Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Got Wine-gifted?: Regifting, Drinking, Saving & How


Sweet table wine is the holiday fruitcake of beverages, though the latter can be quite tasty if done correctly. Photo courtesy of Every Stock Photo.

BY TAMARA FISH

WELL
the holiday season is off and running, and no double, wine bottles will come and go. Throw a party and voila! Instant wine cellar for a good little while.

So how does one know what to keep, what to regift (ewww – did I say that?!?!), what to drink, and how to store?

What do you have?
For those unfamiliar wines – the bulk of the wines that will come your way, no doubt – find out what you have. Without judging the giver, go on line and do some research. Type in the producer, name of the wine, grape (varietal) and year into Wine-Searcher.com (http://www.wine-searcher.com/), Wine.com (http://www.wine.com/) or even Wine Enthusiast (http://www.wineenthusiast.com/). Is the bottle a good table wine, something in the $15-$25 range? Is it a pizza wine, an inexpensive one that advertises widely and seems known to all, typically under $10-12? Is it a library wine, an officious way of saying a wine that one stores, waits while it improves with age, and saves for special occasions? Takes notes if you like, and then simply sort wines into the three groups.

What to regift?
A temptation may be to regift the unfamiliar. Never heard of that wine? You try it, my dear friend. Let me suggest something different: regift what you know. You’ll feel comfortable and confident giving the bottle to another.

What not to re-gift: on penalty of death, do not even thing about regifting sweet table wines. Sweet table wine is the liquid equivalent of the holiday fruitcake: one in a hundred might be good, but the vast majority is not. Cook with them, pour them over ice cream, poach pears in them, but please, don’t pass them on to someone else. Chances are the original giver is not too terribly familiar with wine, and that’s OK. It’s the thought that counts. Apologies to those who like them, and especially Debby W., who loves her Manischewitz, God bless her.

Cain Five is a library wine. Photo courtesy of Cain Five.

What to Drink Now?
A general rule of thumb goes like this:
Two types of wine do not store well: Very inexpensive wines ($10 bottles and under) and most white wines, including non-vintage Champagne. Their character will change with time. Drink inexpensive wines within a few months, and most whites within a year. Keep them flat and in a cool dark place.

Wines that store well:
Sweet dessert wines and aperitifs store brilliantly. The sugar content keeps the wine from oxidizing quickly. Once again en vogue, dessert wines pop up this season like exquisite orchids. In this category, also include Sherries and Ports.

And red wines ... red wines vary by producer and varietal. For instance, a general rule of thumb is store French and Italian wines but drink Spanish and U.S. wines. French and Italians produce their wines with the expectation that the consumer will keep them, waiting many years until they mature. Most U.S. and Spanish producers release their wines near peak, expecting them to be consumed within a year or two. Furthermore, Cabernet Sauvignon, Barolo, Bordeaux and Zinfandel store brilliantly, but Beaujolais Nouveau do not.

Confused? Not to worry. Many producers want to steer their customers in the right direction. Read the back label on wine bottles. If the producer advises that the wine is ready to drink now or can be savored years from now, just like Yogi Berra: take it.


Wine-Searcher and Wine Enthusiast are good sources of sound wine facts.

How to Store Wine, Pt
Storing wine is not brain surgery. Unless a serious cache of wine futures has come your way, there’s no need to invest in climate-controlled cases or other gadgets. Keep six basic points in mind and your wine will be fine: Dark, Still, Cool, Flat, Cork and Time.
1. Dark. Even with tinted bottles, light and especially ultraviolet light, provokes chemical changes – tanning it, so to speak, so that, like skin, the wine will age prematurely. Wrap the bottle in a thick cloth if a dark space is hard to find.
2. The stiller, the better. Do not move the bottle. Motion, including steady vibrations, disturbs wine. Why? I have no idea. Just put the bottles in a place that people seldom use. Personally in a small apartment, I favor the bottom of a closet. They don’t call them wine closets or wine cellars for nothing!
3. Cool and steady. Wine bottles store best in constantly cool, but not cold, places. Widely varying temperatures will also age wine.
4. Flat. Store bottles horizontally, not vertically. The wine itself will keep the cork from drying out.
Got pizza? Then, YellowTail is your drink. Photo from Discovery Yellowtail.

5. Cork. Cork is the last line of defense for preserving wine. In very dry climes, the corks dry out, allowing air in the bottle, oxidizing the wine and causing it to age prematurely. In very wet climes, corks mildew, also causing the wine to spoil. Check the cork. DO NOT TAKE OFF THE ALUMINU M WRAP, but press gently on the top of the bottle with your finger. If there is a lot of give, consider drinking the wine now. If the cork give seems almost spongy, the wine may be shot. It happens. For screw tops … well, ignore the last two tips.
6. Time. Timing is key. Store a wine too long and vinegar pours out. Clearly, not the desired effect. The vast majority of gifted wines is not the ones designed to age for a decade or two. Believe me, the giver will tell you, if it is. Go back to your initial research, look at the guidelines that the producer recommends and store wine accordingly. If the label remains mum, then store good red wines for no more than two to five years, just to be safe.

Here’s to the Holidays! Enjoy some for the season, share a few with others, and savor the rest throughout the New Year.

Next Up: How to Store Wine Pt 2: A Tale of Woe and Love.

What's Gotten Into Your Food and Where Has It Been?

Occupy Wall Street Farmers' March graphic. Photo courtesy of Occupy Wall Street.

IMAGINE for a moment how our eating habits would change if we did the kind of background check on the food we eat that employers do on employees; that banks do on borrowers; that we do on potential partners and new acquaintances.

Can you fathom enjoying that prime rib if you knew that it came from a cow that had contact with the excrement of other cows or was sick at the time of slaughter? Or travelled thousands of miles before it reached your plate?

Of course, not. But as a country we are not conditioned to think of food this way, distracted as we are by aromas, colors, flavors and sometimes low prices. Food+Tech Connect's Farm Bill Hackathon and Occupy Wall Street Farmers’ March are two weekend events in New York that may forever change the way many view food. Both seek to inform and empower a mainly uninformed, disengaged public to act in its interests as it regards food. Eating/buying local and organic, along with legislative remedies, are likely to be among the core messages emerging from both programs.

No doubt, the OWS Farmers’ March on Sunday will grab the most headlines. The latest OWS beef is that Wall Street and corporations have despoiled the food system by commoditizing food to the point of perversion. True that.

Farmers from across the country, food justice advocates, food workers, community gardeners, occupiers, musicians and other concerned folk will sound the alarm for the American people to take back their food system. Along with the beefs will be ways forward, ideas for activism, solutions and so on. All events are open to the public.

In the spirit of full disclosure, please note that Yours Truly has joined OWS. In fact, I am a member of the Food Justice subgroup (of the OWS Sustainability Working Group), the organizer of the Farmers' March.

Farm advocate Jalal Sabur, right, with Dr. Cornel West. Photo courtesy of Jalal Sabur My Space page.

The Farmers' March gets started at 2 p.m. at La Plaza Cultural Community Garden where after a little day music, speakers along the food chain will address issues, including the marginalization of small family farmers, soil pollution, the role of urban-rural solidarity in food system sustainability as well as toxins that contribute to health problems such as obesity and diebetes. Jalal Sabur, founding member of the Freedom Food Alliance and advocate for an alliance between black urban communities and black rural farmers, is among the speakers. Also addressing the crowd will be Severine von Tscharner, producer of “Green Horns,” a film that profiles young farmers.

From the garden the Farmers’ March will set out with drummers and marshals leading the way toward Zuccotti Park (aka Liberty Plaza), the birthplace of the OWS movement. In a peoples’ mic format in the park a “Solidarity Circle” forms and those gathered will share stories as it regards food and the place of OWS in the food justice movement. After the circle breaks attendees participate in a seed exchange followed by a short walk to the Trinity Church Parish Hall for a reception and more musical performances.

The hackathon on Saturday has a lower profile than the Farmers' March but is equally important because it is designed to deconstruct the very important Farm Bill that is due to be passed next year. The bill is renewed every five years. Legislation passed next year will be intact until 2017. Why is the Farm Bill aka Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008 (Pub.L. 110-234, H.R. 2419, 122 Stat. 923.) important? Because its effects are far-reaching.

The Farm Bill will dictate the price of food, which food(s) can be grown and which can be traded, agricultural research, development, energy issues, etc. A good deal (nearly 70 percent) of the Farm Bill funds nutrition programs such as Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program (FMNP), school lunches and that old chestnut food stamps, less popularly known as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). One program that does not fall under the nutrition rubric helps farmers transition back to the old-school way of growing food: organic farming. Interestingly, farm programs account for less than 25 percent of the bill. That doesn’t bode well for small farmers, who should rightly produce most of the nation's food.



Over the course of 12 hours, commencing at 8:30 a.m. at Cookstr, volunteers will openly “hack” the Farm Bill based on project ideas suggested by groups with an interest in food issues such as Oxfam America and Food & Water Watch. Their progress can be tracked on livestream. The Farm Bill, a roughly 700-page, $300 billion piece of legislation, may as well be Greek so arcane is the language, hence the need for hacking.

What should result are language-friendly resources and tools that journalists and advocacy groups can use to explain the bill to the public or that the public can read for itself. One such document, born of an idea from Food & Water Watch, will address the “corporate control of the meat case." Indeed, there is a serious control problem: four corporations, led by Tyson Foods Inc., account for 86 percent of beef production in the United States. It makes one wonder how companies with so many cows treat their livestock, no?

There are two more matters that the general public should know about the Farm Bill that are far easier to understand than its language. First, the Congress is mulling the Farm Bill in secret. In other words, there is no transparency. However, agribusiness lobbyists are unofficially privy to the negotiations – matter No. 2. This access presents an opportunity for lobbyists to campaign for Farm Bill policies that are beneficial to agribusiness (a member of the 1%) and detrimental to the general public (mainly the 99%).

Four companies have a near monopoly on beef production in the United States. Photo from USDA.

It is lobbying that spawns policies and guidelines that allow for harmful pesticides to be sprayed on that Red Delicious. Consider the baked chicken on the table. Yes, it is a chicken, not a young turkey. It looks delectable, doesn't it.

Unfortunately, much more often than not, when the creature was alive it spent its short, miserable existence packed like a sardine in a cage with other chickens. It was pumped full of hormones to make it grow faster and larger so that it could get to market quicker and fetch a higher price. After all, this is a product of a publicly traded corporate farm that is churning out chickens quick, fast and in a hurry to maximize profits and maintain or increase its market share and stock price. This is not the chicken from Old McDonald's Farm of nursery-rhyme fame that ran around (free range) the chicken yard and was fed grains all of its live-long days.

There's no question, right, we should look into the background of our food?

Learn more about Occupy Wall Street Farmers’ March at http://www.occupywallst.org/article/farmers-join-occupy-wall-street-calling-food-justi/ and Food+Tech Connect's Farm Bill Hackathon at http://www.foodandtechconnect.com/.

Friday, November 25, 2011

In Theaters: 'The Artist,' 'My Week With Marilyn'

George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) and Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo) burn up the dance floor in "The Artist." Photos courtesy of The Weinstein Company.

‘TIS the time of year when movie studios release some of their best films in hopes of garnering nominations from the various award-giving groups, particularly the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the outfit that issues a little statuette called Oscar.

Two films that will likely make many of the nomination lists are “The Artist” and “My Week With Marilyn.” Both are brought to the world by The Weinstein Company.

Opening today in select theaters in the United States, mainly in New York and California, is “The Artist.” The silent b&w film, a sensation at Cannes and just about everywhere else it has screened on the film festival circuit, is an homage to the silent films and talkies of the Old Hollywood era – from the '20s to the '50s.

The artist of the title is George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) whose place as the biggest star in the film universe goes unchallenged until the introduction of talkies. On the scene just in time to become a star of these new-fangled talking pictures is the talented and effervescent Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo), a devoted fan of George and heretofore a mere extra on the set of silent films. There’s a dog (Uggy), too, which is every bit as adorable as Asta (“The Thin Man” films.)

Director Michel Hazanavicius freely admits that “The Artist,” filmed in Los Angeles, borrowed liberally from old Hollywood, even relying on a good deal of behind-the-scenes talent from that era. “I was like a crook,” he said during a press conference at New York Film Festival (NYFF) where the film made its U.S. debut.

The actors, too, studied films and stars of yesteryear. JD, a Frenchman who looks every inch and stitch the Hollywood leading men of that fabled era, watched everything from episodes of “Lassie” to Douglas Fairbanks films. As for BB, she took part of her inspiration from Joan Crawford. “She did a lot of dancing in her early career,” said the Paris-based Argentine actress. “Joan was adorable and Peppy had to be adorable, so men and women would like her.

George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) suffers a career setback when talkies come to town in "The Artist."

Other references for the character of Peppy, BB disclosed, are Marlene Dietrich (“She winked a lot.”) and Gloria Swanson (“She did silent films, talkies and TV.”) “Then [director] Michel said forget Joan, Gloria and Marlene and just focus on being you.”

And so it is. The film is indeed a wonderful, glorious throwback to the Hollywood of old. BB and JD are an engaging pair, never missing a step. Speaking of step, that dance number at the end is spectacular.

A number of those that sleep, eat and breathe film have declared “The Artist” the best film of the year.


“My Week With Marilyn,” which opened the day before Thanksgiving, chronicles the seven days that Oxford chap and film career-minded Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne) spends with Marilyn Monroe (Michelle Williams) while her husband Arthur Miller (Dougray Scott) is away. The superstar actress has famously journeyed to England to film “The Prince and the Showgirl” with Sir Laurence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh).

In a film boasting many strong performances, it is MW who stands apart. Her Marilyn is utterly luminous; the actress effortlessly conveys Marilyn’s vulnerabilities and strengths. On close inspection, that twinkle in the eyes of MW’s Marilyn reveals a steely determination that informs the viewer that Marilyn Monroe is playing Marilyn Monroe, that what is visible to the naked eye is a veneer. “The first thing I stumbled upon,” MW divulged about her research into Marilyn after a press screening of the film at the NYFF, “ is that Marilyn Monroe was a character she played. It was so well-honed … the artifice.”

What is underneath (Norma Jean), however, Marilyn doesn’t reveal for survival’s sake, surrounded as she is by a retinue of servers, fetchers, carriers and enablers. In other words, leeches and sycophants.


Paula Strasberg (Zoe Wanamaker), Marilyn Monroe (Michelle Williams) and Milton Greene (Dominic Cooper) on the set of "The Prince and the Showgirl" in "My Week With Marilyn."

The only person Marilyn allows a window into her self and soul is Colin. Sir Laurence’s assistant treats the actress as Marilyn longs to be treated – “like a normal girl” instead of a sex symbol/object. Colin, played with starry-eyed innocence and goodwill by ER, is the only person around Marilyn who wants nothing from her. On the contrary, he wants – and does– give her something.

Of course, skeptics should keep in mind that “My Week With Marilyn” (published some time after CC’s “The Prince, the Showgirl and Me”) is based solely on CC’s account of his time with the famous American actress. What a week!

“The Artist” is rated PG-13 for a disturbing image and a crude gesture; “My Week With Marilyn is rated R for language.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Townsfolk Around the World, Say No to Diabesity

The spinach/beans/orange slice salad can do great things for the palate and, blood-sugar levels. Photo courtesy of Whole Foods Market.

By JANET COOK, NYC Healthy Chick

HO!
Ho! Ho! Happy Holidays from NYC Healthy Chick.

It's not even friggin' Turkey Day yet and retailers are playing subliminal holiday songs promoting good cheer while hoping to cash in at the register early this year. Instead of buying a gift that will go unused or be regifted, think about new ways to promote better health and happiness this holiday season.

A daily round of yoga is a proven antidote to stress, which contributes to insulin resistance. Photo courtesy of Dreamstime.

One gift that one out of every two of us will get this year is a disease that will make us fat, sick and will kill us. The scary thing is that 90 percent of us don't even know we have it.

So what is it? It's called Diabesity, the continuum of abnormal biology that ranges from mild insulin resistance to full-blown diabetes. Who heard of such a thing? I have and I have a few ideas about how to stave it off, but first a little more background.

According to my health guru, Mark Hyman, MD, "diabesity complications are – diabetes, elevated blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol – all are simply downstream symptoms that result from problems with diet, lifestyle, and environmental toxins interacting with our unique genetic susceptibilities."

Get the day started with a breakfast of a nutrient-dense baked quinoa bar. Photo courtesy of Whole Foods Market.

Insulin, then, is the real driver in this problem – right? The average U.S. diet is composed mainly of empty calories and abundant quickly absorbed sugars, liquids and carbohydrates. Cells slowly become resistant to the effects of insulin and need increasingly more to do the same job of keeping blood-sugar levels in balance. A direct consequence is a resistance to insulin. Guess what happens next? Premature aging and deterioration of the body.

As insulin levels increase this leads to any number of problems such as an out-of-control appetite, weight gain around the belly, inflammation and oxidative stress. And if that is not enough, myriad other downstream effects, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, low HDL, high triglycerides, thickening of the blood and increased risk of cancer, Alzheimer's Disease and depression. Oh – no, no, no. Who among us wants this?!

Less milk and cookies and more vegetables and exercise will help Santa fit into the suit he used to wear 20 years ago. Photo courtesy of Dreamstime.

Good news! Insulin resistance and Diabesity are100 percent reversible. Most of us simply need to eliminate the lifestyle and dietary practices that are causing biological imbalances and add the ones that are necessary to help the body regain its balance. These changes can produce immediate effects..

Open to receiving a great gift this holiday season? Here is NYC Healthy Chick's Gift of Health for Diabesity Prevention.

Mighty Supplements. Take a good multivitamin, vitamin D and fish oil. Add to these special blood-sugar balancing nutrients such as alpha lipoic acid, chromium polynicotinate, biotin, cinnamon, green tea catechins and glucomannan.

Apricot hemp seed chews can satisfy a sweet tooth without causing a crash and burn later. Photo courtesy of Whole Foods Market.

Push Pause. Stress is a major unrecognized contributor to insulin resistance and blood-sugar imbalance. Reserve time every day to do relaxation exercises – deep breathing, visualization, yoga, etc.

Break a Sweat. Walk for at least 30 minutes each day. For some, 30 to 60 minutes or more of vigorous aerobic exercise four to six times a week may be necessary.

Get Connected. Research shows improvement in our overall health when we consistently spend quality time with others. Invite friends, families and neighbors to change their diets and lifestyle along with you. Together we can all take back our health.

Healthy eating in community (but not all at once, please)is a natural cure for Diabesity. Photo courtesy of Dreamstime.

Good Nutrition. Eliminate sugar and processed carbohydrates; include whole real foods like lean protein (chicken or fish), vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans and whole grains.

Below are a few recipes to help you stay on track this holiday season:

Get your internal furnace burning first thing in the morning with Home Baked Breakfast Quinoa Bars. These coco-almond nutrient-packed goodies replace the high sugary breakfast bars. (http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/recipes/3141) … Toss things up with Spinach Salad with Aduki Beans. It can be a side dish or add more raw vegetables and beans to make it a main. Nutrient-dense dishes like this are a great means of balancing the blood-sugar level. (http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/recipes/2771) … Keep cravings in check with Hempseed Apricot Chews. Get your daily dose of omega-3 fatty acids and fruit naturally. If kept in an airtight container in the refrigerator, these goodies can last up to two weeks. (http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/recipes/2032)

In celebrating this holiday season, better watch out, better not fry – I'm telling you why – you don’t want Diabesity to come to town!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Brits It Again at Intl. Emmy Awards; Chilean Debut

Samanta Artal Susskand and Paula Andrea Gomze Vera, second and third from left, pose with an actor and characters from their international Emmy-winning show, “Con Qué Sueñas?” (What is your Dream?"). Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images.

WHAT do Lady Gaga and Dan Rather have in common?

The duo appeared – separately – at last night’s 39th International Emmy Awards and were two of the highest lights. The program, which honors outstanding work in international television, was livestreamed on the Internet from the Mercury Ballroom at the New York Hilton.

LG, who was not listed on the press tip sheet for obvious reasons, presented the Founders Award to Nigel Lythgoe. Himself is most famously known as a judge on the TV show, “So You Think You Can Dance,” though he also is co-creator and executive producer of that program. He performs the latter job, too, for another little competition show called “American Idol.”

Lady Gaga and Nigel Lythgoe make their way to meet the press after the singer-songwriter presented the producer with the Founders Award at the 39th International Emmy Awards. Photo by Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images.

DR, world famous for succeeding Walter Cronkite as the anchor of the “CBS Evening News," presented the best Documentary award to John Kastner and Silva Basmajian for “Life with Murder.” The film chronicles Canadian parents dealing with the aftermath of their daughter’s murder. She was murdered by her brother. Of course, the parents of two are bereft: one kid dead, the other imprisoned.

Many attendees Your Truly queried gave the ceremony a rating just above lukewarm. Two major reasons. One, Canadian-born host Jason Priestley was a bit awkward, not handling the scripted material as well as the acerbic Brit (is that a redundant phrase?) Ricky Gervais, for instance.

Second, many of the major awards and most of the overall awards went to the United Kingdom, a common outcome for the International Emmy Awards that is becoming increasingly distressing, particularly for the likes of Brazil and South Korea, which believe they have arrived. A digression to disclose that a Chilean show won the nation’s first international Emmy.

Executive producer Samanta Artal Susskind and director Paula Andrea Gomez Vera accepted an award for “Con Qué Sueñas?” (What is your Dream?"), which asks children such existential questions as “What makes you happy/sad?” The show won in the Children & Young People category.

John Kastner, Silva Basmajian and Dan Rather. The newsman presented the duo with the best documentary award for “Life With Murder at the 39th International Emmy Awards. Photo by Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images.

Meanwhile, the Brits entered programs in seven categories and won five international Emmys. Brazil (0-6) and South Korea (0-2) went home empty-handed. True to form, some British winners in major categories did not show up to receive their statuettes – including Best Actress Julie Walters (MO) and Best Actor Christopher Eccleston (“Accused,” which also won as best Drama Series) – putting a slight damper on the festivities.

Alas, as the great, late Mr. Cronkite would say, “… and that’s the way it is.”

Visit http://http://www.iemmys.tv/ to see a full list of winners of the 39th International Emmy Awards.

Friday, November 18, 2011

In 'The Descendants,' Managing Family Crises

George Clooney, Shailene Woodley and Amara Miller in "The Descendants." Photo courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures.


IN “The Descendants,” directed by Alexander Payne (“Sideways”), George Clooney stars as Matt King, a man suffering an existential crisis spawned by two separate events. The film opens today.

"The Descendants" is rated R for language, including some sexual references.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Hard Cider: Breakfast of Champions Returns – Revived

Hard Cider this ain't, but regular cider is a favorite autumn draft at fairs and farmers' markets. Photo by Richard aka Dpifan.

BY TAMARA FISH

EVERYTHING
old is new again, and nothing is quite as fashionable as hard cider, the alcoholic version of the fall classic. Hard cider has burst back on the scene, a fresh alternative to the beer option.

But guess what? In the USA, hard cider is older than baseball. Older than beer. Older than the country itself. And almost as old as apple pie. Hard cider was THE DRINK in colonial America, back in the days when people were afraid to drink local water, fearing contamination and illness.

Hard cider was so popular that most people, even children, drank it for breakfast. Milk wasn't pasteurized back then, and cider became what many thought was a healthy alternative. Imagine that.

Eden Ice Cider is a dessert wine with a long aftertaste. Photo courtesy of Eden Ice Cider.

Thank goodness someone turned us on to coffee and orange juice rather quickly. In fact, the nation's love affair with cider, rum and bourbon is one of the reasons why Prohibition gained such traction. And so, the beauty of cider retreated to the past, largely forgotten in this part of the continent.

But 15 years ago, someone woke up: Hard Cider. Let’s make it again! And the old regular has quickly become the pub scene’s newest favorite. But why? Or rather, but what?

Cider 101: What is “Hard Cider”?
What is hard cider? Cider – what Americans call “hard cider” and people elsewhere call cydre, cidre or sidra – is a fermented non-citrus fruit juice, most often made from apples, pears, sour cherries or a blend thereof.

Magners, particularly popular in Ireland, is often served over ice. Photo courtesy of The Passionate Foodie.

To conjure the basic flavor, imagine a basic non-alcoholic apple cider. Now imagine it somewhat less sweet, about the same sugar content as ginger ale. Add a bit of a tang, a bit of bite. Factor in slight fizziness (light carbonation). Now add in a kick, just a touch of alcohol, about as much as one would find in a beer (4-6%). The color will vary widely from pale straw (Original Sin) to deep amber (Magners). A rather refreshingly light drink, hard cider pairs well with any wintertime meal or hearty soup. Some popular brews include Magners and Woodchuck.

Cider 301: Advanced course
There’s nothing wrong with Magners or Woodchuck. In fact, I drink them myself. But if that’s the span of your cider sensibilities, go east, young bloods! Seize the world! France's Normandy has been crafting dry hard ciders for centuries; Great Britain produces and drinks more cider than anywhere else in the world; many other countries brew batches to make your toes curl with delight.

Clos Normand is bottled like Champagne and has an aftertaste that speaks of cloves. Photo courtesy of Euro Brews.

For finer ciders, take the basic hard cider described above and kick it up a notch. Make it far less sweet (dry). Think instead of the sweetness of a fruit-infused seltzer instead of ginger ale. Now tame the carbonation and add complexity: a slight bitter edge or an almost yeasty smell or a mild slightly oaky-spicy finish. Ahhh, what a fine cider can be.

What to serve it with? Keep Britain and Normandy in mind: fish and chips, mussels, a nice creamy cheese. Or if you must (as I often do), a good hearty burger works well, too.

To expand the cider palate, try these unusual finds:
Clos Normand
750 ml
$7, Mission Wine & Spirits
(http://www.missionliquorandwine.com/)
Not all of France swoons with wine. Northeastern France, with its rich extensive orchards, revels in its cidre instead, and its Clos Normand shows what can be done with apples. Carmel in color and bottled like Champagne, Clos Normand’s drier taste pairs well with creamy cheeses, shellfish and roasted pork (which I haven’t tasted in years, but I promise, it would go brilliantly!). A gently pleasant aftertaste lingers, not too sweet, as with a reminiscence of cloves. Lovely.

Original Sin
12 oz. six-packs,
$10, White Horse Wine and Spirits
(http://www.whitehorsewine.com/)
As pale as pale can get, this cider is dry dry dry, and yet infused with lovely soft flavors. Serve well chilled with salmon burgers and dinner salads.

Original Sin is very pale and dry. Photo courtesy of Great Brewers.

Eden Ice Ciders
375 ml
$29, NapaCabs online

For an exceptional change, try ice ciders, an apple dessert wine. Brewers press cold-stored apples only after winter sets in, and then sets the juice outside to free for at least six weeks, concentrating the flavors to exquisiteness. Eden, a small batch producer in Vermont, crafts heaven in a bottle. Sweet, full, rich and creamy with a lingering aftertaste, serve Eden Ice Cider as dessert itself and watch your guests marvel at an apple’s beauty revealed.

Drinking on an autumn day. That’s hard cider in a bottle. Delicious!

Next up: Need a Holiday Surprise? Try the Rich Wines of (Southern) France

Sunday, November 13, 2011

In 'Milk Like Sugar,' Life Isn't so Sweet

Talisha (Cherise Boothe), Annie (Angela Lewis) and Margie (Nikiya Mathis) make a dangerous pact in "Milk Like Sugar." Photos by Ari Mintz.

BY TAMARA BECK

IN “Milk Like Sugar,” Beyonce’s “Run The World (Girls)”
is the ironic anthem that introduces three teenagers, Talisha (Cherise Boothe), Margie (Nikiya Mathis) and Annie (Angela Lewis), as they stride purposefully and noisily into Antwoine’s (LeRoy McClain) tattoo parlor.

Kirsten Greenidge’s brilliant new play is a simile of despair. A joint production of Women’s Project Theater and La Jolla Playhouse, “Milk Like Sugrar” is in an extended run through 27 Nov at Playwrights Horizons.

The girls’ seeming confidence is just bravado, no surer than the quicksand on which they have built their young lives. Hopelessness is engrained in the dismal choices they have made and that have been made for them. (See video at http://www.playwrightshorizons.org/sharp.asp)

Talisha, Margie and Annie have made a pact. They plan to have girl babies and parade them around in matching pink brandname strollers. These girls don’t have low expectations, they have no expectations. Well, actually, they do expect that “a little tiny baby,” as Annie says, will love them completely.

Malik (J. Mallory-McCree) has a different outlook from most of the people in Annie's life in "Milk Like Sugar."

Nothing in their world encourages them to do better. No bright future awaits them. They are part of a cycle of unhappiness and poverty. The performances are uniformly heart-breakingly genuine as to elicit sympathy for the girls' plight. KG's prose bears witness, not judgment; she capturs the tempo of youth-speak perfectly.

Bullying and vulnerable Talisha is lost to a series of “old guys” who keep her in bling and in thrall. Of the three girls, it is Talisha who is most broken by her all too-adult lifestyle. Margie, already pregnant, is sweet and dumb. Her fate is sealed by a loving family with a tradition of having children at a young age. As for Annie, any potential she has is squelched by her mother, Myrna (Tonya Pinkins). A dreamer discontented and bitter about her fate as a child bride, Myrna is cruel, self-absorbed and jealous of her daughter. AL gives a deeply touching performance of Annie’s plight.

Margie, Talisha and Annie hang out with Antwoine (LeRoy McClain) in "Milk Like Sugar."

Only Malik (J. Mallory-McCree), the stargazer who has been picked by Annie’s crew to be her baby daddy, really sees a way out for himself. His hope is to help Annie find that ticket to a more purposeful life as well.

“Milk Like Sugar” tells a sad story that is woven like a fine tapestry into a plot both expected and surprising.

Visit http://www.playwrightshorizons.org/ to learn more about “Milk Like Sugar.”

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Gobble! Gobble! ... Certainly It Doesn’t Mean This


Dairy-free mini cupcakes have the makings of a crowd-pleaser. Photo courtesy of Whole Foods Market.

By JANET COOK, NYC Healthy Chick

GOBBLE!
Gobble! Thanksgiving Day is notorious for being an occasion when many take license to stuff themselves like – well – a turkey, overindulge in alcohol, quarrel with family and at midnight or 7 a.m. on Friday embark on a credit-card fueled spending spree.

Good golly, we have strayed far away from the traditions that gave rise to the holiday. In many cultures, festivals were held before and after harvest to give thanks for a good yield, to rejoice as a community after much hard work, to celebrate safe voyages and to celebrate peace. Would our British and Native American ancestors approve of how Thanksgiving is celebrated today? Have we lost our way and along with it the true meaning of the holiday? The answer is a resounding YES!

The promise of Friday morning bargains has replaced the traditional Thanksgiving celebrations around harvest, rest and peace. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

When was the last time any of us really gave thanks on Thanksgiving Day? During these harsh economic times many are facing challenges and obstacles like never before – from the loss of jobs, to life savings, relationships, loved ones and health. Thinking about all these losses can put a damper on things for sure.

This year, though, is an opportunity to create a whole new way of celebrating by turning all of the negatives outcomes into positive ones. Why not start by celebrating the hardships with reconciliation, proclamations, gratitude and a lot of thankfulness? Of course, the meal can be the centerpiece of it all.

Thanksgiving 2011 carries a greater meaning for me personally. Having surrendered and dealt with my own personal and professional losses this past year, I was reminded how blessed I am. The lessons I've learned about letting go, being flexible, forgiving, mourning, growing, thriving, as well as creating something from nothing, stretched me far beyond my comfort zone. My family, friends and business partners have been truly amazing. From them I received an outpouring of support, love and understanding in what were not some of my finest hours.

The Thanksgiving dinner of today is far removed from the idyll depicted in Norman Rockwell's "Freedom From Want." Photo courtesy of the Norman Rockwell Museum.

In my quest for the true meaning of Thanksgiving, I found a few great quotes that are reminders of how blessed we truly are:

Perhaps it takes a purer faith to praise God for unrealized blessings than those we once enjoyed of those we enjoy now.A.W. Tozer

I do not think of all the misery. But of the glory that remains.Anne Frank

Reflect upon your present blessings … not on your past misfortunes.Charles Dickens

Observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and praise to our beneficient father who dwelleth in the heaven.Abraham Lincoln

Now that we have some ingredients for creating a new meaning and purpose for Thanksgiving, let’s talk turkey. Face it, our ancestors weren’t dealing with weakened immune systems, food allergies and sensitivities. What’s a host(ess) to do when Aunt Susie is lactose intolerant, Cousin Bob is gluten sensitive, and his/her BFF is a vegan?! Holy mackerel! Suddenly, the meal becomes a major production.


The stuffing is packed with enough ingredients to make diehards forget that it is gluten-free. Photo courtesy of Whole Foods Market.

Not to worry, NYC Healthy Chick has simple solutions for making Thanksgiving a breeze!

Repeat after me … BUFFET. Viola! Instead of the traditional meal, prepare a few favorites (the bird and loads of veggies). Ask food-sensitive guests to bring a dish or two for the celebration. Make sure to place note cards next to each dish or give a head’s up about all items on the menu to those with sensitivities. The last thing anyone wants on Thanksgiving is people rushing off to the bathroom – or worse the hospital!

Clueless about where to find healthy holiday recipes that will please every palate? For the lowdown on some of the best vegan, gluten-free and dairy-free holiday recipes check out the Whole Foods web site. The recipes are creative, tasty and offer alternatives to holiday classics, not to mention help for those who have problems with portion control. (http://http://www.wholefoods.com/)

Go-Go Gluten Free Bread Stuffing. Still enjoy a favorite holiday side dish without the worry of gluten-sensitivity flare-up. The stuffing is loaded with ingredients that make up for what is lost in the traditional recipe. (http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/recipes/1354)

Got Vegan? Serve up a warm Millet Salad With Brussels Sprouts, Creamed Mushrooms and Sage. (Vegan family and friends will jump with joy at the effort made to serve a hearty, flavorful holiday dish in their honor. (http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/recipes/2620)

A salad for vegans and nonvegans, too. Photo courtesy of Whole Foods Market.

Go lite with versatile Mini Pumpkin-Ginger Cupcakes topped with Maple Cream Frosting to satisfy the post-meal sweet tooth. Unlike the traditional seasonal cupcakes, which are made with white sugar, hydrogenated oil and artificial flavorings, these dairy-free treats are made with healthier ingredients. They should appeal to everyone around the dinner table. http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/recipes/789; http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/recipes/recipe.php?recipeId=798)

Let’s give thanks for what we have and what can be gained this Thanksgiving. Doing so will leave us wanting for nothing.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

A Most Perfect Thirst Quencher for Indian Summer

A perfect picture of Indian Summer. Photo by Peter Rufi.

BY TAMARA FISH

HOT,
hot days after a killing frost has come. There’s nothing quite like Indian Summer.

Right when we’ve abandoned all hope of green for the next nine months, right as we’ve resigned ourselves to living in fleece, sweaters and GORE-TEX, Nature itself bestows a blessing, as if to entice Persephone once more. The piercing sun assaults the eyes. The fiery hues of autumn blaze fiercely against a crisp blue sky.

The still, still air dares us to keep buttoned up; soon layers and layers of clothing come off, prompting many to shed far more than they normally would. The skin flushes hot, almost feverish against the rays, as if greeting a long lost love.

There’s something quite fierce, quite brazen about Indian Summer that borders on rude. Just a little too over the top. And now there’s a wine that meets its audacity, step by step.

Meet Viñas Casas Patronales Sauvignon Blanc Reserva 2010.
Like most Sauvignon Blancs, Casas Patronales reveals the tell-tale signs of a very strong aroma (nose), a lingering taste after swallowing (long finish) and its characteristic flavors (notes) that are both vegetal (specifically, green pepper) and citrous (typically lime or grapefruits).

The Indian Summer Effect
Now add the Indian Summer effect. Make it bold. Make it unexpected and exciting. Make it not-too-refined, but a welcome change of pace. Make it borderline rude. And that’s Viñas Casas Patronales’ Sauvignon Blanc Reserva 2010.

Vina Casas Patronales Sauvignon Blanc Reserva 2010 has a very prominent nose among other characteristics. Photo from Snooth.

The nose is not only strong, it flies from the bottle as if on broomstick. A rhombus 3000 for sure, Harry Potter himself would struggle to keep upright. No need to puzzle what that scent can be. It slaps the unsuspecting in the face, saying “Snap outta it!” and leaves a calling card that reads, “floral, stupid, with a side a grapefruit.” You have been dutifully forewarned.

The nose – the physical one, not the metaphorical one – checks in with the brain, the brain sends a one-word message to the tastebuds: “Incoming.” The mouth salivates in anticipation. And then it hits. Once more, the nose gets knocked as the barest sip explodes the palate. ZOING!

One sip. That’s all it takes. Flavors saturate the entire mouth. Green pepper becomes freshly picked green peppers. Citrus becomes a dripping newly peeled grapefruit with a shot of lime juice chaser. And then like a streaker, new flavors burst onto the scene. What’s that spiciness? Is it nutmeg? And the tell-tale minerality? Yep. There it is. In fact, the mineral aftertaste is almost a bit too sharp and tangy. (I did say borderline rude.) Right when the tell-tale long finish begins to take shape, Casas Patronales takes up residence, pulls up a chair, sits rights on down, and begins to read Ovid all night long. This wine goes nowhere quickly. The finish waits and waits and waits until it decides it wants to leave.

Serve chilled, but not too much. Let nothing get in the way of this taste. Serve with flavorful oily fish: mackerel, salmon, sea bass. As bold as it is, Casas Patronales even pairs well with a good hunk of meat or stinky cheese.

Bold, crisp, fresh, almost rude, Viñas Casas Patronales Sauvignon Blanc Reserva has it all: the perfect Indian Summer wine.

Next Up: Real Hard Cider.
 
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