Archive for the 'holidays' Category

Valentine’s Day Wine Tasting

Happy Valentine’s Day!  Call your grandmother.

To help you pick a bottle to celebrate your loved ones today, I had a wine tasting this weekend.  Experimental Setup:  About a dozen people, five bottles of wine (to taste- there were some warm-ups), in my apartment, with a wine aroma guide to help us narrow down the smells and tastes.   I’ve managed to find most of the tasting notes my wonderful tasters left behind, and I’ve compiled them (at least the printable ones- descriptions got a bit creative) for you.

These were the wines.  Four of them are made from organic grapes, and the Bus Stop White is certified Fair Trade.  I got the Bonterra Syrah and Orleans Hill Cote Zero (no idea what grape combo that is- bottle has no clues) at the Harris Teeter near Foxchase.  They had a decent selection of organic wine, but hidden in with the normal wines, so you have to hunt.  The Vida Organica and Fairhills came from Whole Foods in Old Town.  The Badger Mountain is from a Trader Joe’s.  None of the bottles cost more than $16, and most were under $10.

In the order we tasted, then:

FairHills Bus Stop White, 2009.  Fair Trade Certified.  Like “getting punched in the face by a grapefruit”.  Lots of citrus fruits, and some people mentioned notes of grass and haystraw.  Best for sipping on a warmer day on a sunnier porch.  I can never think of anything to pair these citrusy whites with myself, but one taster suggested food in cream sauces.

Badger Mountain Chardonnay, 2008.  Organic Vineyard. Smelled of “crazybutter” (yes one word) with some sort of nut undertones (someone said cashews, but I’m pretty sure they were joking).  Nice creamy finish on the taste.  I think drinking it with a meal would pull out some other nice flavors, and it would pair well with spicy foods.

A note on the reds:  I should have let them breathe more.  All three were strong and spicy, and a few minutes of air or decanting would have mellowed them and brought out more flavors.  Note-taking had also, totally understandably, lost its novelty by this point in the evening.

Orleans Hill Cote Zero, 2008.  Organic.  Smelled strongly of alcohol, with various bits of cloves, pepper, tobacco, and raspberries (“like eating a cigarette while snorting a raspberry”).  Would go pretty well with a pizza or other garlic-y tomato-y things.

Bonterra Syrah, 2005.  Organically grown grapes.  We got lots of prunes, raisins, plums, and a bit of pepper here.  The finish was dry.  Seemed like a serious red for a meal of meats.

Vida Organica Malbec, 2009.  Organic grapes.  This is one of my favorites, but it divided the tasting community (at least the ones still paying attention).  Several of us who tend to like malbecs liked it, and others found it completely unappetizing.  More time to breathe would have helped, but we smelled lots of alcohol initially, and some noted green tea taste on the ending- a little dryness.  After plenty of swirling, the raspberry and other dark berry flavors came out, plus the spice on the finish.  The pro-malbec contingent advises you to pair it with anything delicious, since we remember it being really great, but we weren’t really getting very specific at that juncture.

Voila.  Hope it helps!  Have a great Valentine’s Day!

Update: Compressed Goals

It sure is.  And I haven’t filled you in on how my November goal went- the staying warm one?  Or told you my December goal.  I decided it must have been “sustainable holidays” since that seems likely, and because it’s still Christmas time for me- my family was in so many places this year that we still haven’t all gotten together for food and presents.  I get Christmas until Sunday at least.  Plus I posted on holiday stuff a couple times, so that will have to count.

The “staying warm” goal is working a little.  My apartment has very poor heat distribution- the bedrooms get no heat, and have nice huge poorly-sealed windows, so they’re about 15 degrees colder than the rest of the house.  I’ve been keeping a space heater on when I have to be in them, and the covers on my bed are a foot thick, and it’s getting better.  I’m wearing a lot of sweaters to bed.  Keeping the heat at 63 when I’m home (50 or 55 otherwise) and layering worked all through November and most of December.  This apartment loses so much through the windows that in this especially cold snap, I’ve turned it up to about 68 when I’m home, just to make it feel more like 63.

So, my toes have not fallen off (though there have been evenings where I would not have felt it if they had) and trying to stay warm is a lot easier than trying to cool off was last summer.

And December!  Holidays!  Here is a link to how to make origami boxes (scroll down).  Use your 2009 calendars pictures or something similarly classy.  Or tie up presents in fabric– easy, reusable, no bits of tape sticking to you afterward.  This is good info for me, I still have Christmas to do, but you can save it for other gifts (there are plenty of people with January birthdays that sneak up on you because it’s January, aren’t there?) or next year.

That takes care of 2009, then.  I thought of a new goal for the month (not to be confused with a resolution).  I will be working on not wasting food.  I throw away so many half-bags of gross spinach and moldy bread-ends and congealed milk, and I should not waste food or money that way.  I will clean out my fridge and start fresh, and consume.  I began this Monday.  I got a smaller bag of spinach than normal, and I have eaten from it every day.  On day one, I had a bowl of raw plain spinach- all my salad dressings have gone bad.  I didn’t know salad dressings went bad.  This led to a humbling realization of just how terrible I am to have in control of a kitchen.  But now I have some balsamic vinaigrette, so it’s not so hard to eat spinach.  I’ve had salads, a spinach and cheese wrap, a spinach and cheese sandwich…I still have more spinach left.  Those bags are deceptively full, but I think I can finish it this weekend.   On the upside, finishing the one (of three, urp) jug of uncurdled milk with require me to have a lot of hot chocolate in the next three days, so that will balance all the spinach.

In conclusion, Happy New Year!  Hope yours is starting out well.  Mine is starting out…leafy.

Pregaming for the Holidays: Making a List

Hope you had a good Thanksgiving!  Mine was very relaxing.  I overheard my younger cousins discussing who was better at recycling and had hope for the world.  And nobody murdered me when I kept wondering aloud how many of the items we saw in our annual Reading Of The Seasonal Catalogs were made with child and/or slave labor.  This leads obliquely to my point:  Do you know who made what you want for Christmas?

While you’re looking for local/organic/fair trade/sustainiwhatever stuff for other people, take a look at your own wish list.  Are you asking for stuff that reflects your values?  Do you really want this stuff, or will it just get shoved in a drawer by February?  Instead of stuff, could people give you gifts of time- help with a project, dinner out, concert tickets? Are you dropping hints that you’d prefer handmade jewelry from a skilled local artisan/fair trade doodads/organic clothing to substitutes from a big box store?  Are these hints loud enough?

My immediate family has a highly effective system of a) asking each other what we want and b) including direct links in the reply emails, so there’s no hinting about it.  I’m trying to make sustainable choices.  A magazine I want comes in an online version- less expensive and less environmental impact.  I’m linking to books I want from BetterWorldBooks instead of Amazon this year, too- they fund literacy and have free shipping (and can typically beat Amazon’s prices, which they include on each page).  Found a few pretty things I want at etsy, of course.

But it’s not all so easy to make green choices when ‘wanting’ is involved.  I’m having a moral dilemma about the Slanket this year.  I would really like a thick blanket with sleeves. That would make me very happy.  But all I know is that while the Slanket started out being made in Maine as a family business, it’s now manufactured in China.  The business is still run in Maine, but I don’t really know much else about the process.  except they do donate a portion of the profits to charities, according to the website.  It’s all polyester fleece material.  So does it meet my supposedly high standards for gettin’ stuff?

Well.  Consider the alternatives.  The smaller, cheaper Snuggie (can’t find any info at all on how they’re made, and the low price point makes me pretty sure it’s not with unionized labor) is a definite no.  I could make one in an organic fabric- I have a sewing machine and I think I get the concept of sleeves.  But this does not reward the brilliant inventor of a sleeved blanket.  I could send Slanket $5 and make my own.  This convoluted option probably gets most of my principles in, but.  Seriously?  Dah.  Oh!  Slanket could make one in an organic fabric!  And tell us how their Chinese factory operates!  I’ll write them a letter to that effect, but it does not solve my immediate problem.

Anyway.  I will continue having this dilemma until Christmas, at which point I will or will not receive a Slanket.  And if I do, I’m betting living in it for a week will numb the environmental unease.  If I don’t get one, problem solved.

Pregaming for the Holidays: Cards

People say Thanksgiving isn’t respected as a holiday anymore- what with the inflatable penguins in the stores from September these days- but I think it’s what you make of it.  And I’m making my Thanksgiving a time to write Christmas cards, to practice my eating and sitting around, and to make  presents.

I’m not writing a gift guide this year, because I’ve done it the past two and all that still applies.  Plus, I’m planning on making many of the presents I give this year, and that won’t be helpful for folks who can’t knit.  (For those who can, mittens!)  My only recommendation this year is, if you’re going to buy anything, shop at small businesses.  Local, if you have the time.  Check out etsy.com, if you don’t have time to browse in person.  Shop handmade, shop sustainable products- but whatever you’re looking for, put your Christmas money into supporting the small businesses that create ideas and jobs and support families.  I know regular jobs do too, but it’s a rough economy out there right now, and if you want to keep innovative artists and growing companies around, then support them with your dollars.

For now, though, I’ve been looking for Christmas cards, and I’ve got some recommendations if you’re looking as well.  Ten Thousand Villages carries cards and stationery made in Fair Trade agreements, and often from recycled or quickly renewable materials.   You can buy them online, if you don’t have a local shopThe Spotted Sparrow uses FSC certified and recycled papers to make neat cards- there are a series done on old book pages.  Smockpaper and byvik ink make beautiful letterpress cards, and use recycled papers to print on.  Etsy has a great search function, so find any other kinds of cards you like at their Paper Goods section.

Or, grab a potato and make your own?  It’s still cool if you’re not five anymore, I promise.

A Christmas Nightmare/Miracle

So I was in Target tonight- Friday nights are pretty bumpin’ these days as you see- and they’ve got the Christmas stuff out already.  It’s not even hidden behind the Halloween stuff.  I see no Thanksgiving stuff?  That’s weird, I guess I wasn’t looking.  Anyway I was going to be horrified about rampant consumerism eroding the true meaning of our cherished traditions but then I started looking for adorable penguin cards and forgot about being outraged (only had trees and doves on the recycled content ones, bah).

But!  They had out the LEDs!  I got some a couple years ago, but every other time I’ve tried to find them at Christmas they’ve already been sold out.  So I stocked up, and now I’ll tell you about it so you can beat the rush.  It’s cool, go ahead, I got the ones I want.

Of note:  Philips and some other companies have a whole bunch of different LED bulb types and colors for about $14.  Nets and Icicles and strands and ropes and stars and everything.  There is an off-brand version now, same amount of lights for only $7-cheapest I’ve ever seen them, plus they’ve got the UL and EnergyStar ratings.  All the brands of LEDs now have white lights in both the bluish color I don’t personally like and a new ‘warm white’ option.  I snagged 4 boxes.  My tree is gonna be so amazing.  Oh and I found a strand of solar LEDs to put on my balcony with the other solar lights.  Those were $15, but that’s a small price to pay to spread Christmas cheer to my parking lot.

Anyhoo, Target, has LEDs, get them while the getting’s good.  Is it seriously still September?  Really, Target? September?  Ah whatever worked for me.

Organic Wine and Chocolate Tasting

These notes are compiled over several evenings of eating.  V and a great friend (she comments as “hater”, because she is very sweet) helped me out with the tastings- no, mom, I did not drink four bottles of wine myself this week, it’s cool.  Here is:

Wines

Red Truck Petite Syrah, 2006 (CA, $10.99) at Whole Foods)- Spicy and fruity, nicely drinkable on it’s own.

Yellow and Blue Malbec Mendoza, 2007 (Argentina, 11.99 for a liter at Whole Foods, as opposed to normal 750ml bottle)- Fairly typical red wine. Clean berryish flavor, but nothing too exciting.  Better with food. Comes in a Tetra Pack.

Natura Carmenere, 2007 (Chile, $10ish at Shoppers in Potomac Yard)- Dark and deep and Plummy, and spicy at the end.  “Unassuming”, according to my second tasting partner- it’s not overtly fancy, but it is quality.  “Would probably go well with chocolate…oh wait…” she continued.

Orleans Hill Cote Zero, 2007 (CA, $10ish at Shopper in Potomac Yard)- Blegh.  Unsatisfying mouthful, sharp aftertaste.  Perhaps this bottle has been skunked already?  But it doesn’t taste musty or completely wrong, just sour.  Suitable for mulling, perhaps.

Of those, the Natura Carmenere is the classiest, and the Red Truck was the spiciest.  Off the top of my head, the Vida Organica Malbec at Whole Foods is pretty good, and the Rabbit something Cabernet Sauvignon in a Tetra Pack at MOM’s on Mt. Vernon is quite solid.

Chocolate

Divine 70% Dark (Fair Trade): Very creamy with a slightly chocolate powder finish.  Brings out the cherry flavor in the Natura Camenere.  Definitely our favorite.

Green and Black’s 70% Dark (organic) : Slightly oily, bitter.  It’s not bad, per say.  Maybe we shouldn’t have had the one we really liked first.

Equal Exchange 71% Dark (Fair Trade and Organic AND Kosher)- Unannounced raspberryesque taste.  I would have appreciated it if I had been expecting it.  Without a warning, it was disturbing.  Slightly oily, powdery finish.

Whole Food 365 Brand Organic- Tasted a lot like the Equal Exchange, but creamier and sweet, with a little, entirely pleasing raspberry at the end, wand less oil in the finish.  So, like the EE, but a lot better.  Top 3, depending on how you like surprise raspberry.

Vivani 72% Dark (Organic)-  Good.  Very balanced.  Not exquisite.  Top 3, though.

If you’d like some other V-day advice, try the post I wrote last year– I re-read it, and I still heartily agree with it.

Much Love, call your grandma, and have a great weekend!

Merry Christmas to All, And to All A New Website

I’m on an extended Southern Tour to convalesce after my Holiday Madness ™, but I hope you’re enjoying a restful holiday season.  I just wanted to post about my SWEET Christmas gift that’s for you too: the GF gave me a website!  Us a website!  There will be a Virescent website! 

Check it out now, if you like, at www.virescent.org.  Don’t make it a habit yet, though- we’re working to set up a new organization and content to take advantage of all my space, so we’ll roll it out in a few weeks with the appropriate fanfare.  Be warned.

There were other sweet Christmas gifts, also, including a bunch of books and a totally snazzy and sustainable pair of sneakers-recycled rubber and bamboo feetie goodness- from PlanetShoes.com, which has a big selection of more or less earth-friendly shoes (check the fine print, enlightened consumers!).

Anyway, I’m going to head back to my late-night Christmas cookies and new books, so keep up the good work on your end.  Thank you for a wonderful year, and I’ll be in and out with my full list of things I’m grateful for this month, then back for good in the New Year.

LEDs All Over

This year, the Capitol Christmas Tree and all 56 trees representing states and territories in the White House display are lit entirely with LED lights for the first time.

I’ve got my LEDs up, too, and I’ve solved the blue problem by getting a string of multicolored twinkly lights:  instant efficient holiday cheer.  You can see that the blues are still pretty powerful, though.

colorful LEDs

More pictures (and the Restaurant Eve review!) to follow!

Oh, the monthly goal:  I am grateful for my gym membership in this season of delicious foods.

It Matters at Thanksgiving, Too

I haven’t linked a bunch of the “sustainable thanksgiving” and “eat local for thanksgiving” and “meatless thanksgiving” posts this year simply because they’re everywhere already- I’m sure if you’re inclined to read news, you’ve run across a few already.  Seen any you particularly liked?

I would like to highlight an anti-sustainable thanksgiving article, though, from one of the hopefully well-meaning people at the NRO.  Normally, I try not to get worked up about ludicrous opinion pieces at small ideologically-driven organizations.  But this column has an insidious message about the importance of personal decisions that I’ve heard echoed other places, plus it’s especially ludicrous, so I’d like to address it directly and completely.

The piece: James Robbins is doing his darnedest to convince us that worrying about sustainability and environmental impact at Thanksgiving is not the point of the holiday, and useless effort anyhow.  Thanksgiving is instead, for

gathering with family and friends, feasting, having fun, and not worrying about consequences.

Family! Friends! Feasting! Fun!  No consequences!  Wait a minute, why is the conservative advocating irresponsibility?  Also, I have no idea what he means by not worrying about consequences, unless he’s the guy who ends up watching football on the couch after the meal until the magic dishwashing fairies come.

Now, my Slavic Rituals and Demonology professor (less interesting than it sounds, the way she taught it) explained how organized societies have festival days where rules don’t apply and everybody wears their pants backwards or whatever so those all those anti-social tendencies we have get let loose in an “acceptable” manner.  This is a good idea, and also really fun.  I’m all for Mr. Robbins being as anti-social as he likes on Thanksgiving.  But I will not allow him to malign the efforts of good, thoughtful people who want to live good, thoughtful lives- and bust a gut on local squash while they’re at it.  Burp.

First, James equates a concern for the environment with a denial of real celebration.  Apparently, people who buy local food aren’t enjoying the holiday as much, since they don’t just buy whatever’s in the main aisle at the national grocery chain?  It’s nice of Mr. Robbins to be concerned for their total experience, but his premise is nonsense.  I invite him to wander the Whole Foods cheese department, then come back and explain to me again how organic types are bad at eating.

Mr. Robbins’ conclusion- that since it’s one day and the relative environmental impact of buying squash is small, there’s no point (and stop ruining his mindless overindulgent fun with your thoughts and calculations!)- is a petty and cynical one (n. b., this cynicism also undermines his own thesis of heart-and-not-head felt holidays).  Yes, if one person skips turkey or buys local side dishes, carbon emissions don’t go down very much.  But they will go down.  And a lot of one persons making these decisions?  I presume you can add.

Oh, also, he’s trying to downplay your individual impact.  He says human impact accounts for 10% or less of carbon emissions around the globe.  He does not cite this, he just says it.  But, in reality, Americans control (directly or indirectly) 65% of the greenhouse gas emissions in the US.  The rest of the world manages to influence 43% of the GHG emitted.  Remember this WSJ article?  Cited!  I know it pains Mr. Robbins to remember it, but our individual choices matter.

So, go ahead, please have your sustainable Thanksgiving.  Revel in it, and be thankful you have the wherewithal and time to enjoy it.  Rejoice in the choices we have to live more sustainably, and appreciate that more and more people want to know how they can live better and softer on this earth.  Call your distant relatives and say hi.  Then, don’t eat a turkey leg for Mr. Robbins.  Maybe he’ll thank you later.

Recipe: Sweet Potatoes Without Marshmallows

I do not like marshmallows.  This kept me from sweet potatoes for years, since they were always buried under the goo.  My folks invaded my first apartment for Thanksgiving the year I was fresh out of school, though, so I got a chance to influence the meal.  This recipe is lifted straight from a good friend, who gave it to me when I realized I had no idea even what to do with sweet potatoes after all those marshmallows.

Ingredients:

Sweet Potatoes, washed

Butter

Brown Sugar

Water

Aluminum Foil

Find a baking pan big enough for your group (be sure to have enough potatoes to fill it).  Rub it with butter, sprinkle in some brown sugar.  Slice the sweet potatoes into discs, about 1/2 inch thick.  Cover the bottom of the pan with a lawyer of flat sweet potato discs.  Cover that layer with plenty of butter and brown sugar- I like “lots”.  Add a layer of sweet potato discs on top.  Cover the second layer with plenty of butter and brown sugar.  Repeat until the pan is full.  Add a bit more butter and sugar on top.  Pour a little water in the bottom of the pan (~1/4 in.) so the potatoes steam a bit, cover the pan with foil, and bake it at about 400 until they’re soft (this is probably more than 30 minutes).

What’s your favorite Thanksgiving recipe?


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