Sunday, November 22, 2009

Saturday Night Dumplings

I recently got the cookbook Asian Dumplings: Mastering Gyoza, Spring Rolls, Samosas and More, by Andrea Nguyen. Before going into my experiences with the book, a little bit about me and my relationship with cookbooks. I am a reformed cookbook-junkie. I used to buy cookbooks constantly. And, to my credit, I do use most of them. I must admit, however, that I could probably cook a different recipe every day for the next 50 years and not repeat one. And there are a couple that I have never used. The least-used ones tend to be Asian cuisines. This is not because of lack of interest or desire, or even difficulty; I love a culinary challenge. It's the ingredients. I can tell you with certainty that there isn't a banana leaf or a tube of shrimp paste within 100 miles of Alma, CO. So, now I do my homework before buying a cookbook. If any reviewer warns of hard-to-find ingredients, I steer clear. I first heard of this book when I heard the author interviewed on The Splendid Table. She talked about how making dumplings was easy and fun...even the dough! I was skeptical, but up for the challenge, so I printed out the recipe from The Splendid Table, recruited husband and daughter, and got to work. We made the Fish and Chinese Chive Dumplings. They were delicious! The dough was actually easy make, and so much tastier than store-bought. And, we had a (somewhat) fun family night of cooking together. So, I was convinced; I bought the book. Our next attempt was the Japanese Pork and Shrimp Pot Stickers. Same dough, the Basic Dumpling Dough. I prepared the filling as I watched my chef husband and tenacious six-year old argue over the thickness of the wrappers. Once again, success. And we had fun; so much so, that my husband suggested that we make Saturday night dumplings a weekly event! (It also works out well for Sundays, as we always have enough left over to have with football!) We paired the pot stickers with an inexpensive, but pleasant Sake, Moonstone Asian Pear. I was a little nervous about the pear infusion; fruit infused liquors can be so obnoxious. But, the pear was very subtle, and the Sake was very nice with the meal. I think next we'll try Samosas or maybe something with a rice flour dough.
I urge you to try it yourself. It really is not that hard. And who couldn't use a little extra family-bonding time? Ms. Nguyen also has a very nice blog, Asian Dumpling Tips. It has quite a lot of recipes, if you're curious, but don't want to invest in the book just yet.
If it sounds good, but you know that you'll just never do it, stop by our house on a Saturday night. We may put you to work, but we'll feed you well!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Down on the Farm

I joined a farm co-op. I'm very excited about it, too. I've been trying to eat more seasonally and locally for a while. It's good for our local community, the environment and our health. I feel like I'm now one more step in that direction. Honestly, I didn't think it was possible to eat locally at 10,000 feet. Then I found Colorado Grown in Buena Vista, CO. It's a cooperative of several farms, and for a mere $25 lifetime membership, you can shop at their store and have access to locally grown and produced vegetables, meats, eggs, honey, raw-milk products, jams & preserves and other fabulous goodies. The store is tiny; essentially, it's a garage. It is only open on Saturdays. I love going down there with my daughter and browsing through the store, while she runs around and plays with the goats, rabbits and pigs.
I discovered the farm in late October, well after the bounty of the harvest. I am really looking forward to next summer and all of the vegetables. They have a CSA (Community Sponsored Agriculture. You purchase a share in the farm, in exchange for a weekly box of produce throughout the season.) They even have a work-exchange program.
If you are interested in joining a CSA, or finding a farm co-op such as this one, please check out . Local Harvest is a national directory of farms, CSAs, farmers markets and other sources of local, natural foods. You would be surprised at the number of sources in every single state.
I know that I will not be eating 100% locally. Give up coffee? Olive oil? Not a chance. But feeding my family as much local and seasonal food as I can, makes me feel good on a variety of levels. Try it; I think you will like it too.
If you are interested in reading about a family that ate only locally produced food for a year, read Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. It's one of my favorite books of the past year.
As always, thanks for reading!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Let's Get to the Real Holidays

If you're friends with me on Facebook, or if you're just friends with me, you know that I'm not a big fan of Halloween. A holiday based on giving children an enormous bag of candy has no redeeming value in my mind. Easter has a that reputation as well, but at least it has a religious story to it, and often a family meal involved. That being said, I am OK with the kid aspect of Halloween. I smile at little cuties trick-or-treating. Jack-o-lanterns are cool, and I love It's the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown. I limit candy, and grin and bear it; I don't want to be the mean Mom who forbids fun. I do have some other issues with Halloween though. When did it become an adult holiday? My parents never dressed up (if they did, the neighbors would have talked!) Why am I, at 44 years old, expected to? And when did it become a drunk-fest? It must rival New Years Eve for drunk-driving arrests these days. And my last question is, when, and why did costumes go from scary-cute things like ghosts, witches and black cats, to total gore - hatchets in heads, severed limbs etc? (I did find all the Sarah Palin costumes last year quite terrifying!)
But Halloween is the harbinger of good things to come. It's late fall here; skiing and the holidays are just around the corner. As a matter of fact, I went for my first cross-country ski this morning. I followed it up with a cool weather brunch for my family: cheddar and apple soup with sausage cornbread and bloody marys. Soon I'll be working on holiday menus. I plan on getting my Thanksgiving turkey this year from my local farmer. With the rebounding economy, we'll be seeing the return of the tourists this winter, and they'll be drinking more wine. Good for my personal economy! So, if you haven't heard it yet, let me be the first to wish you....Happy Holidays!!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

You Must Read This Book

In Defense of Food, by Michael Pollan, is the best book that never should have had to have been written. It makes such utter sense, that one has to wonder, how we Americans lost our way when it comes to eating. How have we lost our connection to and our joy in food, and at the same time, become the most unhealthy, obese country in the modern world? Pollan attempts to answer these questions, and then, more importantly, makes suggestions as to how to get back to eating for both health and happiness.

The book attributes Americans' unhealthy relationship with food, to several factors. Bad and confusing science is one factor. Over the past decades, scientists have demonized one nutrient after another, first fats, then carbs, until just the act of eating became a minefield for the average person. It has given Americans what Pollan refers to as, "an unhealthy obsession with healthy eating." We wonder about the French Paradox, the fact that the French eat more fat and drink more wine, yet are much healthier than we are. Maybe the real paradox is how Americans can be so obsessed with healthy eating, yet be so unhealthy. The industrialization and marketing of highly processed foods is another factor, claims Pollan. Quantity over quality has become the norm, as food goes, in America. Maybe the most overlooked, but, possibly the saddest factor, involves not what, but how we eat (and cook.) We have lost the value in the family meal, the home cooked meal, the joy and ritual of eating. The microwave, take-out, the habit of eating in our cars, at our desks, in front of the TV, have all contributed to the loss of the meal. Eating and dining can and should be, and once used to be one of life's great pleasures. (I remember trying to convey just this thought to a personal trainer a few years back, only to be laughed at!)

So, Pollan asks, if we have given up the taste, the pleasure and the fun of cooking and eating, shouldn't the trade-off be that we have become healthier? But, no! We are more unhealthy than ever.

So, what is an eater to do? The book has three tag lines: Eat Food. Not too Much. Mostly Plants. Let's look at each point separately. Eat Food. By this statement, is Michael Pollan implying that what we are eating is not, in fact, food? Well, yes, that is exactly what he is saying. The majority of what Americans eat are "edible foodlike substances," so highly processed that they bear no resemblance to anything that occurs in nature. When the conventional wisdom of the day is telling us to always read nutrition labels, Michael Pollan is telling us to eat more foods that don't carry labels. (Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, even minimally processed meats!) Here, we must steel ourselves to go against the marketing grain and say no to products like GoGurt (a yogurt-like fake food that actually tries to make us think it's good for our children!)

The next point is Not too Much. Whoever came up with the advice that we should eat every three hours? Maybe here is the answer to the French Paradox question. The French do not snack all day long. When we are constantly eating, how can our bodies even know what hunger is? (My question, not Pollan's)

Mostly Plants. Michael Pollan is not advocating vegetarianism. (Remember, he is the author of The Omnivore's Dilemma.) He does argue that the American diet is woefully lacking in plants. Few nutritionists would disagree with him on that point. He is talking about fresh fruits and vegetables. Not french fries, not fruit roll-ups, not bread. He claims that if we did nothing but add more fresh fruits and vegetables to our diet, out health would improve.

There is so much more to this book. It is so phenomenally good, that you must read it immediately. So, here is the link to buy it on Or, get it from your public library. That's what I did, and was happy to see that the copy was very well-used.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Birthdays, Booze & Beans

Today is my daughter's birthday. October 28 is my husband's birthday. So, my husband and I have decided that the time between the celebrations is an ideal time to go on the wagon. Fall is one of the best times of year to do a cleanse of any sort. (That is, according to Ayurveda, the ancient Indian science of life, and Traditional Chinese Medicine.) It makes sense to me too; it's the time between the outdoor barbecue & beer scene, and the holidays. School has started, and it is a good time to re-commit to a regular schedule, a health & fitness routine and to clean out your closets, both literally and figuratively. So, we're giving up drinking for a few weeks, and I am going to avoid red meat, as well. I'm still maxed-out on meat after my trip to Spain last month, so that shouldn't be too hard. I'll miss my wine with dinner, and four weeks of football without beer may prove challenging, but challenges are good for us, right?

We celebrated Stella's birthday last night. It was just a small party this year. Our rule is that every two years, she can have the all-out bash, skating or bowling or what-have-you. So, this year, she had just a few of her closest friends for dinner and requested homemade macaroni and cheese. A few of my thoughts on this king of comfort foods - Nobody should ever make macaroni and cheese from a box. Period. When in need of quick and simple, pasta with butter and parmigiano and salt is the ticket. It's quick, easy, cheap and way tastier than the boxed stuff. For the birthday, though, we made the real deal. I have a confession to make. For the better part of my adult life, I have been trying to recreate the mac and cheese that was made in the dining hall at college. I kid you not. It was creamy and stringy at the same time, piping hot, topped with crunchy buttery breadcrumbs. And, for lunch on Fridays, after closing the bars on Thursday night, it was heaven. I've pretty much got it down. I made the basic cheddar version for the kids, and jazzed it up a bit for the adults, with additions of goat cheese, parm, bacon & scallions. The kids paired theirs with apple juice or milk. We drank the new Harp lager.

I've been wanting to add more beans to our lives. They are a healthy, high-fiber, vegetarian protein. Inexpensive too. But, to be honest, they have never thrilled me. A few months ago, my friend and fellow blogger, the Wife of a Tea Drinker, turned me on to the Rancho Gordo blog. Rancho Gordo, based in Napa Valley, sells heirloom beans and other speciality food items indigenous to North America. I've been reading the blog, and finally placed an order last week. I ordered three types of beans: Yellow Indian Woman, Scarlet Runner and Christmas Lima. I also got Rancho Gordo owner, Steve Sando's cookbook, Heirloom Beans. My first effort is in the crock pot right now. I'm making succotash with Christmas Lima Beans. I will keep you updated on my adventures with heirloom beans.

Billings Hall Mac & Cheese
4 Tbs butter
3 Tbs flour
2 c milk
8 oz cheddar cheese
1 lb macaroni
3/4 c breadcrumbs
Optional: any other kind of cheese, crumbled bacon, scallions, sauteed mushrooms, peas - whatever you think will go well with mac and cheese.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Cook pasta according to package directions.
Make a roux by melting 3 Tbs of the butter in a medium saucepan, add the flour, stirring and cooking until it begins to dry.
Slowly whisk in the milk. Whisk over med-low heat until the milk begins to thicken. Remove from heat and stir in most of the cheese.
When the cheese is melted, pour the cheese sauce over the pasta and mix well. Mix in the rest of the cheddar and any optional ingredients. Pour into greased cassarole dish.
Melt the last Tablespoon of butter and mix in the breadcrumbs. Pour the breadcrumbs over the pasta, cover and cook for 30 minutes, or until the top is starting to get bubbly. Uncover and cook for another ten minutes, until the top is starting to get brown and crispy.
As with all of my recipes, measures are approximate and you are encouraged to improvise. This recipe will yield about four servings.
Serve with a salad and beer or a crisp white wine.

Sunday, September 13, 2009


I've been back from my wine tour of Spain for two weeks, and I'm just now finding the time to organize my thoughts, notes and pictures from the trip, and to write about it. It was such a whirlwind of people, places, wines and photo-ops. Oh, and food. I'm a foodie, so this is a pretty big statement, coming from me - I have never eaten so much in my entire life! The trip was amazing. Our hosts, Louis Geirneardt and David Geary of Axial Vinos are two of the most passionate, knowledgeable, gracious and fun people I have met in all my years in the wine business.

We flew into Barcelona, and, as is always the case when I arrive in Europe, I felt like crap. It does not seem to matter whether I drink or not, sleep or not, my first goal in arriving in a foreign country is to not vomit on the customs agent. So I slept for most of the bus trip from the airport to our first destination, the D.O. Somontano and the Hotel Casa Peix. What a lovely treat this hotel was! Its decor reminded me of a restaurant you might find in a national park here in the US - 1970's decor, linoleum floors, nondescript-looking dining room. Here at home, in a place that looked like this, one would expect to be served a burger with soggy fries and a coke in a red plastic cup. Who knew this humble-looking joint was a one-star Michelin restaurant and the dinner we had there was to be one of the favorites of the week? The cold creamy garlic soup with mango puree was fabulous. Next course was noodles in a cream sauce with a mixture of wild mushrooms. The entree choices were suckling pig, roasted goat, or pig trotters (feet) stuffed with foie gras. I had never had goat before, so that's what I had. It was delicious. We drank La Mano Mencia, 2007, from Bierzo and Jardin de Luculo Garnacha, 2006, Navarra.

Monday, we visited Bodegas Otto Bestue in D.O. Somontano. The family has been growing grapes since 1640 near the village of Enate. When, about a decade ago, a large corporation attempted to buy their vineyards, the Bestue family decided to keep their vineyards and their grapes and start making their own wines. Good decision. That day, we learned that lunch in Spain is a three-hour affair. Our meal at Bodega del Somantano consisted of five courses paired with the wines of Otto Bestue. After a quick visit to the headquarters of Opus Dei (you Da Vinci Code fans know it), we were off to the city of Zaragoza. We ate late, casual tapas, and finished the night in an Irish Pub. (It seems that whatever county I visit, I end up in an Irish pub!)

Tuesday, we visited the Carinena D.O. In the morning we visited vineyards and tasted through the Abrazo wines. Then we were treated to a visit to a 300-year-old wine cellar! Out of its one, still functioning barrel, we tasted a 60-ish year-old solera-style Viura. How cool! Next stop was Bodegas Anadas. We arrived around noon, lunchtime in our American minds. The Spaniards prefer lunch at around 3:00 PM, so they served us the traditional Spanish snack of tortilla, a type of potato omelet, with the CARE Rose 2008, in the vineyard. After the tour and tasting we sat down at 3 PM, for our second three-hour lunch. We were learning by this time, that every meal (including breakfast) starts with jamon serrano, a Spanish cured ham, resembling proscuitto. Here, we were served serrano made from the tenderloin - yum! I think the highlight of this meal was the foie on toast served with wild mushroom ice-cream!

Wednesday turned out to be one of my favorite days, which was a surprise, since jet lag had hit me hard and I think I only slept about three hours on Tuesday night. We left Zaragoza and headed to the D.O. and town of Calatayud. First, we headed for the vineyards, through the winding, narrow, steep (San Francisco has nothing on this town!) streets of the ancient town. And I am not exaggerating when I say ancient. I did not find out how old this town was, exactly, but I would guess it to be easily 1,000 years old. In some spots, one could not distinguish the eroding hillside from the crumbling walls of a building. And then, suddenly, we were at the top of the hill and popped out of the town, into the vineyards. As we moved higher through the vineyards, we came to a pine forest, which is home to one of the wildest vineyards I have ever seen. The vines are ancient and gnarly, and surrounded by grass, wild rose bushes and trees. If you were to stumble upon this vineyard, you might think it abandoned. But it produces deep and rich Garnachas, for Bodegas Virgen de la Sierra and other members of the Co-op. The wine producers of Calatayud own their vineyards co-operatively. We lunched at Meson de la Dolores,
a 16th century restaurant/hotel. We drank Cruz de Piedre wines and the highlight of this meal was the lamb chops. They were so tiny, that each diner got about a dozen. If you are not a fan of the gamey-ness of lamb, you would not have enjoyed these, as they were probably the gamiest I have ever had. Luckily, I am; they were great. After lunch, we left for Rioja, with a stop at Bodegas Pagps del Moncayo, in D.O. Campo de Borja. This is a tiny, state-of-the-art winery, producing intense Garnachas and Syrahs. That evening, we dined at Marixa Restaurante in the town of Laguardia in Rioja. Another great meal; the highlight for me, was the starter. Roasted piquillo peppers (a local, red, very slightly spicy pepper), with salt and olive oil. My chef husband always says that the key to fine cooking is perfecting the use of salt. This dish convinced me of that. It was so simple, but perfect. Paired with the Vallobera Blanco, 2008 white Rioja (100% Viura), I could have just had three more dishes of the same and been completely content!

On Thursday, we toured Bodegas Vallobera's vineyards and winery and then spent a few hours in the medieval town of Laguardia, a walled city, which, to this day, has never allowed any automobiles to enter. We visited the Portico de Santa Maria, a preserved, 14th century church portico carved out of stone. (Please check out the link; my description does not come close to doing it justice!) We had lunch in the old town at El Bodegon. We started with a seafood salad, welcome, I think, to all of us, after the red-meat extravaganza we'd been on. Then came my favorite part of this meal, shredded, deep fried artichoke. This, I am going to try to duplicate at home!

Friday was our final day of wine touring. We visited Bodega Finca el Carpio winery in D.O Ribera del Duero and had a tasting of the Zumaya wines (Tempranillo). Then we travelled to D.O. Rueda for a visit to Bodegas Avelino Vegas and a tasting of the Esperanza white wines (Verdejo, Verdejo-Viura and Sauvignon Blanc). Our last long lunch was at a tiny place that may have been called El Molino, although, it had no sign. We drove down a sandy, dirt road and parked in what resembled a US state park; picnic tables, grass, not much else. We walked down a path and came to a cement building that resembled what might be a changing room or restroom in a park. But, as surprises never seemed to cease in Spain, it was a little restaurant that served traditional paella!

Saturday was our last day, a free day in Madrid, where we did touristy things like visit the Palacio Real and drink Sangria in the Plaza Mayor.

What a trip! Thank you Louis & David!

Sunday, August 16, 2009


I hope you have had time to read a few books and see a couple of interesting movies this summer. I would like to mention one of each, both relevant to lovers of wine and food.

When I picked up The Billionaire's Vinegar by Benjamin Wallace, I was skeptical of the story's ability to hold my attention. It is the story of the most expensive bottle of wine ever sold, and the circumstances surrounding the sale. It just did not seem to me that there was enough story here to make a book. I am happy to report that I was wrong. It is an interesting, fast read involving history, mystery, crime and the clash of personalities. It reads like a novel, in the same way books like The Perfect Storm and Into Thin Air do. The characters, many of whom will be familiar to wine lovers (Michael Broadbent, Marvin Shanken, Jancis Robinson), are well-developed and engaging. The reader will get a look into how wine appreciation came to be viewed as a pretentious endeavor. The exorbitant, over-the-top, competitiveness of both the collectors and sellers of wine will make the average wine lover's head spin. One does not have to be a wine aficionado to enjoy the book. It's a good, well-written story.

Last night I watched The Future of Food, a documentary by Deborah Koons Garcia, widow of Jerry Garcia, of the Grateful Dead. The film discusses the history, legality and science of genetically modified foods. It gives a highly critical look at the agribusiness giant, Monsanto and the government agencies that are supposed to be regulating it. (Monsanto is a bio-tech company that has created and patented genetically modified organisms. For more info visit Monsanto's web site and the Organic Consumers' Association's site Millions Against Monsanto and form your own opinion.) The film also brings up the legal issues surrounding patenting living organisms and labelling of foods containing GMOs. It is not an unbiased look at these practices; in fact, no one from Monsanto, or any pro-GMO scientists are interviewed. The intent of the movie is to expose and bash GMOs; it does that well. Whether you agree or disagree with Garcia (I happen to agree), it is a thought-provoking movie that should move you to research the subject more.

Next week's post will be from Spain - if I have time!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Summer's End

Since the summers here are amazing, yet unbearably short, I have spent every possible moment outside and taken a break from writing, both my blog and my book. If only I could see my computer screen outside! School is about to start, and it's time to get back to writing.

If you'll forgive me, I'm going to start out with a bit of a rant. And it's on a subject, about which, you probably have strong feelings, or maybe you are just sick of hearing about it. It's health care reform. Am I the only one who thinks that both the left and the right are missing a very major point? Why is nobody even suggesting putting more resources into preventative health care? Wouldn't we save money, in the long run, if fewer people got sick in the first place? If we educated people about eating healthfully, exercising and managing stress? Why do we wait until someone is ill, before we think about health care? Wouldn't it be a good idea to take care of our health while we have it?

What if, at our annual physical exams, we were given nutrition and exercise counseling? What if we got rid of soda machines in schools? (The question should be, how did soda machines ever get into schools in the first place!) What if school lunches were chosen for nutritional value, rather than cost-effectiveness? What if schools made recess mandatory, instead of eliminating it? What if physical education and health classes consisted of more than dodge ball and condoms?
What if employers, instead of being forced to carry unaffordable health insurance policies for their employees, were encouraged to give stress-management exercises or gym memberships? What if we stood up to the giant agri-business lobbies and demanded real food? What if nutrition and cooking classes were offered to low-income households as part of social services?

I can hear some of the arguments against my proposals. Too expensive. Well, if we weren't (publicly and privately) putting billions into treating preventable diseases like hypertension, diabetes and heart disease, there would be a lot more money to put into these programs.
Another argument I've heard is, "people don't want to be told what to do." Well, I've got news for anybody touting that line ---YOU ALREADY ARE BEING TOLD WHAT TO DO, YOU JUST DON'T REALIZE IT! The big agribusiness companies have some of the strongest lobbies in the nation. They control both the producers and the consumers. They mislead us with their labeling, making us believe that unhealthy, fake foods are good for us; they market to children; they even manage to control the government agencies that are supposed to be regulating them, by putting their board members on the regulating committees! For more detailed information, please read Marion Nestle's Food Politics and Eric Schlosser's Fast Food Nation.

Of course, there are a few doctors making these points, Drs. Andrew Weil, Mhmet Oz, and Deepak Chopra, to name just a few. But they are on the fringe. Movements such as Slow Foods and Local Harvest are educating and encouraging people to eat locally produced, real food. Amazing people like Chef Alice Waters, and groups like Better School Food are working tirelessly to bring real, vital food into schools.

Please click on the many links in this post to learn more. If you are motivated, get involved. Please send me your thoughts and suggestions.

Life is too short to eat bad food or drink bad wine! Cheers!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Fun at Food & Wine

I have been attending the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen every year for the past 11 years. Some would envy me, others would pity me. When I was with my former employer, the large wine distributor, the event was hellish for me, before during and after. The details of the stress would bore the average reader, but suffice to say, that I was put in a position where I had to please all the people, all the time, and as we all know, "you can't." This year was very different for me. Working for a small distributor, with only a few wines at the event gave me the chance to experience the event the way it was meant to be enjoyed. I tasted some great wines, sampled some delicious food, chatted with lots of old friends, and of course people-watched. Allow me to recap the tasty, the funny and the downright absurd - Food & Wine 2009...

First the important things - the wines and the food. I tasted a lot of good wine last weekend. Some standouts include the new Benziger Signaterra line of wines, including the 2008 Shone Farm Sauvignon Blanc, the 2007 Bella Luna Pinot Noir, and the 2006 Three Blocks, a Bordeaux style blend. The Benzigers farm biodynamically, and the Signaterra lines symbolizes the link between the three forces of earth, nature and man. A nice bargain line is the Folie a Deux Winery's Menage a Trois line, which makes a white, a red and a rose' by blending unexpected grape varietals, such as Gewurtztraminer in the rose'. All retail for about $10. The Rolly Gassman wines from Alsace were new to me. I tasted the 2007 Pinot Blanc, the 2006 Riesling, and the 2004 Pinot Gris. All three were lovely, recognizably Alsatian wines, but with a bit more residual sugar than one would expect from this region. I did not find this to be a fault, on the contrary, it gave the wines a nice richness. They run in the $30 - $40 range. Rolly Gassman wines are also produced biodynamically.

I found the food in the tent to be less over-the-top than in previous years. Not as much foie gras or caviar as in the past. The food seemed slightly more down-to-earth. No less delicious, just not so excessive. A reflection on the state of the economy? A desire to change our ways from past excesses? Either way, I didn't mind. The American Lamb council served up yummy lamb tostadas, cheeses from all over the world abounded and the lobster meatballs were perfect with the Patron Tequila Bloody Marias for breakfast. Lots of sushi too, which you will never hear me complain about. Which brings me to my next point - Sake' is the new...sake'! I don't know much about sake'; if anyone knows of a good book or course on it, please let me know. But I do know that I am hooked! This is not your grandmother's bag-in-the-box hot sake'. I'm talking about the small-batch, artisan-produced, expensive, sake's that are served cold or at room-temperature. My favorites were the Wandering Poet and the Divine Droplets. I can't tell you any more about either, because all the writing on the bottles is in Japanese!

On to some of the sillier parts of the event. The cell phone hug is huge here. Not familiar with it? Follow these simple instructions: Walk along while talking on your cell phone; see an aquaintance you have not seen in ages; smile,hug with one arm while continuing to talk on your phone; continue walking. It's all the rage. Then of course, there's the people-watching. Aspen is always a great place for this activity, but during Food & Wine, it's at it's best, with all the industry celebrities out and about. For foodies and wine geeks, running into Giada De Laurentiis is as good as seeing Angelina Jolie in person. Mario Batali might as well be Ben Affleck. My best friend, I'll call her Treena, is obsessed with Bobby Flay. So Bobby-stalking is always part of the event for us. Treena, at first dismayed at not being able to track him down in the first few days, was overjoyed to find out the reason for his absence - he had been called away at the last minute to cook for the Obamas! Check out this video of the Commander and Chef.

Reporting from Aspen, Colorado, this is Alexa Bond, signing off...

Coming soon....look for big changes to this blog. A new name, new content, still lots of fun.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Summer Wine Drinks

I got a suggestion from one of my readers (Thanks, Dad), that I do a blog on summer wine drinks. While considering such a post, I was asked if there were any summer wine drinks besides Sangria. A quick Google search came up with hundreds, with names such as Cockney Champagne, Arctic Kiss and Lady Madonna. I'm going to stick to the more basic ones, and my favorite recipes for each.

Sangria is made with red wine and a variety of fruit and served over ice. This traditional Spanish wine punch should, naturally be made with a Spanish wine. The Tempranillo grape is traditional, but, a Garnacha would do just as well. For a lighter twist, try it with a dry Rose'.
1 750 ml. bottle of red wine
2 cups sliced fruit (oranges, lemons, nectarines, peaches, mango - your choice)
4 Tbs sweetener (sugar or honey) more or less to taste
4 oz Cointreau liqueur or fruit flavored brandy
8 oz club soda
Serve in individual glasses over ice.

Bellini. This Champagne cocktail would be perfect for a summer brunch. It is one of a handful of cocktails that can trace its origin to a specific time and place. it is said to have been invented in the 1930s at Harry's Bar in Venice. These days it is made with a multitude of different sparkling wines, most often Champagne, but I like it with Prosecco, a dry Italian sparkler. Some recipes call for peach schnapps. Personally, I would rather put a corkscrew in my eye than drink anything made with peach schnapps. I like it simple.
4 oz cold Prosecco
2 oz peach nectar or fresh pureed peaches
Serve in a Champagne flute without ice.

Kir. This drink brings me back to the summer I spent in Europe with my grandparents as a teenager. (Yes, they let me drink, quite a bit, for that matter! But, we'll save that for another post.) It's simply white wine, with a splash of Creme de Cassis, a black currant liqueur, and served with a lemon twist. The Kir Royale is made with sparkling wine. Some make the Royale with Chambord, a raspberry liqueur, but I find that too sweet and stick with the Cassis. Don't use your best white wine, but stick with something drinkable. My rule is, if you wouldn't drink it, don't cook with it, or mix with it.
5 oz still or sparkling white wine
splash of Creme de Cassis
lemon twist
Serve in a wine glass without ice.

Andito. This is a twist on the rum-based Mojito, invented by my friend Andy (or so he claims!) For this refreshing cocktail, the rum is replaced with white Port, and the mint replaced with basil.
4 fresh basil leaves, muddled in a rocks glass with
1 Tbs simple syrup (sugar dissolved in water)
Fill glass with ice, then add
5 oz white Port
1-2 oz fresh lime juice
splash of club soda
Shake & pour back into rocks glass.

I hope the weather is hot where you are, so you can enjoy one of these summer drinks today!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

What Farmers Market?

Ah, spring in the mountains! Life at 10,000 feet is lovely at this time of year....not. All the foodie magazines are full of phrases like, "Summer, with its bounty of fresh produce.." or "The farmers markets are bursting with fresh vegetables of every kind..." I'm looking out my window at a mountain covered with snow and bare Aspen trees. Everyone is talking summer, yet I still haven't had spring! The Western Chorus Frogs are chirping in my pond and I have noticed that the blueberries in the grocery store are now coming from California, rather than Chile, so I do believe that warmer weather is coming.

I am blessed to live in this wonderful place. I never (well, rarely) forget to appreciate the majesty of the mountains. I'm always blown away by the sight of a moose in my yard. And really, spring is the only season here that is not fabulous. Summer is gorgeous and never too hot. In the fall, the mountains turn golden as the Aspens get ready to drop their leaves. I love to start baking and cooking stews. I pack away (or drink) all of my Sauvignon Blancs and Pinot Grigios in favor of Pinot Noirs and Cabernet Sauvignons. Then comes winter! I realize that if you are reading this from Green Bay or Duluth, you are probably wondering why I put an exclamation point at the end of the last sentence. But, here in the mountains, we love winter - skiing, snowboarding, sledding, snowmobiling. And let's not forget the holidays! Spring, however, has essentially no redeeming qualities; it's cold & wet and cold & wet. So, we pretend; we go out without coats, break out our shorts and sandals and freeze our asses off!

And we keep cooking and drinking wine. I'll dabble in a main-course salad occasionally; my husband will tend the barbecue while shivering in the freezing rain. He cooked some killer burgers the other night. When it comes to burgers, I've got two words for you - Ground Chuck. Please, forget about the 93% lean and the ground turkey. Burgers need fat. Without it, they are bland and crumbly. Unless you eat burgers every day, make the splurge and make up for it tomorrow. By the way, the splurge is only caloric, chuck is cheap. And while we're talking fat, don't be afraid of making your burgers a little bit fat. (My husband refers to mine as meatball-burgers.) You can't get a flat burger to cook medium rare. If you need a flat-burger fix, you can always hit McDonald's later in the week.

With your fat, fatty burger, I suggest you drink an equally large wine. A California Cabernet or Syrah would be perfect. Or try a Spanish Garnacha or a Cotes du Rhone.

Pass the ketchup and keep dreaming of summer!

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Sushi, Sake & Psychedelics

No, we were not doing acid with our sushi. We were at the Denver Art Museum
for The Psychedelic Experience: Rock Posters from the San Francisco Bay Area, 1965 - 71. It's showing through July 19, and if you have the chance, you should go and see it, especially if you were alive in the sixties. I was born in the mid-sixties, so my memory of the original posters is limited. Although, there was one that I am sure I saw regularly throughout my childhood, but just can't remember where. Doubtful that it was at our house; my parents were definitely not hippies. Was it at my hippie uncle's house? At our summer house in Montauk? Anyway, it, and all the others and the stories that went along with them were simply far-out! Each artist had a different style and the styles changed over the years. What these artists all had in common was lifestyle - life in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco, LSD, and music. The posters advertised concerts, many at the Filmore East, for bands such as Jefferson Airplane, the Grateful Dead, Buffalo Springfield, Big Brother and the Holding Company and more - even Sha Na Na. The Museum did a wonderful job of combining art, music and story from the time period epitomized by the summer of love. My only complaint was that although the show was put together somewhat chronologically, there were no signs or directions to help the observer take it all in in chronological order.

After 90 minutes of trippy posters, we headed to Izakaya Den in Denver for some sushi, sake and Japanese-influenced small plates. This beautiful restaurant, modeled after the sake houses of Japan, is a culinary delight. Along with delicious sashimi dishes, the chefs dish out a variety of fabulous small plates, such as Pomegranate Braised Bison Short Rib with Crispy Fig Polenta,
Lemongrass Vichyssoise and Duck Confit on Crispy Wontons Served Over Forbidden Rice.
Although the wine list is rather small, the sake list is extensive. It assigns a number on the sweetness scale to each sake, -20 being the sweetest to +10 for the driest. We ordered the Otokoyama, Hokkaido, +10. It was excellent, but I realized that although I like my sake to be relatively dry, I do like a touch of sweetness. I think that a tiny bit of sweetness in sake has the same effect as salt on food. It wakes it up, gives it a little zing. The completely dry sake is, to me, just a touch flat.

It was a great evening - fabulous food and drink, great company, and LSD influenced posters. What's not to love?

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Easter Treats

When you were a child, did you ever sing the nursery rhyme:

Hot Cross Buns,
Hot Cross Buns,
One a Penny,
Two a Penny,
Hot Cross Buns

Did you wonder what it was about? Probably not. Hot Cross Buns are spiced yeast rolls traditionally made on Good Friday. They are thought to have originated in England, sometime around the fifteenth century. They are soft, only slightly sweet, and studded with golden raisins or other dried fruit. A white cross of frosting tops each bun. Delicious with a hot cup of coffee or a cold glass of milk for breakfast. You can find a great recipe at King Arthur Flour's blog, Bakers' Banter

I wanted to serve these for Easter breakfast, but being yeast rolls, the buns have several hours of rising time. Not wanting to rise myself at 3:00 in the morning, I started the dough yesterday. I've wanted to experiment with this method for a long time. Cinnamon rolls, coffee cakes and all kinds of yeast breads are great for breakfast, but time-consuming. I've heard several theories on the overnight rise; some say to put the dough in the fridge after the first rise and form the dough in the morning. Others say to completely shape the dough, put it in the baking pan and put it in the fridge without a second rise, letting it rise slowly overnight in the cold. I went with the second method, then took the buns out in the morning, set them on the counter to come to room temperature and then baked them. They came out perfect!

On to Easter dinner. We're making a leg of lamb, although our foodie 5-year-old thinks rabbit stew would be more appropriate! I've got a ton of mint growing in the sun room, so I'm going to make a mint butter, with some tarragon and fresh thyme and oregano thrown in for basting. We'll serve it with sauteed baby carrots (the real ones, not the ones shaped to look like babies).
Then, I'll throw whatever vegetables I have left into a puff pastry, maybe add a little goat cheese, and bake a tart. I think we have a couple of bottles of Pax Syrah in the cellar, though I'm not sure of the vineyard or vintage. But getting down into the cellar is a bit of an effort, so we may have to settle for the Reynolds Family Winery Los Carneros Pinot Noir, 2006. Settle? Life's tough....

Happy Easter!

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Politics, Food and Confusion

Have you gotten one, or maybe several e-mails asking you to sign a petition to stop HR 875, the "Food Safety Modernization Act of 2009"? If you read foodie or political blogs, you've probably read about the controversy surrounding this bill. When I first heard about the bill, it sounded good to me. It would create a Food Safety Administration, which would take on the food safety issues now under the jurisdiction of the Food & Drug Administration, allowing the FDA to concentrate solely on drug safety, a big enough job by its self. This new agency would have authority to order recalls of tainted food, which, surprisingly, the FDA does not have. It can only suggest recalls. The bill includes new safety regulations for food production facilities, requires more safety inspections and requires such facilities to register with the agency and comply with inspections (there is no charge for registering.) Check out
for a recap of what HR 875 actually does and does not do.

Then along comes an e-mail from telling me that this bill will essentially regulate small farmers right out of business! Telling me to imagine life without farmers' markets & roadside farm stands! Stating "Americans would be forced to eat only corporately manufactured, chemically treated, hermetically sealed irradiated fruits and vegetables." Would I sign a petition against it? Where's my pen? Then, being the good lawyer's daughter that I am, I remembered that I am never to sign anything without researching it fully.

I started with Marion Nestle's blog, She is the author of several books on the food industry, including Food Politics and What to Eat. I think she's brilliant and recommend that everyone read her work. She gives a few links, and I also did some google-ing to get some more information. My research, by no means exhaustive, found nothing that backs up the claims stated on the anti-HR 875 petition. So, I'm baffled by why this petition exists, since its claims appear to be unfounded. What is the real reason that some people don't want this bill to pass? Certainly they are not for contaminated food? Pro-Salmonella? I'm not being sarcastic, (well, maybe a little); I really would like someone to give me the real reasons why some people are so against this bill that they'll say anything to stop it. Maybe if I knew these reasons, I'd agree with them.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Italian Epiphany

Have you ever had a wine epiphany? It's a moment when you are tasting or drinking wine and suddenly all the stars in your palate, mind and emotions align. Epiphanies rarely happen in a classroom-style tasting, or in a sales meeting, when 30 or so wines are forced upon you in less than an hour. They often happen while tasting at a winery or in a vineyard, sometimes during an amazing meal, and most often in the company of people you enjoy. I clearly remember my Burgundy epiphany. It was about ten years ago at a wine dinner hosted by Jacques Seysses, of Domaine Dujac, at the Little Nell, in Aspen. The food was great, the company was fun and fascinating, and the wines were simply singing. Suddenly, I got it. I understood why people lose their minds (and their life savings) for great Burgundies.

I had an Italian wine epiphany last week. I was dining at Barolo Grill, in Denver, with my co-workers (whose company I enjoy immensely), and our Italian wine importer. We started with the Ca' Rugate Monte Fiorentine Soave Classico, 2007, a single vineyard wine that has received the Tre Bicchieri award, the most prestigious Italian wine award, for the past four vintages. If you think Bolla when you hear Soave, well, as my Italian relatives would say, "Fugghetaboutit!" This wine has intensity, body, depth and was delightful with my Hamachi Crudo con Calamari appetizer. We tasted several reds from regions as diverse as Abruzzo, Campania and Piedmonte, all wonderful. My epiphany began to really kick in with the Moroder Rosso Conero 2006, a wine made from the Montepulciano grape from a small region in Marche. Maybe it was because I had it in my glass as the entrees were served. It paired perfectly with my Gnocchi Verde con Agnello, spinach gnocchi with braised lamb shank and broccoli rabe. The wine was dark and complex; it made every bite of food taste better and the meal made ever sip of the wine taste better. That, my friends, is what food & wine pairing is all about! Then, we moved on to the Barolo. Barolo, I think I can safely say, is the Italian wine that probably hands out the most epiphanies. When you talk to Italian wine fanatics, you find that almost without exception, they are in love with Barolo. It had been coming all night, but while drinking the Andrea Oberto Barolo 2004 at the end of my meal, once again, I got it. Oh yeah, I got it.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

If You give a Man a Bottle of Wine....

I've been asked by several people to do a blog recommending wines that are good values. Not surprising, with the economy such as it is. I certainly don't mind recommending specific wines, but what I'd like to do today is go with the old Chinese proverb, "If you give a man a fish....," and suggest some easy ways for you to find your own values. With a few simple guidelines and the courage to leave your comfort zone, you can drink delicious wine every night, without spending more than $15 a bottle. Ready?

  • Stay away from California. In the world of wines, California wines, especially good ones, tend to be pricey. While there are plenty of cheap wines from the Golden State, you may have to drink a lot of mediocre ones before finding a great value.
  • Read shelf-talkers. Those little pieces of paper hanging from the shelves under the bottles can give you a wealth of information on wines. One thing to watch for: make sure the vintage described on the shelf-talker matches the vintage on the bottle. Occasionally it doesn't; if a previous vintage got a better review than the current one, the shelf talker matching the better review sometimes mysteriously stays up. Whether this is deliberate deception or simple laziness on the retailer's part is up for debate.
  • Get to know your wine merchant. Don't be afraid to ask for recommendations. A knowledgeable retailer can help you find just what you are looking for.
  • SPAIN - SPAIN - SPAIN. Shall I say it again? Spain. Spanish wines, are, in my opinion, the best bang-for-your-buck wines available. Try a Verdejo from Rueda if you're a Sauvignon Blanc drinker, a Garnacha from Calatayud if you like Syrah, or a Tempranillo from Carinena for an all-around red. Have a Garnacha Rosado on a hot summer day for a yummy porch-pounder. Look for the little-known Mencia from Bierzo in fine wine shops.
  • Try Argentina, and table wines from Portugal. Lots of great values come from these countries as well.
  • Be cautious when shopping Australia. While oceans of inexpensive wines come from down-under, many are mediocre or worse. Remember, no matter how cheap something is, it is not a value if it's just plain bad. You can get great values from Australia, as long as you do your homework.
  • Buy wines rated 85 - 89 points. Getting a score of 90 or above is license to jack up a wine's price by at least 20%. You can find great values just under that mark.
  • Be a little bit wine-geeky. Really, it's OK. Take notes when you taste, write down ones you like, ask your friends what they like.

Now, get to your local wine shop!!

P.S. If you're not familiar with the aforementioned Chinese proverb, it is, "If you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day, if you teach him how to fish, you feed him for a lifetime." Now, you are ready to find wine values for a lifetime!

Saturday, March 7, 2009

I'm Back!

Hello Dear Readers!

Apologies for the long absence. As most of you who read my blog know, I'm now back in the wine business. And it seems that the number one rule of blogging is that, if you write about anything that involves your job, you WILL get into trouble. So, what's a blogger to do? Can I poke fun at the wine industry when I'm part of it? Can I review the wines that I sell? Sounds like a conflict of interest. Can I write about my couple of days selling with Steve Reynolds, one of the coolest, nicest guys in Napa? Maybe. Can I write about food? Print recipes? Yoga? Sure.

The answer is, I don't know exactly what I'm going to write about or what direction this blog will take. Maybe I can write about the wines I sell; after all, it's not like I'd say anything negative! But the truth is, I've missed my blog and I want to keep writing it. Although I must say, in the absence of blogging, my novel has been coming along quite nicely. But, that's another story! So, expect more regular posts - subscribe if you haven't yet. I can't tell you what they will entail, but hopefully, you will find them interesting.


Alexa B.