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Cynthia In Orange

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Cynthia In Orange

Cynthia and I went to the Art Car Parade on Saturday. This time was different from years past because I was invited to be an announcer as the parade was going on with my friend and Technology Bytes co-host Dwight Silverman. It was a lot of fun, but I ended up not getting to take any pictures of the art cars. It took everything we had to keep up with the announcing.

I did, however, get some pictures of some of the numerous baby ducks at Sam Houston Park.

Baby Ducks

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Baby Ducks

Baby Ducks

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Baby Ducks

Baby Ducks

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Baby Ducks

All pics shot using the Sony A850 and the SAL 70-300G lens. Click any image for a larger (and much cuter) version.

Spring Is Here

My apologies to the half dozen or so readers of my blog. I’ve just not felt the inspiration to post much lately.

The nice thing about getting out and visiting new places is that I find lots to things to take pictures of and write about. But there’s always a lull when I get back to Houston in terms of inspiration. It’s already been several months since the trip to Copenhagen and I must confess, the photographic and blogging inspiration is STILL at an all time low.

The Pi(e) Day Card was a fun project. We’re still pondering what’s next in the esoteric holiday card lineup.

Cynthia and I have been hard at work trying to get the front and back lawns into shape. We lost very little during the recent snow in December and the more recent hard freeze where temps stayed below 32 for awhile, so that’s good.

In the loss column was one of my favorite plants, the giant pink Hibiscus we’ve had since our first apartment in the Heights over 15 years ago. Call me sentimental, but I always looked fondly on the soul survivor of our futile efforts to maintain a patio garden in Houston. It had a place of honor in the front yard just to the side of the front door. Now that it is dead we’ve replaced it with a somewhat neglected Sago Palm we’ve had in a pot in the backyard. It’s a bit of a runt due to living in a pot in the shade in the backyard, but hopefully it will reach it’s full potential now that it has been moved.

We also lost the giant and hateful Bougainvillea that dominated the back garden. It was pretty and really doing well before the freeze, but just didn’t manage to survive so we spent the better part of two weekends cutting it down and chopping it up enough so that the trash collectors would haul it away.

We managed to get most of it gone but not without some parting shots from it’s numerous and sharp thorns.

There’s still a lot of work to be done and hopefully this good weather will hold for a few more weeks so we can finish it up. We’ve really had some gorgeous California style weekends with low temps and low humidity with lots of clear blue skies and sunshine.

Oh, and speaking of the good weather. We’ve been taking the opportunity to walk a few miles each day after work. That, in combination with a revised diet and some Wii Fit excercises I am personally down 20lbs!

Snow Day 2009

Weather forecasts all week predicted snow for Friday, Dec 4th and sure enough, we had several inches of snow. I was fortunate enough to have the day off and Cynthia got to come home early. We took advantage of this rare weather phenomenon. We simply don’t see this much snow in Houston EVER. It snowed last year, but not much and it snowed on Christmas Eve in 2004 but it didn’t stick. The last time I saw snow like this in Houston was in the 60’s.


Snow In Houston
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Snow In Houston

Snow In Houston

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Snow In Houston

Snow In Houston

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Snow In Houston

Of course the sun was out the next day and the temperatures are expected to be back up in the 70’s before mid-week.

Our neighbors demonstrate their sense of humor about the fickle weather here in H-Town:

Snow In Houston
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Snow In Houston

Additional photos are here

$100 Wine Challenge Comes To A Close

Final thoughts on the $100 Wine Challenge

Cynthia:

What have I learned from this wine challenge? First of all, I had a lot of fun with this challenge, more than I expected at the beginning- not only because I got to drink ten bottles of wine, but because I had this experience with Jay, and it was fun sharing our opinions and figuring out which wine we were going to try next and what we would serve it with. It was also fun having our Wine Sherpa, Gerald, select the wines, and getting his feedback and hearing from other people who were following along with the “Wine Challenge”. Hopefully we have empowered some other wine novices to get out there with an open mind and try something different.

And, I have learned that it is really possible to have a nice wine experience for a small amount of money. In other countries, sitting down with friends and family and opening a bottle of wine for dinner is not an unusual thing. I think that here in the United States, it tends to be more of a “special occasion” thing, where there is a lot of pressure to purchase an expensive bottle of wine. That’s a pity because we are really missing out. I’m not saying that we should all begin drinking wine every day, or drink irresponsibly, just that we should recognize that sharing a bottle of wine can be a fun addition to an “everyday” occasion. (Besides- the red wine has medicinal benefits !) Also, opening a bottle of wine does not necessarily mean that you need to drain the entire bottle. I’ve learned that cooking with wine can be fun. Adding a little wine to the right dish can enhance it. The alcohol evaporates during the cooking process, but the delicious flavor remains !

I’ve also learned that it doesn’t matter what anyone else, or any “expert” thinks about a particular grape, or a particular type of wine, or winery. At the end of the day, the opinion that counts is mine. There is no “right” or “wrong”, and I have learned a lot about my own personal tastes. Cheers everyone !

Jay:

What a blast this was! We took our time and went through 10 bottles of wine, each of which cost $10 or less. We found some gems and we refined our tastes and expectations. I don’t think I will ever be a wine savant or anything and that’s why it’s good to have a guide like Gerald to help us navigate the complex and bewildering world of wine. I’ve enjoyed the feedback I’ve received, both through this blog and just running into people while out and about that have commented on this project. I hope it has been entertaining and informative. Perhaps we’ll do more. At the very least I hope to just document the various things we’re tying so we have a reference for ourselves to assist us in remembering what we like and dislike.

Thanks for following along!

#10 Chateau De Lavagnac Bordeaux

Wine #10 in the $100 Wine Challenge

Winery: Chateau De Lavagnac
Country: France
Vintage: 2006
Price: $9.80

Cynthia’s Review:

According to the label, this wine is 70% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc, and 20% Cabernet Sauvignon. We served this wine with what I would consider a pretty heavy meal: Appetizer of crackers and my homemade triple-garlic hummus, strip steaks, potatoes augratin and spinach. The wine had a nice aroma and initially a nice flavor, but kind of a dead taste at the end. (I guess wine folks would call that a poor “finish”) The lack of finish was less noticeable with the heavy food, but still there. I wanted to like this wine, but found myself trying to overpower it on purpose with the food. This wine was definitely not terrible, but I probably would not buy it again, and I really wouldn’t drink it as a “stand alone” wine. If I could give this wine somewhere between a “Yay” and a “Nay” I would, but since I am limited to one or the other- I give it a “Nay”.

Jay’s Review

This is the first Bordeaux I recall drinking, at least with the mind to pay attention to it.

I really liked the smell or “nose” of this wine. When I poured the first glass I was immediately struck by how pleasant it was. The flavor, however, did not live up to the hype of the aroma. Somewhat thin overall. It was good with the food Cynthia served, but didn’t really enhance the meal the way a more flavorful wine might. Not to say this was a bad pairing with food, to the contrary. I could see where a bit more sophisticated, older vintage Bordeaux could have really made this meal exceptional. I think if your just looking for a school night wine to have a glass and catch up on some TV or do a little reading this might be a good choice, but after the previous 9 wines we tasted in this challenge I think I would opt for something I know I really liked. So I guess that’s a “nay” from me.

#9 Ashwood Grove 2006 Petit Verdot

Wine #9 in the $100 Wine Challenge

Winery: Ashwood Grove
Vintage: 2006
Price: $8.99

Cynthia’s Review:

OK-Back to Australia- land of screw-top bottles! Fortunately, our Wine Sherpa warned us ahead of time that this wine would not stand up well with food, so we drank this on a “school night” with wine and crackers. The wine was smooth and pleasant, but I can understand why we were warned against pairing it with food- I was even wishing that I had a blander cheese to serve it with. I did like this wine, but I must say that it didn’t inspire me to want to experiment with any other Petit Verdots. Although this definitely was not my favorite wine in our challenge, I still give it a “Yay” along with some strong advice to drink this only as a “stand alone” wine.

Jay’s Review

When selecting our wines for the challenge we gave the other store clerks at Spec’s veto power if they wanted to replace any of the wines selected for us by Gerald with something they thought might be more interesting. Early on in the selection phase Gerald picked out a Petit Sirah which technically we’d had before but also technically fit the rules of the $100 challenge. When one of the clerks used his veto to replace the Sirah with the Verdot my heart sank a little because I LOVE the Petit Sirah. As Cynthia mentioned, we were warned against having this wine food of any substance so we had some mild cheese with some crackers. Overall, the wine was good. Pleasant, smooth and quite drinkable. Sadly, because this wine was a reminder of the Sirah that never was I think it was doomed not to get a totally fair shake from me. I don’t think we’ll repeat this one, but there’s certainly nothing wrong with it. Especially if you are looking for a good wine to have socially or with appetizers. A “yay” from me.

#8 Bogle 2007 Old Vine Zinfandel

Wine #8 in the $100 Wine Challenge

Winery: Bogle Vinyards
Vintage: 2007 Old Vine Zinfandel
Price: $9.91

Cynthia’s Review:

First- a confession: We actually drank the Bogle one evening, and then forgot to do a review, so we had to sneak into the Specs near us and purchase another replacement bottle so that we could do a proper review. I really liked this wine. I drank this (second bottle) with a dinner of eggplant Parmesan and pasta and it was delicious. I thought the wine had a nice aroma and a fruity, spicy flavor that went well with, but did not overpower, the food. (And drinking the second bottle caused me to remember that I really liked it quite well the first time around !) This is my first experience with a Zinfandel, and I truly enjoyed it. I’m looking forward to some additional Zinfandel recommendations from our wine Sherpa. This wine receives a resounding “Yay” from me !

Jay’s Review

I was not going to mention that we had the wine and forgot to post a review. But I guess Cynthia let the cat out of the bag. I do recall I liked the wine but could remember no real specifics. This was probably due to the overall good experience when we consumed that first bottle and not due to the wine being less than memorable. After sneaking into our alternate Spec’s to secure our re-do bottle we headed to our fave Italian restaurant to give the attention it deserved. I found the Bogle to have a good, full flavor and to be quite smooth. There was a certain pep to the wine, not really what I would call spicy or bitter, but a “zing” if you will, Nothing overwhelming. The wine combined well with the panini I had for dinner and I enjoyed it immensely. As time goes by I find I may be becoming a snob for wines from overseas so it was notable to me that I enjoyed this California Zinfandel and also the previous 2007 Ca’ Momi so I hope to explore more California wines with the help Gerald. And who knows? We may even make the pilgrimage to Napa Valley some day as part of our travels. Definite “yay” from me!

#7 Sacred Stone Master’s Red Blend

Wine #7 in the $100 Wine Challenge

Winery: Sacred Stone
Type: Blend
Vitnage: 2007
Price: $9.49

Cynthia’s Review

The label on this wine indicates that “it makes every meal magical”. In my opinion, it could only be black magic ! I thought it had a very sour taste. At least the sourness was consistent- it was consistently sour on its own, with wine and cheese, and with a dinner of spaghetti and meatballs. The label goes on to say that the wine is “ideal for pairing with your favorite outdoor and other casual cuisine”. Perhaps spaghetti and meatballs does not fall under the heading of casual cuisine, but I honestly can’t think of any meal that I think would be good paired with this wine. After a first bad glass of wine, I typically would have just used the rest for cooking with, but I have to admit that we drank the whole bottle. To be fair, that is just because it was Friday evening and I had a really hideous and craptacular week at work. So I guess you can say that this wine is better than no wine- but not by much ! This is my first fully resounding NAY !

Jay’s Review

This wine was quite bold. I found it to be very robust in its flavor, but not very sophisticated in its blend. I liked the way the wine came on, but as Cynthia mentioned it had a rather sour finish. It held out the promise of being a deep, full bodied red wine with rich textures and flavors but just didn’t deliver. The wine mellowed a bit after it had been open for a while and had a chance to decant, but it was too little, too late. It wasn’t horrible and I did do my part to finish off the bottle, but its not a wine I will likely purchase again. I have to give it a “nay.”

#6 – 2008 Uma Colección Cabernet Sauvignon

Wine #6 in the $100 Wine Challenge

Winery: Uma
Type: Cabernet Sauvignon
Country: Argentina
Vitnage: 2008
Price: $9.98

Cynthia’s Review

This was definitely not a shy wine. We paired this wine with a fairly strongly flavored meal of teriyaki salmon fillets and cous cous with roasted garlic and pine nuts, and I enjoyed it. Because the wine was so strong, it did border on the edge of having a sour aftertaste, but that might just be my uneducated palate mistaking the strength of the wine for something else. It definitely had a nice aroma, and a deep color. I don’t have much experience at all with wines from Argentina (other than a few tasty Malbecs!) but was happy to be back in the Land of Corks after the California Screw Top experience. (Call me crazy- a bottle of wine should have a cork- it just should!) If we serve this wine again, I think it might best go with a full-on Jay-style Red Meat and Potatoes meal. Although this was not my favorite wine in the challenge, it was good, and deserves a “yay” vote from me.

Jay’s Review

I am not shy about my love of a good Malbec. And I have had my share of more than one very tasy Malbec from Argentina, even one from Uma Colección so I guess my expectations may have been set high coming out the shoot. Sadly, my initial impression of this wine was that it was too sour/bitter. It just really seemed to have a lot going in, none of it too pleasant. When taken with food, it seemed to settle a bit and by the time I was finishing my last glass the wine seemed to have mellowed from having been decanted for a little while. This wine just didn’t suit my tastes at all. I haven’t thrown in the towel on Cabernet Sauvignon’s all together, but I will ask our wine Sherpa to steer us down another path when we make our way back to the Cabs. Sorry say, it’s a “nay” from Jay.

2009 International Quilt Show

Quiltshow

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Quilt Show

Cynthia and I made our annual pilgrimage to the International Quilt Show. This event attracts 10’s of thousands of visitors from all over the country…maybe even the world. I don’t know that I would travel far to attend myself, but since it is held here in Houston it’s an easy drive to and from for an opportunity to shop for some unique fabric and see the quilts that are on display. Many of the quilts have signs on them that say “No Photography.” On top of that, I have not found a consistent way to make photos of quilts interesting.

Of note this year were two rock and roll quilts, one of John Lennon and another of The Rolling Stones.

Quiltshow

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Quilt Show

Quiltshow

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Quilt Show

I made the comment that “yes, indeed, the rock and roll generation is now old enough to quilt” which earned me the shushing of a lifetime by group of women viewing the display…

Also on display was the Pittsburgh Friendship Quilt which is made up of 32,000 hand signed 2.25-inch fabric squares. Very interesting to look at, both close up and at a distance.

Quiltshow

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Quilt Show

Quiltshow

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Quilt Show

Cynthia emerges from the “Quilt Matrix” …

Quiltshow

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Quilt Show

#5 – Ca’ Momi 2007 Rosso Di California

Wine #5 in the $100 Wine Challenge

Winery: Ca’ Momi
Vintage: 2007 Rosso Di California
Price: $7.99

Cynthia’s Review:

We selected this wine as the next wine in our challenge in response to Gerald’s answer to our review of Wine # 3 -the Reserve Del ’Aube Syrah Merlot. Our wine # 3 did not pair well with spicy food, despite the promise of the label. The Wine Sherpa suggested that this Ca’ Momi would hold up well when paired with a strong food, and he was right. I enjoyed this wine with a spicy pizza, and it was just perfect. The wine was not overpowering when sipped ahead of the meal, or with the cheese and crackers which have become our defacto appetizer course, and still stood up to the challenge of the spicy pizza flavors. I had to admit to a certain prejudice surrounding wines with screw tops instead of corks (sorry to all the Australian wine lovers out there !) but this wine was good enough to help me overcome that. I am somewhat confused about exactly what type of grape went into this wine- other than an indication that this is a California red wine, there is no hint on the label regarding what kind of grapes might have been used. Can someone enlighten me about this? Is this lack of detail because this is an American wine, or because it is just an inexpensive table wine? I did read, with interest, about the ghost of the previous owner of the winery, Momi Dea Bionda, who is said to still haunt the property. All right.. haunted wine, and right before Halloween too ! This wine receives a “yay” from me !

Jay’s Review

With the red screw top I somewhat expected to hear a “psst” when I twisted off the top. My meal was some left over pot roast with BBQ sauce and this wine paired with it very well. A very smooth wine with a full, rich flavor that stood up well to the heavier meal without overpowering the taste buds and blowing away the flavor of the main course. As Cynthia mentioned, it also stood on its own very well and also played nice with some mild cheese. In looking online I see this is a blend of 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Zinfendel, 15% Petite Sirah (one of my all time faves!) and 5% Merlot aged 8 months in 75% French and 25% heavy toast oak barrels. I enjoyed this wine immensely, not only for the way it complimented the meal, but also for the rich character of the wine. It is mind boggling to me that the wine was less than $10. I give this one a hearty “yay” and ask our wine Sherpa to PLEASE hold on to a few bottles of this for when we revisit the store!

#4 – Castillo De Monséran Garnacha

Country: SPAIN
Region: ARAGON
Sub-Region: CARINENA
Grape Varietal: GARNACHA
Type: Still wine
Price: $8.99

Our fourth wine in the $100 Wine Challenge

Cynthia’s Review

I must admit that I do like a good Grenache- so possibly I was not the most objective with the Castillo De Monséran Garnacha. (I am also predisposed to like wines from Spain, to be completely honest !) We served this wine with a very casual dinner of turkey sausages topped with sautéed tomato, red pepper and onions, along with honey mustard, and accompanied by delicious sweet potato French fries. I really enjoyed this wine but I have to admit that I thought it had a peculiar odor. The flavor of the wine was just fine, as long as I didn’t get a nose full of the aroma, which was decidedly antiseptic. I wondered if the alcohol content was really high on this wine, which would account for the antiseptic smell, but the label on the bottle indicates an alcohol content of 12.5% by volume, which doesn’t seem really out of line with the other wines in our ”wine challenge”. The wine stood up well, both on its own, with an appetizer of cheese and crackers, and with the main meal. I think you could pair this wine with a huge variety of different cuisines and still have a wonderful experience. As I continue to learn about wines, this was another instance in which I could taste the fruit without confusing it with sweetness. (Still a hard lesson for me to grasp!) When drinking a wine on a “school night” I typically like to leave half a glass of wine to enjoy during my evening bubble bath, but this one was so delicious that I didn’t have the willpower to leave the requisite half glass- just drank it all. This wine receives a “yay” from me. Thanks Gerald !

Jay’s Review

I too must confess a weakness for the Spanish wines. This is probably because it is a reminder of our recent trips to visit. Although we didn’t consume as much wine on our first trip as we did on our second.

After uncorking the bottle I poured two full glasses and we each had a sip. I commented that it tasted pretty good and Cynthia said she liked the taste but didn’t care for the smell. I guess I wasn’t being a proper wine taster because I failed to have the customary swirl and sniff prior to taking the first taste. I brought the glass back to my nose and took a snort. Immediately I was stuck by how much the smell reminded me of being at the doctor. You know when they wipe you down with the alcohol swab before plunging the needle into your arm? It was that smell. Not overwhelming and not all together unpleasant, but it was a bit hard to shake once you noticed it.

The wine was quite delicious. I found it fruity and just the slightest bit of a sweet taste on the finish. And smooooooth! This wine paired extremely well with the sausage dish Cynthia had prepared and was equally pleasant with some after dinner crackers and cheese.

I give Gerald (our wine Sherpa) an enthusiastic “yay” on this one, even WITH the antiseptic smell.