Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Limited Net Access, Short blog

Just mo' ed in to' my new place and my only net access is on an iPad, mence the crash spelling and grammar. Will write again soon. Off to unpack all my stuff and drink a glass of wine.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Somming It Up, Week 1

Last night I attended the first lesson of the first level of the Italian Association of Sommeliers (AIS).

I've already taken the class, in fact all three levels, but due to a mix of weddings, busy tour seasons, and my fear of exams (I freak out before all exams, even an eye exam causes me anxiety!), I have not yet taken the final.

As a year and a half have passed since completing the courses, I am reviewing the first and third levels this Spring with the plan of diving head first into the exam in June without having a lot of time to accumulate anxiety!

Beginning the course last night brought back so much excitement and passion for wine that it has energized me and I am ready to roll. I'll be reporting about once a week to keep myself in check and to add to the pressure. Will I pull it off? I'm banking on it!

Last night we tried a Franciacorta, an amazing Riesling from the Oltrepo Pavese, and a Chianti Classico that was corked.

The Franciacorta was lovely, a Satèn with a nice soft perlage and a beautiful nose. I got white peaches, raw hazelnuts, a bit of salt... I couldn't stop sniffing it! And it was equally pleasing to taste and drink. Nice acidity to clean the mouth and get the appetite running. The Satèn has between 3.5 and 4.5 atmospheres, which I'm still learning about. Champagne has 6 atmospheres.

Franciacorta, seen in center below Lake Iseo, Lombardia

For anyone who is unfamiliar with Franciacorta, I highly recommend you give it a try. Like Champagne, it is re-fermented in the bottle and made with one or a combo of the following grapes: Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Noir. The soil is also similar to that of Champagne, so it is similar. The higher end Franciacorte I've tried have been up there with many Champagne. I once told the owner of a Franciacorta winery that I wanted to bath in his wine. It was sublime. (Those tasting notes are in a box somewhere! Must find the name of that Franciacorta producer!).

The Riesling had the most amazing nose I've ever gotten on a Riesling. Kerosene, eucalyptus, sage, oregano... the combo of scents reminded me of an herb that grows in Tuscany called nipitella, that goes wonderfully with porcini mushrooms. The wine was round and persistent in the mouth, much softer than the nose had been, but equally complex. I've decided I must drink this Riesling with a nice plate of Porcini risotto. Or maybe a carpaccio of Porcini would be better? I'll just have to try it all!

The Chianti was pretty bad, which made me happy since it was a Chianti Classico! Score for the Chianti Rufina area! As I often say, just because it is a Classico doesn't mean it is going to be a great Chianti. I was unable to get the name of the winery (which is probably best for them!) but it had a gold label. I'll recognize it if I run into it in an enoteca, and I'll avoid it for sure!

What did a corked Chianti smell like on first impact? Almost like a low end Lagrein that had been poured into a dusty glass. That was the thought I got. The whole cork taint issue is frustrating. Everyone says it is super obvious, but until last night I'd never been so absolutely sure a wine was corked. I think it was my defining cork moment that everyone talks about (ie all the wine experts, geeks and fans that I hang around).

Well, it is time to get studying. This is just a drop of what I've got to understand in June!

Sunday, January 8, 2012

A Spoon Full of Sugar

Perhaps the best macaron ever!
One of the many things I love about food is the power it has to make me feel better after a bad day. And one of the many things I love about Europe is the abundance of delicious options there are to lift my mood!
Since we've all just headed back to work after a break for the holidays, it is rough to wake up to an alarm clock and head out of the house into cold weather. I love what I do, but I hate cold weather and I am not a morning person! 

Since in Italy there is a word for everything, Italians actually have a brilliant word for the emotional and physical shock of returning to work after a vacation: the crisi di rientro, or re-entry crisis.

I have a double rientro shock, since not only is it time to get to work, but my stay-cation at Lola's house (which was sweeeeeeet, by the way!) has ended. So, back to my small, cold apartment and goodbye to the cuddles of little Lola the zen Shih tzu. 

There is one sweet little twist that's helping take the bite off reality: I have a box full of Laduree macaron and a tin of Fauchon chocolates, straight in from Paris. Thanks Alison, Dave, Walker and Penn! You read my mind!

Milk chocolate praline hearts.

Next trip to Paris will include pilgrimage to Laduree!

And tomorrow when I get up for a Monday alarm clock, I'll be having a macaron with a nice cup of coffee. How's that for sweet?

All this brought to mind a blog entry I wrote for years back. I would like to share it, since it gives great insight on Italian life, and how (in my opinion) Italians have it all figured out (except plumbing, heating and taxes!).

By Toni Mazzaglia from Florence, on September 21st, 2007

Most of Europe goes on vacation in August. Italy is no exception. Since they all go away at the same time and return at the same time, the entire country suffers together around the beginning of September.
 Italians actually have a word for the awful experience of returning to work after a long vacation or holiday: IL RIENTRO.
 It’s a good thing they have a word for this problem, because I am suffering big-time from a rough rientro.
 After a five week stay in efficient, customer service driven America, I returned to Florence.
 Upon arrival, my phone had been cut off (and so too, my internet), my car was no longer running, and my credit card had been blocked by my bank, once again, because I made a purchase the morning I arrived in Italy.
 How does one get anything done without phone or internet? How do they get to work without a car? How do they call and get their credit card unblocked, making the necessary intercontinental call to their bank to let them know, as in many calls before, that THEY PRACTICALLY LIVE IN ITALY, so please turn the card back on or they can’t pay for their phone bill, fix their car, etc.?
 Vicious cycle. 
On the bright side, on the day of my arrival, I went to pick up my comforter from the cleaner. Fortunately, I had already paid for it before my departure five weeks earlier. While waiting in line (actually, in Italy one generally waits in clusters and hopes no one goes before their turn) I struck up a conversation with another woman. One thing led to another and I mentioned my awful rientro symptoms: frustration, depression, confusion, loss of verbal skills- coupled with their causes: lack of money, failure to telecommunicate. 

 On the bright side, I did mention, I was back to the land of good food, wine and coffee. So, as usual, the topic turned to food. I always talk about food. Italians always talk about food.
 Within seconds, everyone, including the owners, was talking about food and their favorite recipes and what they had eaten for lunch… And a lovely woman with red hair mentioned she had made too much apricot marmalade, so much she didn’t know where to put it all.

When I heard the word apricot, my rientro concerns doubled. Not only had I come back to an entire mess, I had missed all the good stuff the summer brings. Peaches and apricots and many, many sagras.
 As I sighed, the woman read my mind and offered me some of her apricot marmalade. “Come back tomorrow and you’ll find a jar here waiting.”
 The next day I returned to the cleaner and their it was, an enormous jar of homemade apricot marmalade, sitting next to the cash register.
I love this country.
 (end of Geobeats blog entry from 2007) 
I just found a pamphlet inside the macaron box, with history and instructions. I only have 3 days to eat all 18! This is going to be intense! It is good to have something constructive to take my mind off the rientro...

What food makes you feel better after a bad day? 

Thursday, January 5, 2012

For the Love of Dog!

My first blog entry for 2012 has nothing to do with food, which is out of my character.

Lola in her kingdom.
Anyone who really knows me would tell you if there's one thing I love more than food, it is dogs. My lifestyle and living arrangements don't really allow me to have a dog of my own. To get my doggy fix, I offer to pet sit for friends.
I am currently watching Lola, the Shih tzu princess with a heart of gold. I never imagined I'd like this breed, but she has turned me into a fanatic.

How do I love Lola? Let us count the ways:
  • She's tiny, and so is everything about her. She eats an "espresso cup" full of dog food, with a softly scrambled egg in the morning or with chicken and rice in the evening. Even her droppings are small!
Lola catching up on her sleep.
  • In Italy, when a dog goes bonkers to greet you when you come home, they say the dog ti fa le feste, or throws you a party. Lola is quite gifted at throwing the welcome party. Even though she may have the appearance of party girls like Paris Hilton, she has the substance of a Buddhist monk. This dog is zen. Lola often looks off into space, then literally shrugs her front doggy shoulder and gives a little grunt as if to say "that's life, folks."
  • Lola loves attention and cuddles, but is secure enough in herself to chill alone on the couch and nap or ponder life. She's like the spouse we've all dreamed of having.
  • Lola knows how to play hard and sleep hard. She likes to take her hackysack around the house, and on occasion she growls at it, which means it is time to play. I slide the ball down the long hallway, bowling ball style, or into the kitchen on the stone floors, and she chases after it. Lola often intercepts the ball before it reaches its end point, and she does a pivoting sliding move and brakes herself before running into hard or sharp objects. Lola is a dog of great talent and dexterity.
  • When Lola wants something, she speaks to you in the voice of a Gremlin. (Kind of like Dustin Hoffmans's little sighs in The Graduate). It is super cute when she does it, and ten times cuter when she talks in her sleep while dreaming of chases.
  • Lola's fur is fluffy and soft. Her ears are floppy and adorned with small bows. She has the funniest facial expressions of any dog I've ever met.
In addition to the pleasure of spending time with canines, dog sitting allows me to know many different breeds and will supply me with an educated decision when I finally get my own dog. I doubt I'll ever find any Shih tzus at the dog shelter, but I'll have my eyes open.

Please send in your dog sitting stories, and share info on the dogs you love. Happy new year to all, may we all be as satisfied with life as Lola!