Sunday, March 25, 2007

Organize a Wine Tasting

As seniors who have gotten busy with life, my friend and I decided that we should invite the "old gang" back together one more time, for good times. We used to watch movies and get giddy; now we're older and more mature. So a wine tasting was a perfect idea. But how do you organize one?

When gathering friends from different wine backgrounds (from "I could write a dictionary of terms" to an indescriminent "They all taste good to me!") one should evaluate the logistics first. Decide where to host the event, how you will set it up, and who you're inviting. If you want people to mix and mingle, put together a few tables. If you want a cloth on top, make sure you don't mind if it gets stained; there will be drips. Also, find enough glasses for your guests!

Then make a list of wines and compare it to your guest list. Are there more guests than wines? If so, ask half to bring a wine, and the other half to bring a cash donation to give to a wine donor. This will even out the cost. If your lists are about even, then assign everyone a wine, so they can swap the left overs before they go home. Assigning wines is a good idea; this will prevent duplicate bottles.

Let people know that it's a TASTING, not a DRINKING. No glass should ever really be filled, but rather have a few sips so each guest can move on to the next one. Put out a notepad and a few pens for guests to write down wines that they particularly enjoyed.

I caution against cheese and crackers, unless you want to do a pairing. Food can compliment wine, but it will also change your palette and make each sip taste a little different.

At the end of the tasting, guests can swap the remaining wine bottles. If one person brings something they hate, but another loves, they can trade and enjoy the leftovers.

The wine tasting we held was a such a hit that another friend held a similar event the next week. Wine tastings are great ways to gather people for good times and nice conversation. Guests also get to enjoy learning about different wines without spending money on a bottle that they end up hating.

Photo Credit: Jill Hokanson, 2007

This is a photo our lovely friend and roommate Jill took at our wine tasting. I taught Gina to open a bottle of wine... success! Here we are after the opening. Incidentally, I recommend the wine she's holding: Liberty School 2004 Cabernet Savignon

Monday, March 19, 2007

Sushi that heals the Seoul

Seoul Restaurant & D.K.'s Sushi Bar delivers quite a punch for your dollar. Don't let the exterior fool you. When you pull up the the strip mall on South First Street, you see no real sign, just letters on a window advertising sushi. Once you step inside, you are met with a quiet and immaculate restaurant.

Once seated, peruse the menu. The restaurant offers a nice mix of Japanese and Korean dishes, including the classic tempura and kim-chee. If you like sushi, get it here. The lunch of tuna or California rolls will fill you; you will also get a salad and bowl of miso soup. All of it is delicious. The tuna rolls are fresh and come with a variety of tunas. For the first time in my life, I didn't gag on seaweed. The fish melts in your mouth, melding nicely with the sticky rice.

It's also an Austin hotspot, revered by locals. At night, it's rumored to turn into a wild karaoke bar, as evidenced by the disco ball hanging silently and the television sets mounted on the walls. The staff is sweet and accomodating, and the food is reasonably priced ($8-15 for a lunch plate) for the quality.

Friday, March 16, 2007

The Leggings... Over it.

Last fall, short skirts were given a new life in the cooler climate when the fashion world OK'd wearing tights under them. Paired with flats or heels, these leggings gave a hip edgy feel to sweet skirts from the spring and summer.

But now the spring is beginning and it's time to shelve the leggings. And while you're at it, keep them shelved. Edgy, straight lines are out. Look through the pages of any spring issue fashion mag and you'll find flowy garments in floral, feminine fabrics. The whole season seems to scream, "Let loose!"

Bright colors and wedges do not mix well with leggings, so don't even try it. Instead, show off your gams! Flirty sandals, earthy details and weightless fabrics seem to float on bodies.

Final verdict: Leggings=Over it!

Wine Review: Chilean Cab's a New Fave?

If you’re looking for a surprising red wine for less than $10, look no further. Santa Rita’s 120 Cabernet Savignon is a winner. It is a wine that haunted my memory for weeks until I tasted it again. Medium-bodied, not too dry with an almost spicy edge, it’s sure to please.

Now is a decent time to pick up this Chilean beauty. Made in 2005, the wine has a little time to settle out the tannins and become a smoother, fuller wine. The finish is excellent and leaves you wanting more.

Pair it with tomato-based sauces, dark meat or sharp white cheeses. You could even chill it for a refreshing sip. I know this is a faux-pas, but if you don’t finish the bottle, put it in the fridge and enjoy it the next day.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Drink coffee. Save the world.

In a town like Austin where so many local coffee shops make giants like Starbucks and Seattle’s Best seem like they chant “Big Brother is Watching You” (though, strangely, they’re still frequented), opening a new corner café is a risky move. There has to be something interesting and new to draw in a crowd. South Austin’s new spot has just that and good coffee to boot.

Dominican Joe’s doesn’t blend into the corner strip mall it belongs to. Sharing a parking lot with Wells Fargo and Freebird’s, Dominican Joe’s commands attentions from all sides. There’s a terrace for outdoor seating, a brightly chalked sandwich board out front, and a large sign screaming, “Drink Coffee. Change the World.” on the back.

Inside, it’s got the relaxed, hip vibe of several coffee shops. The door opens into wood floors with tables and chairs and a few stairs that lead down to the bar. The menu is vast, with fun new creations like a flan latte, and all prices displayed include tax. And the prices are reasonable. A bottomless 12 ounce house coffee is only $1.50, and lattes linger around the $2.50 range. Stained concrete floors, a hodge-podge of tables, chairs, trunks, couches and armchairs make this place feel comfy. But patrons are often drawn to large prints of adorable kids and lush landscapes on the walls, or collections of bamboo poles. The kids are helped by the school that Dominican Joe’s supports. That’s where the “change the world” part comes in.

The café not only pays fair prices to coffee farmers in the Dominican Republic, but they also help the local community of the farmers. So the kids aren’t just nameless cuties, they’re growing and learning children being helped by your pocket change.

And the coffee is just plain good. Whether you sip a black coffee or something fancier, their house blend is a smooth, earthy blend that isn’t too bitter. Maybe it’s the justice, maybe it’s the roasting process or the beans themselves… Whatever it is, it smells great and tastes delicious!

Thursday, March 8, 2007


The wonders of pasta have delighted the world for a while now. It's the thing most people miss when dieting, and now shoppers are seeing new and improved varieties of the dried staple on the shelves. Whole wheat, organic, protein-fortified... Pasta has undergone a transformation. What was once a carb to be shunned by Adkins' dieters everywhere, it is quickly becoming a health food.

One of the advantages of pasta is its ability to be used in several ways. A package of dried spaghetti can be covered in a traditional tomato sauce or used in lo-mein dishes. It can be served hot with meat and cheese, boiled or baked. It can be served cold in fresh salads with oil or dressing.

Aside from the long cylindrical noodles, America has had a long-standing love affair with spaghetti's shorter, chubbier and tubular cousin, elbow macaroni. Macaroni and cheese has gone through a transformation of its own. What was once a convenient dish in a box, accompanied with a packet of dehydrated cheese, it is now reaching a new status on gourmet menus. Out with the cheese mix, and in with the gruyere, mozzerella and other fine cheeses, taking comfort food to a whole new level.

Now popularized by casserole dishes, pasta is once again enjoying the limelight as a filler to hearty meals. As the colder months start to fade, many will abandon the casserole recipes in search for lighter, fresher fare. The possibilities for a nice spring or summer meal are endless, so don't hesitate to use your imagination. The fresh new crop of vegetables are sneaking into produce sections everywhere, so start experimenting. Artichokes, peas, carrots, tomatoes, spinach, colorful bell peppers and even berries give pasta a lighter, fresher feel. Incorporate fish with a squeeze of lemon or lime juice, and you're ready to enjoy a lovely meal.

Tomato and Basil Pasta

1 pkg. pasta of your choosing (penne or bowtie recommended)
1 can of Italian style diced tomatoes
1 can tomato sauce, Italian if you can find it.
fresh basil leaves
1 clove garlic, crushed

Boil your pasta according to package directions. In a pan, saute the crushed garlic until just golden. Add the can of diced tomatoes and tomato sauce. Allow to simmer. Drain the pasta; set aside. Add the fresh basil at the last moment, in order to keep its color and taste. You may chop it roughly in advance if you desire more of the flavor. Serve sauce over a bed of pasta. Top with cheese, if you wish.

You can also find more recipes here.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Something to Celebrate

Yesterday marked the 50th year of Ghana's independence. It truly is a cause for celebration; Ghana was the first sub-saharan nation to gain independence and have had a stable country since. There have been a few coups, however, none of them have been violent. And now, Ghana is stimulating the growth of its economy with and increase of international trade.

For me, it's a point of pride. During my semester there, I learned so much about the history and culture of the country, and I am happy for their progress. But I can't say I'm surprised; Ghana's people are some of the most hard-working, industrious and optimistic I've ever met.

You can read more about the celebration and look at photos from the days events.

Secret's Out

"The Secret History" by Donna Tartt proves to be a fascinating novel that is perfect for summer reading.

Tartt craftily follows the story of Richard, a college kid from California who finds himself at a private university in Vermont. There, he befriends the exclusive, scholarly Greek majors. A group of five, Bunny, Francis, Charles, Camilla and Henry they are all eccentric and elegant. Their lifestyle is a lavish one, including trips to the countryside, lunch at fancy restaurants and nights of card playing and drinks.

As Richard befriends them and changes his major to Greek, he sucked into their world of the esoteric, of money, alcohol and betrayal. Unexplained silences between the five, trips to Italy all lead to suspicion. Soon Richard finds out that an ancient Grecian ritual lead to tragedy, and the students have to lay low. As the drinking escalates, so does horrid plot to kill one of their own. Friendships unravel, exposing the reader to sick, twisted world of out-of-touch youngsters.

Tartt does an excellent job of description and writing in painstaking detail. The result is a tightly wound story that readers are dying to unfold. With breath-taking imagery and realistic dialog, Tartt's story is one that captivates any reader.

It's a story that's too sad to tell but too good to put down. Just like any good Greek tragedy.

Monday, March 5, 2007

The Taste of Texas

They say everything's bigger in Texas. But just because its title has "Texas" in it, doesn't mean it's going to be good. I enjoy sampling the fine wines our state's 54-and-growing wineries has to offer, espeically those from the Hill Country. Ste. Genevieve is quickly becoming a favorite, due to their good selection, incredibly affordable prices and the "bigger in Texas" magnums readily available at your local grocery store.

Ste. Genevieve's Cabernet Savignon is my grandfather's favorite. He pours it into a small decanter before his lunch and dinner. I used to find huge supplies of it in his study closet, stockpiled to last him for weeks. In some ways, you could say it's a family tradition. My parents have always their Blushes, Zinandels and yes, Cabs in their wine rack.

Ste. Genevieve is one of Texas' largest wineries, located in Fort Stockton. One of the Lone Star State's older wineries, their grapes have had more time to develop an unique flavor. Their Texas Red is an interesting blend with a dry edge, but still, a bit bitter and a bumpy finish. I prefer their Red, a polite and tasty table wine. No Texas. Just red. Another blend, this one's less sour, has a better body and a smoother finish. While you may find the Texas Red hard to drink on its own, you'll probably have litte trouble drinking a glass of the Red by itself.

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Etiquette Lessons... How rude!

What started out as a well-intentioned lesson on table etiquette soon became quite a disaster. The university brought in an etiquette expert to offer valuable advice at a dinner set up to allow soon-to-be-graduated students a chance to mix, mingle and network. However, it resulted in a dinner that was hard to enjoy. What sort of etiquette is that?

The seniors sat there, decked out in business attire, upright in their chairs, and unfolded their starched white napkins. Easy enough. As the speaker proceeded, they learned how to pass the rolls and what fork to use with the salad. No salad knife? Don't use one. Oh, and sit in your chair from the left. It's a little late for that, don't you think? What about putting sugar in your tea? Half the glasses had already been sweetened and stirred. So when they were told what to do with the empty paper packets, there was a nervous laughter and scuffle to discreetly correct their mistake. Did she also offer advice on how to become unembarrassed in front of your adult mentor who was supposed to be offering you tips on your career?

It's one thing to give etiquette lessons to seniors; in fact, it's a good idea. But to do it with mentors there risks embarrassing the students as well as the adults who have also violated the etiquette rules. It made the room self-conscious, which is definitely not polite etiquette. It also lasted too long; after 20 minutes, the meal could finally be enjoyed in peace and the networking actually began (though that was cut off by yet another speaker).