WineStudio: Let’s Go! Albariño!

There are three groups of people in the world: wine drinkers, wine snobs, and moms who like Chardonnay. In my mind, they all fall into a Venn diagram; there are those who fall exclusively in one category, while there are others who are snobs while also being moms who like Chardonnay. I’m probably somewhere in between the first two. I like to pretend I’m just a down home wine drinker all the time, and then someone goes and whips out a jumbo bottle of Yellowtail at a party. So, I reluctantly admit that I am a snob too, and with that comes a desire to learn about all the wine out there in the world. It’s not just about Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Grigio, there’s more to discover.

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For those of you who didn’t guess from the title, this is the latest blog in a long series about Albariño, the white wine that dominates Rias Baixas. Brought to my attention by PROTOCOL Wine Studio, this DO was established in 1988, thrives with mineral-rich soils, and is often called Green Spain due to its similarities to Ireland. I am already planning a trip in my mind filled with rolling hills, seafood, and white wine constantly flowing.

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Still, after eight bottles of Albariño, I was starting to get fatigued. There were tons of intriguing qualities I discovered over the first weeks of the program, but halfway through I was dying for something red and peppery meant for a rare steak. After one night of excessive red wine drinking, and a few others devoted to Riesling and beer, I was ready to devote some time to Albariño again with the 2015 Laxas. Shimmery sunshine yellow, hints of tropics, and crisp enough to make me feel like I should be on the beach, this one had the acid of a younger Albariño with the tropical notes of older bottles. Instead, I was sitting in bed, rewatching One Tree Hill, and eating a creamy Hungarian soup. Remind me who said your 20s are the best? Much like the TV show I was watching, there weren’t many layers to be found yet the irresistible flavor was there. It was a touch too tropical to become a favorite of mine, and the synthetic cork was tough to work with, though at the end of the day, I’d pick this one up to enjoy with others again.

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While the Laxas reminded me of hanging out in Bali, the 2014 Pazo Señorans was more similar to something you’d want to sip in the summer while blasting music and getting ready for a night out. There were muted florals, apple, and a lip smacking dose of acid to be found in this bottle, qualities for which I’d sell a kidney. It also was one of the best pairings I had throughout the weeks. As a sushi lover, I try a different bottle at least once a month with my favorite fish. The acid here cut right through the fatty salmon and brightened the uni on my plate. Compared to the previous bottles, the $25 SRP makes it one of the pricier Albariño options. Still, if you can splurge for some great sushi, you can splurge for this bottle as well.

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I believe I’ve thoroughly established myself as an ageist when it comes to Albariño- the younger the better, even though I always thought myself above that. With lots of layers, little acid, and a mellowness that comes with age, the 2013 Baladiña was not meant for me. For someone searching for a bottle that seems round, broad, or mild, go for it. If you read these long-winded reviews and tend to agree with me, go for the bottle I mentioned above. Without much to say about this one, I’ll leave you with my sister’s positive words: “I don’t know what it tastes like, but it’s good.”

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The 2014 Vionta was much more my jam, with a refreshing and powerful presence in the glass. This was a lively bottle with a creamy yellow color and the flavor of tart green apples. Paired with a fried catfish burrito, it didn’t do too well with the spice, but did sing when accompanied with a hefty dollop of fatty guacamole. This was no delicate wine that needed hours spent mulling over the wine glass; it stood firmly and knew what it was, and I think that spoke to my 20-something self that consistently has no idea what I’ll be doing a month from now. However, I think those of you out there who are a bit more settled would still dig this.

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I’m sure it seems like I’ve been yammering on about Albariño for too long now, but after next week’s post I’ll be moving on to something else, and I’m sure you’ll feel the same way I felt when this session was over- you were really just starting to get to know this grape. The next Twitter session of #WineStudio will be commencing in August, so if you fit into any of the aforementioned groups of people, join me and my wine mates as we delve into the glass and straddle the line between wine drinker and wine snob.

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Recipe: Crab Puffs

For all my tattoos, Doctor Who marathons, and general desire to make my own decisions about my life, the one thing I probably would have succeed at in the 1950’s would have been cooking. While the chef craze is at all time high and it seems like home cooks are capable of making Thanksgiving dinners every night, I am much more comfortable with homemade cookies and meals I can make with as little stove time as possible. Luckily, in addition to a crush on the Fonz and owning every Shirley Temple movie, another byproduct of growing up with my grandmother was a host of recipes from the 50’s through the 70’s, decades not generally lauded for their culinary feats. In other words, perfect for me. The crab puff recipe below is one of many handwritten ones in her big green binder. I believe this one came from a neighbor, but it’s a family favorite for holidays and big parties when we want to focus on each other more than cooking. Make the whole batch now and keep them on hand for any last minute guests or late night munchies. It’s not a recipe that will get me into any Wolfgang Puck cookbooks, but I think you’ll like it all the same.

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Crab Puffs

Yield: 96 crab puffs

12 Thomas English muffins

1 lb. crab meat

2 sticks butter

2 jars Kraft Old English spread (5 oz. each)

4 tbsp. mayo

1 tsp. Old Bay

1/4 tsp. garlic salt

juice of 1/2 lemon

dash of Worcestershire

additional Old Bay to sprinkle on

1. Mix all ingredients  except muffins together, fold in crab meat last.

2. Place English muffin halves on baking sheet, evenly spread the mixture on each half. Cut the muffins into quarters. Sprinkle with additional Old Bay.

3. Place crab puffs into freeze for at least two hours, or overnight. If saving for future usage, put puffs into Ziploc and keep stored in freezer.

4. When ready to enjoy, preheat oven to 350 Fahrenheit. Spray baking sheet with Pam and place puffs evenly on sheet. Bake from frozen state for 15-17 minutes, or until golden brown. Allow 5 minutes for crab puffs to cool. Serve. Eat up.

 

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WineStudio: Don’t Say No to Albariño

For nine weeks, my life was Spanish wine. I’m sure I made time in there for other beverages while out with friends, but looking back, April and May seem like one big blur of Albariño. A couple of weeks ago, I covered the first few wines we tried during this intensive #WineStudio session and now I’m back to bug you all once again. More wines from Rías Baixas, more variety. This second post is still just the beginning, so buckle up, keep all hands inside the vehicle, and get ready for a wave of words about white wine.

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One of many in the complex lineup was the 2014 Veiga Naum, a simple wine that wasn’t one of my favorites. My wishy washy opinion fell in the minority compared to the rest of the favorable ones; however, this bottle promised a lot with fragrant aromas tinged with wet stone, yet felt flabby. For me, it was like one of Han van Meegeren’s fake Vermeer’s; a lot of people saw something there, but it wasn’t quite right. This white wasn’t displeasing, but lacked depth. When my friend and I reached the end of the bottle, I felt like there were others out there I’d rather spend $15 on. If you’re hooked on Albariño and need to try them all, go ahead and pick this one up, but for the casual drinker, there are others I would champion first.

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The next bottle, the 2014 Xion, was much better than a wine I’d compare to one of the biggest art forgeries of the 20th century. With a bouquet of white florals and flavors of tropical fruits kissed with acid, this one captured everything Albariño has to offer. Pop this one in the fridge for a bit, but let it warm up to discover all its depths, and drink happily knowing that the SRP is only $13.86. To make it even better, pair it with food like Parmesan risotto and grilled chicken. You can thank me later.

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For something lighter and better for the summer, the 2014 Condes de Albarei was the type of wine you’d bring to a BYO specializing in seafood. Crisp, clean, and very drinkable, the pale gold wine paired well with the crab puffs I made for the Preakness. The best thing about this bottle was that it held up incredibly well past day one. It’s a great ‘just because’ choice, and perfect for both wine lovers and simple wine drinkers. As an introduction to this grape, this is a solid bottle to discover, so try and get your hands on one sooner rather than later!

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Breaking from this trend of 2014 Albariño, the last one I tried in April was the 2015 Bodegas Altos de Torona. This was the first blend of the session, and in addition to Albariño, Caiño and Bureiro found their way into this bottle. Though I tended to prefer the younger, jazzier wines of the first weeks, this youthful white and I were not friends. I should have known it wouldn’t be for me when I thought the color resembled that of the banana, the only enemy I have in the world of fruit. Instead of highlighting the grape in a new way, this was a heavyset, overwhelming wine that was like being locked in a humid room chock full of tropical fruits. To make matters worse, the cork was awkward and was tough to finagle out. It lacked the character of the Albariños I dove into before this one, and it’s the only bottle from this #WineStudio from which I would encourage others to steer clear.

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Discovering #WineStudio and connecting with others through PROTOCOL Wine Studio was one of the better things to happen to me as a young adult curious about the world of wine, especially since I’m surrounded by friends who champion whiskey shots and parents who are margarita enthusiasts. It’s given me another way to connect with wine lovers and ask dumb questions without feeling like a fool. The best way to learn about wine is to drink it and discover what you love, but the second best way to learn about wine is to talk about it with others. #WineStudio offers the best of both worlds, and when it starts back up in August, join along at 9pm Baltimore time and explore alongside me.

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Thirsty Thursday: Mother’s Martini

Mother’s Day may have already come and gone, but when I first made this cocktail, all I could think about how well it would fit in with a family brunch. Sure, brunch has a bad rep for its rushed mediocre food, weak booze, and huge crowds, but I kind of like it. It’s everything awful about food in one meal, and I’d rather have that over a greasy bag of McDonald’s. Everyone has their shameful vices, and this is mine. However, I wouldn’t mind a little nudge in the right direction as far as alcohol goes. That’s how I came up with this. It’s not too sweet, there’s a ton of brightness to be found in in citrus vodka and the mint simple syrup, and the pamplemousse liqueur adds that dose of bitter that keeps masochists coming back for more. Whip up one cocktail for yourself, or be a little heavy handed and multiple this recipe by 4 to get a decent pitcher for the table.

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Mother’s Martini

Yield: 1 cocktail

2 oz. Joseph Cartron Pamplemousse liqueur

2 oz. Belvedere Citrus

1 oz. Owl’s Brew Classic

3/4 oz. mint simple syrup (just make some homemade simple syrup and throw in 4-5 fresh mint leaves when it’s cool)

juice of half a lime

1. If you know early on that you’ll be making this cocktail, stick shaker and vodka in the freezer a few hours ahead of time to get it well chilled.

2. Take your shaker out of the freezer. Fill up the shaker and martini glass with chipped ice to keep them chilled while assembling your cocktail.

3. Measure out and pour liqueur, vodka, Owl’s Brew, simple syrup, and lime juice into shaker. Cover shaker and shake well for five to ten seconds.

4. Dump ice out of martini glass. Strain liquid into glass. Garnish with a lime wedge. Enjoy.

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WineStudio: White Wines, Fun Times

If I said the world Albariño, what would come to mind? To the average person, it would just sound like a random Spanish word that could mean anything from beluga whale to almond paste. To my fellow wine bloggers, it would bring up the more accurate image of a white wine grape that thrives in Galicia. In northwestern Spain, this area is not the hot land of sangria that most people picture when they dream of going to Europe. However, the location bears resemblance of Ireland while the cooler climate means it’s similar to the wine regions of the Loire Valley and New Zealand. It might not be flamenco and the Giralda in Sevilla, but it’s more than enough for me.

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In order to celebrate this wine that doesn’t appear on too many Maryland menus, the latest PROTOCOL Wine Studio session was all about Albariño from Rías Baixas, a DO that was established in 1988. #WineStudio is an event that takes place on Twitter most Tuesday evenings at 9pm my time. I started following along a little over a year ago, and despite being a neophyte to the wine world, was welcomed into the fold to taste and learn among my fellow bloggers and wine lovers. The world of wine can be intimidating because there’s always someone out there who knows more than you and there are always a billion wines you haven’t tried yet. Luckily, #WineStudio is there to educate, include, and craft a balance between the more serious sides of wine and the fun that should always be had when opening up a bottle. I recommend it to all of my friends, no matter their background.

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This Spanish session took place over nine weeks and included over a dozen wines. I was a General making my way through the pack. To begin, I opened up the 2015 Nessa from Adegas Gran Vinum. I didn’t know this at the time, but opening this bottle was the beginning of a self-realization that I am an ageist. Normally, I pride myself on not being too judgmental, but when it comes to Albariño, I’ll quickly judge anything out of its youth. Soft yellow in color, this smooth wine demonstrated a lot of the typical flavors found in Albariño. The light floral and tropical elements were balanced out with a nice touch of acid, making it the kind of easy wine I like to pop open after work and sip on while eating something simple like shrimp tacos. It’s not the kind of wine that will change the world, but for $17 a bottle, it’s a good standard introduction to what this grape has to offer.

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For those who don’t go for zing, the 2014 Martín Codax is the wine to try. Like that cute little puppy in the Pixar short Feast, this wine begged for food. There were more layers to explore given the finesse found in this bottle compared to the Nessa. Yet, there was less acid, which turned an junkie like me off. The #WineStudio group was torn between the two, and this first week of tasting underscored how versatile this grape is. If the idea of delicate fruity flavors with hints of pear and lemon makes your mouth water, you may want to start off with this bottle. Like the Nessa, the $16.99 price tag makes it an easy one to choose when taking a risk.

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After seeing the zestier side of the Albariño grape and comparing it to a more subtle approach, we moved on to the 2014 Viñabade, which tasted like the baby of the Nessa and the Martín Codax. As colorful as a daffodil with a cutesy spring bottle, this was the kind of wine you’d bring to a picnic. There wasn’t much to explore in the bottle, but the silky mouthfeel which was balanced out with a slightly crisp edge had that light feminine feel that blossoms in a spring day. Spend $15, bring it to a gathering, and breezily enjoy it with some mild food. That’s what this wine is meant for.

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Rounding out the beginning of this 9-week event was the bottle that cemented my ageism and hinted that I probably wouldn’t mind making my way through fourteen bottles before the end of May. The 2015 Robaliño was a lush beachy wine that captured what whites meant for summer should be. This younger wine was soft gold in color, but bold on the palate. The classic tropics and floral flavors came through and captured what Albariño does best. It paired best with a Persian favorite, salad olivier, essentially an elevated potato salad. Clearly these first weeks weren’t about drinking with authentic Spanish fare, though it worked nonetheless. While it was the most expensive of the four, $18 is still well within my wine budget, and as my favorite of the first two weeks, I’d rather dish out an extra couple of dollars on a bottle I enjoy over something that wows me less. I’d hope you would agree.

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What strikes me about this Spanish wine is that it’s perfect for those who are only willing to drink Chardonnay or are passionate devotees to Sauvignon Blanc. There is so much variety to be found from bottle to bottle that there’s something out there for everyone. It makes me a little ashamed to admit that I never made it to Galicia, even though I was only a hop, skip, and a jump away when I lived in Oviedo. Instead, I was mixing cheap red wine with Coke and a shot of rum until the early hours of the morning. If food wine sounds like more fun that the beverage I just described, consider joining me on Tuesday evenings at 9pm ET time. We’re done with Albariño for now, but you can learn a bit about the wine that rules the summer, rosé.

These wines were kindly provided to me by the companies listed above, but all opinions are my own. 

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Foodie Fashion: Cupcake Cuties

Having worked in an environment that is all about fashion for a year now, I’ve come to appreciate an industry that used to be as important to me as the next Superbowl. Three years ago, I probably would have asked if Alexander McQueen had any relation to Lightening McQueen, or, more realistically, confused him with Steven McQueen. I always dressed in a way that I found both fun and comfortable, but now I can tell a McQueen piece from a Valentino and can feel the difference between a two-hundred dollar top and a twenty-five dollar one. While I’m not quite at The Devil Wears Prada level yet, I am certainly more of a fountain of fashion knowledge than my snooty intellectual self ever intended to be.

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Since fashion has become such an integral part of my daily life, I’m launching Foodie Fashion, a monthly segment about how my love of inhaling deliciousness intersects with what I put on my body. The focus of the blog will still be on real food, but this will be a fun way for me to share another part of myself. So, to launch it off, I’ll start with the first piece I purchased that set off my Spidey sense that food and fashion can interact in a way I never anticipated.

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I have been a fan of Dooney and Bourke for some time because of their great exchange policy and willingness to stand by their products. Then, they came out with a cupcake print. My mother, who supports my eccentricities and addictions, sent me a link to this new design, and I immediately had to have it. Yet, I had a hard time taking the plunge. While it wasn’t the most expensive bag out there falling between $150 and $200, I had a hard time justifying that investment. Clearly, I am the reason someone out there invented Outlets. With Tanger coupons, promos in the store, and descending during the quieter spring season, I was able to get my hands on two of these coated canvas bags for about the price of one.

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The light blue Letter Carrier is perfect for concerts or anywhere that requires you to keep your bag close to your body. It’s the kind of bag you can throw on and now worry about as you enjoy a glass of wine and walk around in large crowds. I love it for when I take day trips up to New York and only need a credit card, my ID, a little bit of cash, and my cell phone. Since it has so many zippers, my paranoid self puts each valuable in a different spot in case I get duped on the subway. The shape isn’t great for anyone who needs seventeen lipsticks, a hairbrush, and a large wallet, but it works for people who use little space. The bubble gum colored Ruby bag offers up fewer compartments, but can support bulkier items. The boxier shape means it bangs against your body a bit more if you wear it as a crossbody, but of the two, I find the Ruby to be the perfect marriage between a more streamlined style and a big hobo bag. It might not be able to fit all seventeen of my lipsticks, but I can usually cram two or three in there in case I change my mind throughout the day. They’re both perfect for a minimalist who might need the protective coating to keep the bag safe from grubby hands or dirty floors, and if that sounds like you, you can shop it here or the always reliable eBay.

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If you’ve read my review of Flavor Cupcakery, you know I bow down to all things cupcake. They are cute, they are (hopefully) delicious, and they are a dessert that can please both children and grownups. While some think they are overly hyped or are praying for them to finally die off now that donuts are the new thing, my goal in life is to become one. They’re fun, and whether they’re real and being eaten or being replicated on a handbag, I am all for anything that makes life a little sweeter.

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Food with F. Scott Fitzgerald

The one thing I love about blogging about food is finally noticing how much it comes up in times that I’m not stuffing my face. Oftentimes, I come across other people’s opinions about food while reading, and I’m not just referring to the other blogs I follow. Pretty much every one out there has an opinion on food and it can show up everywhere from a random comic book to a collection cultivated to highlight the impact of food and drink on our lives. The latter is exactly what New Directions tried to do when they published On Booze in 2011. I picked it up full of wonder for two dollars in New York, knowing that F. Scott and booze went together like teenagers and tempers. However, as I waded my way through, I realized that the premise was a bit thin. A few sentences from here, a paragraph pulled from there, and you have a mismatched compilation of stories where you have to squint to see the Jazz Age and use a magnifying glass to see how it has anything to do with booze. Despite the poor execution, there were some gems trapped within the eighty-six pages. That’s what I bring you here, because while I love Fitzgerald, I’m not going to make any of you read this book. Go pick up Tender is the Night instead…after you read what I have to say, obviously.

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“Debut: the first time a young girl is seen drunk in public.”

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“When he gets sober for six months and can’t stand any of the people he’s liked when drunk.”

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“Excuse Christ-like tone of letter. Began tippling at page 2 and am now positively holy (like Dostoevsky’s non-stinking monk)”

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“Many people who were not alcoholics were lit up four days out of seven…and the hangover became a part of the day as well allowed-for as the Spanish siesta.”

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“…wasting the dinner hour in an argument about which hotel: there was one in Beaune where Ernest Hemingway had liked the trout. Finally we decided to drive all night, and we ate well in a stable courtyard facing a canal- the green-white glare of Provence had already began to dazzle us so that we didn’t care whether the food was good or not.”

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“I turn in, perhaps with a night-cap…and read till drowsy on a last cigarette.”

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“She drank the gin fizz thinking it was lemonade and ruined the luncheon table next day.”

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And there you have it! I may not have loved this book, but I will say that good old Fitz has a way with words. Now, I’m off to read some more until I’m drowsy, though I will be sans cigarette.

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