Tuesday, 31 January 2012

A Few of my Favourite Things...

Today is my 38th birthday, and as I am going to Australia tomorrow on vacation I had to work. My 24 year streak of not going to school or work on my birthday came to an end last year when quarterly meetings were scheduled to the 31st. Actually, they were rescheduled because "someone" was in London on the original date. Seeing as how I made a fuss about the first date, I had to swallow my pride and go to work. A surprise birthday cake made an appearance at our afternoon break, so in the end, I had my birthday miracle after all.
But that was so last year. This year, I decided that since I have to work, why not make a tasting party out of it? I've been told before that it's worth paying to see me drink, and at $25 per person, 12 brave souls have done so. On the agenda are 8 different drinks paired with 4 different appies that are among my favourite things. It is a combination of wines and food I have sampled in my travels as well as an all-star line-up from previous tasting events I've held in the past year at the store.

And what do I plan to serve as a few of my favourite things? Start humming the rhythm to the song from Sound of Music and sing aloud the below verses:

Bombay Sapphire with Vermouth and Campari,
Nuts, cheese, and olives with a fine Fino Sherry,
Tete-de-moine cheese with Alsatian Riesling,
These are a few of my favourite things!

(insert waltzy beat for next verse)

Pinot Noir wine with an escargot pastry,
Slow-roasted lamb and a big Amarone,
Finish with port or Tokaj from Hungary
These are a few of my favourite things!

When my day bites! When my job stinks!
When I'm feeling sad,
I pour me a glass of my favourite things
and then I don't feeeeel sooooo baaaaad!

Happy Birthday Me!

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

A Wee Tipple of Scotch, Laddie?

Today is Robbie Burns Day, and a late Wednesday evening though it may be, it is a day worth having a sip of Scotch before going to bed. Depending on your ethnic background, this may have been the very catch-all medicine of your grandparents when you were an ill as a 4 year old (I write with experience on that), but there is alot more to scotch whisky than just that.

First of all, note there is no 'e' in 'whisky' when it comes to scotch. Whiskey-with-an-e is originally Irish, and has been carried on to describe Canadian, American, Japanese, and Indian whiskies. Just like adding an 'e' to the end of Munro; it's not the Scottish way, and to quote the great Mike Myers, "if it's not Scottish, then it's crap!" The Scots are frugal through and through, even with their use of letters.

Next, the breadth and depth of scotch from such a small country can be as initmidating as haggis or a Highland lass none too pleased that you failed to cry during significant scenes of "Braveheart" (again, I write with experience on both of those). At it's most simple level, there are two types of scotch: Single Malts (made with 100% malted barley at one distillery), and Blended (a combination of single malts and grain spirits from wheat or corn); the latter of these accounts for 90% of the Scotch industry, but it is the Single Malt category where scotch reaches its premium end.

Then, there are the regional differences. Again, generally speaking, a Lowland will be light, fruity and easily approachable; a Speyside will have a bit more body and grassy notes; a Highland will be more full-bodied and smokey; and an Island (mostly from Islay), where kilns are fired by peat, will have powerful notes of iodine and cigar, or as one friend coined "it smells like a bandaid in a fire."

Tonight, I am toasting to the poetic hero of Scotland with a 12 year old Glen Elgin from Speyside. True to the regional style, it is relatively light golden in colour and body with a grassy, slightly peachy and salty palate; an aged cheese would be perfect to go with, but seeing as how I have none, it's just the Glen straight up for me tonight.

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Year of the Shiraz

It was once described to me that beyond just history and geography, a key difference in the wines of the Old World and of the New World lay also in the way one describes a wine. A "New World" approach is "clinical;" a wine tastes like this fruit and that herb with an intensity, acidity, or length measured on a scale, all to be given a score at the end. An "Old World" approach would give anthropomorphic adjectives succh as vivacious, voluptuous, cheerful, shy, or brooding; an approach that in the end assesses the wines personality and is subjective to the consumer.
Yesterday marked the beginning of the Year of the Dragon in Chinese astrology. As with our Western zodiac, each sign has its own specific character....such as with grape varietals. According to my research, one born in the Year of the Dragon is "full of energy, self-assured, vibrant, flamboyant, and extroverted."
Sounds like the perfect description of a Shiraz to me. How so? Generally speaking, a Shiraz should show full-body, strength in alcohol, bright fruit and pepper flavours, and especially in the case of Australian Shiraz, a sense that there is no mistaking it for anything else. You might say a Shiraz is therefore full of energy, self-assured, vibrant, flamboyant, and a little extroverted. Sounds like the perfect Dragon to me.
As a Tiger, I am supposed to be "headstrong, independent, and have a spirit of great depth." Just as I always suspected: I'm as finicky and determined as a Pinot Noir. Next step is to find out what an Aquarius should be...

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

No Butterflies Harmed in this Meal

Last night, I had a random dream that I was speaking with a friend in Spanish and the word mariposa came up in the conversation.  Although we knew it had the same meaning in Portuguese, we couldn't determine the correct translation to English.  Alas, a look through my dictionaries (and in my dream I knew exactly where said dictionaries are located in my flat), and settled that it must be a flower of some kind, perhaps a sunflower.

Turns out that I was wrong (just don't tell anyone else). According to my dictionaries (which were indeed located in the precise spot from my dream), mariposa is indeed a Spanish-Portuguese word, but translates as "butterfly." I love how the phonetics of mariposa roll off the tongue in either language, so I decided that tonight's dinner would reflect the shared linguistics of this word by making a Portuguese- Spanish dinner.

First, for the Portuguese side I made feijoada.  A time-consuming but simple dish, feijoada is a bean stew that originates in Portugal but has become the national dish of Brazil. In every cantina from Recife to Rio, you can find several variations of this bean stew. Now I understand why Brazil is among the leading nations in bio-fuel production. White beans, kidney beans, paprika and peri peri hot spice, I substituted chorizo and smoked ham with the turkey kind for each.

As for the Spanish side, I marinated chicken thighs in lemon, oil, chili, cayenne, cloves, cumin, cilantro, coriander, and a touch of cinnamon (evidently, the spices for this dish were brought to you today by the letter "C"). After roasting the chicken, I added chopped tomatoes to the pan drippings and marinade to serve as a "Mexican-inspired" sauce.

To complete, I decided my mariposa meal need to rest on something leafy as any butterfly doing her business would, so some steamed kale sealed the deal.  Overall, a really yummy treat with lots of leftovers for the week.

Long story short: I really need to stop watching "Top Chef" before going to sleep. 

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Sahlab in a Snowy City

A cold, quiet weekend with nothing much on TV but reruns, I was reminded of one of my all-time favourite quotables: "It's frickin' freezing in here, Mr. Bigglesworth!"

Indeed, it is mid-January and this is Canada, but sub-zero temperatures are rare for Vancouver, where snow is for the mountains and rain is for the city.  Nevertheless, a cold night such as it is gives me the perfect chance to have one of my favourite cold-night drinks: sahlab.

First, it's pronounced sahhh-lab. It's not a French word, so the 'h' is not silent, so really aspirate that letter. Go on, try it.......not bad, but you'll get the hang of it.

Second, sahlab is a sweet-spiced, milky Middle-Eastern beverage that is the hot chocolate in any given souq or khan. It may not replace a Timmy's double-double any day soon, but I think it is well worth a try.

Third, sahlab is relatively easy to make. I'm sure any Middle-East specialist store would carry pre-mix sahlab, but that's just as silly as pre-mix pancakes; it's not that hard to blend a starch with a liquid. In the case of sahlab, start by heating 1 cup of milk over medium-heat.  Separately, combine 1 tsp of cornstarch and 2tsp sugar in a small cup. To this, add about 1 - 2 tbsp of milk, stirring the milk into the powder to form a smooth liquid paste. To this,  add 1/2 tsp of cardamom, 1 tsp cinamon,  and 2 tbsp ground pistaschios, and some more milk if needed. Just as the milk starts to bubble, stir in the starchy milk mixture and continue to stir until the milk thickens. Serve warm, and feel free to add raisins. Better yet, a touch of kahlua makes any warm drink even warmer; the coffee notes are a great pair with the powerful flavour of cardamom.

Come to think of it, that earlier sentence comparing pre-mix sahlab and pancake mixes is rather ironic; the first time I had sahlab was with pancakes in Cairo's Khan al-Khalili, but that's another story...

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

The Stoner and the Nerd

On the surface, you'd think that Jamaica and Japan have nothing much in common beyond the stoner and the nerd forced to sit next to each other on the alphabet school bus. Reggae and J-Pop may not share listings on the latest Putamayo release, but the two came together wondefully at my coffee-come-dinner table last night.

First, with leftover steak in the fridge, I decided that I would make a gyuu-don. A simple stir-fry dish that can be found at many Japanese fast-food joints, this dish uses beef (that's the gyuu, or if it is in a Western dish, it's called....bee-fu...those Japanese have words for everything!), onion, garlic, ginger, and a green veg (bell pepper, spinach, or as with last night, kale) in a teriyaki-like sauce served over rice (the "served-over-rice" is the don). What makes this dish unique is adding in a beaten egg at the very end, which holds the moisture of the sauce and gives the dish a silkier texture. If using chicken instead of bee-fu, the dish is then called oyako-don, which roughly translates as "parent-and-child-served-over-rice;" a classic dish to represent the modern dysfunctional family if there ever was.

Now, what to drink? Yes, this site is in its essence "wine," but wine geeks like myself do like to have the occasional beer.  Looking around my shop, I decided that the perfect beer to match would be a bottle of Royal Jamaican Ginger Beer. Brewed by the famous rum distellery, this beer was unanimously voted by staff as our most favoured product of 2011. Super-spicy ginger is tempered by a sweet molasses-like flavour from rum, and although it clearly indicates "Alcoholic" on the label (you are what you drink, I suppose), it is just a mild 5%. In turn, this balance ties very well with the ginger and sugar notes of a standard teriyaki sauce and voila! The stoner and the nerd live happily every after.

What next? Jerk-spiced tempura? Escoveitched Sushi? Irie, sensei!

Saturday, 7 January 2012


My New Year's Resolution is to start a blog.  For years, family and friends have been reading emails that highlight the unique and obscure incidents that have helped define my life. I've even been told that I should wear a "dave-cam" to try and capture some of these bizarre incidents; stumbling upon 100 naked New Zealand protesters in the shape of a peace sign is one such incident that comes to mind (then again, viewers of that "dave-cam" may not necessarily be my target audience).

Now that I am more settled in a career in the wine, beer, and spirits industry (a natural calling, some may say), I've decided that this blog would be a great media to share with you (yes, you!) my thoughts that very loosely tie in my experiences with wine, travel, and food. No doubt, these blogs will sometimes be updated whilst consuming a beverage or two, so be sure you read these with a glass of something in your hand too!  Surprisingly, I am writing this with a simple coffee in hand; stay tuned and that coffee may turn Irish (whisky), Spanish (brandy), Italian (grappa), Mexican (kahlua), or even "Alsatian" (marc de gewurztraminer). This latter spirit is one I discovered in Alsace last year made from the distilled skins of Gewurztraminer grapes. Floral and fruity, it yummy goes quite well with coffee and cream, or just on its own. Currently, there is only a little left of Domaines Schlumberger I brought back with me, so it is used only sparingly.

FYI: I've just discovered that like shopping when you're hungry, writing about alcohol will lead to sampling.