Food, Wine, Good (and Evil) Spirits

kosherwine.jpgThe other day I took a walk through Wally's, my local wine emporium's autumn sale and was bottle shocked by the number of kosher wine choices on display—Ninety-seven Jewtique labels. From Israel to Australia to the Valley of Napa, there are rabbis rendering grapes right for Jewish tables the world over.

Although pleased as wine punch that my brethren can sip with confidence from so many vineyards at all the holiday tables to come, I felt drowned in a sudden wave of nostalgia, for, over in a less popular corner, I spied some "Man Oh Manischewitz – What a Wine" languishing, neglected for a mere $4.99 in its own dust.  

And a flood of bittersweet tasting memories ensued…of my parentally enforced Prohibition.  The years of my youth when I was served Welch's grape juice in a grown up glass at the holidays to placate my longing for the real deal.  I sipped the faux, while the elders were slurping Manichevitz, the manna of the God, the only choice in that era, with lip-smacking satisfaction.  I'd lift my grape laced goblet, toast and boast—'Lookit! Lookit how fast I can drink it!" 

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“The Long Goodnight” 

lips.jpgLady Restylane was a carnivore, a notorious coquette who left lipstick marks like business cards. But when men followed up, expecting the innuendos to lead to escapades, their calls were seldom returned. To Lady Restylane, it was all about the dance. Genuine intimacy scared the hell out of her.

There were times when her game left her so exhausted that she’d give anything just to have a normal evening. Just to have dinner with a friend. And on one ill-fated night in the City of Angels, I was that friend.

We made plans to meet at the Bicycle Shop Café, a Westside eatery that had bicycles hanging on the walls. Not exactly artwork, unless you prefer Schwinn to van Gogh.

It was half past fashionably late when Lady Restylane arrived, wearing a little black dress and stilettos that could have doubled as steak knives. She said she wanted to leave the act at home, but she couldn’t do it. She just couldn’t do it. As soon as she made her entrance, she went on a flirting binge – targeting two guys at the bar, the bartender and our waitress. After that, I stopped counting.

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inpursuitlogoI love California wine and I'm not afraid to admit it. More than any other region and, through extensive wine classes, I've tasted them all. And I'm tired of people (OK, mostly other writers) bashing the wines from my adopted state for being what they mostly can't help being - big, bold and some claim overly-alcoholic. We have sun here, a lot of it, and it shows in the wines we make. That's called "terroir" people. If you don't like it, there are now hundreds of thousands of choices from almost every country in the world. Take your pick. Stop complaining and drink what you like.

Personally, I like to taste more fruit than dirt in my glass so I'm perfectly content right where I am. Can I agree that California produces a preponderance of wines that show little character and that bludgeon your taste buds with too much of everything? Sure. On the flip side, low alcohol wines can be thin, insipid and too acidic all in the cause of being opposite. Having travelled up and down the state, I know there are many, many, many winemakers out there trying to make the best wines from their land (or purchased grapes) that focus on all the right things: balance, fruit and complexity.

That's all I ask for. Depth of character. Whether light-bodied or full-throttled, taste like something other than grape juice and oak. Subtle doesn't have to mean boring and intensity isn't always overwhelming. Balance is the key. It certainly begins in the vineyard with a myriad of farming decisions, but actions in the winery also play an important role. When the right winemaker finds the right grapes, it is magic in the glass. This idea became In Pursuit of Balance, a movement created three years ago by Jasmine Hirsch of Hirsch Vineyards and Rajat Parr of Michael Mina and Sandhi Wines to support wineries striving to craft balanced Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in California. I'm not sure this concept really needs a "movement", but I found a lot to love at their recent tasting in Los Angeles.

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altThe quest for health and wellness continues. Kombucha is an acquired taste. A few years back, I picked some up at my local health food store. I was totally tuned off. This past year, I tasted homemade Kombucha at my friend, Carrie’s. I was hooked.

I loved it so much that when I left her house, I was gifted a little glass jar filled with my very own Kombucha culture. The 93 mile drive home was done with a big smile on my face.

My little jar sat in the passenger seat; I had company. The next day I purchased the few ingredients I needed to concoct my own black tea, fizzy cocktail. I was in business.

After my visit to Carrie’s I made it endlessly.  There was always a batch brewing. I had to ration out the kombucha in the fridge so it would last the entire week. I lost weight, my sweet tooth subsided, and I was addicted.

Then I took a break. You ask why? I cannot answer that.

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This warm and comforting drink is great on a cold day. 

mulledcider.jpg 1 cinnamon stick, broken into pieces (Use a meat mallet or heavy saucepan to break  into several pieces.)
1/2 teaspoon whole coriander seeds  
1/2 teaspoon allspice berries
1/4 teaspoon black peppercorns  
1/4 teaspoon whole cloves  
2 quarts apple cider  
4 strips orange zest (each about 2 inches long) 
1 – 3 tablespoons light brown sugar or dark brown sugar (to taste) 

Combine lime zest and juice, lemon zest and juice, sugar, and salt in large liquid measuring cup; cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until flavors meld, 24 hours.

Toast spices in large saucepan over medium heat, shaking pan occasionally, until fragrant, 1 to 3 minutes. Add cider, orange zest, and sugar and bring to boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 30 minutes, using wide, shallow spoon to skim away foam that rises to surface. Pour cider through fine-mesh strainer lined with coffee filter and discard spices and orange zest. Serve. (Mulled cider can be refrigerated in airtight container for up to one week. Reheat before serving.)

– Recipe courtesy of Cook Like James