Travel 101: Make Time for Non-Wine Moments

December 31st, 2013

Believe it or not, when I travel there’s more to the trip than just drinking wine! Case in point, our visit to the Côa Museum (Museu do Côa) (www.arte-coa.pt) which we saw on our way to Quinta da Léda.

The Côa Valley is situated between the Côa and Douro rivers and served as a central meeting place for early man due to its rich resources which could support multiple tribes traveling to share knowledge, trade goods and find mates in order to survive and prosper. The Côa Museum is one of UNESCO’s World Heritage sites and is the world’s largest known open air paleolithic rock art site — being the home of more than 70 different sites displaying rock carvings spanning a period of 25,000 years. A majority of the works are Upper Paleolithic engravings, followed by those belonging to the Iron Age, Historic times and Late Pre-history, respectively.

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The museum itself is a blank, stone canvas — very modern and reflective of the rock walls upon which the thousands of aurochs, horses, sheep and eventually man himself were carved. It’s art and history brought together. We had such a short time for our visit, but our guide did a remarkable job in sharing information and, more importantly, making us question and consider what these early “artists” might have been trying to convey in their carvings. It gave all of us a profound look at the history of early man and left us wanting to see more.

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The Florida State undergraduate Art History major in me was soaking-up every second of this visit. Jean Auel’s Clan of the Cave Bear series is one of my all time favorite reads. At the Côa Museum, I felt like I’d stepped back into Ayla’s (the series’ main character) time — it was such a short, but amazing visit. If you are traveling anywhere in the vicinity of Vila Nova de Foz Côa, make time to visit the museum and be sure to allot yourself a few hours to also hike and see a few of the carvings in their natural, in-situ settings.

Disclosure: I tasted the wines of the Douro River Valley as a part of a sponsored press trip of the region, organized by Greengrape (www.greengrape.pt), along with 12 other wine, gastronomy and tourism bloggers from several countries. My travel and accommodations were provided by the sponsor.

Quinta da Léda

December 30th, 2013

Our last stop in the Douro Valley was a visit and lunch at Quinta da Léda (www.sograpevinhos.eu) in the Douro Superior which is the most eastern of the three Douro Valley sub-regions and closest to Portugal’s border with Spain.

The winery is set way back from the main road down a very winding, but paved drive with steep drop-offs, no guardrails and sharp switch-back turns. Empty and unused pombals spot the hillsides where they long ago served as fancy, tiled-roofed circular homes for pigeons — a component of a traditional Portuguese dish. It was a bit of a nausiating bus ride, but we were greeted by a very friendly group of winemakers. Quinta da Léda has two winemakers to keep a high standard of flavor and style in their wines. One winemaker was older and one younger — not that their difference in ages was pointed-out as part of the tour, but I would imagine it plays an important role in creating a balance of new ideas and time-honored traditions when making their quality wine. Quinta da Léda used to be 50% Port and 50% Douro wines. This past year, they produced their own grapes and purchased some from surrounding farmers to result in about 30% Port and 70% Douro wines. The winery’s opening is easily remembered — 9/11/2001.

Upon our arrival, we were served a sparkling wine and some nibbly-bits which consisted of the most flavorful and delicious almonds. After a brief welcome, we enjoyed our refreshments and the view from da Léda’s outside terrace. The terrain of this part of the Duoro Valley is quite arid. As I looked out from the terrace, I could imagine a cowboy riding his horse over the hillside in pursuit of a band of gruffy outlaws. They said it gets quite hot in the summer months — too hot to stand out like we were doing to enjoy the view for every long. More comfortable weather and few, if any, tourists = two perks of a fall visit to the Douro!

The quinta or winery facility is built into a hillside. The architect took advantage of the topography, so that gravity could feed the grapes from the surface collection hoppers down a series of floors to stainless steel storage containers for final shipping and storage off-site. After harvesting, trucks hauling carts full of grapes pull under a type of open, but covered car-port area where the grapes are dumped into a collection hopper and then gravity fed into vats for punch-over processing or stompers for punch-down processing.

We took a flight of stairs down one level to take a look at these two different processing methods. The punch-down process is more violent and can not be used when the grape skins are thin due to the mechanical arms which “stomp” down the grapes. The day we were visiting, the grapes being handled were thin-skinned due to a season filled with lots of rain, so the punch-over process was demonstrated. A type of wine “sprinkler” system was turned on that pumped grape juice from the bottom of the vats and sprayed it out on top. The grape skins float to the top during this punch-over process resulting in a much more gentle way of separating or extracting liquid from the grapes. The winemakers use presses to squeeze out the remnants of the grapes to collect the last bit of wine. This most-concentrated wine is placed in barrels and used like salt and pepper for final flavoring and seasoning.

This level of the quinta was quite unique. Normally, every other winery tour I’ve been on took you through a series of windowless, cavern-like spaces filled with huge stainless steel vats. Unlike other wineries, Quinta da Léda has huge, screenless windows on three sides of the facility. The massive shutters were open wide to let in sunshine and fresh air which was a huge advantage for workers who spend long hours pumping and punching the grapes — especially during the hot summer months. With the gorgeous views just outside, the windows were very much like landscape paintings hung along an art gallery wall. So the quinta’s design served both functionally and aesthetically in many ways.

Our tour continued on down another flight of stairs to the next area so that the workers could get back to filling the punch-over vats. The pumps were super loud and filled the whole building like a busy manufacturing plant. I had recently taken a tour of the DHL shipping facility at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport back home and the series of steel walkways and stairs was very reminiscent of that tour. The whole space was open, so we could see the quinta’s activities on all three floors.

Our tour ended at the bottom level of the quinta with a lovely lunch served right beneath all the wine-making activity we had just witnessed. We were greeted with large cups of warm pumpkin soup. Above us, were the bottoms of the stainless steel vats with spouts ready for efficient conveyance directly into trucks for their transport to cooler storage locations off-site which were much more conducive to quality winemaking and final bottling.

A long table was elegantly laid out for us to enjoy traditional Portuguese foods. I particularly enjoyed the salad course with fresh greens, apples, pomegranate seeds along with peppers, beets, green beans and mushrooms. Everything went very well with all the wines, although the Casa Ferreirinha 2010 Callabriga Douro a very flavorful red which reflected the dry, arid surrounding landscape was my favorite. We were sad to end our time so soon at Quinta da Léda, but we had to bid farewell to everyone and board the bus for our long, six plus hour ride to Logroño, Spain and the 2013 Digital Wine Communications Conference!

Disclosure: I tasted the wines of the Douro River Valley as a part of a sponsored press trip of the region, organized by Greengrape (www.greengrape.pt), along with 12 other wine, gastronomy and tourism bloggers from several countries. My travel and accommodations were provided by the sponsor.

Douro: True Beauty Radiates in Darkness and Light

December 30th, 2013

Train TimTrain GroupOur small group of wine bloggers had transferred trains only once after nightfall. Practically every other passenger from the crowds we had started-off with at São Bento railway station in Porto had reached their final destinations and left us. Train rides always make me feel like I’ve experienced time travel — and it’s always a trip back in time — never into the future?!? This feeling is heightened when I have to sit in a backwards-facing seat.

My journey from Porto along the Douro River was no exception. It felt like the end of the line as we all disembarked at the desolate Aregos train station. The station’s small depot was dimly lit with a handful of small industrial-looking lamps – resembling the reproductions available at Restoration Hardware. The only sounds were some barking dogs far off in the distance. We walked into the dark along a side gravel path through a picket fence. A few steps later, we were on a small country road and saw a middle-aged gentleman illuminated only by the tail lights of his fancy SUV. A chill was in the air as he directed us to pile into his car or the van behind us. Five of us followed him and climbed into the warm SUV. We started up the winding hillside away from the railroad tracks and river valley. It was all a bit unsettling. I mean, we wine bloggers have traveled numerous times together to places unknown, meeting strangers, trying new foods and tasting wine grape varieties of which we’d never before heard. We certainly are not a shy group – and always up for anything, but the time-travel train ride, late arrival in the dark, this stranger driving us to who knows where — it was all a bit odd.

After a couple minutes, my friend riding in the passenger seat asked our driver, “Who are you?” “I’m Tony Smith, owner of Quinta de Covela (www.covela.pt) and your host.” It all sounded like a line out of the movie “Clue,” but I exhaled an inaudible sigh of relief and angst was replaced by excitement for what Tony had in store for us – just around the next dark bend in the road…

Okay, so that’s all a bit dramatic. But seriously, it happened just like that! It was an amazing beginning to our Douro Valley press trip. It felt like 2am when we arrived at the train station, but I think it was more like 7 or 8pm — you know how early the sun sets in fall especially on overcast, rainy evenings.

Tony drove us down a gravel drive and stopped at a very modern, suburban-looking, two-car garage. We got out of the SUV and beyond the garage, it was again pitch black, but we could see house lights in the distance and you got a sense that one step too far off the driveway might send you into a long, spiraling and painful fall all the way back down into the Douro River. After we were informed that this was the spot of our overnight accommodations, we claimed our luggage and headed into the house through the garage. The villa was actually more like a chic mixture of small, boutique hotel and B&B out in the middle of nowhere. Ours was one of three villas at Quinta de Covela that had been designed by José Paulo dos Santos, one of Portugal’s most admired contemporary architects. Down a narrow hall lined on one side with dark stained wood closets were four doors which led into our hotel rooms. The spaces were of a very modern, minimalist concrete and wood design – just my style.

We unpacked and freshened-up a bit and then were transported to Quinta de Covela again via Tony and his SUV. We arrived well before the other group of bloggers, giving us a rare opportunity to spend some time getting to know Tony and how he came to be at Covela. With little probing, but a lot of earnest interest on our part, Tony shared about his previous life in publishing at Conde Nast. Although this career proved very successful, Tony wanted to achieve something more. After talking for awhile, Tony revealed that his father had started a plumbing (if I recall correctly) business that he turned into a life-long profession. Tony spoke of how his father put great value in an honest day’s work and building something from nothing with your own hands. His father left a lasting impression on Tony – in that he wanted to make something, build something of value and impact. Call it a midlife crisis, change of heart, legacy-longing….whatever! Like many of us pondering our “next chapter in life,” Tony went through his own version of this and decided that he was interested in owning and operating a winery – someplace, but where? After considering all options, the Douro made it to his short list. Finding Quinta de Covela available for purchase in 2011, ended his search.

At Quinta de Covela, Tony and his partner have turned around an idle and neglected vineyard that had fallen into bad times. He invited back the former winemaker, Rui Cunha, who wanted to see the winery live on and flourish. Tony, the Renaissance Man that he is, has recreated Covela, with the help of others, out of something that had once been. He returned the vineyard to production employing ten or so young locals and, in return, feeding the local economy through using the special talents and services of trades-people.

All this we learned from Tony in the time we spent with him prior to his welcome toast to the whole group and then again as we sat together at dinner later that night. It was the type of warm, open and honest conversation that feeds the soul. I don’t mean to be all sentimental-mushy-gross. It truly was an evening both memorable and meaningful. We didn’t discuss pop music, mundane celebrities, stupid divisive politics, rather, we listened to a story of one man warmed by a fire in Covela’s stone central building while dogs lay sleeping at our feet and darkness blanketed all around us – keeping what lay beyond a mystery. That was my introduction to the Douro Valley!

morning view from hotelWalk to breakfastIn the morning, the sun rose to reveal our first glances of the Douro Valley’s physical beauty. The morning mist hung over the river and we were enveloped in peaceful quiet – except for the occasional barking dog. We walked this time the short distance from our overnight villa, past sleepy orchards and vineyards, and down Covela’s rustic drive. Our appetites ready for a hearty breakfast and the start of our first full day as visitors to this amazing region, its people and its wines!

stone benchCovela DrivewayDisclosure: I tasted the wines of the Douro River Valley as a part of a sponsored press trip of the region, organized by Greengrape (http://www.greengrape.pt/), along with 12 other wine, gastronomy and tourism bloggers from several countries. My travel and accommodations were provided by the sponsor.

Oporto, Oporto! Where for art thou, Oporto?

December 29th, 2013

Oporto, or Porto, is the second largest city in Portugal. It’s located on the coast about a two and a half hour train ride north from Lisbon. It’s a very walkable city — which we learned by taking part in a Taste of Porto Food Tour (www.tasteportofoodtours.com). Our energetic guide André provided the perfect introduction to this wonderful city. Our tour group consisted of only six wine bloggers, a perfect size to get acquainted with Oporto and one another.

We began our tour at the most northern stop — Loja dos Pastéis de Chaves. Pastéis is a buttery, flakey pastry with options of sweet or savory fillings. We were served smaller than normal portion sizes to make room for all the other tastings planned during the tour. One pastéis was filled with chocolate and the other with mushrooms and onions. Several napkins were required and I’m sure they had to run the vacuum after we all left — we were all covered in pastry crumbs.

A short walk from Loja dos Pasteis de Chaves in direction of the river brought us to the Mercado do Balhão area and Café Christina. Café Christina opened in 1804 and is a perfect example of the cafés one can pop into all over Europe for a quick and cheap caffeine buzz! It was cafés such as this that the founder of Starbucks visited all over Europe and which led Americans away from cheap diner coffee into the cozy-cool, coffee house phenomena that we all know and love today. The coffee roasted on site was fantastic and fueled us for more walking.


On the way to our “lunch” stop, we passed by an unfortunately, all-too frequent sight in Oporto — a closed and empty storefront. André shared that this was a former, very popular café and that the entire Art Nouveau building was unoccupied. Many buildings in the heart of Oporto are suffering from this same situation. Owners are sitting on properties while the historic buildings begin to crumble from lack of maintenance and investment which only sends renovation costs skyrocketing. We did witness a few buildings being repaired and numerous Oporto city blocks were receiving beautiful new sidewalks and street pavers — clearly from a huge investment by the local government thanks to EU financing — or so we were told.
Lunch was served at Flor dos Congregados — a third generation, family-owned restaurant off an alley with the most fancy-pavers I’d ever seen. I have to add that this gem of a restaurant filled with Oporto history and charm — sits literally one block away from a huge McDonalds on the city’s Liberdade Square. I could imagine the number of tourists that missed an opportunity to experience the real Oporto by not venturing one extra block off the main square. At Flor dos Congregados, I was served a traditional codfish dish while others on the tour sampled a slow-roasted pork sandwich on fresh-baked bread.

We strolled westwards to Leitaria da Quinta do Paҫo for some eclairs. My gluten-free option was a glass dish of strawberries in the cream they used for the eclairs. One word – decadent! We needed to walk again, fast and for some distance this time to burn-off some major calories from this tasting!

We ended our food tour at Taberna do Largo which was owned by two women and best known for their wines and foods from local producers. Nibbly-bits or small bites — whatever you would call them, in Oporto they are petiscos (trincas is term used for larger “bites” or tapas). Our petiscos at do Largo included olives, chorizo sausages, cheeses and other incredible and fresh local foods. We passed plates, taking seconds and thirds of our favorites as we sampled delicious Portuguese wines. It was a feast that none of cared to end! We thanked André for his fabulous tour. After spending the morning with him, I felt oriented and ready to keep exploring…well, maybe after a short afternoon nap!

Disclosure: I participated in this Taste of Porto Food Tour as a part of a sponsored press trip of the region along with other wine, gastronomy and tourism bloggers from several countries.

Portugal vs Spain = No Contest!

December 28th, 2013

This past October marked my fourth consecutive year of ridiculous-luck in that I got to travel with my husband to visit an entirely new European wine region. 2013 was the year of the Iberian Peninsula!

Once I returned back home, my friends and co-workers asked, “So how was your trip?…Where did you go?…Was it wonderful?” My reply every time has been, “Hell yeah, it was wonderful!” — just being away from work and the daily grind is an absolute joy. Much, much more than a vacation away from the norm, this trip definitely had its high points and I must say the Douro River Valley was the tip-top pinnacle!

I’ve been telling everyone who will listen that if they have a chance to visit and have to pick between Portugal or Spain — CHOOSE PORTUGAL!!! I mean, Spain was nice with all its awesome tapas bars and Barcelona’s enormous size and architecture would give NYC a run for its money, so I’m glad I got to visit for a few days…but Portugal — there’s just no comparison. Hands down (and wine glasses down too) – I’d visit again in a heartbeat! Whether the urban-yet walkable city of Oporto or the rural setting of the Douro Valley, Portugal is a mixture of everything good — friendly people, rich history, beautiful architecture and country-sides, amazing variety of food and, of course, THE WINE! So, through a series of posts, I’ll be sharing with you a few of the highlights of my Portugal visit along with specific locations and recommendations for you to consider if you’re planning a trip sometime in the future (which again, I would HIGHLY recommend)!

Disclosure: I tasted the wines of the Douro River Valley as a part of a sponsored press trip of the region, organized by Greengrape (www.greengrape.pt), along with 12 other wine, gastronomy and tourism bloggers from several countries. My travel and accommodations were provided by the sponsor.

A Fluffy-Bubbly Celebration of Friends & Ten Years!

October 6th, 2013

September 27th marked my tenth anniversary as a certified Jazzercise instructor. I’m not much of a “membership” type of gal. I was never a Girl Scout, never part of a sorority, nor do I subscribe to any religious affiliation. So, the fact that I’ve been a devoted member of the Jazzercise “cult” for over a decade now – is quite a milestone for me.

I didn’t want to make a fuss out of my anniversary, so I thought the best way to celebrate it would be to share some lovely sparkling wine with my fellow Jazzercise girlfriends! So, I snuck out of my Associate Instructor, Lybra’s Saturday 9:30am class to set things up and surprise the girls.

RuffinoProseccoHere’s the back-story to what I did…Earlier this spring, I’d seen a picture in some local Cincinnati fashion magazine while waiting at my hair salon. The picture showed a flute of champaign with a fluff of cotton-candy on the rim for some girlie flair. I thought this would be the perfect drink – minus the champaign, adding in some great Prosecco instead (my sparking beverage of choice!). Thanks to the Party Source in Newport, KY — right across the beautiful Ohio River from my office in Cincinnati — I picked up two bottles of Ruffino Prosecco for $9.99 each! A TOTAL bargain! Ruffino has a great taste and is slightly on the sweeter side which I thought the majority of the girls would prefer to a dry or Brut sparkling wine. The Party Source also had boxes of 10 plastic flutes and I splurged and spent the extra buck to get the ones with the bottoms attached. If you’ve ever used the cheaper ones, you know how those bottoms constantly slip off — so tacky and frustrating!

Although the wine was easy, the cotton-candy required a bit of hunting. I first checked Super-Walmart in Fort Wright, KY — they had plenty of Halloween candy, but no cotton-candy. The check-out clerk said that the Subway in the store had sold cotton candy in the past, so I stopped in. Not being a fast-food patron, I was shocked to learn that some Subway franchises do offer cotton candy using their own equipment on the premises. Unfortunately, none was available, but the sweet Subway gal directed me to a corner store near where she lives in Downtown Covington. Not knowing how much I’d need, I bought 3 packages. (Hindsight, one package will suffice with plenty still leftover!).

So, while the girls were finishing up Jazzercise class, I put a fluff of cotton-candy inside and on the rim each of the flutes. Once class was over, we gathered everyone in our little office and popped open the Prosecco. That’s got to be one of my favorite sounds – so fun and festive! I poured the wine in each glass. The cotton-candy came in green, blue, pink and yellow colors — so each glass of wine took on a different fun color. The girls LOVED it!

We made a toast to Lybra for her belated birthday, to me and my 10th anniversary and to all of our awesome Downtown Jazzercisers for giving us the excuse to open a great bottle of sparkling wine and make a normal Saturday morning workout very, very special!

Gettin’ Rioja-Ready One More: Green Tea-Blueberry Smoothie

October 5th, 2013

It’s now less than two weeks until we leave for Spain. I’ve been enjoying the previous three juice smoothies that I’ve already posted about, but decided to try one more that sounded interesting and I had all the ingredients, so why not, right?!? Only thing, this recipe has ZERO vegetables! So, in terms of all the smoothies I’ve tried over the past few weeks, this one has the least nutritional offerings. I just wanted to get that disclaimer out there at the get-go. However, it does include the wonderful properties of green tea, blueberries and the protein-power of yogurt, so it ain’t all that bad!

I would have to say this is my least favorite smoothie taste-wise. It’s just really blah! Not bad, just blah! I can taste a hint of the green tea, but the blandness of the plain, non-fat yogurt come through. The texture also is sprinkled with the flaxseed — giving it a bit of a grit. Don’t think I’ll do this one again. Guess I’ll just drink the rest of the green tea straight-up that I brewed for the recipe!

Here’s the recipe (241 calories and 14g of protein):
1/2 cup frozen blueberries
1/2 cup frozen strawberries
1/2 cup chilled, unsweetened green tea
3/4 cup plain, non-fat yogurt
2 tbsp. ground flaxseed

Gettin’ Rioja-Ready Continues Again: Beet-Berries Juice Smoothie

September 27th, 2013

IMG_2150IMG_2151Alright I’m under three weeks now until we leave for Spain and lots of wine, food and no regular Jazzercising! So, I’m continuing to “sprinkle” in some extra vegetables into the day via yet another yummy juice smoothie.

I love beets! From what my mother tells me, I’ve loved them since I was a baby. So when I found this recipe in the September 2013 Cooking Light Magazine, I had to try it. This one is my favorite so far! I mean how can you loose with all the fresh blueberries and raspberries! The rooty, earthy flavor of the beet does come through. The color is so dramatic too thanks to the beet! You can buy pre-cooked beets, but they are super easy to prepare. Simply boil them in water like you would an egg or potato. When you can insert a fork easily, they are done. Strain water and let them cool, then peel off the outer skin like paper and voila!

I forgot to buy orange juice, so I substituted with some of the carrot juice I have left over from the Carrot-Ginger Juice Smoothie recipe. I’ll definitely try this again with OJ!

You don’t add any ice to this recipe, so I did use frozen raspberries and my beets, carrot juice and agave nectar were all chilled from storage in the frig. However, I think I would have liked the drink even more if it’d been even colder, so I might add a few cubes next time I make it.

Here’s the recipe (219 calories):
1 cup (a whole clear plastic box container) of blueberries
1/2 cup frozen raspberries
1/3 cup sliced beets (one small beet)
1/4 cup nonfat Greek yogurt
1/4 cup orange juice
1 tsp light agave nectar

For It’s Wine, 2, 3 Strikes You’re Out at the old Ball Game!

September 25th, 2013

MeI attended my one and only Cincinnati Reds ball game of the season last night thanks to a free ticket from my friend Kathy who also joined me. I had seen an article in the Cincinnati Business Courier a week or two prior that talked about single wine bottle servings being offered at the Ballpark. The news article reported that former Cincinnati Reds second baseman and Baseball Hall of Famer, Joe Morgan, had introduced merlot and chardonnay wines in single-serve, 187ml plastic bottles to Great American Ball Park patrons for $10 starting in July 2013. And that he was partnering with California-based Steelhead Vineyards and calling the wine “W1NE for One” which came complete with a detachable cup attached to the bottle’s screw top. (Note: the last two run-on sentences can be found on Joe Morgan’s Wikipedia page — thanks to my first Wikipedia edit…ta-da!)

So, I just HAD to try out Joe’s wine during my visit to the game last night. I first tried going up to one of the bars set up along the outer corridors of the ballpark to make my wine purchase. Upon my first try, I was told that the single bottles were only sold by the vendors that came around to your seats — you know the ones who carry the heavy, open beer coolers. I’m guessing the vendor direct delivery is what drove the cost up to $10 because I could have gotten an $8 “plastic Reds cup” of wine from the walk-up bar whose staff were pouring from normal-size bottles of Beringer and other such wines. But I was on a mission to try Joe Morgan’s wine, so off Kathy (with her Leinenkugal draft beer) and I went to our seats.

About ten minutes passed with no vendors coming around, so I walked down from the seats into the corridor and found a vendor resting who happened to have a chardonnay but no merlot. Thanks to David, who BTW should receive the cutest Reds Ballpark vendor award, I finally could sit down and conduct my wine tasting. The 2012 Steelhead Chardonnay had an initial grape taste which was quickly followed by a slight metallic aftertaste. I was not impressed, but then I truly was not expecting anything really all that good. So, all in all it was better than I’d expected, but that’s really not saying too much. I would DEFINITELY not buy it again or recommend that anyone try it — sorry Joe!

screwtopinbottomofglassOn top of the poor-performing taste, it was INCREDIBLY awkward to drink this wine. As I mentioned, the screw top is attached to the inside-bottom of the plastic drinking “glass,” so there’s no way to close the bottle back up once you’ve opened it. The cup holders at the stadium are sized for beer and soda cups, not a petite, little wine bottle. so, while I drank my wine and nibbled on the cheese I’d brought to snack on, I set the open bottle near my foot. Anyone who’s attended a ball game is familiar with how close each seat is to the other. I came close to spilling my wine at least three times. I’m sure that anyone else who’s attempted to drink this wine has run into the same problem and that the ballpark’s concrete stands must be enriched with this stuff!

I attempted to purchase the Merlot to be complete in my ballpark wine tasting – embarrassing myself by shouting down the aisle, “you got any merlot?!?” I knew heads were turning and people were thinking, “what high-maintenance diva is at the ball game and asking for merlot?!?” I had to laugh at myself at how ridiculous I sounded. Finally, after three attempts, I walked back down to the corridor and found a fourth vendor who informed be that they were all out of the merlot. I guess Reds fans prefer red over white – LOL! Or maybe they ordered more chardonnay given the summer season and thinking more people would want a chilled wine?!? Your guess is as good as mine.

Since, I was not the least interested in another “glass” of the chardonnay, Kathy and I visited the craft beer stand at the ballpark. As I’d hoped, they did have one gluten-free beer option (Redbridge — that seems to be the popular pick at most Cincinnati area restaurant establishments) and one cider option (Reds Hard Cider). I’m not a big fan of cider, but it being early fall and the fact that I’ve had Redbridge on a couple of occaisions and I knew it to be nothing great, I opted for the Reds cider. I was happy to get a way bigger pour while paying $1.25 less than the wine. Ciders are usually so sweet — being the Rieslings of the apple world, but Reds Hard Cider had a very light, sweetness and great flavor. I’ll DEFINITELY pick it again given the chance!

So, in conclusion — I’m sorry fellow wine lovers, but when visiting the ballpark – I think I’ll stick to the traditional liquid refreshment – BEER! Or in my case gluten-free beer or cider! It’s always good to go with the saying, “You don’t know ‘til you try it!” Well, take it from me and spend your $10 on something tastier and less embarrassing to ask the vendors to pass down the aisle!!!

Gettin’ Rioja-Ready Continues: Kale-Pistachio Juice Smoothie

September 24th, 2013

full viewAerial ViewSo today, I took a long lunch to take my vacuum cleaner into the repair shop (my attachment hose broke during my last vigorous housecleaning day). On the way, I decided to quickly stop by the house to prepare and try out another veggie smoothie in my goal to eat smart and healthy in preparation for my wine Spain trip which is fast approaching in THREE WEEKS!

The stars of this juice-smoothie are kale and pistachios. If you hate kale, it won’t make a bit of difference because aside from the awesome green color, there’s really no sign that kale is anywhere to be found! You’d think there would be some sort of kale flavor, but nope! I did use Baby Kale that I found in the clear-plastic box in refrigerated produce section of Kroger. The Baby Kale are little tender leaves not tougher, thicker ones that you would find in bulk Italian or curly-leaf kale. Kale seems to work just like the frozen spinach I add to my breakfast protein smoothies every morning — no taste whatsoever — so both (kale and spinach) lend themselves really well to blending in with other domineering ingredients to result in SUPER healthy snacks!

However, the pistachios are a different story. These little nuts really provide the only flavor in this drink, so if you don’t care for the oily-salty taste of pistachios, you probably won’t want to try this recipe. But their taste isn’t overpowering. I think the kale may help to mellow the flavor of the nuts. I did use shelled, salted pistachios that are all the rage right now and easy to find at your grocery store.

The drink has a creamy texture thanks to the addition of a whole cup of skim milk and just a few ice cubes. I used Snowville Creamery (grass grazed and not homogenized) fat free milk which is produced locally here in Ohio (www.snowvillecreamery.com).

You only add 1/4 teaspoon of ginger, so there’s none of the burn-zing-tang that I experienced in the Carrot-Ginger recipe. There’s just a good hint of ginger way back in your mouth that is very refreshing.

The addition of half a big pear and half a frozen banana (your only pre-preparation besides shopping for any missing ingredients) is to lend a little bit of sweetness to the drink. However, like the Carrot-Ginger juice smoothie, I wouldn’t call this one at all sweet. It also has no sour-y, vegetable-y yuck. It’s really quite tasty! I think I’ve found my new favorite way to consume kale!

Here’s the full recipe:
1/2 large, very ripe banana, cut into chunks and frozen
1/2 large pear, cut into chunks
1 1/2 cups fresh (baby) kale
1 cup skim milk
1 tbsp pistachios
1/4 tsp minced ginger
5-7 ice cubes

Put all into blender for 343 calories and 16g protein! Enjoy!