Tag Archives: wine

Is Happiness a Place?

photo 1I’ve watched three episodes of Bourdain’s Parts Unknown since last night and now my thoughts are consumed by food and culture.
It surprises me how much I’ve been thinking about food, culture, and the next phase of my life — in which I sell most everything I own and take up the wanderer’s lifestyle for hopefully the next five years.
I had to write a foreword for my cookbook last week and it made me more contemplative than I expected. What did I value in life? Why? What did I want more of? And I found myself echoing in the words I was writing. I too was lost “in the whizz-whizz/whoosh-whoosh pace of city life” I’d been writing about. I work too much, live too little. But I have a goal in mind: Five years abroad, and a year to go before I want it underway. The clock is ticking. The end is in sight. The race is on. Yada, yada.
Watching Bourdain wax poetic about the timeless lifestyles of Granada, Spain, or Ecuador, or Peru, or Croatia, or… It all makes me realize how far off the mark life is here in North America, or where I’ve been living. Or how I’ve been living. Life here, though, is all about the Benjamins. Or would be, if we had American currency.
With one of the most costly lifestyles in the English-speaking world, Vancouver (and therefore Victoria, where it’s only marginally cheaper) has suddenly become a struggle to live on a budget. A lot of people I know, if they can work from home and aren’t tied down, are taking the risk of living abroad. Some have made permanent ventures of it. And why not? If one can tap into a different lifestyle in a place that, after so long hamstrung in Vancouver, where life feels like a vacation because everything feels new and shiny for a year or more — well, why not? And if it’s 30-60% cheaper? Fuck, yeah.
I understand that we have it pretty good in Canada, and that’s where our money goes, but I also think it’s pretty ethnocentric to make bold claims like “best place on Earth.” After all, there’s a lifestyle in places like Spain and Ecuador and other fantastic places where they do have long vacations every year, and they focus on life first/work last, and they celebrate real food and wine and nature, and they do it all for cheaper than we do here, while still having a nice social safety net for the citizens.
We don’t have a monopoly on lifestyles. In many places, living really is pretty good, and they’re honestly too busy living life to bother trying to sell an image of it. Here, it feels like it’s so fast-paced and distracted that we’re constantly being reminded of just how GREAT everything is and how WOW SPIFFY our world is so we don’t start questioning how ridiculous it is that we have among the least amount of vacation time in the world, with the longest hours.
It’s like that time a friend read The Secret and told me what a powerful thing it was, and I should read it, blah blah blah. And I said, “Dude. You’re not happy with your job, where you live, and your relationship is in tatters. Prove to me that The Secret works by fixing your fucked-up life and oozing happy-happy/joy-joy, and then maybe I’ll buy the book.”
If life here was so sensational and happiness was the natural byproduct of it, do you think we’d be selling Xanax and Prozac like it was going out of style? Do you think self-help books would be so endemic? If life’s so amazing here, why do we need to keep being reminded about it?
When I was living in Vancouver, I kept telling people I wasn’t happy there anymore. Everyone said I was nuts, it’s the best place on the planet. Well, I can tell you wholeheartedly that selling the dream ain’t the same as delivering the dream, and for me, Lotusland just wasn’t delivering.
photo 2But maybe I’ve just got a restless heart. This time and place, it’s not right for me. I don’t know where is, but it ain’t here, not now. Not today. I think, for me, the joy will come from looking. From going to one place and being blown away and thinking “Nothing can ever top this,” and then, boom, next town, next country — “Nothing can ever top this.”
What if there is no place better than where I am today? What if, for the rest of my life I remember about the magical two years I lived in a magical neighbourhood?
Well, that could happen. Sure. But it’s a pretty big planet packed with a lot of wow, and I’m pretty sure things get amazing anywhere there’s mountains, trees, ocean, good wine, beautiful food, and kind people.
Happiness, for me, is a state of being. Having the time to be in the moment, not distracted, not paying a ton of money for an experience. A quiet place, a few kind people, the ability to speak my mind (or stay silent), a great glass of wine or a tall lemonade or strong coffee, some nature near me or surrounding me. Usually many of these criteria get met when I get to feel “happy”. It’s the recipe for happiness we hear so much about. Or my recipe, anyhow.
But to get there, to have that, I need to spend another year working like a dog to set my plan in play. Taking moments like this to think about the what-ifs of living abroad, the potential that life might hold, it makes knowing I’m working through another Saturday and Sunday all worthwhile.
That balance will come. For a little while, it means I have to prove how much I want it. And so I shall. With that, it’s time to do some work.

Of Luck, Books, Loss, and Learning

Well, it’s been an interesting week. I’ve had family visit, some weird things go down, emotional highs and lows, and it’s just before 7 on a Friday night after a mentally-grueling day. Tomorrow, I finish my final edit on my first ebook and send it out into the world. My baby gets its walking papers.
Speaking of lows, Wednesday was the 15th anniversary of my mother’s death, and that oddly wasn’t a low this week. In fact, it’s the first time since she died that I didn’t think about her in a “Mom died today” kind of way on her death anniversary. Newer and stranger still is that this doesn’t make me feel guilty. After all, I’ll never forget my mom and I’ll never not be sad that she’s dead, but it’s like I said many years ago, that with each passing year that pain just becomes a little less dominant but a little more permanent, like a scar or faded tattoo, it’s a new part of me.
It’s just a thing. Death, grief, you don’t ever stop missing people you love. That’s the nature of it.my sunset
But I guess there comes a time when we realize we are as much shaped by our losses as we are our successes, and that becomes okay. Well, if you’re like me and you’re happy with the person you’re becoming in the face of all the things you’ve been over the years, then yeah, it becomes okay to be forged through fire and come out of it as steel, whether it’s by people dying or other adversity. It’s really okay.
The older I am, the happier I am about being a strong(er) person.

Stronger, But More Grateful Too

So, it’s a crazy week, right? I’m publishing my first book and now lapsing into reflection about the many years that have passed, the hardships I’ve known, and how tonight I’m thinking about a bike ride to get some pizza, some wine, some sun. It doesn’t sound like a lot, but two years ago I would’ve killed to be able to casually plan to drop $30 on a Friday night pizza/wine combination. Money was still very tight for me 24 months ago. I was having a lot of “budget days” then. And cycling into the sunshine for it, that’s another thing I feel grateful for. Life after back injury is no small gratitude.
Many times over the last 15 years I would’ve given so much to have my “lows” this “death anniversary” week merely be insomnia and a rough day at work. I chuckle at the thought of that being the “low” this week. It’s a good thing, to move on.
I’m sure some reader, somewhere is all “Pfft, you should’ve moved on years ago,” and to them I would merely say fuck you. One doesn’t choose to move on. One can try. One can even force the issue, but the reality is, you don’t move on until you move on. I’ve tried, I’ve forced it, I’ve rammed it into myself. It didn’t take. One of those things.
Last year, I had a friend tell me her daughter’s death day, year 14, was the last time it had wracked her with grief, and year 15 was when she had finally processed it and made peace with it too.
You don’t choose catharsis, catharsis chooses you.

Of Lucky Numbers and Me

My mom sold real estate in Chinatown, probably the only fishbelly-white redheaded woman ever to do so before year 2000. She ate a lot of wontons, loved stirfry, was the token white lady on the company tour to China, and loved immersing in their culture.
She was always thrilled when she’d find or get a new listing that had three or more 8’s in the address, including postal code, because she knew it’d be popular with the very traditional Chinese customers, who were often the high-rollers. It’s an “auspicious” number, foretelling great wealth and good fortune. Abundance in life. Lemme tell ya, I’ve had auspicious abundance since last year, when I moved into my apartment that has three 8’s in its mailing address.
Well, I registered my book today. The ISBN number not only has three 8’s, it also has four 9’s. Nine, it turns out, is the auspicious Chinese number for “long-lasting” and loyalty.
I don’t see these numbers as applying to just this one ISBN, but rather to my future as a writer.
Shush! It’s my fucking superstition, I get to interpret it any way I like. I’ll be auspiciously abundant and with great longevity.
The numbers have spoken.
And now I have some numbers to translate into pizza and wine. Hello, Visa card! (It has 8s and 9s too. Huh.)

Dazzled by The Wines of Chile!

I was very fortunate to have received a couple of tickets to last week’s Dish’n’Dazzle event at the Fairmont Pacific Rim.
Here’s the complete low-down, good and bad.
Dish’n’Dazzle is the BC Hospitality Foundation’s big wine-and-food fundraiser. The Foundation is used by folks in the hospitality industry who have medical emergencies that can be crippling financially but aren’t insured adequately, if at all. It’s a really fantastic charity, if you know what it’s like to face constant rehab or medical costs.
This was a fantastic event with quite a few restaurants making tasting plates that were paired with a Chilean wine palate. The wines were all Chilean, a fantastic range of easy-drinking high-value wines all the way to unlikely splurges topping $70 a bottle.
Bonus was the cocktail room, where everything had at least a smidge of something Chilean in the mix. There was a lemon drink that tasted like a summer afternoon in heaven. I wish I had the details on it, but I was a little busy drinking that night to be making notes beyond “BUY THIS” on my tasting booklet. My god, a restaurant, cocktail name, AND recipe? Too much to ask of me! A print-out of the recipe would’ve been divine!

A Crash Course on Grapes

Whether it’s at the Fairmont, the Playhouse, or the W2, these wine events are absolutely fantastic if you’re a junior vino appreciator, like myself.
Hobbled by a single-life budget while living in one of the world’s more expensive cities in a recession, I seldom spend more than $15 on a bottle of wine, but I certainly LOVE a beautiful bottle. A recent BC Burrowing Owl Merlot from 2007 left me weak at the knees, for instance. Going back to a value wine’s tough after that, but a girl’s got to pay the rent — and when I need value, it’s usually to Chile I turn.
So, this kind of event lets me try all those amazing $20-30 wines that I actually think are fantastic and would love to start collecting soon.
Ironically, it’s also at these events that I get try so many expensive wines and realize that, personally, I don’t find that most of the flavour profile differences between, say, a $40 bottle and a $60 bottle are often worth the jump in price.

Our Favourite Vino

In fact, my favourite wine in that whole room was, shockingly, a white wine under $20. It was a 2011 Sauvignon Blanc from Hacienda Araucano, from the Lolol valley. The winemaker is the global big-producer Francois Lurton, with vineyards in France, Argentina, Chile, Portugal, and Spain. Since Lurton’s site sucks for information, it’s almost impossible to find a product page on this wine, sadly, so it’s not being well-marketed just yet, too new, but…

The Reserva de la Hacienda Sauvignon Blanc, the star of the show, is produced using the best grape varieties brought from the French regions of Loire and Bordeaux, and is described by the company as having “an intense aroma that combines tropical fruits, citruses and ‘minerality’”. The combination of micro climates (concentrated atmospheric zones with climates that differ from the surrounding areas) in which the vineyards are located, and the sea mists that arrive due to its proximity to the sea, allow for the production of an excellent range of high-quality red and white wines such as their Sauvignon Blanc.

(from I Love Chile.)

My friend and I so loved the Sauvignon Blanc, not yet in stores here, that we’re scheming to order a case (from Diamond Estates in Canada)between us.

You know what? It’s not shocking such a great wine can be had at a budget-friendly price. Chilean wine is fantastic for value prices. A $10 wine from Chile can really surprise you. (At $13.99, Carmen’s Gewurtztraminer also blew us away, but is also a specialty find, so, an easier-to-find value wine I enjoyed, but red, is the Vina Maipo Reserve Carmenere at $12.99).

It’s Fun, Not Stuffy

The above-mentioned wine we covet, but we tasted the 2011 vintage. Yummy!

My friend laughed at me for my winetasting strategies — I’d walk to every table and ask the reps present “What’s the wine that best represents you?” or “What’s the wine I have to try?” It’d always put them on the spot, and sometimes they’d give me the most expensive wine, but usually they’d give me the one they loved best of their line. It’s working for me, at least.

The night was a great opportunity to small-talk with people who really know their products, and a real learning opportunity.

There are a few such wine events in Vancouver each year, and they’re really worth saving your money for and getting out to experience.

I’m really trying to learn more about wine, trying to drink less frequently so I splurge more for “experience” wines I pair properly with food when I have the time to cook extravagantly. For me, it was all about the wine, but I was hoping to learn more about food-pairing strategies too.

The Food Wasn’t Chilean, Though

Unfortunately, I think the restaurants involved really could have offered more variety than mostly seafood, and thought more about the traditional Chilean food for the wines that were showcased.

There was no chicken, lamb, pork, or, what Chile’s famous for, beef! — it was all fish, mostly salmon (which I didn’t realize is one of Chile’s top exports) save for one muskox carpaccio… which doesn’t really scream “Chile” to me. Neither do cake-pops, I’m afraid, or Toasted-Marshmallow-on-a-stick. I was just surprised at the disconnect between a lot of those dishes and what one thinks of for Chilean wines.

Aside from the lack of Chilean influence found, I’m also not a seafood or even a dessert fan, so that aspect really disappointed me. I wish more restaurants would realize that not everyone likes seafood. I was left without eating as much as I should, and that’s never good when one’s consuming vast quantities of truly tasty grapes.

I was lucky to attend last fall’s Taste of Chile, where those doing the food had everything from empanadas to whole roast of pig, and the food knocked me out. It was truly varied but what I expected to see at an event meant to showcase Chilean wines — like this was meant to also be. I think last fall’s Taste of Chile spoke to the soul of Chilean food, and was a tribute to what the country offered. I was pretty sick at the time I went, and never did blog about it, but the event blew me away.

So, it’s interesting that I’ve had two amazing Chilean winetasting events, and while knowing what I know from the last one at W2 & thinking the Dish’n’Dazzle restaurants could have offered Chilean-inspired dishes, I gotta say: One thing that REALLY knocked me out were the amazing Mushroom Croquettes from Yew. I went back for two more. And then another! But, you know, French, not Chilean. Tasty as hell, though. Perfectly crisp and not a bit of grease. The coriander-crusted salmon with tomatillo puree from The Salmon House was fantastic as well, even if I don’t love fish.

My Last Words

Finally, I’m a pretty savvy web person, so I’m surprised at how tricky it was to find information on Dish’n’Dazzle this time. The BC Hospitality Foundation doesn’t even list it on its events page, a major oversight by the organization. I hope it has a more obvious home webpage next time around, because, even if the food wasn’t to MY tastes, I know my friend, a big fish fan, absolutely loved the offerings, and value-for-experience, start-to-finish, the event’s really something worth attending if you ever get the chance, and it goes to a fantastic cause. Great service, generous hospitality at every table, and a wide variety worth exploring.

You ought to consider these large tastings a chance to really learn about all kinds of wine. It’s a crash course in Everything Tasty-Grapey, and something every wine-lover needs to experience at least once, whether it’s the annual Wine Festival or gala events like this. Usually priced between $40 and $100, it’s great value for the money at any price-point, and if you throw a few tastings of wines you might never afford, sometimes up to $150 a bottle, you can really experience a tasting journey unlike anything anyone else can offer you. Go for it.

In Vino Veritas: Turning Points

[One of those into-and-almost-done-a-bottle-of-wine postings. Bear with me here.]
So, Mission: Get a Life is underway.
Making friends, for me? Not very hard. Not if I am myself. If I’m relaxed, content, sociable, people warm to me quickly and easily. And why not? I’m a good person. Better yet, I’m funny. I even make the aesthete’s basic requirement of being “smart” in the broad yet defined “non-Wikipedia” kind of way.
Bonus: I’m brutally frank. This makes me unpredictable. I still regularly shock my best friends of 15+ years, because I’m unflinchingly honest — always. Fortunately, I’m often (definitely not always) tactful, so it’s a little more easily swallowed. Even my employer calls me “honest to a fault”, but she laughs when saying it, and I notice coworkers will actively eavesdrop when I speak, so it can’t be that offensive. Yet. Continue reading

Things I Love to Do, and Can, 'Cause I'm Single – #14

I think I’ve started something here, so I’m now compiling a complete list of these, including reader suggestions for additional points. See the comments on this posting for the complete list. Have your say and get on the list, if ya like. Have at it.

Having a four-day long weekend planned with exciting things to do with myself, by myself, before a crazy two weeks begins:
An afternoon at the beach, a long ambling bikeride to an old independent theatre for an afternoon matinee, a sleep-in and a DVD day, and a day packed with to-dos to scratch off the list. A bottle of wine. Maybe even two. An expensive steak, a fancy meal. Maybe 2. Maybe 4. Hell, maybe 10. All for me. Because I’m worth it. Because life’s short.