Sunday, 27 May 2012

Just Another Day at the Office...

The other day at work, I heaved a great sigh. It has since been pointed out to me that I have a tendancy to sigh aloud much more than I think (I claim it it is my way of meditating), but in this cause it was a sigh of fatigue at the half-way point of a long day at work.  The exhausting effort that lead to said sigh was opening 4 bottles of wine in a row. Now, you'd think this to be a trivial, perhaps exciting, task, but when these bottles represent exactly 4% of the total wines I sampled that day, you can see how tiring it may be to open 4 bottles of wine.
You see, twice a year our Buyer collects a panel of palates to sample from the nearly 500 wines he is submitted for potential large-volume buys for our company. In the span of 4 days, these panels sit, sip, and spit their way through 50 - 60 wines a day. The result is that no more than 2 minutes is spent deciding on the attributes (or lack thereof) of whether a wine is worthy of a large purchase. On this particular day, we set a company record: 100 wines tasted in 6 hours. For the record, 80% of the wines tasted were dumped as being inferior to mediocre quality, 15% as "possibles", and only 5% made the unanimous "yes" list.
Still, how can you taste so many wines in a day, you ask? Part of the reason is certainly owed to the years I spent studying wines for my Diploma. With time and practice, one can educate their palates to discern qualities and shortcomings no matter the conditions. Another reason is switching back and forth from whites to reds, and back to whites again. Whites tend to be lighter in body with more evident, mouth-refreshing acidity, whereas the tannins of the reds tend to linger and become exhausting. Nevermind the Listerine, pass me a splash of Sauvignon Blanc instead and I'm good to go for another 20 or 30 wines. Also, I tend to be a team-motivator when the conditions are right; at 82 wines at 3pm I pronounced that we could do 100 by the end of the day. Problem is I got a call just then from a friend visiting from Amsterdam, so the remaining 18 wines had to be "power-tasted" in just 30 minutes; that's a wine every 90 seconds. Finally, I can also thank my long resume of over-consumption that 100 wines is "just another day at the office."
In the end, I was surprised that if it were not for the 3:30 deadline to get to meet my friend, I could've tried for more as my palate was not yet exhausted nor was I feeling any effects from the wines (spitting helps with that alot). It is also worth noting that the appointed meeting place was a Belgian pub in Vancouver because nothing will create a thirst for beer more than passing a day sipping and spitting 100 wines.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Canadian Graffiti...

Today's entry is in response to the my bemusement of what has happened to the youth of today. I live in a lovely seaside, residential town that prides itself on an image of no corporate shops, well-lit streets, it's own RCMP division, and the property taxes that make all of this possible (not that I actually pay those; I have the rare joy of getting all this for less than anyone would pay in the GVA, with a garden and ocean view to boot!). Nonetheless, I admit to being shocked and dismayed when any attempt to betray this image is performed by wayward youths with too much free time on their hands.

Just such circumstances presented themselves to me on my walk to my bus stop and again in the evening on the way home. While I appreciate the artistic integrity of graffiti art, I've never been able to overcome the motivation behind the medium; anarchy with a touch of metallic paint. Without access to metallic hues, chalk would certainly suffice in the defecation of the streets of our fair cities...and this is exactly the tactics that were chosen by the unknown criminals I have uncovered on the fair streets of White Rock.

The first clue came at the footsteps of the White Rock Fire Department. I swear to you as a dear reader that I am not making this up when, at my very feet in yellow and blue chalk, were written the following words: "We Thank You Fire-fighters of White Rock." (this was followed by - gasp! - a pink heart). Two steps down, seething in positive attitude, I was greeted with (and again, I'm not making this up) "Love Yourself Because There is No One Else Like You!" How dare the hooligans of today tell me who I can and can't love?

A turn off this street got me to my bus and it was not until I came home that I - gasp! - came across more defecation: "Smile, and the Whole World Smiles With You!" was the first clue that a band of vigilante morning people are out there trying to spread their daily motivations to the otherwise sleepy seniors of this town. To make things worse? A similar expression of sentiment in Chinese was written a block down! While the average citizen of White Rock may not be able to decipher the meaning of the phrases (seriously, the banner of self-promotion for this town should be "we're old, and we put the white in White Rock"), I was disgusted to be able to pick out the characters of "fortune," "happiness", "love," "white," and "rock."

What happened to the meth labs of yore? Who is responsible for bringing such defecation to our streets?

Oh the youth of today...

Saturday, 12 May 2012

The Mother of All Days...

This Sunday is the day all dutiful children pay tribute to their dear mothers (even if in infancy when it is the dad who plays the Santa-esque role of gift giving to Mum - not that I have any living memory of that). While Mother's Day may officially be on the 13th this year, a long history of working in restaurants and living overseas has sensitised my own mother to get her tribute when I have a moment. This year, I had specific instructions to make "that Greek dish" (with a decided undertone of "I don't care if it is Saturday or Sunday, but that's what you're making"). Mum refered to her decadent treat of spanakopita ; phyllo pastry stuffed with feta, ricotta, spinach and herbs. It is a rather rich dish for one who generally eats small portions of well-done meat, so she looks at spanakopita as a rare treat. Naturally, I was more than happy to make it for her (along with potatoes roasted in olive oil, chicken stock, lemon and thyme accompanied by a homemade Greek salad), as I could tell she truly enjoyed the dinner. (We obviously dug deep into our Prairie French-Canadian roots for this dinner!).

As I said above, a history of restaurant work has generally made me unavailable for Mother's Day; it is, without a doubt, the busiest day of the year in the restaurant industry. In a former incarnation as Restaurant Manager, an average "busy day" would bring in about $10K; Mother's day would easily surpass $25K. This, in turn, has led me to believe that society too readily accepts that an extra-special Mum wants to wait an extra-special long time for a meal in an extra-specially busy restaurant. Generally, it is the children who see "taking-Mum-to-brunch-on-Mother's-Day" as an absolution of all sins committed against her in the previous year that think picking up the cheque counts as an act from the heart. Remember when Mum was pleased as punch that you made her a card with glued macaronis and sparkles proclaiming how much you loved her? In the end, maybe that is all that is needed to honour thy mother on this special day; something made well and truly from the heart. We may not have had a big fat greek mother's day at our house, but I can rest easy that Mum was pleased with the simple gift of love in the form of Greek pastry.

Sunday, 6 May 2012

Mowing the Lawn

Today, I finally got around to mowing my lawn. A chore that is daunting to anyone at the best of times, for me it is a particular challenge despite its relative small size. Not only is it a steep slope, but with only 3 wheels on my electric lawn mower, it becomes quite the workout when weeks of heavy rain and no days off (except for being away in the Okanagan - see "A Postcard from Penticton") when said lawn has grown to the point you could loose a small child in it. Well, maybe not that bad, but you could certainly loose a small kitten or a chihuahua in it.

The urgency to get the lawn under control was not the only reason I mowed the lawn today. Last night, I had a dream that my great-grandfather mowed "my" lawn for me. (As with dream world, it was "my lawn" but looked nothing like my actual lawn. Also, my great-grandfathers all passed away long before I was born, so it is unusual that I knew it was my mother's mother's father to be specific). In the dream, I got ready to do the chore as I had planned only to find out from my mum that my great-grandfather had woken early to get it done. I was disappointed because not only had my procrastination caused an elderly man to do some manual labour, but also that someone else had completed the task I had planned on doing.

Seeing the lawn neat, trim, and nary a hiding spot for a chihuahua, I approached my great-grandfather and told him he needn't have mowed the lawn as I was going to do it later that day. His response was, word for word, "do you think an Olympic athelete waits until later in the day? Why put off for later what can be done now?"

Prophetic words from generations passed to say the least! Yet, as with any as-seen-on-TV knife set, but wait, there's more. Wise as these words are, what is my response to my great-grandfather: "You mean like my writing?"

Waking early on my day off, I am happy to say that the lawn is neatly mowed, the garden is de-weeded, seeds are planted, and the latest entry to this blog is complete. Indeed, why put off to tomorrow what can be done today; any wise grandparent or olympic athelete can tell you that. 

Saturday, 5 May 2012

Tequila or not Tequila...

While March 17th has everyone wearing green and toasting each other with smooth whiskies and dark stouts, May 5th is a day when we all suddenly discover our Mexican roots. To paraphrase Shakespeare, these means one thing on our minds: "Tequila or not tequila, that is the question..." For a large number of us, tequila is consumed as the main course between the salt appie and lemon desert or cleverly hidden in an icy, sweet-and-sour cocktail. As such, it is one of those drinks whose name makes us cringe at the thought of memories not yet forgotten and whose aroma instigates involuntary bodily reactions.

Good tequila, however, is completely unlike any of these experiences, and can take on quality, aged rums or whiskies. As with Champagne or Chablis, tequila gets its name from a small town in Jalisco, Mexico. As such, it is a protected name and the term tequila can only be applied to spirits made in specific regions. Also, true tequila must be 100% be made from a plant known as blue agave, which, for the record, is more closely related to orchids than cactus. If made from a range of other agave plants, the spirit is a mezcal. If the spirit is not 100% blue agave, it may be called a tequila mixto.

Another important factor when choosing a quality tequila (or mexcal) is the aging process involved. A basic, clear spirit is called a blanco, and if caramel colouring is added it may be called gold. Properly aged tequila may be reposado (3 - 6 months "resting" - reposado is the Spanish word for "resting") or anejo (which sees a minimum of 1 year aging). Like a premium aged rum or whisky, an anejo is perfect for sipping on its own or over ice, and should never see a lick of salt or a slice of lemon.

For today's cinco de mayo, I admit that I did not have a premium tequila on hand. Instead, I decided to make a sangrita-inspired caeser; substitute the vodka for tequila and combine with tomato juice (or the classicly Canadian Clamato), orange juice, fresh-squeezed lime and a few dashes of tobasco and you have the makings of a great summer cocktail. Salud!

Friday, 4 May 2012

The Kiwi Hamburgler...

Earlier this week, I made my annual pilgrimmage to the Wines of New Zealand Fair here in Vancouver.  If you are not in the industry, you may be surpised to know how many wine-related trade shows go on in one year. (You would also be surprised to know how easy it is to get to a trade show instead of the public ones; just let me know and I you can go as my "consultant."). As much as I love a free drink (and believe me, I do), the sheer volume of wine that is out there is overwhelming. As such, I need to be choosy in the events I go to, and of course one of those no-miss events is my beloved New Zealand.
This year, the Kiwis really outdid themselves. Well, not in the way I had originally hoped. You see, New Zealand is world famous for its Sauvignon Blanc; powerfully aromatic characters of fresh-cut lawn, canned asparagus, gooseberries, tomato vines with a mouth-puckering acidity that is so high you might as well have a kiwi sauv-blanc as your tequila chaser instead of a lemon.  As such, one can only have so many lemons-in-cut-grass (which, by the way, is nothing like lemongrass) at a trade fair. Likewise, NZ Pinot Noir is so Now in Vancouver yet so 2001 for me, and the fresh new Pinot Gris coming to the market took 7 years to fly away from the Land of the Long White Cloud.

Instead, it was the food that really rocked the show this year. Most trade fairs, if us participants are good, will feature a wide assortment of block cheese to pair with 3 or 4 different kinds of baguettes. Usually, hordes of tasters and pourers clammer after what little bread is made available that you'd think a  UN air-drop occured amid a crowd of imbibed oenophiles.  The Kiwis this year, however, airdropped a stunning selection of New Zealand cheeses (Kapiti!), olive oils, pavlova, anzac biscuits, green-lipped mussels, and lamb chops. (for the record, this latter item saw far more fighting for access than any air-drop of bread at previous events. also, for the record, i had 4 chops while conveniently tasting wines closest to the buffet). Oh, and they also had an "inspired" dish of "kiwi sliders."

There are two points worth noting about a "Kiwi Slider" (a 'slider' being, in case you didn't know, a mini-burger). First, not a slice of kiwi-fruit is used nor are any kiwi birds harmed in the production of a Kiwi burger. Rather, a "kiwi slider/burger" reflects the New Zealander habit of putting egg, bacon, and beetroot on their burgers. (While working in Christchurch, I had to reassure a 12-year old Japanese girl that the Kiwi Burgers advertised at KFC were in fact not made from Kiwi birds. Fair enough assumption on her part...)

The second point is....I invented the Kiwi Slider! At my "Taste of New Zealand" event hosted at my store last year, I put together a menu of New Zealand treats to pair with wines: green-lipped mussels, "Sunday roast kebabs" of lamb and sweet potato (a.k.a. "kumara"), and a mini version of a "Kiwi Burger. For this, I grilled mini meat patties topped with diced beetroot, turkey bacon (since I don't eat pork), and a fried quail's egg. And guess what appeared on the little sliders at this year's Trade Fair? Yup! Exactly the same thing (except they called the chopped beetroot "beetroot caviar" - nice touch, I admit).

So, lesson learned this week is to always protect one's own creative property. In doing so, however, one should refrain from eating 3 of one's own stolen creative property. Now that it is out there, you are welcome to try these at home; you'll thank me for introducing you to the joy that is beetroot on burgers.