Never Bow To Customs Agents

DON’T WORRY…this is not another food post, I promise. What?!? We’re in the middle of a pandemic and nothing makes you realize how mundane and cyclical your diet is like staying at home and self-isolating for four months. This then leads to the realization that you need to spice up things with more bacon and chocolate (Quarantine-15 is real y’all!). Anyway, no food talk. Well, I mean, there’s food talk—but it’s not a recipe. It’s actually M&Ms and sorry to all of you out there who have heard this story ad nauseam. It’s probably better told in person, especially when I can demonstrate with aforementioned M&Ms, but, well, social distancing and all that jazz…

This is a great cautionary tale of traveling internationally. I’d like to tell you it’s my only cautionary tale of traveling internationally, but, well, that would be a lie, multiple times over.

Anyone who has ever flown into Australia knows how stringent their Customs process is. Anyone who has never flown into Australia quickly learns how stringent their Customs process is. Despite other airport events to suggest otherwise, I know that you cannot bring fruits and vegetables and general food items into most countries. In fact, you cannot bring fruits between Oregon and California either—in case you’re ever road tripping up and down the West Coast of the United States.

What I didn’t seem to grasp at the time is that this concept also includes snacks…unless they are unopened and hermetically sealed. Even if you purchased a ginormous bag of peanut M&Ms and opened them approximately 14 hours into a 16-hour flight from LAX to SYD and had only eaten a couple of handfuls. They are now considered tainted and must be disposed of before entering Australia. But hello! this is me and I wasn’t going to easily hand over my nearly full bag of M&M’s because some cute Customs agent with a cute Australian accent said so.

Turns out, I was wrong.

PLEASE NOTE: As a general rule of thumb you should NOT argue with Customs agents. That might be Rule #2 when traveling in airports (Rule #1: never mention the word gun at the airport). Not that I was arguing, mind you—I was pointedly asking the cute Customs agent with the cute Australian accent what the difference was in opening a bag of—let’s just pick a random snack, like, oh I don’t know, peanut M&Ms—on a plane flying to a country and opening them in my hotel room in said country.

Please note that this was my very first flight to Australia and my first ever flight over 10 hours. I also spent 15 hours prior to this flight hanging out at LAX. Additionally this was way back when I could never sleep on flights. Needless to say, I was a bit wired and perhaps a little jittery from chugging coffee for about 26 hours straight. Thus when the cute Customs agent with the cute Australian accent told me I had to dispose of my newly opened extra large bag of peanut M&Ms, I just laughed because thought he was kidding.

Rule #2.B: Don’t Laugh at Customs Agents.

When I realized that he was not kidding, I did what I deemed the only sensible thing that I could do: I started eating them. Rapidly. But I am not rude and I offered all the Customs agents some of my M&Ms. Apparently, this is considered a bribe.

Rule #2.C: Don’t Offer Bribes to Customs Agents.

None of them took me up on my bribe. Thankfully, they didn’t seem interested in detaining me—only pointing out that they could. So there I stood. In front of the Customs table, stuffing my face with peanut M&Ms, looking like a chipmunk, batting my eyes at the handful of agents who were very interested in this crazy Yank and her refusal to willingly hand over her chocolate. I knew there was no way I could actually eat the entire bag at one time and began offering them to fellow passengers as they walked by. A shockingly large number of people took some, blatantly ignoring a life long lecture from their parents never to take candy from strangers. Perhaps the clustered group of gawking Customs agents made them feel safer. Perhaps the lure of candy coated chocolate and peanuts was too much to deny. Perhaps it was jetlag and disorientation from being on a plane for 16+ hours. Perhaps they knew this wouldn’t end well for me and were just trying to show support.

Eventually, I thought I got my point across (aka I gave up because I was actually starting to feel nauseated from too much candy). Plus I remembered that I had a connecting flight that I could not miss, despite my desire to best the cute Customs agent with the cute Australian accent who was completely unsympathetic to my chocolate plight. I reluctantly sighed, locked eyes with the cute Customs agent, and begrudgingly made a huge show out of throwing away my now 1⁄2 eaten large bag of recently opened peanut M&Ms. I really wanted to bow, but somehow—either knowing it was a bad idea or fearing I might puke—I refrained. Probably for the best.

Rule #2.D: Never Bow to Customs Agents.

My best advice to you when we can start traveling again is never bring anything ever into Australia. Except maybe clothes and shoes…

The Best Vinegar I Ever Drank

I guess it’s no surprise that today is National Champagne Day. According to WalletHub and International Business Times, an average of 360 million glasses of bubbly is drunk today and 25% of all champagne/sparkling wines are sold between Christmas and New Years (sidenote: these numbers are from the early 2010s but research is very scarce on the subject).

And why not? It’s fun, it’s fancy, and seems to hold the promise of better things ahead.

Like Bordeaux, Burgundy–and scotch and bourbon for that matter–there are some very clear cut guidelines as to which wines may legally call themselves champagne*. Namely, they have to be made in the Champagne region of France–just northwest of Paris, if you’re wondering. Additionally, there are only a handful of grapes that can be used Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunièr are the three most used grapes, but Arbane, Petit Meslier, Pinot Blanc, and Pinot Gris may also be used, as well as specific methods of fermentation. Visit Comíte Champagne if you wanna read all about it.

*there are a few notable exceptions that were grandfathered in before the rules went into effect, like Korbel, Andre, and Cook’s from California.

And while I’m over all not a big wine snob, I do have to admit that I am a bit of a champagne snob. Not that I don’t like a good Cava or Prosecco. But they’re not champagne. There is just something smooth, comforting, and decadent about the real stuff. And I 100% acknowledge that it is all in my head–and in a blind tasting I couldn’t tell the real stuff from a really good sparkling wine. I like to pretend I could, but I certainly wouldn’t put any money on that!

That being said there is something extra special about Dom Pérignon and over the years I have had the good fortune to try several vintages. So this Christmas when my boss gave me bottle of 1985 I was over the moon and so excited to try it.

We discovered it last summer, hidden away in the far reaches of her parents’ wine bar and no one seemed to know how it got there (to be fair, her parents are in their mid-90s and I have trouble remembering what I ate yesterday let alone what was happening 30 years ago, so no judgements here!)–thus when it was bequeathed to me it was with the caveat that it could be good or not.

It was Dom. I was willing to take that chance! I knew it was either going to be the best thing I ever drank or a goddamn tragedy!

While it was chilling I pulled out my Dom glasses–because what else would you drink Dom out of?!?

I tried not get too excited as I peeled back the foil ever-so-gently. The cork looked good, there wasn’t any leakage, and I felt a tingling of excitement stirring like champagne soaked butterflies in my stomach. I slowly untwist the wire from the cork and my heart sank. Rather than a tight cork or one slowly pushing its way out of the bottle, it just jiggled.

I lifted it out, morbidly admiring the shrunken dark cork and trying hard not to cry. I peered down into the bottle looking at the sediment accumulated along the side of the bottle. I pulled the bottle to my nose, sniffing tentatively. Vinegar.

Dammit. Dammit. Dammit.

Out of sheer curiosity, I poured a half glass (I mean, I pulled down the Dom glasses–it would be a shame not to use them at all!). It was a very rich dark yellow color with the tiniest bubbles in the bottom of the glass. I figured what the hell and took a sip.

It was by far the tastiest vinegar I had ever had, with notes of toasted almond and vanilla that to me suggests that had it not been corked, it would have been a stellar glass of champagne.

In the wise words of my boss’s father: c’est la mort! And a good reminder that you don’t always have to save the good stuff for “a special occasion in the future.” Sometimes it is so much better to have that special occasion just be a Tuesday.

Happy New Years, ya’ll and best wishes for a wonderful and prosperous 2020!

Time

Time is a funny thing. It is a slippery slope, especially to me, who puts the “pro” in procrastinate. It always feels like I have all the time in the world and then bam! three weeks have passed and I’m still in the exact same place, with the exact same things on my To-Do list, only now it has grown considerably.

I’m always in awe of the peeps in my life who never seem to crastinate, let alone procrastinate. They get up, they work out, they clean the house, do a quick load of laundry, throw together a quick, but easy brunch, eat, do the dishes, and take the dog for a walk–all in the time it takes me to make coffee, pour the coffee into a cup, walk over to the couch, and drink my coffee while pondering what I might accomplish today.

Anxiety plays a large role. And Netflix. It’s so much easier to sit on the couch vegging with my coffee, watching [insert latest binge-worthy series here] ignoring all the nagging voices in my head, berating me for not being more productive. For not writing. For being a couch potato. Actually the voices in my head are a lot nastier and more snarky than just calling me a couch potato, but you probably don’t want to be drawn into my inner dialogue. It’s rarely pretty and almost never kind.

But there is another huge marker of passing time aside from my growing list of things to do and the deepening of the laugh lines around my eyes and mouth and the WTF frown line across my forehead: my memory. Granted, I have always been a bit scatterbrained about forgetting/losing things but I have never forgotten what things have tasted like: food, beer, wine, coffee, scotch, etc. In that respect, I have always been a bit of a savant in my ability to remember what the difference was between this wine and that. Or why we like this queso and not that one (except for maybe the Chipotle queso–that distaste will forever be burned into my brain).

And then it happened. A couple of years ago, I went to the NYC Coffee Fest and, as per usual for me, I took a lot of pictures and didn’t make any notes because well, I didn’t need to. Or so I thought…until I sat down to write about the various coffees that I had tried and realized that I had a hard time remembering what each coffee specifically tasted like. I mean, sure, I could have just chalked it up to the fact that almost everyone was serving Kenyan coffee and so they all had the typical citrusy brightness of coffee beans from Kenya.

While I knew that was technically true, it wasn’t the whole truth. The whole truth is that I just couldn’t fucking remember anymore. So I broke down and [HUGE SIGH & EYEROLL] now I have a tasting journal, which I carry everywhere with me. It feels a bit like a cane or a crutch and makes me feel just as old. Especially when I whip it out in the middle of a restaurant or wine tasting. But I suppose it’s much better for recalling the nuances of alfredo in Rome vs Little Italy, NYC rather than just “the Roman version is so much fucking better and wins hands down every time and twice on Sunday.”

Getting old is a learning curve–one that we all struggle with daily in some form or fashion. My 92 year old boss spends the entirety of our daily walk around the block for his exercise lamenting: “how the F did I get so old? I surely never planned for this” while brandishing his cane about pointedly. But I am always quick to remind him what Granny always said whenever someone would complain about getting older–and why I ultimately broke down and got a tasting journal: it sure beats the alternative.

MWWC 36: Environment

Life is funny.   Recently, I went back home to Texas for a visit, which conveniently coincided with Jeff (having won last month’s challenge) setting this month’s challenge as Environment.  Hailing from the Texas Hill Country Appellation, I mentally began creating bullet points about the environment of the Texas Hill Country Appellation and which wineries I was going to feature–debating if I should focus on one or several.  While I was at home, I did quite a bit of tasting in preparation for this wine writing challenge (I’m thorough like that).  Although ironically most of what I was tasting were Hill Country wineries using grapes from the Texas High Plains vineyards, but I digress.

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Then it happened.  After departing Texas, I went back to NYC via an extended stopover in Minnesota.  On Day 2, April took me to a little town on the St. Croix river called Stillwater.  We were there for the tacos (that’s a story for another time)–but after lunch we wandered down the main street of the town, poking around the boutique shops in search of a brewery/winery/distillery (Stillwater has some of each and long ago, April learned long ago that a happy Shez is a Shez plied with alcohol and coffee and food).  We saw the Northern Vineyards Winery and headed inside.

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They offered tastings and, well, why not?!?  I figured it would be great feature for a future-topic-not-yet-determined MWWC and then the tasting began.  I was introduced to 3 new grape varietals, which I had never heard of before and upon asking about them I was told that they were developed by the University of Minnesota (Go Gophers!).

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Well shit.  Of course, after hearing that I realized that what better way to incorporate ENVIRONMENT into my wine writing like discussing grapes developed specifically for growing in a particular region.  Since I was only on my second taste, I knew it had to be fate rather than the alcohol talking.

So without further ado, I’d like to introduce you to the following grapes developed by and/or with the University of Minnesota (Go Gophers!):

  • Frontenac (red/rosé)
  • Frontenac Gris (white)
  • Marquette (red)
  • Edelweiss (white)

Northern Vineyards uses all of these grapes and other varietals, like Le Crosse and St. Croix, which were developed to withstand the hearty Minnesota (read: cold) environment, basically “varieties adapted to severe winters and short growing season are chosen.”  For all the grape varietals suited for growing in Minnesota, visit the University of Minnesota (Go Gophers!) Fruit Research website.

And now on to some tasting notes.

The first thing I sampled was the Prairie Smoke, made with La Crosse grapes.  I’m not a big fan of fumés in general, however, this one was light and fairly crisp for a fumé. In addition to the smokey nose, there were also ginger and hints of grapefruit.

Probably one of my favorites that I tasted was the Main Street Rosé.  A dry, crisp blend of La Crosse and Frontenac grapes.  This wine is very fruit forward with lingering strawberry both in the finish and on the nose.

They also have a semi-sweet blush, Lady Slipper, made with Frontenac Gris grapes.  Before tasting I was worried I had just been poured something akin to Strawberry Hill, however, the Lady Slipper was medium bodied and not overly sweet which I think would pair nicely with a cheese & fruit plate.

Of the reds I tried, I think the Downtown Red was my favorite.  A blend of Frontenac and Marquette, it was smooth.  It had a hint of blackberry and white pepper on the finish and reminded me of a light cabernet sauvignon.

I have to confess I was surprised not to find a dessert wine offered–I would think that the early frosts would lend itself to naturally sweeter wines, alas Northern Vineyards did not offer any.

It was a fun tasting–our hostess seemed to have a good handle on the wine grapes of Minnesota, I got to taste some varietals I had never even heard of before, and learn more about wine!

So much emphasis is placed on the environment in which grapes grow–and for good reason, terroir is one of the most important factors in the world of wine. We often talk about how this region or that region is perfect for growing grapes, but what about the areas that are not?  Hybrid and indigenious varietals catering to the less than perfect environment–be it Frontenac in Minnesota, Black Spanish in Texas, or even Roobernet in South Africa– seem to be the solution for sustainable grape growth and wine production.

Now if only one could be developed for the environs of a New York City window sill…

Cheers!

Fern Grotto

One of the most lush and densely forested places we visited was the Fern Grotto.  The only way to access it (at least for tourists, but perhaps also workers) was by boat.  It is located in the the Wailua State Park, about 2 miles inland up the Wailua River (the only navigable river in Hawaii).

After we disembarked from the boat, we had a short hike through the rainforest to get to the grotto.

There we received a history of the grotto, including why we couldn’t get any closer (falling rock).  It was at one time one of the most popular spots in Kauai for concerts and weddings.  One of our guides happily offered to marry/re-marry anyone who so desired, and assured us all it was legal & binding.

After looking around and taking pictures to our hearts content, we wandered back down the path to our boat–as beautiful as it was, we had luaus to go, hulas to do, and pork to eat…

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Aloha!

Around-ish The Island

As previously mentioned, our last day we decided to put some miles on the rental car and see where the open road would take us.

Not this open road.

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But the one that follows this map (courtesy of Lonely Planet!):

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We started in Poipu (southern most tip)–as that’s where we stayed.  We drove to Lihue and then took the 56 (Kuhio Hwy) along the eastern and northern coasts as far as the road would take us.  Also since I have the map here, if you were wanting a visual for our snorkeling/boat trip: we departed from Hanapepe westward bound for the Nā Pali Coast–so I wasn’t exaggerating when I said we pretty much circumnavigated the island!

Cartography aside, if you find yourself in Kauai (highly recommended)–then you should carve out a good chuck of time to make this scenic drive along the Kuhio Hwy.  Estimated drive time from Poipu was about 3 hours roundtrip–more if you want to stop and take a shit-ton of pictures…which we did.

And of course, you need to allow yourself even more time if you want to tour the Kilauea lighthouse or snorkel along the way….which we did not.

Not that we didn’t want to but we were flying to the mainland that evening, so our first priority was to make sure that we had given ourselves enough driving/ogling/eating/drinking time to get all the way to the end of the road and back to the airport before our flight departed without us!

For the majority of our trip, the view on our east side was essentially something like this:

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Meanwhile, our western view was almost a 180°:

We soon found ourselves literally at the end of the road and had to make a u-turn (as demonstrated by the red truck below!).

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Okay, so “soon” is a relative term–the scenic views and frequent photo stops made the trip seem a lot shorter than it was (although, I wasn’t driving so perhaps Tracy has a different opinion about “soon”).

Of course, I know the real reason you’re here–the photos!  Obligingly, I have a small sampling of a mere 197 photos from our drive.  Kidding…just…kidding… 😉

Aloha!

 

Thirsty Thursday To A Tea…

In trying to find pictures for Throwback Thursday, I realized I have a lot of pictures of adult beverages (that is said with pride, by the way!). As such, I’ve decided that rather than share pictures of me with bad 80s hair and glasses that legitimately covered half my face, I could easily share glasses of a much tastier kind. So without further ado, I present to you: Thirsty Thursday!

On our last day in Kauai, we decided to take a drive–all the way around the island.  Well, as far as the road would let us go (although–we did see the parts we couldn’t drive to by boat, so technically I’d say we made it completely around the island!).

As usually happens in a road trip, we reached a point where we were eager to stretch our legs.  Conveniently, we found a roadside drink truck advertising pineapple tea.  How does one say no to pineapple tea in Hawaii? One does not. 


It was definitely a refreshing & tasty reason to get out of the car!

Aloha!

Third Time’s A Charm!

Despite my first two ill fated attempts at snorkeling, I was willing to try again.  I figured if there was anywhere in the world where I might have a good snorkeling experience, it was Hawaii.

Just FYI:  if you’re searching for snorkeling in Hawaii, there are a plethora of options.  We chose one that included more than just a boat ride to the snorkeling spot and back.  Instead, it included a boat trip up to the Nā Pali Coast.  April wasn’t interested in the snorkeling–just the boat ride, but promised to take lots of pictures of any shark attacks us snorkeling.

This extended tour was definitely the right decision!

The snorkeling was fun.  I saw lots of fish, I didn’t have a panic attack, and I missed seeing the shark Christi saw.  YAY me!

After snorkeling, we continued north up along the western coast. Along the way, we were joined by a curious tortoise and later by a pod of dolphins, who swam along with and played around the boat for quite awhile.

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As the boat sped along, we were treated with some of the most spectacular coastline views of the famed Nā Pali Coast.  As I mentioned before, some of the cliffs are over 2500ft high!


All too soon, it was time to turn around and head back–giving us one last good look at the coast on one side and the expanse of nothingness on the other.

 


It was a great excursion and I highly recommend that if you’re going to take a snorkeling tour, opt for one that includes a bit of sightseeing around the island–it does take up a bigger chunk of your day, but trust me, you won’t regret it.

Aloha!

Watch Me Whip…

…just don’t feed the nēnēs!


Yeah, I know it’s corny–but I have approximately 12 minutes to post something, I’m not even home yet, and my brain is a bit fried. Plus, every time I see this sign that song gets stuck in my head….

But since I’m also feeling the need to be educational: the nēnē is the state bird of Hawaii and, if Wikipedia is to be believed, is found exclusively on the islands Oahu, Maui, Kauaʻi, Molokai, and Hawaiʻi. In case you’re wondering, we discovered these on Kauai:


Aloha!

Shipwreck…

It wouldn’t be a Hawaiian vacation if you didn’t spend at least a little time at the beach.  We debated about when/where we wanted our beach day to be (aside from our quick trips to the Black and Green sand beaches).  Ultimately, we decided that it might be a nice break towards the end of the trip to have a few less packed, more relaxing days–so we opted for Kauai and we found a beach not far from where we were staying.

Shipwreck Beach.

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It is in Poipu and (according to the Poipu Beach Resort Association) “during most of the year, the waters here are best for advanced surfers due to a short shore-break.”

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I have to admit waves were a little rough.  Being neither surfers nor advanced surfers, Tracy and I instead tried a little bodyboarding.  The results varied, but mostly ended up in laughter (well, on my part–Tracy was far more adept at it!)

Picturesque and not crowded, it was a great place to kick back and relax for awhile. While it may not look like it, it’s pretty steep from the back of the beach to the water–so our legs got quite the workout walking from our lounging spot to get into the water (not that we were complaining…much!).

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With the somewhat choppy waves and the rocky juts in the shoreline, it wasn’t difficult to imagine how Shipwreck Beach got its name.  But when the waves are right, apparently it’s one of the locals’ favorite spots for surfing.

Aloha!

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