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Blood, Wine, and Awards

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The best thing about writing a wine blog is the excuse to try out different restaurants.  The worst thing is how open you are to potential food poisoning.  Last week, I was on the receiving end of what is commonly known as Traveller’s Illness.  A lovely half-week was spent, mostly in bed, mostly praying for unconsciousness and relief from stomach cramps, etcetera.

I had invited our new friends, Scott, Marieke, and their son, Kai, to join us for dinner last Sunday night, but I had to cancel last minute.  The next few days were a joy, and even this morning I am struggling with the dying embers of the pathogen, my innards cramping, my stomach gurgling.

Oh, the good life …

I thought, since we didn’t have a post last week, I would catch up on the overdue business of acknowledging our most recent award nomination.

Which I did.  Then last week quickly became this week, and I’m behind again and I really need to get caught up and was almost there, but then Sunday happened and …

Dammit!

Before we get to the award, let me tell you about Sunday and then we’ll move on.

Rene and Megan came over, as per usual, and I had asked Rene to bring some implements of pruning for to trim the palms that are threatening the paint job on our truck.

With our track record, you probably already know what is coming and you are already half-giggling, half-cringing.  The giggling being metered only by the ‘X’ factor: how bad is this going to get and how guilty will I feel once I know how bad it actually got?

Rene brought over the following: pruning shears and a little tiny hatchet which is designed for throwing at targets, like, in hatchet throwing contests, and not so much for pruning.

The palms in our driveway are complimented by razor sharp spikes and thorns to protect them from … bears?  I don’t know.  They are ridiculously pokey.

Something you need to know about my brother-in-law is that he loves to prune.  He likes cutting things and any opportunity to do so fills him with a glee that can only be expressed in song, so I can’t do it justice here.  His implement of choice?  The hatchet, of course!  Giant arc of a backswing, hatchet swings forward with the force of Thor, and …

Sticking out of Rene’s hand are two five inch spires that have broken off and embedded themselves in his flesh.

And bone.

Go ahead.  It’s okay to laugh.

Three pints of blood and a dish towel later, we took the hatchet away from him, put a beer in his (other) hand, and started drawing straws for who was going to drive him to the hospital for stitches and removal of thorns.  Ashen-faced, he convinced us that going to the hospital could wait until after dinner, and rather have a two hour fight that would go nowhere, I continued with the cooking.

On the Menu: Yum-Yum Salad with Garlic-Lime-Infused Apple Cider Vinaigrette, Roasted Bone In Chicken Breasts with Buttered Potatoes

What’s a Yum-Yum Salad?  Iceberg and Butter lettuce with oranges, tomatoes, shredded carrot, gouda chunks, and orange bell peppers.  The dressing is what pushes it over the yum-yum top of the scale.  Mix equal parts of apple cider vinegar and extra virgin olive oil in a sealable container.  Put in two teaspoons of minced garlic and the juice of one lime.  Salt and pepper to taste.  Shake the hell out of it.  Like, for ten minutes.  Seriously.  You don’t want to blend it, since that pulverizes everything and nothing tastes right.

Dump it on your salad and watch it transform into a Yum-Yum Salad inside your guests mouths.

The chicken is pretty basic roasting.  Forty minutes at 220° Celsius should do it.  Brush the potatoes with butter before popping the whole tray in the oven (lid off) for a golden, crunchy, buttery result.

Wine: Colonia Las Liebres, Bonarda, Mendoza, Argentine, 2009, $195 MXN
Rating: One Bottle

There isn’t much to talk about here.  Very closed wine, very blech tannins, and a muted trumpet, “wah-wah,” taste.  If you buy this wine and want to give it a fair go, let it breathe for a few hours first.  Otherwise, don’t bother.

Okay, on to the award. 

Award–Kreativ Blogger Award!

Rules of Conduct: Bloggers who win the award must complete the following steps:

1. Thank the blogger who gave you the award and provide a link.

2. List 7 interesting things about yourself that your readers might find interesting

3. Nominate 7 other bloggers, provide links, and let them know!

We were nominated by Daughterelle.com, a quirky blog that features food with a tangent of fashion.  “My life pretty much revolves around where and when I can wear high heels to eat something delicious. This blog is all about food…but I have accessorized it with accessories,” reads her About page.   Basically, it’s food bedazzled with fashion.

She’s awesome.

So: seven interesting things about us that someone might find interesting.  (Aside from my penchant to be super snobby about poor sentence structure?)

Okay, well, here we go.

1)   We live in Playa del Carmen, Mexico.  Our homes are within a stone’s throw of each other and we are one of those weird families that hardly ever argues.  Not in a pent up, “everyone’s too afraid to say what’s one their mind” kind of way, but in a genuine, “we really like each other’s company” sort of a thing.

2)   In addition to the Sunday Bottles, Megan has a photography studio, called Field Day Photography, that specializes in portraits and weddings.  Being a perfectionist, her clients tend to get way more than they paid for.  We try to pull her back, but that’s when the OCD kicks in and she starts to get a little Rain Man-y.  Best to just let her edit the photos any way she wants.  There’s less bloodshed that way.

3)   In addition to the Sunday Bottles, I do stand up comedy.  Along with a couple of friends, we host a weekly show, unique in Playa del Carmen.  It’s called Comedy Below Sea Level.  It’s a hoot.

4)   When I moved to Mexico, I weighed 265 pounds.  That’s 121 kilos.  I know weigh 198 pounds.  That’s 90 kilos.  Ironically, when I was fat, I didn’t write about food and wine.  I guess I was too busy consuming both to have much time for contemplation.

5)   All of us are from Canada.

6)   Between our two houses, we have five dogs, one cat, a parrot, a budgie, and fishes.  Two of the dogs live with us.  The rest of the menagerie lives with Rene and Megan.  It works better that way.  For us.

7)   Our daughter, Caia, is two-and-a-half and is a genius.  Her teachers told us so.  They also told us that she’s the coolest baby ever.  Also, she’s adorable and likes Toy Story.

Right, 7 blogs that we follow.  In no particular order.

1)   Youngnotions.com – Comedians Bill and Jena Young regularly post their take on life, love, politics, and muscle cars.  All right, they rarely post about muscle cars, but when they do, it’s a barnburner.

2)   Inthebodega.com – We really like this blog, and not only because she obviously knows more about wine than we do, but because it is so diligently researched and thoughtfully written.  Also, she’s from Canada, too, so that scores points.

3)   Culturalquirks.com – Remember the Canadian Heritage Minute?  Ever wonder why the statues at the University of Calgary sometimes wear Bermuda shorts?  Well, we do, and that’s why we like this blog.  Lots of fun facts you couldn’t find on your own if you tried.  (Not that I would.  I’m lazy.)

4)   Veni!Vidi!Vino! – Again, this blog would have to fall under the category of “Because they know more about wine than we do.”  Also, because he writes under the nom de plume, NJ Vinoman, and lives “in Central New Jersey, about 20 minutes from the New Jersey shoreline, with my first wife (of 18 years).”  (Does his second wife know about this?)  Also, he drinks way more wine than we do, making his blog a lot more of a resource than ours.

5)   Thesweetlife.com – Melanie bakes.  Oh boy, does she bake.  She also writes about her cat, her landlord, and then she takes pictures of it all.  Except for her landlord.  Who is crazy.  And who apparently eats pennies!  Her photographs are good and her recipes are filled with treats like Peanut Butter Smores.  Hells yeah.

6)   Fridaynightwinetime.com – Basically, Neil Evans writes a blog like we do: he drinks wine once a week, whether he needs to or not, and then he writes about it.  A cool feature of his blog is the Wine Gallery, which features some of the wines he’s tried.  (We’re probably going to steal that idea, but you could always take a look at his version first.)

7)   Sweetlyvegan.com – I like Sweetly Vegan because she writes about what she loves – healthy eating and healthy living.  Her recipes are nicely antipodal to ours since they basically cure all the damage ours would do to you.  Plus she just had a baby and babies are cute.

That just about does it for this week.  Weeks.  Whatever.

We’re going away for next week, so we might be posting from the road.

Until then, stay safe, drink lots of fluids, and don’t prune thorny vegetation with competition hatchets.

Cheers!

Oh LaLa! Part Deux

A few months back, our friends from Oh Lala! invited us to sample their menu and taste of their wines.  Which we did.  Gladly.

Recently, Jorge and Mikaela asked us if we wouldn’t mind coming by and trying their revised menu and revamped wine list.

(Dammit, guys … do you have any idea how busy we are?)

So we invited Megan’s mom, Susan, to come and off we went.

Oh Lala!, in case you’ve forgotten, or are new to TSB, is a unique restaurant in the heart of Playa del Carmen, Mexico, which specializes in world-class cuisine and hands-on service.  Chef Jorge Garcia makes virtually everything on the menu from scratch and tries to buy local ingredients whenever possible.

(That isn’t to say that the menu at Oh Lala! is restricted by what is available locally.  There are certain items that he will bring in especially for the restaurant.)

The last time we dined with Jorge and Mikaela was inspiring.  This time was no different.  Being that we were one more person, there were more dishes to sample, which we begrudgingly accepted.

On the Menu: 

Nordic Salad (Fine selection of Italian lettuce, Norwegian smoked salmon, goat cheese, garnished with olive oil)

Salade Méditerranée (Fresh selection of tomatoes, onions, goat cheese, olive oil and balsamic vinegar)

Cheese Plate Oh Lala Antipasti (Cured meats and a fine selection of cheeses) 

Lamb Chops in a Mint Honey Reduction (Served with mint mashed potatoes and steamed vegetables)

Grilled Tuna Steak (Served with mashed potatoes in a soy-butter reduction)

Thai Beef Curry (Served with rice and vegetables)

Crème Brûlée

Vanilla Ice Cream with Strawberries

And … goodnight.

The food was exquisite.  Susan particularly enjoyed it, marvelling at the mix of flavours and the incredible presentation that sets Oh Lala! apart from your average restaurant.  She also took special note of the transparency of the process – Jorge’s kitchen takes the concept of the Chef’s Table and explodes it, making all seven interior seats kitchen-facing.  From the beginning of a dish to the plating, you can see it all.

There really was too much food to go into absolute detail about each item.  A brief note on each, then …

The Nordic Salad was our favourite of the salads.  Using Norwegian smoked salmon, and not the standard North American variety, made for a much more delicate flavour.  The fish was part of the salad, but not the only part.  (You know it’s a good salad when everyone is eyeing how much the other people are taking.)

The Salade Méditerranée features tomatoes, julienned and tossed in oil and balsamic, and served with a generous portion of pepper-encrusted goat cheese.

The cured meats and cheeses were a welcome addition to the salad trio.  Garnished with dried cranberries, they were the perfect buffer between the tangy Méditerranée and the delicate Nordic.

Wine: Las Moras, Blacklabel, Bonarda, 2009, San Juan, Argentina
Rating: Two-and-a-half Bottles

This is a really fun wine, because we drank this wine with every dish we were served and it never felt like the wrong bottle.  Very pleasant, soft red fruit flavours, lifted by reasonably dry tannins, left your mouth feeling happy.  (Yep.  I just used ‘happy mouthfeel’ as a wine descriptor.  Deal with it.)

We never asked what the bottle retails for, being assaulted as we were with a constant barrage of food, but we would feel comfortable spending between $300 – $400 pesos a bottle.

Back to the food.

Jorge brought us the entrées next.

Though two of the dishes offered mashed potatoes as a side, they were prepared so differently from each other that it really didn’t matter.

The tuna steak was … perfect.  The way it is meant to be done.  Lightly seared on the outside, the centre warm but not cooked, the flavours subtle and inviting.  Close your eyes, and you could almost be tricked into thinking that you’re eating steak, thanks to the soy-butter reduction.

Lamb, in case you’re thinking of gift ideas for us, is always a winner.  (Please don’t send us lamb in the mail.)  Jorge serves his lamb with mashed potatoes and steamed French beans, the flavours buttressed by the mint in both the sauce and the potatoes.  This gave your palette a chance to process the lamb without being overpowered by it.  Then, the sweetness from the honey comes in and resolves the two salient flavours wonderfully.

The Thai curry was a real treat, since it cut through the other two dishes and smacked your mouth around like a trainer in a corner in the tenth round.  Spicy without being unreasonable, it warms you up nicely and gets your reaching for your wine glass.  Jorge prepared the curry with beef, seeing that we had lamb and fish already, but he told us that guests may choose from chicken, fish, lamb, beef, or shrimp in theirs.

At this point, we needed to rest.  Our bellies were asking both for more and respite simultaneously.

We were given little quarter.

Jorge brought out the dessert and we were no less impressed.  The Crème Brûlée was infused with orange and lime zest, giving it a playful aroma.  The ice cream, plain vanilla with fresh strawberries, was the perfect companion – it’s simplicity highlighting the variety of tastes that preceded it.

Once again, we were astounded at Jorge’s skill in the kitchen, and the proficiency of his team.  We were never left unattended and the wine flowed like … well, like wine.

If you haven’t discovered this gem of a restaurant, we encourage you to do so.  Dinner is served every night except Sundays.

We hope that Oh Lala! revamps its menu often.  We could really get used to this.

The End of the Birthday Season … (Finally)

So, this past weekend marked the end of our family’s birthday season.  Beginning with Caia on December 6 and ending with Cara’s mother, Marilyn, on January 29, there are nearly a dozen birthdays in between.  Plus Christmas.

But that didn’t stop us from having a final hoorah for Cara’s mom.  Marilyn is a fan of gravy, so what goes better with gravy than roast beef?  Nothing, that’s what.

On the Menu: Roast Beef with Two Types of Gravy (Mushroom and Red Wine), Roast Potatoes, Flambéed Red Peppers, Flashed Zucchini, and Sautéed Mushrooms, Herbed Goat Cheese Salad with Pomegranate, Chocolate Cake

This is my favourite kind of day.  Shopping for the night’s menu, followed by some light prep work, maybe a beer or a coffee with Bailey’s … maybe a Bloody Caesar … some heavier prep work, preheat the oven, plop everything in, greet guests, make the sides, open some wine …

Perfect.

Everything ready, the table set, we went about the dinner before us.  Megan brought over a salad which was so amazing, if all salads tasted the way that one did, it would be all I would eat.

I was a little nervous about the beef, since I couldn’t quite tell which cut it was, never having learned the differences, but it turned out quite well.

The gravy was pretty rad, I must say.  I sacrificed a bottle of wine for it but it was worth it.  The mushroom gravy came out of a can.  It was not the more popular of the two.

The wines weren’t bad, either.

Wine: Granero, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chile, 2010, $110 MXN
Rating: One-and-a-Half-Bottles

Red apple (but the skin part); cranberries and pomegranates; açaí berries.  This wine is quite tart.  Not in a terribly pleasant way, either.  There is a pepperiness to it that rounds it out after a while, but we aerated the wine first, so it didn’t round out that far from where we started.  This was very light wine, too.  Like vapour.  Like it never really exists.  A little disappointing, but not the worst bottle that ever happened to us.

We enjoyed some cake, then Cara’s parents and my parent’s and Rene and Cara and Megan and I broke off into various groups for conversations ranging from the impossibility of nothingness to how I can cross one eye and not the other.  (I can also cross both eyes, but crossing just one is a very marketable skill.)

While Megan and I mucked about with her camera, we forced ourselves to open a second bottle.

Wine: Las Moras, Black Label, Bonarda, Argentina, 2008, $229 MXN
Rating: Two Bottles

Earthy and fruity at the same time is always a fun mixture.  The mustiness of the leathery, oaky, earth flavours mixing with the fruity, sweet flavours.  Like a party inside your mouth!  (Come on … it’s been nearly a year.  The joke had to happen some time.)

Date squares is what you first taste, if you look for it.  Wood smoke (good old fashioned wood smoke, as my friend Jay Costescu would say) plays in the background.  Mature berries, chocolate, mint, lilac, and lavender also drop in for a visit.  When you take a step back and just breathe in this wine, you notice the floral bouquet it has.  Like a campfire that somebody started with fresh flowers.

A really wonderful wine.

The next thing you knew, we were checking the clock and it was nearly ten.  This is way past our bedtimes.  It was time to say goodnight.

My parents leave tomorrow, and that is sad.  We are waiting to see the notary about our house.  We wanted to close while my parents were here, as they are signing the loan on the house, interest rates not being the most reasonable things in the world down here, but the paperwork won’t be finished on time, so we need to do an escrow closing.  Exciting stuff.  We are hoping this won’t be an all afternoon affair.  It would be nice to spend some time with them before the day is through.

One thing that has been amazing about the Norton-Patik birthday season has been the occasion we’ve had for so much socialising.  It has been incredibly fun spending time with loved ones.  We are blessed, our family, in that we get to begin our Holiday season nearly a month before everyone else, and we continue a month after everyone else.  You never need an excuse to hang out with the people that matter the most to you in life, but it’s always nice to have one.

Maybe we can convince my parents that living down here for part of the year is better than spending the entire year up north.  (I know of a few people who’d be glad to take their place if we did.)

Time will tell.

Until next week,

Cheers!

Lasagne, Spicy Tomato Soup, and Two Bottles of Wine Later …

Welcome back and Happy New Year!

We took a week off to recuperate from our New Year’s celebration.  It is amazing to me that having a kid can rob you of your ability to stay up past eleven.

Anyway, this being our first week back, I wanted to do something special.  I thought having a few courses would work nicely – start with soup, move onto salad, dig in to a main, and finish off with dessert.  Problem was, I was still grossly sleep-deprived from the week before.  Staying up until three-thirty threw my clock off, which gave me a case of the night owls, so I was up late all week.  By Sunday, I was a bag of dog crap.  I couldn’t focus on anything.  (Note to self: in future, read box of lasagne noodles carefully to see if they are pre-cooked or not … dumb ass.)

There is nothing scarier to me than standing in front of a counter covered in cutting boards, knives, vegetables, and utensils, and seeing nothing but a mess.  The chaos of a nearly-organised dinner is magical.  Conversely, the abstract shapes and disparate colours of a nonsensical blend of culinary insanity assaults my senses like an Hieronymus Bosch painting.

Moving on.

After Cara threatened me that we weren’t going to have dinners at our place if that was the way I was going to talk to people, I calmed down, refrained from having a glass of wine yet (Megan wasn’t there with the camera anyway), and set about making dinner.

On the Menu: Spicy Roasted Tomato Soup, Rustic Spinach Salad, Garlic Bread, Spinach Lasagne, Amaretto Syllabub

The soup is very easy.

  • Pre-heat oven to 180° C.
  • Chop into quarters a dozen ripe tomatoes.
  • Stand them on end in an oiled roasting tray.  Don’t worry about spacing, since they are going to be turned into soup anyway.  Just as long as there is some air between each quarter so the flavours can move in between them.
  • Sprinkle with olive oil, salt, dried dill, dried basil, garlic powder, and about two tablespoons of ground black pepper.  (I use ground pepper, since I covers everything more evenly, as opposed to cracked, and because it will slip through the sieve later, giving the soup its characteristic speckling.)
  • Pop into the oven, uncovered, for about an hour.  (You want the tomatoes to be completely roasted and falling apart, but not so roasted that they are dried out.)
  • Remove from oven and scoop everything into a food processor.
  • Puree the hell out of it.
  • Run through a sieve into a pot.  (Don’t throw away the husky stuff, since it makes a great spread for your garlic bread later. Wink!)
  • Add one cup of whole milk, one cup of condensed milk, and one cup of water.
  • Simmer until thickened.
  • Taste and make adjustments.

The salad is just rough chopped tomatoes and onions with a balsamic and olive oil dressing.  (For kicks, try adding some melted butter and garlic to the dressing.  Nobody will know why the dressing rocks, but they’ll drink it like gravy.)

With the soup and salad served, we finally got down to the wine.

Wine: Finca, La Linda, Torrontés, 2010, $153 MXN
Rating: Two Bottles

Fruity and vibrant, this is a really fun bottle of wine.  With a heartier meal like lasagne, it doesn’t really pair as nicely as say, a really spicy soup.  Thank goodness we had one on hand!

For a white, it was a little more complex than we were used to – citrus blending with peaches and bell peppers – but it was a very pleasant wine and complimented the soup and salad nicely.

This wine would also go very nicely with seafood like sushi or ceviche, as the fruitiness and citrus flavours would be complimented by the subtly of raw fish.

And then the wheels (almost) came off …

Lasagne is one of my favourites to make, but as I alluded to earlier, you really should check the box for what type of noodles you bought since parboiling precooked noodles turns them into pasta shrapnel.  (Don’t believe me?  Try it out.  You’ll be a laughing stock.)  I managed to salvage the better noodles for show and saved the lesser noodles for the places where people wouldn’t see.  That being said, this lasagne is awesome.

First layer, spinach, tomato sauce, and mozzarella.  Second layer, ground beef, ricotta, spinach, tomato sauce.  Third layer, spinach, tomato sauce, mozzarella.  Fourth layer, prosciutto, spinach, tomato sauce, and mozzarella.  Fifth layer, tomato sauce, béchamel sauce, mozzarella.  Bake until golden.  I let it stand for about ten or fifteen minutes so the lasagne has a chance to set a bit.

Wine: Trapiche, Broquel, Bonarda, 2009, $209 MXN
Rating: Two Bottles

This wine went very well with the pasta – dry, but the tannins weren’t so harsh that they were all you could think about.  A mix of black currant and cherries with a hint of blackberries and blueberries.  Very enjoyable, this was a substantial wine.

For the price, very enjoyable, and we are thinking of buying a couple of bottles and putting them aside as the tasting notes on the label recommend waiting a few years.  If it was this good now, imagine what it will be like then.

The dessert was an amazing find of Megan’s from Nigella.  Really incredible and perfectly Italian – Amaretto Syllabub.  For the recipe, visit Nigella’s Food Network page.  Basically, it’s a dessert based saved for after the kids have gone to bed.  Mostly because then you don’t have to share it, but also because it’s filled with booze.  Megan pulled it off to perfection, as usual.

Next week, a special treat, but you’ll have to read it to find out what.

Till then,

Cheers!

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