Best of

Summer Favourites

August 11, 2018

While life is crazy and busy right now, I’m doing my best to keep up with things related to the blog. That’s been made a little easier because there are so many fantastic things that are making me happy in this realm. Below is a bit of a round-up of things I wanted to share with you.

In the French Kitchen with Kids by Mardi Michels

I have long loved Mardi Michel’s blog, eat.live.travel.write, so I was very excited to learn about her new book, In the French Kitchen with Kids. I immediately bought a copy, despite the fact that I don’t have any kids of my own (and am admittedly completely uninterested in the actual act of cooking – thankfully, Shawn loves it), and this is a great addition to our cookbook collection. Mardi’s recipes are easy-to-follow and super fun and I have recommended it to so many of my friends who *do* have kids. Mardi has embraced the importance of teaching children, in particular young boys, to cook and all the ways that this skill can help them make better health choices as they grow up. I love that philosophy and how in imbues this book.

Campo Viejo – Rosé

When I was in Spain visiting Campo Viejo last fall, I spent some time on the winery patio with a glass of this lovely, fruit-forward rosé. It is a memory I was happy to relive just a little bit when I discovered a bottle of this wine at my local LCBO. Typically only available for a short time in the summer, I suggest picking one up if you see it. Dark pink, full of summer fruit flavours and just dry enough to ensure it will still pair well with whatever you throw on your barbecue, this is well worth trying.

Chateau des Charmes Methode Traditionnelle Brut Sparkling

I recently had some of my girlfriends over for an evening of pizza and wine while Shawn was in Germany. This was our intro wine and we all agreed it was a winner. Crisp and tart with great bubbles, it’s a fantastic alternative to Champagne when that’s out of budget or just not appropriate. I love a glass of bubbles to kick off an evening and this one definitely did not disappoint.

Tasting the Past by Kevin Begos

I have taken a bit of a break from reading wine books of late after reading almost nothing else for several years. I needed time to catch up on the many thrillers, biographies and science books sitting neglected on my bookshelf and to cleanse my palate before diving back in. Given the mix of science and viticulture promised in Begos’ book, I’m looking forward to taking that plunge. I have been doing a lot more science writing of late and I love seeing a few of my passions come together.

 

Port Cocktails

Following our trip to Prague (an amazing and much-needed getaway), I was so excited to be invited to a port tasting with Taylor Fladgate and iYellow Wine Club. And then I got sick. Really sick. That meant missing out on a fantastic evening, but I was so happy when the iYellow team sent me some of the recipes developed for the event. I always enjoy Taylor Fladgate port (their 20 year old is divine) and this is a fantastic way to enjoy their younger port in the summer months.

Tawny Fizz

1.5 oz of Tawny 10

.5oz part Cognac

Splash of real lemon juice

Shake over ice and pour into glass

Top with sparkling wine, we used Veuve Ambal Cremant de Bourgogne

Garnish with a lemon zest

Late Bottle Vintage Portoni 

2 oz Taylor Fladgate Late Bottle Vintage Port

.5 oz Gin – we used Bloom Gin, (we highly recommend you use this gin as other gins have different flavour profiles such as pine needle or cucumber aromas)

.5 oz Campari

Stirred over ice

Pour into glass

Garnish with an orange peel

Credit to bartender https://www.instagram.com/thegeorgejetson/ for developing these!

Patio Sippers

You’ve no doubt heard me go on about Pommies and SoCial Lite in the past, so it should be no surprise that they are making my summer just a little better. SoCial Lite has two great new flavours of their no sugar, all natural cocktails, which make for a much less stressful cooler situation. The lemon cucumber mint and grapefruit flavours are fun new additions to their line and the grapefruit, with just a hint of flavour is my new favourite. If you love a vodka soda or can’t stop drinking La Croix (guilty), you will enjoy these.

Pommies new sangria does have sugar, but it’s a tasty alternative to cider from this Canadian company. Pommies is my go-to cider, so I’m always thrilled to see it on a menu and I’ll be recommending this to my friends who like their drinks a little sweeter. I enjoyed it at a recent get-together with friends and it was a fun alternative to beer.

Whew! That was a little more of a wrap-up than I had planned, but it’s great to be back and to share some of these fabulous finds with you guys.

What have you been enjoying this summer? Share your thoughts in the comments or on social.

Spirits and Cocktails

Guest Post – Victoria Distillers: “Phun” with Gin

July 31, 2018

A huge thanks to Bill Wittur for this latest guest post on Victoria Distillers, as I continue to manage a too-hectic schedule!

It’s late spring in Victoria, BC. Thousands of cherry trees are in full bloom and the sea air inspires outdoor time.

Victoria is also home to a vibrant craft alcohol trade and Victoria Distillers has been leading the charge for a decade. They started in 2008 as Victoria Spirits under the ownership of Bryan and Valerie Murray, but in 2015 they were purchased and the name was changed to Victoria Distillers. They are one of Canada’s oldest small-batch producers. Their original production site was more rural, but they expanded and moved to Sidney (close to the airport and ferry terminal) in 2015. This move made the distiller a more serious operator and tourist destination, worthy of a pit stop on the way to Victoria.

Victoria Distillers produces a wide range of products, but their ‘signature’ product is the Empress Gin.

Purple: The Colour of Royalty

Historically, the colour purple has been used as a sign of royalty for a number of crowns and leaders. It’s hard to believe, but at one point, British legislation actually existed that forbade the wearing of purple outside the royal family.

Eventually, folks figured out how to reproduce the colour and dye easily, making them very rich as the colour’s popularity spread.

In an effort to pay respects to the royal family, the Empress Hotel in Victoria created a ‘high tea’ program, featuring the purple tea produced by the Asian ‘Butterfly Pea’ flower.

If you’re visiting Victoria, the afternoon tea may cost a bit of coin (roughly $75 per person – book ahead), but it’s a fun way to feel spoiled and indulgent when you visit British Columbia’s capital city.

The Empress Gin: A Tradition Continues

If you haven’t guessed already, what makes the Empress purple – and very unique – is the use of the butterfly pea as a key ingredient after the base product is made.

The first launch of the gin was mid-2017, in collaboration of the Empress Hotel. The gin is made as a combination of a classic London dry gin, but with some elements of ‘new world’ influence and unique botanicals. Ingredients include the Fairmont Empress Blend (black) Tea, juniper, grapefruit peel, coriander seed, rose petal, ginger root and cinnamon bark – in addition to the butterfly pea.

The formula has generated substantial accolades and attention, with sources like Wine & Spirits Magazine declaring it ‘one of the tastiest gins of the year’ and a growing list of medals.

Source:

The gin is ‘steeped’ (just like tea) in the butterfly pea after being distilled. The steeping also adds light nuances in flavour, including more earthy notes than you might expect with a gin and delicate violet notes.

Interestingly, the butterfly pea flower is sensitive to pH, making it variations in the final colour of a cocktail possible, depending on what you mix it with.

Enter … Phun With Gin

I have fun with gin on pretty much any day, but when I spoke with Jason at the main bar at Victoria Distillers, we decided to do a little science experiment with the gin to see what would happen to the colour with different ingredients.

The changes were very interesting!

The neutral – or base – spirit is a luscious indigo purple colour.

When you increase the level of alkalinity, the colour changes to a pale blue. On a simple level, you can add water, but another ingredient common to gin cocktails is a little bit of cucumber muddled in with the gin. To get the most extreme result, you can add milk, but that would result in a pretty gross combination (picture curdled milk).

Next, we added ginger to another sample of the gin. A ‘gin gin’, if you will. The chemical composition of the gin changed it from a bright purple to nearly clear.

Squeeze in a little grapefruit or citric acid via tonic water and the gin changes to a pink shade!

Introducing: The Sidney Sipper

Jason and I (well, more Jason) created an outstanding cocktail that I’ll label the ‘Sidney Sipper’.

Here’s the recipe:

  • Muddle 1 teaspoon grated ginger, 1 teaspoon fresh rosemary and 1 teaspoon Elderflower syrup (or Grenadine)
  • 2 oz Empress gin
  • 3 oz of your favourite tonic water (I suggest Fentiman’s)
  • Shake ingredients together
  • Strain over crushed ice in a medium sized tumbler

More Information

Victoria Distillers is in a small town named Sidney on Vancouver Island, just a short drive from both the ferry terminal and Victoria airport. If driving from Victoria, it’s about 20 minutes north of Highway 17.

Details about the Empress Gin can be found here: http://www.empressgin.com/

To collect more information about Victoria Distillers, visit their website: https://victoriadistillers.com/

They also provide a number of cocktail recipes: https://victoriadistillers.com/cocktail-recipes-2/

A huge thanks to Bill Wittur for his report on Victoria Distillers! Learn more about Bill on his website: BillWittur.com

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!