial base for many meals. We can feed a lot of folks with these economical staples.

That's it. Here I am, one week in, already humbled, humiliated, not-that-healthy, and thinking about how I can change the world. Perhaps vegetables are breaking me down before building me back up. Maybe they're developing character. Will they keep me 100% honest? Probably not (there's another meat-fest on the horizon). But, in those moments of weakness, the veggies are holding me- with their tendrils and leafy bits- accountable to you, and humility towards a disappointed audience, just maybe, is part of the growing pains...

...39 days to go. I apologize in advance for my transgressions.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Barato: Spanish for "barato".

Let's say you're a cheapskate with no money. Take, for example, me. Have I ever used dish soap as shampoo? Maybe that's why I have no hair anymore. But, when there, it did have the pleasing aroma of antibacterial orange.

Okay, I'm kidding. But, like so many others who take pleasure in tucking into the "finer things" (wine, for example), circumstances haven't gotten any easier. There are tons of blawgers out there doing posts about "wines under $10/20", etc. Yeah, you can find great wine on a Natural Light budget. Sometimes, it requires a little extra snooping, and it never hurts to have expert sites out in cyberspace where you can gain insight into some of the regions that provide the most value. Which begs the question: what are you doing here?

Ah, self-effacing humor. It's become sort of a theme.

Anyway, if you haven't checked out any wines from Spain (some notable regions that would be printed on the labels are Rioja, Ribera Del Duero, Priorato, Navarra, etc.), you may be missing out on some of the best QPR (quality-price ratio) juice on the market. Granted, there is some pricey stuff from the above-mentioned regions, but the country is heavy loaded with values.

Beyond the fact that Spain has (relatively) recently made incredible strides in quality wine production, thus spurring more efforts in the realms of marketing and exporting (including aggressive price points to break into new markets), some of the production laws create incredible deals.

Take this Miles Standish-looking fella here. This is a bottle of Rioja. But, not just any Rioja. This is a bottle of tinto (red wine, in this case, made from mostly Tempranillo grapes and perhaps some Garnacha) Rioja Gran Reserva. Spain, like France and Italy, employs an appellation system, called the Denominación de Origen, or "DO". This system governs the viticultural and vinicultural aspects of the winemaking process.

Baby Steps: While there are DO/DOCa aging requirements in all of Spain, Rioja has its own system. Bottles- both red and white- will be labeled either Rioja, Crianza, Reserva, or Gran Reserva:

Rioja (commonly referred to as "vino joven", or "young wine"): no bottling or aging requirements. Wines are made to be sold within the first 1 or 2 years of production.

Rioja Crianza: Minimum 12 months aging in oak barrel, and another 6 months in the bottle, to be released in the 3rd year.

Rioja Reserva: Minimum 12 months aging in oak barrel, and minimum 2 years in bottle (they are not to be released until their 4th year).

Rioja Gran Reserva: Minimum 2 years in oak, then 3 more in the bottle. They are to be released in their 6th year.

So, what you get with these wines is a bunch of aging (which costs money to do) at a price point of those that don't get this heartwarming brand of fuzzy T.L.C. Take, for example, my wine. It had lost much grip of tannin, had very smooth, integrated flavors of fruit, earth, and oak...everything mingling together in perfect balance. Gone was a lot of the deep purple color seen in a younger wine, leaving a pretty, light ruby hue. Oh, and I forgot to mention: this was a 1996. Given was an opportunity to taste a wine from a not-terrible vintage with 14 years of age on it. What would you pay for this in France? $100? $200? Well, you're not going to pay $200. Or $100. You're not going to pay $90, or $80 (how's my Ron Popeil impersonation going so far?). The price of this wine? $29. Incredible value, and this is a brand that can be easily found and enjoyed.

And to many, $29 is not a reasonable price. You can get a Crianza or Reserva around $10-15. There are also some exciting non-DO wines (table wines without the stringent production laws) that are fantastic, and steals as well.

So, if you're wanting to keep knocking back great juice, but don't want to fork out the dough, do as your friendly neighborhood wino does: give Spain a try. Give the expensive California Cab a night off and go with something from the Iberian peninsula. Then, take the extra cash and buy some real shampoo. You may salvage your coif, unlike me.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Cannonball Comin'

One of the greatest movie scenes in comedy history. Bill Murray and Chevy Chase are geniuses, a fact based not only on my suspicion that this was completely ad-libbed, but that they finally found a use for those huge, cheap jugs of wine on the bottom shelf...

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

What the @#%&*!! have I gotten myself into?

Call it dogmatic obligation. Call it spiritual vision quest. Call it personal challenge. Call it health ultimatum. Call it bat-shit insanity.

Whatever you want to call it, I've decided I will eat no animal product for the next 48 days. During Lent, I always try to sacrifice something. As a pretty lax Catholic, it's probably not buying me a whole of lot equity in the afterlife, but it's a challenge I always try to accomplish. For some reason, I make it pretty tough. I've done sweets. I've done red meat. I've even done booze (see Mom, I'm not really a "wino"). But this is an undertaking of stupefying proportions.

Let's say it's "modified vegan". I don't really care about any of the philosophical doctrine of veganism (you may just see me flossing a fur coat while drinking my green drink at the local smoothie shack). I just want to stay away from animal product, including meat, fish, and dairy. Furthermore, I want to accomplish three things:

1) Sweep some of this pesky cholesterol out of the pipes
2) Challenge myself
3) Learn how to cook more tasty, satisfying vegetarian dishes.

So, no meat, no dairy for 48 days. I'll drink wine, and I don't care if it's vegan-approved. I may even- in a moment of great weakness- scarf down some fish if desperate. But, I'm going into this challenge open-minded. I respect those who stick to a vegetarian diet for the health benefits or religious obligation, and I hope I can get some help and advice along the way. I'll probably try to post some recipes and even wine pairings if I scare up some winners.

And where will you find me April 4th? Probably at a churrascaria, scarfing down animals, both dangerous and delicious.

Wish me luck!

Monday, February 15, 2010

"What do I do with this?", part 2

Last week, I posted a picture of a Nopales Cactus, hoping to get some suggestions on how I could cook it (as it was in a grocery-type store). However, I think I goofed and had the purpose of the post buried in a steamy tale of Social Media controversy and intrigue*. While the post was graced with a good response from you: the physically attractive, sharp-witted, and shameless-flattery-immune readership, I didn't get any insight into cactus cookery.

*actual post not as interesting as described. Decide for yourself HERE.

With my ranting and raving on the subject properly expelled unto the world wide interweb, I'm afforded focus on the task at hand. So, foodies, gastronauts, chefs, culinary mad scientists, and eaters of all circumferences, I present the next food I have no idea how to cook:

Celery Root. I hear about it in all sorts of purees and stuff, but nothing really beyond that. Is it tasty in a roasted application? Can I throw it in a low-country boil? I'm riveted with curiosity here, folks!

Sure, I could pop around the world wide interweb and figure it out. But I'm sure I'll be distracted by some dancing hamsters or an ad promising me sexier bedroom situations, so my attention-deficient self is in your capable hands. Make me proud!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Aussie Rules Football...

...nah, not in the way you're thinking. Not in the sense of the rugby-like game, featuring a bunch of dudes in short- 60-year old man running a marathon short- shorts, knocking out each others' teeth and having the gaul to actually kick the ball around with their feet. This is football, folks. Feet should have nothing to do with it.

I'm talking about watching the Super Bowl (sorry..."The Big Game") with a bunch of chow and some wines to go with said chow. Being the generous blokes that the are, the folks at Jacob's Creek (a monolith of Australian wine who probably had the budget to part with four bottles) provided to me- as samples- some vino to match up with treats worthy of five hours of pomp & circumstance, underwhelming commercials, geriatric rock stars, and the occasional snap of American football.

Essential booze safely procured, the matter of food became priority number one. With all due respect to the popular choices: greasy burgers, hot dogs, and other meats of unknown providence, we wanted to gussy up the dinner table, while still sticking to- well, not junk food, but I guess finger foods. Stuff you can put in your pockets, wrapped in a napkin, to be smuggled into the stadium or movie theater (WARNING: DO NOT ATTEMPT WITH CLAMS IN BROTH).

Speaking of those, we paired the Pinot Grigio with Littleneck Clams steamed in said Pinot Grigio. Some butter, pureed shallots, smashed garlic, a crisp white wine, salt, a little pepper, and parsley combined with some well-scrubbed little gems is probably my death-row meal. Even better than the clams is the insane broth- now infused with the briny juices from within the previously-unopened little buggers- that is sopped up with crusty bread. As Mario Batali said (via Bill Buford in the foodie-must-read, Heat), "it's about the sauce, not the little snot of meat in the one is interested in the little snot of meat!"

Moving onto the dry Jacob's Creek Reserve Riesling- a variety notoriously high in acid- I wanted to turn the delightfully-fattening, traditional football fare of bratwurst on its head (with hopes that the acidity would counter-balance the tasty fats). We popped the sausage out of the casing (which is always a creepily erotic affair), formed it into patties, and griddled them until just cooked through. Topped with sauerkraut simmered in Samuel Smith's Lager and good hot mustard, these may have been the toast of the tailgate. As Riesling is one of Germany's two greatest exports- the other being sausage- this seemed like a perfect match. While I wasn't a huge fan of the wine by itself, it did "meat" expectations as part of the pairing.

For the Pinot Noir- a wine designed for food, something not-too-hefty-but-not-too-light seemed logical. And chicken wings always seem logical, under any circumstances. Football game? Chicken wings. Tornado warning? Chicken wings. Criminal court sentencing? Chicken wings, preferably before, as they don't serve them in jail. Anyway, the fruity Pinot worked with the slightly sweet, slightly spicy wings (some traditional, some Asian-spiced), and the ample acidity of this grape countered the fattiness of both wing and tasty dipping situation.

Alas, something was missing. Pull out your animal consumption checklist: Feathered friends? Check. Tasty sea creatures? Check. The pig, [according to Bourdain] a noble and magical animal? Check. Beef...

...check. Paired with the JC Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon (a grape which has been one of Australia's most notable exports), braised short rib tacos seemed to make sense. The day before, I did a quick-pickle of some old onions I had lying around, briefly simmering them in cider vinegar, sugar, salt, cloves, allspice, peppercorns, a dried chile, and a bay leaf. Jarred and left in the fridge overnight, they still had a crunch to them, but the sweet tang worked with the beef: boneless short rib, braised in a combination of pureed mire poix w/ garlic, water, tomato paste, Cabernet, and spices (cumin, black pepper, red pepper, coriander, Mexican oregano, thyme) until it shredded apart with a fork. Rich and tasty, and great with the wine.

All in all, a fine time, best summed up by a video featuring low-resolution photos, snippets of amateur video, and- of course- underwhelming didjeridoo manipulation. Aussie, Aussie, Aussie. Oy. Oy. Oy.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Slowin' Me Down

I have posts to write. Wines to taste. Other blogs to read. Networking aplenty. Building my brand. Creating synergy. All those B.S. buzz words you heard in business school.

But I can't do any of it. Why? Because of this stupid thing. What is it? It's a didgeridoo. More specifically, it's a beeswax mouthpiece for a didgeridoo.

Short story: I'm working on a post about some Aussie wines and Super Bowl foods with which they were paired. I figured, "what would make the post better than me jammin' on the didge?" So, I pull it out of mothballs, only to realize I can't play the stupid thing. At all. Hours of research later, I learn that the mouthpiece is too small. I'm not making a good seal. You can't play didge with facial hair. I can't circular-breathe (which is easy...I know it's easy...thanks, Joe @!). All of this culminating in me going to the craft store and dropping $16 on a block of beeswax to make a "proper" mouthpiece. I thought I was just supposed to blow into the thing and make a cool sound.

Anyway, I've become obsessed with getting it right. I think that's why I fell head-over-heels into this wine stuff. When my DNA gets a bug, I won't stop- at anything- to get it done. My wife even woke me up in the middle of the night on Monday because she thought I was hyperventilating and having a seizure. Actually, I was having a dream where I figured out how to circular breathe and I was playing the didgeridoo like crazy. Even sleep can't separate me from this damn thing!

So, everything seems to have been put on hold. I've got to get this down. Now if you'd excuse me, I have to go watch another ridiculous video like this one:

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Kicked in the Butternuts

"Things do not pass for what they are, but for what they seem. Most things are judged by their jackets." -Baltasar Gracián

Oh, Baltasar! You never cease to speak so truly. Maybe that's why we all know and love you...

...okay, I have no idea who this guy is. But, he has a wikipedia page, so he must've been of some notoriety. Looks like you and I have learned some excessively obscure trivia today.

But the quote is true: ideally, we should all judge a product on what it is, not in how it is presented to us. But, as with wine, the labels and packaging of beer so often determine our purchasing habits. Perception is often reality, and a clever or appealing wardrobe can often suggest a product of equal ilk. Hey, there's a lot of competition on those shelves. Can't blame anyone for trying to get his product stick out.

If the can alone is to be the only metric by which we measure our beers, then New York's Butternuts Brewery's Farmhouse Ale lineup is clearly the greatest brew around. "Porkslap Ale"?! ...c'mon, that is beyond solid-gold. Note to marketeers: you put two jovial pigs belly-bumping on your product, and I will buy it. Food, drink, cars, baby clothes, fine matters not.

Yet, as this is a consumption-centric blog, I guess we'll have to try the product within said can. And, as a side-note, I do appreciate folks putting their craft beers in cans. Oskar Blues seems to be the recent pioneer, and more should put aside the "cheapness" stigma of the can and go for it (perhaps directly against the whole "perception is reality" argument). But, anyone who knows beer understands that a can keeps damaging light out, and it keeps the product fresher, so the perception of the knowledgeable beer-drinker may be positive. As a good ol' boy friend once- so adamantly- exclaimed, "son, you need to put that beer back in the can where it was born."

With all that said, on to the good stuff...

Porkslap Pale Ale: Perhaps I'm viewing this beer through hog-colored glasses, but I think it's more than the overwhelmingly-awesome hype created by the can. A mild, drinkable Pale Ale with good hop character. However, the pleasant bitterness of the hops- which can often be the focus of Pale Ale- took a backseat to a nice sweet, malty, caramel flavor. This beer is almost creamy, and the relatively-low 4.3% ABV makes it an easy drinkin' companion. I poured one into a glass and drank one out of the can. Perhaps it was novelty. Maybe it was the power of the leaping pigs on the aluminum shell. Whatever the case, this one worked the most magic straight up from whence it came. Forget the glass and throw a six-pack in the cooler when you want to drink classy at the tailgate...without the unpleasant affect of "looking classy". Give me a trotter up high, Porkslap.

Snapperhead IPA: When you want to trick judgmental friends, go with the Snapperhead. Unsuspecting teetotalers will be fooled by the bright yellow can. "Man, that guy sure does love his Country Time Lemonade!" But you know what's up. Just make sure the kids don't accidentally get into the "lemonade"; it really does look like a soft drink can.

Good malty character, like the Porkslap, but with a much-more prominent backbone of citrusy, grapefruit-bitter hops. IPAs (short for "India Pale Ale") were originally crafted to weather the long sea voyage from England to the rest of the British Empire (India being one of the imperialist states), so a hefty dose of hops was needed to preserve the beer. In addition, the higher alcohol helped on the journey. At 6.3%, the Snapperhead fits the bill. Fortunately, this brew has a touch of malty sweetness to balance out the bitterness. Smoother than many British and American IPAs, but not without the signature bite. "Snapperhead", indeed.

Moo Thunder Stout: I'm stout-crazy. Blame it on the red beard, but for my money, beer perfection doesn't stray far from a properly-poured pint of Guinness. That being said, I'm always eager to try a great new dark beer. The Moo Thunder, while its namesake makes me giggle at the perhaps poorly-veiled reference to bovine flatulence, doesn't really do it for me. While the virtues of a nice, creamy mouthfeel, coffee/roasted aromas, and a dryness akin to a good Irish Stout offer hope, the finish makes me "have a cow", as in "don't have a cow". Too late. I'm having one.

Why? The finish on this beer- and I can't think of any way to mince words- tastes like an ashtray. Cigar and cigarette ash. Have I ever tasted an ashtray? Yes, and make sure your friends don't ever mistake your can of Mountain Dew for a cigarette-butt depository. Jerks. Anyway, it's just a very unpleasant and unsettling finish. I don't know...maybe a cigar smoker would like this beer with a stogie.

And- for the record- I say all this as a past smoker, just so you don't think I'm one of those annoying "Truth" mongers.

Ranting aside, let's summarize these beers: Can design = A+. Product within = well, 2 out of 3 ain't bad (and, to be fair, they also make a hefeweizen that I need to try). But please remember (as I've said with wine): my taste buds and your taste buds may be completely different. I always encourage you to try what I love and what I hate. Otherwise, you too are just making a judgement call based on the packaging I present to you.

Try the product within these words. Give Butternuts a go, especially the "Porkslap" and "Snapperhead", and even the "Moo Thunder"...

...If not for me, do it for Baltasar Gracián.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

How to use Twitter; How to use Cactus

High drama on Twitter...

...a couple weeks ago, I waltzed into local Harry's Farmers Market (yes, waltzed), camera in hand, with a good idea for some posts. I was also buying beans...or was it chicken? Anyway, Harry's- formerly a local place- was acquired by Whole Foods several years ago. As with any Whole Foods, I knew it'd be chock full of weird stuff I've never used in the cooking process.

So, I start snapping away. About 8 pictures in, I was approached by an employee who asked me to quit taking pictures. He said it was against policy.

I complied, understanding that this guy was just doing his job. However- slightly confused an perturbed- I went to Twitter instead of management. I'd heard the Whole Foods folks run a tight social media ship, so I figured I'd put them to the test. And here we go:

Notice the time of response:

Not long after, I received this message from the local store:

I hope no one got in trouble. I was just curious about the policy, and I frankly wanted to check out their Twitter chops. I have to admit: this incredibly quick response and action taken was impressive. This is the power of the internet, especially social media. I became part of the conversation, and a simple complaint changed policy in favor of the consumer. Well done, Whole Foods.

So, how did I get into this whole bugaboo in the first place? I wanted to post, maybe once a week (or if I'm short on material or effort), a picture of a food I've never cooked. With all the tremendous food-folks who read, yours truly was hoping to glean some insight from the more-enlightened. Recipes, ideas, or impassioned shouts to "stay away!" appreciated:

Nopales Cactus....GO!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Not Quite Wine, but... of my favorite stand-up bits ever on the differences between grape juice and grape drink. Close enough.

Man, I miss Chappelle's work. If anyone knows his whereabouts, we've got to get him back on stage! Brilliant, transparent, honest comedy at its best.

Also, I don't know what you consider "safe for work", but if lots of f-bombs and racial slurs are not openly accepted in your place of business, then I'd say this is "NSFW" (I just figured out what that means):

Much more than "Detroit Rock City"

Sitting around, as I've been known to do with some aptitude, I caught myself thinking (which I haven't been known to do, according to the wife, among others). As my mind wandered, I settled upon Michigan. I don't know. Maybe it was the Iggy Pop coming through my headphones. "But Joe, why wasn't KISS coming out of those headphones? You mentioned their song in your title, huh?" C'mon. Turn off that horrible "Rock and Roll All Nite" and strap into some Iggy and the Stooges...maybe "Funhouse". Detroit will be proud (and KISS isn't even from Detroit anyway...common mistake. In fact, I added this point later).

So, moving beyond the great music hailing from the Wolverine State, I pondered, "What else from Michigan is great?".....[dream sequence, perhaps]:

Colonel John "Hannibal" Smith of the A-Team (otherwise known as actor George Peppard) hailed from the Great Lakes State.

Love it when a plan comes together? Then you might just love Michigan too.

Bozo the Clown. Although we all remember Bozo's show as kids-watching on Chicago's WGN- Bozo, aka Bob Bell, hailed from Flint, Michigan.

Man, I totally could've gotten the ball into that sixth bucket. All those kids were a bunch of uncoordinated hacks.

Amigo Scooters. These Bridgeport, Michigan exports are THE first word in geriatric transportation and top choice of my grandfather (who spent many years in Saginaw, no less)

Cocoa Krispies. The crown prince of breakfast cereals is a product of the Kellogg's Company, based out of Battle Creek, MI.

Are they good for you? Damn right. They're cereal, aren't they?

Kristen Bell. If I were president, I would have to seriously consider Detroit's Bell for Secretary of the Adorable. Yes, that's a real office. How do you think Dick Cheney got into politics?

Anyway, I'm still trying to figure out how that nincompoop in the movie managed to forget Sarah Marshall. And I'm really thrilled I finally worked "nincompoop" into a post.

Matthew Stafford. Okay, not originally a Michigan product, but we had to have a Georgia-Michigan connection here.

That being said, the current Lions quarterback and former Dawgs signal-caller is clearly not flattered by his nomination. The girl? Clearly impressed.

La-Z-Boy Recliners. I've got one thing to say to you, Monroe, Michigan: My ass thanks you. If not for your product, there's a good chance I'd be in shape, and no one would take anything I say about food or wine seriously.

Wine. Fine, vitis vinifera wine.




Yeah, that's what I thought too. But, apparently, they've been making wine for a while in Michigan, and doing it well. Besides, I've seen surprisingly drinkable wines come out of Georgia, and if that can be done, then I suppose it can be done anywhere. So, thanks to local wine evangelists like Shannon Casey of Michigan by the Bottle, and especially to Michigan wineries like Black Star Farms (who, DISCLAIMER-worthy, provided me the 2 bottles in this post as samples), I was ready to tuck in. Both of the following wines come from Michigan's Old Mission Peninsula AVA (one of 4 in the state). The latitude is suited for cool climate varieties (such as Riesling and Cabernet Franc), but the peninsula- being surrounded by water- helps prevent frost.

2008 Black Star Farms Arcturos Dry Riesling. Didn't know what to think at seemed very tight, and I felt like I was going to have to say bad things, ruining the good vibe I'd started about Michigan up above. Fortunately, things opened up, and what began as a somewhat tight nose developed into vibrant aromas of lime, apple, minerals, and- more than anything- maybe mandarin oranges or orange blossom (Florida folks- help me out with that one). It was almost like at Torrontés. The Black Star website says "gooseberries"...maybe that was it. Whatever it was, it slapped me in the olfactories in a pleasing way.

In the mouth, I thought the flavors got a little hollow in the mid-palate (that means it lacked flavor after a couple seconds in my mouth). I'm wondering if the vines from whence the fruit came were young, thus needing more time to gain complexity. However, what this wine didn't lack at all was acidity. Ripping acidity. A signature of fine Riesling; a characteristic of cold-climate grape growing; a fast friend of food (yes, it was good with the food I was eating. What kind of food? Who cares?! Good Riesling's great with any food). Furthermore, the pleasant pucker balanced the .9% residual sugar, which offered just a hint of sweetness. I'd heard good things about Michigan Riesling, and I wasn't pissed with this one. I'd like to get a little more info about the age and yield of the vines, however.

2007 Black Star Farms Arcturos Cabernet Franc. I have no explanation, but this grape seems to pop up in all the lesser-known wine growing regions in the U.S. It's sort of like "bat boy"...where will he turn up next?!

Anyway, this 100% Cab Franc is comprised of 75% Old Mission Peninsula fruit and 25% Leelanau Peninsula product. The incredibly fruit-forward nose punched me in the nose, but I knows my nose and "no's" turned to "yes"...okay, I'm stopping that right now. Anyway, there was nice dark fruit, some green pepper elements, a touch of oaky vanilla, and a sort of "cheesy" aroma that I often get from French Loire valley Cab Francs (Saumur in particular) and Gamay-based wines from Beaujolais. In the mouth, I really liked this wine. The flavors were- again- a little thin to me in the mid-palate, but what I really dug was the burly tannin structure. Made me not hesitate to imagine this one with a nice roast chicken, or even a steak. And, I'll even go so far as to say you could lay this one down for a couple years.

So, in conclusion, my wandering mind led me to two ironclad revelations:

1) Folks need to at least try some Michigan wines. Check out Michigan by the Bottle and/or Black Star Farms to get started. Then, try something from another state that you don't see everywhere. Missouri. Virginia. Texas. Georgia. Get weird with it.

2) I've confirmed my suspicion that there are officially nine good things to come out of Michigan, including the surprising wines and Mr. Pop.

I kid, I kid. But in all seriousness, keep making this wine, Michigan, and they'll be plenty of great stuff coming out of your 750 ml bottles. Sláinte!

Monday, February 1, 2010

Light-Headed at 1800'

1800 feet meaning the elevation of the Dahlonega Plateau, just north of Atlanta, where a rag-tag group of intrepid winemakers (perhaps gluttons for punishment in this climate) are making surprisingly good wine.

The ringleader in the Social Media scene is definitely Montaluce Winery & Estates. Myself, along with an equally rag-tag group of intrepid (due to the weather) food & wine bloggers trekked up the road a piece for a day of feasting and tasting (DISCLAIMER: those lovable rascals at Montaluce footed the bill).

You can- as usual- find better recaps of the event at Atlanta Wine Guy, Savory Exposure, Random Oenophile, Maison Marcel, and biskuit's photostream. However, I decided to take a crack at a video, since I used up about a week's worth of words on yesterday's post.

In this video, yes, the pictures do not do justice to the food. Easily worth the drive.