Monday, 24 September 2012

oh sherry...

as per my previous entry, i've started this blog on my "lunch break" and will likely finish it during my "siesta." nothing too fancy for lunch today; toast with garden-fresh tomato, beets, and beet greens tossed in a balsamic-olive oil dressing, and an empanada de pino with chimichurri (everything, including the toast, is of course homemade). to go with lunch, naturally, is a glass of my favourite afternoon sipper: sherry.
higher in alcohol with a hands-on, time-tried aging system should place sherry among the best wines. unfortunately, such is not the case these days. the only connection most people may have to sherry is the sweetened, creamy style that was kept on the shelf and only served when grandmother came to the house at christmas (or worse, just used for cooking).  fortunately, i consider myself lucky to have "discovered" the joys of sherry and it is now a part of my regular drinking routine.
oddly, my first modern-day encounter with sherry was in buenos aires (hence the empanada-pairing). waking at noon from a big night out, we went to a local restaurant for "breakfast" just when government workers were released for their 4-hour lunch. before we even had the chance to order a much needed cappuccino, two glasses of fino sherry appeared at the table; a part of the meal as assumed as bread and water. not exactly a sunday morning caeser, but the sherry-hair of the dog worked well, but it took a few more years before it became a routine.
flash-forward to 2009 and a visit to jerez de la frontera: the heart of sherry. here, in the spring sunshine nibbling on tapas with a fino or in the evenings nibbling on tapas with an oloroso, sherry suddenly made sense. as in buenos aires, sherry is as much a great companion to a meal as any table wine. the sweet, granny-style sherries are only a small fragment of the more common and delicate dry sherries. without getting into further detail about the winemaking process, here is a simple way to remember your styles of sherry:
fino (FEE-no) = pale lemon in colour with a green olive/almond-like flavour
amontillado (ah-mon-tee-YA-doh) = pale amber in colour with a hazelnut-like flavour
oloroso (oh-loh-ROH-soh) = deeper amber in colour with a toasted walnut-like flavour
such has been the impact of sherry in my life that a near-daily snack for me is what i call my "sherry-mix"; a nutty mix of almonds, hazelnuts, and walnuts with some yogurt covered raisins (they represent sweet sherries). which reminds me: now that lunch is finished, it is siesta time, but a handful of almonds with the remaining drops of fino sherry will certainly ease the transition.

Saturday, 22 September 2012

home office...

my trip to qatar postponed, i am in the unique situation of being quasi-employed. i don't have a real job per se, but the contracting company for qatar has supplied me with some projects. there are no deadlines on these projects, which means i am paid when they are completed. most important, the majority of these projects can be completed from right here: my "home office."
a few years ago, i mentioned to a friend that it must be nice to be able to work from home. in turn, she said it takes an incredible amount of discipline and that i would likely not do well because i would miss working with others. now that i am in the situation, i admit she was half-right; it does take an incredible amount of discipline, but i don't miss working with others. if anything, i've had time to reflect that despite years of middle management and leading teams, in the end the only thing i miss is being able to tell people what to do. in this capacity, i'm much more suited to being a teacher ("you may open your exams when i say so") or a consultant ("impliment these wines to improve your list because i say so").
to go back to the point on discipline, working from a home office is indeed very challenging.  with so many distractions around me in my home, i like to think i have adapted quite well to a strict routine that enables me to make the most of my day. the following is an example of a typical day at the wtf-winetravelfood home offices:
9.00: wake up (no alarm; my internal clock seems to like to wake up then)
9.00 - 9.55: breakfast (this generally invovles 2 cups of coffee with scrambled eggs and toast or muslix and yogurt with fresh blackberries. pancakes occasionally appear if i've been good)
9.55 - 10.00: clean up and turn tv off.
10.00: commute to work
10.00.03: arrive at "the office" (a significantly improved commute than 90 minutes on public transportation. nb: i'm still in pj's)
10.00 - 12.00: office work. laptop is on, nothing else allowed.
12.00 - 1.00: errands. (mostly grocery shopping, and doubles as exercise since i walk)
1.00 - 2.00: lunch break (sandwiches lately, accompanied by a glass of sherry)
2.00 - 3.00: siesta (i've always wanted to work that into my rythm, and now i can!)
3.00 - 4.00: gardening (harvesting, weeding, digging, pruning, mowing...whatever is needed)
4.00 - 5.00: housecleaning (a project i've been working on for a few weeks and i swear i have never seen my place look so white. i never knew i had such an obsession for cleanliness...)
5.00 - 7.00: prep, cook, and eat dinner. decanting a wine may be involved. (Conn Creek 2008 Napa Cab with Kofta-burgers topped with Provalone and Chimichurri was the most recent meal)
7.00 - 10.00: evening office hours. i loved the long afternoon breaks in spain and argentina (which perhaps inspired the chimichurri yesterday). (nb: office closes at 8 on wednesdays...a new season of survivor is on)
10.00 - 11.00: down time, which usually involves a crossword puzzle and some tv.
11.00: lights out.

so, there are my hours. embracing the body's naturaly rythm (which seems to enjoy sleep and little actual work) has been wonderful, and i can't wait to impliment this in doha.
it's noon now. time to start those errands!

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

jammin' with bob marley...

i like to think that like most of my tastes in life, my choices in music are rather ecclectic. in fact, i sometimes wonder if the reason i rarely ever have music is because tv was my babysitter or because i have the karaoke skills of a dying horse. nonetheless, when i do make the strenuous effort to find a cd (yes, i still use those), it must be the perfect choice to match the mood. the other day, a bob marley collection was just such the choice.
unlike some of my peers "back in the day," my appreciation for bob marley did not stem from some of the benefits associated with the rastafarian lifestyle. i do, however, give an "i-rey mahn" to mr. marley for introducing the world to the smooth island reggae rythms; a unique achievement for an artist in a third world country.  furthermore, like early hip-hop and rap artists, this was accompanied by poetic songwriting that inspired listners to sing their songs of freedom, stand up for their rights, or simply sooth a woman to no cry.
for me, however, my choice of bob marley the other day was not because i wanted to remember how i used to sit in the government yard in trenchtown. rather, both the title of a song and my acitivity for day share the same theme: "jamming."
yes, it was time for the annual blackberry harvest (about a month late this year), which means i spend several days picking pounds of blackberries and turning them into a year's supply of jam.  not only is reggae great background music to sorting through the bushes in late-summer sunshine, but "jamming" is a heck of alot of fun to sing along to as sterilised jam jars sit waiting for blackberries and sugar to reduce into a thick syrup. stirring the pot while belting out "i'm jammin. Jammin. JAMmin. JAMMIN! i hope you like jammin' too.." is both relaxing and motivating; i think it improves the flavour of the jam.
beyond this chorus, i only recently noticed how prophetic bob marley was in regards to seasonal jams. in particular:
"We're jamming - To think that jamming was a thing of the past..."
this speaks to how jamming (and for that matter, canning too) is on a recent upswing as people rediscover a dying culinary skill that is so easy to do, and is so much better when using fresh fruit for your own consumption. and to follow that line:
"We're jamming - and I hope this jam is gonna last"

in this case, I feel the very same way each year I make my 3 dozen jars of jam. A single guy on his own can only have so much toast for breakfast (although it makes a nice topping for yogurt or base sauce for pancakes), but I still feel I have to ration jam for both consumption and for gift-giving; I have to assess each day and each person as "jam-worthy." A few lines later:
"...neither can be bought nor sold."
while the reference is to how humans can be neither bought nor sold, it's also a good summary of making jam from your garden. blackberries grow like weeds here, so no need to buy some. jam made in a home kitchen without any food safety inspection cannot be sold, so why not share it with everyone?
oh, bob marley, how sad to have lost your genius so soon. who knows what you could've done for dehydrating, pickling, or breadmaking? to honour you, i guess it is only appropriate i download "jamming" to my blackberry.

Friday, 7 September 2012

the next top chopped iron chef star white rock...

one thing that needs to be addressed before i leave is clearing out my fridge and pantry.  if tv is to be believed (and why should we ever doubt tv?), canadians throw away half of the food they purchase. since i don't want to become just another statistic, i am doing what i can to use every last scrap of fresh, frozen, and dried ingredient so as not to let anything go to waste. the problem is, i have so many ingredients that i have lost track of what i actually have until i dig through the cupboards. as a result, every breakfast, lunch, and dinner has become a challenge. to put the positive into preparing a a meal, i liken each to any given food network challenge.

the one show that seems to be the most relevant is "chopped." for the uninitiated, the premise of "chopped" is contestants are given a closed basket that contains 4 mystery, and generally clashing, ingredients. chefs need to create a dish that must incorporate these 4 random ingredients, progressing from appetiser to main and finally dessert.

this premise in mind, opening the fridge, freezer, or cupboard door is akin to when chefs open their mystery baskets; i am forced to create from the forgotten resources i have presented myself with. this may require a quick jaunt to the market to get a protein (i don't exactly have the luxury of a fully-equipped kitchen brought to me by today's sponsor), but it is a fun challenge nonetheless. instead of the 3 courses presented on "chopped," my challenges revolve around each of the day's meals. below is one such episode of my life as the food network's next top chopped iron chef star:

Mystery Ingredients: Canned Pumpkin, Dried Strawberries, Triple Sec, and Greek Yogurt.
Winning Dish: Breakfast Sopaipillas in a Honey-Triple Sec glaze topped with Yogurt and Dried Strawberries.
     Sopaipillas (so-pie-PEE-yas) are a Chilean pumpkin-based fritter that can be served as either a savoury or a sweet.  in this case, i combined the canned pumpkin with flour, shortening to form a dough that i then pan-fried. once removed, i heated some honey in the frying pan, added some triple sec and the dried strawberries to create a sauce i then poured over the sopaipilla, topping off with a dollop of yogurt. yum!

Mystery Ingredients: Quinoa, Eggs, Beet Greens, and Tahini.
Winning Dish: Vegan Quinoa Nicoise Salad in a Goma-ae Dressing
     Quinoa is an Andean grain that makes an excellent choice for a side dish, as an alternative to oatmeal, or in this case, as a base for a salad. Being both high in starch and in protein, quinoa takes the place of both the tuna and potato in thiss Nicoise Salad. Add hard boiled egg, chopped beetroot greens, some pinenuts, garden fresh green beands, and top off with a tahini-based goma-ae dressing. (A previous entry will give you the recipe for that!)

Mystery Ingredients: Turkey Bacon, Pickled Beets, Horseradish, Boxed Red Wine (shock! horror!)
Winning Dish: Beet and Horseradish stuffed Rouladen in a paprika-spiced red wine reduction
     Rouladen is a traditional German beef dish whereby strips of bacon are placed over strips of beef, stuffed with mustard, pickles, and onions. Substituting pickles (they were mouldy) with pickled beets and enhancing the mustard with horseradish, this sushi of the beef world is then marinated in a broth of red wine, chicken stock, and hot Hungarian paprika. Elbow macaroni served as a nice accompaniment to sop up the spicy reduction, and more garden-fresh green beans as every good dinner needs a bit of green.

in other words, just another day in my own food network world!