Archive for May 2012

NGW: Familia Alonso Bodega Cruz de Piedra Tiasta Torrontes 2011   2 comments

I am training for a 100 mile bike ride.  This will be my fifth time doing this.  I do it because it helps to raise funds to benefit the battle against pediatric cancer.  I do it because no matter my discomfort, it is not the pain of cancer.

The first year I rode the 100, I had no idea how my body would react.  Thankfully, the organizers of this ride do it in a series of three loops of varying mileage that begin and end in the same place. 

The first loop of 50 miles was agonizing.  I stepped off the pedals at the end of those first 50, not knowing if I would be able to continue.  My sit bones– and that thin, delicate layer of skin between the bones and the “cushioned” bicycle seat– after having taken a repeated beating over hardscrabble New Hampshire back roads, were in no mood for another 50 miles.  My lower back was an insistent burning demurrer– No Mas!  And had that been all, I think I could have made it.  But the worst of it is that my upper quads, and the joint that attaches the legs to the torso, were aching with each pump of the pedals.  They burnt when I stood.  They burnt when I sat.  “What the hell am I doing to myself?”  How would I finish? 

“You are not going to quit,” said the Brain to the Body.  

“Bollocks!” replied the Body.   

Ms. R, my personal cheering squad and pit crew helped me off the bike as I returned from that first 50.  I am glad that she was there.  I don’t think that I could have done it without her. 

Now if you have read this blog, you know I like to tease her.  Sometimes without mercy– but always with affection.  And let me say this now– without her, I would not have gotten back in the saddle that afternoon. 

The mind was willing, but the body was broken.  She procured doses of some extra strength pain-killer that came in a blue capsule.  Come to me sweet relief!  The pain subsided and 30 (or perhaps 40)  minutes after I finished the first 50 mile loop, I gingerly (how else) climbed back in the saddle.

Later that afternoon as I polished off the second fifty miles, she was there.  Waiting, perhaps anxiously, for me.  I made it, but did not do it alone.  And I am proud to admit that. 

Ms R, as you read this know that I carry that image of you waiting for me to arrive and I still hear your clear voice above all others, cheering me on as I made my final return that day.  That sound NEVER gets old.  Know that when you had cancer two years ago, I knew you would pull through.  And I hope that I was as good a cheerleader for you then as you were for me that first time I rode 100 miles. 

As I sit on the deck just off our living room, I am tasting this wine for the second time.  The sun is shining and refreshment is nigh as the temperature ebbs and flows in concert with the mid day sun as she begins her ride to dusk. 

I have written about Torrontes before.  If you have not yet tried this varietal– what are you waiting for?  An invitation?  Ms R. should be arriving from work any moment now and I have nice chilled glass of the Tiasta Torrontes waiting for her.   It’s one of the little  ways I cheer her on.

2010 Tiasta TorrontesFamilia Alonso Bodega Cruz de Piedra Tiasta Torrontes 2011 ($9).  100% Torrontes from vines that are 35-40 years old.  All hand-picked from vineyards on sandy soils in a semi-arid high mountain climate at an elevation of 4300 feet.  Irrigation is provided by the flood waters from the ice caps of the Andes Mountains.  No oak in this wine– fermentation is entirely in stainless steel tanks.  Pale in color and yet redolent of spring florals.  A mouthful of flavorful lychee and canepas (the beautifully pulpy fruit from Puerto Rico) complemented by a rich texture in the mouth.  Rated **1/2

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.

Posted May 29, 2012 by Sybarite Sauvage in No-Guilt Wednesday

NGW: Domaine du Haut Bourg Muscadet Côtes de Grandlieu Sur Lie 2010   4 comments

Given Lemons—Make Lemon Meringue!

Good friend, RJ Asher, after exiting from Corporate America found himself in Hong Kong with a hankering to do something that played to his creative side.  He had been a home schooled pie maker (aren’t they all?).

He invited me to brunch one afternoon in 2010, with his wife, Mary Beth, and two other friends.  He discussed the next step in his life– his vision for a pie bakery in Hong Kong.   One thing led to another, and somehow the party migrated to their nice flat.  There, sitting on the terrace, overlooking the city, we munched on some of the sweet stuff including a skyscraper of a Lemon Meringue Pie. 

Image DetailOver some more pie (I think it was a buttery pecan pie), we discussed the phenomena of the Tai Tai—basically the Hong Kong version of the unemployed, kept woman.  A funny thought occurred to me: RJ was at that moment the male version of the Tai Tai.  So I offhandedly suggested he name his new company Tai Tai Pie Pie.  It was meant as a joke.  It was an idea that was probably fueled by a Bloody Mary or two.  But leaps into the abyss often begin with a small shove.

The rest (as they say) is history.  Today, RJ’s Tai Tai Pie Pies operation is in a commercial facility.  He has a passionate commitment to producing the best pies from the purest, most flavorful ingredients available no matter the cost.  This is why if you live in Hong Kong, or even if you’re just passing through HK, you need to get some of this good stuff.   

At dinner at a mutual friends’ home in Manila recently, they pulled out some of RJ’s savory pies.  Personal sized, oval, lard-butter crusted creations filled with beef and chicken and other goodies.  I hadn’t tasted the savory pies till that moment– it was a revelation.  Next time I get to HK, I need to bring some of these frozen babies home with me.  They are that good.  Check out Tai Tai Pie Pies by clicking here.

As I was sipping at today’s NGW, I was reminded of that first lemony creamy taste of one of RJ’s signature pies.  This should come as no surprise since this is a wine with the Sur lie designation, meaning literally “on lees”.  Sur lie wines are bottled directly from the lees without racking (a process for filtering the wine).  This process can add freshness and a creamy quality  to the wine.  Good Muscadet is made in this fashion. 

The grape variety used to produced Muscadet, Melon de Bourgogne, is a relatively neutral grape. With sur lie aging, the wine stays in contact with the dead yeast cells left over after fermentation (the lees).  This process contributes to a creamy mouthfeel that may make the wine seem to have a fuller body. 

Prior to the early 1990s, any producer of Muscadet wine could use the phrase sur lie on their wine labels regardless of the length of time and manner that it actually spent in contact with the lees.  However, in 1994, French authorities implemented regulations limiting the use of sur lie to only wines that comply with set guidelines.  Among these are that while the sub-appellations of Muscadet-Sèvre et Maine, Muscadet-Coteaux de la Loire and Muscadet-Côtes de Grandlieu (source of today’s NGW) are permitted to use the term, any wine labeled with just the generic AOC Muscadet cannot.  Another requirement is that the wine must spend at least a full winter in contact with the lees and not be bottled till after the third week of March following the harvest. 

Domaine du Haut Bourg Muscadet Côtes de Grandlieu Sur Lie 2010 ($9).  Mild floral aromas.  Saline, with a minerally quality and friendly acidity, this is reminiscent of lemon merengue and tart apple yet with more of a viscous mouthfeel than expected.  I nibbled on some wasabi peas while I sipped this– and it stood up to that strong flavor.  This is seafood friendly– but don’t just think sushi– think garlicy shrimp scampi, also think spicy Thai food.  This will get in the face of all of that.  Rated **1/2

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.

Posted May 23, 2012 by Sybarite Sauvage in No-Guilt Wednesday

Chac-Mool and Me   14 comments

 Maya Chac Mool

“How much do you want for your brother?”, asked the short dark-haired douche-bag, hoping to have my ready assent and a few intimate moments with my traveling companion.

After a day of climbing pyramids and exploring altars built for human sacrifice at Chichen Itza, we headed for the nearest pueblito (little village) to catch some local culture.  I did not think I would have to sacrifice my companion in this little placita.  I know there are perverts the world over, but still, these words caught me unexpectedly.  First off, I was with a female friend, Barbara, short-haired and Lesbian.  Second, I don’t have a brother.  

[How did I end up travelling with a Lesbian to Mexico?  Long story, for another time.]

And though we were on holiday, this was their real world– not Disney’s vision of the Yucatan– with an ancient history and traditions to match. 

Covered in blue paint  and forced to lie on his back across a polished black altar. He would be held tightly at wrists and ankles.  The pounding of deerskin covered drums filled the smokey air as the priest raised the black, obsidian knife over him. Plunging the glassy ebony-colored knife into the his chest, blood explodes from the open wound spattering across the grey stone blocks on which the altar rested.  The priest’s hand quickly follows the expertly carved path of the blade and in moments extracts a still pounding heart from a gaping  crimson hole, in the thrashing upper torso.  Behold!  A gift for Chac.

Arriving late one afternoon at the placita (town square) there were a number of families all hanging out including some of the prettiest village girls in traditional Mexican weekend dresses.  It was a moment of blissful innocence.  Kind of like Epcot only legit.  And we were caught up in the halo of that moment.

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As the sun set, the pretty girls disappeared quietly, and without our realizing it, creatures of the dark emerged from the shadows.  These were the descendants of the children of Chac-Mool.  The swiftness of the transition took us by surprise.  But still, for some reason, we decided to hang on a bit longer.  Perhaps it was the goings on– or the lack thereof– back at Hotel Ennui that kept us there.  Perhaps we just revel in being in a different place, a new adventure beginning.  Maybe because our guard was down in the afterglow of the scene we had embedded ourselves into while there was daylight, we felt unthreatened.  

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One fellow came up to me and asked for a light for his cig.  “No tengo fosforos,” I said–  I don’t have any matches.  We were being tested and it felt like it.  “He speaks spanish”, I could almost hear them say.  We were being sized up.  A few moments later, came the contractual offer from another for a few private moments with my “brother”.  

OK… Time for us to leave.  

Emptying of life as the blood drained away, the eyes resigned themselves to the ignoble end.  Agape, the mouth’s silenced scream echoed the hollowed eyes.  Acceptance.  And then the body’s convulsions were quieted.  Discarded– it tumbled down the steep blood-soaked steps that were too narrow to climb except by walking sideways.  Limbs flailing akimbo, bones snapping, the torso thudded its way to the base of the stone structure like so many a discarded rag doll before it. 

We were hoping to make a more nonchalant exit than that.  Nonchalance.  Nonchalance.  Nonchalance.  A prayer, mantra, plea, supplication, that word seemed to be repeating itself in my head.

Show no fear.  But get the hell out!  I declined the kind fellow’s offer.  Leaning over to Barbara, I explained the situation, and suggested that she and I might stroll around the placita and then make as graceful an exit as possible drawing as little attention as we could to our not-so-hasty retreat.  The fact that they thought she was a he, may have worked to our advantage.  Apparently, they did not expect a woman to be present in the plaza after dusk.  But they also could not figure out if Barbara was brother or sister– and so the phrasing of the question itself was a way to get more information about gender.

Chac, God of Rain & Lightning in Mayan Religion, MythologyIn the dim light, Barbara appeared more “Victor” than “Victoria” and she put on her best “butch-walk” as we exited the plaza.  Our rental car was parked about 500 feet from the square and we were outnumbered and vulnerable. 

Where had all those little girls gone? 

With lascivious perverts, beggars and village idiots buzzing about, we quickly learned that this was not a place for little girls, big girls or norteamericanos.  Was anyone pursuing us?  As we neared the car, hearts pounding in an adrenaline flow, and with eyes glancing behind to ensure that no one had accompanied us, there was the obligatory fumbling with the keys, and once safely in the vehicle we peeled away and headed back to the Hotel Ennui.

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Anticlimactic?  Perhaps for you, but not for us.  Perhaps he was serious in his offer.  Perhaps he just wanted us to leave.  No matter to us– we were happy to see those Bad Boys in the rear view as the town square faded from sight.  Chac would have to wait for another day.

Today, I recommend this Bordeaux Bad Boy which can come and party in our crib any day.  Garagiste, JL Thunevin, has done it again.

Mauvais Garcon (Bad Boy) 2009 ($21).  More forward with the fruit.  Hints of dark cocoa and red licorice on the nose.  Dark berries.  Kirsch.  Perfect concentration.  Dark chocolate on the finish.  Sweet tannins with woodsy notes and underbrush.  Those tannins may be dulcet, but don’t be fooled, this is not a girly Bordeaux.  Rated ***

This needs some serious meat. And when I think serious meat, only braised short ribs will do.  This recipe which has been adapted from Sundays Suppers at Lucques is worth the effort and the long wait while they cook.

Bad Ass Braised Beef Short Ribs

Ingredients

  • 6 Beef short ribs, 14-16 oz each (ask for 3 bone center cut)
  • 1 TBSP + 1 TSP thyme leaves
  • 4 whole sprigs thyme
  • 1 TBSP freshly cracked black pepper
  • 3 Doz small pearl onions
  • ½ Cup EVOO
  • 1 Cup diced onion
  • 1/3 Cup diced carrot
  • 1/3 Cup diced celery
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 TBSP balsamic vinegar
  • 1 ½ Cups port
  • 2 ½ Cups hearty red wine
  • 6 Cups veal or beef stock
  • 4 sprigs flat leaf parsley
  • Kosher salt

Directions

  1. Season short ribs with PEPPER and 1 TBSP of THYME.  Cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours but preferably overnight.
  2. Take the ribs out of fridge 60 minutes before cooking.  Preheat oven to 425F.
  3. Toss PEARL ONIONS with 2 TBSP EVOO, 1 TSP of thyme, ¾ TSP of SALT and pinch of PEPPER.  Spread on baking sheet and roast 15 minutes till tender.  When cooled, slip off the skins.  TURN DOWN oven to 325F.
  4. Season RIBS generously on all sides with SALT after 30 minutes.
  5. Heat Large sauté pan over high heat for 3 minutes.  Pour in 3 TBSP of EVOO till almost smoking.  Sear RIBS on three meaty sides.  DO NOT CROWD THE MEAT.  When RIBS are nicely browned, transfer to Dutch oven.  They should lie flat with the bones standing up in one layer.
  6. Turn heat DOWN to medium and add 4 whole sprigs thyme, 1 Cup diced onion, 1/3 Cup diced carrot, 1/3 Cup diced celery, 2 bay leaves.  Stir with wooden spoon, scraping crusty bits.  Cook 6-8 minutes until veggies start to caramelize.
  7. Add 2 TBSP balsamic vinegar, 1 ½ Cups port, 2 ½ Cups hearty red wine.  Turn heat UP to HIGH and reduce liquid by ½.
  8. Add 6 Cups veal or beef stock and bring to a boil.  Pour the liquid over the short ribs scraping any veggies off the meat.  The stock should almost cover the meat.  Tuck the parsley sprigs in and around the meat.
  9. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and then aluminum foil.  Braise in the oven for 3 hours.  To check the meat for doneness, pierce with paring knife.  It should yield easily to the knife. 
  10. Let ribs rest for 10 minutes in their juices and then transfer to baking sheet.  Turn oven up to 400F.  Place the ribs in the oven to brown for 10-15 minutes
  11. Strain the broth into a saucepan pressing down on veggies to extract juices.  Skim fat from the juice and if broth seems thin, reduce over medium-high heat.  Taste for seasoning and adjust as necessary.

Serve with sautéed kale or Swiss chard, potato puree and horseradish cream. 

Or complement with a simple Baked Macaronade with elbow macaroni cooked al dente, juices from the braise and grated Gruyère or Parmesan.

Posted May 19, 2012 by Sybarite Sauvage in Food-Wine-Love

NGW: Chateau Le Petit Courret (2009)   1 comment

While waiting for a train that would ferry me from Hong Kong to Guangzhou in Southern China, I came across two distinct women.  As we did not have language in common, eye contact, body language and hand gestures were all we had.  It was more than enough.

How often is it that those with the very least to give are the ones that come through with what is needed.  As I entered the waiting room at Hung Hom Station, in search of a seat, an older woman, Chinese, a grandmother no doubt, made eye contact with me and offered the seat next to my own.  Her eyes held a kindness that I had not felt from a complete stranger in a while. 

In truth, there were actually plenty of seats, but with an invitation like that, the one next to her was the best.  How can I describe her?  She had a brightness that shone from her dark eyes that betrayed a large heart.  She spotted me searching and she gave me what I needed most at that moment– a gesture of kindness.  As we parted to board, we gave each other a quick glance filled with good karma and well wishes.  She rode the same train as me, yet I am certain that our journey took us to very different worlds. 

She had the same energy as my own grandmother.  Quiet, strong, maternal, powerful.  She probably does not have a pot to piss in, but she is wealthy beyond measure.

Once on board, I settled into my seat for the two-hour ride.  Another woman, across the aisle from me, not quite as old as the first, but with more financial resources, gave a quick, ugly, dismissive glance.  “I am better than you,” she seemed to say.  Sad woman seated next to her husband who chatted noisily on his mobile.  Polished and yet, pathetic. 

Give me the humble any day.  And so it is with today’s NGW–from the Right Bank in Bordeaux, in the village of Massugas: Chateau Courret is a 6,000 Case Petit Bordeaux that hand harvest their grapes.

Chateau Le Petit Courret 2009 ($7).  Whilst not overly complex, it does have nice fruit, is well crafted, and comes out of a great vintage for Bordeaux.  100% Cabernet Sauvignon and dominated by red cherry and then red plum this light to medium bodied Bordeaux is worth seeking out.  Finishing with soft tannins, and satisfying acidity, it is not a wine to age, but rather a wine to enjoy in the moment, with some good friends, a platter of charcuterie and a flood of smiles.  And with a $7 price tag is a go to everyday kind of wine that will pair well with red meat and fattier fish.  This is a two star wine, but one that is worth seeking out.  Rated **

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.

Posted May 16, 2012 by Sybarite Sauvage in No-Guilt Wednesday

A Gift For Mother on Her Day: “Mas Arroz, Por Favor!”   10 comments

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I stopped eating rice when I was a preadolescent.

The truth is that I never really enjoyed it and it was such a big staple in my family that it naturally created certain tensions.  My Abuelita made rice (or arroz) several times a week and my mother did as well.  Arroz con fill-in-the-blank:  Pollo, Gandules, Salchichas, Camarones, Habichuelas– I hated them all.  The worst was Arroz Blanco– plain white rice that made me gag.  And because of their association with rice, I hated beans too.  Today I will eat them, but never many.

The tipping point for me, came at the hands of one of my least favorite uncles.  On my mother’s side there were four brothers– Juan, Angel, Manuel and Reynaldo.  My Abuelita had made a saffron-colored rice dish.  I refused to eat it.  Haughtily refused.  No way. 

Enter Manuel.  He sits across from me. 

“You’re gonna eat that rice.”

“Nope.”

“You’re gonna eat that rice, or else.”

“I am not.”

“You don’t want to eat that rice?”

Electric dialogue, huh?  (Don’t blame me, I was only 10 or so.)

“No!”

Image DetailWith that he picked up the now cold plate of rice and in Cagneyesque fashion shoved it into my face.  Thank you, Tio Manuel.  Actually, that day he stopped being my Tio (uncle)– he became just Manuel to me and remains that way to this day. 

My reaction surprised even him.  After my initial shock, I stood up and yelled out “Thank you– now I will never eat rice again!”  (“You friggin’ idiot”, I thought to myself.)  My mother, who was trying to keep the peace in the family, sat there shocked as I was and said nothing.  It is one of those regrets that she has in her life. 

One other unpleasant memory I have of Manuel is that he is the brute who accidentally shut a car door on my ring finger when I was about 3 years of age.  This was so painful that it may be my earliest memory.  And in fact, to this day, the tip of that finger is a little bit flatter than the others and the fingernail does not grow quite the same the others.  Thank you, Pendejo.

He must be punished.  But being a kid, what could I do?

Opportunity knocked and I (along with my cousin, the ever mischievous, Papo, who is 4 months older than me) engineered a comeuppance for my miscreant uncle.  I did not think of it that way at the time, but in retrospect, it all makes sense.

Enter Element of Opportunity Numero Uno:  When I was growing up, girls had dolls and boys had guns.  That’s just the way it was.  One of my favorites was an air powered pop gun that made a horrific, and for a boy, deliciously loud noise.  No projectiles– just an obnoxiously magical bang.

Enter Element of Opportunity Numero Dos:  Edwin– my cousin and Manuel’s son.  Edwin, several years junior to Papo and me, wanted to play with this rifle in the worst way.  Who could blame him?

Enter Element of Opportunity Numero Tres:  Manuel, fresh off of the night shift, sleeping on his back in the second bedroom.

It was the Perfect Storm a confluence of factors that can never be repeated.

Says Papo to Edwin: “You wanna play with this gun?”

Excitedly Edwin replies, “Yes!  Yes!”

“OK, here’s the deal.  You have to go into the bedroom and point the gun at your father’s head and shoot him, OK?”

“Yeah! Yeah!” 

We pumped the air rifle and handed it to the now giddy Edwin.  Like a commando, Edwin made his way, Air Rifle in hand, into enemy territory.  Step by tentative step, he approached his dad, who was soundly snoring on his back.  Papo and I were standing just outside the door witnessing the unfolding of the events that we had gleefully set in motion.  Like a big game hunter, Edwin stalked and approached his prey on tiptoe, lest he spook him from his restful slumber.  The rifle raised and now aimed squarely at Manuel’s ear, his hands shaking ever so slightly with excitement, but determinedly, he squeezed the trigger and

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From a prostrate position– Manuel’s body, defying all known laws of physics, literally did a vertical lift straight up in the air as if he had been spring loaded.  I am not making it up when I say that for an instant there was nothing but air between Manuel and the mattress that had to that instant provided him with restful repose.

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Papo and I turned heel and sought refuge under one of the other beds in the three bedroom apartment as the following words chased after us:  “What the ….!!!!  Where are you, I’m going to kill both of you!”  We must have stayed under that bed crapping in our pants for over an hour.

The only thing that saved us, I think, is that Edwin realizing that he had been duped and had perhaps not thought too clearly about the events that would unfold after he pulled the trigger must have broken down, crapped his own pants and cried like a little girl. 

I do not believe that I am Edwin’s favorite cousin– and I can’t say that I blame him. 

I suppose I should feel bad about the events that unfolded that day, but truth be told, it’s pretty much the exact opposite.  Ah sweet, sweet revenge.  A dish best served cold– just like the rice that was pushed into my face. 

Do I still avoid arroz?

Over ten years later, in my junior year in college, I befriended a classmate, an older woman  (she was about 40 and divorced) who introduced me to two cuisines that I had never tasted before and that would impact my future, though I knew that not at that time: Kosher food and Chinese food.

“You have never had Chinese food?”, she queried incredulously.

“My parents never took me– they thought all of the Chinese restaurants were unsanitary.”  (We were also piss poor in the early years and had gotten into the habit of taking every meal at home.)

That’s all the encouragement this classmate needed.  She took me out to dinner at a local Chinese place.  We, I should say she, ordered moo shu pork– loved that, veggies, plum sauce and pancakes.  Then came the chicken with garlic sauce– with a side of gag-reflex inducing WHITE RICE

I thought to myself– How the heck am I going to eat this?  How can I not?

“I don’t eat rice.”

“Try just a little bit,” she implored.

Tentatively I lifted the white pearly grains to my mouth which was already burning from the spiciness of the garlic sauce. 

Holy s**t!  This is good! 

“Can I get another bowl?”

The rest is history with one epilogue– when I went home for Thanksgiving later that year, and asked my mother for a helping of rice.  She fell off her chair.  OK, at the very least, she must have dropped her silverware.  She must have thought I was kidding because she cautiously only gave me one helping.

I do not believe that she has gotten over the regrets resulting from her inaction that day so very long ago, but when I told her the story of Manuel’s comeuppance, I think it made her laugh and lightened her burden.  But I know that each time I eat her rice, it brings her back to that day.  And I usually try to remind her of the moment when the universe was put back in balance with a single shot from an air rifle and a single spoonful of her delicious rice.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom!

Posted May 13, 2012 by Sybarite Sauvage in Food-Wine-Love

NGW: Hugel & Fils Classic Pinot Gris 2007   19 comments

Excepting Vegans, Vegetarians and those of that ilk, does anyone not like sausage?  If you are a true meat lover, keep your filet mignon (which does not have much flavor anyway) and lamb chops.  Sausage is the apotheosis of meat.  OK I’m being slightly hyperbolic, but only slightly.

Newsflash– She-who-needs-no-introduction, the Illustrious and Luminous, Ms. R, claims not to like sausage.  That’s right, no chorizo, kielbasa, andouille, bratwurst, chipolata, linguica, breakfast patty, bangers or knackwurst.  Doesn’t touch the stuff– “Hell to the No!”– as she would say.

I will make allowances for anyone’s dislike of the Scotsman’s Delight, haggis, a boiled sheep’s stomach stuffed with pluck (heart, liver, windpipe and lungs).  Now “pluck” sounds a helluva lot better than its components.  It sounds like food with attitude– and indeed, it takes some pluck to eat haggis, once you know what is contained therein.

I have two personally historic associations with this stuff.  The first was an invitation to a Robert Burns Dinner back in 2001– also known as Robbie Burns Day.  It is tradition to serve haggis with a little drizzle of single malt scotch and copious amounts of single malt in our glasses, all accompanied by the words of Scotland’s farmer-poet.  This is the first and last time I ate haggis. Once I had it, I realized that my ancestral line contains neither a scintilla nor a peppercorn’s worth of a Scot’s blood.  Perhaps I had bad haggis– but is there such a thing as good haggis?  I’m OK with the poetry and the single malt, though.  Especially (surprise!) the latter.

The second association, involves the ex-wife (looky there, some more personal information), who during some intramural Scottish Games in her college days, won a “Haggis Hurl” competition, involving a hammer throw/shot put of a frozen haggis– a story she was fond of recounting.  She was even awarded a silver cup for her hurling triumph.  It is perhaps inevitable that you might ask, “What kind of girl wins a haggis hurl?”  But you might also restrain yourself. 

Back to Ms. R and the salchichas.

Image DetailMs. R does not like sausage?  “Haaa!”, says I. 

A message to the Luminous One: What of the pepperoni that you love on your pizza, my Dear?  And then there is that rice that your relations make with those canned nasty bits of amalgamated mystery meat known as Vienna “sausage”.  I could be wrong, but I’m pretty sure even the Viennese don’t eat that.  And let’s not forget that you love a good hot dog (no comments from the Peanut Gallery).  And  what of sopressata?  Dried, spicy, fatty goodness.  Are you sure you do not like sausage? 

Putting those examples aside, the most ironic, the most inscrutable is your love of morcilla.  For those not in the know, this is the Puerto Rican Version of blood sausage. 

Now when I was a young Sybarite-Hipster-In-Training (or little SHIT for short), I loved morcilla.  Black goodness with a peppery quality that was heaven-sent.  But then the skies parted, a golden beam of light shone through and I was schooled in the production of this delicacy.  Frankly, it freaked me out.  Some things are best kept out of the public eye– or at least out of the view of young children.  Among these I count Santeria rituals involving animal sacrifice, quirky sexual fetishes, open heart surgery, any episodes of the Criminal Minds TV show involving serial killers, and the production of morcilla.

Having witnessed morcilla making once, I must share my fascination with the process, the preparation of the pig’s blood, the cleansing of the intestines, and the stuffing of the casings.  The most memorable part of it was the smell of pig offal that hung languorously in the hot summer air.  I was traumatized that one of my favorite things to eat was really just the nasty bits and blood of a recently slaughtered hog. 

These days if I have this, it brings me back to that hot Summer day.  And speaking of Summer– today’s NGW.  On a hot, muggy day preparing morcilla, a well-chilled bottle of this Alsatian will provide some welcome relief.  It will provide relief even if all you are doing is reading this post.

Hugel & Fils Classic Pinot Gris 2007 ($15).  Odd little label, but what’s in the bottle?  Never judge a book by its cover.  A softer style of wine with well rounded flavors and floral aromas.  Leaning toward some tropical flavors.   Rated **

And perhaps, just maybe as you drain this nice little wine, and are thinking about that second bottle, nether morcilla nor haggis will be out-of-bounds and the words of Robbie Burns’ Address to a Haggis may begin to resonate in a different way:

But mark the Rustic, haggis-fed,
The trembling earth resounds his tread.

Clap in his walie nieve a blade,
He’ll mak it whissle;
An’ legs an’ arms, an’ hands will sned,
Like taps o’ trissle.

Ye Pow’rs, wha mak mankind your care,
And dish them out their bill o’ fare,
Auld Scotland wants nae skinking ware
That jaups in luggies;
But, if ye wish her gratefu’ prayer
Gie her a haggis!

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.

Posted May 9, 2012 by Sybarite Sauvage in No-Guilt Wednesday

And Never Cease Gushing   12 comments

The year Virginia died, a part of me went with her.

This is about neither Wine nor Food.  This moment is about the things that really sustain us– Love and Remembrance. 

I guess being here in Manila brought her to mind.  A Philippina– she was beautiful in the way that her eyes spilled out waterfalls of laughter.  Married with a daughter the same age as my own, she was a supportive voice in some of my dark hours at the Cosmodemonic Fortune 500 company.  And she mercilessly teased me after I met Ms. R and had decided to end the tangled relationship I had with another woman.  

In his Rosy Crucifixion Trilogy, Henry Miller explores three different types of love in each of the three books– Sexus, Nexus & Plexus– Erotic, Platonic & Spiritual, respectively.  I had Nexus Love for Ginny, and then she was gone, consumed by cancer at the age of 40.  I had incorrectly assumed that she would beat this thing the way other people I know had done.

After she got ill, I visited her at her home.  We sat together and talked about nothing I remember, except that she asked me to make her a cake plate in my ceramics studio.  A project I never managed to get off the ground.  And then she was gone. 

That was almost 12 years ago and I still think of that trifle of a shortcoming. 

Certainly she and her family wanted privacy in those last days of her life.  But still I feel I could have done more for her in her final days and once she left us, on Thanksgiving Day in 2001, the universe shifted for those of us who were connected to her.  A voice that had filled our lives was gone and with that our own sense of Mortality became very real. 

How can we speak about a premature death and make sense of it?  

In these quiet moments before I leave Manila, I am pondering the physical and psychic space that I take up in the universe.  Not so much what is to come, but more where have I been.  This is not about the meaning of life or destiny.  I am not so prescient as to know what ultimately my real role is in the world.  Plus, I have a deep suspicion of people who tell me they know why they are here.  Usually it’s the religious types, those who are ferried along by faith who are the quickest to make such claims.  Because they have a PURPOSE.  And by religious, I don’t mean spiritual.  But that is a topic for another time. 

So, what do I make of the space I have taken up here till now?  In my best moments, I have made people laugh.  But I have also made them cry.  Not because I intended to hurt– it just sort of happened because of my own inattentiveness, selfishness or stupidity.  And seeing this I resolve to avoid those situations– but sometimes things do just happen and situations overtake us resulting in hurt.

In the end, Virginia taught us that we must move on with the Living that lies before us no matter how much time remains. 

Love comes in so many forms as Mssr. Miller so aptly captured in Nexus:

“What I really hoped for, no doubt, was to come upon one of those lives which begin nowhere, which lead us through marshes and salt flats, trickling away, seemingly without plan, purpose or goal, and suddenly emerge, gushing like geysers, and never cease gushing, even in death.”

 

I came across that gushing quality in her.  And here, in the country of her birth, I feel that she is gushing still.  And me, I continue to aspire to be a gusher.  If there is a PURPOSE to aspire to– then that must be it.

Posted May 4, 2012 by Sybarite Sauvage in Food-Wine-Love