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Monthly Archives: May 2011

Straight From Bucerias and Into Our Mouths!

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Sometimes, things just click. Things just fall into place and all is right with the world. You plan something out, a dinner, say, and everything just works. Your timing is just right, your guests are taken care of, you don’t need to use a trap door to silence dissidents, and it all turns out perfectly.

Last night was such a time. Costco was a joy and had the wine we were looking for. We found a delicious alternative to red meat. The traffic was docile and light. We took a break in the afternoon to sit around the pool with friends. We took the dog and the baby to the beach. The evening finished at a reasonable hour with us again sitting by the pool, dipping our legs for relief from the heat, sharing the last few glasses of wine that we had with dessert, not minutes before.

All in all, an evening Nigella herself would have been proud of.

On the menu: Turkey Arrachera, Warm Salad with Bell Peppers and Asparagus, Rice, Trifle.

For those uninitiated to Mexican cuisine, one of the greatest contributions our host country has made to the culinary world is arrachera. It is typically a marinated flank steak that even the most inept cooks would have a hard time screwing up. It takes minutes to cook and tastes delicious when it’s done. Recently, however, we’ve been tallying the amount of red meat that we consume as a family and were shocked with the results. We eat about as much red meat as your average Republican. Since Rene and Cara don’t eat fish and seafood, however, and since I don’t eat pork, it leaves us with few options. After a while, one does tire of chicken.

The alternative to red meat: Turkey Arrachera. When we saw the turkey arrachera, we thought we’d give it a shot, and it did not disappoint. It comes pre-marinated, so all you have to do is slap it on the grille, flip it for flavour, and done.

The warm salad was excellent. Marinated bell peppers and asparagus in raspberry balsamic vinegar and basil-infused olive oil, tossed for a few minutes in the grille wok just to warm (the peppers first, then the asparagus to blanche), then added to mesclun greens and blackberries. For the vinaigrette, we simply used the raspberry balsamic vinegar and the basil-infused olive oil, and added salt and pepper (black and white) to taste. Re-toss the salad (tee-hee) and serve.

Megan’s trifle, however, was a thing of beauty. Pound cake and custard, mixed with blackberries and raspberries, then coated with a blackberry liqueur. She let it stand in the fridge for a few hours before, then topped it with whipped cream and with fresh berries. Perfect.

During the prep, we tried the first wine of the evening.

Wine: Kim Crawford, Marlborough, New Zealand, Sauvignon Blanc, 2009, $169.95 MXN
Rating: Two Bottles

This is a really nice wine and we have to thank Nicole from Bucerias for recommending it. It is a very pleasant wine to drink. Very refreshing. Perfect for the hot and humid weather we are heading into. Peachy and apple-y, with an earthiness we couldn’t quite place. Some say herbs; some disagree. Some rolled their eyes at others while others clung to the silly notion that they couldn’t taste herbs, while one with a discerning palate swore the herbs were there. Still, we agreed: earthiness. And what that earthiness does is keep the wine from becoming too fruity and acidic. We will definitely be buying this wine again.

During dinner, we moved on to our second bottle and lo, the lamentations began.

Wine: Wolf Blass, Yellow Label, South Australia, Chardonnay, 2009, $269.95 MXN
Rating: One bottle.

What can we say? Sometimes you win; sometimes you drink a bottle of pee.

I don’t know what it is about chardonnays, but I just can’t wrap my mouth around them. It’s just a funny thing about these oaky little bastards – they set my teeth on edge.

It lacks character, the Yellow Label does. Woody nose, thanks to the oak, but with a clear taste. Pleasant, but compared to the other wine we drank, not great. Likeable for a chardonnay and the second glass was better. (We were determined that this bottle would haunt us no further than last night. We were going to kill it with our mouths and damn it straight to hell. You think you’re going to take up space in my fridge, chardonnay? Hah! That’s what you think! We’ll drink the rest of you by the pool and hang the morrow!)

Now, we gave this wine a One Bottle rating, but we fully acquiesced that we just … might not know that much about wine. It is possible that we were drinking a really wonderful bottle of chardonnay and we just couldn’t appreciate it. Maybe the mark of a good chardonnay is how much it makes the back of your cheeks ache. Maybe the intensity of the flavours is meant to make you shiver. Maybe you are supposed to wish you were drinking something else. If that is the case, then we greatly under estimated this wine. All I know is that every time I looked at my glass, I got a little depressed to see that there was still more left. It was like the wine knew what we were up to and kept reproducing in our cups.

I can say this of white wine, however: it certainly does not stay with you the next day the way that red wine can.

Well, that’s it for this week.

Next week will be a little weird, since Megan is out of town, only to return Sunday night, and we haven’t planned anything for such an event. We have no contingency set up for a disaster of such magnitude. The mantle of responsibility rests on my shoulders, I suppose. Let’s see what I can come up with.
Till then,

Cheers!

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O Canada!

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So, our journey north comes to an end. I am listening to The Tragically Hip, watching HGTV, and missing my family and friends already. But mostly, I will miss seeing Decked Out. That show looks awesome! Kidding: family and friends.

We are sitting on a plane, heading back home to Mexico, care of Westjet. Our daughter is entertaining us by examining all of the items in the seats, as well as the heads of the people sitting in front of us. Specifically their hair. They love it. They complain to the flight attendants, but they love it. Secretly.

Canada treated us well, once again. It is wonderful to be back in the land that we love, surrounded by the quiet organization that our people are fond of, their abrupt politeness, and the ubiquitous traffic of Toronto.

We saw a lot of friends. Got caught up on old friendships. Drank Guinness. Lots of Guinness.

It must be said that vacations home cannot be truly called vacations, however, as most of your time is spent driving from one friend, or group of friends, to another. Tie that in with a baby who likes her freedom like a tiny William Wallace, and it makes for some truly enjoyable moments in rental cars.

Baby: “Mama, mama, mama …”
Me (to Cara): “Sweetie: baby.”
Baby: “Mama, mama, mama …”
Me (to Cara): “Sweetie.”
Cara (opening her eyes, half unconscious from chasing Baby around various restaurants, cafes, and friends’ houses while I was chatting with friends over coffee): “Hm?”
Me: “Baby.”
Baby: “Mama, mama, mama …”
Cara (to Baby): “What do you need, sweetheart?”
Pause.
Baby: “No.”

One hundred metres later …

Baby: “Mama, mama, mama …”

And if you really want to spice things up, get your child to learn early communication skills in a foreign language. Is “Day-doh” finger, or part of a nursery rhyme? When she says “Mee-yah, ” is she calling for her Grandmother, or telling me to look at something? Does “Wah-wah” mean that she wants water, or that she’s mocking me?

Then there is the inevitable guilt you feel when you cannot make plans with everyone who wanted to meet your baby, which is quickly followed up by the righteous indignation you feel whenever someone tries to guilt you thus, since they knew when you were going to be back in town, and why is it your job to work around their effin’ schedules? They can bloody well come see you, if they want to meet your baby so much! Who do they think they are? How dare they?

Thank you, Guinness.

This week, as promised, we took a try at Lighthouse VQA’s Cabernet Franc. We also made a trip to Australia and sampled Wolf Blass‘s Grey Label Shiraz. You know, just for a curve ball. It was a gift from my brother and his fiance on our engagement. It came with a really nice card that shared how they feel about us.

We got them a photo of us at the CN Tower.

Wallet size.

On the menu: Nothing. I drank Lighthouse by the sea of my heartbreak at leaving behind kith and kin.

We had a barbeque earlier to commemorate my father’s and uncle’s birthdays. Later, Cara and I packed for our return trip. Packing is a lot of fun. I love it. There’s nothing like capping off your vacation with chores.

Wine: Lighthouse VQA, Pelee Island Winery, Ontario, Canada, Cabernet Franc, 2009, $16.95 CAD
Rating: One-and-a-half Bottles. No, wait … Two Bottles. No … One … Yes. One-and-a-half Bottles … Two Bottles. Gaahh!!

This was a tricky one. First of all, it’s not bad. It really isn’t a bad little wine at all. It’s peppery and spicy. (Cinnamon? Not sure.) For a Pinot Noir, it wasn’t bad at all. But for a Cabernet Franc it was a little thin. I guess I have a concept of Cabernet Francs as being big and bold, but perhaps that is not always true, and perhaps not even fair. That having been said, I couldn’t put it down. And it really didn’t cloud my head at all, like some reds do (see Wolf Blass, Grey Label).

I really did like it, but for what I thought it was going to taste like, I was a little let down. That’s why I had such a hard time giving it a rating. Nevertheless, it went well with the evening, sitting in the television room with my parents, talking about Canadian politics, and watching the season finale of Desperate Housewives.

The night before we tried the Wolf Blass, and I would like to take you there now.

Wine: Wolf Blass, Grey Label, Australia, Shiraz, 2008, $35.00 CAD
Rating: Two Bottles

I love Wolf Blass and most Australian wines. Although there is a belief out there that assigns an unwarranted value to all wines from Australia, Wolf Blass generally deserves its distinction.

This is a fairly big wine – fruity, with black cherry and pomegranate. Bold and strong, Wolf Blass’s Grey Label is a sure hit for stormy nights. I really enjoyed this wine, as did those who shared a glass of it with me. I left a pleasant taste and reminded me of autumn.

So what’s with the disclaimer above, you ask, dear reader? Well, my sister, Jenn, and my brother-in-law, Scott, let me in on a new classification of wine. They have found that with some wines, especially the bolder wines Australia has made famous, they get a little … ornery. Argumentative, even. They tend to pick fights when they drink these wines. They call them: “I’ve Got Something On My Mind Wines.”

Is their classification justified? Well, I told my parents on Saturday just what I thought about the whole Osama Bin Laden thing; political strategies on President Obama’s part and all. Was it an open discussion? Not so much. Was it an authoritative discourse from someone who has learned all his political science from watching The West Wing? Yes it was.

This would make a very fun dinner wine. This would spark some conversations. A lot of pointing with wine glasses would happen with this wine, a la Drunken-Aunt-At-Wedding.

TSB Top Tip: avoid ordering this wine on first dates. Or within the first year of a relationship. And especially on anniversaries. Unless you like the unvarnished truth about yourself served on a plate of embellishment with a side of remember-the-time-you in a you-never-you-always reduction. (Serve it with friends of certain leanings for a lesson in what minorities tend to do.)

Well, that’s all for this week. We still haven’t figured out what we’re going to do for next week. Or drink. It’s definitely outdoor cooking weather down here now, so we will be grilling a lot more. Plus, we are starting to get into whites. (Not the people; the wines.) Our foray from a few weeks ago taught us all a lesson. We’ll update you when we make up our minds about the wines.

Until then,

Cheers!

Wayne Gretzky: Superstar Ninety-Nine!

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Happy Mother’s Day, all you mothers out there and greetings from Canada! Cara and I have travelled with our daughter to the land of outrageous gas prices to bring you a special On The Road edition of The Sunday Bottles. Put your drinking caps, and away we go …

So we’ve been on hiatus for a while. Things have been very busy down in Mexland – work, baby, business, getting engaged!!

That’s right: after five years and bearing my child, I finally decided that Cara and I should make it official and spare our traditionalist parents the shame of having a bastard grandchild. Next summer, Cara and I will be man and wife, and my daughter will finally be able to inherit the throne. I mean, I wasn’t raised Ontario royalty only to have my lineage squandered by illegitimacy. I was certainly raised better than that. As was Cara. And if Will and Kate have taught us nothing else …

So, from now on, Cara will be referred to no longer as my life-partner or as my girlfriend. No. From now on, she will be referred to as my fiancee; my soon-to-be-wife; my soul-mate. We shall regale you with stories of our adventures in granola manufacturing, the love affair we both share with cats, and the benefits of wheatgrass and a gluten-free lifestyle.

Also, we won’t be doing any of those things.

We will be a normal couple with a seventeen-month-old daughter who is cutting several molars, who doesn’t like to sit still on airplanes. We’ll also be international persons of interest, flitting from border to border, skirting authorities on our quest to show off the giant diamond I put on her finger, which hides a microfilm that contains information so scandalous, the Pope himself will try to stop us from spreading it! Then, we’ll be extradited to some Scandinavian country …

AAAaaaaannnd so on and so forth …

So, we’re back. Although, this time, we’re back in more ways than one! We’re back from our hiatus, but we’re also back in Canada, land of the brave, home of the free, even if you didn’t vote for Stephen Harper.
There are many, many weeks’ worth of wine that we need to catch up on, dear readers. We have sampled many sumptuous bottles, from all over the world. We’ve also tasted bottles, sadly, that would make your ancestors come back from the dead, only to haunt you in an attempt to make you go mad, by making crude love to each other in the middle of the night, in your bathroom, as you get up to make tinkle, surprising you with a Bacchanalian orgy – Aunt Mildred’s leg up on the vanity, tongue out to the side as she watches Uncle Herbert pleasure Great-Grandma Beryl, who is reclining on Cousin Franklin’s, fetid, naked lap.

Those wines, we shan’t discuss.

Instead we will stick only to the wines we liked. We will also have a guest appearance from Canadian celebrity, Sahara MacDonald, of Pop Stars/Sugar Jones fame, who has a surprising nose and discerning palette, and who will provide us with the best bullshit way to describe wine that will make you sound like you know what you are talking about, even if you don’t, we have ever heard!

But not this week. Not, this week is about the mothers.

God bless the mothers. God bless their strength, their sacrifice, and their patience. Also, God bless them for watching toothy seventeen-month-olds with a penchant for getting into the kitchen despite the dog gates up at your parents’ house while you are putting the finishing touches on the demi-glace for the evening’s Mother’s Day Roast.

On the Menu: Mother’s Day Pot Roast, Caramelized Asparagus, Steamed Green Beans, Mashed Potatoes, and Wilted Spinach

Was it a triumph of culinary prowess? Was it a testament to hours of cooking show watchery? Was it a culmination of all of my pent up cookiness, unreleased in months due to pinches in my schedule and an upper respiratory tract infection that wouldn’t die, no matter how many Halls Cough Drops I threw at it, like some leviathan from a zombie movie?

You bet your sweet ass it was.

My brother, who is a harsh, harsh critic of food, said of my asparagus, and I quote: “This is the way that asparagus is supposed to be made.”

Boo to the Yeah, readers. Boo to the Yeah.

How do you do it, you ask? Well, read on!

Begin by browning the beef on all sides, using a little oil in the pan. Set aside.

Next, saute three or four yellow onions, sliced, in a pan. Once golden, add four or five cloves of chopped garlic, and toss. Remove immediately from heat.

In a jug, mix 750ml of red wine, fresh rosemary, thyme, a small can of tomato paste, sea salt, and freshly ground pepper. If you are British, substitute ground pepper for milled pepper.

Let stand.

Roughly chop three stalks of celery and four or five carrots.

In a roasting tray, mix the chopped vegetables with a few sprigs of rosemary and the sauteed onions and garlic. Place the beef on top of vegetables. Pour the wine mixture over the beef. Put lid on roasting tray and put in the oven at 275 degrees Celsius for three hours, flipping the beef every half hour.

After three hours, remove lid and leave in over for an additional half hour.

After that, remove beef from tray and place in a shallow bowl (or deep plate, depending on what hemisphere you live in). Let stand ten minutes before carving. Leave the roasting tray in the oven for another thirty minutes to let the gravy thicken. (I know, I called it a demi-glace before, but it isn’t truly a demi-glace, since it was beef, and not veal, but who cares, right? It sounds better. Shut up.)

Remove roasting tray from oven. With a slotted spoon, remove the vegetables and place around the carved beef. Pour gravy over beef and serve to awaiting wolves, coyotes, and wombats.

To make the caramelized asparagus, put two tablespoons of white sugar on a high heat. Add a tablespoon of butter. Let caramelize. Add about two teaspoons of balsamic vinegar. Toss the asparagus in the mixture to coat it and crisp the asparagus. Place in a serving vessel and delight minions.

There is something so fun about a family dinner. Whether it is to celebrate something, like Mother’s Day, or just because it’s Sunday, they always seem to take on a familiar pattern and tone. And last night was no different. A collection of fun stories, amusing anecdotes, and mini-contests to see who knew more about meaningless trivia and the world at large, partly obscured with a paltry diplomatic veneer.

Since I was flying without my wingman this week, and since it was Mother’s Day, I took on all of the cooking duties solo. That did mean that I was not imbibing while preparing. With Megan at my side, we can check each other’s work and correct mistakes on the fly. This adds greatly to the opportunities to sneak a couple of glasses of vino in before dinner. Without her, I didn’t feel confident enough to attempt cookery and drinkery at the same time. That meant the wine had to wait until after dinner.

Wine: No° 99, Wayne Gretzky Estates, 2007, Merlot, $15.95 CAD
Rating: Two-and-a-half Bottles

Now, I will admit that I jumped on the Sideways bandwagon and quite often think to myself when selecting wines, that I’m not going to drink any fucking merlot. I’m no historian of viticulture, but I would imagine that our hate affair with merlot stems from its popularity in the nineties. People made so much of it, that it was quite easy to find plonky merlot made by hacks. Hence, whenever I think of merlot, I think of overly fruity wine without balance. I think of terrible finishes, and vaguely off tastings. I recall bottles that were so sweet, they made my pancreas weep, edging ever closer to diabetes. When I saw Wayne Gretzky’s merlot sitting on the shelf, I thought that if a celebrity made a merlot, it was going to be a lot of nothing. “Here we go,” I said to myself, “get ready for a big bottle of crap.” But, being in Canada, and being Canadian, and it being the playoffs, and me being a superfan of Gretzky, I had to give in to temptation and buy it.

What can I say but: He shoots, he scores. So often, celebrity wines fall somewhere between “terrible to drink” and “ridiculously over-priced.” This wine was neither. It was really nice at first sip – tones of honey, cranberries, gooseberries, and lilacs. Very smooth and mild tannins make for a soft finish, allowing the fruitiness of this wine to come through, but without being so fruity, you think you’re drinking jam. It has a taste that lingers without being bossy. It dekes around your mouth, curling in behind the goalie that is your tongue, and pots one, backhand, on your palette.

Of course, what would you expect? He is the best hockey player who ever lived. If he was going to make a wine with his name on it, you’d think he would make sure it wasn’t bad. Wayne Gretzky chose the Niagara region for his vineyard, Niagara being one of my favourite wine regions in the world, and not just because I’m from Ontario. I really wish we could get Canadian wines in Mexico, but they seem impossible to find. Possibly the importation fees. Whatever the reason, it is a shame.

My only regret was that I hadn’t opened it at dinner and shared it with my family. Dinner ran a little late, as is my wont, so I forgot that I had bought it earlier in the week. It would have gone very well with all of the caramelized veggies and the roast.

Next week, we are continuing our tour of the Niagara region with a Cabernet Franc from Lighthouse. Same price range as The Great One’s and I’ve always been a fan of Cabernet Francs, so let’s hope it’s a hit!

Until next week,

Cheers!

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