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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!

Future Coming Up

I’ve been thinking plenty about the Future lately.  Not about my personal future, not any more than normally, but the Future Of People and Where We’ll Go, and mostly about how I hope it will be pretty cool with spaceships around, and to that we can pull together long enough to make that work.  This is partly because I went to the Air and Space Museum this weekend, and that conjures all sorts of cultural memories of what the Future should look like.  This is also because 2010 is the first year we’ve gotten too that’s a good, round, space-age sounding year.  Also I saw Avatar today, and if that doesn’t make you want some cool space gadgets, and then remember to worry about how humans make moral choices, nothing will.  Not that it’s a morally nuanced movie or anything, but in portraying people as either so flatly evil or so inherently good it reminds you we’re not.

Anyway, we’re getting there, to the Future with the Gadgets, day by day.  Since I’m probably a bit to early to catch the first wave of immigration too the outer planets myself, I’ll have to be content just reading the neat stuff we come up with on the way.  Dig this:  self-assembling solar cells!  That could be cool.  Meat grown in petri dishes!  Barbecue without guilt.  Though Barbecue is so delicious that it’s really hard to feel guilty eating it anyway.  And check out this article on using thorium instead of uranium for safer, cleaner, and cheaper nuclear energy.

In conclusion, I am looking forward to the Future, especially if we get those neat wraparound screens like they have in Avatar.  And if we remember to behave politely once we get into space.

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.

Thankful For

I’m celebrating in Tennessee with my family, and that’s rather enough to be thankful for.  What with the sleeping in all weekend, somebody else cooking, and cheese balls.  My immediate happiness at this situation is making it hard to remember the big stuff to be thankful for, but it’ll come, I’m sure.

Until then, have a happy Thanksgiving yourself, and if you’re stuck for a recipe, check out this article about the space cookbook.  Unfortunately there’s no instructions for freeze-drying or irradiating the results to be launched into orbit.  To get that air of zero gravity authenticity, tape your tofurkey to the dining table and float away halfway through the meal.

Tidbits

To tide you over ’til Thanksgiving.

Read up on how Italy already has a headstart on their Smartgrid.  Yeah, the same country that can’t take out the garbage.  They’re already saving millions though.  So much to ponder in this situation.

The Economist’s green.view advises fat cat money grubbing sell their own mother if they can get enough leverage bankers redeem their image by investing in rainforests.  So the next foreclosure crisis we’ll have pythons and pirahna defaulting on their mortgages?  Think it through, Economist.

Know how Alexandria’s wastewater plant is on Glebe?  This article is from NYC, but it applies here too:  when we get too much rain for the system to handle, we dump untreated sewage and other runoff into the Potomac.  As if two days of dreary damp weren’t bad enough- as if realizing I need to replace my windshield wipers on the Beltway in traffic wasn’t bad enough- this is plenty bad.

BBC reports on US research correlating conflict in Africa with climate.  Controlling for other factors like governance and population, conflict in the region escalates as temperature goes up.  This has a lot to do with food supplies, as well.  I’d like to see similar research for different regions of the world.

And check this by your local foodbank, but a reporter for the NYT suggests that you reconsider your volunteer  meal-serving plans this holiday season and do something more helpful for them instead.  If you’re stumped, donating some more perishables can’t hurt.

I’ll be back to give Thanks before the holiday, but until then, safe travels!

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.

People in the Streets

I was in New York City for a couple days last weekend visiting friends and roaming- as I do- and there’s something (else) cool going on in midtown.  The city has blocked off half of some streets (definitely Broadway, and maybe some of 7th Ave, but I might have been going rogue on my street sign reading skills there) and turned them into pedestrian avenues, with huge bike lanes.  I read about the city starting this in Times Square this summer, and it was great to see them keeping up with it.  Seems they’ve expanded the original zones, too- they extended up to about 59th, from what I noticed.  The weather was weirdly nice last weekend, and there were people strolling and reading and eating at the tables they’ve set out for public use in these former traffic lanes. Huge planters and green and red dots painted on the road mark off the new pedestrian zones.  It was nice to see people encroaching on traffic instead of traffic encroaching on people.

At night, somewhere near Times Square:

IMG_4497

And I forget where the next day:

IMG_4667

We could do this here in Alexandria- King Street would be a great place to have a long pedestrian mall.  There are plenty of side streets to pick up the extra traffic.  Close off 10 or 15 blocks to cars like they do during art festivals there- keep open crossing at Rt 1 and Washington, sure- and let people wander around all those shops and restaurants for a few weeks at Christmas, and see how everybody likes it?

Afternoon Glories

Still going strong at 4pm:

fall morning glories

I planted red and blue ones in that pot, and now I have purple ones blooming some days.  The leaves here aren’t looking healthy, but it’s still putting out shoots and buds, so I hope I’ll get plenty of weeks of flowers yet.

Book Talk: Al Gore Looks More Normal In Person

Al Gore gave a talk at GWU tonight about his new book “Our Choice”.  A friend got me an extra ticket to go, because she is rather fabulous.   So, the full report: Gore’s looking pretty trim!  And he signed books too, so somebody’s got a Christmas present coming (I’m going to read it first, of course).  The book signing line was well regimented, with Gore just signing away and not talking too much- the only way to get hundreds of people through, I know, but it was pretty impersonal.  I didn’t really have anything to say, though, (“I’ve been to Tennessee!  You were cool on 30 Rock!  I compost sometimes!”) so no biggie.

The talk itself:  it was scienc-y.  First time I’ve heard a politician  (oh right he’s an activist now) refer to a photon like they could define it if pressed.  He explained the six substances causing climate change, talked a little about a lot of ways to change energy, discussed the shape of the new smart grid… and I think the smart grid is really interesting so I spaced out a bit there to think about that and try to imagine if I could work on that in Planning, but then the speech got stirring!  Gore’s warning of the impacts of climate change in an Inconvenient Truth have become a more coherent call to arms now.  The book itself is a well-illustrated summary of the science behind climate change and a survey of the methods we can use to fix the problem, but it’s main message is that we have the technology to solve the problem, but not the political will.  He (correctly, in my opinion) frames our reactions to climate change as the moral testing ground of our era.

The book just came out, and he was on The Daily Show last night explaining it to Jon Stewart.  He used some of the same phrases, so you’ll get the gist of what I saw in the extended interview at Hulu.

Speaking of political will, the Senate climate bill got through the Environmental etc. committee session yesterday, despite all the Republicans on the committee stalling it with demands to find facts they wouldn’t listen to, and walking out of all the committee sessions on it.  Took a fancy interpretation of the voting rules so of course Repubs are mad their bratty, irrational, obstructionist, and (oh my I should save some adjectives for describing Republicans the next time they pull such childish stunts) unprofessional behavior didn’t work out for them.  But is it really steamrolling the minority opposition if the minority a) aren’t there and b) have stated no coherent opposition besides “no”?  Not that the bill the Senate has is great, or even as good as the House’s. But they have a bill.

Al might approve.  Check out the book, the pictures I saw so far looked pretty good.  I’ll let you know how I like it when I finish it.


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