If you grew up in the United States, or hey, maybe other countries, too- I can’t say, you have likely had “Mystery Meat.” This is especially true if you bought lunch at the school cafeteria.  Maybe yours was called “Wednesday Surprise” or “Thursday Meatlover’s Special.” I don’t know.

For many reasons, Mystery Meat is the moniker that has stuck with me over the years. It was a brownish mass, sometimes verging into gray. Sometimes it was served with noodles or on a white bun, sloppy Joe style, and sometimes it was alone– sitting in a rapidly cooling unidentifiable pile on the corner of your sectioned tray.  Usually it was the leftover hamburgers from the previous day, or the extra meatloaf, whatever. Just the school lunch ladies trying to stretch a thin budget a bit farther.

Now I don’t mean to disparage the cafeteria. I mean, who didn’t love those tatter tots? I remember pizza and corn dogs being popular, too. Sometimes the identifiable turned out to be quite tasty. No, I turn to the analogy because that is what the new trend in blended table wines reminds me of, particularly the red blends. They are inexpensive, unidentifiable, and sometimes, surprisingly delightfully palatable.

In Europe blends are far more common. Whether you enjoy a Bordeaux, a Burgundy, or a Rhone blend, wine-lovers there follow a region and, usually, a winemaker. The variety of the grapes is a secondary concern. Whereas in the States, we tend to ask what type of wine is it, before wondering where it came from or who made it.  That’s not to say that we don’t care where the wine or its grapes came from or that certain wineries don’t acquire towering reputations for quality, because they assuredly do.  No, it’s simply than when someone asks us what we like we tend to answer by grape.

Now, there are blends in the US, but they mainly follow the European “recipes.” For instance, not all, but many high quality Chateau Bordeaux blends tend to be 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Merlot, and 15% Cabernet Franc. The breakdown, whatever it may be, is listed as such on the bottle.  Lately, the US has seen the popularity of red table wine blends emerge which do not disclose the type of grapes contained within.

I think it really started a couple of years ago with Two-Buck Chuck (aka Charles Shaw) at Trader Joe’s. Now, let me digress, the secret to buying Two Buck Chuck is to buy one bottle, take it to the parking lot, and taste it before buying more. Yes, I know this can make even the most respectable soccer mom resemble a deeply disturbed wino/ho-bo, but trust me. It’s worth it. You see, the Charles Shaw that everyone fell in love with came about as a result of the winemaker buying wineries’ left over grapes. Sometimes they were getting very high quality grapes from big name producers which made for a mighty yummy resulting blend. Especially, for $2 a bottle!  The trick of course, is that Charles Shaw agreed not to say whose grapes they were including in their discount wines. I mean, why pay $100 for a bottle of Silver Oak if you could have a wine with the same grapes for 2% of that price. Of course, there would be huge discrepancies in the wine making, aging, etc., but still, what a bargain!

Since the wine comes from leftovers, not every bottling will remotely resemble one another. There is definitely a sweeping range in terms of taste and quality. You could buy a case and get home only to discover that it all needs to go down the sink, or into really bad wine coolers.

Other winemakers saw and adapted. By not having to say exactly what types of grapes were used in the mix, from year to year they could sneak different “leftovers” into their house blend. Not a bad system for all concerned. The winery gets to use up product that it has an investment in and the consumer gets a nice table wine for an even nicer price.  This brings us to this week’s featured wine, the Unruly Red.

I can’t find what types of grapes are in this wine. The internet failed me.  If I had to GUESS I would say in descending order of predominance: Zinfindel, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot. I opened a bottle the other night when my palate was fresh and this is what I came up with. I could be way off base, but hey, I tried.

In keeping with a Zinfindel, Unruly has a big berry pop of juicy flavor. The Cabernet provides structure and the Merlot gives it a smooth finish.  This makes a great second, third and fourth bottle if you are entertaining. You know, when you’ve all had your first glass of the really GOOD stuff, and now you’ve settled in for a long evening of wine, food and conversation? This is one of those wines.

It retails around $11 a bottle, but Bevmo was doing one of their Five Cent Wine Sales so I got two bottles for $11 (plus tax). Like I said, a good deal for all players.  This wine would be fantastic with a burger, ribs, steaks or mushroom based dishes. Enjoy!


Unruly Red- The Mystery Meat of Wine

Unruly Red- The Mystery Meat of Wine


This post was written by Erika Gardner.  If you enjoyed it, please sign up to receive updates on this blog.  Or you can follow Erika on Twitter @Erika_Gardner or “Like” her Facebook page Erika Gardner- Writer and Storyteller.  Check out her contributions to the BBB Blog.

As I type I am on a visit to San Diego.  My hostess, a dear friend, served us two bottles of this amazing wine. It was new to me and I simply cannot wait to hunt some out once I get home. The 2006 Clos Les Fites is a blend of 60% Grenache, 25% Carignan, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Syrah. It is fermented in stainless steel and then aged for 12 months in new French oak.

This blend is reminiscent of one of my favorites, the archetypal GSM (Grenache, Syrah, and Mouvedre) and also reminds me of other medium-bodied reds like the Riojas and Tempranillos.  It is extraordinarily well-balanced, being neither too sweet or too dry– just as a food friendly red should be. While the winemakers listed a zillion notes to taste (They always do, don’t they?), I was able to readily discern notes of blackberry, anise, and black pepper. My particular word for this type of wine is “zippy.”  Meaning in my personal vernacular that the wine lights up your palate. It also means- goes with pizza! Feel free to use it.

Tending as I do to be quite provincial and drinking mostly California wines, I was intrigued by this Spanish wine.  What sort of wine making region is this? What’s a Priorat? What does Les Fites mean? Oh, Lordie, what ever did we do before the internet?

Thanks to the miracle of modern technology, I found out quite a bit.

It turns out that this wine making region in northeastern Spain is very similar to my own beloved northern California. Lots of sun and rocky soil (more about that in a second) add to the characteristics and sugar content of the grapes. Priorat is a place. It’s a county in the south-west of the Catalonian region. Priorat is part of the Denominacio d’Origen Qualificada (DOQ). This is one of only two of the highest ranked wine-making regions in Spain… so… good stuff.

The winery- La Perla del Priorat in Spain

The winery- La Perla del Priorat in Spain

This blend is sourced from 14-60 year old vines in one of the oldest vineyards in Priorat. It was founded by Carthusian monks in the 15th century. (Although I found another source who cited an earlier founding, but let’s err on the conservative side.) Apparently at one point the monks were tending more than 90,000 vines. That’s a whole lot of sacramental wine, eh? After a devastating phylloxera outbreak in the 19th century the winery was abandoned.   Count Pirenne  refounded the winery in 1998. The winery currently thrives and employs green techniques and dry-farming.

Fites are quite simply stone columns.  As early as the 12th century, fites were used as landmarks. After building the monastery Mas Dels Frares in 1450, the Monks of Scala Dei built many fites all around the property in order to differentiate their land from those around them. Even today eight fites still stand on the winery. These ancient structures mark the property of La Perla Del Priorat and also form the southern most border of the DOQ Priorat wine-making region. I would have dearly loved to post a photo of these ancient columns, but sadly, in this the internet failed me.

In the course of my research I found some fascinating information regarding this winery’s terroir. In other words, the soil in which the grapes grow. This particular soil is known as llicorella. It consists of iron rich slate and quartz. The land contains small particles of mica. I found the mica fascinating as it reflects sunlight and conserves heat. In the rocky ground the roots of the vines are forced the bury even farther than normal for nutrients. With such a firm footing the plants are better anchored to survive the region’s frequent winds and storms.

All this makes for a tasty wine, retailing for around $30 a bottle, give or take a buck or two. My friend found it at her local Costco in San Diego for much less. It is currently sold out of many online sources, so I’ll be making a Costco run when I get home. Crossing my fingers there’s some yumminess left for me.

Of course, by the time YOU read this I will have gotten there first. After all, I’m writing on Sunday, I get home on Monday, and YOU will read this on Wednesday.  More for me!  Wicked cackle…

Clos des Fites 2006

Clos des Fites 2006


This post was written by Erika Gardner.  If you enjoyed it, please sign up to receive updates on this blog.  Or you can follow Erika on Twitter @Erika_Gardner or “Like” her Facebook page Erika Gardner- Writer and Storyteller.  Check out her contributions to the BBB Blog.





On July 1st I took my son, David, to see his first concert.  We saw Queen with Adam Lambert.  Sadly, it can never be the Queen of yesteryear.  Freddie Mercury left this world in 1991 and John Deacon retired from the band’s public life in 1997.  Friends say he was never the same after Freddie’s death.  So, needless to say, I did not go into this show with high expectations.  I simply hoped that my son would have a good time.

What a wonderful surprise!

Hats off to all the members of Queen and a huge ‘huzzah!’ to Adam Lambert.  I love Paul Rodgers, but I certainly sat and scratched my head when I heard he was fronting Queen. I mean, really?  On the other hand, Lambert (who first met members of Queen when he sang Bohemian Rhapsody with them during his time on American Idol) is stylistically and vocally a much better fit.  He’s hitting all those notes with power and passion, even the super high ones. Wow.

I didn’t realize when David and I went to see them that this tour was being billed as a salute to Freddie Mercury.  Apparently, Lambert is a huge fan himself.  And that was the most impressive part, while Lambert clearly adores the limelight, he was generous with the spotlight.  Twice he left the stage so that other members of the group, including Roger Taylor’s son, Rufus, could shine.  Lambert seems perfectly at ease with the place Mercury holds in the band and the fans’ hearts.  He celebrated Freddie and sang back and forth with Mercury’s recorded image on Bohemian Rhapsody to the delight of everyone present.  If you can get yourself out to see them- DO IT!

He’s not Freddie Mercury– no one is.  Yet, once again, Queen have a flamboyant, sexually ambiguous front man whose voice soars to the upper registers as he sings his ass off on stage.  Something in the universe seems right once more.

While the show held many high points for me, I think the most poignant was on Love of My Life.  This song was written by Mercury after his breakup with his long time girlfriend, Mary Austin (whom Brian May had introduced to him) and appeared on Queen’s 1975 album, A Night at The Opera.  As I said, I hadn’t realized that the band would be showcasing Freddie to the degree that they did, so the night held many surprises for me.

Love of My Life was performed in the past as a duet between Brian May and Mercury.  May had come up with a lovely acoustic arrangement and then of course Freddie took care of the vocals.  This evening, however, May sat alone and after complimenting “the new kid” asked the audience for their help filling Freddie’s shoes.  He asked us to sing to Freddie, to let him know we still loved him.

So we sang along, all of us.  It is always amazing to me how heartrendingly lovely thousands of voices raised in song are.  Lighters (or iPhones) alight and hands raised in heart shapes, it was a bittersweet moment.  And then, on the last stanza, came that rich voice, those amazing, pliant, soulful tones.  Freddie’s image was on the jumbotron and his voice filled the arena, reminding everyone anew what we had lost.  Everyone over the age of thirty-five bawled their eyes out.

So here it is, sing along, let Freddie know you still care.


A Night at The Opera by Queen 1975

A Night at The Opera by Queen 1975



This post was written by Erika Gardner.  If you enjoyed it, please sign up to receive updates on this blog.  Or you can follow Erika on Twitter @Erika_Gardner or “Like” her Facebook page Erika Gardner- Writer and Storyteller.  Check out her contributions to the BBB Blog.

My kids, especially my daughters, like when I put together playlists for my phone or iPod.  Summer 2012, Winter 2013, you get the idea.  As music so often does, when we listen to the lists after a break the songs remind us of where we were and what we were doing.  It’s always fascinating what memories my children come up with.  For instance, Natasha Bedingfield’s Pocketful of Sunshine reminds me of driving home from the kids swimming lessons, all of us “dancing” in our seats.  Well, not David, he was reading one of the Rick Riordan books.  However, my daughter Katie remembers going roller skating and Anna remembers her first hotdog off the backyard grill.

I know summer begins officially on June 21st, but for me it really starts on my birthday, June 24th.  So, this past week I was struck by the realization that summer is actually HERE.  Cue exhale.  This is my favorite season.  The fair comes to town.  We swim, we eat outside a lot, we stay up late and sleep in, we spend more time together.  And then there’s the sunshine. I’m a California native and how do I love the sun.

Time for a new list and I thought I would share it with you good people.  Go make your own and use it as your personal audio scrapbook for the memories you about to make this summer.

Now, a disclaimer, I LOVE heavy metal and so does my son, David.  That said, the girls not so much and my husband not at all.  So the seasonal playlists are pop-centric.  David and I bond over music in other forums and this gives me a touchstone with my daughters.  Try not to hate me for doing this one light, fluffy thing.  It’s purely sugary, bubble gum fun.

In no particular order this year’s list thus far:

1.) Sing by Ed Sheeran- love the chorus, so great to sing along to with happy daughters.

2.) Raging Fire by Phillip Phillips (what were his parents thinking with that name???)

3.) Maps by Maroon 5- definitely their most catchy since Moves Like Jagger.

4.) Love Runs Out by OneRepublic- not quite as good as Counting Stars but pretty darn close.

5.) Summertime Sadness by Lana Del Rey- love her voice!

6.) Am I Wrong? by Nico and Vinz

7.) Hey Brother by Avici- came out in spring, but that’s okay- it hasn’t been played to death… yet.

8.) Bad Blood by Bastille- I like this one even better than Pompeii (which has been played to death).

9.) Fancy by Iggy Azalea- Am I the only one who thinks she owes Gwen Stefani a big huge fruit basket??? Derivative much?

10.) Blue-eyed Lie by Jessica Meuse- an original song this American Idol finalist wrote while she was still playing honky tonks in Alabama.

11.) Burning Gold by Christina Perri- the album’s been out for a while, but this song is just starting to make airplay.

12.) And last, not least, this week’s Musical Monday song is Angel in Blue Jeans by Train.  It’s my new pop favorite.  I think I like it so much because as the song hits its stride there’s something that reminds me of classic country, something Johnny Cash or Merle Haggard would have recorded when I was little (or before I was born).  Something we would have sung around the campfire at Camp Cazadero.  Pat Monahan’s voice isn’t deep enough, but the galloping pacing and the twang of the guitar is just right.

Also, this is the perfect sentiment for a summer hit.  Come on, admit it, somewhere in the hallway of your memories, you’ve got one.  That one glance, stolen kiss, or magical one night that you’ll never forget.  It’s the one memory that as you are in that Neverland between asleep and awake, the sometime dreaming place, this is the memory that has you following the road to “might have been” on the corner of “what if” and “I wonder.”  Everyone has an electric moment they’ll never forget, and I’ll bet, it happened in summertime.

Don’t be afraid to remember.

Here’s a recent performance by Train on the Today show.  If the crowd noise bothers you then use this audio only link.


Grammy winners, Train.

Grammy winners, Train.


This post was written by Erika Gardner.  If you enjoyed it, please sign up to receive updates on this blog.  Or you can follow Erika on Twitter @Erika_Gardner or “Like” her Facebook page Erika Gardner- Writer and Storyteller.  Check out her contributions to the BBB Blog.

Erika Gardner

Erika Gardner

This was to be another piece.

One on teachers.

Then, later, one, on the importance of immunization.

Then, a note on tolerance.

In the end, it boiled down to one simple fact.  A good man died today. And I do not mean Casey Kasem.

A world leader?  No.  A millionaire magnate? No.  Yet, he was a man who loved well and stood by his friends.  You could count on him.  Will he be on the news?  No.  Will he be remembered? Yes.

What else can any of us ask for?

Casey Morton died today.  He was good.  He was loving.  He was 46.

A friend of of mine wrote me because she was concerned for a mutual friend, Holly, who was very close to Casey.  She asked if we (myself and another high school friend, Amy) remembered Casey?  I mean, he was a year ahead of us.

Are you kidding?  How could you forget Casey?  Joyous, full of life, and full of love?  Of course, of course, I remember Casey.  I knew him in drama.  He ran lines with me.  He made me believe that I COULD in fact survive, even thrive, on stage.  And Amy?  Her first job was at the Bennett Valley Baskin Robbins (which is still there) and Casey helped train her in all her dairy glory.

And the tears flow.

Casey was an epileptic and had a seizure during which he took a bad fall.  That’s all it took to snuff the light of a vibrant, affectionate, beautiful man.

Casey Morton died today.  He was good.  He was loving.  And, I hope, he will be remembered.

My deepest, most heartfelt sympathies for his family and loved ones.  He was amazing- you are blessed.

For all those we’ve lost, here’s your Musical (Almost) Monday… We’ll Burn The Sky by the immortal Scorpions.


Casey, my friend, I hope there is a love waiting to join you, beyond these mortal realms, flying the sky, burning the horizon.

Those we lose are no longer with us, but that does not mean, it never, ever means, that we forget.


Casey Morton, Montgomery High, Class of 1986

Casey Morton, Montgomery High, Class of 1986


This post was written by Erika Gardner.  If you enjoyed it, please sign up to receive updates on this blog.  Or you can follow Erika on Twitter @Erika_Gardner or “Like” her Facebook page Erika Gardner- Writer and Storyteller.  Check out her contributions to the BBB Blog.



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