Another year, another Big Bike Build! As has become our tradition my family participated in the annual Bike Build in San Jose. Volunteers come together to assemble more than 2500 bikes. Charities’ trucks line up to give the bikes to underprivileged kids at Christmas. It’s a wonderful day. Here are some shots of this year’s fun- and of course- you should read the original blog and learn all about Turning Wheels For Kids.

Son David building an adorable Barbie bike!

Son David building an adorable Barbie bike!

 

Friend Tony helping on the same bike.

Friend Tony helping on the same bike.

 

My Better Half in the Tricycle Races.

My Better Half in the Tricycle Races.

 

He got third!

He got third!

 

This year's bikes- ready for happy kids!

This year’s bikes- ready for happy kids!

 

 

 

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.

Last week, my honey brought me a Conundrum. Mind you, he didn’t mean to. But, you see, I wasn’t answering the phone. Why? I went to the pool for a Mai-tai and left my phone in our room. (Now before you think that I lead some elitist, out-of-touch-from-reality, fancy-schmancy lifestyle, you should know– Thanksgiving, Maui, one shot deal. Uber fun though.)

My sweetie promised me a bottle of wine. We were short because the bell-hop broke the extra bottle we bought at Costco. (See? Not uppity, Costco.)  When I wasn’t answering the phone… no matter HOW MANY times he called (the answer is eleven), he was faced with… a conundrum. Being a humorous, roll with the punches kind of hunky man, he proceeded to buy me… a 2012 red Conundrum.

Using a cliche literary technique, (What? I couldn’t resist. I am weak.) here is the definition of the word:

co·nun·drum
kəˈnəndrəm/
noun
noun: conundrum; plural noun: conundrums
      1. a confusing and difficult problem or question
      2. a question asked for amusement

Conundrum is made by the Wagner Family- you may know them better for their better known label, Caymus. Back in 1989 they introduced their white Conundrum. I haven’t tried that one yet, but I need to. It sounds super tasty: Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Muscat Canelli, Semillon, and Viognier. Their website goes so far as to call it “exotic.” Ooh, exotic? Sign me up!

Flash forward twenty years to 2009 and the Wagners introduce another Conundrum- this one of the red persuasion. Now, those sly things at the winery are playing coy and won’t say what is in their red blend (reminding me of my recent “Mystery Meat” wine blog). I like guessing games, but it’s easier to keep score when you can check your answers after the fact. I am not a fan of the word “proprietary,” but such is life.

Apparently they are sourcing their grapes from several California wine-making regions: Napa, Monterey, Santa Barbara, and Tulare counties, making it a genuine California wine. Being a local girl, I like to see my state so well represented. I say that because Conundrum is DELISH. Plenty of the fruity berry and cherry notes you’d expect from the deep, opaque, aubergine color, but balanced with oak- which isn’t a note I usually pick up too readily.  I think there were hints of licorice, again, that helps balance the wine.  It’s super smooth and perfect with food. Great finish, the flavors really linger.  Accidentally, or through sheer luck, my husband picked a lovely wine for me- no input needed. (Or course, he also does well in Vegas- but that’s another blog for another day.) I look forward to drinking it again- preferably soon.

Conundrum can be purchased off the winery’s website, both the white and red version retail for $22.00.  A quick Google reveals that it is widely available online ranging in price from $19.95-$25.00. Those of you who are local, BevMo carries both for $17.99 if you use your BevMo card. With the holidays approaching, this is a great wine to bring to a special party or event. ENJOY!!!

Conundrum- California Red Blend

Conundrum- California Red Blend

 

 

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.

No, I didn’t drop off the end of the earth. No matter what certain religious groups will tell you, the earth is not flat. I just got busy… again.

Hope your Thanksgiving, or for those friends in other countries, your weekend went well. Greetings! I have had this song in the back of my mind to write about for some time.

The female species has been cajoled, bribed, bludgeoned, flattered, and manipulated into placing the emphasis on physical beauty over internal substance. Mind you, at certain points in history, men have too, or used other yardsticks: ability to throw a spear, crush heads with a rock, spitting, pissing, making money, pick your useless standard.

We make ourselves sick trying to capture an ideal of femininity that can never be achieved. Even those models in the magazines can’t get there- and that’s with hair, make-up and wardrobe crews. It requires the almighty Photoshop to warp reality into glossy covers. Check it out:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=17j5QzF3kqE

An even more illuminating experiment can be seen in the following video. Four “ordinary” women were asked to participate in an experiment. Have a professional photo shoot, complete with hair, make-up and wardrobe and THEN let the Photoshop wizards go to town.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zRlpIkH3b5I

The reactions of the four after seeing their “Beautiful” photos is telling. “Once someone has directed your clothes, your hair, how your body looks and then taken away your imperfections, there’s not much left of who you really are.” Another remarked, “I like my freckles. I think that they add character. The fact that they’re gone– I don’t even know who that is.”

Exactly. Our imperfections define us, make us unique, special. Take dimples, for example. Dimples occur when you have facial muscles which do not work- causing “pits” as it were in one’s facial expressions. In fact, dimples are defined as:

Dimples are a facial muscle deformity.

Yet, we have accepted those failed muscles as a positive. We have found their beauty. They add a special loveliness to one’s expression. Likewise with freckles, well-defined brows, laugh lines, widow’s peaks, hips, and square jaws. If Photoshop is allowed to smooth these all away, how will we know ourselves?

We spend money, time, and energy trying to smooth these things away ourselves. Trying to reach an ideal that doesn’t exist, never existed, and can only exist inside a computer. And that is, by definition- not human. We are human, not perfect- and that’s okay. It’s even… imperfectly perfect.

For my daughters- Katie & Anna- Cause I like you.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GXoZLPSw8U8

“Try”

Put your make up on
Get your nails done
Curl your hair
Run the extra mile
Keep it slim
So they like you. Do they like you? Get your sexy on
Don’t be shy, girl
Take it off
This is what you want, to belong
So they like you. Do you like you? You don’t have to try so hard
You don’t have to give it all away
You just have to get up, get up, get up, get up
You don’t have to change a single thing You don’t have to try, try, try, try
You don’t have to try, try, try, try
You don’t have to try, try, try, try
You don’t have to try
You don’t have to try Oh Get your shopping on,
At the mall,
Max your credit cards
You don’t have to choose,
Buy it all
So they like you. Do they like you? Wait a second,
Why should you care, what they think of you
When you’re all alone, by yourself
Do you like you? Do you like you?

You don’t have to try so hard
You don’t have to give it all away
You just have to get up, get up, get up, get up
You don’t have to change a single thing

You don’t have to try so hard
You don’t have to bend until you break
You just have to get up, get up, get up, get up
You don’t have to change a single thing

You don’t have to try, try, try, try
You don’t have to try, try, try, try
You don’t have to try, try, try, try
You don’t have to try

You don’t have to try, try, try, try
You don’t have to try, try, try, try
You don’t have to try, try, try, try
You don’t have to try
You don’t have to try

No
Oh

You don’t have to try so hard
You don’t have to give it all away
You just have to get up, get up, get up, get up
You don’t have to change a single thing

You don’t have to try, try, try, try
You don’t have to try, try, try, try
You don’t have to try
You don’t have to try

Take your make up off
Let your hair down
Take a breath
Look into the mirror, at yourself
Don’t you like you?
Cause I like you

Here I am in Maui with my family. I will never be a cover girl- even with Photoshop. I am a woman. I’ve borne three children. I live, I love, I eat. I have more curves that I used to. My nose is Roman, my jaw is square, my hair is wild, I am five feet tall (or short depending on your view point), and these things set me apart– in a good way.  Never hide your light. Spend less time obsessing over yourself and more time loving your sweeties. You don’t have to try so hard.

No Photoshop

No Photoshop

 

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.

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.

 

 

 

 

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