plonq: (Dramatic Mood)
I have a confession to make: I don't like cheap wine. I don't hate all cheap wines, but on average, I am not a fan of most that I have tried.

I don't really like expensive wine either. If I buy an $80 bottle of wine at a fancy restaurant, I typically enjoy it a lot, but the honest part of my brain knows that I am playing it up much more than it deserves because I know how much it cost.

After early attempts to turn myself into a wine snob with a taste for the finer things, I have since come to learn that my favourite wines are almost invariable the ones that fall in the $13-$30 range, though I seldom stray above $15 unless I am in a fancy store where $8 of the price is just a premium for shopping there.

Lest I begin to think that I had stumbled onto a secret formula, or that I simply have a taste for middling things, I saw a video this evening which showed that I am not unique in this.

I don't remember the title of the video exactly, but it was something along the lines of "Expensive Wine is For Suckers". One of the things they discovered in blind tests was that when they presented people with three blind samples of the same type of wine, one from a cheap bottle, one from a modestly priced bottle, and one from an expensive vintage, the majority of the tasters rated the middle wine the highest, and typically rated the expensive one at the same level as the cheap plonk.

What this suggests to me is that expensive wines are not necessarily better, but that they contain various flavours and overtones that the professional tasters are looking for. These might even be things that a regular wine-drinking schmuck like me won't even like. I liken it to tonal versus atonal music, or traditional painting versus the work of Jackson Pollock. There are those who prefer patterns and crescendos to a melody, or paint splatters to a portrait, but my tastes are not so refined.

Not always, but usually it is the people who I would consider music and art "snobs" who are attracted to those things. I think it is the same with wines; the snobs are attracted to the flavour signatures and tones that are slightly unpleasant to my taste. What they might consider pleasantly tannic overtones, I would consider unpleasantly acidic.

I do agree with something else they have mentioned in the video - I enjoy expensive wines more when I know that they are expensive.

Overall though, I enjoy the mid-priced wines the most, whether I know their price or not.

I'm glad that I don't have expensive tastes.
plonq: (Yarr!)
My little wine rack is full again.

It is an unassuming little brass rack that was given to me by a friend in Boston when I drove down to visit him in the late 90s. He had quit drinking, and the rack was just taking up precious space in his little apartment. The rack only holds seven bottles, and only six of them are actually wine - the last is a bottle of tawny port. Still, I get a small feeling of satisfaction in seeing all of the slots filled. If we ever get friends who come by to visit once in awhile, and more specifically, friends who actually drink wine, then we are set for a bit.

They are all modestly priced wines, ranging from $13 to $19 for the most part. I think there might be a $25 Malbec skulking in there amongst the cheaper wines, but that is really the outlier of the bunch.

I used to buy the more expensive wines at one time. I have never considered myself a wine aficionado, but my reasoning went that if a $20 bottle of wine was good, then a $35 bottle must be 1.75 times better. Whether it was because I was blindly buying varieties that did not appeal to me, or I was leaving them too long for a "special" occasion before opening them, I found that I was not entirely enamoured with those pricier bottles.

It is also possible that I have unsophisticated tastes.

This is not to say that I do not enjoy better wines. On the rare occasions when [ profile] atara and I dine out fancy, we will usually cede to the advice of the sommelier when he suggests a wine to pair with our meals. I can never remember which wines are sweet, or acidic, or tannic, or fruity or whatever other characteristics one looks for in a wine when pairing it up with food. I could probably find an app for my phone that would tell me that, but my reasoning is that we have a professional wine steward standing right there who knows these things, and can help us make a decision.

On the other hand, when we are not dining out fancy, or just having some wine with a big serving of spaghetti, I am quite happy with plonk. A few years ago I read a column on wines written by a wine lover who, in amongst all his poetic waxing about various vintages, tossed out a bit of advice. He said that the best wines were not the ones that people like himself told you were good, but the ones that you like.

Even though the experts might tell you that the 2004 Cune Rioja Imperial Gran Reserva is the best wine ever since the invention of wine, if you happen to like that $12.95 bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon then save your money and buy the wine that one. With that in mind, rather than taking a chance on a Ch√Ęteau Larcis Ducasse St.-Emilion, I will grab a known commodity like Yellow Tail Big Bold Red or Apothic Red, not because they are classy wines worthy of me, but because I like them. I unashamedly drink cheap wine.

And I have a full wine rack to prove it.

If there is one thing that our cats have mastered, it is the art of looking unconcerned. Merry does not look like she cares in the least that she is blocking me from using my keyboard.
Cat and Keyboard
plonq: (Comparatively Miffed Mood)
A couple of things that [ profile] atara and I bought on our recent trip to Fargo were a knife block, and a pasta-drying rack. I cleaned out the knife drawer and loaded up the block last weekend, and this weekend I unpacked the drying rack and put it to use.

I mixed up the usual batch of pasta dough (2 cups of durum semolina, 3 eggs, a dash of salt, and a splash of olive oil), brutalized it into a bouncy wad of dough and let it rest in the fridge. I unpacked the new rack, set everything up, then put the dough on the table and immediately thought, "I'm gonna need a bigger rack..."
Let's Roll

That ball of dough made enough fettuccine for two full meals. I think the next time I make pasta, I will either freeze half of it, or reduce it to 1 1/3 cups of flour and 2 eggs. I have also concluded that I need to portion the dough into smaller pieces (currently, I quarter it) and learn to roll shorter noodles. Mind you, as you can see in the next shot, if I had rolled them shorter then they would never have fit on the rack - which is why I am thinking of cutting the volumes in the next batch as well.

Drying Fettuccine

Even though the semolina and egg already make the noodles very yellow, I added a couple of teaspoons of turmeric to bring out the colour even more. It also adds an appealing hint of added flavour to the pasta.

One of the biggest benefits I got from the rack was that it sped up the process considerably. I could roll out the noodles over my hand and then transfer them directly to the rack without worrying about them glomming together into a doughy ball. This batch of pasta took about 90 minutes from start to finish, including clean-up, and giving the dough about 30 minutes to rest in the refrigerator. Rack aside, I was also much more efficient in the rolling process.

When you run pasta through the roller, each time you turn it down a notch to flatten the dough more, it brings out more of the irregularities in the shape of the flattened dough. I discovered that once I get down to the third pass through the rollers, I can usually tell which parts need to be trimmed away to get a nice even finish. I ran the knife down both sides, and trimmed the ends, then lay those trimmed pieces down the centre of the dough and rolled them through again. I found that by the time I got to the seventh pass, the layers had been rolled smooth again into a homogeneous sheet of dough.

Wall of Pasta

I could not resist taking at least one more, slightly artsy picture of the pasta once I was done. I boosted the saturation in this one just a touch to bring out the lovely contrasts that were otherwise being killed by the fluorescent lighting in our kitchen, but this shot is pretty true to life. The great wall of fettuccine had a delightful yellow hue that virtually cried out, "These are egg noodles!"

[ profile] atara cooked up the pasta and then tossed it with some halved, heritage tomatoes, olive oil, balsamic vinegar and bocconcini. It probably would have paired well with one of our wines, but I opted for a red ale.
plonq: (Whatever)
Last night as I was getting ready for bed, I was mulling over something that (I assume) has been on my mind for some time, and I decided that I was going to do a long, thoughtful post about it in Livejournal today.

This morning I have no memory of what it was that was on my mind. Perhaps another coffee will jog my memory, but for the nonce I suppose it will have to be a subject that I shall shelve for some future time when it will occur to that I need to post about it. Note to future self: take notes and set a reminder.

I sometimes worry about the amount of time that I spend on Reddit, but it pays off when I learn useful tips like this one. The page is very short, but I will recap it here to save you having to follow the link.

If you are a Canadian travelling in the US, and you like to pay for gas at self-serve gas stations, there is a formula that both Visa and Mastercard will accept which allows you to enter your postal code as a ZIP code at gas stations which won't take your card without it. Take the three digits from your postal code and append 00 to the end. For example, if your postal code is R3B1M6 then your "ZIP" code would be 31600.

[ profile] atara and I have run into this frustration a few times when travelling in the US. In fact, the last time we were visiting Ohio, we had to rely on her uncle to pay for our gas because we had no cash on us, and the station we were at (part of a national chain) could not accept any other form of payment from us. [ profile] atara has expressed frustration more than once about how archaic and backward her former homeland can be at times, given how advanced it is in most other ways.

My cynicism this morning is reserved for blogger who they were interviewing on the CBC morning show today. She had blogged about how much her life had improved after she gave up drinking and smoking. I was with her up to that point, I mean, who would not root for somebody who saw a goal and took steps to improve their life? When they delved into how much she had been smoking and drinking, she said that she had been smoking about half a pack a day, and went out almost every evening to have a couple of glasses of wine with the girls.

She talked about the late nights, and the smoking and drinking, and how they were taking their toll. She was feeling far older than somebody should in her early 20s. She mentioned how she would wake up in the morning and feel guilty about the fact that she had gone out with the girls to have some wine the night before, so she decided to give up the smoking and drinking and had never felt better. As an added bonus, she was saving oodles of money. You go girl.

This was when the hostess added the inevitable, sensationalist twist that let me wanting to reach through the radio and slap them both.

"So," said the hostess in a serious, Oprah-like cant, "were you an alcoholic?"

"Oh ya," gushed the blogger girl. "I was totally an alcoholic."


No - no you weren't unless we are really lowering the bar on alcoholism. Comparing your drinking to being an alcoholic is like claiming you had SARS because you once suffered from some sniffles. It felt like they were treating this interview like an opportunity to play, "Pimp My Vice."

I felt vicariously insulted on behalf of alcoholics everywhere as she hijacked their disorder to describe her feelings of mild guilt in the morning over how much she was spending on social drinking. Maybe she was an alcoholic in her mind because she has such a low threshold. Perhaps she's the kind of person for whom a bus arriving five minutes late is a total Fuck My Life moment.

Maybe I am being unfair. If she considered herself to be an alcoholic then maybe that is the sole governing criteria over what constitutes being such, though I should point out that many alcoholics do not consider themselves to be, even in the face of objective, empirical evidence.

To my mind, she is somebody who made some positive changes in her life, and deserves praise for that. I just hate hearing her dilute a legitimate disorder by trying to lay claim to it. Climbing a mole hill is not the same as scaling Everest, milady.
plonq: (Dramatic Mood)
I am sure this knowledge will prove useful sometime down the road.

The move to the new office proved to be as annoying and filled with stupid as I had feared, but I am slowly falling into the routine of bussing to work 2-3 times a week. I am also beginning to become reacquainted with the bus people who I had managed to wipe from my memory after so many years of driving to work. There are the people invade your personal space, either because they are incapable of sitting in a bus seat without spreading their legs, or they lean on every corner, or toss their long hair over the back of their seat into your lap. There are the stinkers, loud talkers, blaring headphone kids, wackos, droolers, noisy eaters, serial coughers and a whole assortment of other unsavoury examples of humanity that seem to commute with me every day.

On the other hand, I catch the bus near the start of its route both coming and going, so I always manage to get a plum window seat before it fills up the rest of the way. It is not that I mind giving up my seat to an elderly person or invalid, but it is more pleasant to plug in my ear buds, tune out the world and idly watch the passing scenery so that I can pretend I am not packed in tight quarters like a herd animal on its way to the slaughter.

I could probably assure myself a seat of my own if I wore this thing in the mornings:
Relaxing with some wine after work

Sadly, I think there are some tedious laws on the books about not wearing a "mask" out in public. If not, there would be after my first couple of times wearing this to work.

By the way, is there anything they don't sell on Amazon?

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