Wednesday, December 29, 2010

A Story in Pictures

By way of explanation, the other night we were getting ready to sit down to dinner, and I wanted to open something a little extra special. I grabbed our last bottle of 2002 Kunde Estate Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma County (more on that later).

After pulling a certain (large) number of corks, I give as much thought to it as I would to popping the top off a beer. Even when the cork broke in half, I wasn't concerned. I can extract half a cork almost as smoothly.

When the remainder of the cork disintegrated, profanities were uttered.

As you can see, the story has a happy ending. You just never know when those hemostats are going to come in handy.

We've enjoyed several bottles of this wine. We've enjoyed it even more because we paid $9.99, less a 10 percent mixed case discount. K&L is selling it for $29.99. How did Green's come to have a few bottles stashed away for select customers at a ridiculously low price? I didn't ask.

It's a compelling reason to be really, really nice to your local wine merchant.

I've tried to curtail the gushing about wine, but this is a wine worth gushing about. It's lush and modestly ripe with flavors/aromas of anise, mint, cassis and dried cherry, along with perfectly integrated tannins, soft acidity and a long, decadent finish. I would have gladly paid 30 bucks for it.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Lazy Christmas Day

It's Christmas Day, and we're basking in afterglow of opening presents and a simple lunch of leftovers from last night's feast.

We had E's son and his girl over for a Christmas Eve buffet that was a cardiologist's nightmare: BBQ beef brisket, country ham biscuits, mac-n-cheese, pimento cheese (recipe in this post) and Gorgonzola coleslaw. It was good to us, but not good for us.

Along with the leftovers, we're enjoying a Christmas tradition in our house -- opening a bottle of sparkling wine way too early in the day. Usually, I opt for Champagne, but this year I decided to go for something domestic. Champagne doesn't have a monopoly on fantastic bubbly.

Roederer Estate Anderson Valley Brut NV ($19.79, Green's Beverages)

For $10 less than you can touch most NV Champagnes, the Roederer is every bit as good in my humble opinion. It's a full-bodied style with flavors and aromas of apple, lemon, caramel and fresh toast. It's just the thing for a lazy Christmas Day.

Now the only thing left to do is look out the window to see if it's really going to snow.

Merry Christmas, y'all.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Christmas With Vince

A topic I've rarely touched on is music. I can't live without music, and it's as much a part of our meals as are food and libations. E thinks of me as the house DJ, because I'm primarily the person who picks the soundtrack for our home.

My dad loves music, and I may have inherited my passion from him, although our tastes don't always match. We agree on Miles Davis and John Coltrane, but I'm not sure he shares my appreciation of Ice-T and Gang Starr. As with wine, I enjoy all different kinds of music as long as it's done well.

This holds true for Christmas music also. I know some people can't stand it, but I'm a fan. It's not Christmas until I hear Nat King Cole singing "The Christmas Song."

However, my all-time favorite Christmas album is the Vince Guaraldi Trio's, "A Charlie Brown Christmas."

Maybe it's because the television show is a nostalgic favorite ( I also love good animation) or maybe it's because the music is just so good, but this time of the year it's the first thing I put on in the morning after I've turned on the Christmas tree lights.

I might even end the night with it sometimes, a glass of wine in hand and only the Christmas tree lights left on. When you only listen to an album for a few short weeks once a year, you have to get in as many playings as you can.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Recommended Reading

A friend recommended my blog to some of his friends the other day. I’m always flattered other writers and serious readers take the time to read Brim.

Although it may not always show, I put serious thought and consideration into the things I post. I take my responsibility to my readers seriously. I don’t make my living as a writer per se, but I still think of myself as one.

On the subject of good writing, I’d like to make a recommendation to anyone who likes to read. My new issue of The Sun arrived recently. If you’re not familiar with The Sun, I highly recommend you seek it out.

While you’re at it, order a subscription (or two). The Sun doesn’t accept advertising, so it’s difficult to imagine how they still make a go of it.

While I frequently disagree – sometimes vehemently – with the editorial direction and the opinions of the writers, I always look forward to the next issue. Not an issue goes by without reading something that moves me deeply.

Speaking of liberal propaganda other great reads, E has gotten me hooked on the New York Times. A while back, I read this article in the Sunday Times Magazine, which mentioned satsumas, a Japanese citrus fruit.

Lo and behold, I ran across some at Rosewood Market on Friday. They are everything I imagined and more. Thus, today we had fresh-squeezed satsuma mimosas.

Talk about something I highly recommend. Hoo-wee.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Notes From Friday Night

We stepped out last night for some well-deserved holiday cheer. Our newest favorite place for food and drink is @116 State Espresso & Wine Bar – great food, great service and an eclectic selection of beverages.

While I was scouting the wine list, I noticed a wine I wasn’t familiar with.

Bodegas y Vinedos Ponce Clos Lojen Bobal Manchuela 2008

Just when you think your wine-geek-self knows some obscure grape varieties, one comes along and slaps you upside the head.

At first taste, this wine had a bit of carbonation. That quickly blew off and opened up into a medium-bodied, slightly earthy and complex wine with flavors of cherry, tobacco and spice. It also had acidity and tannins sufficient to stand up to our dinners of tea-smoked duck with a port wine reduction, mashed potatoes and sautéed spinach.

Okay, I’m gloating, but like I said – we deserved it.

Bobal is a native Spanish varietal. Here’s something interesting from Catavino about a documentary on bobal. Manchuela is not a region I was familiar with either. Here it is on the map. It's in the same neighborhood as Castilla-La Mancha, which I do know.

So, if I had the wine at a restaurant, how is the picture of the bottle taken at our home? This is what happens when you’re a wine blogger/geek. You take home empty wine bottles.

Cheers, y’all.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Let's Be Honest

In over three years of blogging, I’ve never written about my work. This is mainly because my job has nothing to do with the things I normally write about: wine, food, gardening and, of course, dogs.

It’s also because I might write something snarky that would lead somebody to believe that I don’t really, really appreciate my job.

I work in communications for a large company. It’s been my first experience with corporate America, and it’s made me very interested in how companies create messages – from the most basic to the most important. Lately, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how a company’s message and its actions are intrinsically linked.

The most important element of effective communications is the truth. If you say one thing and do another, people will see right through it. This should be common sense, but it amazes me how often it’s overlooked or completely ignored.

Years ago, I spent a few months working with a great group of people at an ad agency pitching a new account. They put together a presentation built around that simple element of communications – truth.

The final presentation was pretty awesome, but they didn’t win the account. However, the concept has always stayed with me. All good communication starts with the truth.

Unfortunately, as some people rise to leadership positions (or political office) they lose the desire to hear (or speak) the truth. They surround themselves with people who are adept at saying the right thing instead of what needs to be said. This creates a culture of untruth.

That’s unfortunate because you can spend millions on an advertising or public relations campaign, but if what you’re communicating isn’t true – your money is wasted.

In vino vertis. The Greek poet, Alcaeus, is credited with that little gem of wisdom. It apparently came from the idea that you can’t tell lies after a couple cups of wine.

Maybe they should start serving wine in Congress.

Although it’s possible that I’ve stretched the truth a time or so after too many glasses of wine, I do agree with the basic premise. It may explain why creative types like to do their brainstorming away from the office over some drinks.

These days, it’s increasingly difficult to hide from the truth because technology has sped up the flow of information. Why not just embrace the truth instead?

Sound naïve? Maybe it is, but research actually shows that an apology with an unqualified acceptance of responsibility makes people very forgiving. In other words, no matter how bad you screwed up, just be honest about it and most people will let you off the hook.

With all this in mind, here are my three rules for business communications.

1.) Be honest with your customers.
2.) Be honest with your employees.
3.) Be honest with yourself.

If you find any of the rules problematic, you might want to consider why you're in business in the first place.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Italian Gem

Wine shopping is something I know a little bit about. When you're working with a limited budget, you want to get the most for your wine dollars.

Being the wine geek that I am, I've learned to recognize the way that wine buyers work, especially with large retailers. World Market isn't someplace I would normally think to shop, but experience has taught me otherwise. They pick up some interesting and tasty stuff.

Exhibit A:

Cantina Zaccagnini Montepulciano d' Abruzzo "Tralcetto" Riserva 2007
($12.99, World Market)

I'm not as impressed with the 90 point rating from Bobby Parker as I am with the juice inside the bottle. This is a serious bottle of wine: silky, balanced, complex and easily mistakable for a $20+ bottle of wine.

If you can find some in your neck of the woods, buy it. You won't be sorry.


Friday, December 10, 2010

Today is a Good Day

I love the holidays.

I love, love, love the holidays.

The fact is that I'm a sentimental fool, and I have such fond memories of Thanksgivings and Christmases past. Thanks to E, I now also have Hanukkah to look forward to.

Here's a photo of the menorah I gave E for our first Hanukkah in our home. I've even learned to make a pretty mean latke.

E and I took today off so we could get a early start on a weekend trip to visit friends. The sky was glowing blue with a dusting of orange clouds when Hogan and I set off for a chilly morning walk. I love to see the houses in our neighborhood all decked out for Christmas.

After coffee and breakfast, we've got a few errands to run and some presents to wrap before we leave. One of the gifts we're taking to our friends is a bottle of homemade coffee-infused vodka.

There are some recipes here and here. It's really as simple as cracking coffee beans and soaking them with vodka and a little sugar in a glass jar. I'll be making some other infused vodkas in the future – maybe something with fruit and something savory for Bloody Marys.

Now it's time to get moving. Hope everyone has a good weekend.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010


Today is a day of remembrance for a one very big reason, but it’s a day I remember for a much different reason.

It’s the birthday of a beloved, departed friend. I can’t believe it’s been more than four years since Sully passed away. Even now, I can’t think about the night he died without tears filling my eyes, as they are right now.

That was the first time I watched the life run out of another living thing, and it had a profound effect on me. I recall thinking, Life doesn’t go on forever. You only get one ride. Maybe that sounds naïve, but at that point in my life I hadn’t met death on such a face-to-face basis.

A friend recently told me a story about his elderly mom, afflicted by Alzheimer's, who asked how old he was. When he told her, she said, “You better get to livin’!”

Good advice for anyone.

So, tonight I raise my glass to the memory of my old friend. As for me, I need to get to livin’.

Sunday, December 05, 2010


We went wine shopping yesterday at our go-to store and got talking to one of our favorite wine consultants. We were pondering the rationale of people who only drink one kind of wine – whether it’s a grape, winery or color (“I ONLY drink red”).

I’m not one to judge, but I just can’t wrap my head around that. Our cart was filled with reds, whites, bubbly and rosés – all from different grapes and different countries – because different occasions call for different wines.

I wonder if some people just don’t like change. They find something they like and think, Why look for anything else? I like this just fine. When I was selling wine, I was always surprised to see customers become distraught if we ran out of a particular wine or vintage.

There are some many great wines out there – why get upset over just one? In any case, this got me thinking about change in general.

It’s been almost ten years since I moved to South Carolina. I had lived in Greenville, North Carolina for almost 13 years and had recently been through a divorce. The time seemed right for a change.

I didn’t know a single person in Columbia, but I had visited a few times and liked what I saw. So, I found a house to rent, rented a truck, recruited a friend and drove south.

For those of you who don’t know much about the South, you’ll enjoy this story. As my friend and I were unloading the truck, the next door neighbor pulled up. He walked over and introduced himself and his sister, who happened to be with him.

I ended up becoming friends with him, dating his sister, and renting, then buying his house – the one where E and I now reside. That, my friends, is an example of why I love the South.

Moving to Columbia was just what I needed. Although it turned into a challenge financially and professionally, I met some great people, made some amazing friends and, best of all, found E.

Some of my friends and family thought I was nuts at the time for doing something so seemingly random, but I knew I needed the change.

Ten years later, I think I’m due for another shake-up.

No, I’m not going to pack up and leave town this time, nor am I going to buy a red convertible. This time I’m working on some new goals and challenges for myself.

What are they? Well, the plan isn’t finalized in my head quite yet, but it feels good just to be thinking about the possibilities. It’s easy to become stuck in a routine, but it’s refreshing to break out of it.

Whatever I decide to pursue, I’ll no doubt be writing about it. I’m still not sure what’s going to happen with Brim, but if I’m not writing here, I’ll be writing somewhere else.

Maybe a new blog will be part of the plan.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Okay, José

I'm a big fan of grenache/garnacha. An old friend introduced me to the grenache-based wines of the southern Rhone Valley many years ago, and it's been a love affair ever since.

Unfortunately, some of the newer style wines are overripe, flabby and missing some of the nuances that I find so endearing. So, I was stunned to find an exceptional garnacha that was also a real steal.

Cinco Josés "Old Vine" Garnacha 2008, ($6.99, Green's)

This is a lovely example of garnacha with flavors of dried cherry and raspberry with some nice herbal notes and a hint of white pepper.

Cinco Josés comes from Spanish Vines, which is an importer based right here in Columbia, S.C. E and I have been drinking their wines for several years now, and they are an importer to watch. If you find some of their wines in your local shop, be sure to pick some up. You'll be glad you did.


Friday, November 26, 2010


It feels like the day after Thanksgiving. Leaves are coming down in waves. Hardly any cars are passing outside. A light rain gives us the perfect reason to lay around and do very little.

Yesterday was a wonderful, relaxed Thanksgiving. I spent the first part of the day working in the yard, playing with Hogan and enjoying the beautiful weather. We shared a meal with E's son and his fiance. Later, we ate more, drank wine and talked endlessly. I built a fire in the fire pit that we huddled around late into the night.

I'm thankful for so many things in my life: family, friends, a full refrigerator and an overflowing wine stash, among them.

In the spirit of thinning the collection, I opened this bottle yesterday:

Baron-Fuenté Rosé Dolorès NV Brut ($18, Cellar on Greene)

This is a blend of 60 percent chardonanny, 20 percent pinot noir and 20 percent pinot meunier. It's light and airy with flavors of strawberry and cherry and notes of toast and nuts -- just the thing to go with a brunch of prosciutto and goat cheese strata and broiled asparagus.


Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Health and Happiness

Sometimes I think about writing on a certain topic, and then I read something so interesting and profound on that very topic that I'm embarrassed by my disorganized thoughts. This is one of those times.

As we head into the Thanksgiving weekend, which (for the fortunate among us) will be filled with friends, family and gluttony, it's the perfect time to consider what's truly worthwhile in this life. The answer is different for everyone, but so many people never take the time to consider the question.

Everyone should read this fascinating article on health and happiness. You might even want to read it more than once, as I did. Share it with friends and family. Discuss it around the dinner table or in front of a roaring fire with a glass of wine in hand.

Here's wishing everyone a very Epicurean holiday weekend.


Sunday, October 10, 2010

Fall and Football

The leaf pictured above is from a beautiful dogwood tree that sits just on the other side of our driveway. The unsavory person who owns that property once informed me that she planned to cut it down.

Thankfully, she was too cheap or lazy to actually do it. Every year it's one of the first trees to change color and announce the coming of fall.

I know, I last post was in late July and it's almost halfway through October. A combination of things, including a temperamental MacBook, have kept me from posting. But I had to take a moment to write about the joy of a gorgeous fall weekend and college football.

Before I met E and discovered my inner New York Yankees fan, the only sport I cared about was college football. I'm a proud graduate of East Carolina University and a loyal Pirate fan. I also root for my adopted team, the University of South Carolina Gamecocks.

So, when the Gamecocks smash #1 ranked Alabama, the Pirates pull off a stunning comeback win against a tough Southern Miss team and the Yankees finish a sweep of their division series, I'm a happy boy. To celebrate, I've got a Boston butt roast slowly cooking on the grill, and I just opened a bottle of Bougrier Rosé d’Anjou ($9.99, Total Wine).

Most people think of rosé as a springtime wine, but I think it's perfect for fall. A warm, sunny fall day in the Carolinas after a winning Saturday for the Gamecocks/Pirates/Yankees and a cool glass of rosé on the porch? Well, it just doesn't get any better than that.

Cheers, y'all.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

National Tequila Day

Although I don't normally post on Saturdays, I must make an exception for National Tequila Day. Right up there with Christmas, Labor Day and Boxing Day, National Tequila Day is a major holiday and worthy of serious contemplation...and drinking.

First up is a recent discovery, 100 percent agave, blanco tequila from Espolón. It's very good, inexpensive ($19.99, Green's) and wonderful for margaritas. Just as a reminder, margaritas are comprised of tequila, triple sec and lime juice. Please back away from the neon green mixer.

Holy frijoles, Batman. This is some serious tequila. My thanks to Jason Riddle at Solstice Kitchen and Wine Bar for introducing me to this elixir. It's hard to describe the flavor of good tequila. To me, it's somewhere between floral and vegetal. This tequila will never know the company of lime juice. We'll be sipping it straight or possibly on the rocks.

I was also impressed to see that this was bottle number 42,342 and the fine folks that made it were good enough to put their autograph on the bottle. Nice touch.

Maestro Dobel Diamond Tequila ($49.99, Green's)

When you're tasting delicious tequila and margaritas, it's important to have some tasty food nearby. On our morning trip to the All-Local Farmers' Market, I picked up some last-of-the-season beets (from some nice people whose name eludes me). I sliced and roasted them in olive oil, and then put them on crostini with Thai basil and goat cheese from Trail Ridge Farms in Aiken, S.C. Yum.

Trail Ridge is a new vendor at the market, and we'll be looking forward to seeing more of them.

I hope all of you are celebrating National Tequila Day in a responsible and reverent way. Hopefully, it will involve dancing on a table.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Two Glasses, Please

There was a long period in my life when I wondered if I’d ever get married again.

My first marriage ended about the time I turned 30. I navigated re-entry to the dating world with varying degrees of success. I met some great people and was even on the verge of settling down a couple times, but it never panned out.

When I met E, she was just coming off a difficult breakup. I was recently out of a relationship, and not looking for another. We bonded over a love of wine and sushi.

Our initial months of pseudo-dating were mostly spent having quiet dinners and talking endlessly. Neither one of us was looking for a relationship, so there was no pressure to do anything but enjoy each other’s company.

Somewhere along the line we fell in love with each other.

It’s been two years since we got married and more than six year since we went for sushi for the first time. I feel so fortunate to have someone so wonderful to share a home, meals, wine, Sunday mornings and all the other things that make life worthwhile.

Of course, we also share a house (that always needs something fixed), bills, chores, life’s setbacks and all the other things that make life trying. All of which are much easier when someone has your back.

We went from being fully-functioning, independent, single adults to sharing everything, which – as those of you who have traveled that path know – is not always easy. Somehow we were able blend our lives pretty effortlessly.

She gained dogs, a house and a pretty decent live-in cook. I gained some great furniture, a cat and an awesome stepson. And, we both gained someone who has our back.

Here’s to us.

Photo by Graeme Fouste

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Sunday Ramblings

I landed my first job selling wine almost 15 years ago, based largely on the fact that I knew more about wine than my employer. He liked to tell people that he had 700 bottles of wine at home. Of course, he also confidently told people that “merlot is basically a blend.”

Sometimes you do what you have to do for a paycheck.

Anyway, one of my customers at that little wine shop turned into a friend and became my first wine mentor. He was exceedingly generous with his knowledge and – more importantly – his respectable stash of wines he’d been collecting since the late ‘70s. He taught me that any fool can buy good, expensive wine, but the real score is to find great, inexpensive wine.

I’ve been thinking about the importance of mentors lately, probably because I’m in need of one (or two) at the moment. Having people to learn from, to look up to and to gather good advice from is invaluable in life - whether you’re learning about wine or deciding (somewhat belatedly) what to do with your life.

Prior to my gig at the wine shop, I spent quite a few years working for a great guy who taught me more about life than he probably realizes. I was 19 or so when he hired me and I was 25 or so when we parted ways – a very significant span of years. He taught me a great deal – directly and indirectly. Perhaps the most important thing I learned was that no matter what life throws at you – it’ll be alright.

I can’t talk about the important people in my life without mentioning my parents, both of whom I’ve talked about here previously. But since it’s Father’s Day, I’m going to talk about my dad.

During my misspent youth, I’m sure my dad must have been tempted to lay the blame on my mom’s side of the family. He must have wondered if I listened to a word he said.

Well, I was listening…and ignoring his counsel as quickly as it was offered. I was young and thought I had all the answers. Much to his credit, however, he never gave up on me.

And thus my dad taught me about kindness and patience. While I’ll never live up to his standards on either, he gave me a goal to shoot for.

He also taught me to look for the answers to life’s questions in the pages of books – whether you need to fix the toilet or you need to find some meaning in your existence. I curse him (with love) every time I have to pack up my book collection for a move.

It would take too long to list all the things I learned or inherited from him, but among them are a passion for growing things, a thirst for knowledge, a fixation with learning to play a musical instrument, a love of foreign languages and a really open mind when it comes to food (bet he never would have guessed that when I was 15).

You can’t choose your parents, but you certainly can be thankful for the ones you have.

Happy Father’s Day, dad.

Here’s to you.

Friday, June 18, 2010


Two words for you on this Friday:

Dogfish Head

E made a provision run to Charlotte today and came back with two six-packs of Dogfish Head 60-Minute IPA. Although DFH is available in S.C., it's (sadly) not available in Columbia. I'm also a little sad that Trader Joe's was out of the India Brown Ale.

However, I am quite happy to be sipping on a DFH 60.

Happy Friday, y'all.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

New Life

These are the latest residents of our front porch. It's been a couple years since we hung ferns, and I had forgotten how the House Finches love to nest in them.

After weeks and weeks of heartbreaking images from the Gulf, I needed this picture of wildlife untainted by the misdeeds of humans. Although it's just a tiny dot on the planet, I'm glad that our home provides a safe haven for some new life.

Happy Sunday, everyone.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Beer Is Good

A friend recently showed up at my door with a six-pack of domestic, light beer in hand.

Now, I'm certain that he was well aware of my beverage stockpile, which includes a selection of some very fine malted beverages. His comment was, "I know you like that brown beer."

Guilty. However, if I were to appear at your home, and you handed me a cold Coors Light, I would accept with honest gratitude. My favorite beer is free beer.

I'll even admit to a certain fondness for regular, old Budweiser. It reminds me of a certain time and place in my life. I'm no more a beer snob than I am a wine snob.

If anything, coffee is the one beverage I refuse to compromise on. I'll go without instead.

As the weather quickly turns from warm to hot here in S.C., I'm craving a cold beer more often. And since "brown beer" isn't always what I want on a hot day, I need a good, lighter-style beer.

Oskar Blues Brewing Mama's Little Yella Pils, $10 (six 12 oz. cans), Green's

This is summer (or late spring) in a can – crisp, carbonated and low-octane (5.3% ABV) with flavors of lemon, grass, yeast and a touch of sweetness. If one can doesn't convince you...the second will.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Winging It

Let it never be said that E isn't a good sport when it comes to my cooking.

Yes, she does occasionally give me the "who farted?" look when I suggest a particular combination, but she goes along and usually ends up liking it. There have been only a couple times when she's given me the thumbs-down.

She's in Charleston tonight on business, so I'm cooking for one. It gives me a little more room to experiment, because I know that I'll be the only one eating if I screw it up.

I've been craving comfort food, especially food involving cheese and pasta. However, my blood is running a little thick with LDL these days.

With that in mind, here goes my stream of consciousness approach to creating some dinner.

My first urge is to make something akin to mac-n-cheese, but without E to call 911 when I go into cardiac arrest - that seems like a bad idea. Something I picked up from a recipe in the New York Times is to use a mix of tomato sauce and cheese to lighten it up a bit.

I chopped up a shallot and minced a couple cloves of garlic. I gave them a quick sauté in a medium sauce pan with some olive oil. I added a splash of red wine and a box (26.46 oz.) of Pomí chopped tomatoes (very good quality).

With a pot of water heating on the stove and the sauce simmering, I chopped up a mess of fresh oregano. I've got more than I could ever use this time of year, so I've been wanting to cook something that uses a bunch. Oregano is basically a very tasty weed.

I tossed a heaping 1/4 cup of chopped oregano into the simmering sauce. Once the sauce had thickened and the water was boiling, I added half a pound of elbow macaroni to the pot and added some cheese to the sauce.

I would have preferred to use goat cheese, but I had none. I did have a small chunk of Cream Havarti. Into the sauce went the Havarti and some Parmesan – about a 1/2 cup of each.

When the pasta was just before al dente, I drained it and tossed it with the sauce and a little salt and pepper to taste. The mixture went into an oiled 2-quart dish. The last step was to toss about a 1/3 cup of fresh bread crumbs (I keep some in the freezer for just such an occasion) with a tablespoon or so of olive oil and sprinkle the bread crumbs on top of the pasta.

After 35 minutes in the oven (uncovered), I let it sit for 10 minutes and plated some up on a bed of baby arugula, which needed to be used and gave some much-needed color.

The only thing missing was a glass of basic Italian red.

Stella Montepulciano d' Abruzzo 2008, $7.99, Green's

Sometimes Italian wine really delivers. This is one of those times – black cherry, licorice, smoke and a nice, dry finish – and a bargain to boot. Add a little Duke Ellington and you've got a respectable dinner for one.

Cheers, y'all.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

What's It All About?

My recent posts have been all over the map – even by my usual standards. As I’ve returned to posting more often, one of things I’m struggling with is what this blog is about.

When I started writing Brim, I thought that my audience would be local and that I would write about wine with respect to my small corner of the world. I quickly realized my readers were from coming from all over the U.S. and even overseas. It wasn't what I expected, but I was thrilled all the same.

So I started writing for a more general audience of wine lovers. That went okay for a while.

Then my ADD kicked in. A quick look at my résumé reveals that I have difficulty focusing on any one thing for very long.

Writing exclusively about wine seems so limiting, so I started writing about my adventures in cooking – which led to some summer posts about gardening. And, it’s difficult for me to write anything without talking about my dogs.

I certainly couldn’t write about wine without writing about my wine drinking partner, E. On several occasions, she has pointed out that Brim has become a journal (albeit alcohol-centric) of our life.

I have to say that I admire some of my blogging colleagues who have found success blogging exclusively about wine. (I’m looking at you Sonadora and Dr. Debs.)

Brim has turned into an outlet for me to write something other than the corporate-speak I get paid to write. I’m grateful for the small group of loyal readers who have stuck with me. I like writing, and I miss it when I stop.

Going forward, my goal is to keep mixing it up.

I’ll write some short posts about wines I’m drinking and where to get them for my local readers, along with some other local, beverage/dining related stuff. I’ll also write some longer posts about my take on wine, beer, spirits, cooking and gardening. And I’ll write some completely random posts on other stuff that's on my mind, although I promise to avoid topics such as stupid politicians, bad drivers and celebrity gossip.

And I’ll keep writing about dogs.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Spring Wine

It's cooler than normal here in the Carolinas, but it still feels like white wine weather. When I get home from work, I want something simple and cool to sip on while I toss the ball for Hogan or put dinner together.

We don't drink lots of chardonnay, but I do like simple, clean chard without a bunch of oak-iness. I picked this up on our last wine run, and it fits the bill perfectly – flavors of fresh green apple and pear with crisp acidity. It's a great spring sip.

Elm Tree Chardonnay Mendoza 2008, $4.99, Green's

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

One of a Kind

Before I start, I’ll warn you that this post is not about wine, a little sad and very sentimental. If you’re not a dog lover, you can probably stop right here.

Early Tuesday morning, our dog, Peanut, passed away. We went from celebrating the birthday of one dog to mourning the loss of another. Having dogs (and other animals) in your life comes with the painful cost of having to say goodbye to them.

Peanut lived a fine and long life – 14 years and some change. We were fortunate to have enjoyed her presence in our lives. A dog like her only comes along once in a lifetime.

As a young dog, she was sleek, graceful and athletic, with boundless energy. A true renaissance woman, she conquered every task put before her: obedience training, agility training, protection training and (for the most part) anti-couch-jumping training.

At the same time, she taught me more about dog training than I ever taught her. I always said that any lack of ability on her part was my failure to explain things properly.

She aged like fine wine – becoming more complex, more interesting and more cherished with the passing years. We called her the grand dame of our household. When we were considering bringing a new puppy into our family several years ago, I knew there would never be a better teacher in the fine art of being a good dog.

A friend of mine describes wines as one-dimensional, two-dimensional or three-dimensional. Peanut was a three-dimensional dog. People who aren’t dog lovers might not believe a dog can have depth of character, but the rest of us know better.

Before she met me, E had never had a dog in her life. When Peanut met E, she instantly recognized her as another smart, strong, beautiful woman and took her on as one of her people. She showed E what it’s like to have a truly exceptional dog.

As I read back over the words I’ve written, they seem so hollow, so insufficient to express how much we loved her and how much she is missed. I suppose that’s because grief is intensely personal – whether it’s for an animal or a person.

I never felt like Peanut was a very dignified name for her. But that was her name when I adopted her as a six-month-old, and I could never bring myself to change it. She was just Peanut.

There will never be another like her.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Our Boy

I’m sitting here sipping a mimosa on a gloomy Sunday morning. We’re having a day of celebration in honor of Hogan’s third birthday.

It’s hard to believe he’s been with us for so long. We still refer to him as “the puppy” and he still frequently acts like one. But there are moments when he looks – and acts – very grown up.

His intentionally ridiculous official AKC name is Park Street’s Colonel Hogan – Park Street for where we live and Colonel Hogan for the TV character from Hogan’s Heroes. He’s a Frisbee-catching, ball-chasing, dog-wrasslin’ goofball. He’s also a fantastically loyal, loving dog and a best friend for our other dog, Peanut.

Hogan came to us because he had a heart murmur as a puppy, and a woman in Missouri who had claimed him decided she didn’t want him. I found out this week his heart murmur has gotten worse, which makes me worry about his future.

But today, he’s right here and happy as ever. It reminds me to enjoy the moment – as dogs are famously good at.

Here’s to you, Hogan. Good boy.

I love a sparkling wine that's cheap enough to make guilt-free mimosas and tasty enough to have a glass with lunch

Louis Perdrier Brut Rosé - $6.99, Green's

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Stormy Weather

It’s Saturday afternoon, and there are some bad storms moving across the Southeast headed our way. To me, the sensible thing to do is to spend the afternoon in the kitchen.

One of my projects for the weekend was to make stock. Ever since I started making my own chicken stock, I just can’t go back to the canned. I also appreciate any cooking task that mainly involves watching a pot simmer and drinking wine.

Years ago I got hooked on cooking bone-in chicken breasts. The meat has so much more flavor and moisture compared to boneless breasts. I’ll cook off several at a time, pull the meat and freeze it for later. I toss the bones in a bag and freeze them too.

So when I need some stock, I throw the bones in a big pot of water with some chopped vegetables – a carrot, a couple stalks of celery, half a red onion – along with two or three bay leaves and a dozen or so peppercorns. Bring it all to a boil, skim off the foam and simmer for an hour or two. Drink wine as needed.

This afternoon I’m sipping on one of our finds from this morning’s wine shopping trip – Mas Carlot Rosé Costières de Nimês 2008.

Green’s is clearing out last year’s rosés, so it was only $6.99. It’s not as fresh as it was a year ago, but it’s still very tasty. The flavors of strawberry and cinnamon are nicely balanced with refreshing acidity and bit of tannin.

Here's the stock in progress.

Later, some of this will go into tonight's dinner – goat stew. More on that later.

Happy Saturday, y'all.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Happy Earth Day

It's nice that people are thinking more and more about preserving the health of the Earth and the earth - and not just on Earth Day. E and I try to maintain our little slice of the universe, which is a long and narrow lot in downtown Columbia, South Carolina.

We don't use any chemicals and practice highly sustainable landscaping, which means our yard is overgrown and unkempt. The upside is that it's a safe haven for birds, butterflies, bees, toads, #!&$@ squirrels and the occasional possum.

Here's a snapshot of one of our numerous shrubs currently in bloom. It's a 'Mount Saint Helens' deciduous azalea.

Cheers to Mother Nature.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Don't Fear The Riesling

Here's a nice little summer sipper that I picked up at World Market for the low, low price of $7.99. It's quite dry, but loaded with juicy peach and apricot flavors - the perfect match for spicy pulled-pork tacos.

Firestone Vineyard 'Discoveries' Riesling 2008

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Long Time Gone

It's been a long time since I last posted, and I hope that this post ties into that theme. As with all my posts, you'll have to bear with me until I get there.

Once upon a time, I was a dog trainer and co-owner of a training, boarding and day care center for dogs. Let me make one thing clear - I make no claim to be an expert on dog behavior (no more than I've ever claimed to be a wine expert). Over the years, I've read extensively about teaching dogs, and talked to as many different dog trainers as I could find, but that wasn't my role in the business.

My friend and business partner, Drake Parker, provided the expertise in dog training. The business we created, Top Dog Academy, is still going strong and is now run by Drake and his wife, Angela, with the help of other trainers that have studied with the man I call the "Maharajah of Dog Training."

Drake and Angela came to visit E and I this weekend. It's been far too long since we last saw each other, but - as often happens between old friends - we picked up right where we left off. Just as I can talk your head off about wine, I can talk about dogs until the cows come home.

No visit to our home goes without some Southern hospitality, even if it's served up by a couple of reformed Yankees. Some of the highlights were E's lasagna, my Eastern N.C. style barbecue and homemade pimento cheese spread.

E's lasagna recipe is top-secret, so I can't reveal that here. My pointers on making crock-pot barbecue are in this post. I know it's heresy to the pit-cooked-whole-pig crowd, but it's awfully good all the same.

I have a bad habit of getting wrapped up in the day-to-day minutia of life, and losing touch with my friends - both online and offline. I need to be better, and that goes for this blog as well.

For some blog eye-candy, here are pictures of a couple highlights from the gift basket (put together by Jefferson's) that came with our guests.

Narcissus in clay pot from New Growth Designs

Emilio Moro Ribera del Duero 2006

Pimento Cheese for Spreading from the Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook

1 red bell pepper, roasted and peeled
8 ounces finely grated extra-sharp cheddar cheese
2 ounces softened cream cheese, cut into pieces
3 tablespoons mayonnaise (I suggest Duke's, if it's available where you live.)
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
Salt and pepper to taste

Dice roasted red pepper. Place diced pepper and any juices in medium bowl. Add cheddar, cream cheese and red pepper flakes. Blend ingredients with wooden spoon or rubber spatula. Season with salt and pepper.

It's not good for you, but it sure is good to you.

Cheers, y'all.