Once Upon A Time

Once Upon A Time

My Alexa has a new baby sister and in keeping with the George Foreman tradition of baby naming, she is called Alexa, too (or Alexa II). Just like her big sister, she plays songs and artists you ask her, curated playlists and music channels, Pandora, Spotify, and SiriusXM. The difference is, she is the wireless Tap model and can go anywhere our Wi-Fi will reach. She comes out on the deck with us on a sultry summer night to play cocktail hour music while we sip and nibble. Lately, she’s getting all the attention and I think her older sister is feeling jealous.

While cocktail hour topics of conversation usually cover the mundane work and family news, Alexa helps to enable our far-flung tangents. We’re listening to “Fly Me To The Moon” sung by Tony Bennett, when my drinking buddy asks, “Remember that Tony Bennett special with all the different artists singing his songs?” He’s referring to a special tribute to Tony Bennett on his 90th birthday. The all-star concert at Radio City Music Hall included such great artists as Stevie Wonder, Lady Gaga, Diana Krall, and Andrea Bocelli. “I really liked the song that Bob Dylan sang,” he adds. With limited information in our memory banks, it’s time to put Alexa II with Prime Music Unlimited through her paces.

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We first uncover that the song sung by Bob Dylan on the Tony Bennett special is called “Once Upon A Time.” Listening to it again, I understand why it was so memorable. Even back in the sixties, full of the vigor of youth, Dylan was never known as a technically great (or even good?) singer, but he puts a song across with honest emotion and sincerity. The straightforward arrangement of “Once Upon A Time” featuring a pedal steel guitar perfectly complements the lilting melody and nostalgic lyrics sung by Dylan. We especially loved Charlie Sexton’s exquisite guitar playing.

I found it disconcerting that in the Billboard article from Dec. 13, 2016 covering the event, Bob Dylan wasn’t even mentioned. Through the years, I’ve seen some poor performances where he seemed disoriented (stoned or over-medicated?) but Dylan’s performance on the Tony Bennett special was certainly worthy of recognition by Billboard. Regardless of whether they’re a fan, isn’t a 50-something year career in the music business something a music magazine should respect?

We ask Alexa who else sang this beautiful song, “Once Upon A Time,” written by Charles Strouse and Lee Adams? The original was sung by Ray Bolger and Eileen Herlie in the Broadway musical All American in 1962. Bolger, who effortlessly fluttered over the complexities of “If I Only Had A Brain” as the Scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz, opted to talk his way through the skillfully crafted contours of “Once Upon A Time”. Taken out of the context of the Broadway show, we weren’t huge fans of this version.

 

The Frank Sinatra version is pure perfection; lush orchestration, silky strings and Frank’s mellow, nuanced crooning. The rendition is so perfect that it makes me love Dylan’s imperfection even more.

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And after all, we did begin this Alexa foray with the Tony Bennett 90th Birthday special so we would be remiss not to listen to the master himself. In Bennett’s arrangement, the jazz ensemble is prominently featured with an orchestral overlay. Jazz guitar comping accompanied by upright bass and snare drum played with brushes give his version a rhythmic feel. Bennett sings “Once Upon A Time” in a higher key than Sinatra, providing more urgency to the haunting nature of the melody. The highlight of this arrangement is an inspired ending featuring a signature Bennett high note followed by a dramatic pause (and omitting the ominous chant “Once upon a time never comes again”).

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I you’d like to know more about our cocktail hour musings on “Once Upon A Time”, here are some links. Or, you can just ask Alexa.

Bob Dylan: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Bi_B5lRsrM

Ray Bolger: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ExXTH7IwtSk

Frank Sinatra: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hqJOE0SyWnE

Tony Bennett: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VmwApZaMNe0

Billboard Magazine article: http://www.billboard.com/articles/news/7624353/tony-bennett-90th-birthday-tv-special-recap

Further down the rabbit hole, you’ll find more versions of “Once Upon A Time” by well-known artists Eddie Fisher, Robert Goulet, Bobby Darin, and Perry Como.

Acorn Squash and Crossfork Creek Cabernet Sauvignon 2015

Acorn Squash and Crossfork Creek Cabernet Sauvignon 2015

Acorn squash usually conjures images of fall’s bounty, the autumn harvest’s cornucopia of pumpkin, butternut, spaghetti squash, and all those hard, bumpy winter squashes that we don’t quite know what to do with. The hard rind makes these squashes long-lasting, hence the term “winter squash” although here in the Northeast, they are usually grown throughout the summer and picked in late September and October.

So how did we acquire a garden-fresh home-grown acorn squash in July? My sister-in-law, who moved to New Orleans last year, had the realization that a southern garden can be planted as early as March, resulting in mature winter squash in the middle of summer. On her most recent visit to the New York area, she managed to pack two large home-grown squashes in her suitcase. She must have had to leave behind half her clothes and shoes so as not to exceed the 50-pound weight limit.

My sister-in-law gave us a terrific tip to speed up the cooking time for hard squash that I haven’t seen on the internet. After cutting them in half and scooping out the seeds, she microwaves the halves for about 5 minutes. Although she likes hers with cinnamon, we opted for the more prevalent butter and brown sugar preparation, followed by baking.

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Cut in half. I did it lengthwise, but either direction will work. Scoop out the seeds and that pithy stuff. My trusty grapefruit spoon comes to the rescue. Microwave the halves for five or six minutes.

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Smear a half tablespoon of soft butter around the hollow. Sprinkle a tablespoon of brown sugar on each half. Bake at 350 degrees until a fork goes through the flesh easily (about 20 minutes)

The acorn squash was an enjoyable accompaniment to baby-back ribs with Brooks sauce. 

The wine of the evening is something new we’re trying, the 2015 Crossfork Creek Cabernet Sauvignon from Sheridan Vineyards in Yakima Valley, Washington. The Yakima Valley AVA, established in 1983, was the first AVA established in Washington State. It’s part of the larger Columbia Valley that garnered AVA status the following year, in 1984. Widely planted varietals include Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Merlot, Riesling, Pinot Gris, and Syrah. The region is also known for growing Cascade hops, which are very highly regarded and sought after according to my beer-brewing friend.

The nose is fruity towards jammy, with floral notes and hints of green bell pepper and herbs. On the palate plum, cherry, and currants abound with afterthoughts of licorice and tobacco. Many of the Washington State Cabernet Sauvignon wines we’ve tried have been lighter in body than their California counterparts. Not so with Crossfork Creek; it’s squarely down the middle as a medium bodied Cab. The medium-length finish has some bright acidity balanced with oak and light tannins. Overall, Crossfork Creek is well worth the under $20 price.

Grilled Shrimp-Stuffed Portobello Mushroom

Grilled Shrimp-Stuffed Portobello Mushroom

Our roving palates resulted in another recipe mash up and the offspring looks like a stuffed Portobello mushroom and tastes a bit like New Orleans style barbecue shrimp.  This experiment was more the result of a wine-fueled brainstorm motivated by the boredom of our typical Portobello mushroom recipes than the invention of variations simply because we’re missing a few ingredients and are forced to make substitutions. The shrimp and Panko stuffing soaked in the buttery Creole seasonings is the highlight of this recipe.

I use my trusty grapefruit spoon to scoop out the gills.

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Cook the onion and garlic and set aside. Reuse the pan to cook the shrimp.

Heat the oil, butter, Worcestershire, and seasonings. Add Panko, shrimp, and onion. Reuse the pan, less dishes!

Mix with cheese and bacon bits. Stuff into mushrooms and top with cheese (or add cheese halfway through grilling.)

 

Ingredients

  • 2 Portobello mushrooms with stems and gills removed
  • 4-5 large shrimp
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1/3 cup of Panko
  • 1 shallot or small onion, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp. garlic
  • 1 tablespoon Parmesan cheese
  • 1 tablespoon bacon bits
  • 2 teaspoons of Andy Roo’s Louisiana BBQ Shrimp Creole Seasoning
  • Dash of Worcestershire sauce
  • ¼ cup shredded mozzarella
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon butter

Directions

  1. Clean the mushrooms and remove the grills with a grapefruit spoon. Baste the outside with olive oil.
  2. In a medium-sized pan, cook the onion and garlic in a tablespoon of olive oil. Set aside.
  3. Using the same pan, cook the shrimp is salted water. As soon as they are pink and curled, remove them and cut them into small pieces. Pour the water in the drain.
  4. In the same pan, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil and 1 tablespoon of butter. When the butter is melted, add the Creole seasoning and Worcestershire sauce. Cook on low heat for one minute.
  5. In the pan, stir in the small pieces of shrimp, onion, and Panko. Allow the Panko to absorb the oils.
  6. Meanwhile, beat the egg in a mixing bowl. Add the mixture from the pan to the egg and stir in the Parmesan cheese and bacon bits. If the mixture is too wet, add a little more Panko. Stuff into mushrooms.
  7. Grill mushrooms on medium-high heat, adding the cheese topping about halfway through. Mushrooms are done when they are tender and the cheese is melted, less than 10 minutes.

Variations:

·       Instead of shrimp and bacon bits, use 3 slices of cooked bacon cut into small pieces.

·       Add large slices of tomato under the cheese and top with Italian herbs.

·       Swap out the Parmesan and mozzarella cheeses for Gorgonzola or Blue cheese

Michele Chiarlo Palás Barolo 2010

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Our old Monday through Friday work schedule that I irritably referred to as “up at six, home at six”, deserved to be rewarded with Friday night dinner and drinks at one of our favorite local haunts. Thankfully, our routine is much easier now but the Friday mindset of rewarding ourselves for wrapping up another work week has remained constant. In keeping with the traditions of a Boozy Lifestyle, if we aren’t treating ourselves to a meal at a restaurant, we must at least splurge on a good bottle of wine.

We’re drinking the 2010 vintage of Michele Chiarlo Palás Barolo in 2017. The violet-rimmed ruby color pour that is characteristic of young Nebbiolo has changed to a translucent brick-orange over seven years of aging.

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Have you ever had a first impression of someone with your nose instead of your eyes? This wine attracts you with a delicious and intriguing scent. With all of its aromatic complexity, I’m having trouble identifying the many facets of its bouquet individually.  Oodles of dried fruits mingle with licorice candy and fresh spring roses. Not to take away from the enjoyment on the palate, but the nose on this Barolo is by far my favorite aspect.

The wine is light-bodied on the palate, tasting of dried apricot, prune and currants. The initial dried fruit flavors are followed by bright acidity with tangy cranberry flavors. On the finish, the brightness lingers along with soft tannins. This northern Italian varietal has some similarities to Pinot Noir in body and mouth-feel.

The winemaker, Michele Chiarlo, began producing wine in 1956 in Piedmont, Italy. Today, he runs the business with his two sons, Stefano and Alberto. “Palás” is a Piedmontese word meaning palace of luxury. After browsing the Michele Chiarlo website, I get the impression that Palás is a fancy label given to one of the wineries more budget-friendly collections. But no matter how you slice it, Barolo is still one of the most prestigious wines of Italy.

An easy way to remember some of Italy’s great wines are the three big B’s: Barolo, Barbaresco, and Brunello di Montalcino. Barolo and Barbaresco, produced in the Piedmont region in northwest Italy, are made from the Nebbiolo grape. A difficult grape to cultivate, Nebbiolo is most successful in Piedmont’s cool climate, low rainfall, and autumn fog. Brunello, the pride of Tuscany, is made from the Sangiovese grape. The Sangiovese variety that is grown around the village of Montalcino is called Brunello. This area, located south of the Chianti Classico zone, is drier and warmer than Chianti. In this terroir, the Brunello variety of Sangiovese produces deep-color, full-bodied wines with balanced tannins. Whether you prefer the delicate quality of Nebbiolo-based Barolo and Barbaresco or the robust character of Brunello, you can’t go wrong with any of Italy’s three big B’s.

 

 

Our House Has Abandonment Issues

Moving

At about the turn of the millennium, we had job opportunities in a different state and began talking about the possibility of moving. In making our house a home, we put a lot of love and care into it and it made me sad to think about leaving it. But the more we talked about a new house and looked at real estate listings, or property for new construction, the more my sadness about the idea of moving turned to excitement.

We weighed the pros and cons of various communities such as property taxes, traffic and commute time. Where is the nearest supermarket? Does the area have good doctors and hospitals? What style house we want? How many bedrooms do we need? Do we want a pool? We aren’t the quick and easy decision-making types. I’ll admit that sometimes we even have trouble deciding what to drink for cocktail hour. So choosing a new house required long hours of research and deliberation.

Through the months of conversations about moving, we are unaware that our plans are being overheard. In the kitchen, and laundry room, and basement, they’ve been listening. They become angry that they will be left behind, abandoned after years of faithful service. They concoct a scheme to retaliate. One by one they will refuse to work and punish us for leaving them. Major household appliances unite and plan to strike!

Appliances1 Illustration by Bob RichCredit: Bob Rich

My first encounter with the major household appliance strike begins one morning in the laundry room as I drop a load of wash on top of the dryer. Did I just hear a ghostly snicker with sinister intent? Cue the cartoon animated angry machines accompanied by spooky music.

As the washing machine begins the wash cycle, I notice something doesn’t seem right. The agitator is clunking, followed by the spin cycle throwing everything to one side. Inside the machine are chunks of gray debris that look like the accumulation of 10 years of liquid detergent and lint. Maybe all that’s needed is to give the washer a good cleaning with hot water and white vinegar. Unfortunately, the cleaning cycle only leads to more wreckage.

It’s time to call in the big guns for his expert opinion. After a couple of hours of trouble-shooting, the laundry room floor is littered with machine parts and tools. My husband seldom admits defeat, but in this case, the better option is to replace the washer rather than repair it. We’ll have to buy a new one to use for six months until we sell the house. Revenge of the major appliances has begun.

Angered by the abandonment of our eventual move, one-by-one they quit on us. In the months after replacing the washer, the refrigerator and the hot water heater follow suit. All we can hope for is that we sell the house before summer so we won’t need to buy an air conditioner, too.

More than 15 years have passed and we’ve started to talk about moving again. We had forgotten about the appliance rebellion so many years ago and so we haven’t been cautious about discussing the move in front of “them”. Ironically, the washing machine is the first to revolt. A few months later the side-by-side, water and ice-dispensing refrigerator/freezer quits in protest. I wonder which one of them will be next?

Weekend In Review

 

If you follow the Winekindasseur on Twitter, you may have noticed my Monday morning Tweets called Weekend In Review. In the weekly photo, a few empty wine and booze bottles are lined up, ready to head out to the recycle bin. A concerned friend tweeted, “Did you guys really drink a whole bottle of Limoncello over the weekend?” No, but it’s funny you should ask…

Just as we were inspired to clean out the pantry a few weeks ago, we’re attempting to reduce our liquor bottle count as well. The motivation isn’t expiration dates, since most spirits last for years, but rather that we’ll be moving eventually. Now you’re probably wondering, why don’t we just pack up the liquor and wine and drive it to our new place? To some extent we will do just that, but our problem is that there are hundreds of bottles.

Prior to becoming liquor store entrepreneurs, we had an average size collection of spirits. In order to be knowledgeable for our customers, part of our ‘homework’ was to try products at home. After the store, our curiosity led us to continue trying new products and testing in the drink lab. Oftentimes, we made a few cocktails from one bottle and then put it aside to move on to the next experiment. This behavior has resulted in every nook and cranny of our kitchen and dining room being occupied by a partly-consumed bottle of booze. Open a cabinet door and you never know what you’ll find.

I can imagine some less thrifty readers may want to suggest that we pour the bottle contents down the drain and be done with it.  Blasphemy!  This dilemma has delivered an opportunity to revisit our prior mixology dabbling and encourage friends to help us with our project. Certain bottles are ‘targeted’ for completion. When the goal of emptying each bottle has been accomplished, they are collected on the counter for a final farewell photo in memoriam.

Here are a couple of highlights:

Lemon Sorbet

We originally made this cocktail with Dr. McGillicuddy’s Intense Lemon Drop Schnapps. Since the shapely Limoncello bottle was targeted for completion, we’ll substitute it for the Schnapps. We give ourselves a pat on the back for our efficiency because finishing the Smirnoff Whipped Cream Vodka is next on the project timeline. I just love achieving my milestones!

  • 1.5 oz. Smirnoff Whipped Cream Vodka
  • .5 oz. Limoncello
  • .5 oz. lemon juice
  • .5 oz. simple syrup

Shake over ice and pour through a strainer.

Sazerac

Our friends who like to travel to bourbon and whiskey country in the south brought us a souvenir bottle from a distillery they visited. Davy Crockett Whiskey was a gift that kept on giving but after a year or so, it was time to bid farewell to our Tennessean friend. We’ve made a couple of minor changes to the traditional preparation of the Sazerac cocktail: using simple syrup in place of a sugar cube, and shaking instead of stirring.

  • Splash of Absinthe
  • 1.5 oz. whiskey
  • .25 oz simple syrup
  • Few dashes of Peychaud’s bitters
  • Lemon rind
  1. Prepare the glass with a wash of Absinthe and fill with crushed ice. Set aside.
  2. Meanwhile, peel some lemon rind.
  3. Fill a shaker with ice and add the whiskey, simple syrup, and about 3 dashes of bitters. Shake vigorously.
  4. Pour out the crushed ice from the glass. Strain and pour the whiskey into the glass. Twist the lemon rind and garnish the drink.

Sazerac

Ingredients On Hand Challenge

Ingredients On Hand Challenge

I have a secret fantasy. In it, I’m appearing on The Rachael Ray Show to promote my book about living the Boozy Lifestyle and I’m asked to participate in a cooking challenge. The game is to create a meal out of five random ingredients. I know I’ll ace it since I perform this very activity at least a couple of times a week. My daydream may be less exciting than folks who imagine sipping champagne in a private jet en route to dine in Paris, or thrill-seeking adventures like climbing Mount Everest or sky diving but it’s my unheralded superpower, nonetheless.

This ingredients-on-hand challenge was initiated by cleaning out our pantry, stocked with those irresistible 10 for $10 sale items that have no immediate plan for consumption. Normally, I not very aware of the aging of canned and packaged goods in the cupboards since they’re meant to last for a few years. But when an elderly relative serves you dip from a jar with a “Best By” date sometime in the last century, it’s a wakeup call to check the dates.

To my pleasant surprise, there’s nothing in this pantry sweep that needs to be thrown away. I make a collection of items with expiration dates drawing near, including a package of Knorr Pasta Sides. Prepared packaged goods like Knorr side dishes or Kraft mac-n-cheese aren’t foods I prepare on a regular basis; but I keep these items on hand for occasions when we are inclement weather-bound, or overcome with laziness to the point of cooking incapacitation.

I choose the microwave directions and, for the last two minutes of cooking time, add a cup of par-boiled broccoli florets. It’s a tasty accompaniment to grilled chicken legs and thighs seasoned with Italian herbs and parmesan cheese.

Paired with Buena Vista Pinot Noir.

Next up in the Ingredients On Hand Challenge, we move on to cleaning out the refrigerator. Frequently there’s a smidgeon of ricotta cheese, a chunk of mozzarella, or a few ounces of cooked pasta left over after making lasagna, stuffed shells, eggplant parmigiana, or a homemade pizza. Here’s an easy way to put those leftovers on a plate instead of in the garbage pail.

Baked Spaghetti 

Ingredients

  • ¼ – ½ pound of cooked spaghetti (or whatever is leftover)
  • 3 oz. mozzarella cheese, shredded
  • ½ – ¾ cup of tomato sauce
  • ½ cup Ricotta cheese
  • 1 tablespoon grated parmesan cheese
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon of parsley
  • ½ teaspoon of dried basil
  • Pinch of salt and pepper

Directions

  1. In a large mixing bowl, beat the egg and combine with ricotta cheese, parmesan cheese, parsley, basil, salt and pepper.
  2. Add the spaghetti into the ricotta mixture and gently coat.
  3. In an oven-safe dish, pour a bit of tomato sauce on the bottom. Transfer the spaghetti to the dish.
  4. Layer the mozzarella over the top of the casserole. Pour the remaining tomato sauce over the top and allow some to coat the sides of the dish to prevent the spaghetti from sticking and burning.
  5. Bake in a 350 degree oven for 20 to 25 minutes.

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Paired with McManis Family Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon.

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