Archives

Book Reviews

Love, Loss and What We Ate by Padma Lakshmi

June 21, 2018
Padma Lakshmi Book Cover

I am someone with a serious case of book FOMO. The ‘to read’ pile next to my bed has come to resemble a tower and I suspect Shawn will question my spending habits if and when he realizes I’ve  managed to acquire almost 500 books on my Kobo app, a number which far outstrips my ability to read them even without the aforementioned tower getting in the way. Because of this backlog, I’m often reading bestsellers well past their release dates. Such is the case with Padma Lakshmi’s Love, Loss and What We Ate: A Memoir, which I couldn’t resist at a recent Kobo sale.

I’m familiar with Lakshmi from her job on Top Chef, which Shawn watches religiously and I only recently started paying attention to as well. Cooking shows are one of the few things we can both agree on and Top Chef is a slightly more mature version of the game shows The Food Network favours. I had also read some of the tabloid stuff – married and divorced from Salman Rushdie, had a baby with Adam Dell while in a relationship with another man – you know, that juicy stuff that leads to a guilty pleasure read.

So why write a review for Upkeep, as this is definitely not a wine related read (unless you count the part where she confesses to having the occasional glass late in her pregnancy, but I’ll just park that discussion because, well, it’s always an ugly one)? This book is part memoir and part cookbook and it reminded me so much of the way that food integrates into the complexities of our lives.

These days, as I juggle my many projects, a new job, and a chronic illness, food has taken on a new place in my world. It is the comfort I seek when I’m beyond exhausted and I just want one of Shawn’s delicious chicken burgers, or my sustenance when I meet up for the many lunches I have with friends since my nights are rarely free. It is something I both want and need, but struggle to find balance with.

Lakshmi’s life is far more interesting than mine. She chronicles her childhood growing up split between India and America, her marriage to Salman Rushdie, her career development from model to cookbook author to Top Chef host, her struggles with endometriosis, her miracle baby and the custody battle that follows, as well as the devastating death of the man she loved. All of this is intertwined with the food she ate and the important role it played in her life.

Reading the reviews on GoodReads, it’s clear this book is not going to appeal to everyone. In fact, several people seemed put off by Lakshmi. I can understand this to a degree, especially during the period when she is dating two men and causing both of them anguish. I also didn’t love how she dealt with her custody issues. But I liked that she was OK with not always looking or sounding perfect (I’m definitely not) and I found myself really enjoying this book overall and the human behind it.

This is an older book and much has changed in Padma Lakshmi’s life since it was written. That said, it held up well, and I’m interested in trying out some of the recipes (it could happen – you never know). It was also a reminder that maybe my obsession with food isn’t such a bad thing, perhaps it’s even fueling my art.

Have you read Love, Loss and What We Ate? What did you think? Do you have a favourite food-themed memoir? Share it in the comments or on social.

Food & Wine

Taste Ontario

May 13, 2018

I know, it’s been a while since the last post. Life is busy and I’m juggling way too many things, so the blog has taken a hit in terms of updates. I’m super lucky that awesome people like Bill Wittur are still providing great guest posts – like the one below on the recent Taste Ontario event.

Want to taste some great Ontario wine after reading this? Shawn and I are checking out the annual Sip & Sizzle event in Niagara on the Lake next weekend and you still have time to get in on this great event, which runs every weekend in May. We love exploring this beautiful area of Ontario while stopping in at participating wineries to try a sample wine and food pairing. You can learn more (and buy tickets – including designated driver passes) on the Wineries of Niagara website. I’ll be live tweeting our adventures on Saturday, May 19 so be sure to follow along to get our tips on the best pairings.

And now, over to Bill!

Taste Ontario Notes and Recommendations

Early in the new year, the folks with Wines of Ontario bring out their newest releases and vintages and this year I had the pleasure of attending the Taste Ontario trade tasting.

Nearly 50 of Ontario’s best VQA producers were on hand at the Royal Ontario Museum to present some of their latest products and vintages.  Most of these wines are either sold directly to the consumer at the winery or, in some cases, are only available for licensees and restaurant owners to sell to their guests.

I’ve done my best to focus on those available to consumers, and will make a note if something is available only at restaurants or the winery (and, if possible, which locations so you can try these wines as well).

Here’s a quick review of some of my favourites. All are recommended buys.

13th Street

13th Street Winery is celebrating its 20th year of operation in 2018 and their wines are definitely worth trying if you want to expand your range of Ontario selections. They produce most of their wines from the 40 acres of property owned just west of St. Catharines in Niagara, but occasionally source small lots of grapes from other local producers. Many of their products are available at the LCBO, but you can also participate in their Wine Club programs, including the popular ‘Cellar Door’ and ‘Staff Pick’ options.

Premier Cuvée 2012 – If you’re looking for a great ‘celebration’ wine, look no further.  This sparkling wine spent a minimum 4 years on lees, or ‘sur lattes’ as the French say. In the case of the 13th Street Cuvée, the dosage added was only dry wine (i.e. no extra sugar), resulting in a very dry, but bright finished wine. Of note is that the final nose delivers very slight ‘bready’ or ‘toasty’ notes compared to other sparkling wines. I enjoyed this feature, as I feel it would match better with a broader range of food on account of the tense acidity coupled with hints of lemon and tart apple. The wine is 50% Pinot Noir and 50% Chardonnay. It can be ordered directly from 13th Street at a retail price of $34.95 per bottle ($29.34+HST licensee).

Meldville Wines

Meldville Wines is the relatively new project of one of Ontario’s great winemakers, Derek Barnett. Derek helped build the range of products and boost the level of quality with Lailey Wines. He currently balances winemaking duties at Karlo Estates in Prince Edward County and at his own venture, Meldville Wines.

Chardonnay 2016 – 2016 was a tough year for a lot of white wine producers in Ontario, as it was very hot. While most of us were out playing in the water or catching up on our vitamin D, wine growers had to take measures to try to prevent their vines from shutting down from heat exhaustion. Despite this, Meldville’s Chardonnay is a delight. The grapes were sourced from Lincoln Lakeshore, which managed to dodge the more intense heat of 2016. The Chard is 100% barrel fermented in older, 100% French oak barrels. This yields a very subtle oak finish on the wine, but nothing like the exaggerated style you get from mass-produced wines. The colour is a light yellow with a delicious, balanced finish. Aromas deliver notes of stone fruit (peach, apricot) with flavours of citrus and a hint of cream and toffee. The wine is available as a direct order product from the Meldville’s partner site and costs $20.00 per bottle ($16.89+HST licensee). It can also be found at Maple Leaf Tavern and Victor Restaurant at Hotel Le Germain (although that list is quickly growing).

Fielding Estate Winery

Fielding Estate Winery is located on the Beamsville Bench in Niagara. On several occasions, the winery was recognized as one of Canada’s Top 10 wine producers.

Brut Traditional Method Sparkling – Traditional method sparkling wine is made using the same process as Champagne. There’s what’s called a ‘dosage’ or ‘cap’ of yeast and sugar that are aged with the wine product. This addition to the wine is what creates the bubbles in sparkling wine, much like how yeast and sugar create air pockets in bread. The Fielding sparkling wine is made up of Chardonnay (63%) and Pinot Noir (37%). The result of this blend is a bright and fresh wine with notes of citrus and apple. The bubbles are fine and the finish is very clean and light. The wine retails for $37.15 / bottle ($31.20+HST licensee) and can be ordered directly via Fielding’s website.

Sue-Ann Staff Estate Winery

The Chestnut Tree Cabernet Franc 2015 – Initial notes are typical for Cabernet Franc wines: dark red, smoke and hints of green pepper on the nose. On tasting this smooth and elegant wine, I got hints of coffee / cocoa. The acidity is controlled and moderate and the mouth feel is a medium body wine that will go great now with foods with just a hint of spice or seasoning (e.g. roasted chicken, sausage, burgers). Expect this to improve over the course of 2-3 years. Retail price is $34.95 / bottle and the licensee price is $29.34+deposit and HST. Sue-Ann Staff Estate Winery has a wine club program and orders can be placed direct by visiting their order page.

Reif Estate Winery

Reif Estate Winery is a splendid ‘pit stop’ between Niagara Falls and Niagara-on-the-Lake. Their first vines were planted in 1977, making them some of Ontario’s oldest.  The property has grown to more than 125 acres of different varietals.

Chenin Blanc 2016 – 2016 was a challenging year from Ontario producers because many experienced very hot conditions for white grapes. This did not have a negative impact on the 2016 Chenin Blanc from Reif, where the finished product is a shimmering silver-white wine with a hint of residual sugar and balanced acidity and mouth-feel. If someone asks for a ‘summer sipper’, this wine would definitely fit that bill! The Chenin Blanc retails for $19.15 per bottle ($16.75+HST licensee) and is available via Reif’s website.

Chardonnay Reserve 2014 – This is a delicious, balanced Chardonnay that was aged 18 months in French and Hungarian oak, delivering subtle notes of butter cream, apple and baking spice.The retail price is $22.15 per bottle ($19.40+HST licensee) and again is available via Reif’s direct order wine club.

A huge thanks to Bill Wittur for his reviews of this year’s Taste Ontario event! Learn more about Bill on his website: BillWittur.com

Find out Krista’s Top 5 Ontario Wine Destinations!

Spirits and Cocktails

FODMAP Friendly Spirits

March 18, 2018

I know I’ve been MIA on the blog lately, for which I’m feeling a little guilty. I love learning about wine and sharing those experiences with my amazing readers, but sometimes it’s a little like having a second full-time job. And having just started a new full-time job (one which pays the bills and which I absolutely love), time for wine has been a bit more scarce.

I’ve also been exploring some of my other loves. I’m hosting and producing the Diabetes Canada Podcast, where I get to tell the stories of people doing extraordinary things while living with, treating or researching diabetes. Those who know me in real life know that medical research is something I care about deeply and which I can talk about with a passion rivaled only by my enthusiasm for great wine. So this podcast makes me really happy. Add to that running, yoga, travel, family, friends… Life is busy!

But I’m not ready to give up on Upkeep, so I’ve asked some of my incredible friends in wine and blogging to help me out. First up, is my sister in science nerdiness, Amy, who runs The FODMAP Formula website. For those living with IBS or other illnesses that require them to to eat from the FODMAP plan, her site is a fantastic resource that translates this sometimes complicated way of eating into easy-to-understand language and offers a wealth of recipes that are really delicious whether you’re eating FODMAP or not (believe me, I am always a willing recipe tester). Below, she shares some FODMAP-friendly cocktails that everyone can enjoy. And if you really miss me, I’m still sharing all the latest on my wine journey on Instagram and Twitter – be sure to follow to see what I’m thinking and drinking.

Krista

FODMAP Friendly Spirits

If you or someone you know has been diagnosed with IBS, you may have heard of the Low FODMAP Diet. If you think managing IBS symptoms long-term means giving up on “adult beverages,” you  have been misinformed, my friend!

The Low FODMAP Diet was developed in 2005 by Monash University. Since then, their research team has been busy testing out a wide range of foods and beverages. Because IBS is generally diagnosed between the ages of 20-30, I’m not surprised alcoholic beverages were one of the first items to appear in their official app.

While some IBS patients are sensitive to alcohol itself, many are able to enjoy moderate amounts of specific alcohol without issue. So without further ado, here are three FODMAP friendly alcoholic drinks!

1) Classic Rye and Ginger – Mix one serving of rye (30ml) with a tumbler of low FODMAP ginger ale or ginger beer. Make sure to check your soda for ingredients like High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) and Glucose-Fructose to keep this drink low FODMAP. Serve with a wedge of lime.

2) Rolling Estonian –To make this fun twist on a vodka cran, combine one serving of vodka (30ml), 1 tbsp of simple syrup, and 100% cranberry juice. Top it off with a splash of soda for some bubbles. Make sure to double check that the cranberry juice is 100% cranberry. Companies often add other fruit juices (like apple or grape) to sweeten their products. This can cause issues for FODMAPers.

3) Gin and Raspberry Soda – This berry pairing is a match made in heaven! To make your own, add one serving of gin (30ml) to a glass of raspberry cane sugar soda. Serve with a twist of lemon!

If these spirits aren’t your thing, Monash University has also determined that one can of beer or one glass of white, red, or sparkling wine per sitting is also low FODMAP.

Cheers!

Amy

Wine Travel

Campo Viejo Winery Visit

February 4, 2018
Campo Viejo with jambon

Walking around the vineyards of Campo Viejo in Spain’s Rioja region, it’s hard not to stop and stare at the breathtaking views that surround this parcel of land. The mountains spread out around you and everywhere you turn there are lush vines full of decadent, ripe grapes.

Campo Viejo VineyardsAs we wandered through the vines learning about the different varieties and tasting each of the red grape types to see the differences even before they were picked and processed, it was almost overwhelming. As one grape after another exploded with flavour on my tongue and I tried to discern which ones were full of chalky seeds and which ones had tougher skin, it felt like a rush of delicious, brilliant wine knowledge spilling over me. And there is so much to learn – from the unique, rocky soil under our feet to the experimental varieties (in particular the whites) Campo Viejo’s vineyards are spectacular.

Campo Viejo insect hotelAs with many wineries of their scale, the majority of their grapes come from local growers, so Campo’s own vineyards are a complex mix of experimental development and grapes that will find their way into one of their wines. They also have a number of sustainable practices that they’re able to test out to see what works best for the vines. That means along our walk we discover everything from insect hotels to sexual confusion pheromone plantings (a form of ecological pest control) to raptor perches (again, pest control).

Everything they test on their own vineyards, they share with their growers. They learn the processes that work best, the sustainable practices that support the type of grapes they want to grow and they share them with the growers. Campo Viejo, as one of the biggest producers in Spain, has the luxury of being able to experiment and they want to share that knowledge to ensure the best grapes are going into their wines.

That experimentation continues inside their winery—a vast expanse of rooms that is largely underground, but still somehow manages to have enough natural light all through to ensure no one feels claustrophobic. As winemaker Clara Canals (all three of Campo’s winemakers are female) shows us through the winery, she talks about their desire to be integrated into the landscape and how they worked closely with the winery’s employees to ensure that the new building was designed to fully support them in making wines in the best and most efficient way possible.

It’s hard not to be awed in the tank room with 140 fermentation tanks surrounded by a host of blending tanks, or by the bottle room where six million bottles can rest in dark, cool conditions that meet the very strict Rioja bottle aging standards. And the barrel room with 70,000 barrels is breathtaking, with barrels stacked upon barrels everywhere you look—each one neat, clean and selected with exacting standards.

Campo Viejo barrel room

The clearest thing in this large-scare operation is how passionate everyone is about making good wine. There’s no discussion of oak chips or cost cutting or ways to pump out mass produced plonk. Everyone talks about the wines with reverence. They discuss how much passion winemaker Elana Adell has for blending, Clara speaks with enthusiasm about the climate this year and how it meant starting harvest two weeks earlier than usual. She reels off weather stats from recent years and talks passionately about how each year impacted the wines.

Campo Viejo vineyard sculptureAnd then we visit the experimental winery and my heart soars. Every winemaker I know would be passionately jealous of this miniature version of a full winery where Clara and the other winemakers are testing new grapes and blends to see what might make a great future vintage for Campo Viejo. In recent years, the rules in Rioja have relaxed around white wines and Campo is eager to see which whites will stand out for them. As we taste through the wines in their tiny tanks, it’s hard not to feel the excitement of what could come from these young wines under such perfect conditions.

I sense that my colleagues, like myself, are hesitant to leave as we make our way back to one of the winery’s tasting areas to go through a selection of their wines. This experimental winery has captured our hearts and the essence of Campo Viejo’s winemaking spirit. The tasting, though, is a good one and I discover so many wines that I can only wish were available in the Canadian market.

Campo Viejo Cava Brut RoséThe Cava Brut Reserva is a yummy sparkling with peach and apple on the nose that follows through on the palate. The 2016 rosé is 100 percent Tempranillo and is available seasonally in Ontario – pick it up if you can, as it’s a perfect summer sipper with lots of strawberry and peach notes. 2015 Tempranillo is a very rich and drinkable wine with lots of dark fruit and spice to round out the palate. The 2012 Reserva Tempranillo has black pepper and dark red fruit on the palate and is one of those perfect-for-red-meat wines that will serve you well when steak is on the menu.

As we head outside to enjoy some of the lighter wines with a traditional Spanish paella and the fresh tuna and tomatoes in olive oil that I could easily live on, we reflect on the wines and the land that is so perfect for creating it. Sitting on the patio, enjoying wine and food with new friends, it’s pretty hard not to realize that I’ve fallen fully in love with Rioja.

*I visited Spain as a guest of Campo Viejo. That said, my opinions are all my own and I was not asked to provide anything in return. The fact that I loved the wines and the country made this whole process much easier, though.