Ummm… I love this

cocobon

OK.  So, most of my friends know that this used to be my favorite wine.  And, OK.  It still is.

I don’t drink Cocobon exclusively as I do enjoy other wines.  But this little honey for, like 6.99 a bottle at Trader Joe’s, is still a winner as far as I’m concerned.  Once I bought a case of it because I was in the mood (not to get hammered–but to have a case of it around for a while.)

My palate is not very sophisticated in the wine department.  I had a job waiting tables at a 5 star schmancy place for a few months when I was in college and I never really liked it.  (I was more of a blue-collar waitress if you must know.)  The money was fine but I always thought it was so DUMB that we were supposed to memorize peoples’ orders without writing them down.  Why is that considered so high brow?  Honestly, it’s the opposite of smart as the whole reason the Phoneticians invented the written alphabet was so that we wouldn’t have to memorize everything any more!  I told the manager this fact several times but he never really bought it…

As a waitress at that restaurant I had to attend wine classes.  At the time I thought beer that came in bottles instead of cans was a high class drink so you can pretty much imagine me at the table testing the “bouquets” and discussing the tannins in a glass of wine.

As it turns out, I had “a nose” for wine and actually did like the class in the end.  It seemed cool to me then and still does that wine is , you know, evolving in the bottle.  It’s a living food.  I love that the  grapes have to very purposely struggle to produce the best juice.  What a great analogy for life, right?   Mostly, though, I just love the way wine tastes.  It.  Is.  So.  Good.

When I lived in Madrid years ago I really fell in love with beauty of drinking decent bottles of pretty good wine.  The Spaniards know how to drink (and they showed me… wow… but that was then) and while they fully embrace a quality wine, there is no shame in enjoying a less expensive bottle.

So maybe rather than “blue-class waitress tongue” what I actually have is a “Spanish tongue.”  Yeah.  Let’s go with that.  These days I enjoy wine on a regular basis and actually prefers it to beer (even beer that comes in bottles.)

Michelle’s tips on choosing wine:

1. Don’t feel intimidated!  Most people only think they know about wine anyway or maybe they just attended the same class I did and can throw around some aristocratic wine terminology.  To this I say “pish-posh.”

2.  Some stores have employee picks or, you can ask if there’s an employee who knows about the wine.  ASK THEM TO HELP.  They’ll love it.

3. Expensive does not always equal better.  Nope.

4. Most people know that smelling the cork has nothing to do with proper wine evaluation, so don’t do that.  Do check out the bottom of the wine bottle though.  A flat bottomed bottle is much cheaper to make than a bottle with a divot–especially a deep divot.  If the wine is put in a more expensive bottle it likely means the producer thinks it’s worthy of it.

5. Don’t drink Charles Shaw.  Yuck.  Sorry but “two buck chuck” is hardly even considered wine–even by blue collar waitresses.  This beverage is chemically processed rather than properly aged for faster production, which is why it’s cheaper than Coca-Cola (which I also don’t recommend.)  I may not be high brow, but I say pay a few dollars more and get a decent real bottle of wine.

6. Be sure to tell me if you find a good wine pick that costs between six and ten dollars.  Happy New Year!

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Sangria

sangria

Hot.  It is hot.  Cool, it is not.  How I wish it were chilly but it is hot, hot, hot, HOT.

Have I mentioned it’s hot?

People who hang out with me on a regular basis know some of my fave things in life.  Sangria is one of those things.

Sangria comes in a kajillion different ways but generally includes wine, fruit, juice and some other stuff.  While I appreciate a crisp white sangria, red is my go-to.

Lots of restaurants serve sangria and I must say that none of them make it better than I do.  (Oh no she di-‘unt just say that!)  Apparently practice does make perfect 😉 and I have finally given up ordering this when dining out as it’s just too disappointing.  Everyone tries to get all fancy-pants about it with 12-ingredient-long recipes and almost always waaaaay too much sugar.  Blech!

I even saw a restaurant in Mammoth Lakes this summer that boasted “World’s Best Sangria!”  Not even close.

Simple.  Lightly sweetened.  Refreshing and beautiful.  I have a few sangria recipes I like, including one that uses pineapple juice and spiced rum, but for now please say hello to…

Michelle’s Simple Summer Sangria

Ingredients: 1 bottle red wine, 2 cups OJ, 1 can club soda, chopped seasonal fruit (I used a nectarine and a plum here) 2 tbsp. sugar, 1-2 shots brandy or rum or triple sec.

Directions: Chop the fruit and set it in the liquor with sugar for an hour or so–longer is fine.  Chill all your ingredients and mix them all together, serve over ice (casually cute Martha Stewart glass jar optional) and smile.  You may want to add another 1-3 tbsp. sugar to taste.

Tips: Don’t break the bank on the wine.  A mediocre $5-7 bottle will do fine.  In the fall I make sangria with oranges and apples.  In the spring with strawberries and cherries.  It’s all good.  Really good.

Bonus tip: Sangria always tastes better when shared with good friends, like Dale and Lisa.  Cheers!

sangria cheers!

So, That Happened…

Hey friends!  Check out my de-lish salad featured this week on Hometown Pasadena!

water bottle

OK, so, I’m kinda Ms. Fancy-pants with my stylish new glass water bottle (Target, ten bucks.  It rocks.)  I don’t mean to brag but two of my friends have copied me just so they can quench their thirst in a similarly sophisticated way.

My glass bottle with a wooden top is not only really pretty, the rope loop on the top is handy-dandy for carrying it to the multiple mommy places I tend to rush off to each day.  See?

bottle on finger

Any-hoo, our story begins on a warm and busy Tuesday afternoon.  As usual, I’ve imagined I can finish just a few more things before racing out the door to get the kids–only to discover that when I look up at the clock I should probably be in the car already.  Run, Michelle.  Run!

On the days when my kiddos have after-school activities I bring them a pretty hearty snack (for Grayson, an entire meal) which I hadn’t actually put together by the time I noticed the clock.  Quickly I threw some satisfying/healthy something-or-others together, grabbed my new water bottle, chucked it all into my canvas bag ‘o stuff and flew out the door.

Whew.  Somehow made it to my favorite parking spot on time.  Grabbed the bag and dashed off up the way to school.

Hmmm… I’m kinda thirsty, I thought.  I reached into my bag for that satisfying drink that’s just moments away, and pulled out this:

wine

What the WHAT!!!!!?????

This half drunk bottle of wine was what my girlfriend, Anya, and I didn’t get to last Friday night.  It was sitting on the counter, obviously, near my water bottle.

I DROVE TO SCHOOL WITH AN OPEN BOTTLE OF LIQUOR SITTING NEXT TO ME ON THE FRONT SEAT AND THEN ALMOST BROUGHT IT ONTO MY KIDS’ CAMPUS!!!!

Headline: “PTA President Boozes it up at Elementary School: Details at 11:00”

Quickly I shoved the wine bottle back in my bag, frantically whipping my head around to see if anyone else coming for pickup saw my little blunder.  Whew… nobody seemed to notice.

I ran back to my minivan and quietly put my wine bottle in the back (there should be a designated place for this, come to think of it,) turned back around and trudged off to campus.

Thank goodness I wanted to wet my whistle before coming onto the playground.  I’m picturing myself, surrounded by my usual tribe of friends/kids/possibly a teacher or two (hey, maybe the principal!) pulling out my bottle to take a drink.  Can you even imagine?

FYI: In retrospect, I’m not sure if this was an actual “oops” or if, subconsciously, I needed a drink.  Hard to say, really…  And just to be safe, I finished off the wine that night and tossed the bottle.  I won’t make that mistake twice!

Ahh… Kale. I’m Back, Baby!

refrig soup

Refrigerator Soup.  What the heck is “refrigerator soup?” you ask.  It’s whatever you have left in your refrigerator at the end of your shopping cycle which you then chop up and throw into a pot.  With broth.  And wine. 

As promised post-cookie-bar-hangover, today’s post includes kale.  Kale!  Purge my soul (and arteries) my good friend, dark leafy greens!

This is–hands down–my favorite kind of soup to make, in case you’re wondering.  I love to make refrigerator soup for three reasons:

1. It insures I don’t waste.  Anything that grows out of the ground and a few other items that I found in my fridge are in this here bowl.

2. It’s DE-lish and different every time I make it.  Fun!

3. It’s healthy.  But of course.

It’s hard to record a recipe for food items such as this, but I will share what I did yesterday, K?  If you’re a psycho-measurer or to-the-letter-instruction-manual-follower, you are likely to be annoyed very soon…

Ingredients (as I recall…) 3 tbsp. olive oil, 1/2 onion, 2 cloves garlic, two kinds of cauliflower, broccoli, stems and leaves from both as well, carrots, celery, kale (KALE :)!), leftover brown rice, leftover chicken, chicken broth, 1/4 cup white wine, blob of “better than boulion,” salt and pepper to taste.

Directions: Chop up and simmer everything from the beginning of the list until you arrive at the rice.  Cook down until veggies get a bit softer.  Add everything else and bring to a boil.  Leave at a good bubbling place until veggies are cooked.  Taste and add salt and pepper as needed.

Tips: Quantity on the afore mentioned items…?  Yeah… Uh… How does “whatever you’ve got” sound?  Also, timing on this is also absolutely not key.  I didn’t pay a lick of attention to how long any of this took, I’m sorry to say… I was in domestic mode yesterday, cleaning my floors, folding laundry, dusting, etc, so I just popped by every 20 mins or so to take a gander at what was going on.  But hey, that’s me.

So, you know, with absolutely no details of any kind to follow, this recipe prolly won’t make it into my cookbook someday.  But man did we enjoy it last night.

Two Cooks in the Kitchen

“Cooking” means different things to different people.  
Teri 
To my girlfriend, Teri (who measures her cream before placing it into her coffee each morning and is pictured, here, enjoying something I made one day), recipes are comforting guidelines to be followed to the letter.  Teri reads recipes as valuable documents, carefully crafted maps upon which the traveler  shall comfortably drive.  This is why Teri loves baking.  Measuring.  Sifting.  Following procedure and order brings rhythm and relaxation into Teri’s time in the kitchen.  Predictable outcomes.  Ahhh

To me, recipes are more like, uh, “suggestions.”  Recipes are lists of possible ingredients in recommended quantities with an endless array of outcomes.  Recipes are rough sketches that need not be followed if the artist is not in the mood.  Having to follow a recipe to the letter causes my breathing to become labored.  This is why I avoid baking whenever possible.  Measuring.  Sifting.  Being forced to follow procedure and order brings panic into Michelle’s kitchen time.  Predictable outcomes.  AHHH!!!!

I would like to state that Teri and I have found ways to coexist–even co-create–happily in the kitchen together.  Give us our six combined kids, a good bottle ‘a wine and stand back.  I would also like to mention that Teri has, thanks to my influence, developed a looser grip on her measuring implements and even occasionally whips things up now with a “pinch of this” and a “spot of that.”  It could be the wine though too.  No.  It’s my influence.
 
Not surprisingly, Teri makes the best milk chocolate chip cookies in the universe (with an equal number of chips in each one.)  Generally someone who likes to share, Teri has locked this recipe in the vault.  If you want to try a chocolate chip delight, check out Teri’s new business venture Red Door Sweets. Even if you’re not in the mood for a cookie, this stylish webpage is worth a quick visit just to brighten your day!

Ultimate Friday-night Scrounge

So last Friday night I was in the mood to drink wine and have friends over for dinner.  At this stage in my life, though, “having friends over” can mean quite a crowd.  One girlfriend now comes attached to at least two kiddos and even one of those husbands.  It can be challenging to find the time and money to provide a meal for even smaller gatherings on a regular basis.  But it’s poor form to drink wine alone.
 
So I called my girlfriend, Lisa, and asked what she had in her fridge.  (I told you I do this.)  She has a three daughters, including a baby so I figured she may have the goods but no time to whip them into din-din.  I was spot-on.  I grabbed (with her permission!) a bunch of great stuff: spinach, onion, carrots, celery.  What a find!  I chopped it all up, threw it in a pan with some mushrooms, dash a wine and tomato sauce, boilin’ pot ‘a pasta, and wah-lah!  Dinner is on its way!
 
Here’s the really great part: while this is simmering I’m on the phone with my friend Denise who happens to mention that for her family’s dinner she’s defrosting some meatballs she made a while ago…  It was like a sign from heaven.
 
I turned on the charm and invited Denise’s family and meatballs over to join the dinner party.  Would you believe she even threw together a salad for us all to share?
 
These friends of mine also happen to be neighbors which is great because when you drink as much wine as we do, it’s nice to be able to walk on home.