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23 September 2011

The Dirtiest of Wars

I would love to believe in the stirring verse originally sung by Chilean group Quilapayun-"¡El pueblo unido, jamás será vencido!" (The people united, will never be defeated!).  This aphorism may eventually ring true because a united group of people are louder, more visible, and therefore powerful than a divided one, but it is the complicity of the general public during a struggle for power, rights, or equality that makes Quilapayun's phrase difficult for me to truly believe.

Recent history has demonstrated that it is during times of economic crisis that we must remain especially protective over our human rights and personal safety.  Keeping that in mind, it is now, more than ever, that we must remain vigilant, as the global recession gives cause to austerity measures, unemployment, inflation, mistrust, demagoguery, and fear.  Such "austerity" has been used as an excuse for recent funding cuts to health care, public education, infrastructure, and environmental protection, which not only serves to further the gap between the wealthiest and the rest, but will erode some of the very foundations of our societies.

Similarly, much of the rhetoric behind such atrocities as the Pinochet coup/ military government in Chile, and Argentina's "Dirty War" has been based on specious "economic" claims-i.e. socialist economic policies and social programs are ineffective, cause inflation, are not conducive to national industrial development or foreign trade, and/or are generally deleterious.  The people, as such military juntas of Chile and Argentina seemed to believe, would be better off under rigid discipline, privatized industry, and a "strong" (tyrannical) central leader (who were both covertly supported by the "democratic" United States government).

In the face of such claims, one must remember that global trade and the free market economy are inherently subject to fluctuations that can disproportionately affect certain regions of the world more than others based not only on domestic economic policies, but geography, national and international laws (like constitutions and international trade policies), diplomatic relations, amongst other factors.  The global economic downturn of the 1970's, coupled with the (sham of an) oil crisis compounded the ongoing governmental instabilities, massive inflation, financial uncertainty, and political fragmentation in Argentina and Chile.

Those of you uninterested in Latin American history must be wondering...'where is he going with this and why should I keep on reading?'  Besides attempting to draw certain comparisons between disparate historical epochs (South America in the 1970's and The US/Europe of the second decade of the 2000's), I want to discuss, in brief, an atrocity that very few of my friends know about-"La Guerra Sucia," or, "The Dirty War,"-its causes, its vestiges, and its involvement with "futbol."

Argentina has long been a place of political instability and social upheaval.  Beginning in the late nineteenth century waves of European and western Asian immigration brought a mixture of cultures and creeds to this new country south of the equator.   Migration and immigration from other South American countries and from Argentina's rural areas in the early twentieth century made the country's industrial urban centers like Buenos Aires, Rosario, Cordoba, Bahia Blanca, and La Plata swell.  By the early twentieth century Argentina was one of the world's foremost economic powers with the ninth largest economy by 1920.  However, the Depression of the 1930's brought an end to that and badly crippled an economy in advanced stages of industrial development.  With unemployment and inflation soaring, Argentina's government crumbled.  This period did witness the establishment of universal (male suffrage), but during the 16 years from 1930-1946 the country saw 8 different heads of state, including several military dictatorships. 

The Juan Peron governments of the late 1940s through mid 1950s, and then later in the early 1970s temporarily stabilized Argentina's volatile economy, while enacting numerous infrastructural improvements/modernizations (including railroad extensions, bridge and hospital constructions, the enlargement of the country's ports amongst others), pro-union labor reform, and the construction and updating of dozens of professional soccer stadiums.  The famous "Bombonera" stadium-home to the famed Boca Juniors Football Club, was funded by money from the Peron government.  The stadium improvement program was as much an infrastructural improvement campaign as it was apolitical move.  Always with an ear to the streets, Peron shrewdly recognized the power that soccer held over the masses and channeled much of his support from terraces and stands of the "estadios" around the country. 

Peron's government, however, a curious "third way," which existed somewhere in between capitalism and socialism, did not last.  The nationalizations and protectionist economic policies that defined much of his presidency isolated private investment and led to substantial debt.  Exports fell, and unemployment rose sharply from the mid 1950's onward.  Peron was also quite guilty of having illegally disposed of certain opposing forces.  During his first reign in power, he fired more than 1500 university professors who opposed him, including the famed writer Jorge Luis Borges.  Peron was deeply suspicious of both staunch conservatives and radical left wing factions.  Certain policies, such as his proposed legalization of abortion and prostitution, were too controversial for a mostly catholic country, while frequent clashes between the Socialist Party and Peronists became violent.  Peron was even excommunicated by Pope Pius XII in 1955. A Nationalist-Catholic coup deposed him that same year and he was exiled from the country for 18 years, during which the size of the economy doubled while inflation became a daily expectation for Argentinians.

By the time he returned from exile, Peron was in poor health, and by some accounts, even senile.  A series of debilitating heart attacks effectively ended his third term in 1974, the same year of his death, after which his third wife Isabel was put in charge of the republic until the dreaded military coup of 1976.

The events of 1976-1983 are probably the darkest in Argentine history.  General Jorge Videla head of the Argentine Armed Forces, and leader of a new military junta, easily deposed of the ineffectual Peron regime in a coup d'etat, privatized several state-owned companies, shut down the legislative branch while restricting freedom of the press, and initiated a campaign of state-sponsored terror via the euphemistically-coined "National Reorganization Process." 

From 76' onward the government initiated the "Dirty War" against its own citizens whereby marxists, trade unionists, students, and any citizens with suspected left-leaning sentiments were kidnapped, sent to detention camps, tortured, murdered, or raped.  At any given moment people could be pulled over by the police and beaten senseless without explanation, have their homes looted by soldiers, be drugged and forced to undergo the "vuelos de la muerte" (death flights) where they were drugged, forced into helicopters or fixed-wing aircrafts, stripped naked, and pushed into the Rio de la Plata or Atlantic Ocean to drown.  Among the most heinous human rights violation carried out by the junta was the stealing and redistribution of "children of the disappeared," whereby infants or very young children of apprehended individuals were given to families who supported, or at least complied with the regime.  (For a masterpiece narration of this subject see the heart-wrenching film "La Historia Oficial"-The Official Story.)

Below: An Abduction in Buenos Aires

It is estimated that between 9,000-30,000 Argentinians were forcibly disappeared between 1976 and 1983 and that up to 500 children were stolen from their parents.  Though some Argentinians resisted, such as the "Madres de la Plaza de Mayo," who continue to gather in the Plaza de Mayo in Buenos Aires to demand knowledge of the whereabouts of their disappeared children,  (preceding this article is an iconic symbol of their organization-the white hood), the majority went about their daily lives.  How, one might ask, could the world stand by and allow this to happen after the atrocities of the Holocaust?  The answer, sadly, is a mixture of successful cover-ups, US-support for the anti-communist military junta (via Operation Condor), successful propaganda campaigns, and general international complicity or even coordination (in the case of Chile, Uruguay, and Bolivia).  

In the midst of the Dirty War Argentina hosted the 1978 FIFA World Cup under the watchful eyes of Videla and co..  The Montoneros, a Peronist and marxist guerilla group tried to disrupt the tournament by coordinating several bomb attacks, but were unsuccessful and swiftly crushed by the Junta.  Some of the teams that qualified, such as the Netherlands, initially considered not participating due to the Junta's rumored persecution of the people, but eventually relented.  In another controversy, FIFA allowed the Argentine National Team to play all of their matches at night, thereby giving them the advantage of knowing all previous match results.  

The Estadio Monumental, used for the World Cup, is located less than a mile from the infamous Naval Mechanics School in Nuñez, which was used as a concentration camp at the time, and has since been designated as a space for the "memory and promotion of the defense of human rights."  It is said that prisoners there could hear the roar of the crowd during matches.  An LA Times article discusses several disturbing details of the tournament...

"Surviving detainees have recalled Kafkaesque scenes of interrogators taking time out to root for the home team. Guards even encouraged shackled, hooded and half-conscious prisoners to join in the merry-making.  "We won! We won!" the lockup's notorious chief of intelligence, Jorge "El Tigre" (The Tiger) Acosta, shouted over and over, recalled Graciela Daleo, a survivor. "When he said, 'We won,' I was certain that we had lost," Daleo said in a seminal documentary film made here examining the "parallel history" of the 1978 championship. "And we did lose." (
Star forward Mario Kempes and the "Albicelestes" might have won Argentina's first World Cup, but the real beneficiary was the Videla regime who were able to maintain power for another five years while deflecting growing international attention to their bloody methods.  In this way, some have compared the 1978 World Cup to Hitler's manipulation of the 1936 Berlin Olympics that covered up his persecution of the Jews, Communists, and Gypsies.   After the ill-fated Falkland' War and growing international concern with the Junta, democracy was restored in 1983, but the vestiges of the Dirty War persist to this day-with the occasional news coverage of genetic testing of a child of a disappeared, the sporadic trials and convictions of former military leaders, and the frequent gathering of the Madres de la Plaza.

In the end "el pueblo unido" were not necessarily defeated, but they were unable to effectively mobilize and topple the regime, which fell for other reasons- mounting debt, high inflation, and the diplomatic catastrophe caused by the Falklands War.  During the Junta, isolated and small-scale anti-government violence was carried out mostly by divided guerilla groups.  The brutal repression and state terror inspired such fear in the populace that the impetus and unity required for an effective resistance, whether violent or non-violent, was never fully present.  Further dividing the people was the fact that the government mostly targeted leftists who they considered to be an ideological "threat" to their stability.  The Videla government is often referred to as "la ultima dictadura"-the last dictatorship; let us hope that it remains thus. 

You might wonder why I care so much about this topic, or why I am so concerned with what happens in Argentina.  Though I am not Argentinian, I did live there, and will always feel connected to that country.  The experiences of the "ultima dictadura" and the Pinochet regime in Chile should serve as eternal reminders of the dangers posed by volatile economic conditions and the opportunistic ultra-right wing politics that emerge during such times of crisis and who purport to treat such maladies.  While I do not believe that Argentina, the US, or any European entity are in danger of being toppled by new repressive autocracies, I do feel that the all-too-popular austerity measures and tax-cuts that are causing the slow erosion of the foundations of such western democracies could potentially give way to new tyranny, especially in light of the ultra-nationalist/religious and reactionary factions waiting in the wings to manipulate discontent with current governments.

26 July 2011

Mark Bittman: A King Among Men

Some of you may have noticed (or failed to notice) that this is my first entry in over a month.  I should inform you readers that this hiatus has been due largely to studying for a second attempt at the GRE (which I aced), graduate school planning, the emergence of a new collaborative writing project with my dad, and lastly, a general hesitance to continue this online journal in reaction to its low readership.  At times I feel reluctant to continue this blog because of its lack of ability to generate comments or any meaningful discussions.  I've resolved, however, to continue on, despite who reads my content, because in a way, my future depends on it.

This summer has truly flown by.  It is difficult to believe that August is almost upon us.  After going on an almost four-day bender in late June/early July, I have taken a temporary recess from my Wino Wednesdays segment and from all alcohol consumption.  I must say that I feel fresh right now.  Not drinking for the past month has cleared my mind and allowed me to more actively concentrate on the tasks at hand.  While I may temporarily desist from drinking, I will never, even in the case of limb removal, give up cooking.

Cooking, as I explained in a previous entry, is my art form; my channel of creativity.  I am often asked by fellow food enthusiasts who inspires me, or who I look up to most in the world of gastronomy.  Truly, a plethora of virtuoso chefs exist in every corner of the globe.  Some have experimented with new food preparation techniques such as the famed Ferran Adria, whose molecular gastronomy is changing the way that many chefs approach food preparation.  Others have become television personalities known more now for theatrics (Emeril Lagasse, Anthony Bourdain, Jamie Oliver, Giada de Laurentis to name a few) than for their abilities.  A recent trend has seen many chefs commit to environmental sustainability by restricting their menus to local and seasonal products.

As you could surmise from this entry' title, one of my greatest food inspirations is the humble food writer Mark Bittman, aka The Minimalist.  He may not have trained at a fancy culinary school, he may have appeared on more than a few television programs, but Mr. Bittman epitomizes the direct, intuitive, and often quirky approach to cooking that I so admire.  It may be, in fact, that Mr. Bittman's lack of formal training (and corresponding lack of pretension) is what so endears him to a wide audience.  He is the every man's food enthusiast, capable of both the intricate and the simple.  His recipes however, are for the most part refreshingly simple and (at least when I prepare them) always delicious.  From his former New York Times food segment The Minimalist, to his interactive once-a-week simple dish preparations, to his championing of local food and a plant-based diet, I find myself utterly enthralled by and nearly always in agreement with Mr. Bittman.

Perhaps due to the unrelenting heat of these Dog Days, two of my favorite recent Bittman contributions are "Recipes for 101 Simple Salads for the Season," in which he lists vegan, vegetarian, and non-vegetarian recipes for an entire summer's worth of delicious inventiveness, and The Minimalist: Fast Blueberry Jam, in which he prepares an incredibly simple blueberry jam containing only: blueberries, sugar, and cinnamon.

The following is my version of Mr. Bittman's watermelon, tomato, and basil salad (from the 101 Simple Salads list), to which I added sliced Prosciutto di Parma and fresh oregano.

The blueberry jam that I made with local farmer's market blueberries, was ready in under 20 minutes and is utterly tangy, sweet, and satisfying.  For those of you who enjoy preparing food, I highly recommend looking at these two links, which I have provided below...Happy summer to you all!

Recipes for 101 Simple Salads
Fast Blueberry Jam

21 June 2011

World Cups: Events that Define

World Cups: Events that Define Life Phases

           The 2010 FIFA World Cup was among the least spectacular international football tournaments in recent history.  The cautionary approaches and uber-defensive strategies utilized by the majority of national teams, and the lack of individual flair resulted in a business-like competition without any well-played, end-to-end two-sided affairs.  Players and coaches blamed the unpredictable Adidas “Jabulani” ball for the ugliness, and with the exception of the semi-final between the Netherlands and Uruguay and the third place game between Uruguay and Germany, fans were made to settle for low-scoring, underwhelming matches.  From a neutral’s standpoint, it was an aesthetically disappointing World Cup that failed to live up to the typical pre-tournament hype.  Yet reflecting on both its intrinsic meaning exactly one year from its inception, I have come to the conclusion that such non-annual sporting events frequently define periods in our lives.

             I had the unique, and perhaps once in a lifetime pleasure of experiencing a World Cup in the victorious country.  While I was not supporting “La Roja,” I was unavoidably captivated by the spirit and revelry of my Spanish friends and the witnessing crowds in the famed southern Andalucian city of Granada. 

            Despite their label as perennial World Cup “choke artists,” Spaniards were brimming with confidence following their national team’s glorious 2008 European Cup victory.  Long had Spain been blessed with the world’s best footballers, but for some reason, they had never managed to win a World Cup.  This time, however, the typical Spanish cynicism was replaced by a new optimism.  Spaniards throughout Andalucia, Extremadura, Castilla, Galicia, La Rioja, Cantabria, Asturias, Navarra, Murcia, Aragon, and even parts of Catalunya and the Basque country displayed an infectious enthusiasm and support of their National Football Team, one of the few unifying entities in an otherwise culturally divided country. 

            On match days all around the city of Granada one could see red jerseys and painted faces, hear songs of support, and witness loud, thorough celebrations after each victory.  Having committed to soaking up the true World Cup spirit, I watched each Spain match in the “zona roja de Cruzcampo,” an enormous air-conditioned tent sponsored by the Andalucian beer giants Cruzcampo, which included several giant screens and at least four full bars.  Each successive match saw the several thousand onlookers became rowdier and more vocal as they nervously consumed sunflower seeds and “tinto de verano” (cheap red wine mixed with Fanta Soda).  As “La Furia Roja” surpassed each hurdle-Portugal in the first knockout stage, Paraguay in the quarterfinals, and then Germany in the semifinals, the celebrations across the city intensified with bacchanalian activity reaching its zenith after the final.  As the final whistle blew in Johannesburg, South Africa it felt like a collective weight had been lifted from the backs of all Spaniards.  Years of disappointment and cynicism were extinguished in a matter of seconds. 

            In the minutes and hours following the victory, I witnessed events that I never thought possible.  Firecrackers exploded in ornate lit fountains. Spaniards, both young and old, danced on car hoods chanting “yo soy Español, Español, Español!” or else “Campeones, Campeones, O Ey, E Ey, O Ey!” Amusingly, the police also took part in the celebrations, intervening only to prevent violence or substantial property damage.  I stood by utterly captivated, as Spain, a veritably football mad country, thoroughly celebrated their glorious victory.

             Because they occur every four years, World Cups are bound to coincide with periods of our lives, at least, for those of us who are football fans.  They can also symbolize trends and common strategies in the game itself.  The 10’ version, for example, exemplified the current excessively cautious  tendencies of coaches and professional teams.  One a more profound level, World Cups, not unlike  the Olympics, have the capacity to act as personal points of reference or indicators of certain stages in our lives. 
             The World Cup always causes me to reflect on my own life and activities. Last summer’s competition marked a particular era in my life that included: an “early 20’s-I can do anything optimism”, pride in my linguistic abilities, loneliness at spending most of that hot summer without any friends in the city, and disappointment with my unsettled peripatetic existence.  The 2006 World Cup coincided with my summer stay in San Francisco, a magical period of discovery, professional development, and self-satisfaction.  I was a confused and identity-less sophomore in high school during the 2002 World Cup, which forced me to wake up during indecent hours to view matches.  As an energetic 12 year old, I felt secure, oblivious, and unafraid of the future during France’s 1998 conquering.  The 1994 World Cup was held in the United States and was my first exposure to world football.  Roberto Baggio’s missed penalty during the final is forever burned into my mind, as is Romario’s hoisting of the golden trophy. 

            Perhaps four-year increments are logical life stage reference points, but as a football fan, I attach even greater significance to World Cups, and use them as objective demarcations of my own self-development.  But what I am pondering then, is whether I do this because I love the “world’s game?”-Or rather that I have subconsciously attached critical significance to these global events that they become life-defining moments.  I clearly remember, for instance, meeting up for lunch with my father and now stepmother, Leslie, at a Brueger’s Bagel shop in East Lansing Michigan in 1998, shortly after France’s final victory over Brazil.  The lunch was significant because Leslie was in Paris during the competition and described in detail the celebrations and raucous activities of the French people.  It may not have been a defining moment for her, but it was for me.  Never could I have imagined the feeling of massive and unifying collective joy as the “Rainbow Nation” experience in 1998.  What struck me most in light of Leslie’s experience was that such joy moved beyond the secular, ethnic, and age divisions that continue to plague French society.   

            It cannot be that I am the only human alive who believes that World Cups are definitive moments of existence, or that a sporting event can hold such significance.  Discuss the World Cup final with any Spaniard, Frenchman, Italian, German, Argentine, or Brazilian with even a fleeting interest in the sport, and they will most likely be able to recall exactly where they were, and what they were doing at the time of their nation’s World Cup victories.  As a fan, I am not an outlier when it comes to attaching emotional significance to the World Cup, but as a Finnish-American I am.  With Finland never qualifying, and the US never having reached the quarterfinals, I am always left with a surrogate country to support.  It is probable then, that for those of us whose nations are not likely to win, World Cups hold additional [non-sporting] meaning.
            The pain of being a fan is two-fold-the feeling of despair, disappointment, or else sadness when one’s team loses, and the helplessness with which we watch, or what I would call the "third-party enigma."  Though we may cheer on our squads-the players, the captains, and their managers, it is impossible that any individual fan can remotely affect the outcome of a competition.  Yes being a fan means supporting one’s team, but it also means having the unreasonable belief that collective support can, in fact, will a team to victory.  Try convincing the thousands of Uruguayans in Montevideo’s Plaza Independencia cheering on their beloved Celestes against Ghana in last year’s quarterfinals, when a last minute penalty stacked all of the odds in Ghana’s favor, that their collective support and prayers had no effect in willing Uruguay to the semi-finals.  This belief in collective spiritual power borders on religiosity, but the very essence of being a fan is a belief that one’s team will be victorious.  If nothing else, being a supporter of a team is an identity, often as meaningful and fervent as a religion or nationality.  Indeed, international competitions frequently elicit fervent nationalist tendencies, almost to the point where rivalry matches become surrogate wars.  Football fandom and appreciation for the beauty of the game, however, can supersede nationality.  I may never be Cameroonian, but who is to say, for example, that I cannot support the Cameroonian National Football team? Or that my brother cannot support France?  Collective identity via fandom then, is a principal feature of the World Cup’s life-defining qualities.  

            The moments and external events that define our lives are incredibly diverse.  Weddings, deaths, births, graduations, job promotions, wars, financial collapses, etc can both be extremely personal and shared experiences.  It may be rare to share such moments with another person, but is even rarer to share them with three billion people.  Unfathomable though it may seem, more than three billion people watched last year’s tournament; on their home television sets, on pirated computer channels, in pubs, in town squares, or in royal palaces.  Despite where they watched matches, the fact that nearly half of our planet engaged in a collective simultaneous activity is astounding and completely unprecedented.  Maybe we should take solace from the fact that something as simple as a game involving 22 men chasing a ball on a pitch can distract us from the atrocities and struggles of daily life.  Football will not resolve wars, feed the starving masses, find cures for diseases, or else solve our problems.  World Cups, however, are unifying, epic events that contain rich collective memory and identity potential. 

I almost forgot...World Cup Official Anthems are always entertaining...Here's 2010's "Waka Waka" by Colombian singer Shakira.  Enjoy! 


17 June 2011

What's Musically Moving You?

As I mentioned in my first ever blog post, this online journal would not focus solely on matters of gastronomy and football.  Many of us go through these spells where we become temporarily bored with the music that we're listening to.  When I discover a new track, artist, or album that moves me, I tend to overplay such music until it bores me.  Below you'll find seven of the tunes that have been coursing through my headphones of late and compendious blurbs about why they move me.  I would also appreciate any suggestions for new music that I should check out.  What has been moving you musically?  What are you listening to right now?  Are you going to any summer concerts? 

(*Note: I am not legally responsible for the video content below.  If it needs to be removed due to copyright, please let me know).

1.  Scritti Politti-Sweetest Girl
 This is a truly an alone-in-your bedroom, just woken up type of track.  I've recently gotten into this English 1980's new wave pop band called Scritti Politti.  This was one of their first singles.  It's strikingly minimal, catchy, softly bouncy, and playful.  A friend of mine described this singer's voice as "Michael Jackson-esque." I also like to fantasize that I wrote these lyrics for someone.  Maybe you will too...

2.  Junior Boys-Itchy Finger

Ahhhhh Junior Boys how appreciative I am that you released your new album just in time for the summer.  As some of you may know, the Junior Boys, a Canadian electronic duo, are among my favorite musicians.   "It's All True" is their newest release, the first since 2009's solid "Begone Dull Care" The singer's voice is completely ethereal and inviting, the lyrics, clever, but straightforward, and the music, so packed with instrumentation and fading sounds, yet so fluid.  It's also quite good for the dance floor.  Give it a whirl...

3.  Led Zeppelin-When the Levee Breaks
Possibly one of my favorite Zeppelin songs.  The drums just hit so damn hard, and Plant wails his way to New Orleans and back.  At over 7 minutes, it is a long track, but worth the transcendent instrumentation and emotional delivery.  Just another perfect song by the band that, to me, oozes perfection in rock music.

 4.  Saint Etienne-Spring

Saint Etienne is an old-school English electro-pop group who made experimental and vivacious pop music throughout the 1980's and 1990's.  I blasted this song throughout the gray Massachusetts April and May, hoping and believing that one day spring would arrive.  Well it did, and it's still here for another week or so.  Enjoy...

5.  Gang Gang Dance-Chinese High

Gang Gang Dance is a Brooklyn-based band that I've just recently gotten into.  I find this song so enchanting.  It's slightly dub-ish, quite electronic, somewhat organic, and the lyrics are tantalizingly cryptic. 

6.  Friendly Fires-Helpless
Friendly Fires is an English dance rock group that I've been into for a few years now.  Much of their first eponymous album was Cure-like, though this album is less instrumental and more electronic.  Either way, it's so catchy, and completely appropriate for the warm summer. 

7.  Cold Cave-Life Magazine (Delorean Mix)

This track, a tropical party remix of a Coldcave track by the Spanish balearic masters Delorean,  is so unbelievably surfer bro.  I love it because I want to believe that someday I will be in a deep blue ocean, swimming and being able to hear this song pulsating from the beach....Who knows, maybe I will.

I hope that you've enjoyed listening to some different music.  I know that we may not have similar tastes, and I thank you for listening, but I like to think that I'm open minded when it comes to giving new music a chance, so let me know if there's something I should hear.  Until next time.  

15 June 2011

Wino Wednesday Part V.

Welcome friends to Wino Wednesdays; a place where the tasty and the tipsy meet!  Every Wednesday (so long as I am sober enough) I will review the previous week's noteworthy alcohol consumptions-namely: wines, beers, and cocktails that stood out (for better or worse) and deserve some literary attention.  I will include, whenever possible, photos and/or videos of relevant "nectars of the gods," and sincerely hope that you may find yourself enjoyably lightheaded and dizzy after this segment.  So kick back, crack open, pour, sip, shoot, or chug, but always do so responsibly!

Saturday June 11:
 If there is one thing I enjoy more than anything else (aside from playing soccer), it is hosting dinners.  Dinner parties with close friends, I have come to realize, are more fun for me now than large, rowdy, and impersonal house parties.  You drink some wine, get slightly buzzed, eat delicious homemade food, and have nice conversation with an intimate group.  Who wouldn't enjoy that?  In addition, not only is cooking one of my greatest passions, but to share my knowledge and enthusiasm for food preparation with others fulfills me in ways that few other activities can.  Cooking is my art form; my way of expressing creativity and ingenuity.  While I often base my creations on recipes, I typically add my own flair and methods to each dish.  This past weekend I really added a much so that I almost burned down our apartment...

Just like last week, 90 minutes on the pitch was sufficient motivation in preparing a filling and nutritious post-game dinner.  Unlike last week, however, I decided to include two friends in my gustatory delights, and my soccer team romped to a 5-0 victory so I was in much better spirits.  It was an unseasonably cold, rainy, and gray June day, so I decided that I should purchase a red wine to go with some warm red meat and salad dinner.  Before heading to the Wine and Cheese Cask for vino, I stopped at the Union Square Farmer's Market, which, due to the weather, was not quite as festive as the week before.  Luckily June 10th was the statewide "Strawberry Festival," the official kickoff of strawberry season in Massachusetts.  Browsing through the wide variety of produce, I centered on an interesting looking leafy green that I had never had or even heard of before called Tat Soi, otherwise known as Rosette Bok Choy.  Similar in both appearance and taste to the famous Chinese Cabbage or Bok Choy, I decided to purchase a bunch for later usage at $2, and a bunch of red leaf lettuce for the evening's salad at $2.  I couldn't resist the delicious mini-heirloom tomatoes that I had bought last week, so I loaded up with another pint.  

From the produce stand, I made my way over to a meat and dairy setup.  After a quick freshness consultation with the vendor, I decided to buy four medium-sized spring lamb chops to broil.  At $15.99/lb this meat did not come cheap, but it did come from a sustainably-raised, free-range, grass-fed animal, so I felt good about buying it and knew it would be delicious.  I made a final stop for the tantalizing and fragrant strawberries at another farmer's stand.  

*In a recent conversation about generically modified foods with my manager at work, I was told, to my horror that all excessively plump and blindingly red supermarket strawberries are genetically modified.  They may contain important nutrients and antioxidants, but I am unwilling to sacrifice my commitment to taste and naturally cultivated food, and so only buy in-season strawberries, which are much smaller and more fragrant than their mutant cousins.

Leaving the Market with bags full of delicious sustenance, I headed down Washington street to the Wine and Cheese Cask (W+CC) for a full-bodied red.  Their selection is so vast, that I typically spend more time browsing after selecting a bottle, than I do in my quest for the evening's beverage.  Not feeling like settling for a typical Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Malbec, or Zinfandel, I happened upon a particular bottle that had intrigued me for several weeks.  In my frequenting of the Argentine wine section, I noticed a single varietal that I had never heard of before-one from Uruguay of all places.  Having originated in France, like many other grapes, Tannat is now considered Uruguay's national grape, and a worthy competitor to neighboring Argentina's famous Malbec.  

Part of the fun in drinking wine, as I always say, is discovering new varietals, blends, and regions.  The 2009 "Pueblo del Sol" (People of the Sun) Tannat from the Juanico Region of Uruguay accurately fit the bill.  At $8.99 it seemed suspiciously cheap, so I asked the store consultant if he had tried it and how it was, to which he responded that it was a full bodied red of good value.  I bought the Tannat, a pint of Maine Beer Company-"Peeper Ale," (description later), some Salumi Calabrese, and some Sicilian olives to serve as an appetizer for my guests.  

Not having a grill is becoming a real nuisance.  While oven broiling may be effective and yield great results, it is more cumbersome and unpleasant, especially in the summertime.  Nevertheless, I decided to broil the lamb chops after consulting a recipe online for eight minutes or so on each side.  Despite having meat as the main course, I have become a firm believer in plant-based diets.  Many studies have recently shown that plant based diets decrease the risk of cancer and generally are much healthier.  I'm also a sucker for the "superfood labels" given to many fruits and vegetables mostly as a marketing ploy.  

While I prepped the finishing sauce for the lamb chops and assembled the enormous salad, which would be the bulk of our meal, I turned the oven to broil.  While it heated, I assembled an enormous salad of: red leaf lettuce, red onion, mini heirloom tomatoes, farro (an ancient grain from Roman times that is packed with protein and fiber and has a pleasant nutty taste reminiscent of quinoa), avocado, golden raisins, and capers.  I used the same ingenious sesame tahini-rice vinegar dressing that I mentioned a few posts ago and the results were astounding.  While my first guest arrived, I wrapped one of the oven pans in aluminum foil and placed on it the lamb chops seasoned lightly with salt and pepper, which had sat at room temperature for several hours.

While non-nonchalantly prating with my guest and waiting for the second to arrive, I opened the inferno to turn the lamb chops over.  When I did, hot oil spilled over the side of the bent pan onto the bottom of the oven, which inevitably created a stifling haze of smoke, setting off the fire alarms all over the building (my neighbors officially hate me because this is the second time I've set off the fire alarm by cooking meat).  I proceeded to open windows, turned on fans, and sprayed febreeze in an attempt to cover up the embarrassing burning smell.  This succeeded in temporarily quieting the smoke alarms, until I noticed a FIRE IN MY OVEN.  'OH shit! OH shit!' I thought completely flustered and afraid not just for the poor little lamb chops, but for my life.  Fortunately I remembered to NEVER throw water on a grease fire and managed to extinguish it by simply opening my oven and blowing furiously on the flame.  Even more fortunate for me, the lamb did not burn, but I was somewhat embarrassed by the burning smell and hazy smoke that clung to the ceiling of my apartment for nearly an hour.  In the end, though, this...
...was worth it for....
These Beauties!

   The food ended up being phenomenal (if I do say so myself).  The lamb was tender, juicy, deep, and well complimented by a finishing sauce, or "Chimichurri," a concoction of: extra virgin olive oil, red wine vinegar, fresh parsley, fresh rosemary, fresh thyme, black pepper, salt, and a dash of lemon juice.  The wine was also excellent.  Its rich, soft, and luscious texture effortlessly washed the lamb down.  I expected a Malbec-like wine, but the Tannat was deeper and more complex than the Malbecs that I have had recently.  To me it possessed a verdant nose with hints of blackberry, leather, and clove.  At 12.5 percent alcohol, it was not quite as strong as many of the reds that I've been consuming of late, but I very much enjoyed the 2009 Pueblo del Sol Tannat (From Uruguay!).  I would rate this particular bottle an 85/100, and highly recommend it for those of you looking for an inexpensive full bodied alternative to a malbec or cabernet sauvignon.  It would go seamlessly with any red sauce pasta dish, red meat, sharper hard cheeses, and moldy, stinky softer ones.  I am definitely trying this one again!

Saturday June 11 (Before Preparing the Meal):
Now I'll keep this short because of the lengthy anecdote above.  While passing by work en route to the W+CC, I ran into a co-worker of mine who I chatted with about my evening's culinary plans.  As a beer enthusiast and Vermonter, I asked him whether he could recommend a good local beer that he had tried recently.  Without telling him what styles I liked, he enthusiastically recommended a beer from Maine called "Peeper Ale," and reasoned that raw days such as the one we were enduring called for such a beer.   I asked one of the beer managers at the W+CC whether they had said Peeper Ale, to which he grinned and promptly handed me a chilled bottle, explaining that it was something of a current staff favorite.  The bottle, a pint, highly priced at $5.25, was rather plain looking next to all of the flashy abbey ales and Trappist beers in the beer section, but sometimes the less flashy, the better, so I went with it. 

Right as I got home and emptied by goody bag, I cracked the Peeper Ale as an aperitif while I prepped the evening's fare.  From the click of the bottle cap emerged an incredibly hoppy and springy scent.  I must admit that though I do not like IPA's and cringingly bitter beers, I very much enjoyed the Peeper, an American ale with a pleasant malt body and a pungent hoppiness that yelled rainy springtime.  It smoothed out the saltiness of the olives and also calmed the spicyness of the salumi.  While I probably would not buy the Peeper again, mostly because I do not like gray, drizzle, and depressing weather, it did its job.  I would give it a 7/10. 

  Now that I haven't burned down my kitchen, I'm eager for some new tasty adventures!  This concludes the fifth part of Wino Wednesdays.  Tune in next week for another installment, and while you wait, I'll pour my next one to you.  Kippis!  Salud!  Cheers!  Salut!

10 June 2011

Wino Wednesday Pt. IV ('Thirsty Thursday' you say?)

Welcome friends to Wino Wednesdays; a place where the tasty and the tipsy meet!  Every Wednesday (so long as I am sober enough) I will review the previous week's noteworthy alcohol consumptions-namely: wines, beers, and cocktails that stood out (for better or worse) and deserve some literary attention.  I will include, whenever possible, photos and/or videos of relevant "nectars of the gods," and sincerely hope that you may find yourself enjoyably lightheaded and dizzy after this segment.  So kick back, crack open, pour, sip, shoot, or chug, but always do so responsibly!

Did you think I was taking a break?  Absolutely not!  I enjoy this far too much to consider a hiatus from gastronomy writing.  Please excuse my tardiness this week, but due to a fairly hectic work schedule, going away celebrations for my friend Andrea who is moving to Shanghai, and the hypnotic, thirst-inducing heat wave, this particular edition of 'Wino Wednesday' will otherwise be known as 'Thirsty Thursday.This past week has given me plenty of opportunity to consume delicious alcoholic beverages, and with more moderation than last week when I resorted to the time-tested solution of drinking away my sorrows after a devastating sports loss.  In any case, this week's review will include a delightful rosé wine from Provence and the prototypical summer beverage Campari and Soda, or what I like to call the  "Grumpy Old Italian Man Classic." 

Monday June 6:

There are essentially two types of people in this world-those who like bitter/sour alcoholic beverages, and those who prefer sweet.  My love for one of the original Italian cocktails goes back, sadly, to my childhood.  The first time I was offered a sip of Campari and soda, I nearly cringed.  Bitterness is admittedly a taste that I have only grown to love only in my later years.  Just like many children, I grew up during an era in which processed and overly-sweetened foods reigned supreme.  Having successfully untrained my palate to favor bitter, salty and sour flavors over sweet, I now yearn for bitter over all others.  Campari, a deep red-colored Italian aperitif flavored by an infusion of herbs and chinotto oranges has long been popular throughout Italy, Western Europe, Argentina, and the United States, though it was in Argentina where my love for it began to flourish.  Comically, the drink is incredibly divisive amongst my friends, at least half of whom  are disgusted by it.

Meeting up with a friend at my favored Starlite Lounge, I decided that the steamy night called for the mother of all alcoholic thirst-quenchers, a Campari with soda (carbonated water, or "seltzer" as it's called in the United States) and a slice of orange.  I typically add a splash of grapefruit or orange juice to the equation when constructing my own Campari cocktails, but it's perfectly satisfying without fruit juice.  

The expert tall, bald bartender at the Starlite measured out the perfect amounts of Campari (one part) and soda water (two parts), and correctly garnished with a slice of navel orange.  At 25% alcohol, Campari is no softy, but it is much smoother than the majority of popular herb-infused alcohols.  At first sip it is slightly syrupy, but the carbonation from the soda rapidly quells any unpleasant sweetness that one anticipates, thereby leaving the mouth completely refreshed and eager for another taste.  In Campari and soda I find not only an unequaled thirst-quenching beverage, but one with substantial complexity in taste and texture.  The syrupyness of the Campari, the effervescence of the soda water, the bitterness of the orange, the medicinal perforation of the herbs combine to make this cocktail an absolute classic.  Just as I usually do, that night I drank my Campari and soda too fast, but certainly managed to enjoy it in moderation.  Aw Yea Babe!

Friday June 3:

I find it incredibly shortsighted when people tell me that they prefer "reds over whites."  Such misinformed statements are based on inexperience, as in, the subject has not consumed good quality white, sparkling, or rosé wines; or, a wholly negative experience like overly-oaky chardonnays, sickly sweet sparkling wines, or characterless rosés.  Having negative wine experiences are natural, but also difficult to recuperate from, and have potent discriminatory consequences.  If there is one goal I hope to accomplish via my Wino Wednesday segment, it is to dispel such myths in the hope that my readers will step beyond the confines of their typical wines of choice and accept, like I have, that any grape, varietal, blend, or style can be magnificent.  

'Enough with the pedant,' you must be thinking, and on with the "nectar of the gods!"  
Aside from all of the positive aspects of summer described in last week's segment, I forgot to mention farmer's markets.  The opening of summer farmer's markets is a highlight of living in this part of the world.  Eating seasonally and locally is one of my main gastronomical goals, and farmer's markets are so conducive in allowing me to achieve this.  In addition, farmer's markets in the area are usually more affordable than supermarkets or boutique grocery stores (like the one I work at).  

Before my soccer game last Saturday I strolled up to the first Union Square farmer's market of the season and was delighted to find an active and colorful affair.  I intended to buy vegetables, fruit (if available), and some protein source (meat or fish).  Though summer fruit has not yet begun to emerge, there was a plethora of vegetables, of which I bought some beets, heirloom tomatoes (I know they're considered a fruit, but I will continue to list them as a veggie in my ignorance), pea shoots, and spinach.  I then noticed a fish vendor and decided to purchase some wild salmon, which was so deeply ruby orange that it nearly blinded me.  

Typically I plan one "nice" dinner per week that requires thorough planning, delicate execution, and delicious, healthful, and mostly local ingredients.  On this week's menu: sweet orange wild salmon on a bed of sauteed pea shoots surrounded by sliced heirloom tomatoes and avocado (made a non-local) exception here).  At the market I reasoned that recovery from a warm day of 90 grueling minutes of football and three hours of work would require plenty of protein, fat, fiber, minerals and antioxidants.  The dish I prepared, then, was both a perfect summer treat and very healthful.  I won't bore you with the specifics of the meal preparation, but will admit that I never knew broiling fish (especially salmon filets) made it so tender and succulent.  

When I put effort into cooking I like to emerge with a product that is both delicious and visually appearing.  This is a photo of the meal, which I felt satisfied both standards.

But I digress.  An unfortunate 2-1 loss and a red card in my game was followed by me gorging myself on bread and chicken for the post-game lunch, after which I took a two hour nap.  After the siesta and three hours of work, I stopped by the good ole' Wine and Cheese Cask.  Since last week I enjoyed a refreshing white wine (the 2009 Altivo Torrontes), this week I had decided on either a Pinot Noir, or a Rosé-both good lighter bodied wines to pair with fish.  Sun-kissed, slightly delirious, hungry, and in no mood to dawdle, I committed to a rosé, a style that I rarely drink, but knew would be a good choice for today, and inevitably more affordable than the finicky "devil wine."  

Limping into the main wine room, I asked the salesman what rosé he might recommend as an accompaniment to broiled salmon.  He pointed me to two rosés from Provence that both seemed affordable and adequate.  As Leslie Moch put it, "Rosé is usually so awful, but every time I go to France in the summer I realize that French rosés can be wonderful."  For those of you who do not know, the magical rosé is typically a wine of:

"black-skinned grapes crushed with skins allowed to remain in contact with the juice for a short period, typically one to three days.  The must is then pressed, and the skins are discarded rather than left in contact throughout fermentation (as with red wine making). The skins contain much of the astringent tannin and other compounds, thereby leaving the structure more similar to a white wine. The longer that the skins are left in contact with the juice, the more intense the color of the final wine."

I ended up going with a 2010 Domaine Houchart, a blend of Grenache, Mourvedre, Syrah and Cinsault from the newly recognized Saint Victoire appellation to the east of Aix-en-Provence, for $9.99.   Luckily, there was a pre-chilled bottle, which I bought before heading home.  The meal was exquisite and the wine, thoroughly refreshing and an impeccable accompaniment.  

It is often said that rosés share characteristics of both red and white wines, possessing a color somewhere between the two.  This particular rosé had a very flinty nose, a quality that I associate particularly with Burgundy whites (Chardonnays).  It was firmer than a white, but softer than a red with a pleasant lingering finish.  To my palate the rosé possessed notes of bright red fruits-raspberries and strawberries, pear, and hints of orange blossom.  It was not exactly a subtle rosé, but effortlessly calmed the piquant-sweet flavors of the salmon rub.  However, I am not willing to universally praise this wine.  By occupying such a middle ground between red and white, it seemed to lack true character to the point where I found myself wondering why I wasn't just drinking white wine.  Nevertheless, it was a decent bottle with good value.  I would give it an 80/100 and recommend that everyone reading this in the northern hemisphere take advantage of the summer months by sporadically consuming reputable Provencal rosé.

Thanks again for reading.  I pour my next glass, mix my next cocktail, and crack my bottle cap to you.  Cheers, Kippis, Salut,  Chin-Chin!


01 June 2011

Wino Wednesday Pt. III

Welcome friends to Wino Wednesdays; a place where the tasty and the tipsy meet!  Every Wednesday (so long as I am sober enough) I will review the previous week's noteworthy alcohol consumptions-namely: wines, beers, and cocktails that stood out (for better or worse) and deserve some literary attention.  I will include, whenever possible, photos and/or videos of relevant "nectars of the gods," and sincerely hope that you may find yourself enjoyably lightheaded and dizzy after this segment.  So kick back, crack open, pour, sip, shoot, or chug, but always do so responsibly!

Ahhhhhhh summer is finally here.  I just can't get enough of the sunshine, the invitingly warm weather, and all of the perks that come with it: more daylight, busier street life (and more people smiling I might add), creative summer clothing, and a general optimism that I associate with climactic warmth.  While it remains a magical time of year, summer unfortunately no longer holds the sacred promise of earned laziness or endless irresponsible revelry that it once did.  Despite the spectacular weather that we've been having in the Boston area over the past few weeks, I have not had the most stable or enjoyable time of late.  

As silly as it sounds, Manchester United's loss in the Champions League Final elicited from me an angry drunken escapade as my fellow Reds and I downed countless pitchers of Paulaner Heffeweizen, Sam Adams Summer (why I ever liked this over priced and overly bitter beer I do not know), and numerous shots of Silver Patron as medicine for our sorrows.  At a certain point, over-consumption of any alcohol destroys one's gastronomic experience, which is exactly what happened to me on that unfortunate humid Saturday; too much beer and tequila.  Thus, I am omitting beer and cocktails from this week's edition mostly because I do not remember their specific tastes, but also because the idea of consuming any beer or tequila at this point disgusts me .  However, I was able to persist through that game and the week in order to bring you part three of my weekly review alcohol review.

Thursday May 26:

Last week I mentioned in my discussion of the 2009 Brazen "old vine" Zinfandel that I had also purchased a 2009 Altivo Torrontes.  My fondness for that unique Argentine white wine began in early 2010 during my first South American summer.  December through March in Buenos Aires, Argentina can be absolutely stifling and oppressive.  For those gringos who have not been, it is comparable to a Washington D.C. or New York Summer, but often more sunny and less bearable due to the rarity of air conditioning.  Often, the only reprieve from the heat is a Fernet con coca-Argentina's chilly, mint-laced coca-cola cocktail, or, a delicious, cool white wine.  

One deadbeat, sweltering Saturday in the middle of February in the spectacular physically crumbling neighborhood of San Telmo, Buenos Aires, I gasped out of my apartment on Avenida Independencia toward the local "Chino" (Chinese-owned grocery store) across the street for some sustenance.  Our local Chino was larger than the average, and had a surprisingly well stocked alcohol section (all domestic).  At nearly 92 degrees in 60 perecent humidity, in just a tank top, shorts, and my Havaianas, all I wanted was some refreshing white wine at a reasonable price.  For 28 Argentina pesos (or around $7 US dollars) I purchased a Crios Torrontes.  It may have been the heat that blanked my mind and caused me to grab the first white wine I saw, but in hindsight it was an excellent choice.  That Torrontes, which goes for double its Argentine price in the United States, was utterly stimulating, and highly refreshing.  In the mirage-inducing heat of my Buenos Aires apartment, it's hard for me to recall what I ate with the Torrontes, or even, in what span of time I downed the bottle in.  I do however remember loving every sip.

Torrontes in general are highly aromatic, floral, and fresh.  They pair with almost any lighter fare: fish like this-, sauteed vegetables, salads, cream sauces, and chicken, and are also the perfect aperitif.  If you have the luck to come across an affordable Torrontes Riojano, (Riojan Torrontes-one from "La Rioja" region of Argentina)  I highly suggest that you indulge.  They should be drunk young (within 2-3 years of the vintage) and well chilled (between 7 and 8 degrees Celsius-44 and 46 degrees Fahrenheit for you Yanks).

Fortunately, I remembered this Torrontes in greater detail than my first.   Last Thursday I prepared a "southwestern style" salad with: organic bi-color spring corn, slices of avocado, heirloom tomatoes, red onion, black beans, romaine lettuce, with a dressing of rice vinegar and sesame tahini (props to Alex Hammond for putting me onto this dressing).  It was fresh, creamy, satisfying, delightful, and the perfect backdrop to my Torrontes, which was sufficiently chilled, having sat in my fridge for the past week.  Even from a fair distance through the narrow opening of the bottle, I could pick up the hypnotic floralness of the Altivo Torrontes, which came from the famed Mendoza region.  If not for my meal, its yearning bouquet of passion fruit, orange blossom, rose, peach, and pineapple, may have overwhelmed.  But as it was, the Torrontes' concentrated, unrestrained qualities enhanced my salad.  It was silky and welcoming in the mouth and finished with a subtle earthiness that gave it an admirable balance.  In my never-ending quest to find excellent value (particularly in white wines), Torrontes have become a great friend.  Little known in this country, Torrontes have been commanding increasing attention throughout the world.  At 13 percent alcohol, it is no slouch in the "get your kicks" department, and because of its drinkability, can really sneak up on you.

As we all know, Americans love to rate things.  As the majority of my readers are from this "Land of the Free," I feel that it is only appropriate that I include a numerical assessment of the gastronomic experiences I describe here.  I will, thus, attach to the 09 Altivo Torrontes an overall rating of 82/100.  So many superlatives and only an 82!-you might be saying.  Well, I like to think of myself as someone with high standards, and though I thoroughly enjoyed the Altivo, it was not mind blowing and did not stand out as exceptional wines can.

In any case, I invite you all to try a Torrontes, or any new wine that you've never had before because what is life, if not an excursion into variety and discovery.  Here's to you.  Chin-Chin! Cheers! Salut! Kippis!

25 May 2011

Wino Wednesdays Pt. 2

Welcome friends to Wino Wednesdays; a place where the tasty and the tipsy meet!  Every Wednesday (so long as I am sober enough) I will review the previous week's noteworthy alcohol consumptions-namely: wines, beers, and cocktails that stood out (for better or worse) and deserve some literary attention.  I will include, whenever possible, photos and/or videos of relevant "nectars of the gods," and sincerely hope that you may find yourself enjoyably lightheaded and dizzy after this segment.  So kick back, crack open, pour, sip, shoot, or chug, but always do so responsibly!

Before I get into this week's edition I want to sincerely thank my readers.  I know that you are all busy people, that many of you have a plethora of compulsory reading or research material to trudge through on a daily basis, and that you are often exhausted by the time you sit down and make the extra effort to read my blog.  I may not be Mark Bittman or Tommy Smith, but I'm really trying my best to engage and entertain you.  I simply want to applaud you all for lending me an eye over the past few weeks.

Thursday May 19:
The weather may be improving, which would typically mean more white wine and increased outdoor alcohol consumption, but as I mentioned before, I like to alternate between rouges et blancs.  
*Note: by outdoor consumption I did not mean public consumption, which is inexplicably not very legal in this country.  I say inexplicably because socially "tolerant" European countries like the Netherlands, Spain, and France mostly permit controlled outdoor drinking and generally have low rates of alcoholism and drunken disorder, but this is a discussion for another time.* 

On my day off last Thursday I decided to make a trip to a reputed vintage clothing store in Allston, aka "Rat Town."  As soon as I got off the bus from Cambridge, it started to pour, just as it has this entire spring, but luckily I was equipped with an umbrella.  Unfortunately the store yielded disappointing results, as such stores often do for men's clothing.  Why exactly is that though?  Is it that men care less about their ensembles?  That we simply have fewer types of clothing to choose from?  Or that we sell back our clothing less often?

In any case, I began to feel as though my trek to Rat Town was a waste.  I had not planned any other stops and hurried through the lashing rain back to the bus stop on Harvard and Brighton Avenues.  Across the street from the stop was Blanchards, a veritable mecca of alcohol, mostly serving BU students and young urban professionals in the area.  I blazed across the street, entered the store, and upon entering was abruptly asked by an employee to show id.  Confusing and slightly off-putting as this initial grilling may have been, Blanchard's selection was impressive and their prices very fair.  Since I consumed the refreshing Gewürztraminer last week, I decided on a red, and maybe while I was at it, a white to chill in the fridge until its time came.

It's difficult for me to explain the logic behind my wine shopping methods, but they're usually based on what I will eat for dinner.  Having gone for a run and walked a long way that day, I did not feel like preparing an elaborate meal, but for some reason became fixated on steak.  I consume red meat at most once a month, so this would be a real treat.  Working at a prime meat market also provides me with ample selection of some fine carne (that's Spanish for meat).  To pair with my beautiful meat, the trick would be to find a medium-to-full bodied red that would stand up, but not overwhelm. 

My search for red wine typically begins by an examination of attractive bottles that are on sale, until making my way over to the usual suspects: France (Burgundies if I'm looking for Pinot Noir, Rhones if I'm looking for medium body, or on occasion, Languedoc, as Bordeaux's of any acceptable quality are almost always out of my price range), Argentina (their famous Malbec, a reputable Cabernet Sauvignon, or Syrah), and the US (Napa or Central valley Cabernets, Merlots, or Syrahs, and on the rare occasion, Willamette Valley Pinot Noir).  If I fail to select a bottle from the usual suspects, I either move to wines from countries that I have less knowledge about, or ask for advice.

On this occasion, I was initially distracted by a bright orange bottle; an "old vine" 2008 California Zinfandel on sale, which was called "Brazen," a word that I had learned in my GRE studies meant bold and without shame.  Brazen, I thought, could either be a good or bad, but my gut told me that it was a solid buy at $13.99, having been reduced from $18.99.  But what the hell does "old vine" mean anyway?  Does it actually mean that the vines on which these grapes grew were once transplanted from Europe during the devastating Phylloxera outbreak in the late 19th century?  Or is it a clever marketing term meant to evoke images of pastoral idealism and "old world"  Europeanism?  Considering that much of the non-local wine industry, that is, the globalized commercial wine business, is focused on marketing, I am tempted to suspect the latter.    

I admit that my experience with Zinfandel is limited and that I tend to associate the word with the eponymous "White" version, a sickly sweet American wine cooler that was popular with Soccer Moms and thirsty, broke college students throughout the 1980's and 90's.  I have a vague memory of drinking a Napa RED Zinfandel during a Thanksgiving meal, but was a bit too sloshed to remember whether I liked it or not.

If you haven't noticed, I've recently been on a "try new things" kick, so I grabbed the Brazen and continued browzin' (I'm sorry I couldn't resist).  Not content to give up my search so easily, I continued sauntering around the store, strolling past the trusty Chilean Casillero del Diablo Carmenere, a grape unique to Chile that I must praise for its consistency, deliciousness, and similarity to some Argentine Malbecs.  I briefly stopped in Burgundy and pined over the Gevrey-Chambertin and Mersaults that easily climbed into double and triple digit figures.  One thing I've noticed about French wine is that it has become increasingly difficult to find good value in reputable regions like Burgundy, Bordeaux, Provence, and the Loire Valley.  I did, however come across an inviting 2009 Chorey-les-Beune (Burgundy) Pinot on sale for $14.99 and snatched the bottle to compare it with my Brazen Zin.  For five or so minutes I paced around the store with the two bottles in my over-sized left hand and by the time I arrived at Argentina, had come to a decision-it would be the Brazen, a better pairing for my steak.

Once in the Argentina section, I came across two reasonably priced Torrontes, a super fragrant white wine that is not well known outside of that country, but which I was fortunate to have discovered while living there.  There were two Torrontes, one, a 2008 from the well known producer Crios for $14.99, and the other, a 2009, from a lesser known Altivo vinyard for $8.99.  The Crios I had tried in Buenos Aires (where it cost only $24 pesos=$6 US dollars) and knew to be good, but it was four dollars more, and I wanted to try a different bottle, so I put back the Chorey-les-Beune and made my way to the register with the Altivo Torrontes and the Brazen Zinfandel. 

On my way home, I remembered my brother's girlfriend describe a pepper encrusted steak that she once made based on a Thomas Keller recipe and after a brief phone consultation with my brother, I stopped in at work to buy a flank steak, some canola oil, and a large batch of green kale.  The recipe called for salting the steaks with sea salt, then slowly infusing canola oil with whole black pepper corns, straining the oil once cooled, crushing the peppers with a mortar and pestle, then laying the crushed pepper flat on a plate, before dipping both sides of the steak in the pepper, and finally pan searing it briefly on each side.  Ironically, even the back of the Brazen Zinfandel recommended consuming it with pepper steak, which made me confident that I would thoroughly enjoy the evening's gastronomic experience.

And now for the review...I was once taught by a quirky French friend of my father's to open a bottle of red wine at least an hour before drinking it so as to aerate and soften the flavors.  I thus uncorked the Brazen before starting the steak.  The first thing I noticed about the wine was its inky purple color.  It had an Argentine Malbec-like nose of soft plums and red berries.  In the mouth the Brazen Zin was full bodied, but not overbearing, and juicy, but not overly green or zesty.  It was surprisingly smooth for possessing an alcohol content of 15% and to my palate gave off subtle undertones of leather and spices.  The steak was beyond potent, and the wine accordingly toned down the meat's cough-inducing pepperiness.  It finished easily, giving off little acidity.  I did not think that this wine would disappoint, but it greatly exceeded my expectations and would highly recommend it.  

A final note on wine-I despise with all my heart the hackneyed saying "money doesn't buy happiness," mostly because money provides opportunities to incredible experiences-like the means to assemble a wine cellar, go on wine tours, and eat memorable meals with perfectly paired bottles of wine.  Nevertheless, it is possible to match homemade food and wine on one's own, but much more convenient when selecting from an extensive wine cellar.  Alas...I can always dream.

Saturday May 21:
While the sun was high in the sky and the temperature a comfortable 68 degrees farenheit, my roommate and I decided that we would take advantage of the good weather and head to a park or outdoor bar in Boston.  By the time we got to Boston, it was completely foggy and 53 degrees...I hate New England weather!  

Underdressed in shorts and a short sleeve polo, we parked at my roommate's work and walked around the Fort Point channel Harbor  in search of a bar.  Remembering an innovative Mexican tequila bar and restaurant that he had once been to, we decided to make for it.  Papagayo was a massive loft-style space in an old factory building on Summer Street.  Though slightly tacky in decor and color, the place was inviting, and we made our way to the bar, passing by a large group of young bachelorettes who gawked at us.  We were immediately greeted by an overly tan and muscular female bartender.  She was extremely friendly, and admittedly quite facially attractive despite her veiny arms and tanning bed complexion.  Papagayo had an incredible array of tequilas, but I have never been a fan of shooting it, so decided on a mixed drink instead called the "Oaxaca," a combination of Mezcal (a tequila like liquor made from a plant similar to agave), fresh lime, agave nectar, and ginger beer.

Based on the prices and the bourgeois clientele , I expected a high quality cocktail and was not disappointed.  The combination of flavors and senses: sour, sweet, piquant, gingery, and verdant, perfectly combined to refresh and satisfy.  Having played 90 minutes of exhausting soccer earlier in the day I greatly appreciated the refreshment and strength of the Oaxaca and its deep lime-ginger color added to my overall enjoyment of the occasion.  Of course, having a drink served by a friendly and attractive bartender also helps ;) 

Saturday May 21: Later on that evening...
After a brief stop at work on our way home to pick up supplies, I made a delicious dinner of homemade Bolognese with polenta (a Sasu speciality).  My roommate and I then made our way to the Starlite Lounge on Beacon Street near Inman Square.  The Starlite has become a go-to bar for me over the past few months, especially in light of the fact that I dislike the majority of the personality-less bars in the Boston area.  But the Starlite has spunk, skilled bartenders, reasonably priced drinks, good music, and a younger crowd.  You may refer to the clientele as "hipsters," but I feel comfortable there.

We met up with an old college friend and a few others at the Starlite and immediately I realized how thirsty the soccer and the salty Bolognese had made me.  Sometimes all you want is an icy, thirst-quenching beer without any afterthought about price, quality, or aftertaste.  So attractive is this thirst quenching quality that American brewing giant Coors attached the the phrase "frost brewed" to its light beer product, which somehow attracts consumers.  

Don't worry, I didn't order a Coors Light!  But what I did order was not substantially more luxurious.  Noticing several young men around me, who were wearing bifocals that I was sure they did not need, while drinking Miller High Life, I was inspired to order one.  It may not be as tongue in cheek-chic as a Pabst Blue (or Narraganset in these parts), but it was certainly $2.00 for the pale yellow "pilsner." While hardly a "pilsner" in the traditional Czech style, the "Champagne of Beers" was extremely cold and thoroughly satisfying; that is, until it got warm.  Once warm, such beers become "skunkish" or overly yeasty and undrinkable, but one High Life definitely hit the spot.  It may not be a quality beverage, but it certainly did the trick and delivered exactly what it promised-refreshment at a cheap price.  It's been another wondrous week in my alcohol adventures, and I'm always excited about what's to come, so drink up.  Here's to you: chin-chin, kippis, salut, and cheers!