Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Waxing Poetic about Syrah and Moose

On Sunday afternoon, I rummaged through the freezer to see what we had in there that I could coax into a meal later that day, sorting through a variety of plainly-wrapped packages of frozen meat. Having hunters in the family, there is often quite a selection of animals to be found in the freezer, all in similar packaging. It takes a little bit of deciphering to figure out what you're looking at. I came across a package that I deciphered to be moose sausage. YUM! Moose sausage is for dinner! Upon thawing the package, I discovered that it was not sausage, but just ground moose meat, and I was a little bit sad because moose sausage is so good, and I haven't had any for a while. But never fear, with some mushrooms, some red peppers, an onion, and some tomatoes, ground moose meat makes a wonderful and hearty pasta sauce. So this is what I did with it.

While hunting around the wine rack to try to figure out what to drink with this moose creation, I was looking for something big but not too high in alcohol, and something flavourful without being too fruity or jammy. Moose meat has a distinct flavour, but it's not a strong-tasting meat like venison is; I usually think of it as being between good beef and venison on the flavour-chart. It's also very lean, and can easily become dry if it's not cooked properly. While there are a few wines that I think are naturals for foods like duck, wild turkey, or venison, moose is so delicate that it takes a special kind of wine to properly pair it.

You might be surprised, then, that the bottle I picked was a California Syrah. I had a bottle that my friend had given me while I was visiting her in Sonoma last spring, and I had been watching it for about a year, wondering when and under what circumstances I would open it. It was the last of the bottles that I brought back with me, and opening each one brought with it the knowledge that no matter how good it was or how much I wanted more, I could not get more - not until I go back to California or wine-runners start ferrying cases across the Great Lakes. Each sip of each bottle had to be cherished; I would not have it again for a long time, if ever. These are difficult circumstances under which to open and enjoy a bottle of wine.

The moose called for something special, though, so I went for it. I took the bottle of Bodega Rancho 2009 Sonoma Coast Syrah gingerly from the rack, brushed off the dust, and told it that it was time. What a delicious decision!

The Sonoma Coast wine growing region is so called because it is right on the edge of the ocean, to the north and on the other side of the mountains that separate Sonoma Valley and Napa Valley from each other and from the coast. This means that even though it's quite close to regions that are very warm, the Sonoma Coast vineyards have different influences from the ocean and the land than the valley vineyards have. According to Bodega Rancho, the Que Syrah (ha! good one) Vineyard, where my 09 Syrah was grown, is foggy in the morning, from cool ocean currents meeting warm air masses over the land, and sunny and warm in the afternoon. The diurnal swing between cool nights and warm afternoons is considered to be important for maintaining acid in the grapes while they ripen. The vines also have to have their foliage trimmed sufficiently through the growing season that the leaves don't cover the grape clusters from the sun - if they do, then the clusters may not ripen properly, or they may become mildewed and rot because of the dampness left from the foggy mornings.

The result of the effort of the vineyard workers and winemakers at Bodega Rancho is a delicious, balanced, elegant Syrah. It was a fist-pump wine. It was a wine that makes you say "whoa, I wish I had more of this," and cry because you don't. It tasted delicious, with focused black fruit, black pepper, cherry, some cured meat, and a hint of dark earthiness prominent on the palate. It was my favourite kind of Syrah, which always expresses itself to me less in flavour and more in an image: a big leather club chair in a darkened library that has a sensuous-but-ominous atmosphere, and which invites you to come, sit comfortably, and linger. I don't think anything could have been a better match for the moose and mushroom pasta. The wine had lots of its own character, and complemented the earthy, simple dish without overpowering any of the delicate moose flavours. It was also juicy and full enough to handle the weight of the pasta. I think it even added to the experience of eating the moose by keeping our mouths watering a bit, making up for the leanness of the meat.

I wish you could get some of this wine and some moose and enjoy them together. Heck, I wish I could as well. If you get some, enjoy it, and let me know where you got it from!

Wine: Bodega Rancho Syrah 2009, Sonoma Coast
Food Pairing: Moose and mushroom pasta (or moose steak in mushroom gravy with sauteed greens).
Chip Pairing: Hickory BBQ Kettle Chips
Verdict:  YUM! 

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Fighting the March Lion

How does that saying about March go again? In like a lion, out like a lion? Oh wait, it's supposed to be out like a lamb, but that's never actually true, is it. I wonder in what decade of which century that phrase was coined; if I get the chance to go back in time I'd like to slap the person who came up with it for constantly misleading us and giving us false spring hope for centuries to come.

I'm in the depths of a winter crisis. I can't take any more of the cold weather, and yet there are actually weeks of it still in the forecast. It's going to be a slow spring, which is absolutely perfect for maple syrup, but really bad for the collective mental health of all people living through these last cold weeks, aching for warm weather. How to cope?!

I guess the first line of defence is usually to go away to warm places right around this time of year. Since I have the great pleasure of being my sister's Maid of Honour this summer (more to come on that, later), I am trying to use my vacation time frugally, knowing that I will need some of it for wedding duties, and more of it to have time off in the summer, when there's no sane reason to be stuck in an office if it's at all avoidable. But man, could I ever use a warm vacation right now. Since it's not an option, I'll need to look to other things.

SatC season 6 - no tights? no scarf? no comprende.
Fresh fashion inspiration is one place to start, but it's also difficult to find at this time of year. My winter creativity for dressing in layers is petering out, as is my will to put on tights *every day*, and all I'm seeing in magazines are bright floral prints and breezy spring outfits. It is not spring here. It is cold here. THIS WILL NOT DO.

I'll admit to you that my fashion-inspiration guilty pleasure is, and has been for many years, Sex and the City. As anyone who has watched this show knows, winter isn't a big part of New York in the SatC world. Season two and season six are the only seasons that really incorporate times of the year that are not warm; season two starts out in early spring, with the ladies having to wear warm coats to a Yankees game, and the leaves in central park just budding when Miranda and Carrie encounter the 'man who hasn't left Manhattan in ten years', while season six actually involves snowfall, early darkness, and really warm-looking sweaters. The other seasons of the show pretty much make New York look like a tropical heaven where open-toed strappy shoes are always a wardrobe option, and no one has ever heard of goose-down parkas. However, even SatC fails me at times, like when Carrie and Charlotte apparently don't need to wear tights to be warm walking down the wintry street? Nope.

Scarves are the one thing
I miss in the summer.
I'm trying to fight the March lion by upping my scarf game, and getting as much wear out of my favourite sweaters as possible. Every time I put one on, I catch myself thinking 'you never know, this might be its last wear of the season.' Hopeful, oh so hopeful! I'm also starting to devise my dry-cleaning strategy for my winter clothes. I've lost a few great things to moths, and apparently getting wool and cashmere cleaned right before putting it away actually dissuades the moths from dining at your winter-wardrobe buffet. I have a lot of wool in my closet, so I'm going to have to do some kind of dry cleaning rotation, sending them in three at a time or something.

With March appearing to be brutally cold this year, anyone who enjoys outdoor winter activities is in for an extended season. This is pretty nice, because spring snow-activities can be a lot of fun - when the sun is warm enough for you to take off your coat but there's still enough snow to tromp around on. Granted, the loss of snow has not been a question, and the weather has not been warm enough to doff one's coat, but we did recently take a snowshoeing trip into Algonquin Park (one of my favourite winter weekend trips), and this time we saw three moose! (Meese? Meeses? Mosse?)

We could see the tracks of this moose zig-zagging
across our trail through hip-deep snow
I felt lucky. These guys are hard to catch a glimpse of. They aren't afraid of humans at all, probably because they're confident against predators in their massive size, but they're kind of shy. We were careful not to approach them, and made a lot of noise as they observed our passage by them. Here are two of the three moose we saw, and you can see how tough they are to spot. The camera was zoomed in to its maximum, and then I further zoomed and cropped in the photos to get these pics.

That's all I've got left in me for dealing with the winter this year. I hope that these strategies of mine will help me get through the next few weeks, because I am ready for spring now, and not 5C  or 8C, but 16 or 18C. I have a while to wait for that - I will do my best to be patient. I hope you're holding up where you are. If you ever need someone to just sit and listen while you wail in despair about yet another snow fall, you know where to find me.

This moose cow is lying down with a calf near-by,
her ears perked up watching us pass

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Choo Love

It's been too long since I posted anything about shoes! In an exciting use of Christmas and birthday gift money last week, I bought my first pair of Jimmy Choos. I'm debuting them today. So, without further ado, the Choos: 
Aren't they glorious! 
 By the way, it is currently -21C in Toronto, and with the wind chill it's -27C, so I'd like to point out that this shoe choice is an open act of rebellion against winter and locking up our toes in boots and multiple layers of socks all the time. we can't accept it quietly! SPRING SHOES NOW!

Bask in your freedom, feet!

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Coming to an Ontario Farmers' Market Near You!

Good news for us wine lovers, and not so good news for addictions and mental health professionals: the Ontario government has announced that they're going to expand the 'Our Wine Country' program to promote VQA wines in the province. What does this actually mean for us? It means that the government is going to allow VQA wines to be sold in farmers markets!

While my work-brain is saying 'hm... that is a change that will further erode the system of alcohol sales that we have, which is actually a really good tool for the taxation and control of alcohol, and especially effective at limiting sales to minors,' my wine-brain is saying 'THIS IS AWESOME!'

You see, I lead a little bit of a double-life when it comes to alcohol-related things. Part of my professional work involves asking the government to make sure that they put programs and systems in place to limit the health-related harms of alcohol. Alcohol, sadly, is a leading killer of people, not only through accidental death (vehicle collisions, violence, falls, drownings), but through various cancers (stomach, colon, throat, liver), accidental poisonings, chronic diseases (depression, cirrhosis, hypertension), and acute health events (stroke). It is also highly addictive, with 15% of people who drink alcohol experiencing addiction.

There have been lots of studies looking at how the availability of alcohol interacts with rates of drinking and alcohol addiction, and the relationship is direct: make alcohol more widely-available, get higher rates of injury, death, and addiction attributable to alcohol. At the same time, the Ontario government makes money hand over fist from alcohol sales. The LCBO hands over billions of dollars (8 billion last year, I think), which mostly go into the health-care system, and much of which ends up being used for alcohol-related harms. In 2002, alcohol-related injuries and deaths cost 5.2 billion hard-earned tax dollars - that's quite a lot, wouldn't you say? And that was a long time ago, too. So maybe they should raise the costs and keep a tight hold on where and when alcohol can be sold. Maybe this would do a better job of protecting the health of the people of Ontario, as well as our money.

That said, as you probably know if you're reading this blog, I'm a wine sommelier by hobby and really enjoy all kinds of alcoholic beverages. I used to live in Quebec, where craft brewed beers were available in the depanneur across the street, and I could even take my empties back to them to get my deposit. I embraced the ability to drink bottles of wine in public parks, and to go to 'bring your own' restaurants for delicious meals accompanied by what I liked to drink best.

With each relaxation of Ontario's prohibition-style liquor laws, my soul sings "ahhh, civilization at last!" But, I know that we're not doing ourselves any favours by drinking greater amounts of alcohol, and I feel for the 1.5 million people in Ontario who struggle with alcohol dependency and may now have to avoid the wonderful farmers markets when wine invades that formerly alcohol-free space.

It will be interesting to see what kind of program the government is able to come up with that involves whatever level of sales control they find appropriate. It will be convenient to be able to buy wine at the farmers' market, but I'm assuming that the teenage farm helper will not be the one to sell it to me, nor that she will have the responsibility of carding people who look under-age. I also wonder what they will need to do to control the pricing and the revenue. There are a lot of challenges, to be sure.

My wine-self hopes that this program will get up and running by this summer, if they can get all the policy kinks straightened out, but it might not come to fruition until next year. And since 2013 was such a banner grape-growing year, there should be plenty of delicious VQA wine for sale in 2015. Wouldn't it be great to grab a bottle while picking up some veggies for dinner? I do think so. Let's think positively, wine friends: wine at farmers' markets could be just around the bend.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Australian Wine Tasting Eve

Last night I had the pleasure of joining a group of Somms for an Australia-specific wine tasting night. I forgot my phone, unfortunately, so you'll have to endure some LCBO website images. We tasted more red than white, which is perhaps unsurprsing, though a little unfair. Though I don't drink a lot of Australian wine, the whites that they produce can be more elegant and restrained than some of the big, fruity Shirazes that they've become so famous for. Here are the highlights, according to me.

courtesy of the LCBO.comI surprised myself with my favourite white wine of the evening, because it was a Chardonnay. I don't usually prefer Chardonnay over other white varietals, but the Sticks 2010 from Yarra Valley is a particularly lovely example of ripe, unoaked Chardonnay. The nose was was full of fruit, ranging from lemon peel, lemon curd, and lime juice, to white peach, ripe kiwi, and apricot. The palate burst with juicy flavour, adding mandarin and granny smith apple. There was a pleasant roundness to the wine, which might come from a tiny bit of malo-lactic fermentation, or perhaps from sitting on lees. This was certainly one of the most complex Chardonnays I've tasted, and it was delicious with a soft goat cheese we had on hand.

courtesy of the LCBO.comMy top red of the night was a Cabernet Sauvignon from Coonawarra. The Coonawarra region is notable for its 'terra rossa' - red earth - which is said to give the wines a particular elegance. The region also has a moderate climate, meaning that it's not as hot as some of the other growing regions in Australia. This allows the winemakers to produce a less alcoholic and less jammy-tasting wine than in some other regions. Wynne's Coonawarra Estate Black Label 2010 Cab Sauv had ripe strawberries, red cherries, spice box, and a touch of cedar on the nose, with a palate to match, adding flavours of tea, cherry pit, and a touch of graphite on the mid-palate. This was a medium bodied wine, with well-integrated alcohol and tannins. It was delicious with sliced prosciutto, the acid in the wine cutting through the fattiness of the meat.

courtesy of the LCBO.comSince one of Australia's earliest produced and most famous style of wine is a sweet Semillon, we also got the chance to try a little desert wine. De Bortoli's 2009 Noble One, a 100% botrytis-infected Semillon wine, is not to be missed if you like sweet wines. With a nose full of candied oranges, honeycomb, ginger, and toast, a palate to match, and mouth-watering juiciness, the Noble One was an excellent match for salted fois gras on baguette. Don't miss out, this is delicious.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Three Decades Done

the Bistro girls, circa 2003
Six or seven more to go? It's an interesting thought. I feel like most of the first decade of my life is now a thin collection of blurry film-like memories that slick over the surface of childhood. I remember how much I hated it when I was turning six, and I tried to stay upstairs because if I didn't go down to celebrate then it wouldn't really be my birthday and I would still be five. I also remember how much I disliked everyone saying "ooOOooh!  Double digits!" when I was turning ten. I think I tried to ward off this irritating chorus by making something up about zero not properly being a digit.

at the Patty House, spring 2006

My second decade is a little clearer, though the anguish of being a teenager has faded, thankfully, into something curiously odd. It's as if I'm looking at a tiny goblin through the magnifying glass of time, trying to figure out what she's always so sore about. Teenagers are unbearable, even to teenagers. And now, dear friends, the third decade of my life is also coming to a close. Next Thursday marks the end.

me and my besties, August 2006, before
I left for Scotland.

My 20s are easy to remember at the moment, though I really have to reach back to remember where I was and what I worried about when I was turning 20 years old. It was the end of 2003. I would have been half-way through second year of undergrad, living with my roomie, Rachel, in a small but clean basement apartment. I took a course on existential philosophy and realized the world was an empty box that I could fill up with meaning as I chose to.  My 20s were wild and adventurous. I'm a seeker of experiences, and so I experienced. I partied, I learned; I moved to Europe, I came home; I did an MA, I fell in love, I moved to Europe again. Then I came home again, moved again, and finished out the decade in Toronto with my partner and my cat.

me and Ambie, just after I moved to Montreal, 2007
Some friends who have turned 30 this year seem to lament the passing of their 20s, and even feel a little nostalgic for "their youth." Seemingly in contrast, though I'm sure that my friends are really quite happy with who they are and how their lives are going, I'm happy to say goodbye to my 20s. It was a really good decade, but also full of crap. Just think of all the crap I waded through in my 20s: crap boyfriends, crap jobs, crap internships (unpaid!), crap wine (silly, ignorant me), crap apartments, crap decisions (see: boyfriends, jobs, apartments, wine.); it's crap all around. Of course, all this crap was tremendously useful to me in figuring out what is not crap. Sometimes it takes mistaking heaps and heaps of crap for not-crap to realize what the tell-tale signs of not-crap really are. That's what one's 20s are for. I definitely used mine wisely.

Katie and Amy and me (and Chris)
New Year's eve, 2007

Now, with a firm handle on how to discern not-crap people and things, I have a life full of Good Stuff: great partner, great friends, great apartment, great job, great plans for the future. That said, now is not the time to become lackadaisical. There are things to do in the coming fourth decade of my life.

I want to get a PhD - round out my academic portfolio with yet another degree, and use it to push my career forward. In academia or in governmental work, this will be useful to me. Even if it wasn't, it would still be worthwhile, because learning and undertaking an intense project like a dissertation are valuable. I'm also excited to take a break from 9-5 for a while - even with rewarding work, the routine can feel like drudgery.

Grad Students on Strike! McGill, 2008

I want to make a decision about getting my black belt. I suppose that I've been thinking about doing this for a while now, but in my 30's I'm challenging myself to make a decision about it. I will either decide that I really am driven to finish my training and get my belt, or I'll decide that it's actually not that important to me and I'll set the idea aside in a more serious way. I'm always dithering about getting it, and I dislike that. I will decide to be satisfied with a brown belt, or I will get the black.

I want to move somewhere new. I hope that Drew is on-board with this one, and I know that circumstance will have a lot to do with it, but I'd love for us to move to a new city. Nothing against Toronto, but I like discovering new cities, and though I've only been in Toronto for three years (and four months), I already feel the pull of a new place. Perhaps a smaller place. Maybe Halifax, or Fredericton, or Winnipeg, or Saskatoon. Maybe Thunder Bay, maybe Ottawa. Just some-place new, small, easy to exit and enter, with really serious winters and affordable rental properties that have little yards where I could plant a vegetable garden and maybe have backyard-chickens. Where Drew can be a physiotherapist and I can do academic and/or policy work. Some-place like that.

en route to a Dream Party,
with Lisa and Elaine, dressed
as David Bowie, 2008
I want to become an Eccentric Aunt. I do realize that this one isn't totally within my control, as it's highly dependent on my sister and my friends having children. However, as it's likely that all of them will have children in the next decade (because I think all of them have stated that children are a goal of theirs), I'm not overly worried about obtaining children whom I will Aunt. My role in fulfilling this objective is to become the zaniest, weirdest, out-going-est Aunt who is always wearing amazing and unusual outfits and brings strange gifts from other countries that the kids can keep in drawers and never quite know what to do with, and have really fun and adventurous sleep-overs. Imagination mandatory.

my 25th birthday (and
perfectly decorated cake)
I want to travel lots more. This is an essential part of fulfilling Eccentric-Aunt-related goals, but is also a passion of mine, so I think it might happen even it if wasn't explicitly on my fourth-decade list. That said, there's no better way to ensure that something happens than to list it outright, so here it is. Some of my top places that I want to travel to (and with Drew, I hope) are Japan (specifically Shikoku, with Haruka), Hong Kong (with Melissa), New Zealand, Reykjavik, Scotland (specifically to drive the coast to the Highlands with Drew), Kenya (with Lisa), and Berlin. I'm so excited to start ticking these off! I also really want to take another trip with my sister, this time without a whole brigade of people with us.

I want to take more time for snuggles. I'm the type of person who will use all the time available to do things that require doing and which I don't want to do before doing something that I do want to do. I will put the laundry away or do dishes before I sit down to read my book for a few minutes, even though I could easily do these tasks some other time. Sometimes when Drew pulls me onto
walking a vineyard in
Beaujolais with Amanda and
Marianne, 2009
the couch my mind automatically flies through the list of the next few tasks I need to get done, until I quiet it by remembering that these moments are made of gold, and can't be wasted. I need to be reminded that taking five to sit on the couch is not only OK, but EXCELLENT. It seems like it's ever easier to forget to take a few minutes' break before leaping into some kind of action. I will remember to do this, and I won't lose sight of the importance of these small moments and gestures.

I want to wear Fun Things every day. It's too easy to be boring and lazy when it comes to getting dressed. I have deep respect for comfy jeans and a t-shirt, and I know many days on which this is the perfect outfit. I also know that getting dressed for work sucks, and that a professional dress code is death to creativity. I have a wardrobe full of really interesting clothes, and this decade, they're going to earn their keep. Shoes, this is your warning. Be ready.

Drew and me at the Paulaner brewery,
Starkbierfest, Munich, winter 2010

I want to love deeply, be grateful, and stay open-minded. Age and stress and responsibility can really take all the magic out of life, amirite? I'm staging a resistance. I've been staging it all my life, but I'm redoubling my efforts now. The main requirement for loving deeply, being grateful, and staying open is the same: letting myself and my ideas be vulnerable. I have to trust that I won't get hurt, but foster resilience in case I do. Resentment, disillusionment, cynicism, and discontentment are all sorts of markers of adulthood or maturity that we put up, as if you're not really a grown-up until you can look at the world with jaded eyes and say "plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose." I reject that. It's a crap attitude, and I'm leaving crap in my 20s. Hope, optimism, and trust are as delicate as snowflakes; all it takes to crush them is a negative thought or a careless word. I will work to cultivate positivity in myself and around me, and use it to love people, work for a better world, appreciate the universe around me, and never close myself off to wonderment and joy.

Get ready 30's, here I come.

Me and Drew, snowshoeing in Algonquin,
winter 2013

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Santa is Gearing Up

One week until Christmas Eve! 
The countdown is on - 'tis the season for magic.