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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!

23 May 2011

La Bronca

“...Ahi la tiene Maradona.  Le marcan dos.  Pisa la pelota Maradona.  Arranca por el derecho el genio del fútbol mundial.  Puede tocar para...Burruchaga...siempre Maradona...Genio! Genio! Genio! Tá! Tá! Tá! GOOOOOOOOL!!! GOOOOOOOOL!  Quiero llorar!  Dios Santo, viva el futbol!”

            It’s been watched billions of times: the Goal [of the century].  But every time I view Diego Maradona’s second goal from the 1986 World Cup semi-final match against England, a match charged with political undertones and animosity, I feel that I am watching God himself baffle the entire Three Lions defense.  In that moment, Maradona was a transcendent being, playing to his own tune and running at England’s defenders as if they did not exist.  In fact, Maradona frequently scored mind-boggling goals, but this one truly set the bar in both sheer aesthetic quality and importance. 

            With a penchant for the spectacular on and off the pitch, Diego had a career marked by controversy as fame corrupted the Argentine.  He once remarked, “If I had never used cocaine, I would have been twice the player I already was.” Drug use, excessive partying, bizarre, stirring public statements, and a tendency toward violent behavior destroyed what could have been an even more spectacular and lengthy playing career.  It was precisely this pathos of self-destructive behavior that marked a capitulation to the dark side of Diego’s driving force, La Bronca.  Athletes are all driven by distinct forces, but what exactly is La Bronca?  Why was it such a potent motivational force for Maradona?  Do other professionals posses a comparable level of this Bronca?  And how can the concept of La Bronca be applied outside of sport?    

            A young Maradona experienced untold hardships during a difficult upbringing in Villa Fiorito, a southern shantytown barrio of outer Buenos Aires.  In his autobiography Yo Soy El Diego, Maradona discusses at length his childhood and the development of La Bronca.  Literally translated from Spanish, bronca means anger.  As Diego describes it, however, it more closely resembles a mixture of fury and defiance.  One can imagine, to use a visual metaphor, the unrestrained fury of a bronco in defiance of its captors. 

             Without understanding Bronca, one sees in footage of Diego a furious desire and impassioned eagerness to defy-his opponents, the media, his coaches, and anyone who doubted him, slandered his name, or in his mind, wanted to hold him back.  It may have been his squat, muscular frame and natural ability that made him stand out, but it was his eternal desire to get back at a cruel world that forced him into such early hardships that catapulted him to the summit of world football.  For Maradona, la Bronca was more than a defiant style on the pitch; it was an attitude and a way of life.  Perhaps that is why he was so exceptional, yet so prone to the self-destructive behavior that effectively ended his career.

In an era marked by hard fouls, looser officiating, and increasing media scrutiny on player’s private lives, Diego stood out because of his refusal to submit.  Often, the only way to defend against the best attacking footballers is to foul them out of a match.  As the world’s best player, Maradona was constantly subject to hard fouls aimed at tacking him out of the game, but seemed to always shrug off violent tackles when it suited him.  While others would lose the ball or fall to the ground, Diego kept on running defiantly with the ball at his feet with just one thing on his mind, winning.

Of course, Diego was not exactly an angelic bull on the pitch.  In the Criollo (Creole) style of football that he perfected, feigning challenges, using one’s hand, and doing what is necessary to win does not constitute an infraction of the game.  The famous Mano de Dios (Hand of God) goal that he scored in that same World Cup semi-final match against England testifies to the darker side of La Bronca.   
His refusal to submit often manifested itself in detrimental ways.  It was his stint at Napoli where Maradona developed his drug habits.  The Italian media reported that the player would engage in bacchanalian revelry the night before a match or training session as if to show that he was unaffected by such vices. 
La Bronca is a potent driving force.  Countless athletes utilize their anger as motivational tools, but few have done so as effectively as Maradona.  From personal experience I understand the potency of anger when applied to athletics.  In the heat of competition, fatigue, mistakes, and fouls feel irrelevant.  Certainly, many professional athletes display an inner fury, but it is the consistency and longevity in channeling such anger that made Diego so remarkable.  In spite of amassing a fortune as a player, Diego maintained a world-class presence on the pitch for at least a decade and was always motivated to defy expectations of him.  Even his recent managerial stint with the Argentine National team was characterized by a distinctly Maradona-esque defiance.  After the squad just barely qualified for the 2010 World Cup, he expletively told factions of the Argentine press “que la chupen, y que la sigan chupando (“They can s*!k it, and keep on s*!king it”)” and was subsequently fined.  Clearly, La Bronca never truly left. 

Since Diego’s retirement in 1997, the world has yet to witness as compelling a wielder of La Bronca.  Every so often a young Argentine footballer comes along who the Argentine media inevitably mislabel “the new Maradona.” Such ridiculous comparisons are analogous to the post-Michael Jordan years of the NBA during which new stars were compared to the legendary # 23.  These comparisons also add an unnecessary load of pressure for young athletes.  In France, for example, up and coming attacking midfielders must frequently deal with the expectations inherent to the “New Zidane” label. 

Several have come close to mimicking Maradona’s playing style or attitude, but none have yet replicated his success.  There is even a Wikipedia article devoted to the topic of “New Maradona” a list that includes: Diego Latorre, Ariel Ortega, Marcelo Gallardo, Riquelme, Pablo Aimar, Ezequiel Lavezzi, Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero, and Carlos Tevez.  Only one of those nine players deserves any serious consideration.

A recent New York Times article discussed the boyish joy and unique talent of Lionel Messi.  While he may have eclipsed Maradona in production and aesthetically spectacular goal scoring, he does not play with Bronca.  Carlos “El Apache” Tevez is most similar in his playing style and aggressive nature to the legendary number 10.  One sees many similarities between “Carlitos” and Diego-a difficult upbringing in one of Buenos Aires' most dangerous neighborhoods, Boca Juniors roots, a short, squat, and muscular frame, impressive technique, and most tellingly, a relentless aggression.  Tevez plays with a frenetic aggression, the likes of which have not been seen since Maradona.  It may not be Diego’s Bronca, but with every thumping goal, explosive dribble, and lung bursting defensive effort, Tevez comes close to matching his former manager’s passion for the game.

It is often difficult to draw comparisons between football and other sports.  Football, in its simplicity and omnipresence, is a sport of the impoverished.  Not only is it played everywhere, from dirt fields, to jagged concrete surfaces, to trash dumps, but countless all time greats came from humble beginnings and were educated on the street.  This may also be the case with other sports, but unlike basketball, hockey, baseball, track and field, and tennis, a graduated, organized education is not necessary in football.  The world’s best footballers are often “street ballers” who wow audiences with audacious skills learned from informal practice.  Nevertheless, many non-footballing professionals have mirrored Diego’s Bronca in their intractable aggression.  A young, Mike Tyson, for example, brings to mind a similar furious determination.  Hall of Fame American Football player Lawrence Taylor is another athlete who played with unchecked aggression.  Former NBA all-star Shawn Kemp also dominated games with an almost violent tenacity and thunderous dunking power.   

Outside of athletics anger motivates action and change.  Many of history’s most influential social justice movements and political organizations were influenced by outrage, anger, and a refusal to accept the status quo.  Anger is both an incredible motivator and a potent destructive force.  For every non-violent political movement, there exist an equal number of violent causes.  I would even venture to say that anger is the most potent driving force that exists.   Whence does the motivation to overcome adversity and demand a better existence come from if not a channeled anger?  To succeed, though, one must harness that anger into a positive and focused output much like Diego did.               

18 May 2011

Wino Wednesdays pt. 1

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!

Monday (May 9):
This past week saw me consume my fair share of delicious adult drinks, which before, and especially after bombing the GRE, were much needed.  While I prefer wine over all alcoholic beverages, I can always appreciate a well made (and strong) cocktail and a refreshing beer, cerveza-Spanish, cervesa-Catalan, or olut-Finnish.
 Now then, I began last Monday in a rather nervy mood, as the forecoming Graduate Record Examination dominated my thoughts.  To calm the sweat-inducing pre-exam jitters, I decided to indulge that night in the archetypal Brazilian cocktail.  What do I refer to my readers?-but the magical Caipirinha (pronounced "kai-pi'rinyah").  According to my good friend Wikipedia, the name Caipirinha:

is "the diminutive version of the word caipira, which refers to someone from the countryside, being an almost exact equivalent of the American English hillbilly."

Given the remarkable strength of the unassuming cocktail and the stereotypes of hillbillies as drunkards, I suppose the association has merit.  Yet, who knew that drinking a "hillbilly" could be so delicious and powerful?    My introduction to the exquisitely lime-tinged, cloud-splitting cooler, which should possess just a hint of natural sugar-cane sweetness, occurred during my time south of the equator, in, you guessed it, Latin America.  

Having spent several years in Cambridge and Somerville, Massachusetts, two cities known for their Brazilian populations, I was nominally familiar with the cocktail, but had not, until May 2009 sampled it.  While living in the northern Chilean port city of Antofagasta, I had the pleasure of downing a fine introductory Caipirinha at a Brazilian restaurant along with some feijouada, a hearty stew of beans, sausage, pork, and beef.  What in appearance resembled a cheap knockoff of the classic Mojito, was literally and figuratively a knockout.  Caipirinhas are often deceptively strong alcoholic beverages, that depending on the vendor, can sneak right up on you like this.

Once consumed only in Brazil, Caipirinha is now an international cocktail that I've ordered with varying results in Spain, Argentina, Chile, the United States, Uruguay, and Portugal.  Its ingredients consist of: Cachaça (Brazilian clear rum), several slices of muddled limes, coarse natural sugar cane, and plenty of ice. 

Not wanting to drink alone, I decided to make two-one for me, and one for my eager roommate.  Needless to say, I like my drinks strong, and one Caipirinha sufficed.  To make each one, I used:

-1 Old Fashioned glass
-1 lime: washed, with some of its rind, and its entire pith removed, cut into 8 small slices, placed in the bottom of the glass, then muddled with...
-3 teaspoons of course natural cane sugar-sprinkled on top,
-Crushed ice filling the remaining space in the glass,
-2 shots of Cachaça 51-Brazil's most popular Cachaça (1 litre costs $19.99@ my local liquor store) poured nearly to the brim
-All stirred together with a friendly straw (preferably a "bendy" one).

The result looked like this...

Pretty isn't it?  If concocting my own, I usually consume a Caipirinha during warmer weather as an aperitif (that's pre-dinner drink for the non-french conscious) or during a night out (be conscious of the "latinness" of the establishment you order from as a general indicator of its quality/strength), but you should feel free to indulge anytime you need to cool down.  It may take 10 minutes or so to create, but when done correctly, it is all you need for a pleasant end to an evening.  One of these suckers nearly put me out of commission before 21:00, aka old people bedtime hour.

Saturday (May 14):
I love Trader Joes.  I will be the first one to admit it.  I love their delicious salty and/or sweet snacks, their dried fruits, their surprisingly tasty frozen and packaged meals, their (relatively) cheap prices, and yes my friends, their wine section.  Unfortunately, not every Trader Joes on the east coast, or maybe just in Puritan Massachusetts, sells wine and beer, but the old store on Memorial Drive in Cambridge does.  The Memorial Drive TJ's has long been a staple of Cambridgeport families and Cambridge/Brookline yuppies looking for affordable goods, quick meals, and a decently priced wine or beer fix.  Not that one shops at Trader Joes for fine wine, but their selection and variety always pleasantly surprises.

I found myself wandering around Memorial Drive away from Harvard Square one frustratingly grey, chilly spring Saturday afternoon being magically pulled downstream toward a certain grocery store.  Waltzing through the automatic doors, I grabbed a plastic red basket and proceeded to amass my usual TJ's staples: dried mango, turkey jerkey, Fage yogurt, cumin-spiced chickpeas, bananas, amongst others.  Thankfully the wine and beer section is at the far end of the store (otherwise I'd load up on wine and forget the rest of my groceries :)  When it comes to purchasing wine, I have high standards.  I usually buy one bottle a week, spend between $8 and $17 dollars (unless it's a special occasion) and go for bottles from regions that I've heard of or know by taste.  I also enjoy alternating between white and red wines depending on the forthcoming meal, but tend to stick to reds in the fall/winter, and whites in the spring/summer.

This time it would be a white.  I decided to go outside of my comfort zone and try a less common varietal.  Browsing the white wine shelves, I happened upon two potential candidates.  The first was a 2009 Anjou (a Chenin Blanc varietal-typically dry, straw-colored, and fuller bodied) for $14.99-a respectable price for an import of its stature, and the other, a 2009 Chateau Ste. Michelle Columbia Valley Gewürztraminer (a finicky white wine grape best expressed by wines from its native Alsace region) for $8.99.  I decided that I wanted to shop as "locally" as possible.  It may be that a flight to France from Boston is of equal duration as one to Washington state, but I reasoned that supporting a domestic producer was more sustainable, besides, I have had Vouvrays before (another Chenin Blanc varietal).

At some point purchasing an untested bottle of wine is guesswork.  My palate may not be insured for $1 million dollars a-la Robert Parker, and I do not keep up with vintages, but I am also not an amateur.  Often, my final decisions are based on price, but despite never having tried one, I had a good sense about this "Gewürz."  I knew the Columbia Valley to be a respectable producer of Rieslings and if nothing else, Gewürztraminer was a German sounding word that I incorrectly assumed to have originated in Germany, so I went with it.  *Interesting side note: most Gewürz bottles possess a similar oblong shape to those of the more popular Riesling.  

Having played a full 90 minute soccer match earlier, I was physically drained and wanted to enjoy my wine with a simple and delicious dinner.  I concocted for my supper a hearty salad (no that's not a contradiction) of arugula, avocado, grape tomatoes, a hard boiled egg, several thin slices of Prosciutto di Parma, capers, and a mild white wine vinaigrette, with a day old baguette on the side.

'White wines, I reasoned, naturally go with cured ham and salads, so this would be perfect.' And perfect it was.  The wine itself had a pleasant and subtle effervescence not unlike some young Sauvignon Blancs, and was not overly dry.  It had a very vivacious floral nose-reminiscent of chamomile and rose, and upon first taste burst of passion fruit with hints of honey.  If the Gewürz began crisply, it ended lusciously, finishing with a soft and inviting tone that immediately coaxed the tongue for another taste   Needless to say, it was delicious, of solid value, perfectly toned the saltiness of the prosciutto, and added its own spruce to that evening's gastronomic experience.  Two large glasses were suitable to wash down my fibrous, protein packed dinner.  I would both highly recommend this wine and definitely buy it again.  My unfounded prejudice against Germany and boycott of German sounding products might at one point have prevented me from even considering such a wine, but I'm thankful that on this occasion I overcame these ridiculous ethnocentric tendencies.

Monday (May 16):
Lastly, we come to the beer portion of this lengthy beverage report.  I might have a lot of room to increase my wine repertoire and palate, but I definitively know what I like in beers.  My go to beer is Leffe Blonde, a caramel colored strong Belgian ale with a zippy, yet subtle toasty malt finish.  The Wine and Cheese Cask on Washington Street in Somerville is a frequent stop on my way home from work, and aside from its extensive wine and liquor shelves, houses a very respectable collection of domestic and imported beers.  If wine selection takes me between 10 an 15 minutes of browsing, my beer selection usually occupies 7 to 10.  My plans for dinner that night included a spicy rice pilaf with beans, tofu, and sauteed vegetables, so I thought that a medium-bodied, flavorful, and crisp beer was in order.  In other words, I could turn to a Belgian Blond.  Inspired by the success of my Gewürz adventure, though I decided to try a new beer. 

Back and forth between the four refrigerated shelves I stuttered, in search of the one solid brew that would stand up, but not overwhelm.  It's always comforting when I can narrow down a decision to two choices, which I succeeded in doing within my requisite 7 minutes.  On the one hand I sighted a Belgian "Abbey Ale" called Affligem Blond and on the other, a Czech lager called "Czechvar," which, as I later found out, was a subsidiary of Anheuser-Busch.  My gut instinct said Affligem, but my wild side said Czechvar.  In the end, I went with my gut (where excessive beer gets deposited anyway) and was ultimately pleased.  The beer, as I suspected, was similar to Leffe, though not quite as arousing.  I do not pretend to be a beer connoisseur and have not toured the Trappist abbeys of Belgium, but Leffe for me, is just about the closest beer comes to perfection.  Admittedly, the Affligem wasn't bad, it just lacked the final satisfying punch of Leffe.  It nevertheless possessed a similar caramel color, offered a subtle maltiness, and finished with ease.  All-in all it was a decent purchase (though slightly overpriced at $12.29 per six-pack) and suitably light for my filling rice pilaf.

A final blurb on "Abbey Ales" and "Trappist Beer" learned again from my buddy Wikipedia: Belgium has seven Trappist monasteries that are licensed under European and Belgian laws to produce beers for public consumption.  As such, Trappist Beer qualifies as a controlled term of origin (just like Prosciutto di Parma, Chablis wine, and Gouda cheese).  Among the most well known are Chimay and Westmalle.  Abbey Ales, by contrast, are made by commercial breweries who reap the benefits of associations with Trappist breweries by imitating their styles and names.  Both Leffe and Affligem are Abbey Ales.  Interesting, no?

Boy do I love Wino Wednesdays!  Why?  Because I get to talk about delicious alcoholic beverages of course!  But also because I can temporarily overuse adjectives and set aside my eternal efforts to pair down my prose.  In any case, look out next week for another edition of Wino Wednesdays.  And here's to you!  Cheers, Chin-Chin, Salud, Salut, Kippis! 

14 May 2011

The Modern Age

An excerpt from an article in Spanish newspaper El Pais (12/05/2011):

"Cada vez pasamos más tiempo en este mundo de los unos y ceros y menos en el de la carne y los huesos: Las horas dedicadas diariamente al uso de aparatos electrónicos prácticamente se ha duplicado desde 1987, mientras que la interacción cara a cara caía desde unas seis horas a poco más de dos"

Translation: "We are constantly spending more time in the world of ones and zeros and less in the world of flesh and blood.  The hours dedicated to the daily use of electronic devices has practically duplicated since 1987 while face to face interaction has fallen on average from six hours to little more than two.

This article, called "Attentive to Everything...and to Nothing" discusses the effects of "connectedness" and the overdose of information that is afflicting our society.  In analyzing these effects, the author, Sergio Fanjul, weighs the advantages and disadvantages of infinite accessibility and constant electronic stimulation, and concludes that many of us are subject to an overdose of information that is negatively affecting our analytical capacities, increasing our anxiety, and often leading us to make wrongful decisions.

This article aptly characterizes, what, for me, is wrong with our culture-a pressure to always be connected and in the know at the expense of face to face interaction.  The consequences of an eternally-connected and technologically over-reliant society have yet to be fully discovered, but my sense is that humans are generally becoming more physically isolated from each other.  I will not speculate as to what path this may ultimately lead to, but will readily admit that this is what I absolutely abhor.   At the same time, I am in many ways helpless to resist certain connection facilitators (my computer and e-mail, cellular phone, text messages, etc).  Am I a hypocrite for discussing this on my blog?  In some ways yes, but there seem to be no other ways of reaching you readers (wherever you may be)...

What I value most in my social life is distraction-less face-to-face interaction.  It is the most meaningful way to find out about a person-who they are, what they value, what they look like, how they compose themselves, etc.  I will not single out particular modes of electronic distraction for exegesis, but many devices and social networking inventions, in my estimation, have chipped away at who humans really are-social animals (and primates) who must touch each other.

It seems as though I cannot expect face to face interaction to exist on the level that I desire anymore, and so, am taking a vow of vocal and text message disconnect for the time being.  If you happen to run into me on the street, or receive a letter or email from me, please think about how you interact with people, what effects constant connectivity has on your life, and what you truly value in other people.  I invite everyone to take part in this discussion.  I will continue to post to this blog for the time being, but for now, will be out of phone contact.  I leave you now, with a song to digest while you surf the web and invest more time into the cyber world...

The Modern Age

p.s. for those of you who read Spanish, here is the link to the article quoted above-

p.p.s The photo in the background of my blog is graffiti in the Spanish city of Granada that says: "One thousand machines will never be able to make a flower" 

09 May 2011

In the Beginning Pt. I

In a recent conversation with my father regarding my abhorrence of the ubiquity and "naturalness" of certain technologies (i.e. Kindle, Ipads, Instant Messaging, "Smart" Cellular Phones, Digital Cameras, Electronic Coffee Makers, etc), he compared blogs to portfolios.  That is, blogs are modern day literary portfolios with the capacity to display one's writing and thought processes to a broad audience.  If I consider them in that light, it does not feel so strange or off-putting to possess one of my own.  After all, I am a writer who just happens to live in an age where technology runs our lives.  Technology and consumerism may influence my life to a larger extent than I would like it to, but that does not change reality.  Blogs, smart phones, kindles, tablets, intrusive airport security devices, and other inventions are here to stay, so I will act selectively by using what suites me.     

If in the pre-blog era independent, budding writers had hard copy [paper] portfolios with the full litany of their compositions whose viewing was more restricted, there are now millions upon millions  of bloggers eager to express themselves to the world at large that (for an ephemeral period at least) is willing to hear most of them.  This is definitively one area where I think technology has improved our existence-its ability to simultaneously  project voices and opinions to the far reaches of our world.  If one so desires, they will now be heard.

If everyone seemingly has one, is it cliche to have a blog?...Probably....But if it is, musn't it also have been cliche to have a portfolio?...Definitely.  So many of us write, or at least express our views in a written manner.  Fewer of us, however, stimulate others through writing.  And even fewer of us ever write as a vocation or inspire with our words, but my central being and survival depends on doing just that. 

I therefore am starting this blog, online journal, portfolio, or whatever you would like to call it, for the purposes of expressing myself, discussing topics and aspects of life that I find relevant, and honing this craft.  Writing, after all, is not a gift that we naturally excel at (or don't), we must practice it and struggle with it before it feels natural.  I'm going to use this opportunity then, as one way of reaching my professional goal: to become a traveling journalist like my namesake-Sasu Punanen.

I stated a purpose, but must now introduce the content and scope of this inchoate reflective-journalistic endeavor.  There are four or five features of this modern age that truly move me, but for the sake of my potential readers it is best that I more selectively round my focus.   You may now be asking yourselves, 'what does From the Pitch to the Kitch-en even mean?'  It means that the topics that I will discuss most extensively will revolve around the football (or soccer) pitch and the kitchen.  This will not exclusively be a "foodie/wino" or "soccer" blog, but gastronomy and football are two of my central interests that I feel most knowledgeable and passionate about.  Art, music, film, travel, language, "politics," technology, and human relations will also occupy parts of this project as I view them as critical interrelated constructs of modern existence.

As a general precept, many of my writings will contain words, phrases, or sentences in other languages.  This is because I am a man of the world.  I may write mostly in English, but I am from many places, have varied customs, and consider myself a universal being.  I will do my best to provide translations when necessary.  In addition, in keeping with the modern ubiquity of aural and visual stimulation, I will include photos, audio, and occasionally videos.   Posts will not be restricted to one format and will only share in common my commitment to clarity, "relateability," and stimulating content.  I will write at least once a week, but hopefully more often than that. 

It is with both ambition and optimism that I launch this project in the hopes that: I can connect with people, even with those who are not immediately interested in gastronomy or football, that I can effectively articulate myself and improve on my craft, and that it will somehow contribute to my self betterment.  I do not profess to be universally accepting or open minded, but I promise to read and consider with the maximum broad-mindedness that I possess any responses to my work.  Thus begins my entrance into the "bloggosphere" and the initiation of my project: FP-2-K