What 3 Things Do You Value Most?

What 3 Things Do You Value Most?

“What three things do you value most?” was a query posed to the students of Mr. O’Neill’s ninth grade English class. It was a simple question with no qualifiers. Our three answers were anonymously written on a small piece of paper and collected.

Forty-some-odd years later, my memory of this day in class is still impactful. Mr. O’Neill was the hippie of the high school teaching staff. A casual young man in jeans with longish hair, trimmed beard and mustache, whose idea of dressing up was a sports jacket with elbow patches. His curriculum added fun and creativity to the required reading list of To Kill a Mockingbird, A Tale of Two Cities, and Romeo and Juliet. At the end of the school year we listened to the album Tommy, by The Who, interpreting its lyrical story set to music ranging from the intimate to the bombastic, and appreciating the brilliance of the first famous rock-opera.

The question, “What three things do you value most?” started off sounding like a game and we wanted to know the rules. Did Mr. O’Neill mean material things, or people, or abstracts? He wouldn’t answer any of our questions. After a bit of deliberation, all twenty-five of us put down our pens and handed in our answers.

Mr. O’Neill began reading the submissions aloud and prompting us to talk about them. Words like family and home appeared often. A few times “money” or “getting a job” were conveyed. As the class discussed their answers, anonymity was no longer possible, as reasoning was mostly supported by the author. How did I answer?

Peace, love, and marijuana.

What was I thinking? The peace sign was a prolific symbol bolstered by music and culture of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. Even if I couldn’t wrap my teenage brain around the issues of the Vietnam War and the protests over its legitimacy, young men not much older than me were drafted and never came home. Some, like our local hero Ron Kovic, author of Born On The Fourth Of July, came home mentally and physically battered. Even at the tender age of 14, I had embraced the peacenik culture, from music, to fashion (remember tie-dye, Earth shoes, and bell-bottoms). Peace, man!

What teenage girl doesn’t think love is important? Oh, to be kissed! Let’s just say my answer, “love”, was all about boys and raging hormones and supported by another iconic symbol.

Not one to take any school assignment too seriously, my inner wise ass got the better of me on number three. My marijuana answer got its fair share of snickers and eye-rolls from the classroom audience. Even in ninth grade, I just couldn’t help myself.

I’ve often thought about my answers and how their intent has changed over time. While striving for world peace was the idealistic goal of a hopeful teenager, feeling inner peace has become part of the boozy lifestyle mantra. My creativity and motivation for productive and positive activities such as writing, playing music, cooking, exercising, and socializing spring from a place of internal calmness. And when my inner peace gives way to turmoil, watch out for cranky Julia!

The value of love has taken on a deeper and broader meaning than the intention of my teenage response. Love is coupled with family, home, and friends. Love is a slow burn and spans decades. Love and forgiveness are for myself as well as others. I try not to beat myself up over things in the past that can’t be changed.

A classmate’s value of truth has taken on a whole new meaning in adulthood. As a teenager, truth sounded like something biblical; be honest and don’t lie to your parents. For older me, truth represents reality. It’s a lifelong learning process to percieve facts without bias. The chaotic din of social media and pundits makes us more prone to falsehoods and propaganda and less able to distinguish factual reality. I didn’t realize how much I valued truth and integrity until I saw so little of them displayed in public.

On a lighter note, in the spirit of my boozy lifestyle, I would change number three from weed to wine (although marijuana has just been legalized in my home state of New Jersey). If peace and love are boozy lifestyle goals, then wine is one of the instruments for attaining them. A delightful bottle of red with a few bits of tangy cheese offers a little taste of heaven in my comfy chair by the fireplace as my drinking buddy and I discuss the latest dystopian science fiction show we’re watching. Oh, wait, that’s not sci-fi, it’s the nightly news. As far as being a wise ass, some things never change.

Instant Pot Jambalaya With Chicken and Sausage

Instant Pot Jambalaya With Chicken and Sausage

My jambalaya recipe underwent another variation recently after I bought the Instant Pot pressure cooker. Looking online to find adjustments for ingredient ratios and cooking time for the pressure cooker, I noticed there were lots of recipes with a can of chopped tomatoes. My notes from the New Orleans School of cooking indicate that there are “red” and “brown” varieties of jambalaya. The red added paprika and tomato juice, and the brown used Kitchen Bouquet. I left mine as the original “pasty white” variety.

Typically, the sausage and chicken are cooked on the sauté setting in the Instant Pot but I prefer to send the spouse outside to cook it on the barbecue. As long as his cocktail is ready when he returns, he really doesn’t mind.

This recipe works well with substitutions. Leftover chicken or a roasted chicken from the market, Italian sausage in place of Andouille, adding or subtracting vegetables all work well.

Ingredients

  • 1.5 cup rice
  • 1.5 cup chicken broth
  • ¼ cup dry sherry (Fairbanks)
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 1 bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 stalks of celery (and/or celery tops), chopped
  • 1 teaspoon Tony Chechere Creole Seasoning
  • 2 chicken pieces (i.e. breast or thigh) cut to bite-size
  • 2 sausages cut ¼ inch round

Directions

  1. Send your spouse out to the barbecue to cook the chicken and sausage. Cut to size after cooking.
  2. Sauté bell pepper, celery, and onion in the Instant Pot for a couple of minutes.
  3. Add rice, broth, sherry, garlic and seasoning.
  4. Set the Instant Pot for 8 minutes, natural release for 5 minutes, then quick release.
  5. Stir in the chicken and sausage and heat on the Keep Warm setting for 5 minutes.

Boozy Lifestyle: Chapter 1

Boozy Lifestyle: Chapter 1

 

Boozy Beginnings

In the beginning, there was beer. Even as a newly legal drinker, I wanted something more interesting than Budweiser. I found light and dark Lowenbrau and mixed them to create my own version of black and tan. Along came Sam Adams which opened the floodgates for the microbrew revolution. Slaving away at my day job, I dreamed of becoming a beer connoisseur. Seriously, Michael Jackson (not the singer) did it!

I first discovered Jackson on his show called “The Beer Hunter” in which he examines beer culture in different countries. Who wouldn’t want to travel around the world tasting beer? His seminal 1977 book, “The World Guide To Beer” was ground-breaking in categorizing beer styles and associating them with regions and cultures.

In the mid-1990’s, a friend gave me a Robert Parker Wine Buyers Guide, but it was too early for an interest in wine to take root. My wine chapter began around Christmas of 2003 when a colleague gifted me a bottle of Italian red wine that I really enjoyed. I started sampling some different wines and reading articles and books by Ray Isle, Matt Kramer, Eric Asimov, and others.

I’m lucky to have found a husband to share the enjoyment of wine and spirits with me; especially wine, because if I didn’t have someone to share a bottle with me, I’d probably drink the whole thing myself. An early part-time bartending job fostered his interest in mixology. Later, he leveraged his knowledge of computer programming to develop and sell point-of-sale/inventory software for liquor stores. Eventually, we quit our day jobs and became business partners in our own wine and liquor store.

We considered trying the wines that we sold in the store as “doing our homework” and tried to be objective about a wine’s characteristics. Ultimately, customers want to spend their hard-earned cash on something they enjoy. And so we began to learn the language of wine with the goal of describing it by its qualities rather than, “I like it” or, “It tastes bad”.

After we sold the wine shop and I returned to my day job, I had an idea that it would be fun to express my interest in wine by writing a blog. A brainstorming session produced a bunch of good ideas for blog titles and Twitter handles, but I found that the early birds had beaten me to the worm; most of our ideas were already taken. At one point, my drinking buddy suggested “wine connoisseur.” I bristled at the term’s pretentiousness and replied, “I’m not qualified enough to call myself a connoisseur.” He asked, “Then what are you, a ‘kindasseur’?” And the Winekindasseur was born.

Topics of the blog expanded beyond wine to include spirits and cocktails. Since it’s not good to drink on an empty stomach, food and recipes were added. An occasional random thought also weaved its way into the Winekindasseur tapestry.

A couple of years later, I found myself with the luxury of free time due to early retirement from the day job. I decided to build on the Winekindasseur blog and write this book. I soon learned that if you tell someone you’re working on a book, the first questions they ask are, “What is it called?” and, “What it is about?” Better be ready to answer.

My answer began with a list of things the book covers; wine, food, pairings, cocktails, drink labs, and recipes interjected with a few humorous personal stories. For most people, that’s just too much information. Another conversation with my drinking buddy yielded “tipsy” which has a polite feminine connotation, but a quick search on the Internet showed that Bethany Frankel had already established “Tipsy Girl” as a brand.

Inspiration struck during cocktail hour one evening when I referred to our routine as our “boozy lifestyle”. In a trendy culture of beauty, fitness, and fashion lifestyle gurus, the idea of being a boozy lifestyle expert carries a measure of irony with it. The word ‘boozy’ expresses just the irreverence I was looking for; not youthful, feminine, or especially well-mannered.

I’m not a certified wine expert, an award-winning mixologist, a gourmet chef, or even a celebrity. But rather than give up and let my inner critic gain the upper hand, I’m making it my mission is to infuse a little happiness and humor into a disgruntled world by sharing my boozy lifestyle experience.

I could tell you how I spend every waking hour slaving away in the pursuit of my ambitions, thus proving how passionate I am about what I do, but it would be untrue. I once read a piece by Arianna Huffington entitled, “Getting A Good Night’s Sleep Is More Important Than You Think”. It begins with her collapse from exhaustion triggering an epiphany of the importance of a good night’s sleep. I always thought that knowing you need a good night’s rest was called “common sense”.

While the boozy lifestyle doesn’t require suffering in the pursuit of your dreams, that’s not to say we need to settle for mediocrity. There is certainly a joy to be found in quality, both in recognizing it around you and nurturing it within you. Happiness is found in the little things.

Living a good, full life doesn’t mean that you need to travel the world, drink the most expensive champagne, or own a mansion. For most of us strong relationships are the means to making us feel needed, useful, and loved. What makes us feel good about ourselves makes us happy. What better way to nourish a relationship than to share a hearty meal and raise a glass?

Daily life doesn’t have much in common with our ancestors of 9000 years ago, but one thing we still do is drink fermented beverages. The ancients who drank for religious and medicinal purposes may not have been social drinkers, but the concept of social drinking is well-documented at the time of ancient Greece. Habitual drunkenness and extreme intoxication were frowned upon; however, the practice of drinking moderately during banquets and symposia became a social norm.

A couple of millennia later, we’re still practicing social drinking to grease the wheels of interpersonal relationships. We celebrate good news, weddings, babies, promotions, and holidays by saying, “Cheers”. Of all the things you learn in college, social drinking may be the skill you use the longest and most often.

Early adulthood is also the time of life to learn about overindulgence, where drinking is sometimes treated as a competitive sport. The games may change but the concept of drinking games or competitions is old as dirt. I’ll concede that a game of beer pong or a few rounds of drunk Jenga can be fun occasionally but guzzling cheap beer from a beer bong too often may eventually land you in rehab.

A boozy lifestyle is a balancing act; to enjoy imbibing and eating the good stuff without over-indulging.

PART 2

Chapter 2 – Tasting Wine: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

Chapter 3 – Wine’s Price of Admission

Chapter 4 – Cork vs. Screw Cap

Chapter 5 – What’s A Throwdown?

Chapter 6 – The Roving Palate

PART 3

Chapter 7 – Tales of the Liquor Store

Chapter 8 – Recommending Wines

PART 4

Chapter 9 – Pairing Food and Wine, or Not

Chapter 10 – “Sophie’s Choice” of Food and Wine

How I Spent My Summer

How I Spent My Summer

 

Labor Day weekend reminds me of going back to school and the inevitable assignment of writing an essay about how I spent my summer. If I were writing about our first two summers in South Jersey, I’d be telling you about lots of great beaches and beach towns with different vibes, from the Victorian charm of Cape May, to the 1950s nostalgia of Wildwood, to the family-friendly Ocean City boardwalk and a calendar filled with live music, outdoor concerts, restaurants, happy hours, wineries, breweries, amusement parks, the zoo, birdwatching, free exercise classes at the rec center, and sunsets at (where else) Sunset Beach.

This year “How I Spent My Summer” begins in mid-March just before the COVID shut down, when we undertook the onerous journey to Long Island to visit family. I refer to this trip as onerous not due to the 360-mile round trip, but because to get from South Jersey to Long Island, NY, you need to drive through a major obstacle known as New York City. I digress. Little did we realize that our visit was the last weekend of “normal”. We came home to the news that NYC and its suburbs had become virus hot spots, and we worried that we had exposed ourselves to coronavirus. We nervously waited out the next week or two in quarantine.

The pandemic had stretched into May, and with Memorial Day fast approaching, we feared the whole summer would be a bust. What to do with a summer spent at home? How about getting a Jacuzzi! Actually, we have been thinking about buying a hot tub for the last 20 years. It was part of the plan for the house we bought in 2001, but it never came to fruition. We had the deck for our new house built with enough room for a hot tub, but we were still having a hard time going for it. You’re probably wondering why so much indecision, especially if you love your hot tub, even in winter. We’d been poisoned by opinions from a few family and friends who used it for only a year or two until the novelty wore off. Will our hot tub relationship be long-term, stable, and satisfying? Or sizzling hot and then sour, resulting in a languishing piece of junk to be cut into pieces and carted away to the dump?

Still harboring a fear of commitment, we come across a Portable, Inflatable Hot Tub Spa with Bubble Jets and Heater Pump on Amazon. I would have thought that blow-up pools were just for kids, but this version has jets, a heater, a cover, and filters, and uses the same pool chemicals as a Jacuzzi to keep it sanitary. By June we have our budget-friendly spa up and running and introduce it to the neighbors as our Hillbilly Hot Tub.

Eager to make the Hillbilly Hot Tub our new happy hour location we attach the 2-drink holder accessory onto the side. But I realize that our nice collection of glassware for wine and cocktails isn’t very useful for the spa. Enclosed plastic drink bottles work best for preventing broken glass on the deck or in the pool, and for keeping out the bubbling spa water. Not one to drink wine from a plastic bottle, we shift to cocktails for Hillbilly Hot Tub Happy Hour. It’s usually a no-no for me to add ice to a finished cocktail, but it was necessary outdoors in the heat. We saved wine and our premium cocktails like the Don Julio Margarita or the Courvoisier Side Car as something to look forward to on a rainy day.


Cocktail Recipes for the Pool and Spa

Margaritas are a year-round favorite, but here’s the recipe we used for hot tub cocktail hour. I use a home-made lemon mixer made with 1-part lemon juice and 1-part simple syrup that we mix by the quart.

El Presidente Margarita (makes 2 drinks)

  • 3 oz. Espolon tequila
  • 1 oz. Grand Marnier
  • 1 oz. triple sec
  • 1 oz. lemon mixer
  • Splash of lime juice

Shake over ice, pour into reusable water bottles, and add more ice for drinking in the hot tub.


Several years ago we were on a kick of going to Sandal’s Resorts with friends and always came home with a few bottles of Appleton rum. In honor of finishing off the last one, I bought a bottle of strawberry daiquiri mix and dug the blender out of the back of the kitchen cabinet. Frozen strawberry daiquiris are very refreshing in the spa.

Frozen Strawberry Daiquiri (makes 2 drinks)

  • 5 oz. Master of Mixes Strawberry Mixer
  • 4 oz. Appleton rum
  • 2 cups of ice

Ignore the recipe on the mixer bottle; it’s a real lightweight. This makes a good amount for 2 people – enough booze, yet not too filling. Blend to your liking. Some like it chunky and some like it smooth.


I came up with this Orange Creamsicle cocktail recipe when whipped cream flavored vodka first came out. It tastes just like the orange creamsicle bars that we used to get from the ice cream truck. It was fun to bring back this nostalgic drink from the Boozy Lifestyle archives.

Orange Creamsicle (makes 2 drinks)

  • 3 oz. Smirnoff Whipped Vodka
  • 3 oz. triple sec
  • 3 oz. orange juice

Shake over ice, pour into reusable water bottles, and add more ice for drinking in the hot tub. We find that we need to tweak the recipe if using a different brand of vodka since the level of whipped flavoring varies.


And lastly, another one from the cocktail archive.

Mai Tai (makes 2 drinks)

  • 2 oz. Bacardi Gold rum
  • 2 oz. triple sec
  • 1 oz. orange juice
  • 1 oz. pineapple juice
  • Splash of Myers’ rum

Shake the first four ingredients over ice and pour into reusable water bottles. Add ice and pour the splash of Myers’ over the top.


Have a happy and safe Labor Day everyone!

Pairing Food and Wine, or Not

Pairing1

On an all-inclusive vacation in Jamaica, we signed up for a free wine tasting event hosted by one of the hotel’s wine stewards. I think the fact that it was free placed some restrictions on the wine selections at his disposal. How do you lead a wine tasting when you only have four or five house wines to offer? Besides which most of the group had already tasted them at some point on vacation. He cleverly turned the event into a wine and food pairing exercise and saved the day. We were each given glasses of popular varietals including Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay, and Riesling accompanied by portions of Granny Smith apple, Havarti cheese, and spicy jerk chicken.

We tasted a wine and noted its character. Then we took a small bite of one of the food items and tasted the same wine again. It was eye-opening how a dry red with a lush, fruity palate turned quite sour following a bite of green apple. And yet the same wine presented hints of savory herbs and black pepper when paired with the cheese. The spicy chicken overpowered the dryer wines but found its match with the sweeter Riesling.

There are some excellent and detailed books on food and wine pairing such as Wine With Food: Pairing Notes and Recipes from the New York Times by Eric Asimov and Florence Fabricant, or The Food & Wine Guide to Perfect Pairings, if you’re interested in a painstaking journey into balancing the flavors of food with the perfect wine. As for the Boozy Lifestyle, our goal is to understand the basics and avoid gastronomic catastrophe.

Wine flavors come from sugar, acid, alcohol, fruit and tannins. The basics of food flavors include bitter, sour, salty, sweet, and savory, as well as textures in the mouth like fatty or creamy. Pairings may combine similar attributes or contrasting ones. One school of thought is to pair light foods with light wine and heavy foods with full-bodied wines. But this is one rule that’s easy to break without inviting tragedy. The best way to determine if a pairing is good or bad is if it tastes good to you, but following some simple guidelines will help avert a pairing disaster.

Fatty foods like red meat and dairy sauces are balanced by wines with higher acidity or tannins. It’s why steak is often paired with Cabernet Sauvignon (fatty meat with mouth-drying tannins).

Acidic foods like a lemony fish or vinegar salad dressing need a bright, acidic wine like Sauvignon Blanc to match the acidity of the food.

Sparkling wines are often recommended to pair with salty foods, but another great match for salty and fried food is beer, especially a medium-bodied ale or lager. A pint of Killian’s Irish Red is a marvelous mate for fish and chips at the local Irish pub.

Sweet wines with dessert can be tricky. If the dessert is sweeter, it makes the wine taste bitter. The extra alcohol in port helps alleviate this problem, or you can leave the wine behind and opt for a cordial like Bailey’s, Chambord, or Kahlua. Pairing a dry red with a cloyingly sweet chocolate dessert can be awful.

For most people, the need to pair wine with bitter foods isn’t all that naturally occurring. After all, how often do you think of pairing wine with your radishes or brussels sprouts? While I was doing some reading on the subject of bitter foods, I came across an article by Alex Swerdloff about a scientific study that claims that people who enjoy bitter foods are nasty, bitter people. The researchers explained in the journal Appetite, “General bitter taste preferences emerged as a robust predictor for Machiavellianism, psychopathy, narcissism and everyday sadism.” I love radishes. And brussels sprouts. Does that make me a bad person?

Recommending Wines

Recommending Wines

A lady walks into a liquor store and asks for a bottle of wine with a dog on the label. No, this isn’t the beginning of a “girl walks into a bar” joke. A customer asked us to find this bottle amidst the 1200 wines in the store. After a bit of sleuthing (white or red helped narrow the field) and realizing that the dog was actually a fox, we identified her Foxhorn Merlot.

The concept of wine recommendations brings to mind such terms as sommelier, connoisseur, or wine steward. Trained and knowledgeable wine professionals who have formal education, certification and years of experience in the industry. Wine authors and experts like Robert Parker and Jancis Robinson who will go to war over the critique of Chateau Pavie 2003. Master Sommeliers like Evan Goldstein giving advice on how to pair wine and food. Writers like Karen MacNeil whose Wine Bible covers just about everything there is to know about wine.

Since wines over $20 were a hard sell in our store, there was no need for a pretentious wine connoisseur to answer questions and make recommendations. Our diligence in taste testing wines in the $10 to $20 price range paid off in separating the tolerable from the undrinkable and even uncovering a few bargain gems. Close-outs from Spain and South America, lesser-known Italian appellations, and mass-produced blends that managed some level of complexity were among them.

Is the customer looking for a red or a white wine? Red and white wines taste different for the simple reason that they are made differently and from different grapes. Typically, darker grapes make red wine and lighter grapes make white. It’s also possible to make a white wine with a darker grape like Pinot Noir which is used in sparkling wine. White wine, made from only fermented juice, retains the light color that is natural to grape juice and has little to no tannins. Red wines are made by including grape skins, seeds, and sometimes stems to ferment in the grape juice. Tannins, along with color and texture are extracted from the skins and seeds. Because tannins are a major part of red wines, subtleties in the winemaking process that involve grape skin fermentation affect the wine’s mouth feel, astringency, bitterness, and complexity.

During our tenure as wine store owners, our wine IQ continued to grow along with our customers’ knowledge base. Beginning wine drinkers often asked for sweet whites like Moscato and berry-flavored sparkling wines. Low end versions of these wines tend to taste fruity or “grapey”. For the beginning red drinkers, the seasonally produced Beaujolais Nouveau is an easy-drinking recommendation.

The next step in wine tasting evolution, where many people land and remain, is Pinot Grigio. Our Cavit Pinot Grigio was by far the biggest selling wine in the store. Italian Pinot Grigio, like Cavit, is light and dry, pairing easily with seafood, chicken, vegetables, and pasta. It begins to introduce the wine drinker to layers of aromas and flavors other than grapes, such as peach, melon, and floral notes. For customers looking for a more prestigious (i.e. more expensive) Pinot Grigio, Santa Margherita fit the bill.

As the wine drinker’s world expands, popular varietals like Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon are added to the repertoire. Budget-friendly, mass-produced wines like Cupcake, Yellow Tail, and Woodbridge usually have at least one varietal or blend that stands out from the crowd. Bumping up the budget by a few dollars, but still in the under $20 range, winemakers like Kendall Jackson, Simi, Bogle, and Coppola will give you even better options.

As we explored the world of wine and shared our excitement with our customers, they began to branch out to new regions and more varietals. We introduced them to imports from South America and South Africa, great deals on French Cotes du Rhone, light-bodied Spanish Tempranillo, and rustic Italian Sangiovese. Along the way, we learned what we liked and what we didn’t, and most importantly to describe the character of a wine so that someone else can make an informed decision whether to buy it.

Tales of the Liquor Store

Tales of the Liquor Store

When I walk into a wine shop, I’m like a kid in a candy store, so buying a liquor store seemed like a good idea at the time. I started my adult working life as a musician and piano teacher, and knew that the entrepreneurial spirit was within me. As a late thirty-something, an opportunity for a corporate-type day job presented itself and I changed my career path. For a while there were places to go, people to meet, and new things to learn, but eventually I grew restless and needed a change.

Since the 1980’s my husband, the engineer, has operated a side business developing, selling and supporting Point of Sale (POS) and inventory software for local liquor stores. Through his business relationships with his clients he gained familiarity with the liquor business. As he had reached the same lack of excitement in his day job as I, we began discussing the idea of starting or buying our own business. Our common interest in wine and spirits made a liquor store seem like a good fit.

We researched liquor businesses that were listed for sale by going on reconnaissance missions posing as customers. Some were too large, others too small, but eventually we found the right size business in a prime location in the corner of an “L” shaped shopping center anchored by a supermarket.

Our first step inside was like exploring a creepy cave. The large window in the front of the store was completely covered with old beer posters and blocked by a shelving unit straight from an employee’s basement. A beautiful cherry wood cabinet across from the checkout counter was covered in dust and “decorated” with oddly placed bottles and superfluous knickknacks. Meager lighting cast gloomy shadows on the merchandise. The store had its share of eccentricities, but given the size and location, it showed as a diamond in the rough.

We decided to take the leap and purchase the store. In the process of becoming new business owners, the previous proprietors endowed us with three parting pearls of wisdom including, 1) “Don’t let people see into the windows”, 2) “You can’t make any money on beer”, and 3) “Concentrate on selling the high-end wines”.

Against advice #1 of the former owners, first on our to-do list was to uncover the front window so that the store could be seen from the outside. One day a customer came up to the counter and asked if the store had just opened. I replied that we were the new owners, but this storefront had been a liquor store for the past three years. She told us that she shopped at the supermarket every week and never noticed that there was a liquor store just a few steps away. In the next few weeks, several more customers made the same comment. With a safe neighborhood and security system in place, it remained a mystery to us as to why the previous owners didn’t want to be seen from the outside. Hopefully their reasons didn’t involve illegal activities or the witness protection program.

Located in a blue-collar town in crowded suburbia, our sales were largely low to mid-priced spirits, popular mass-produced wines, and beer by the case. Vodka was a big seller and no matter how many different brands we stocked; someone would ask for one we didn’t carry. I’ve tasted a lot of different vodkas and I’m not saying they all taste the same. But the amount of difference in taste between Popov and Grey Goose is nothing in comparison to the difference between a sweet German Gewürztraminer and a dry California Cabernet. So why there needs to be a million different brands of vodka at every price point is something of an enigma.

It didn’t take long to realize that beer was also one of the best-selling items in the store which brings me to friendly advice #2, “You can’t make any money on beer”. We had a good-sized walk-in cooler that was constantly being organized and restocked. Cases of beer were flying off the shelves, so why would the prior owner tell us that you can’t make any money on beer?

The beer cooler, along with the entire shop, needed improvement in the signage for pricing and specials. I couldn’t help but notice that the price labels on the front of the beer shelves looked ancient to the point of being illegible. A little investigation in the inventory system showed us that the retail prices for beer hadn’t been changed in three years, while the wholesale cost kept creeping up. I suppose it was great deal for the customers, not so much for the store owner. This realization shed some light on why they weren’t making any money on beer.

Regarding advice #3, dealing in exclusive wines would have been exciting, fun and educational and, in the right location, it could have been profitable. But our shopping center location in a middle-class suburban town didn’t lend itself to such ambitions. The stock that we purchased from the previous owner, including Chateauneuf du Pape, Brunello di Montalcino, and high-end Napa Valley reds and whites, had gathered dust for three years all the while mocking his dream of becoming a purveyor of elite wines.

After several weeks of selling Yellow Tail, Cupcake, and Sutter Home, I had all but given on being able to sell the Cakebread Chardonnay and the Masi Amarone. Then along came a young, well-dressed man looking for a holiday gift for his boss. When I showed him some of our nicer reds like the Steltzer Cabernet Sauvignon, he said he wanted something better. We walked to the special display where the more expensive wines were laid horizontally to keep the corks from drying out. The lovely Far Niente label caught his attention with its etching of a winery nestled in gently rolling hills and encircled by delicate grapevines and a tasteful gold border. “Is this a good wine?” he asks. I reply that it’s a prestigious Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. Although I’m familiar with this wine’s reputation, I haven’t been so fortunate to taste it. The customer concludes that this is just the right bottle to impress his boss. Thus, marked my first big sale.

It didn’t take long to recognize the familiar faces of repeat customers and get to know bits of their lives that they chose to share. Even though years have passed since we owned the store, I still remember some names and stories. In a conversation with an elderly customer, she begins to reminisce about her wedding 40 years ago. She is wondering what to do the leftover wine that she had saved from the reception and asks if we would be interested in it. We’re wondering if good Bordeaux might still be worthwhile after 40 years. Then she drops a bomb. The wine bottles are open. We suppress a gasp and politely decline the offer.

Liquor Store Shopping: Before And After Covid-19

When I shop for wine and liquor, I’m like a kid in a candy store. I browse the aisles in wide-eyed wonder, enjoying the variety of shapes and colors and imagining the tastes and smells hidden within every bottle. Although wine and liquor stores must carry the same old standbys in order to survive, most will offer some uniqueness that reflects the proprietor’s vision of how his or her business will succeed and the niche it fulfills within the community. Is it a mega-store offering major brands at discount prices? Or is it a boutique wine shop with personalized help selecting just the right wine? One of our favorite stores in our old neighborhood advertised their Great Wall of Beer featuring single bottles from microbreweries across the US and the world. As I enter Joe Canal’s in our new neighborhood, I land in the heart of California red wines, with Nickel & Nickel, Trefethen, and Silver Oak residing center top shelf. We also enjoy checking out liquor stores when we travel, even if our plans don’t allow us to purchase anything.

At our local Joe Canal’s, greeted by the 7-feet tall Captain himself and a fanciful Captain Morgan Christmas tree.

Admittedly, in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, it’s not the best of times to be leisurely browsing the aisles of Joe Canal’s. We’re keeping our exposure to a minimum, only going out for essential shopping while wearing masks and gloves. Gone are the days of reading the bottle neck tags and shelf talkers, hunting for close-out bargains, and finding obscure wines from Italy or Greece. No more perusing the cordials, cognac, tequila, gin, and rum for a package that piques our curiosity. Welcome to a new way to shop.

We tend to buy in bulk, so we hadn’t been to Joe Canal’s since before quarantine. I was pleased to discover that they have a system for keeping customers out of the store and still providing us with our alcohol needs. (Yes, I say “needs” and in my opinion liquor stores are essential businesses.) Besides the obvious goal of keeping everyone safe and healthy, this new way of doing things has its advantages. I called the store and was given an email address to place an order. Within an hour or two, an employee called me back with a couple of questions (i.e. we don’t have the 1.75L size, is a 750ml o.k.?) A few minutes later, she called a second time with the order total that I could pay over the phone with a credit card. I called the store when we arrived in the parking lot and had a good laugh as I overheard the delivery person being told he would need to get the hand truck for our order. All items were neatly loaded in the back of our car with the receipt taped to one of the wine boxes.

How can I complain about curtailing my liquor store wanderlust when it has been replaced with an efficient personal shopper and car loading service?

Hendrick’s vs. Bombay Sapphire: Gin Throwdown

Hendrick’s vs. Bombay Sapphire: Gin Throwdown

Much has changed since I published Gin Drink Lab where we taste tested Tanqueray, Beefeater, Bombay Sapphire, Amsterdam, and Fleischmann’s. After those bottles were polished off, only the Bombay Sapphire was replaced and became a favorite for making a traditional gin martini including vermouth and olives. Surrendering to highly visible bar promotion and cute advertising, we recently bought a bottle of Hendrick’s Gin to try.

First to love about Hendrick’s is the easy-open pull tab. One tug and the outer foil comes right off. I’m so tired of struggling to open new packaging, using a half dozen kitchen implements of destruction on layers of foil and plastic safety seals only to encounter a lid that requires the strength of Atlas to remove. Also included in the packaging is a tiny booklet explaining why Hendrick’s prides itself on being “an absurdly small batch gin” and offering a few gin cocktail suggestions.

Hendrick's1

 

We’ll taste the Hendrick’s and Bombay Sapphire neat side-by-side before making cocktails. Although the alcohol content of Bombay at 94 proof is higher than that of Hendrick’s at 88 proof, the nose on Hendrick’s is hotter. Behind the alcohol comes aromas of lemon-lime citrus, pine forest, and sage. The alcohol kick on the first sip of Hendrick’s is like drinking hot sauce. Once I recover, flavors of juniper, lemon rind, rose hips, and dried herbs emerge. Traces of bitter citrus peel are left on the finish (which I quite enjoy).

Bombay’s more pronounced aromas are similar to Hendrick’s when it comes to juniper and pine, but veer towards orange and coriander for citrus notes. On the palate, Bombay has a hint of sweetness featuring orange peel and coriander, and a subtle nutty essence. The alcohol delivers a slow burn rather than a kick and is more prominent on the finish. Overall, it’s smooth, well-balanced, and complex.

While my drinking buddy has stayed with his traditional martini, I’ve changed to the Gimlet made with our own lemon mixer (1 part lemon juice to 1 part simple syrup).

Gin Gimlet

  • 1.5 oz gin
  • ½ oz lemon mixer

Shake over ice and strain into a small martini glass.

Both Hendrick’s and Bombay Sapphire make an excellent Gimlet. But sometimes when we use a complex-tasting spirit like Bombay in a cocktail the flavor profile becomes confusing. The perception isn’t a clash like milk and orange juice, but rather an overload that leaves your taste buds perplexed. We refer to this as “flavor fighting”. While Bombay’s complexity is well-appreciated drunk neat, as part of a Gimlet cocktail it succumbs to flavor fighting more than Hendrick’s does. Don’t worry, no gin was wasted as I polished off both!

Socially Distant Distractions

Socially Distant Distractions

In response to the spread of an extremely virulent flu, we are being asked to stay home and practice social distancing. In terms of the all-consuming nature in which the virus is impacting our day-to-day lives, the calamitous COVID-19 reminds me of Hurricane Sandy in 2012, except that we still have heat, cell phone coverage, electricity to run the refrigerator/freezer full of food, a supermarket to restock aforementioned food, an open gas station to buy gas to get to the supermarket, and an undamaged house and property. Okay, in comparison to the Sandy aftermath, maybe this isolation thing really isn’t so bad.

In typical Boozy Lifestyle fashion, while other folks were hording toilet paper, we were raiding the liquor store. We succumbed to the panic mentality and, admittedly, overbought on the last trip; enough for a party! Unfortunately, in keeping with social distancing rules, we can’t invite anyone to attend.

For the safety of all, our travel plans have been put on indefinite hold. Instead of visiting our favorite wineries and distilleries, please join us for a virtual tour through the Boozy Lifestyle tasting rooms.

Let’s begin in the dining room with the curious bottle collection, featuring Skelly, the Cooperstown baseball, Crystal Head, and Once A Marine, Always A Marine.

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The dining room also houses the wine rack. You can never have too much wine!

Dining Room2

As we head to the kitchen, you’ll see the “functional” spirit collection that we partake of regularly or new items we’re experimenting with in drink lab.

Kitchen

I’ve chosen two very special bottles for our non-existent guests in our vacant guest room! A Paso Robles Cabernet Franc from our friends Lori and Michael @Dracaenawines and our favorite Chardonnay from Rombauer Vineyards in Napa Valley.

Guest Room

With four wines at the ready in the music room, we’ll sing and dance to raise our spirits and toast to Dionysus, “the god who gives to mortals the vine that puts an end to grief”.

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At the end of the tasting room tour, please join us (in spirit) in the living room for Happy Hour, happening every night from 5 to 7 p.m.

Living room2

Our second major distraction after wine and spirits is food. Under normal circumstances, home-cooked meals are interspersed with a restaurant meal or two and take-out food. Even though take-out is still available, we’ve been more comfortable with making our own meals during the pandemic.

While the more fashion-conscious among us are probably making use of being confined to quarters by cleaning out and organizing clothes closets, I head to the pantry to take inventory on beans, pasta, and other assorted dry goods. A can of pinto beans from a 10 for $10 sale is near its expiration date and inspires a Mexican-influenced meal of shredded chicken with assorted-color bell peppers over rice and beans and topped with melted Monterrey Jack cheese.

Shredded chick rice beans

I made a double portion of rice to have with a beef stir fry the next day.

Stir Fry

And picked out the largest mushrooms to stuff with a bit of leftover rice.

Stuffed Mushrooms

Now that I’ve made three rice dishes in a row and I need a replacement 10 lb. bag, I find that, after toilet paper, rice is a favorite among hoarders. The supermarket shelf is bare. Not to worry. I’ll employ my secret superpower to create an edible meal (I’m not promising delicious) from other random ingredients-on-hand. I love a challenge.

All this wonderful eating and drinking is becoming dangerous to the waistline. To add insult to injury, Zumba and other fitness classes have been canceled due to social distancing. But our group has stayed in touch, thanks to our fitness instructor, via email and internet. We check in on each other and share inspirational thoughts, music, and links to videos. Like Billy Idol sings, I’m “dancing with myself”. So much that I’m starting to wear out the carpet. It’s not as fun as performing with a group, but the dance videos are ideal for keeping my spirits up and belly down.

Stay healthy, readers!