Thursday, November 29, 2012

Exploring Wine: a wine club

It might seem like I've taken a bit of a wine writing hiatus on the blog recently. But this is because I have been very busy consuming it. While in Napa Valley over the summer, my girlfriend Katie and I decided to join our first wine club. We signed up to be members of Hess Collection's Wine Club where we receive four shipments a year of their most delicious (and exclusive) wines. People who live near the winery also enjoy free tastings and visits with friends to the winery as well as special events. Each shipment is around $100 and includes 3 bottles with tasting, growing conditions, and other notes important to oenophiles.  This means each bottle is in the $30-40 price range, which is a little higher than the $20 limit I set for myself for this wine series. However, I’ve enjoyed each of the wines so far, much more than the crapshoot of buying randoms at the grocery store. I haven't even gone shopping for wine since September!

I found the notes to be very helpful in learning more about the wine growing process and how that affects what I'm tasting. Also, the descriptions are pretty accurate (and not over-selling the wine), making it difficult to add anything to my tasting notes besides, "Oh man, that was f*&^ing delicious." I should also note that in order to fit this membership into my budget, I quit the gym. A lady needs to have priorities.

After receiving our first shipment Katie and I exchanged text messages on a Friday night to discuss our thoughts. It went something like this:

J: Opening the Malbec tonight

K: That one is so good!

J: It takes exactly like the description! Seriously in my top 20 wines of the last few years

K: Are you pairing it with Papa Johns? ;)

J: Actually, I am. Haha


J: I forgot you did too, last week! I’m dying over here.

K: sooo good

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

A Guide to Gift Giving

Ah yes, tis the holiday season. A time recognized through ones physical senses by a chill in the air (or freeze, depending on your latitude), the smell of street carts roasting chestnuts, freshly cut Christmas trees waiting to be taken home and decorated, or Menorahs in the window waiting to count the days of Hanukah. To get in the holiday mood, some watch their favorite Christmas movie, decorate cookies, or go to church, while others start a Wish List Pinterest board, or email their families a Word doc listing gifts to be received, separated by category and price. ::coughs::

Ever since I was a young girl I’ve had some issues giving and receiving gifts. It’s not that I’m ungrateful or thoughtless, it’s that I take it personally. I want the recipient of my gift to feel touched by my gesture. I want it to mean something. I want to show my affections for this person, and I want them to think of me while enjoying their gift. In return, I would like gifts that are equally as thoughtful and fun. I don’t hide my “are you serious?” face very well. When someone misfires on reading what I will want, I do my best to diplomatically and graciously thank them for their thoughtfulness. Just because I ride horses, Grandma, does not mean that all I want is horse themed paraphernalia for every giving opportunity.

My favorite Christmas memory was when I was a young child, still playing with Barbie dolls. This is also my cousin’s favorite memory, and likely my sister’s too. We woke up Christmas morning to find three newly purchased Barbie motor homes waiting for us under our grandparent’s bountiful tree. They were the coolest things we’d ever seen. Barbie could pack up the family and go anywhere in the world, just like that. The back of the car separated and unfolded to reveal spacious living quarters complete with a mini kitchen, bed with linens, and fold out table and chairs. The car part, once detached, had fold out seats. Upon reaching their destination, the whole family, or group of friends, could venture out and discover new shops, restaurants, hiking trails, and even waterfalls. We played with those until we finally grew up enough to have cars of our own and a means to explore life as adults. I’m pretty sure my parents still have them in their attic somewhere.

But gift giving has its missteps too. Just two years ago my father tried to combine my love of shoes with my love of my college football team (University of Florida Gators, if you don’t know by now ;). He proudly presented my sister and I with Gator themed Crocs and I nearly fainted in disbelief. “Are you serious?” was too stuck on my face to hide with gracious praise.

I’m not always the best gift giver either. Most of my gifts to Gman consist of things that include me and that I will enjoy like, movie tickets to something I want to see, vacations, picnics, wine, and lingerie. I also buy him things I think he should wear.

However, I am a firm believer that giving a gift as an adult can be painless and enjoyable. Here are a few guidelines for always getting it right.

Give something consumable. If you aren’t sure of someone’s style or if you are like me and have a very particular ‘to purchase’ list for your home and closet, it’s a good idea to offer gifts like wine, chocolate, expensive olive oil, specialty coffee*, or even an all expenses paid night out to the recipient's favorite restaurant/bar. It’s the gift of spending time together; can it get any better than that? Flowers are also appreciated and fall within this category, though I don’t recommend you eat them.

Give something shiny. People love shiny things, including but not limited to – jewelry, crystal, ceramics with gold leaf, silver objects, stemware, new golf clubs, makeup, candles and candle holders, ipads, iphones, Venetian glass ornaments, scarfs with sequins, food with edible gold leaf on it, especially French macaroons or cake, and a new car (cue Price is Right music)!

Give something handmade. I handmade all my Christmas presents until… well I still do. Every year I write a letter and give it to friends and family updating them on our activities. I like receiving their cards as well. Also acceptable - wreaths, ornaments, picture frames with meaningful pictures (from one of your travels, perhaps?), artwork, moonshine, and food (cookies) fall into this category as well.

*A Starbucks gift card counts as specialty coffee, especially for this caffeine-crazed writer.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Destination: Las Vegas, NV

Las Vegas, Nevada. Sin City. How does one write a story about a city whose mantra is, “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas?” It’s a city that thrives on physical pleasure, over-indulgence, and letting go of “real” life’s worries and fears. You can get whatever you want, whenever you want, and lots of it. It’s a city built on consumption and fleshy weakness. A capitalistic oasis in the middle of the Mojave Desert.

The architecture and interior design of the hotels, casinos, and restaurants on The Strip are enough to overwhelm. One of my favorite spots was the chandelier bar and lounge at the Cosmopolitan where you get to have a drink inside of the world’s largest light fixture. It gleams with cheap luxury and you find yourself intoxicated from watching the very mixed crowd. Food in Vegas is served in two ways; at reservations-only-best-food-money-can-buy-celebrity-chef-owned restaurants or all-you-can-eat buffet style. One is encouraged to drink remarkable amounts of alcohol at all times of day, which can be purchased as easily and frequently as Starbucks coffee. Pretty much all of the most important and luxurious brands are available for purchase as well; Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Mulberry, Balenciaga, you name it, you can buy it. There are more live shows than you can imagine; from Cirque du Soleil to traditional showgirls at Bally and even male reviews, one aptly called, “Thunder from Down Under."

If that isn’t enough for you, be sure to take a taxi over to Fremont Street to check out the neon sign walking tour, the Hand of Faith at the Golden Nugget, and a chunk of the Berlin wall in the men’s bathroom at Main Street Station (thanks, Sonja!). I haven’t even mentioned the gambling and sexy nightlife.

As with most people these days, I stalk my friends on Facebook. I have one girlfriend who is always, or seemingly always, going to Vegas and experiencing fabulousness day and night. As my trip got closer, I stalked her to see what she and her friends would wear so that I could plan a wardrobe accordingly (mini-skirt, check. Bandage dress, check). I saw all these pictures of her at the pool, drinking frozen drinks, getting tan, and listening to a live DJ, pretty much living the dream. I wanted to do that. It became my goal, my obsession over the course of planning. If I did nothing else on this trip, I wanted to sit at the pool and surround myself with sexy people, listen to loud music, and have a cocktail.

After a relatively relaxing morning of travel, we arrived to the Mandarin Oriental before noon on a bright, warm, and sunny Saturday in September. (Stay at the Mandarin if you ever get a chance, it is first class all the way.) We were meeting Gman’s family there to celebrate his sister’s nuptials, which were taking place later that weekend. As I unpacked my bags, I realized my swimsuit, flip-flops, and other pool gear was missing. Dang it! In the haste of packing I’d forgotten to pack the one thing I planned on using most of the trip. The concierge told me that CVS might have one, if not there were plenty of shops, and even a Ross on the strip. I made plans to go shopping first thing Sunday morning so as to allow for enough time to lay out.

When Sunday morning arrived, we went to breakfast at the Luxor, as we heard it was the cheapest decent eggs, bacon, and pancakes you can get on The Strip (I found this to be true). On our way back we stared our search for a bikini. CVS, Ross, and number of other stores were total strike-outs. No one even carried swimsuits. I started to feel defeated. We ducked into a touristy shop to grab a six-pack of Miller High Life (for $6! And you can just drink them in the street (keepin’ it classy)). Once in the shop (which also sold fresh frozen yogurt, what is this place, best store ever?), we saw they sold souvenir type clothes and inquired about bikinis. I was lead to a dusty corner where, hooray, there were bikinis! And for $30, no less. The only thing was, they were silver lamé and probably the tiniest cut I’ve ever seen. I considered abandoning my bikini plight, but when life hands you lemons… I ended up finding a black one, but for the sake of the story, imagine that I went with the silver lamé. I also bought gray cotton shorts with the words “Las Vegas” written in large hot pink lettering across the butt.

Overly proud of my purchases, we head back to the hotel. I changed into my new outfit and realized that I should have also picked up some flip-flops because the only shoes I brought were dark brown suede driving moccasins. I decide at this point it can’t get any worse and I wore the mocs with my tighter than expected Las Vegas shorts down to the pool.

It turns out the pool at the Mandarin Oriental is the last oasis in the middle of The Strip where there is not a DJ and almost naked youth, but instead, relaxing spa music and people who are looking to quietly read whilst getting sun on their legs. Also, Gman’s entire family decided to meet us at the pool and have a drink. So there I stood, having my Vegas pool experience wearing my tiny bikini and suede mocs, drinking a $9 Stella chatting it up with Gman’s sister, parents, brother-in-law, and cousins. Maybe the city's motto should be, "what happens in Vegas will likely not happen elsewhere."

Monday, November 19, 2012

Exploring Wine: A Thanksgiving Pairing

I almost bored myself to tears last week as I wrote about suggested wine pairings for your Thanksgiving feasts. I was going argue why the body, structure, and fruitiness of a Pinot Noir would be perfect with your succulent turkey and cranberry sauce. But then, I thought better of it and instead I’m going to tell you a little story about pairing wine with the holiday meal.

It’s 10am. I’ve just finished serving my family a generous meal of scrambled eggs, biscuits, ambrosia, fresh coffee, orange juice, and applewood smoked bacon. I need the bacon for Brussels sprouts I’m roasting later in the day. So I do a pre-Thanksgiving breakfast feast. I can’t just cook bacon at 9am with a house full of people and not expect them to eat it all before I can say, “that’s for later.” I buy double what I need and accept the fact that I will also be sneaking little bits of it all day.

After cleaning the kitchen, I sit down to finish my second cup of coffee and go over my lists and recipes to make sure I start cooking everything on time, and in the right order. My sous chef/mother notices I have no oranges or sugar. She sends dad out for them while she starts peeling apples for a pie. I ask for Sucanat to try and keep the meal as dairy-free, organic, and non-processed as possible.

He comes back with a pound of refined white sugar, along with Grand Marnier and champagne to use to kill off the orange juice; because we obviously can’t just have orange juice sitting around. My sister decides it’s too much for her and goes for a run. My dad abandons his new mimosa making duties to accompany her. Gman is already out. My coffee is down to the last bitter, cold sip.

I start on the Brussels sprouts, rinsing, chopping, and roasting them with apples and bacon (which barely made it into the dish). My sous chef and I decide there is no time like the present to sample the good wine I carefully choose to compliment our dinner. My, my do I love Pinot Noir. It’s the Goldilocks of wine - not as heavy as a Cab or Malbec, not as light as a Nebbiolo or Chianti - and it goes down so easily too, especially while one is cooking. As soon as the Brussels sprouts are in the oven, we start the cranberry sauce. The Grand Marnier doesn’t go to waste, and we pour a little into the cranberries and orange zest. Man, the wine is so good. It makes everything fragrant and I pat myself on the back for such a fine selection.

More biscuits, and some cornbread go into the oven as the Brussels sprouts finish up. I start boiling the potatoes and cook the sausage for the dressing. Everyone returns. We open a second bottle then nearly burn our fingers sampling the Brussels sprouts straight off the pan. “Yes,” I say, complimenting myself out loud, “the Pinot Noir picks up the bits of bacon nicely without over-powering the apples”. My sister rolls her eyes.

Then I realize that the turkey roast is still chilling in the fridge. It’s now 2pm and the side dishes are near completion. I ignore everything that Giada and Ina have taught me and rub a bunch of butter all over the cold roast, and then dump some salt and pepper on it. It’s thrown into the oven about 50 degrees hotter than noted on the packaging. We consider cutting up and grilling it instead, then realize the grill is out of gas and its also 40 degrees outside.

Slowly the day slips through my fingers. Once everything is finished in the kitchen, we are forced to drink cheap Chardonnay with the turkey (which wasn’t a total loss) instead of the hand-selected Pinot since my sous chef and I finished that off, oops. But no one seems to notice or mind. We end the night with a rousing game of Apples to Apples. Then devour some apple pie and vanilla ice cream.

Nothing was exactly as I prepared for in my head the weeks leading up. In the moment, I was stressed more than I was calm. I was even resentful that I couldn’t go for a run too, but really, I was relieved to get some quiet time to do one of my favorite things: sit in the kitchen with my mom, drink the finest wine we can afford while pretending to be focused on the food, but really we’re just gossiping until everyone returns and the moment is gone.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Shoe Love: for the chef

Dankso via The Walking Company

Back in my college days, I worked at a pizza place (best job ever?). I stood on my feet for sometimes up to 12 hours a shift while serving customers, cleaning, and making pies. It doesn't seem like a hard work, but just standing for that long is actually hard on the body. A lot of professional chefs and servers wear the (admittedly not so beautiful) Dankso clog. They are the most comfortable shoe you can buy for standing on your feet all day.

Now that I sit in a chair and write for a living, I forget about these shoes until just about this time when I realize I'll be standing in the kitchen the entire day of Thanksgiving. Perhaps it's time to rush order these bad boys...

Monday, November 12, 2012

Veteran's Day

Some ladies have a ‘type.’ They always go for the same type of guys when they are searching for ‘the one.’ I’m a soldier lover. I can’t help myself. To me, there's nothing like a man in uniform. I don't have the courage to do what they do and cry like a baby whenever I see or hear about a hero’s story (note to self: don’t watch Restrepo again while PMSing…).

It's easy to think about war on a conceptual level, especially with the political fodder from the recent presidential election. But many of those who generously dedicate their lives to protecting our rights and freedoms are individuals who willingly sacrifice much to serve their fellow citizens. Take time to think about the brave and at the very least say "thank you."

There are some incredible organizations out there that support our veterans. One that I've recently been introduced to is the Combat Paper Project. Veterans who need a way to express what they have experienced in combat, transform the uniforms they wore in battle into healing works of art. The uniforms are beaten, shredded, and torn unto paper pulp then they use the paper to create art that describes their experience. The process of art making helps the soldiers come to terms with their past and give them hope for the future. The pieces are incredibly varied and elegantly stated. Check their exhibition schedule if you'd like to see the works in person. 

If you are feeling generous today, you can purchase one of their pieces or you can donate to their cause.

PS - This image was taken by my father-in-law, Tom Hurst, during the Vietnam War era. Thank you Tom for allowing me to use it here!

Friday, November 9, 2012

Shoe Love: Corso Como Boots

Corso Como Doyle Boot via Nordstrom

I haven't purchased a new pair of winter boots in almost four years! It doesn’t seem like that much time has passed but when I realized I was down to two very worn in pairs. It was time to start searching for a new addition.

Shopping for boots isn’t as easy as shopping for pumps and sandals. The height of the boot can be tricky, especially for my more petite friends, and the width of the opening can prove to be too wide or too narrow. My first ever purchase of winter boots was a pair of Corso Comos during my first ever winter in New York City. Accustomed to wearing sandals, it took a while for me to break them in, but now almost 5 years later they are still my go to.

I’m thinking about another pair. What do you think of the zipper on these? What boots are your cold weather go to?

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Exploring Wine: Claret

Linden, Claret, Virginia, 2005, Less than $30
My rating for this bottle? I would drink a few glasses.

My first trip to a Virginia winery was in 2008. Gman and I were dating long distance and I was down from NYC for a visit. His friends knew of this winery nearby that we could visit in just a quick day trip. I was impressed, and didn't hesitate jumping in the car on a cold, rainy Saturday in March.  I can't remember now if we went to one or a few, but a single image sticks out in my mind. We are cozied up on a closed-in porch eating cheese, sausage, and bread, drinking this wine, and over-looking a foggy landscape. These people I barely knew would become two of my and Gman's best friends (you might remember some of our adventures together in Sedona and Scottsdale).

I found this bottle dusty and tucked away in my (our?) collection. I forgot we had it! Besides the cork breaking as I tried to remove it, the wine was delicious. The color was a dark burgundy and the smell of earthy chocolate and perhaps butterscotch filled my nose. It tasted light and similar to the smell but with added fruitiness. I couldn't tell it if it was a slight acidity or tannins, but there was a bit of a bite on the finish.

A fun little wine fact for you: The word 'Claret' does not refer to a specific grape varietal, but instead is a generic term traditionally used by the English (and now Americans and others worldwide) to refer to a light red wine made in the French Bordeaux style.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Weekend Recap: a reunion

I’m not really one to reminisce. I don’t have a fabulous memory. Although remembering the past can lead to belly-laughing story telling and pure joy, one also runs the risk of opening the door to regret and heartbreak. So I like to live in the moment. I like to try and be completely present and just keep moving forward.

This proved difficult this past weekend. I went back to my hometown for my ten-year high school reunion. I wasn’t nervous about it. The event was slapped together at the last minute, hosted at a popular local marina with a bar right on the water. With such a causal approach, how could I feel worried about reconnecting with people who saw me through my youth?

I spent little time concerned about who would be there and who wouldn’t. I thought many of my friends, my “group,” would come because I thought everyone went to their reunion. That’s why I went.

I showed up right on time with one of my best friends, Kate, who not only went to high school with me, but became my college roommate, my confident, and your favorite High Heeled Traveler poet. But being there felt awkward. I felt the insecurities of my adolescence creeping into my stomach. I got a beer and we chatted with a very nice girl that I remember having classes with. The crowd grew and a not so talented band started playing songs that were popular when we were in high school. No one really mingled and I couldn’t put names with faces. People found a spot to sit, ate the chicken fingers from the buffet, and only talked to the people from their previously defined social circles. After panicking that perhaps I was in the wrong place, I did find a few lovely people I was glad to see in person that I already reconnected with on facebook.

Just as I was thinking it was time to wrap it up, two people walked onto the patio - two people who I spent almost every waking hour with for four years of high school and whom I’ve known since I was a child. I haven’t really spoken to them since the day we graduated high school with a bittersweet separation, each of us moving on to find our futures and ourselves. I thought it might be hard to pick up the pieces but with people like this you just pick up where you left off. As the party wound down, we decided to go to another bar where Kate and I’s college friends were waiting.

When we arrived, a band was playing some sort of swing, country, rock combo. A middle-aged woman with wild hair and no shoes danced around me and couples swung to the beat. I stood there quietly sipping my beer, watching my worlds collide, as my college friends and high school friends divulged my secrets to each other over the music. Everyone was having a great time together and I thought, perhaps reminiscing isn’t so bad when, in a moment, my bittersweet past became part of my very joy-filled future.
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