Who hasn’t nursed that longing pang for the second bottle?
I have always said that the 750 ml bottle is too small for two winos, errrr, Sybarites, such as Ms. R and myself. After one of those insufficiently sized bottles has been drained of all that is good, all that is right, all that is just, we pathetically gaze at the empty. Our eyes lock and those insightful, albeit less than lucid, minds of ours naturally turn to considerations of what might be lurking in the wine rack…
A smile creeps out of the corner of my mouth, she arches her eyebrow:
“What do you think?”, say I.
“Muerto, quieres misa?!”, she responds.
(Roughly translated– “Dead Man, do you want a mass?!” which is another way of saying that a person desperately needs/wants something that is obvious.)
The nefarious fun is about to begin!
The waves of regret can wait till morning…
We never learn… Like Hemingway, we are fearless in the moment.
This is what Great Weekends are all about!
Travelling through Virginia recently, I was reminded of a Constitutional Law class I had taken a few years ago as a young law student, when I came across a case that appeals to me on many levels, the aptly named, Loving vs. Virginia.
The case involved what was then Virginia’s anti-miscegenation law. OK, I don’t really expect most people to know what that is. Miscegenation is the mixing of races– in this case the Virginia law prohibited the marriage of people of the “white ” race and people of “colored” races. The case was brought by Mrs. Loving, a Black Woman who had married a White Man. The Wikipedia write-up of the case sets out the facts rather nicely (Gracias, Wikipedia!):
At the age of 18, Mildred became pregnant, and in June 1958 the couple traveled to Washington, D.C. to marry, thereby evading Virginia’s Racial Integrity Act of 1924, which made interracial marriage a crime. They returned to the small town of Central Point, Virginia. Based on an anonymous tip, local police raided their home late one night, hoping to find them having sex, which was also a crime according to Virginia law. When the officers found the Lovings sleeping in their bed, Mildred pointed out their marriage certificate on the bedroom wall. That certificate became the evidence for the criminal charge of “cohabiting as man and wife, against the peace and dignity of the Commonwealth” that was brought against them.
* * *
On January 6, 1959, the Lovings pled guilty and were sentenced to one year in prison, with the sentence suspended for 25 years on condition that the couple leave the state of Virginia. They did so, moving to the District of Columbia.
In June of 1967 the US Supreme Court’s decision, in Loving v. Virginia, invalidated the Virgina law putting an end to race based restrictions on marriage.
Dates of repeal of US anti-miscegenation laws by state:
Grey: No anti-miscegenation laws passed
Green: Repealed before 1887
Amber: Repealed from 1948 to 1967
Red: Repealed 12 June 1967 (the day Loving v. Virginia was decided)
The Loving case, even if it did not specifically address the right to privacy, in my mind is all about privacy and what happens within the sanctus sanctorum of the bedroom, of the home.
Yes, thanks to that 1967 Supreme Court, we can now say that Virginia is for Lovings. But as good as that result was 46 years ago, as a society we need to deal with volatile social issues regarding race relations and marriage.
I like to think that our country is a more open place now, but am reminded that in some respects it is not and that there are private places that the Government continues to seek to regulate and monitor. Think of the laws in a number of states prohibiting same-sex marriage. (Think also of the recent disclosure of the NSA’s efforts to track our electronic communications– but don’t think too hard about that one…)
The 2013 Supreme Court moved the needle toward nationwide equal recognition of gay marriage. But unlike the Loving case, there is still work to do on the gay marriage front since the court did not directly decide that prohibitions on gay marriage are unconstitutional. After these recent cases, only about 30 percent of Americans will live in states where gay marriage is legal. Virginia has yet to legalize it.
While I appear to have been beating up on Virginia, here, let me say that I have a very favorable impression of the state and the people I have met there. To me Virginia is in many respects a microcosm of the values of our country.
Having painted myself into a corner, how do I get back to the real purpose of this blog? WINE. A Sybarite has to do what Sybarite has to do…
Gather a bunch of our hetero, homo, black, white, latino, you name it, friends and have a picnic with lots of great food and some Virginia wines.
During our recent trip to Virginia from Linden Vineyards. Located in the Virginia Blue Ridge, Linden has been producing wines in Virginia since the 1987 vintage. Not a very long history, but the wines have a nice energy to them. Owner-winemaker, Jim Law (whom we did not have a chance to meet), is clearly interested in putting out a quality product. We tasted through a number of Linden’s current releases and were particularly impressed by three of them that made it back to Connecticut with us.
Seyval 2011 ($20). The Seyval is made from seyval blanc, a hybrid grape that is, interestingly, outlawed in the EU because it contains non-vinifera genes. No matter. In Virginia, this varietal produces an energetic and minerally white wine with citrus notes that is reminiscent of Sauvignon blanc. Built to be drunk with shellfish or milder cheeses, we grabbed a half case of this before we left the winery. Rated ** 1/2 out of 4*
Vidal Riesling 2010 ($19). A blend of Riesling and Vidal (another hybrid varietal). This wine had an engaging energy and an immediacy that, coupled with the pear and tropical fruit (think lychee) notes, is a joy to sip to the last drop. Rated **1/2 out of 4*
Petit Verdot 2010 ($28). This is a hefty effort with a goodly amount of black and blue fruit with enticing aromas that jump out of the glass. Equally at home with an aged Gruyère as with a grilled pork chop, this is a handsome food wine. Rated *** out of 4*
We are looking forward to our next visit to Linden. If you live in the D.C. area, put it on your list.
It may be a little bit too early for Christmas, but I feel as though I have been given a very nice gift.
A couple of years back, Jancis Robinson wrote about a wine revolution occurring here on the East Coast of the U.S. in the state of Virgina, home to and burial place of T Jeff– an 18th century French Wine Geek, who also happened to pen Declaration of Independence and served as our young nation’s third president– yeah, THAT Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson, an avid gardener, planted Bordeaux varietals in Monticello, but it appears he was never able to produce enough grapes to make any wine there. Given that I am writing this on the eve of Independence Day, as well as the 187th anniversary of T Jeff’s passing, it seemed an appropriate time to speak out about Virginia wine.
Now, Virginia is not the first place you would think to produce wine. First off, it’s generally quite warm which results in early ripening (and often over-ripening) of the fruit. But the real problem is rainfall which in wet vintages dilutes the fruit and can promote the growth of molds and mildew– none of which are good ingredients if you want to make a tasty wine. But a few winemakers, and one in particular, seem to have figured it out by placing his vineyards at higher elevations on soils with a base of drainage-friendly fractured granite underneath.
About 1 hour’s drive west of Washington D.C., stands RDV Vineyards, a small property with a mere 16 acres of vines planted. Located in Delaplane, Virginia, this operation with a very dedicated staff will become a standard-bearer for high quality East Coast wine and in time world-class wine. Given its short history– I believe the first vintage to be released was the 2006– the rise of the quality of the wines produced here is remarkable.
Proprietor, Rutger de Vink (in case you were wondering where the winery got its name), has set out to create a world-class wine that can hang in the same stratosphere with the finest Bordeaux and California wines. There is no question that his wines express their sense of place, even if Bordeaux is the inspiration. The winery produces a “mere” two offerings a year, a Right Bank style merlot-dominated fruitier wine, which in marketed as Rendezvous, and a Left Bank style cabernet-dominated more structured one previously known simply as RDV. Right Bank and Left Bank, and the letters R and L now play prominently in the marketing of the wines. In vinous genuflection to the French inspiration, starting with the 2009 vintage, the two wines are called Rendezvous and Lost Mountain.
The tasting room, a well-appointed, airy and modern space, is the perfect place to quietly ponder the beauty of these wines. Recently, I opened the 2008 RDV (renamed Lost Mountain for the 2009 vintage) and was impressed by the level of restraint this wine exhibited– good concentration of flavors and fruit, certainly, but balanced by tannins resulting in an elegant wine. And as good as the 2008s are, the improvement in the 2009s– the first RDV wines benefitting from the expertise of Eric Boissenot, wine consultant to 4 of Bordeaux’s 5 first growths– is readily apparent. The 2009 Lost Mountain is a wine that, while drinkable now, has yet to really stretch its legs out. Still as the wine opened up it released a magical perfume. The wine has an insistent finish that Ms. R and I can’t wait to experience again. The folks at RDV will know her as the sun goddess since she managed to keep the rain away while we were there…
Having also tried the 2008 Rendezvous which, to be honest, seemed a bit over extracted or over baked and almost coffee-like, I was pleasantly surprised by the 2009 Rendezvous which has a more solid core of fruit without appearing to be too New World. The folks at the winery will tell you that the Rendezvous is for more immediate drinking and that the Lost Mountain is for long-term aging. While I cannot disagree with that advice, I would put it a little differently: Although it does not have the same presence as the Lost Mountain, the 2009 Rendezvous has its own fleshy elegance, playing the role of Marilyn Monroe to the Lost Mountain’s Jacqueline Kennedy, if you know what I mean.
Let’s cut to the chase here– the 2009s are the ones to get your hands on. But to do so, you will need to visit the winery since the internet allocation is sold out. Visit, if you can– you will not be disappointed. Oh, and don’t be thrown off by the $40 per person fee for the tour, tasting and light food parings. It is worth it.
Which brings us to the bottom line– in absolute terms, these wines are not inexpensive. The 2009 vintages of Lost Mountain and Rendezvous, are sold for $88 and $75, respectively. The pricing for the 2010s, which are to be released in September 2013, are $95 and $75, respectively. But relative to Napa wines of comparable quality, there is value there. There may come a time when we may look back on these early RDV vintages and sigh at what great values these wines were “Way Back When”…
Sybarite Sauvage 4 Star Rating System:
2008 Rendezvous Rated **1/2
2009 Rendezvous Rated ***
2008 RDV Rated ***
2009 Lost Mountain Rated ***1/2
William’s McLoughlin’s dad was hit by a car and died. That’s all I had heard about Billy’s dad.
Billy’s mom, became a widow with three young children. We had moved into the neighborhood the previous fall and walking down the street one day, I saw that Billy had a new bike that he did not yet know how to ride. I was all of 11 years of age and Billy had to be in first grade. I did for him, what his dad could not do for him. I ran behind him, as my own dad had done for me, steadying the bike as Billy peddled furiously in front of our modest houses Friendship Street, I let go and off he went. A wobbly start, then crash bang skinned knee tears. Helping him up, I counseled perseverance and a Band Aid, and off we went again. In no time, he was on his own and I just watched– a self-satisfied smile on my face.
I was a surrogate for him, though I did not know that word at that time. And as my little surrogate brother, he looked up to me knowing I would protect him.
Billy’s mom never forgot that small kindness. And she let me know this every time I saw her. After that, I wanted to do whatever I could to bring a smile to her face. She would take me aside and let me know how much she appreciated that I had befriended William and taken him under my wing. I guess I had a schoolboy crush on her– she was in fact quite beautiful, long dark brown hair framing a gentle face that did not betray the stresses of being a 30-something widow.
Then one day, without warning, she sold the house and the family moved away. At least this is the way that events from childhood are remembered. There are no explanations. Just a shift in the players in our lives– people come and go with no explanation, no rationale. As we age, we piece the events together to make sense of events by filtering them through an imperfect adult lens.
The new family that purchased the house had kids of their own. But in my eyes, the bar had been set by the McLoughlin family. Perhaps no one could live up to that standard. And Michael, the new kid in the house, was so far below the standard, that I could not help but dislike him as much as I had liked Billy. The house now symbolized change for the worse, having surrendered up a good friend, a great kid and replacing him with this young idiot.
Michael did not help himself either. He was downright annoying– though younger than us, he was headstrong, unjustifiably confident and would use whining as a tactic to get his way. Did I mention he had no self-awareness? A unique blend of personality traits that was not going to make him any friends. With these qualities, he attempted to take a leadership role in the clique of neighborhood kids. That wasn’t going to happen. And as it turned out I was not alone in my feelings.
The pecking order had been set before he got there. It wasn’t an official pecking order, but people knew where they stood in general terms. The oldest kids ran the show, but we usually included the younger ones that we liked in our hijinks. While not exactly Lord of the Flies, there were unwritten rules and Michael seemed to be oblivious or, worse, unconcerned with them all.
He was forever trying just a little too hard, and when we ignored him he did whatever he could to piss us off. With sandy-hued curly hair, a goofy expression on his face and an air of superiority, after a while, it seemed like all the kids on the street had taken a dislike to him. But as kids we never bothered to analyze the situation or even to discuss him let alone pay him much mind. Still in those moments when he infiltrated our gatherings, one glance amongst us and we, each of us, knew that we did not like him.
During the Christmas break from school, on one of those short winter days, he emerged from his house, dressed head to toe in a red corduroy outfit that he had received for Christmas that year. In this snappy sartorial splendor, he was a scarlet spectacle resembling a demented elf.
And us? We were just roaming the neighborhood that day looking for something to do on a cold Winter’s Day when we had no school and there was no snow on the ground with which we could play. Naturally, Michael and his elfin attire joined us without being invited.
Somehow, we found ourselves in a stand of woods behind my house. There, at the edge of the woods was a small pond– not particularly deep. Mosquito infested in the summer. It was a theatre for war games, Lewis and Clark Explorations, nature walks, whatever our imaginations could conjure. Here, in the Spring and Summer, we captured tadpoles, skipped stones and hunted/avoided snakes. In the winter, though the pond froze over, none of ever dared to stroll across it as the ice always appeared a little too thin.
As Michael leaned over the edge of the pond, my best friend at the time, Reed, stole behind him and did what came naturally. With the small encouragement that came from the slightest of shoves, Michael lost his balance on the slippery muddy edge of the pond. At first I thought that he was going horizontal and would make a tremendous splash in the pond and perhaps drown– nah! Yet somehow, he managed to capture his balance on his left foot, but tipping over, his right leg went into the pond up to his crotch. The frigid water quickly drenched the scarlet fabric and filled his boot with cloudy liquid.
We all stood in stunned silence waiting to see how Michael would react. His eyes widened, mouth agape, wanting to say something, but no sound coming out. He stood there– a red statue. We reciprocated in silent amazement. The cocky airs that he had escaped from him. He was the butt of a great practical joke. And in that moment of devastating humiliation, he realized where his place was in the neighborhood pecking order. He extracted his wet red corduroyed leg from the pond along with a goodly amount of the muddy muck from the pond’s bottom which covered his footwear and the pretty red pant leg up to his knee. Turning to Reed, I said, “Look, he has humus on his leg!” Not having wasted my education, humus, I had learned in school, is the decaying organic matter, found in forests underneath more fresh leaves. But this was wet humus from the bottom of a stagnant pool of water. It also smelled like you would expect wet decaying organic matter (leaves, frog skins, etc.) to smell– a magical combination of rotting leaves and kimchi with a touch of sewage.
Reed, taking pride in his handiwork, stood there and blurted out a derisive “Hah, he’s covered in Humus!” Up to that moment, Michael wore the red suit as a badge of honor. Perhaps it made him feel all superhero-like and invincible. But that feeling of invincibility dissolved in the ether of laughter by the pond. Tears welled up in his eyes, but to his credit we did not see him cry. I almost felt sorry for him. He went home and trudging into the house, what had been Billy’s House, brought the stink of the pond and a generous amount of mud inside with him. I don’t know what happened after the front door closed. Perhaps he was whipped for ruining such a lovely outfit or for tracking rotting mud and decayed leaves across the carpet. We were kids, and those domestic housekeeping protocols did not concern us.
But we knew after that day that the pecking order had been preserved. And he never forgot that. Henceforth, Michael became known as Humus. And Humus is always found on the bottom. Oh, and to my knowledge, the red suit never saw the light of day again.
Now and again, I would walk by Humus’ House and think back on the fun times I had when it was Billy’s House, there on the somewhat ironically named Friendship Street. But then I remembered that it was now Humus’ house and things had changed.
I would have to take solace in thinking back on the day at the pond.
Over the years I have tried to track down Billy. But no success yet. When I do find him, I will tell him the tale of Humus and the fantastically filthy red suit. If he doesn’t read it here first.
Chateau Fabas Moural Minervois 2009 ($14). From a great vintage, this aromatically gifted wine starts with earthy mineral syrah notes (no, that’s not humus, but then again…) pushing toward a black cherry perfume on the palate complemented by black olive notes. A blend of Grenache 20%, Syrah 60% and Mouvedre 20% that finishes with soft and lingering tannins, this is worth searching out, though in the US, you are best off getting it directly from the importer, Cynthia Hurley. Rated ***
Where and what is Minervois? Minervois (pronounced MEE-ner-vwah) is an AOC in the Languedoc-Roussillon wine region.
For the uninitiated, AOC stands for appellation d’origine contrôlée, which translates as “controlled designation of origin”, and is the French certification granted to certain French geographical indications for wines and other agricultural products. For the budget conscious (and who isn’t budget conscious?), the regions boasts some of the best values in French wines and is worth keeping on the radar.
Why do they put the “Publish” button so close to the “Save Draft” button?!!
Is it time to buy a gun?
Hurricane Sandy has left a loss of property and power and sadly, some lives, in its wake.
For us there was no power for merely two days– though that seemed like an eternity. We cooked by candlelight and flashlight– desperately trying to use everything that could spoil in the fridge. We adjusted our sleep patterns to coincide with the rising and setting of the sun. There are lines at the gas stations and gasoline rationing in some places. But these are just minor inconveniences, right?
I have always thought that the revolution would start if you turned off the power for 5 days. You can feel patience wearing thin for those of us still without power. Our local electric company seems to be uniquely aware of how precarious things are as well. And whether by design or accident they have focused much of their initial power restoration efforts on the nearby cities with the largest economically disadvantaged populations. Think of the result if they had instead concentrated the power restoration on more affluent towns. Better yet, don’t. Anarchy can become quite real, quite quickly. We are just a few days from a breakdown of the kinds of rules set out by Dr. Moreau in the 1932 film, Island of Lost Souls.
Dr. Moreau (Charles Laughton): What is the Law?
Man/Beast (Bela Lugosi): Not to walk on all fours. That is the Law. Are we not men?
Dr. Moreau: What is the Law?
Man/Beast: Not to eat meat. That is the Law. Are we not men?
Dr. Moreau: What is the Law?
Man/Beast: Not to spill blood. That is the Law. Are we not men?
Things did not work out too well for Dr. Moreau– when there is deprivation, man can release his inner savage. Where we live in Connecticut, we are fortunate that the situation had not so deteriorated. But some of our neighbors in other parts of the region are not as blessed and have had to take more drastic measures to protect what is theirs. And this makes me think that maybe I should “buy me a gun”. What is the Law? For some the question boils down to, “Where is the Law?”
Another less painful casualty of this catastrophe is the loss, or in our case deferral, of Halloween.
Halloween is a magical time for kids– a time when you visit homes that you would never approach the rest of the year. This is the fascination of Halloween– approach a house that you have never given a moment’s thought about in the hope of adding to your sack of sweet booty. In some neighborhoods, in our region, this might not be such a good idea just now.
It reminds me of the year we lost and reclaimed Halloween.
The year of my 9th birthday, we were living in Long Island City, a Queens New York Neighborhood. We lived in a complex of several 6-story elevator buildings. The neighborhood was filled with some of the most colorful people I have ever been around. Leo, best friend, with a basketball shaped head covered in shaggy blond hair and a high-pitched voiced. Rudy, the round-faced gravel-throated wunderkind, remembered mostly for shouting out, “The Fuuuuuuuzzzzzzzz!!!” every time a cop wandered into our neighborhood, as we all scampered away like cockroaches under the glare of the policeman’s stare. After school, we played on the concrete sidewalks, places where skinned knees and elbows were as frequent as the sound of sirens. And this was especially true if, like me, you learned to ride a bike and learned to use parked cars as an emergency braking system to prevent the bike from slipping out in front of oncoming traffic. I must have ruined a paint job or two during my bicycle apprenticeship.
Though I did not know it at the time, that Halloween was the last I would have in this urban heaven. I went Trick or Treating with friends. We hit three of the buildings in the complex. Here’s the math of it: 6 stories, 10 apartments on each story multiplied by the three buildings: that’s 180 households. And we hit every apartment that was laying out the goods that night. It was an immense haul of candy. We had to stop because we literally ran out of room in our overflowing Halloween bags and they became too heavy to carry by the end of the night as we dragged the bags home, stopping several times along the way to regrip the twine shopping bag handles that were eating their way into the skin inside our hands. We had struck gold and I never wanted to have Halloween in any other place.
It was a time to gorge ourselves– though I had learned a lesson about moderation the year before when I discovered that you can have too much of a good thing: I overdosed on Smarties (my favorite candy at the time) and spewed Technicolor vomit in the middle of my 3rd grade class the day after Halloween. It was fantastic!
The following October, we moved to Southern New Jersey. Taking up residence in a place call Vineland where my parents sought refuge from the city and found the anti-New York. There were about 10 houses on our block. What the hell were we doing here? I did not know how to voice it until years later, but I was experiencing a strange and personal diaspora. This wasn’t even a suburb. It was downright rural– peach orchards and chicken farms. The night sounds of the city– people pacing the apartment above, sirens blaring in the night– these were consigned to memory only. At night, the soundtrack consisted of crickets– hundreds, maybe thousands, of crickets looking to score and perpetuate their family lines. This was not my place and I hated that sense of non-belonging. Yes, my parents were trying to get a better life for us. But what good is served trading safety (whatever that is) for misery. It would be eight long years before I would get out.
Come October 31st, we did as always– we put on costumes and went out in search of a hoard of Halloween candy, in the chill October air, the Smarties Episode a distant memory. However, my expectations for a big haul were very high, given the prior year’s success.
This time, my younger sister and I went out together. There we were on our dark street– 10 houses and 15 minutes later, we were done. We returned home with a paltry dozen pieces of candy in our sacks. Disappointment does not begin to describe what we felt. Back home, my mother sat with a big bowl of candy and no other Trick or Treaters in sight. We were living on Isolation Boulevard. Dad was away in New York City, working. We would see him on the weekends only. We had one car that he used it to commute to NYC. My mother did not even have a driver’s license– there was never a need for that while we were living in NYC. Thus, going to another neighborhood to get candy was not an option. Looking back, Halloween was harder on her than on us. Separated from our New York family, no form of transportation, on a dark street, husband away from home, no real friends to rely upon, 2 deeply disappointed kids. She must have felt she was drowning. Drowning anonymously on a darkened street. But she did not let on.
She asked us to step outside and ring our own doorbell. Trick or Treating at our own house. THIS WAS LAME. But we obliged– at least we would get more candy. We rang the door bell and shouted “Trick or Treat!” The door did not open right away. Great. We’re being dissed at our own house as well. When it finally swung open, she greeted us, a sheet draped over her head. Dressed as a ghost, and making appropriately ghoulish sounds, she happily filled up our bags with the candy that no one else claimed that night. The steam from our laughter-filled breath permeated the October chill as we rang the bell again and again. It was our most incredible Halloween– in retrospect, much better than the one the year before.
I am not comparing the tragedy of Sandy to the inconvenience of losing Halloween. But this story serves as a reminder that when times appear dire, we need to turn to each other for support and comfort. And sometimes relief comes from the most unexpected places– sometimes from a change of attitude within ourselves.
Next week when we celebrate Halloween, the day after the Presidential election, we may need to ask the same questions.
Should I buy that gun? What is the Law? What is the role of Family?
Why do you the devil?
As we close in on election day here in the U.S. I believe that the one thing we could use more of in our society is tolerance. But I find myself in a quandary since I cannot tolerate the intolerant. I don’t begrudge others the right to express their intolerance. I just don’t want to see it, hear it, feel it. So this posting is a bit like therapy for me– address this acerbating thing head on.
It seems inevitable that we should look to pigeonhole each other to see if you are like me and therefore, likeable to me. Republican, Pro-Choicer, Democrat, Hetero, Whig, Libertine, Tory, Federalist, Homo, Right-to-Lifer, Prude, Socialist, Religious Fundamentalist, Arrogant Bastard, Intellectual Snob. I like some of these values– others, not so much. But I don’t exclude you because you are fowl and not fish. And I certainly won’t condemn you to hell for your choices/preferences.
How did I get onto this? I came across this pic a month or two a ago. At that time, I found it merely amusing and that was that. Then it popped up in my archives and well, here you go—
By my count, and ignoring those crazy apostrophes, at one time or another I have either belonged to, or been accused of being a member of, 21 of the 38 categories listed above. By the way, does anybody out there know what “BAHI’S”, “EMO’S” OR “P.K’S” are? Make that 21 of 35 somewhat comprehensible categories. Can anyone top that number? Is my number anything to be proud of? I guess my ticket is punched for that one way trip to Hell.
When I started with NGW (No Guilt Wednesday) a year and a half ago the idea was to show that one did not have to spend like the
(that I might be) to drink good juice. Along the way, we found some fantastic values and a few duds. But on the whole, I think we have shown that there is some good juice out there that is available at decent prices. But now it is time for a change in approach.
NGW is being relaunched as GFW (Guilt Free Wine). My little guy and I are going to expand our horizons a bit and you will see some more expensive wines showing up here. We may spend a few more dollars on these wines, but there’s no reason to feel guilty about that, is there?
La Rioja Alta Vina Ardanza Reserva Especial 2001 ($34). When I came across this in the wine shop, I immediately grabbed it. The Reserva Especial on the label is a departure from the typical Spanish classifications of (in ascending order) Crianza, Reserva and Gran Reserva. The amount of barrel and bottle aging for each of these categories is strictly regulated by Spanish law. The Reserva Especial designation is one that the producer reserves for its best vintages (this is the third time that the designation has been used). The professional reviewers love this wine. Me? Not so much. In the final analysis it does have a fair amount of complexity but the omnipresent American oak and a little too much acidity held me back from being as effusive as those other guys. I may not agree with them in this instance but that’s what makes the world go round… Rated **1/2
Three weeks and I have had nothing to say? Well, not really.
I have been with Ms. R as she starts Chemotherapy after recovering from surgery. Her breast Cancer came back.
And while I have had lots of thoughts about myriad subjects, there is nothing I can write that seems more important than this. Nothing, no event, no wine, more insistent than those 2 C-words.
She is a Luminescence in my life. Yet the nights are dark and chill and the mornings darker still. There is a shadow that has stretched across our path. Still she manages to glow. She exudes warmth. I can not comprehend how she does it. It is beyond me in every way. But I have also seen her in her weaker moments. When the darkness hidden within exacts its price.
We have known about the cancer since mid-summer. But it is now, in the Autumn, as the leaves are starting their annual crayola swoon that we are bringing the fight home. Nausea. Exhaustion. Waves of both. Sometimes alternating. Sometimes simultaneous. I wish I could take it on for her, take it away from her, shield her, sacrifice myself for her. That would be so much easier.
But I cannot. I can only bear helpless witness and offer whatever comfort I can muster.
Yet the situation is not helpless. I know that we will survive. Stronger than before.
She is better equipped than me to field this difficult play. She has a strength of faith. Where I am underwhelmed by myths. She has an unyielding ability to find the best in difficult situations. She is not having breast surgery. She’s getting new “boobies” (her word). Is she delusional? No, just pathologically optimistic. I am the cynic. And she draws power from the love of friends and family. I prefer a more stoic approach. Yes she is my better half.
I ask myself, why her? There is no answer. That leaves me feeling very unsatisfied. So I come back here. To this place where words may help me to understand. Where I can be visible, yet undetectable. Where I can confess my doubts. Yes there is doubt within me. But there is also certainty that comes from her.
This is a pot hole in the road. The bridge is not out.
Ah, Miss Piggie, alas, I knew her well!
Many people do not like to see where their food comes from. But I am not one of those.
I suppose that their perspective is somewhat understandable in this freeze-dried, shrink wrapped, time stamped, hormone injected, antibiotic infused, chemically preserved, no fat, reduced fat, low sodium, Reduced Guilt Age of Ours.
I especially love a good Pig Roast. The primal urge to cook an entire animal is ever-present. It is not for everyone. But, it is within all of us. Having grown up with it, I have no aversion to it. In fact, I like knowing where my food comes from.
This is not an everyday occurrence. Yet, when presented with the carcass of a nearly entire animal (butchers are usually kind enough to clean the inside and remove and keep all the parts that chefs refer to as “the good stuff” for use in making sausage and other goodies) I feel a sense of responsibility. Theoretically speaking this is no different from picking up a package of pork chops at the supermarket. And yet it is. Here before you are the remnants of a sentient being whose life was ended to the purpose of feeding a ravenous horde. Here the tail. There the head, eyes frozen in confusion and horror. Here is the beast, fed and cared for, unwitting to its fate, sacrificed to the Gods of Barbeque. It’s muscle and skin devoured in a celebration. It’s bones sucked dry and picked clean. Larger bones left for the hounds of the household. I am not religious, but I quietly give thanks for the ultimate sacrifice another being has made. Yet, I feel no remorse. This is the way of the world– the culmination of the life or death struggle that goes on everyday throughout the world.
These little piggies consumed, digested, and converted into nothingness within hours. And yet, I feel no remorse. It is what must be.
But I feel a sense of Obligation. When you carve up an entire pig as I have done two times now, you learn to have respect for the life that was ended to provide sustenance.
So for today, a recollection of Three “Little” Piggies that I have known. My Personal Porcine Pantheon.
THIS PIG WAS A GAS!
Over the weekend, a friend was having a backyard pig roast. He had invited 100 people– friends, acquaintances and business relations– as well as a special guest, a 50 lb. sow, to a summer’s end celebration at his house in suburban Connecticut. As the house is located on a quiet, conservative, New England street, the approach to the roasting of the beast needed to be carefully considered. He opted for the use of a 48 inch wide Weber propane gas grill with a rotisserie attachment. I was a little skeptical– 50 pounds is a lot of weight to put on an electric rotisserie for 6 hours. Add to that uncertainty the logistical question of whether such a large pig would fit into the grill. Combine these complications with the fact that this friend had never attempted this and I began to think it might not be such a good idea. I figured I had better lend a hand.
Earlier last week, he sent me an email asking for advice on seasoning the beast. When it comes to pork, I am a traditionalist– generous helpings of salt, pepper, cilantro and fresh garlic rubbed on the inside and out and inserted into slits into the skin.
Yes, the kitchen smelled like garlic heaven. You can see the bowl of seasoning we used.
And in case you’re wondering, no Advil was added to the recipe. This little piggie was way beyond headaches…
After we seasoned it, but before we dropped the marinade on it, we inserted the rotisserie rod, proctologically speaking, from stern to bow, if you know what I mean. Incredibly, we had about two inches of clearance on each end of the rod. So the pig would fit horizontally. Next came the question of the legs. Hanging freely would not do since the vertical clearance in the grill was only about 15 inches and pig, were it to be standing would be over 20 inches. We solved that problem by tieing the legs to the body. While not a classical way to roast a pig, short of cutting off the legs, this was the only practical solution. Result– 12 to 13 inches at the widest point. Naturally, we did a “cold run” on the grill to ensure we had clearance.
Into some large plastic bags went our porcine guest, along with a bitter orange marinade: bitter orange juice (Goya makes a good one) infused with more garlic, S&P, cilantro and oregano.
Fini! And feeling good about ourselves, we sat around the fire pit drinking ourselves silly till past 1 a.m. as we sucked down some nice reds. While today’s NGW was not among them, it would have been right at home if only we had some.
Luzon Crianza 2008 ($10.50). The aromas promise so much– bramble and ripe fruit. The Monastrell that we get from Jumilla, I sometimes find a bit cloying. But not this one even though it is a blend that is dominated by Monastrell (AKA Mouvedre or Mataro) and has that gaminess that we often find with that varietal. But wait, there’s more! There is Tempranillo and Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot and these lend ripe blackberry, sage and plum skin flavors with mouth coating tannins on the finish. Still, it may not be for everyone because Monastrell can present some challenges with that slight gamey finish. But the Tempranillo brings welcome acidity, the others tannins, amicable fruit and softness. As a total package this presents a very nice value and should be relatively easy to find. Rated **1/2
When next I saw her, Miss Piggie looked a lot like this…
She was magnificent.
A FLAT PIG
Back in 2009, we borrowed a Caja China, from a good friend. The Caja China (translated as Chinese Box) is a Cuban-American invention. It signficantly cuts down on the cooking time for roasting a pig by virtue of two major features . First, the pig is spatch-cocked, that is to say split in half and cooked flat. Second, the pig is placed in the Caja China and hot coals are placed in a metal tray that acts as the lid for the box that sealing the dinner to be within the confines of a hot box as the meat is cooked from above. Doesn’t sound like it would work, but boy does it ever. Here’s a couple of photos from our Day with the Caja China.
Did I mention it was good? Friends still mention the day I spatch-cocked a pig.
A PIG FOR THE AGES
My first experience with an entire pig came when I was a wee lad of 12 or so. And I have to say, it was my greatest pig experience. It is the yardstick, the paradigm, the sine qua non, the most ut. Dad got a big ass pig. Which the men put on a spit. Just like in the movies, it was tied to a long rod. We didn’t have electric rotisseries back then, so we hired a guy. Yes, a guy who sat in the hot sun by the spit slowly rotating the pig by hand for many hours. We kept him motivated with cold beers, the occasional bathroom break, and the promise of a few pounds of the stuff. It was such a large pig there was plenty to go around.
If any pictures were taken, they are lost to time. But it looked a little like this:
I do remember the smell of the roasting flesh and the bread that was warmed on the hot coals as pig fat dripped on it from above. That’s some large living, my friends. The skin was dense and crunchy, salty and magnificent. I have never eaten anything that good in my life. Well at least that’s how I remember it.
And because we were given the entire pig including all the innards, there was some fantastic blood sausage that was made as well. You can read about that by clicking on this link.
The little guy in the photo at the top of this page doesn’t have a guilty bone in his body. Neither should you. No-Guilt Wednesday (NGW) is not about compromising on quality. It’s all about drinking good wine that does not break the bank ($15 or less), eating good food and of course, it’s about sharing with the ones you love.
Years before I met and then worked for him, I had been told that Len was a genius.
But I have come to learn that Genius is the obverse side of a coin. What is on the reverse side of that coin is not so readily apparent– at first.
An enduring image I have of Len is feet up on his desk, cigarette smoldering between his tobacco stained fingers, staring into the space outside his window, no doubt resolving a sticky technical problem. Tall, yet he never used his height to intimidate. Gentle eyes, he would sit and listen and then clearly discuss technical matters as if he had been born with the knowledge pre-packaged, pre-loaded in his brain. He was a mental giant but he did not intimidate with that either. Len was a Jew and as a Jew he would have appreciated being referred to as a Mensch. A Yiddish word used to describe a Real Human Being, A Good Person. Many of us admired him, but we also knew that he could be a bit of a loner. He lived in his head and reminded me of Mr. Spock.
Yet there was a side of him that said, “Look here, I can have fun too!”. He purchased a cherry red Mazda Miata. But it was a queer choice. As a partner in the firm, he could afford a better car. He wanted to have fun. But it was Fun within limits. Then there were the sheer mechanics of folding his Ichabod-esque frame into the confines of a Miata. I remember passing him on the highway once and looking over he had cigarette perched in left hand, hunched over the wheel, staring forward, lost in thought at 60 miles per hour.
I was thrilled the day that I was asked to support Len with respect to one of the more high-profile clients in the office– a company with coal mining interests in West Virginia. The vice president we were dealing with was a short fellow with a major Napoleon complex. Standing about five feet five inches, he surrounded himself with a team of six-foot tall men that he bullied for sport. For some reason, he never focused on me– perhaps because I am a mere five feet eight inches on a good day. Len, on the other hand was just about 6 feet tall. And theirs was always a tenuous relationship.
During one of the recessions in the early nineties, the a Firm made a decision to lay off the lower performing employees for economic reasons. These were people who were not superstars. They were average but they were effective and good at what they did. However, rather than admitting that the cutbacks were being made for economic reasons, the leaders of the firm, in their infinite wisdom, decided to base the cutbacks on performance evaluations that were unnecessarily and intentionally negative. No mention was to be made of the economic motivations for the lay offs.
I rankled at this notion. My feeling was– that you could give someone a decent and honest evaluation and then tell them that good as they were, they were not at the top of the class and business being business, they had to leave with company’s blessing and some outplacement assistance and a letter of recommendation. The company’s approach was more draconian– tell them they are sub-par, sub-standard, sub-human chattel and fire them. Eat what you kill. Corporate Darwinism.
As Senior Managers, they charged me and others with drafting and delivering these negative performance evaluations. I, along with a few others, bridled at this and refused to write an evaluation that I thought was a lie and unduly cruel.
Len and another leader in our group, George called me into their offices. I calmly explained my position– fire them if you must, but don’t kick them when they are down. I expected them to calmly explain why I should do their bidding (aside from the fact that they were my bosses). Len’s face filled with rage and he exploded into an emotional tirade directed at yours truly. I was stunned that this mild-mannered man that I had admired had turned on me with such ferocity that I thought there was a fair chance that he was going to strike me. I still see his sanguine face contorted by anger, his voice rising, ordering me to write the evaluation.
Standing over me, he demanded, “So are you going to write the evaluations or not?!” George, leaning back on his desk in the background, was perhaps more stunned than me, I do not know. I could not take my eyes off of Len in case he decided to take a swing at me.
I sat motionless. The next words out of my mouth were going to have an impact on my immediate future. And perhaps my physical well-being. Growing up, I was taught never leave a job unless another is lined up. My daughter was just a year old then. My wife was making a few bucks doing free-lance journalism. No real savings to speak of. And we were in a difficult economy where firms, like ours, were letting people go.
Why not ask me– “So, do you want to provide for your family or not?!” The message was that clear.
I took a deep breath and prepared to respond. In a soft and even tone I looked Len in the eye: “I will draft the evaluation and put in it whatever YOU want. But I will not sign it and I will not deliver it to the individuals.” This was unusual– because as the direct supervisor of the two people in my group who were going to be affected, it would normally have been my responsibility to deliver performance evaluations. I was disavowing responsibility for these evaluations which I felt were filled with lies.
I think it fair to say that my career with the Firm ended (at least unofficially) that day.
There were two individuals in my group who were let go as a result of this action. I liked them both very much, though I realized they would never be superstars.
You might say that I woosed out that day. I guess I did. Practicality beat out idealism. The world can be a heartless place.
Shortly after the Tirade, Len approached me and gave me what I felt was a sincere apology for his rant. While that must have been difficult for him, and while I accepted his apology, I could not forget. He and I both knew that the damage to our relationship was done and it was permanent. I could never look at him in the same way again. Within a few months, I left the firm, on my own terms. But I do not doubt that they would have pushed me out eventually in any event. It was that kind of a place and they knew that I was not going to go along with “the program”.
A couple of years after the Rant, I received bad news. They say that the Coal Napoleon had been disgruntled with Len. Len was about to lose the account. At a place, like the Firm, where there was little tolerance for failure, this may have been the catalyst for what happened.
Len was a thinker and a planner. September 16, 1993 was an important day in his life. As I mentioned, Len was Jewish and he chose Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year) as the day to put a bullet into his brilliant brain. The choice of day. The choice of method. Even the place. These were not last-minute decisions. Even in death he was delivering a message. The symbolism embedded in choosing to attack his own brain continues to resonate. He destroyed his greatest asset. The car, he stained the inside of a thing that brought him joy.
Being a thinker, I am certain that Len was aware that this particular day, September 16, 1993, is also referred to as “the day of judgement”. He had thought about it. He had ensured that his life insurance policy would pay out even if he did himself in. He had calculated that he was worth more dead than alive– even to his family. Alone, perhaps with tears in his eyes, but determined to do what he had logically concluded he had to do, he passed judgement on himself and then extinguished his life inside the red Miata.
It has been 19 years and I have long ago forgiven him for the Tirade. But I have not forgotten his actions– the Tirade, but more importantly, the Kindnesses he showed me and the Life Lessons he left with all of us. As I approach that anniversary, I pause to reflect on his greatness and am thankful that I experienced his Goodness.