Saturday, June 02, 2012

M+M

Before I head to bed, and before the clock ticks over to Sunday, I did want to mark an important date. Today marks 5 years since Conrad and I were delighted a privileged to bear witness to Martin and Mark's wedding in Denver.


Martin and I have roomed together at conferences for ten years now. We met Mark in 2006 while I was in the throes of appendicitis. We cannot say enough good about the two of them - as a couple and individually.

No, not a long blog post, but a sincerely heartfelt one: happy anniversary Martin and Mark. We hope we may raise a glass to you both five years from now, and well beyond.



Sunday, May 20, 2012

pairing wine with Mexican food

Last year, at the Frontera Farmer Foundation dinner, Conrad and I and the rest of our table successfully bid on a prize at the silent auction. In fact, we’d sort of managed to win prizes in past years, which is how we’ve enjoyed cocktail parties in the Bayless’ backyard. This time, however, we opted to bid on a different prize. And so it was that yesterday, after weeks of trying to set it all up, we were at Frontera Grill for a private group wine pairing instruction session, to be followed by dinner in the restaurant.

The whole group of us enjoy food and wine – most of us had been to at least one of the wine apiring dinners before. We all are huge fans of Frontera, and more specifically, we’re all huge fans of Jill Gubesch, the sommelier. Jill’s personality is bright and friendly, and she really knows her stuff. Wine with Mexican food? Oh heck yes. Go there, put yourself in her hands, and enjoy some terrific pairings! The event promised to be quite good.

Conrad and I arrived at Frontera
around about 5:10 yesterday, a little too early for our wine-pairing and dinner at Frontera Grill. Given time to kill, and having bumped into Jim and Dianne, we went round the corner to enjoy a couple of lemonades with them, sitting outside Xoco. When we returned to the restaurant, we were promptly led through it to the elevator to head upstairs. We'd been in the Library Room and demo kitchen before, but never with such a small, intimate group. We didn't know quite what to expect. I actually had wondered if it would be as informal, as casual as the cocktail parties – we would stand around, chat, taste a few glasses, munch on a bit of food. Instead, we arrived upstairs to find a table fully set with six glasses at each place,
information sheets, and Jill and two colleagues putting the finishing touches on things.

We greeted Jill, Conrad and I gave her a bottle of a BC wine we’d tried last weekend in Vancouver, and then took our seats with Jim and Dianne, Bob, Glen and Sue, and Susan and Andrew. At first we were curiously quiet, listening,
like kids feeling out a new teacher at the start of a school year. It didn’t take too long, though, before we were freely chatting in between sips. Though we had spit buckets, I admit, not one of us dumped anything!

Jill started us out with the Ceviche Fronterizo, the house ceviche of tuna.
We each had a small dish, and there were baskets of tortilla chips on the table for eating along with it if we chose. She had two wines that she felt were great matches, but she also suggested we try two others to understand how, good as they may be, they weren’t matches for the tartness and other aspects of the ceviche. A Champagne went best with it, in my opinion, but the suggested Riesling was also a good match. The marvelously floral Spanish white (and here I have to plead that not only did I not bring home the information sheet – I will happily rely on Jill’s suggestions when next I dine at Frontera or Topolobampo – I can’t pull all the names from the restaurant’s online wine sheet since the document keeps crashing both my browser and Adobe Reader) was wonderful on its own but not as good with the fish. The rich red? Turned bitter. Drink what you like, in other words, but some things really do make better sense together than others.

We moved from there to a green pipian. Because they knew we had a meal ahead, they served us dishes of the sauces along with the chips and some fresh corn tortillas. Jill explained that we wouldn’t get the full sense of the pairing because we wouldn’t have the protein and other components of a complete dish, but we would understand the sauce and wine together at least. The pipian was better suited to the floral Spanish white, though I actually rather liked it with the Riesling. In fact, I came back to that Riesling more than once (and had a re-fill), and found it was a good partner for what we tried. Jill thought in part it might be the cooling temperature of the wine, and that’s reasonable, I think. I still liked it. Oh, and the pipian? I was bantering with a couple of the others about what fish it would go well with, though we all agreed we’d love it on some eggs!

Up after that was a more straightforward chile sauce. Guajillo? Chilaca? I can’t recall now – I do recall Jill showing us some different chiles,
having us smell one of them, and her explaining different ideal matches. Conrad found the chile sauce a bit too hot, though it wasn’t really scorching. I was eating it by the spoonful, if that gives any indication. I also liked the Riesling with it, though I also thought the Topolovino blend was good. There was a Pinot from Central Otago, and Conrad (unsurprisingly) gravitated toward that.

The last sauce was the complex black mole, the one that takes so many ingredients and so much practice. Good gosh were these sauces tasty! And it was with this last one that the lush Spanish red made an excellent match. I still was trying everything with that Riesling anyway.

So that was six wines with savoury pairings. We were then given a flute and glass so that we could have a sparkling and a still dessert wine. We were introduced to the restaurant’s pastry chef, Jennifer, and served two small desserts. Now let me digress here. For a long while I thought desserts at Frontera and Topolobampo were nice. Not super. Just nice. I didn’t often think to order them. In recent times, though, I’d noted a change, and it has to be thanks to Jennifer, who has been there about three years. Desserts are now something I keenly look forward to at the restaurant, and the small samples highlighted why. A lively, slightly tart fruit soup with mango sorbet floating in it? A chocolate cake layered with a crème fraiche buttercream, then served with strawberries and piloncillo ice cream?
Oh yes, yes please. The sparkling wine worked well with both, though I preferred the still dessert wine with the cake. Either way, though, we all won.



And then it was 7:30 and time to head downstairs, somehow needing to honour our reservation and have a bit of dinner!

Frontera Grill recently overhauled its menu, rather dramatically, and it now features a number of small plates. That was a welcome change given how we’d already consumed so well upstairs. Conrad and I ordered a bottle of a Pinot while others started off with cocktails – two other couples ordered wines eventually, and the six of us shared pours quite happily. Conrad and I also decided to order three small plates between us. We sought Jill’s advice based on our wine, and from among so many enticing possibilities, we got some good options.

  • Chicken in Wild Ramp Crema: Wood-grilled Gunthorp chicken breast, local asparagus, roasted fingerling potatoes, wild ramp crema. Crispy epazote.
  • Duck Carnitas Queso Fundido:
    Otter Creek organic cheddar, duck leg carnitas, grilled knob onions, pickled jalapenos & vegetables
  • Molotes:
    Corn-masa "torpedos" filled with grilled woodland mushrooms, homemade ricotta, roasted poblano chiles & epazote. Spicy avocado-tomatillo salsa, Nick's watercress, anejo cheese.

He and I also ordered one dessert, but again shared with the others who had ordered dessert, too. Among us we had the

  • Tres Leches de Coco:
    Coconut tres leches cake, honey Manila mango sorbet, coconut crunch, mango salsa with Bayless Garden herbs.
  • Tartaleta de Chocolate Oaxaqueno:
    Oaxacan chocolate tart, toasted mezcal meringue, bittersweet chocolate-raspberry ice cream.
  • And (of course, because custard is a magic ingredient for me) Duo de Flanes:
    A duo of caramel custards: classic Mexican vanilla bean & Gentle Breezes honey with Bayless Garden lemon verbena. Honey-poached apricot & honeycomb candy.

No further wine by this time, and though I was tempted to have some decaf to finish the evening, I refrained. Instead, we wound down, and by 10:30 were in a cab home, ready to drink a good bunch of water before bed and anticipating a slow morning today!

Conrad and I opted not to go to the foundation dinner this June because we’re a little overwhelmed by so much else on our schedules. A shame. Last night was so much fun, so very worth doing. Ah well. Perhaps one day we can make it back to the Library Room for a private dining experience to remember.

Friday, May 18, 2012

a few things

It's a mellow Friday night. Conrad got home about an hour and a half ago, we've had dinner (salmon), we're sipping wine and dealing with a few things related to finances and our upcoming Hawaiian vacation (YES!!!!). Some music playing. A good weekend ahead, according to our plans.

So let me get caught up.

I shan't worry about where I last left off and try to figure out everything I've done since. Instead, a few highlights:

A visit to TK.
And Michael, who doesn't care to be photographed. And Coney and Buster, my two favourite dogs in the world.
Go ahead, ask me how much dog hair I brought home on my clothes. Those dogs got some love from me! A quick weekend in Baltimore, but for a chance to see my best friend (and really, I can never say enough good things about Todd) and enjoy conversations while strolling around the lake? So worth it. Add in those banana desserts
at the Taste of the Town fundraiser event, and, well, we've got a memorable visit indeed.

Vancouver. An even shorter weekend there, but enough time to get in a good run around Stanley Park followed by breakfast and coffee at Safari Cafe.
Ah, Safari, we have missed you. Never close, Adam, please. Time spent with friends,
birthday cake,
and some new furniture.
Oh, and have I mentioned how freaking gorgeous that city is in the spring sunshine?

A return to Girl and the Goat. Eric was in town,
so we caught up over some small plates and (for me) drinks at the bar. I'm a fan, though I've only been there a few times. The shishito peppers once again were a star.

Breakfast with a library bigwig. Well, he might not think so, but Jeff lit up the library blogosphere last year. It was a real pleasure to sit down with him for a leisurely meal and discuss matters related to our profession and otherwise. And may I say that the man has some fine suits and shoes!

Small plates and cocktails at Erwin.
It's not that far south of Yoshi's, and yet it's mostly off our radar, sad to say. Conrad was out of town, but Michael

happily came along while I used up a Groupon. French fries, properly salty.
Yum!

So that's the world of Peter lately, and much food involved, of course. I will need to do some trimming down for a conference in Anaheim next month, but for now, I am content. And oh so happy to have Conrad home!


Saturday, April 28, 2012

another vegetarian dinner

Second week in a row that Conrad and I found ourselves on a Friday night in our kitchen, entertaining a friend, sipping much wine, and dining on a vegetarian meal. It happens.

We had Brad over some time back - over time we've come to realize that not only do we have our swim team in common, but all three of us quite like wine. We'd been meaning to share some BC wine with him since he'd never tried it, so we planned a casual Friday together. It actually timed out nicely - I had taken a half day sick leave for a dental appointment, and that left me home early in the afternoon and able to start cooking.

I made dessert first. Whole Foods had some very good looking rhubarb in its produce section this week. Ah, the signs of spring at Whole Foods: ramps (I didn't buy any), the masses of mangoes as their season crests. Now if only they'd have fiddleheads. Anyway, I picked up the rhubarb and, recollecting a previous attempt at an upside down cake that turned out decently,
opting for that instead of a more typical crisp or pie. Besides which, it may be the Swede in Conrad or the Briton in my background, but rhubarb is something we both rather like.

The cake turned out nicely, and with that done, I did prep for the entree and set up things for us in the kitchen. By the time Brad got here, we had a bottle of Champagne chilled and an assortment of nuts, caper berries, olives, and asparagus spears (blanched and cooled) to nibble at.

Dinner was risotto. It's funny - like last week, I went a route that I seldom go thanks to our not-entirely successful efforts to reduce Conrad's carbs intake. I haven't made risotto in some time, and to be honest, it was a little thicker and stodgier than it should have been. But it tasted good, and while the two of them sat and sipped and chatted, I was nearby stirring my pot. One funny moment was near plating when I asked Conrad to grate some romano cheese for me without specifying how much. When I turned to his counter, there was a massive pile and a rind ready to discard. Whoops. A reminder on the rare occasion that I let him in my kitchen to be very precise in what I tell him to do.

The risotto was tasty, though. I had flavoured vegetable broth with dried porcini mushrooms that I subsequently chopped and stirred into the risotto. The risotto had a generous amount of leek in it (and frizzled leek atop each serving), and at the end I stirred in fava beans I'd blanched and peeled earlier.
Perhaps it didn't spread on the plate the way it should according to Top Chef, but it was nourishing.

We had a small bit of leafy greens, then on to dessert. By that point we'd finished not only the Champagne but also a BC Pinot Noir (not as good as we'd wanted - not at all bad, but perhaps not the best representation of the wines we love from back home) and were on to a Cab that Brad had brought. Being in the kitchen meant that I had a bit less than the others, I think - I felt fine this morning on my 12-mile run, though it helped that I drank as much water as wine last night. Conversation, meanwhile, flowed through team gossip, books, wines and food, travel, and elsewhere. Brad was once again fine company.

Dessert was nice. It's not a showstopper, but then, I don't make showstoppers. I make desserts I can dish up easily and not fuss with. I can feel at least one pair of eyes rolling at me as I write that, but it's true. A big dollop of lightly sweetened whipped cream along side a piece of cake,
and we were sated. I sent Brad home with a bunch of risotto, a few pieces of cake, and even four servings of a quick rhubarb crisp I'd thrown together with the extra stalks. May he enjoy them through this weekend!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

cookies for Carol

It feels odd to me when people retire from the Library, some more than others. It seems as though most everyone at work is bringing his or her career to an end. And so it was that a little while back I learned that Carol was going to retire this spring.

Ugh. All the good people leave. Which somehow implies there are only bad people left, but no, that's not the case. It's just that Carol is pretty cool.

I didn't know her well my first handful of years at my library. She works on the other side of campus, and it really is a rare thing, getting over there or people over there getting over to my side of campus. Oh, it happens, but not as often as we all might like. It wasn't until she and I co-chaired a strategic planning initiative for the Library that I actually got to know her. Over a year of working closely together, bringing that project to a successful close. And then, after that, going to a week-long ARL workshop at UCLA.
That was a fun trip, in fact - a terrific workshop, and opportunities to sightsee a bit, including my first trip to the Getty.

(and gosh, how young and plump I look there, mid-30s)

So tomorrow is her retirement party, though I think she has a few days left after that. To mark the event, I decided to bake some cookies after work (and the really great thing about working at home today is that I could get an early start on baking, thanks to no commute and an early start this morning). An easy recipe, one I made recently, the white chocolate chunk macadamia cookies. I've got a tin ready for tomorrow
(plus a couple for my dessert tonight, and a few for Conrad to come home to).

But they're just cookies, and they'll soon be eaten. Carol will be gone from the Library come May or so, and we'll be all the poorer for it, I'm afraid.




Monday, April 23, 2012

wildlife of Aruba

Monday night is always an odd night, what with coaching to get out of the way. No Conrad tonight - he's in Alabama - so it's me and leftovers and a short, easy bit of blogging before bed.

I'm still drawing on the Aruba photos for blog entries and likely will get one or two more out of them even if it was a month ago (and I've neglected the Easter weekend trip to Pasadena, haven't I?). No matter. Aruba was an extraordinary experience on so many levels - it merits more than one entry.

So while I'm winding down, let me post some photos of the wildlife of Aruba.

It actually surprised me that we saw relatively few colourful birds - I struggle to think of any though we heard much birdsong. Certainly we saw fish - bright blue parrotfish from a hotel bridge, all the fish in the water just below us as we dined on a restaurant's dock two of the nights there,
and the many other amazingly coloured fish on our snorkeling expedition. Frankly, the snorkeling was wonderful - at the second stop we descended into what felt like an aquarium - clouds of fish around us, nibbling at the sandwiches we held tight in our fists. That was amazing. Truly. I could have watched them for ages.
We saw many other gorgeously coloured fish while snorkeling, and that was a real highlight of the trip despite my foolish sunscreen failure.

video

Aruba is an arid island, a small island. So far as I know, there are no big mammals on the island. Wild ones, that is. But there are lizards.
If only I'd got a photo of that vividly blue one I saw near the Westin. Ah well. I did capture shots of a few others, including at our hotel.

The other cool thing was seeing the crabs on the rocks at the waterfront.
It brought back all the memories of overturning rocks on the waterfront at my Grandma's when we were younger, and picking them up so they could scuttle over as our hands, one hand to the next. I admit that nowadays I wonder how good eating they make...

Oh, and the first critter spotted? This little guy!