Sunday, February 27, 2011

Wine Class #12- French Regions: Rhone, Languedoc, Provence

Thursday night we finished up our tasting of the major French wine regions.  The sequence of lessons started on the West coast, Loire and Bourdeaux, moved to the Middle and Northeast regions, Burgundy and Alsace, and ended in the Southern region of Rhone, Languedoc and Provence.  I feel like I've taken a trip to France in my own basement!  Well that may be a slight stretch.
We tried the following wines:
A Viognier from Languedoc
(Grape: 100% Viognier)

A red wine from Languedoc- Roussillon
(Grape: Blend of Syrah, Grenache and Carrington)

A Cotes du Rhone
(Grape: Blend of Grenache, Mourvedre and Cinsault)
A Tavel or Provence Rose (Grape: Blend of
Grenache, Mourvedre, Cinsault, Syrah, Clairette
and Bourboulenc)
A Chateauneuf-du-Pape
(Grape: Grenache Blend)

Northern Rhone Red from Hermitage
(Grape: Syrah or Syrah Blend)
So, we tried grapes from all over the Rhone Valley and I must say it was unanimous that this was the best selections of wines we'd had in our classes yet.  They were all wonderful!

The Viognier is a white, low acidic grape that is fermented in oak barrels.  Tavel (similar to Provence) is a region known for it's wonderful roses.  These are fruity, dry wines, not the sweet wines you would normally think a blush to be, and they get their color from brief contact with red grape skins and juice.  They are great to pair with many foods, but may be difficult to find.  My favorite (and a common fav among the group) was the Northern Rhone Red from Hermitage.  It smelled of rasberries and toasted marshmallows.  Syrah's tend to be my favorite and this one remained on the palette for quite a while.  The Cotes due Rhone blended wine was the most subtle. It had very little aroma and not a very strong taste, but what little taste it had was still yummy.

There is no doubt that the French, Rhone Valley aisle of my local wine store will be one I'll often visit.

Next up are wines of Northern Italy!

Friday, February 25, 2011

Dining Room Progress

We've been keeping pretty busy over the last few weeks.  Adam was able to make a trip up to the mountains for some great powder last Saturday, while I stayed home and made some progress on our dining room painting.  We are just about done with the painting, and I hope to post pictures soon. We chose Benjamin Moore's color Norther Cliffs (right).  I absolutely LOVE how the room turned out.  I'm really picky about stuff around the house, and usually it takes me time to completely warm up to new colors on the walls, but this one I was instantly happy with.  The room was previously a very drab off white, and you can see it slightly in a previous post.  Now it's richer, warmer and really pops next to the white trim and doors we repainted. 

When I'm talking about colors I plan to paint rooms, Adam always says "Why don't you do something with color?," so I ask him "what color would you want?"  And well, he can never come up with an answer.  There are many people out there that paint their walls vibrant, bright colors, which is great...but I just can't make myself do it.  I get tired of things too quickly and I'm afraid I would want to repaint it in a year or two. So I stick with more neutral colors that allow me to play with colorful fabrics, furniture and accessories of all colors, as shown below....(these are not pictures from our house, although I wish they were...just inspiration)


I'm hoping that my weekend won't be taken over by more dining room work, and I can actually finish the sewing project I mentioned earlier in my blog.  I'm halfway done with it...and my deadline is quickly approaching.

As for my next project? I've decided to make a fabric cozy for our dining room telelvison.  We finally broke down and decided to add a TV upstairs last year, so that we could watch news in the morning.  Previously we only had one TV and it was downstairs.  Due to my terrible habbit of getting sucked into ridiculous shows sometimes, I was not about to add one to our bedroom or upstairs family room....I know we'd spend too much time in front of seperate tubes.  So, we came to a compromise and added a TV in our kichen/ dining area (HD cable only, so we don't have a plethora of channels) and we are able to watch the morning and evening news....and some Bachelor if Adam has a KU bball game to watch.  Anyway, the point is that the TV is somewhat of an eye sore, so I decided to make a quick, easy cover so that it doesn't look too gadgety in the dining room.  Now just need to find the perfect fabric......

I'll be writing about our wine class last night soon.  It definitely was the best class yet, so I have lots of suggestions!  All I can say now is almost everything from the Rhone Valley is delish!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Under the Weather

Well it seems it's just that time of year for everyone to be under the weather.  Unfortunately, we had to postpone this week's wine class due to some friends coming down with the flu.  But, it actually wasn't a bad thing because we've been having to take care of our little Charlotte for the last few days.  I'm not sure if she has the flu or what, but she's been wheezing and sneezing a lot over the last week, and she's NOT happy.  When she's under the weather, it seems the whole house is completely out of sorts.  She just looks up at us with her pitiful little eyes, and it's hard to not feel sorry for her.

We ran the humidifier all last night and made her sit in the bathroom this morning while we were taking showers, hoping that would help with all her congestion- but she's still not back to normal.  It looks like we may be making a trip to the Vet tomorrow.

Since I haven't shared many pictures of her, I thought this would be a good time.  Let's hope she's back to normal soon.....

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Great Spring Day

I just have to post about how great of a day it's been!  The weather has been phenomenal- 65 and sunny- perfect for rolling the windows down and taking a quick walk around the park with only pants and a short sleeved shirt. We were able to have a wonderful brunch outside with some very delicious wines with friends from church, and it was an amazing start to the day.  Now I'm excited to settle in for a couple romantic, Valentine movies on Lifetime this evening and possibly making progress on my sewing project.  It's been a Great Spring Sunday for us, hope it has for everyone else.

And Happy Birthday to my Mother-in-law, Julie!  Sorry we couldn't be there to celebrate, but we're looking forward to your upcoming visit!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Wine Class #11: French Regions- Burgundy and Alsace

Wine class is FINALLY back!  I can't even put into words how excited I am to be back in the routine of our weekly wine lectures.  Our vino loving group of nine huddled around our TV Thursday night for the 11th lecture of our course.  The topic this week was the French Region of Burgundy and Alsace.  Burgundy is the birthplace of the Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grape varieties, so those were obviously a big part of the lesson.  However, we also tried a couple other grapes that were new to us: Gamay and Gewurztraminer.

We tried the following wines:
Chablis AC- Chardonnay
from Chablis Northwest Burgundy
Brouilly- Gamay
from Beaujolais region
(Southern Burgundy)
Cote de Nuits- Pinot Noir from Cote
de Nuits (Northern Burgundy)

Meursault- Chardonnay
 from Northern Burgundy
Gewurztraminer- from Alsace (Northeast of Burgundy- on German border)

After the class, I found this map to get a better idea of what areas of/ near Burgundy all the wines came from.  It's so interesting that the same grape can taste so different by being grown in different locations within the same region.

**New wine drinkers**
If you aren't keen on red wine or are just beginning to drink it, try Beaujolais Nouveau.  The area of Beaujolais is in the southern part of Burgundy, and is known for it's wines made from red Gamay grapes.  Generally these wines are lighter, softer and easier to drink as compared to a Pinot.  It has a bubble gum smell to it, which was something I'd never smelled before.  Also, they are meant to be drunk very young, so buy a bottle from a recent year.

Overall my favorite wine of the night was the Chablis AC.  Normally I prefer a red wine, but maybe it's the upcoming change of seasons that has me interested in a more light bodied wine.  The reason I love Chablis is because it's an unoaked Chardonnay- which is not a common characteristic of Chard.  It was very delicate and crisp, unlike the Meursault that had a more spicy, vanilla and buttery flavor- both were made with the same grape.  My second favorite was the Cote de Nuits.  It had a light, fruity, spicy flavor and wasn't too acidic.  It was pretty unanimous among the whole group that our least favorite was the Gewurztraminer (or Pinot Gris). It was too sweet for us, but if you enjoy sweet wines- this is a great one to try.

Up next week: French Regions- Rhone, Languedoc and Provence.  These will be mostly rose wines, which American's think to be sweet and cheap, but in reality these are dry roses that make great spring and summer wines.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Spaghetti with Spice

I am always trying new recipes, and subscribing to Martha Stewart's Everyday Food Magazine makes it so much easier and fun.  Lately I've been making something new every night for dinner and saving the directions for the dishes we love, which is great for me because I get tired of eating the same things over and over.  

In one of the most recent issues of this magazine there was a special on Sriracha Sauce.
It came at such a perfect time because I was about to throw out our bottle that we rarely use.  One of Adam's good friends came out to visit last year and we had to buy this for our guest that loves the spicy sauce on just about everything he eats.  He didn't end up eating the whole bottle, so it seemed as it if would take us another year to finish off the bottle.  

This magazine special included recipes for pot-stickers with a Sriracha sauce, Sriracha-glazed chicken wings and Sriracha marinara and meatballs.  We tried and loved the pot-stickers and this week I made the meatballs.  I wanted to share it as, I think it's a great twist on a normal, hum-drum spaghetti sauce.

1 lb ground pork
1 lb ground turkey
2 10oz packages of frozen spinach (thawed and squeezed dry)
1/3 cub plain dried breadcrumbs
2 egg whites
3/4 teaspoon dried oregano

2 tsp olive oil
1 small yellow onion, diced small
2 garlic cloves, chopped
2 cans (28oz each) crushed tomatoes
1/4 cup Sriracha sauce

1.  Heat broiler, with rack in top position.  Place all meatball ingredients with some salt and pepper in a large bowl.  With your hands, mix to combine; roll into about forty 1 inch meatballs.  **Use a small cookie scoop with a spring-arm for easy formation**  Arrange meatballs on a rimmed baking sheet and lightly coat with nonstick cooking spray.  Broil until golden brown, 10 mins, rotating sheet halfway through.

2.  In a large heavy pot, heat olive oil over medium.  Add onion and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until you can see through onion, about 6 mins.  Add tomatoes and Sriracha and bring to a simmer.  Add meatballs and simmer 10 mins.  Serve over noodles.

This is a great sauce to freeze too.  It makes a bunch and we froze about half of ours.  To freeze, let the sauce cool before putting in an airtight container, and it can be frozen for up to 3 months. 

Hope you enjoy it and can use up some unused Sriracha sauce in the process!

Sunday, February 6, 2011


Since I work in the financial field, money is a fun topic for me.  I wouldn't say I'm an expert in personal finances, but I've always been aware of how important budgeting is to my sanity and my mood in general.  The part of money that I don't enjoy is worrying about it, and I feel extremely lucky to be married to someone that completely agrees with me on the topic.  Obviously nobody wants to worry about money, but we've found some ways that really have decreased our stress as it relates to finances.
From the outside looking in, some people would say we are cheap, but I totally disagree.  As an accountant, I've met A LOT of cheap people, and I know we are not in that category.  Adam and I both have hobbies and interests that are not inexpensive, whether it be fly fishing, our house, traveling, wine, food, camping or skiing, they all require a good chunk of money and we don't skimp on those activities. The way we are able to afford these hobbies as well as our daily lives, is by keeping a budget.  As a couple, we sit down together at the beginning of every year and discuss our retirement and long-term savings goals as well as anticipate what the next year holds- a new kitchen, car repairs, 3 or 4 out of state weddings, trips, new skis, etc.

Below are five things that help with keeping our budget and make finances less of a worry to us on a daily basis:

Individual Allowances
We setup an allowance at the beginning of each year and transfer this money into our individual accounts at each pay period.  This money can be spent however we each want to spend it- lunches out, personal hobbies, clothes, gifts, etc.  The reason this works so well is it's almost impossible to overspend.  Since we limit ourselves with this one transfer per pay period, we can't take out more and we learn to save for a big fun purchase we have coming up.
Auto Transfers
Direct deposit and automatic transfers make life so much easier.  Having a percentage of your money transferred to a savings account every pay period makes you completely unaware that you are even missing it in your daily life.  If you don't setup auto transfers, you have an easier time talking yourself out of putting it into savings.  A new thing Adam and I are trying this year is mini-savings accounts for four of the major expense categories we have- travel, home improvements, home repairs and maintenance and miscellaneous.  We have an auto transfer to each of these accounts at each pay period, and when we need to spend this money, we simply transfer it into one of our regular checking accounts.  It makes overspending really difficult.  Plus, most banks have a product like this that is free and can be setup online.

Free Money
Honestly, who doesn't like free money?  If you are lucky enough to have a 401(k), 403(b) or any similar long-term savings option at your work, in which the employer makes contributions, it's absolutely crazy not to personally contribute the maximum that they will match.  A quick number to throw out...if you make $35,000 a year, and your employer offers a 3% match, that's $1,050 of free money to you every year.  This adds up quickly, as it's likely your salary will continue to grow until retirement and your investment will gain value over the many years it stays in the market.
Why pay interest?
Pay off credit cards every month.  They carry extremely large interest rates, and there is no need to throw that money away.  The only time I'd suggest purchasing with a credit card is if there is an emergency and you don't have direct access to funds or if you have the money to cover the costs, but want to gain some frequent flyer miles or points on your card.  These cards are so tiny and light, which makes them so easy to use, but before you know it, you've spent more than you can afford, and this little piece of plastic ends up causing a large burden to your mental health.  Buy what you NEED and save for the big purchases you really WANT.

Emergency funds
Always keep an account with emergency money.  I'd suggest enough to cover at least two months of your living expenses.  Having this as a backup should the unexpected happen, will make that event so much easier on you- whether it be a lost job, a new roof, a big car repair or expensive hospital bills.

Overall, I think the most important thing to maintaining financial sanity is to live within your means and prioritize.  It's very important to treat yourself to something you really love once in a while, else you're more likely to go on an extreme binge- just like eating- and those are tough to get past. But, make sure to save money on items that are not so important to you in the grand scheme of things.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Our weekend out

I was SO looking forward to the return of our weekly wine class last night, but of course the weather didn't cooperate and we decided to postpone until next week.  I even read ahead for this class and was looking forward to tasting some delicious Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from the Burgundy region of France.  The good news is that we've been planning a happy hour for this evening with friends at a local wine bar I've never been to- so I'm VERY happy I'm able to get my fix of wine, great friends and some time out of the house all in one night!  Plus, it's in the 40's here in Denver today- finally back to normal, for a couple days at least.
And then, of course, Sunday is a huge excuse to sit around the TV with friends, eating junk food and drinking a few cool beverages. And if the snow decides to come in before the game, it won't bother us because we'll only be walking a couple blocks to our friends house.  So glad we have friends close by.  My contribution to the party: pigs in a blanket and light chocolate- chunk brownines.
Thank God for Martha's easy, yummy recipes!

Hope everyone has a fun and safe Super Bowl Weekend! 

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

No Snow Day for Us

With a temperature of -2 degrees for the high today, I was EXTREMELY frustrated to find out our office would still be open.  The only good side was we had a late start time of 10am.  But seriously, who's really productive on a day that's this cold?  I would rather be getting the major blizzard that's hitting the Mid-West than these freezing temperatures- at least it's prettier and there's a good excuse to be homebound.  And to think, the average high this time of year is 40.  I don't think I've ever seen negative temps in Denver since we moved here three years ago!