Bourbon? Yes Please!

bourbon-trail3
I do apologize for an off-the-topic blog, but we recently purchased a beautiful bottle of bourbon (Four Roses Small Batch) and it spurred me on to write a blog about what a wonderful beverage bourbon is.

I started drinking whiskey many years ago.  I drank Crown Royal and VO – both Canadian whiskeys, both rye whiskeys.   There are several nice U.S. rye whiskeys,  Bulleit, Heaven Hill and Sazerac Company all make a nice rye. And, we found the farther north the rye is grown, the milder the whiskey,  but this blog is not about rye whiskey, it’s about bourbon.

We recently took a trip to the Kentucky Bourbon Trail.  We thought we could see enough in  two weeks, and found it would take at least four weeks to see everything we wanted to see.  Kentucky has two bourbon trails, one is the classic Bourbon Trail, the other is the KentucTrailMapPageky Bourbon Trail Craft Tour, this one focuses on the smaller distilleries, those that may be new, or they may be just more handcrafted in their approach.  It would be difficult to pick a favorite.

The classic Bourbon Trail features the big boys, those distilleries we all know,  Jim Beam, Maker’s Mark, Woodford’s Reserve.  The Craft Tour features smaller distilleries you may not have heard of: Limestone Branch, MB Rolandmbroland, Barrel House.  Regardless of the tour, each distillery offers something special and unique.  Each distillery has their own method and their own recipe for making their bourbon.  This is one of my favorite aspects of drinking bourbon.  Like wine, each distillery makes a unique product.  Unlike wine, the product does not vary greatly from year to year unless the distillery gets a new master distiller (uncommon) or if the distillery stores their barrels in a warehouse that is not temperature controlled and we have very erratic weather, again, uncommon.

I found on Wikipedia the six primary federal laws (27 C.F.R. 5) which pertain to bourbon made for consumption in the United States.  They are:

whiskey laws

There are other laws regarding bourbon made for consumption in the United States, but these refer to the aging and get very detailed.  If you’re interested in these laws, they can be found on Wikipedia here.

markers_markMost bourbons are made from corn, rye and barley.  A few are made with the addition of wheat.  If you are new to drinking bourbon, you should be forewarned there is a slight pepper burn to most whiskeys.   Bourbon made with wheat has less of a pepper burn to them, the wheat gives the bourbon a sweeter, less pepper taste.  Maker’s Mark (the one with theWLWellerSpecialReserve__84263.1361597905.1280.1280 iconic red wax on the bottle)  is the most well-known bourbon made with wheat.  Other bourbons made with wheat are; Barton’s 1792,  Heaven Hills’ Larceny, and, if you are lucky enough to procure some, W.L. Weller Special Reserve by Buffalo Trace.  My personal opinion on wheated bourbons is:  yum!  The wheat smooths out the bourbon, allowing the buttery, sugary caramel corn flavor to come forward.   Ha!  Now you know the secret as to why so many people love bourbon, yes, it is that buttery, sugary, caramel corn flavor.  What’s not to love about that.

Okay, so you’re new to bourbon, you want to try it but you’re not enthralled with the idea of burning your throat.  I suggest you start with a bourbon cocktail, something manhattan cocktailalong the line of an Old-Fashioned or a Manhattan.  An Old-Fashioned is made with sugar muddled with bitters, pieces of orange and a cherry.  A splash of soda is added to the mixture, topped with bourbon and your bartender should garnish the drink with fresh orange and a cherry.  I think this is a very sweet drink, it is not my favorite, but if you’re new at drinking bourbon, and you like a sweet drink, then order an Old-Fashioned.  Manhattans on the other hand, are one of my favorite drinks.  They can be made “prefect” or not.  A Manhattan is a mixture of bourbon, vermouth, and bitters.  A perfect Manhattan has both sweet and dry vermouth, a regular Manhattan is made with only sweet vermouth.  You can enjoy a Manhattan straight (served in a martini glass) or over ice (served in a low ball glass).  I like my Manhattan made perfect, served over ice in a low ball glass, and with a twist of lemon instead of the usual cherry.  You may prefer yours straight up in a martini glass with a cherry.  No problem, there is no wrong way to drink bourbon.

Now, to move on to drinking bourbon without additional ingredients.  To really appreciate the subtle nuances of bourbon, try it either neat (no ice) or with one large bourbonice cube.  You don’t want too many cubes because that will eventually dilute the bourbon.  You can purchase an ice tray that makes large cubes.  One will do.  Pour the bourbon either neat into the glass or over the ice. Take a deep whiff of the bourbon, just as you might do with a red or white wine.  Swirl the bourbon in the glass, just like a red wine.  With bourbon, you will notice the liquid will stay on the side of the glass for a moment or two.  Now, slowly sip the bourbon.  Take note of the initial taste, the middle taste, and the lingering taste as it leaves your mouth.  This is where you will start to notice the different nuances of the distilleries.  If you are drinking your bourbon neat and you want to “open up the bourbon” (meaning you want to really bring forth the caramel corn
flavors), try a slight splash of good water (water without chemicals or sulfates in it).  The water will make the bourbon more flavorful.  Some people do not want to clutter their bourbon with a lot of flavors, others do.  Again, there’s no wrong way to drink bourbon.

If you’re looking for a robust bourbon, head immediately to Knob Creek.  I have found Knob Creek to be the bourbon with the most pepper in it.  KnobCreek_featIf you’re not enjoying the pepper in the bourbon, but like the flavor, add a little Dark Chocolate Godiva Liquor. The Dark Chocolate Godiva Liquor removes all traces of the pepper, leaving only the lovely taste of the bourbon, and you don’t really taste the chocolate (unless you add too much – meaning one-half Godiva one-half bourbon).

When we finally arrived home after our trip to the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, we had seven bottles of bourbon with us.  This was not an easy feat.  You cannot legally ship alcohol from Kentucky to where I live.  This means kentucky bourbonwe had to purchase an extra suitcase and then, because a bottle bourbon weighs at least 5 pounds, we had to mail our heavier items home.  Regardless, we made it home with 7 bottles of bourbon.  We had:

We also added two Vermont bourbons, Smuggler’s Notch Bourbon and Mad River Bourbon.  We did a taste testing and when we took the dollar out of the equation, despite all you have heard about Kentucky bourbon (and yes, it is good), the winner smugglerswas the Vermont Smuggler’s Notch.  However, it is expensive ($49), so…putting the dollar back into the equation, the W.L. Weller won.  The only problem with the Weller is, you can’t get it!  At least we can’t.

So, back to the results.  After tasting all of the above, removing the Smuggler’s because it is too expensive, and the Weller, because it is unavailable, we like the Town Branch Bourbon, made in Lexington, Kentucky.  This is not an easy bourbon for us to get, we have to drive several hours to Boston, but we can get it, and it is a reasonable price ($34).

You may be wondering what the point was to this tasting.  The point was to find a bourbon we felt was the best for us, something we could easily afford, and easily obtain, that is our favorite tasting bourbon because every bourbon is different. That may be why so many people enjoy drinking it.  More than likely if you like drinking spirits, you will find a bourbon you enjoy.

There is a lot of history in the making of bourbon.  There are the stories as to how some distilleries did not close woodforddown during prohibition because they made  “medicine”.  Yes, you could get a prescription for bourbon during the years of prohibition.  There are recipe wars, whiskey clubs (Women who Whiskey), and there is the story of Pappy Van Winkle.  In my opinion, this adds color and fun to the bourbon experience.

I trust this blog has given those of you who are inexperienced with bourbon some information as to why so many folks enjoy drinking bourbon, perhaps you will give it a try.  I hope you do.

Cheers

 

 

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K.I.S.S.

soup saladWe have been on the party train for several months and it is time for our house to K.I.S.S. From Oktoberfest to Thanksgiving, Christmas, to Valentine’s Day, we have been living it in party mode.  Now it is time to reel it in and get down to the basics.  However, getting down to the basics doesn’t mean we are depriving ourselves of anything, especially tasty wine.

The easiest way I know to get back on track with our diet and our life, is to pull out the crockpot and fire it up. We  are still experiencing frosty weather here in southwestern chilieNew England so this is when I pull out the Chili, the Southwestern Stews and the bean soup recipes.  All of these are easy to make, especially now that calico beans are offered in the grocery store, easy on the budget and the waistline.  Many of these foods are simple to translate into a vegetarian version.

I made Southwestern Green Chile with Pork Stew tonight.  I added three Jalapeno chilies because El Hub loves it spicy hot.  I used boneless pork chops, didn’t want to pay the price of pork tenderloin, and put everything (except the beans) into a crockpot on high for four hours.  Added the beans, some Tabasco sauce and mixed a little cornstarch with cold water into it to thicken it up and continued to cook Charlottes Homein the crockpot for another hour. I drained and rinsed the beans before adding them.  The stew was ready when we were.  We enjoyed this with Rodney Strong’s Charlotte’s Home Sauvignon Blanc.  You could also serve a French White Burgundy (Chardonnay), or, if you’re in the mood for red, go for a slightly chilled Pinot Noir.  I recommend trying Sean Minor’s Central Coast Pinot Noir.

If you’re going back to basics with your recipes, and want to keep things lively, try using a little chipolte pepper, fresh jalapenos or green salsa.  One word of note;  when working with hot peppers, be sure to protect your hands.  If you do not have gloves, try rubbing a bit of olive oil onto your hands before handling the peppers and use dish washing soap to wash your hands afterwards.  I don’t use gloves and have had the bad experience of having burning hands the next day, after washing jalapenomany times, even washing my hair, and they still burn.  And, never touch your face with fingers that have been exposed to the seeds and ribs of a hot pepper.  Here is a good website for more information about handling hot peppers:  The Kitchn – Best Remedies for Hot Pepper Hands

If you’re not in the mood for a spicy stew, try cooking up a bowl of bean soup.  This is especially perfect if you have a ham bone to toss in.  (keep this in mind if you’re serving a spiral ham for Easter Dinner)  Of course I have to change things up.  I use 3/4 of the amount of water and I use one bouillon cube for calico bean soupevery cup of water I do use.  I use calico beans instead of all navy beans, and I add about 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda for every four quarts of water to soak the beans.  This helps to keep the tummy comfortable after ingesting the beans.  I also add real Vermont maple syrup (about 1/4 cup) to the soup.  The wine I serve with a bean soup is a slightly chilled Pinot Noir or a room temperature Merlot. We have been enjoying Castle Rock Merlot.  Either of these reds will bring out the subtle seasonings of the soup.sean minor pinot noir

Finally, if you’re looking for something with less meat, now is a perfectly lovely time for cooking up a pot of Potato and Leek soup.  Again, I cut the water down to about four cups in this recipe (you can always add more), and I use one vegetable bouillon cube for every cup of water.  I like to add bacon crumbles to any Potato Soup I make and I always saute the onion or leeks (one-half of the leeks) in a little of the bacon drippings before I add them to the soup.  I fry the bacon, put that on a paper towel to drain, then pour out the bacon potato leek soupgrease, leaving enough to coat the pan.  Saute the onions and one-half of the leeks.  I like to keep one-half of the leeks uncooked because they are a beautiful green in the soup if they are not cooked, but the cooked leeks give the soup a delicious flavor.  I also add about 1/2 cup of Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Gris to the soup, of course.  It makes a beautiful presentation if you have little bowls of shredded cheddar cheese, finely cut leeks or chives and bacon bits.  You can make this a completely vegetarian dish by leaving out the bacon.

Serve your Potato and Leek soup with a nicely chilled bottle of Chardonnay or White Burgundy.  We enjoyed a bottle of Domaine de Grisy Bourgogne with our soup. grisy

With any of these dishes, all you need to add is a crisp fresh salad, with a balsamic vinegar dressing, and some beer bread.  If your brother is like mine, when you serve the garnish with the Potato and Leek Soup, he will take the little dishes of cheese, chives and bacon and use those in his salad.  No problem, we had more.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bling it On!

sparkle eyeIt is almost that most special of days, Valentine’s Day!  Yes, there is a Valentine’s Day, whether we want it or not.  Now, if you and your special Honey Bunny are headed out for a night on the town, this is your chance to just bling it on.  I recently wrote about glitter in my December post, you can read that post here.

This is a wonderful time of year to shine and to enjoy some sparkle. How much sparkle you wear is up to you. Your age is not a factor, it all depends on your comfort level. If sparkle makes you happy, weaglitter eyer it.  If it makes you uncomfortable, leave it in the shop.

The key to wearing sparkle is to keeping it where you want it, not allowing it to migrate to places unknown. I really dislike finding bits and pieces of sparkling matter on my face when I explicitly put it on my eyelids. So, what to do? Apply the sticky stuff, wherever you want the sparkle to stick, and stay. Powder the other areas.

urban decay moondustStart with a sticky eyelid primer, something such as Tarte Clean Slate or MAC Paint Pot in Painterly. Add a sparkle cream shadow such as Bobbi Brown’s Long -wear gel sparkle and then, if you’re very into the glitter, go with Urban Decay’s Moondust shadow. When putting a powder sparkle/glitter shadow onto the lid, be sure to pat it on. Use a brush that will pick up the shadow and lay it where you want. I use MAC’s #239 brush. If there is a lot of sparkle, pack it on, don’t brush it on. For a shimmer cream shadow, try using your finger. Fingers shiseidowarm the shadow up and it will lay easier. I love Shiseido’s Shimmering Cream Eye Color.  This is a beautiful shimmer cream shadow that is very subtle, but when the light catches it, the sparkle is stunning.

If you want to glow and light up a room, use a matte shadow on your lids and then use a glowing highlighter on the tops of the cheeks and over the brow. Use a matte contour and blush, then top it off with a glowing highlighter. Check out Becca’s Shimmering beccaSkin Perfector. This product comes in three different formulas, pressed, poured and liquid. If your skin leans towards the dry, try the liquid, for oily complexions, go for the pressed. All of them are fabulous and will give you a beautiful luminosity. I recommend limiting your sparkle to just this highlighter if it is during the day. For night time adventures, you can amp up the bwadingling and use this on your checks, brows and then go with a little shimmer on the lids.

Finally, for those that are just now wading lightly into the sparkling waters, go with a shimmer lip gloss. You can use your favorite lippie, then top it off with a shimmer lip gloss. Bobbi Brown makes several wonderful chomac studio fixices. You can find them listed on the Bobbibrown.com website under “High Shimmer Lip Gloss” Who knew? Or, you can click HERE. All of these are fabulous for any age and any skin tone.

An easy rule to follow for sparkling makeup is to follow the sun.  If this sun is high (such as noon or early afternoon), go light, as the sun goes down, the makeup can get darker.

When you are finished with your face, use a finish spray such as MAC’s Studio Fix, or Urban Decay’s All Nighter Long Lasting Makeup Setting Spray. Use this before you finish dressing because you need to spray it on your face and it isn’t good to get it on your clothing.stephen stills

No matter where you are headed this Valentine’s Day, who you’re with, or what you’re doing, be comfortable with who you are, and love the one you’re with.

 

Happy-Valentines-Day

 

Romantic Meals & February Wine

groundhog-day-2016-wishes2-300x218February is here – finally! Seriously, I thought January would never end. February brings us many wonderful holidays with which to celebrate. Here in the United States, Ground hog day starts off the festivities. Up next is Chinese New Year, followed closely by Shrove Tuesday/Mardi Gras. Then there is Ash Wednesday, Lincoln’s Birthday and the all important Valentine’s Day! The final popular holiday is President’s Day (I guess this replaced Washington’s Birthday?)

This gives us a plethora of opportunities for cooking romantic meals and pairing them wine-dark-chocolatewith February wine. You may be asking what is February wine? For me, it is beautific reds and creamy complex whites. I’m thinking about Cabernet Sauvignon (the king of reds), Merlot, Tempranillo, and Sangiovese. The whites I love to drink in February are from France, White Burgundy (Chardonnay), White Bordeaux (Sauvignon Blanc) and Sémillon.

Yes, there are a lot of other reds, Pinot Noir, Malbec, Gamy, Grenache, the list can be quite long, and of course many, many other whites, Albarino, Vinho Verde, Pinot Grigio, I’ve written about all of these, but in February, especially in the cooler climate, I peggplantrefer a more complex red or a white such as the White Wines of France.

Now that you know what I deem to be February Wine, let’s pair these lovelies up with some meals!

For the vegetarians in this group, I tapped an excellent source from Australia, my lovely daughter-in-law. She is a vegetarian and she is a chef, I figured I would just go to the professional in the family. She recommended an Eggplant Parmesan or an Roasted Veggie Risotto.

Eggplant Parmesan

Ingredients

  •    1 large unpeeled purple eggplant, trimmed and cut into 1/8-inch thick slices
  •    1 teaspoon fine sea salt, or as needed
  •    2 eggs
  •    1 tablespoon whole milk
  •    1 cup Italian-seasoned Panko crumbs, or more as needed
  •    3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, or as needed
  •    1 (24 ounce) jar prepared marinara sauce, or home prepared marinara sauce –    recipe below.
  •    1 bunch fresh basil, coarsely chopped
  •    1 (8 ounce) package smoked mozzarella cheese, very thinly sliced
  •    1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Directions”

Line a plate with a paper towel; place a layer of 2 or 3 slices of eggplant onto the towel. Sprinkle eggplant with sea salt. Repeat layers of eggplant sprinkled with salt until all eggplant slices are stacked. Place 2 paper towels onto the stack and place a plate on top of the towels. Lay a heavy book onto the plate to squeeze out moisture. Allow to drip for 20 minutes to 2 hours. Rinse and pat dry.

Note: salting is done to take away bitterness, not to make the eggplant tender, and it is not necessary if you have wonderful tight-skinned, fresh young eggplants.

Beat eggs with milk in a shallow bowl. Place Panko crumbs into a separate bowl. Dip eggplant slices in the egg mixture and gently press into the crumbs to coat; set aside.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease an 8×8-inch baking dish.

Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat; fry eggplant slices in the hot oil in small batches until golden brown, about 1 to 2 minutes per side. Drain on paper towels.

Pour about 1/4 cup of marinara sauce into the bottom of the prepared baking dish and arrange a layer of eggplant slices to cover the sauce. Scatter basil and a few slices of smoked mozzarella cheese over eggplant; repeat layers, ending with a layer of sauce on top. Sprinkle Parmesan cheese over the top.

Bake in the preheated oven until heated through and the cheese has melted, about 15 minutes. Serve immediately.

Marinara Sauce

Ingredients

  •    2 (14.5 ounce) cans stewed tomatoes
  •    1 (6 ounce) can tomato paste
  •    4 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
  •    2 cloves garlic, minced
  •    1 teaspoon dried oregano
  •    1 teaspoon salt
  •    1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  •    6 tablespoons olive oil
  •    1/3 cup finely diced onion
  •    1/3 cup red wine

Directions

In a food processor place Italian tomatoes, tomato paste, chopped parsley, minced garlic, oregano, salt, and pepper. Blend until smooth.

In a large saucepan, over medium heat, saute the finely chopped onion in olive oil for 2 minutes. Add the blended tomato sauce and red wine.

Cover the saucepan and simmer for an hour minutes, stirring occasionally.castle rock

If you do not have Panko crumbs, you can substitute bread crumbs.

I would pair this dish with a rounded Merlot, one such as Castle Rock. Look for a Merlot that has a few years on it. We recently had a bottle of Castle Rock Merlot, year 2011. Fruit forward, lots of berry notes, little tannin. Open the bottle about 15-20 minutes before serving.

Corn Risotto with Roasted Red Pepper

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
  • 1 leek, white and light green parts only, diced
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 cup Arborio rice
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 6 cups Unsalted or Low Sodium Chicken Stock, divided, heated
  • 1 1/2 cups corn kernels, fresh or frozen (thawed)
  • 1/4 cup roasted red pepper, chopped
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 cup whipping cream
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives

Directions

Melt 1 tablespoon butter in a large pan over medium-low heat. Add leeks and cook, stirring occasionally, until leek is softened (do not allow to brown), about 6 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste; add rice and cook, stirring, until grains look slightly translucent, about 5 minutes.

Pour in wine and cook, stirring, until wine has all been absorbed, about 2 minutes.

Add a ladleful of chicken stock to the rice mixture and cook, stirring constantly, until rice has absorbed all of the stock. Add another ladleful of stock, stirring, until rice has absorbed the liquid. Continue adding stock, one ladleful at a time, always allowing rice to absorb it before adding another. When about 3 cups of the stock has been added, stir in corn and roasted red peppers. Continue cooking, adding the remaining stock, a ladleful at a time, until all of the stock is incorporated, corn is tender, and rice is creamy and tender, about 30 to 40 minutes total.

Remove risotto from heat and stir in the Parmesan and remaining tablespoon of butter. Cover and let stand for 5 minutes.

With whisk or electric mixer, beat cream at high speed until it holds stiff peaks. Uncover the risotto and stir vigorously. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Before serving, stir in the chives and then gently fold in cream.

Serve ducasse-graves-bordeaux-blanc-2013immediately.

Pair this with a chilled bottle of White Bordeaux, Ducasse Blanc would be my choice. The crispness of this beautiful wine would not compete with the decadence of the Risotto.

On to my favorite chicken dish. I serve this often to celebrate, it is one of my family’s favorite recipes.

Lemon and Wine Chicken

Ingredients

  • 2 or 3 skinless, boneless chicken breast half – pounded thin
  • 2 or 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • white pepper to taste
  • 1/2 tablespoon chopped garlic
  • 1 small onion, sliced
  • 4 mushrooms, chopped
  • 1/2 lemon
  • 1 1/2 cups Chablis or other dry white wine
  • 2 tablespoons butter, room temperature

in a medium skillet, heat oil and sauté the onion, garlic and mushrooms until slightly brown. Remove the onion, garlic and mushrooms to a dish. Heat more olive oil if necessary for frying the chicken. Dredge the chicken breasts in flour and place it in the hot skillet. Add pepper to taste. Cook until golden brown on one side, 3 to 4 minutes.

Turn chicken over (presentation side up) and add the wine, the onion, garlic and mushrooms, pour the juice from 1/2 lemon over and simmer for about 10 minutes.

Remove chicken from skillet and add the room temperature butter. Swirl it around in the macon villagesskillet sauce until it is incorporated and the sauce is slightly thickened. Pour sauce over chicken. Serve over wild rice pilaf or angel hair pasta.

Pull out a chilled bottle of White Burgundy to serve with this dish. I brin

g out a bottle of Henri Perrusset Macon Villages to enjoy when we have this chicken. The wine is creamy and complex, but it finishes with a taste of citrus to compliment the lemon in the chicken.

filet mignonFor the meat lovers, the most romantic of meals is a steak, and I always go with a Filet Mignon when it is time to turn up the romance.

Filet Mignon with Balsamic Glaze

Ingredients

  • 2 (4 ounce) Filet Mignon steaks
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • salt to taste
  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1/4 cup dry red wine

Directions

Sprinkle freshly ground pepper over both sides of each steak, and sprinkle with salt to Rodney-Strong-Cabernet-Sauvignon-2009-Labeltaste.

Heat a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Place steaks in hot pan, and cook for 1 minute on each side, or until browned. Reduce heat to medium-low, and add balsamic vinegar and red wine. Cover, and cook for 4 minutes on each side, basting with sauce when you turn the meat over.

Remove steaks to two warmed plates, spoon one tablespoon of glaze over each, and serve immediately.

The only wine I can recommend to serve with this meal is a Cabernet Sauvignon, of course. Bring out the big guns for this, something such as Rodney Strong’s Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon, the older, the better. Try to find a 2010 or 2012. Open the bottle 25-30 minutes before serving to fully enjoy the flavors of blackberry, cocoa, and herby black-currant.

lindt dark chocolateFor dessert, to go with any of these meals, serve a Petite Sirah, such as Michael David’s Petite Petit Sirah, slightly petite petit sirahchilled with a very dark chocolate. I like Lindt’s extra dark. If you’re not serving chocolate, then pair a bottle of Ware’s Warrior Port with some blue cheese, that is room temperature, one such as Plymouth Blue Cheese.

No matter what you serve, be sure to celebrate at least one big_blueoccasion during this wonderful month of February.

 

Valentine Gift Ideas for Your Honey

valentines day heartsIt is amazing to me that Valentine’s Day is less than three weeks away.  Where did January go?  I’m not complaining about seeing the end of January, it is never my favorite month.  And now we get to move into a glorious month!  One filled with hearts and flowers – and ground hogs.  Okay.

So…what to do about the big day that lands in the middle of February – Valentine’s Day.  The answer depends on who’s your honey?  Of course.

You can always go the standard traditional route – flowers, chocolate, fragrance.  There is flowersnothing wrong with this.  But – if you’re going the traditional route, change it up a bit.  Go with the unexpected, but more requested.  Find out what flowers your honey loves the most.  My particular favorites are Tulips, Lilies, and Daffodils.  I know, sounds like an Easter bouquet and that doesn’t arrive until March.  What I’m saying is, not everyone loves roses. if your snookums loves Gerbera Daises, or Sunflowers, then by all means, get those flowers, not Roses. If you are unsure as to what flowers to get, just ask.  But don’t wait until February 13th to ask what flowers your special someone likes, ask today, and makes notes.

The same goes with chocolate.  There’s nothing wrong with giving chocolate – ever – except perhaps if your sweetheart is on a strict diet – then no chocolate, go with lake champlain chocolatesomething else.  But all chocolate is not created equal.  Sad, but true.  Find out what your darling likes as far as milk, dark, white?  Nuts, chews, soft centers, caramels, the list goes on and on.  Godiva, Dove, Lindt, Lake Champlain, See’s?  So much chocolate, so little time.

The easier course is with fragrance.  My suggestion is to find out what your honey is currently using and get a matching lotion, powder or shower gel.  My personal chanel_bath_body_rangeexperience is that I rarely repurchase a fragrance, so getting more is not always a good thing. And, I seldom purchase the special extras to go with the scent I’m currently using.  I love having the matching shower gel or lotion but it costs more money, and I don’t feel comfortable spending more money than I’m already spending on a fragrance.  Check out what your special someone is wearing, and get some body lotion, shower gel or powder to go with it, the gift will be greatly appreciated.

Then there are those that don’t go the traditional route, they give a gift that keeps on giving.  You do this by paying attention to what your special someone wants/needs/desires and go for it.  This course of action will require you to pay attention to what is going on – all year long.  And you will need to take notes!

wild birdsIf your loved one adores animals, birds or fish, go in that direction.  For example, we feed the wild birds, and a 20 pound bag of wild bird seed is a wonderful gift.  If your sweetie has a cat or a dog, see if a new bed is needed, or a toy or a new feeding dish.  Something along these lines is always appreciated. Please note: do not give an animal, bird or fish to anyone, this is something that the individual receiving the animal needs to pick out.

If your special someone is currently repairing a vehicle, get him or her one of the parts they need, or a tool that will help the project along.  If it is a woodworking project, find out if a new saw is need, or perhaps special wood?

Throughout the year, I am sure your Darling has said “I need a ___” or “gosh, I wish I had a ____”.  You fill in the blank.  Every time you hear “I want”, “I need”, I wish I had”, write it down.  When you’re out and about with your Honey, and you hear, “wow, I really like that”, or “isn’t that beautiful” or something to that effect, write it down.  Keep this information on a pad of paper, your phone, your Kindle, somewhere.  Then, when a celebration comes along and you want to give a gift, you will know what to give.

It is also helpful to keep a list of likes, favorite colors, sizes (fingers, hands, wrists, and making a listthe usual top, bottom, feet).  Keep track of favorite music, books, movies, coffee, wine.  Everything you pay attention to, and everything you keep track of, will give your sweetheart the message that you care, and what is more important than that?

Valentine’s Day is a day to be with someone you love, someone you care about, and someone you want to share your feelings with.  Giving a gift should be a way of showing that you care about that person.  Giving a gift that reflects how much you have paid attention to the wants and needs of this person really communicates how much you care.

One last little piece of advice.  If you’re going to go out for dinner, don’t go out on Dinner-party-finger-hordervs (1)February 14th.  Make it the following or the next weekend.  The restaurants are extremely busy on February 14th and you won’t feel special at all.  But, if you wait and go out the following weekend, you will not be rushed and you will certainly have a much better time.  Instead of going out for dinner on February 14th, why not cook dinner for each other?  Or, make it a group event, have a party of 6 or 8, assign jobs to each party member party that turns into dinner.

No matter what you do, where you go, or what you give, do it with love in your heart and you cannot do it wrong.

valentines_day_love_mug_gifts

 

Big Bad Boys and Hot Stews

stew and wineIt is time to invite the Big Bad Boys of wine to the party! Cold weather is when these wines really shine. I call the wines with the big earthy flavors, beefy tannins, and smoky notes the Big Bad Boys of wine. And, on a cold January night, I cannot think of anything better than a big bold red wine and a beef burgundy stew, complete with carrots, potatoes, mushrooms and onions. For me, it is obvious to pair a beef burgundy with a hearty robust red wine, one such as a burgundy (well, it’s in the stew, it should go well with it). But these days, with so many “outside the box” options, I like to try pairing a wine with something that isn’t in the stew.

For baby steps, walk to Italy. Italy makes beautiful red wines, I have never met one I didn’t like. Look for a brawny red wine such as a Tuscan Sangiovese, nice and earthy, one of the Sangiovese 2011primary red varieties in Italy. Sangiovese wine often gets labeled as a Chianti. Either a Chianti or a Sangiovese would go very nicely with a beef burgundy stew. Another Italian red wine would be a Brunello di Montalcino. The difference between a Sangiovese/Chianti and a Brunello di Montalcino is confusing because Brunello wine is made from Sangiovese grapes. The difference is where the grapes are grown. The Sangiovese/Chianti wines are usually higher in tannins, with a more unsophisticated feeling to the wine. A Brunello di Montalcino wine will typically have more finesse and complexity to it, and a higher price tag. Brunello di Montalcinos also cellar longer. Don’t keep your Sangionvese/Chbianti wines more than four years, you can usually keep the Brunellos at least five to seven years.

If you want to go a bit more international, try an Irish Stew with a Spanish red wine. A lot irish stewof Irish Stews are made with Lamb and/or Guiness Beer. A Spanish Monastrell would add a nice blend of pepper and black fruit flavors to pair with an Irish Stew. Spanish wines are getting better and better, and there are many very good Spanish wTempranilloines with a decent price tag. A Monastrell should have a price of $10 to $15. If you want to go a little higher in your budget, get an aged Tempranillo, which will have a price of $25 to $35. If you want a Tempranillo with a smaller price tag, you could try a young, Tempranillo but open this wine about 30 minutes before you want to serve it because you won’t get the nice round tannins and you won’t get the notes of vanilla and cedar (which come from more years in the oak barrels and the bottle).  By opening a hearty red wine 15 – 30 minutes before you serve it, you will round out some of the stronger notes and tannins in it.

Finally, to go completely continental with your big bad boys and your hot stew, consider pairing an Australian Shiraz with a Melting Pot of Beef Stew made from Beef Chuck, Spanish Paprika and Sicilian Beef StewMarsala Wine. Look for an Australian Shiraz that is lighter in color than you would typically equate to a Shiraz.  The primary difference between a Syrah and a Shiraz is the Shiraz typically comes from a hotter climate, usually an Australian hot climate. Lately, I have been impressed with the beautiful light colored Shirazes that I’ve seen at wine festivals and I rDSC_5855eally do enjoy them over the darker Syrahs, but for a beef stew with spicy Spanish Paprika and a flavorful Sicillian Marsala Wine, you need beautiful light Australian Shiraz that won’t compete with your stew, it will just bring out all of the beautiful flavors and nuances in your meal.

So….which Big Bad Boy will you bring to the table tonight?

Plump Up in January!

new england winter
January is the time to plump up.  Please put down the Fries, I’m not talking about your thighs, I’m talking about your skin.  With the colder, darker days upon us (for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere), January is when we need to focus on taking care of our skin.

Winter air is drier because cold air cannot hold as much moistureWater splashing into glass.  Added to this, when you heat your house, regardless of how you heat your house, you’re losing moisture, causing a double whammy.

You may have noticed your skin is itchy, flaky and dry looking.  There are several easy remedies to fix this.  Start with drinking more water, less alcohol and less caffeine.  Next, add a warm air humidifier vicksto your house.  I like to keep one going at night in the bedroom.  El Hub doesn’t like the “swampyness” the humidifer causes so I defuse this with a slow moving fan.  Third, eat more healthy fats.  I’m not talking about eating more french fries, step away from the fries.  The key is healthy fats.  Add foods such as seeds (pumpkin, sunflower), avocados, nuts, eggs and olive oil. french fries

To work on plumping your skin from the outside, you may think all
you need to do is grab a jar of moisturizer and slather it all over your face, arms and legs.  Um…no…not exactly.  In fact, you may not need moisturizer at all.

Skin care is a step-by-step process.  Cleanser, toner, moisturizer, it is all necessary and individual to you and your skin.  If your skin is acne prone or is oily, you may not neemoisturizerd a moisturizer, but you do need to make sure your skincare products have the right ingredients for you.

The ingredients of your products are the key to keeping your skin plump and happy.  You do not ever want to strip your skin, even if you’re acne prone or oily.  Stripped skin is unhappy skin and it will work twice as hard to get back to its normal happy self, causing more oil and more problems.  If you have dry skin and it gets stripped of its natural oils, it may never regain happiness.  Check the ingredients on your cleanser, if you see anything with:  alcohol, peroxide, sulfates, or acids, you should shy away from it.  These ingredients will certainly strip away the natural (good) oil in your skin.  Lonars tonerok for:  glycerol or glycerine, PEG-7 glyceryl cocoate, and chamomile.  You may not see all of these ingredients in your cleanser, but try for one, especially glycerine if you have dry skin.

Toners are used to completely remove the cleanser from your skin,
they help to put a balance in your personal pH levels and can be beneficial to restoring the moisture to your skin.  Nars makes a lovely toner; Multi-Action Hydrating Toner.  This Toner is free of synthetic fragrance, parabens, oil, and alcohol.  Just what you want.

Finally, the moisturizing part.  If you have acne prone skin, or oily skin, you want to stay away from products with petroleum, mineral oil kiehlsor silicones.  You may not need any moisturizer in the summer, but in winter, you should look for something to give your skin an added layer of protection from the elements.  Something oil-free or water based and lightweight.  Kiehl’s Oil-Free Lotion is a nice choice, or look for Burt’s Bees Natural Acne Solutions Daily Moisturizing Lotion (Amazon).  If you have normal or dry skin, checkout Neutrogena Healthy Defense Daily Moisturizer SPF 50.  Yes, you still need SPF in the winter.  This moisturizer is lightweight and doesn’t leave a light cast on your skin, despite the high SPF.  For a basic daytime moisturizer, CeraVe Facial Moisturizing Lotion AM is a nice option.  This product has ceramides and niacinamide which are ingredients you want in your daytime moisturizer.

If your skin is extremely dry, and you live in a northern climate, you can also add a little facial oil to your non-spf moisturizer.  Don’t add abobbi brown facial oil facial oil to your moisturizer if it has spf in it, it will break down the spf.  I like Bobbi Brown’s Facial Oil.  I use it after toning, before moisturizing during the winter months.

Now you should be all set.  You’ve upped your water intake, you have added more healthy fats to your diet, and your skincare regime is set to maintain happy skin.  The only addition to this would be a dose of exercise, something to move the blood along, and perhaps a big smile to complete the look.

smile