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