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Monthly Archives: November 2011

Celestial Wine, Earthly Bodies

Migraines blow.  I narrowly avoided one Sunday thanks to the quick work of Cara dashing off to the store and buying me all of the Advil in the land.  The red kind.  That has rocket fuel in it for faster absorption.  Then I laid resting in the darkest room with the coldest air conditioning, willing myself to remain calm so that I wouldn’t feel the vise that was crushing my head like a grape, while Megan busied herself in the kitchen and Rene watched videos on YouTube with Caia.

With this in mind, our topic of conversation (once I returned to the table) was, not surprisingly, more earthly in nature.  Namely, the frailty of life … how short our time on the Earth is … and so on.  (After dinner, Rene and I would watch videos of impossibly powerful guns to hammer the aforementioned point home.)

Megan and I saw a fun little recipe from Sophie Dahl this week for twice baked potatoes and roasted tomato soup.  Megan also found a fantastic wine that we can’t wait to tell you about.  But first, the food.

On the Menu: Twice Baked Potatoes, Roasted Tomato Soup with Rosemary

Megan altered Sophie’s recipe a little, skipping the Goat Cheese as not everyone likes Goat Cheese.  The magic of twice baked potatoes is the deliciousness of them, however, so if you are not a fan of Goat Cheese, you could swap it for parmesan or sharp cheddar.  Skipping it entirely, as we did, you miss the tanginess that Goat Cheese brings.  Delicious, however, all the same.

This soup is warming and fantastic.  Megan also substituted rosemary for thyme, as fresh thyme isn’t always available down here.  The trick: you need to let the vegetables break down and caramelize in the oven.  Don’t be afraid of overdoing them, as you can always scrape off the burnt parts.  I mean, don’t incinerate them or anything, but don’t worry too much about them being in there too long.  After all, you’re going to puree and emulsify the crap out of them after anyway, so you really can’t go wrong.

If you are finding the soup a little thick, or chunky, try adding olive oil and a little cream to thicken and dissipate the bits while pureeing.  Also, this is where a sieve really comes in handy.  If you do not have a quality food processor (but only a blender, say), forcing the juice from the veggies through a sieve will ensure that you have a truly creamy soup.

But, really, we can’t stress leaving the veggies in the oven long enough.  Really.

Wine: Celeste, Torres, Crianza, Ribera del Duero, Spain, 2007, $239 MXN
Rating: Three Bottles

This is a really, truly, unequivocally, fantastic wine.  The longer you take to drink this bottle, the more enjoyment you are going to get out of it.  Not to be rushed, this wine, would be the point.  Very smooth, with lots of dark chocolate, makes for a very strong bouquet that opens nicely, given time.  This time allows you to enjoy the deep garnet colours as you roll the wine slowly around in your glass.

The first glass gives off a lot of bitterness.  If you wait a half-an-hour, however, you’ll notice that the second glass is a lot softer.  Much more noticeably than in other wines we’ve tried.  If you can bring yourself to enjoy this wine at a leisurely pace, you’ll find yourself picking up on the softer berry flavours that hide underneath the bitterness of the dark chocolate ones.

Soon, you’ll find yourself watching videos of machine guns on YouTube, and remarking how the flavour lingers in a way that affords you the patience to wait between sips.  Video clips of rail guns will captivate you between quaffs, leading nicely to short films of homemade rockets.

If you have cigars, this would be the wine to smoke them along with.

Next week is Caia’s birthday party, so I’m not sure what we’ll do for TSB.

She’s turning two.

Question: Is it in poor taste to sample wine while watching your daughter play in a bouncy castle?  Is it uncouth to watch a piñata being smashed open while being openly smashed at a child’s party?

We look forward to your thoughts.


Occupy Our Dreams

When we started this blog a little less than a year ago, was meant to be a catalogue of the wines we’ve tried and the truth found at the bottom of every bottle.  Sometimes that truth is awesome, sometimes it’s crap.  But it’s always truth.  (Or, at least, as close as we can get to finding it by drinking wine.)

Many weeks we discuss things that make us pause for a moment in our cups and think.  Living down here in the Caribbean, (and in Mexico, at that,) it can be difficult to maintain a connection with the world outside our resort-town fortress.  There are times when, I swear to God, I relate more to the sentiment behind “let them eat cake.”

We have tried, in our ways, to stay in touch with the world.  This is a tricky balance since we are all in sales.  The way that CNN and the like portray the world is negative, and too much negativity can keep you from being the person you need to be to connect with the people you would have as your clients.

But, we try.  And we try to give back.  This entire month I have dedicated my personal blog (and face) to Movember.  Our family also owns and operates a biodiesel company here in Playa del Carmen, adding to the burgeoning Green movement.  We’ve donated time and money to the Humane Society.  We have rescued two street dogs.

And yet, the World turns, and week after week, we document our decadent lifestyle, making our friends and families up north jealous.

Don’t get me wrong: we feel no guilt whatsoever for our lives.  We do not feel the need to justify the way we live.  We live (mostly) within our means and we give what we can (mostly).  It’s just that this week’s wine brought about discussions of a realer nature.

This whole Occupy thing has been going on for some time now.  I don’t know if you’ve heard anything about this; it’s having a hard time getting any news coverage.  But, I don’t want to take away from the amazing job that Megan did with the Asian Chicken she prepared, so let’s talk about that.

On The Menu: Asian Chicken with White Rice, Crunchy Asian ‘Slaw, Christmas Chocolate Biscuits with a Bailey’s Irish Cream Glaze

This was a really fantastic dinner and a great way to ramp up to the Holiday Season (which officially kicks off this Thursday at our friends’ annual Thanksgiving dinner.  Each year, Dani and Josh invite as many people as they can fit into their house for Thanksgiving).

The chicken practically fell off the bone and the sauce had a gamey-ness to it that was perfectly balanced by the coleslaw.  It’s a recipe that Megan’s dad came up with.

If you want to try it, and I highly recommend that you do, here’s the recipe.

Preheat oven to 170° Celsius.

Place chicken thighs, legs, or wings in bottom of pan.

Add 1 cup – 1 ½ cups of soy and Teriyaki sauces, ¼ cup of honey, and a couple tablespoons of brown sugar.

½ cup Hoisin Sauce.  (When in Canada (or places where you can find such things), Megan’s dad used to add Kekap, which is a type of Indonesian ketchup.)

Grate or mince 5 cloves of garlic and a chunk of ginger.  (Megan describes it as “about the size of my Blackberry,” which is how the top chefs in the world are measuring things these days, we’re told.)

1 tablespoon of sesame oil.

Place tray in oven until the meat falls off the bone.

Wine: Trapiche, Roble, Pinot Noir, Mendoza, Argentina, 2010, $249 MXN

Rating: Two Bottles

Leave it to the Argentines to make a Pinot Noir that goes well with Asian Chicken.  The lightness of the pinot would have been blown out by a lighter meal, but the richness of the sauce allowed the wine to cut through, the tannins complimenting the sweetness of the chicken and the coleslaw.

Not a complicated wine, but who says red wine has to be complicated?  Peppery and light with simple currant and chocolate flavours.  The tannins kind of kick you in the back of the throat, but it’s forgivable if you pair it with a gamier dish like we did.

When we sipped it with the Chocolate Biscuits the subtler chocolate undertones really came to the forefront.

This is a wine that you could easily bring to a party and not mind sharing.  It’s not so good that you’d be jealous of sharing it, but it’s also good enough for friends to appreciate your selection.

And it was over biscuits that Rene brought up Vicky’s “Thought of the Week.”  I thought it tied in well to the earlier discussions we’d had about Occupy.  Here it is.

We, as humans, seek out three basic things: Food, Shelter, and Sex.  After securing any of these, we commonly desire one activity: sleep.  Therefore, everything we do has, as an end result, sleep.  And we sleep perchance to dream.  So … is it possible that all that we seek, instinctually, is the opportunity to dream?  That this waking life is the illusion and it is only in sleep that we find our true realities?  That dreaming is where we are truly meant to be?

So, how does this tie into Occupy, you ask?  Well, Occupy is trying to shine a light on the current makeup of our society, of the inequality of how our society is built.  Namely, that a very small minority holds the majority of wealth in our world. In essence, Occupy is trying to get us all to “wake up” to the way things really are.  George Carlin said it best when he explained why it’s called the American Dream:  “Because you need to be asleep to believe it.”

What I find fascinating about this idea of sleeping life versus waking life is that, for most of us, our most common pursuits require more and more waking life to accomplish.  What we believe to be most important, wealth and it’s attainment, requires real work.  Hours and hours of waking work.  Nobody got rich by sleeping.  As my grandfather was fond of saying: “There will be plenty of time to sleep when you’re dead.”  But what if Vicky’s thought is right?  What if this waking life is keeping us from our real lives?  If she’s right, then everything that most of us do, every day of our lives, actually pushes us further and further away from our intended state.

Makes you drink, doesn’t it?


Three Bottles and a Wedding

This week is going to be kind of fragmented as Megan and I went to the wedding of Demian Fuentes and Maria Jose Aragón on Saturday.  Weddings are beautiful, almost always, and this one was truly remarkable.  And organized!  We were sat as soon as we arrived for the reception; Demian and Maria Jose had a kick ass intro (a slideshow on a giant screen of photos of the adorable couple doing couple-y set to U2’s live version of “All I Want Is You,” which leads into “Where The Streets Have No Name,” to which they did a lap of the room to thunderous applause); the first dance; the parents’ dance; dinner is served; dessert; Demian’s adorable dad’s speech; dancing; drunk.

Megan and I left at eleven.  This may not seem weird to many of our Canadian and American friends, but in Mexico, that simply is not done.  We left right about when people started waking up.  (Metaphorically speaking.  Everyone was wide awake for the entire wedding.)  But, being sad-sacks, we simply don’t stay up that late.  (My daughter gets up at seven every morning.  Cara works Sundays.  We didn’t hire the nanny.  What was I supposed to do?  Plus, one of us had to drive.  You shut up!)

We tried to find out the name of the wine they were serving, but the waiter couldn’t understand why we would want to know the name of the wine.  Cabernet … something.  It was delicious.  That’s all that matters.

The next day, Megan had a photo shoot so I took the role of chef.

On the Menu: Honey Roasted Chicken Thighs and Drumsticks, Roasted Vegetables, Gingerbread Cake with Lemon Sugar Frosting (by Megan)

Being on a budget is an interesting challenge in the kitchen.  You have to find a group of ingredients that will go well together without seeming meagre.  I find that chicken breasts are commonly over-priced (and over-used) and the thighs and legs are the tastier parts of the bird, anyway.

Coat the bottom of your roasting tray with olive oil.  (Megan and I are addicted (literally) to basil-infused olive oil.  It adds a hint of basil to everything without becoming the salient flavour.)  Dredge the skin-side of your chicken pieces through the oil then place them, skin up, on the tray.  Salt and pepper generously.  Coat in honey.  Crush dried rosemary and sprinkle.  Roast in the oven for an hour at 200°C.

For the vegetables, repeat the same steps in a separate roasting, tray but without coating the vegetables in oil.  Instead, break 250mg of unsalted butter into knobs and place them around the roasting tray.  Roast them with the chicken for the same amount of time.

You’re welcome.

Wine: Casal Garcia, Vinho Verde, Portugal, 2010, $138 MXN
Rating: Two Bottles

This is a really fun, novel wine.  Lots of effervescence gives it a bubbly character without the carbonation of Prosecco or Champagne.  Just enough to make it interesting.  (This wine would go very well with gelato.)  Originally purchased by Megan because of the label, we were expecting the worst, but we were very happily surprised when we tasted it.  On the semi-sweet side, it would make a fantastic summer wine.

We moved onto dessert at this point and opened the second bottle of the evening.

Wine: Concha y Toro, Sendero, Sauvignon Blanc/Chardonnay, D.O. Valle Central, Chile, 2010, $79 MXN
Rating: Two Bottles

This was a good week for wines.  Concha y Toro is our old standby in the red department due to its consistency and affordability.  This was the first white we’d tried by them, however, and we are pleased to report that it stood up well to its tinto cousins.  Fruity, with apples and peaches and pears.  Slightly acidic, with hints of citrus on the finish, leave your mouth feeling clean, and not over-sweet, as some whites can do.  This wine went perfectly with the dessert that Megan made, since the ginger and the lemon made for  a sweet and sour combination that complimented the wine perfectly.

Thanks to everyone who has been following TSB and sending us email over the last few months.  You are all making this a lot of fun!  On behalf of TSB, we would also like to congratulate Demian and Maria Jose.  We feel truly blessed to have met you both, and we were very touched that you chose to include us in your special day.


Vanner and the Tabatha Bull

Something that we find amazing about the interweb is its capacity to bring people together.  People from disparate lives, completely removed from each other, can connect via a computer box and a Wee-Fee hook-up.  The future is now, friends.

This was a week that will live forever in infamy.  Quick wrap-up: Cara and Rene saved a dog after a hit and run, who is now living alternately between our living room and Megan and Rene’s backyard, depending on how badly she disgraces herself in our kitchen. I put on a comedy show that had zero people show up to see it, and it was for charity!  Our bank has decided to change the guidelines for our mortgage … before we’ve finished closing … what else … my friends Vanessa and Tabatha had a wine and cheese party and when they were on their third bottle of the night, they told me that TSB inspired them to open it!  Which was nice.  Nothing warms the cockles of my heart more than inspiring friends far away to drink.

I tend to have that affect on people.

Noting the shit-sandwich of a week we had, Megan took the meal preparation on herself.  Thank God for small miracles.

On The Menu: Chicken Soup with Pasta Shells, Butter Lettuce Salad with Cucumbers and Shaved Parmesan, Garlic Bread, Caramel Chocolate Brownies with Custard

Delicious.  Warming.  Homey.  Needed.  This was a meal that we all ate with appreciation for the small things and for someone else doing it for us.  Caia particularly liked the brownies.  A lot.  We are discovering the joys of sugar-rushes.  And screaming.  And chasing deaf cats around the house and screaming.  And screaming at deaf cats.

Screaming …

And with screaming toddlers must go wine.

Wine: Château du Barail, Bordeaux, France, 2009, $134.99 MXN

Rating: Two-and-a-Half Bottles

Black currant, rosemary, and lavender dominate this lovely little French number, but there are also hints of juniper berries (gin), peppermint (mojitos), and watercress (sake martini).  (I’ve discovered that it’s easier for me to put my finger on flavours in the I’m drinking if I think about what OTHER drinks they remind me of.  Instead of pinpointing actual flavours.  Don’t judge me: you love it.)

The Barail is an earthy wine.  It tastes like an autumn night, dry leaves on the lawn, maybe a light rain … let’s put on a fire, you say … Better yet, let’s have a bon fire!  Let’s!  Yes!  This wine would go great with smores! someone shouts.  Settle down, someone suggests.  But you guys got excited …  Yeah, but you got excited about smores.  Actually, I get excited about smores, too.  So do I.  Me too.  Fine … “Go Smores” on three.  Ready?  (One, two, three …) Gooooooooooo … SMORES!!

Wine: 35 Sur, Reserva, Carmenère, Valle de Maule y Rapel, Chile, 2009, $148 MXN
Rating: Two Bottles

Fruity, but with a bite.  (But a gentle bite.  A baby bite.  Like a baby vampire who’s not really “into” drinking your blood, but just does it for the comfort.)

Also, salty.  Sweet and salty.  A much less complex wine then the Barail, but a nice wine, nonetheless.  Perfect bottle of wine for a night where you don’t want to have to think too much about what you’re drinking, and I don’t mean that in a bad way.

Instead, we talked about evolution: fact or faked?  Is evolution an undisputed truth, in and of itself, or is there intelligent design at work?  Is there a God, for that matter?  If so, was the World created in seven days, like it says in the Bible, and if so, why aren’t there dinosaurs in the Bible?  Also, how much more awesome would the Bible be  had there were dinosaurs in it?  (On a scale of one to ten.)  Also, would Jesus have had pet dinosaurs?  Instead of disciples?  The apostles would have to stay, that’s a given, since dinosaurs are lousy public speakers, but would dinosaur have eaten Judas for betraying Jesus?  And if so, could it be velociraptors?  And could they hunt Judas down in the desert, using their Spielbergian intelligence to trick Judas into a blind alley, where he would be cornered, toyed with, and finally dispatched?  Also, couldn’t a “day” in the Bible actually be as long as God wanted it to be, as they point out in Inherit the Wind?  Like, say, four-and-a-half billion years?  Also, who would win in a fight between a velociraptor and a Tabatha Bull?

My money’s on the bull.

Next week, TSB goes to a wedding!  Who’s memories will be ruined by our attendance?  Read next week to find out …


Oh Lala! An Evening with Jorge Garcia

If you missed our Tweet-fest the other night, Megan and I were invited to dine at Oh Lala, a local restaurant like no other in Playa del Carmen.  Chef Jorge Garcia treated us to four sumptuous courses, which left us wanting more, but also too stuffed to ask.

If you are unfamiliar with this little restaurant, it is tucked away under a blue awning on tenth avenue in Playa del Carmen.  Consisting of only five tables and six bar stools, Oh Lala is as unique a dining experience as one can hope to have.  Part of its charm is that chef Jorge interacts with his customers every step of the way – explaining what he’s cooking, showing you the ingredients, checking on you throughout your meal.

With a mix of modern design and French cafe, the look is casual yet refined.  You know you are going to be taken care of, because so much attention has been paid to your surroundings, right down the to floating glass wine rack, illuminated from below with LEDs.

This night, however, Megan and I sat outside, not wanting to spoil the surprise of each serving.

On The Menu: Tri-Fungi in a White Wine Cream Sauce Served with Pita Bread in a Rosemary Olive Oil, Filet Mignon with Mashed Potatoes and French Beans Wrapped in Bacon with a Honey Red Wine Reduction, Lobster and Fish Filet in a Lemon Butter Cream Sauce, Apple Tart with Vanilla Ice Cream

Without a doubt, one of the nicest dinners we’ve ever had.  The Tri-Fungi was incredible.  Megan pointed out that, sometimes you go a long time without eating mushrooms (especially if somebody’s husband doesn’t like them) and then you eat something that reminds you of how awesome mushrooms are.  There was a moment (several moments, we would soon discover), when we questioned: “Where on a scale of uncouthness would licking our plates land?”  We didn’t have long to wonder because the Filet Mignon came next.

While I’m never a huge fan of pre-slicing steak before serving, the way Jorge did it was incredible.  The potatoes were braced by the beef slices, on which sat the French beans and bacon.  A lonely island atop a sea of deliciousness.  At first, we couldn’t believe that we were tasting honey and beef together, but we soon got over it.  This was one of those dishes that makes you laugh while you eat it, such was the joy it brought to our mouths.

As amazing as the filet mignon was, the lobster and fish filet was incredible.  A lot of times, when a restaurant serves lobster, they do so without attention to the quality of the lobster and to the execution of the dish itself.  Jorge makes neither mistake.  We were blown away by the blend of flavours – the delicate fish, the buttery lobster, the lemon butter cream sauce … It was all too much, but in such a good way.

(Incidentally, a few tables over, a visiting chef was just finishing his lobster and he was complimenting Jorge in a way that could only be described as effusive.)

To finish us off, Jorge gave us an apple tart with vanilla ice cream.  How he makes an apple fall apart like that is beyond me.  It wasn’t so much like eating an apple tart as it watt eating the essence of an apple … surrounded by pastry … topped with ice cream.  Astounding.

The idea was to interview Jorge while he cooked, but he was very busy that night, so that was another reason why we sat outside.  So, our bellies full, we conducted the interview after the dust had settled on the evening.  His lovely partner, Mikaela, joined in.

The Sunday Bottles: Tell us about your background – where do you come from and what brought you to Mexico?
Jorge Garcia: I was born in Medellin, Columbia, 1974, but I grew up in the Netherlands.  After finishing school, I decided to travel the world and I got this great opportunity to come here to Mexico in 1998.  I got an opportunity to become a scuba instructor.

TSB: What role does that play in what you do here?
JG: Lots of knowledge of fish.  I’m just kidding … After travelling the world and discovering other cultures … and because of loving international food … that helps me a lot in what I do now, because I know what people are expecting, the quality, the service, and the standards.  It is very different from what somebody expects in the U.S. than what they expect in Europe.

TSB: What inspires you to cook?
JG: I see cooking as an art where I can put all my focus and energy to get the result that I have in mind.

TSB: Where did you learn your craft?
JG: Started in the Netherlands.  I worked with a French chef — Nobert Tillard, when doing my internship.

TSB: What is the most elaborate dish you’ve ever eaten?
JG: It was also the most elaborate dish that I’ve ever made: Champagne Duck Terrine with violets.  That was really awesome.  Why this is so special, because it took eight hours to make.  When we made the duck terrine … it was inside champagne gelatine, so you could see the duck terrine, in cubes, inside the gelatine, with violets on the top.  That was for the family Guerlain, the perfume family.  So I cooked for the family.  It was an eight course menu, with fresh oysters after that.

TSB: What has been your proudest moment as a restauranteur, so far?
JG: We reached the number two position in less than three months on TripAdvisor.  That’s really cool, I think.  That everybody leaves with a big smile when they finish.

TSB: In your opinion, what makes a restaurant great?
JG: First of all, the inner warmth that you offer your guests when they visit you, plus the personalized service.  And the food.  Make people feel welcome when they arrive, and when they leave, as well.

TSB: Why such a small place?
JG: We had the spot already, we live upstairs, and we think it’s a good location.
Mikaela: We wanted to make it unique.
JG: We like the spot.  We wanted it to be like home.  More intimate.
M: Have it as our kitchen, like we are inviting friends.
JG: Because if you go larger, you lose the touch.  And this is our first restaurant.

TSB: Where do you see Oh Lala in five years?
JG: We would like to open more restaurants.  Oh Lala is going to have one or two franchises in different parts of Mexico with other chefs running them, but with our mark on it.

TSB: How do you see that working?
JG: In the beginning, we would run those restaurants as well.  Have other chefs learn our formula and go with that.
M: But we want to have something particular so that people know that it is from the main chef.

TSB: What role does wine play at Oh Lala?
JG: Wine plays a very important role because our plates are quite elaborate and do need to go together with a nice glass of wine.

TSB: I notice that you’re including more Mexican wines on your list.
JG: First of all, we’re in Mexico … We want to explore the local market first, not to import things from other countries.  Because we are in Mexico, I think it’s important that people … they should get to experience something from Mexico.  Not from Argentina, or Italy, or France.

TSB: What makes Oh Lala special?
M:  I think people can feel at home, to start with, they have a more personalized service … It’s small, it cozy …
JG: The coziness, being able to prepare something for people, so that they can see it, like you do at home.  People can be part of it, the whole cooking, if they want to.

A note on the wine: We drank a bottle of Emeve, Armonia de Tinto, Baja California, 2009.  We gave it a two bottle rating.  Jorge is exploring a wide variety of wines, but his hopes are to have a well-rounded assortment of wines from Mexico and abroad.  This particular red has a fruity palette with a tart finish.  For a blend, it is very nice, and we would recommend it to anyone looking for an easy-to-drink, go-with-anything wine.

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