Dreams of my ...

by Lorin Michel Saturday, October 20, 2012 10:42 PM

On this late, groggy Saturday night, I’m reclined on the love seat in the great room, my slippered feet stretched out over the edge, my body wrapped up in sweatpants and an oversized flannel shirt. My laptop is on my lap, living up to its category, and I am listening to the sounds of sweet jazz and the remnants of rain, leaves heavy with moisture dripping down onto one another and finally to the ground. The skies are cloudy. From my perch I can’t see them but I can feel them, the heaviness of the sky invades the backyard and oozes in through the sliver of the sliding glass door that’s open and inviting the fresh damp air.

It’s been a long day. The grapes were pressed this morning and we now have nine gallons of syrah grape juice. The fermenter and various pieces of equipment are clean and stored; the juice sits in glass carboys on the workbench in the garage. It will sit there for several days before entering the next phase of its young life.

Once we returned from our pressing journey, we showered, changed and went out again for a phone bank for Organizing for America, calling people to urge them to continue their support of President Obama. My friend Connie went with us. For three hours we dialed phone numbers on provided sheets in the hopes of someone picking up on the other end to speak to us nicely, without malice of interruption, without having decided to vote to the right. It was an interesting atmosphere. The building we were in was a call center by trade. Each day, dozens of people sit at the same desks we occupied and call people to try to sell them, convince them, connive them into buying something they’re not sure they want or to support something they’re not sure of. The irony was not lost.

I found myself drifting into daydreams several times as I waited for someone to answer a number I had dialed. In my dreams, I saw the rolling desert of Tucson, covered with Saguaros as they reached for the sky, and Kevin and I in our new home, waiting for the wonder of an encroaching thunderstorm, enjoying the anonymity of our home on the hill. I saw my niece at her Halloween party last night, dressed as a flapper and enjoying herself with her girlfriends. I wondered what she looked like and sent a text to my sister between phone calls. She promised to send photos.

I let my mind wander to my family, so many of whom are no longer with me, with us, and I wondered how they would see the world these days. The anger, the resentment, the entitlement, the hope. My grandmother, my dad’s mom, who died in 2001 at 93. I wondered if she was a democrat and decided she probably was; she had been a teacher. My great aunt, my dad’s mom’s sister, who died just a couple of years ago, also in her 90s. I wondered how she saw the world when she was still in it. My grandmother, my mom’s mom, who died several years ago as well, at 91. I wondered if she had ever really enjoyed her life. I wondered if any of them had.

My thoughts drifted then to my dad, who died in 2002, and who would have absorbed the news of the day with hardly a mention of how it made him feel. I admired that in him, and yet, I think keeping all of that in – his joy, his anger, his hurt, his dreams – contributed to him dying at such a young age.

How had any of them dreamed of … ? Had they dreamed at all?

Today I dreamed of grapes and wine, of rain and wondrous gloom, of phone calls to strangers who became instant friends, albeit virtually, and co-conspirators in this 17 days until the election. I dreamed of spending time with friends, of sharing wine and cheese and politics and more wine and funny stories. I dreamed of my future and my past, of my father, my grandmothers, others lost, those still living and full of love. My mother, my sister, my niece and nephew, my brother; my son. I dreamed. They dream.

“With our eyes closed, we uttered the same words, but in our hearts we each prayed to our own masters; we each remained locked in our own memories; we all clung to our own foolish magic.”

The quote is from page 163 of the book Dreams from my father by Barack Obama. I don’t know if it’s foolish to dream or foolish not to. But I do believe in magic, and I will cling to it as long as I have dreams.

On this Saturday night when the weather is drifting and the air is chilled and fine, I am dreaming of so much.

I am dreaming of … 

Que syrah syrah

by Lorin Michel Friday, October 19, 2012 6:53 PM

Our syrah grapes are five days old today. We thought about celebrating by sticking five lit candles into the cap that has formed atop the fermentation but decided it was probably not a good idea. As wonderful and strong as the grapes appear to be, we doubted seriously they could blow out their own candles. Instead we stood quietly and thought the tune “Happy Birthday to you,” or at least I did.

Five days ago, our grapes were clusters on stems, ripe, round, small and firm. They had a sweet taste with just the slightest hint of attitude. After the stems were removed and the grapes were crushed, their color was more angry. Still deeply purplish blue but with strong hints of magenta.

We brought them home from the crush and wrapped them in their new onesie, an old bed sheet cut into a nice neat square that fit over the top of the fermenter, put them to bed next to the Range Rover, turned off the light and let them sleep. On Monday, the fun began. We added the yeast and suddenly, these babies were having a party. Snapping, crackling, popping and physically trying to separate themselves, with the juice pushed down and the skins rising to the top to form a cap. Each day, we’ve dutifully taken their temperature. They’re not sick, but they do tend to get feverish when fermenting. We did our best to keep them around 75º. The two nights when they threatened to get warmer and topped 80º, we dropped a couple of frozen bottles of water through the cap to great fanfare. It was like a miniature wine bomb. But in the morning, the temps had returned to normal.

Que Syrah Syrah, oil on canvas, by Jennifer Evenhus


Each day we punched down the cap, pushing the 3 to 4 inches of grape skins back down into the juice, forcing them to play together. We did this about five times a day.

We also read the sugar content. On Monday, it started at 24.5 and the goal was to get it to drop to 0. When it reached 0, the fermenting process was essentially over and it was time to get schooled, or at least pressed. Today, after five days of rocking, rolling and snarling in the garage, it has calmed down. It’s so quiet it’s almost eerie. The cap is less now than it was, and not as heavy. It’s as if it has finally been tamed. It’s ready to make another drive so that we can feed the skins through a wine press to squeeze out the last bit of juice. Then, we start the rest of the process. Racking to clarify, testing pH levels and finally aging.

The next week or so will be fairly mellow, at least compared to the last five days.

And then, syrah’s baby brother arrives in the form of cabernet sauvignon and the late nights, the not wanting to sleep, the rising temperatures, the purple cradle cap will appear again and we will react accordingly.

But that’s next week. Today is all about the five-day birthday of our syrah grapes – I feel like they should have a name, something macho but with a tender side, like Butch. We’re very proud of all they’ve accomplished this week. Soon they’ll begin to age and grow into the fine wine we know, and hope, they can be. We’ll be with them every step of the way, listening when they need listening to, taking charge when authority is needed, keeping them on the path to grapeness. It’s their destiny, it’s what will be.  It’s the journey to maturity, shown in a clear, deep, inky syrah wine known to family and friends as Butch, from Michel Cellars.

Where whatever will be, will be wine. 

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live out loud

Now this is sweet

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, August 21, 2012 8:30 PM

I am not a sweets fan. In this way, I did not take after my mother, a woman I’m fairly certain would be happy to live her life eating nothing but pastries, cookies and chocolate. My sister likes sweets much better than I do; not sure about my brother. I think he’s more neutral. I much prefer salt. Neither is supposedly good for you, but according to some recent evidence one may actually be better for you but only if the sweet you like is chocolate.

Evidently, chocolate helps reduce blood pressure. It can also improve cognitive function. Researchers in Australia studied 856 people over the course of up to 18 weeks. Within two weeks of eating chocolate on a daily basis, their blood pressure dropped by 2 to 3 points. Not significant necessarily but still nothing to hang up your Hershey bar over. Another study conducted at the University of L’Aquila in Italy, used a group of 90 seniors who were suffering from mild cognitive impairment. They were split into three groups with one receiving a high concentration of flavonoids, a chemical substance found in dark chocolate, another group receiving smaller amounts and the third group receiving almost none. The seniors were tested after eight weeks, performing mental acuity tests like figuring out mazes and recollecting words. The group that received the highest concentrations of flavonoids was able to complete their tasks in an average of 38 seconds. The lowest-flavonoid group took 104 seconds.

Flavonoids are found in a number of foods. They’re plant-based, so they’re natural, and they help reduce inflammation, keep arteries healthy, and may even protect the mind against the ravages of dementia, Alzheimer’s and even certain cancers. Fruits like apples and blueberries are high in flavonoids, as is cabbage and capers. Not a fan of cabbage or capers. Flavonoids are high in red grapes and red wine (yea!) and in dark chocolate and cocoa.

Cocoa beans were first grown in 1500 BC by the Olmec Indians. The Mayans were the first to consume the beans in an unsweetened drink, though it was restricted to just the society elite. By the year 600, the Mayans had migrated into South America and established the earliest known cocoa plantations in the Yucatan. The Aztecs soon started drinking it, calling it xocalatl, meaning warm or bitter liquid. In 1502 Christopher Columbus came upon a trading canoe carrying cocoa beans and confiscated it, and the Spanish explorer Hernando Cortez wrote of cocoa being used in the court of Emperor Montezuma. Cortez introduced it to his country, and the Spanish soon began adding cane sugar and vanilla to sweeten their cocoa beverages.

Cut to 1657 when the first chocolate house opened in London. It was called The Coffee Mill and Tobacco Roll and it sold cocoa at 10 shillings per pound, about $.70. In 1732, Monsier Dubuisson invented a table mill to grind the beans and in 1795, Dr. Joseph Fry decided that a steam engine for grinding the beans would lead to greater production on a factory scale. He was correct. It went on from there, with famous names like Richard Cadbury creating a heart-shaped candy box and Daniel Peter and Henri Nestle creating the Nestle Company.

So sweet was the fine mill of the cocoa bean that it was coined theobroma, the Greek word for food of the gods, a term that seems even more appropriate today. [I would normally say ‘food of the dogs,’ but chocolate isn’t good for dogs.]

In my third paragraph I mentioned some things that are high in flavonoids. Chocolate, of the dark persuasion, was amongst them. While my mother prefers milk chocolate, I seem to remember her also using BAKER’S chocolate when baking brownies and cakes, and when making icing. I suspect she still does. All of this almost makes me wish I had more of a sweet tooth. Almost. Luckily, I don’t necessarily need a sweet tooth in order to get the benefits of high concentrations of flavonoids. You’ll recall I also I mentioned a favorite beverage of mine: wine. My sweet, sweet wine. With blood pressure at 120/72 and most days being fairly cognitive, I think it’s working just fine.

When I visit my mother in September, we’ll share our low blood pressure and improved cognitive function over some stimulating conversation. She with a chocolate bar; me with a glass of red wine. Now that’s sweet.

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live out loud

We’re thinking something in bomb-shelter chic

by Lorin Michel Sunday, August 19, 2012 10:14 PM

One of our new favorite things is the Houzz app on the iPad. We can spend hours with it, just surfing through its over 634,000 photos of all things house related, from exteriors and landscapes to porches and patios to interior wall and floor treatments, fireplaces, bedrooms, bathrooms, kitchens, media rooms and wine cellars. We have started a folder for our favorites. At this point we have at least one hundred photos cataloged with notes as to why we find them so fascinating. Occasionally we also scroll through our folder to see if there’s a pattern emerging. There is and it’s mostly one of clean lines and modern designs. Except for the wine cellars.

It will probably come as no surprise to you, dear readers, that the majority of our photos are of wine cellars. Many are fairly straight-forward; most are not modern but lean more toward traditional. The racks are often identical save for the color of the wood stain and placement, depending on the size and shape of the cellar. Most have tile floors, some also have tiled walls. We came across one today that had stucco for walls and liked that very much. It would add great texture and might actually serve to make our eventual cellar more cellar-like, more cave-like.

Some cellars are created by using otherwise wasted spaces, like putting something underneath a staircase. Our current cellar, if it can be called that, is under our stairs. Kevin built the small room that’s more like a closet in unused and thus wasted space. He stuffed insulation in between the wall studs, sealed them with moisture-resistant plastic and used thin plywood to create walls. The front of the closet is about five feet high and it slopes down as the stairs above it ascend up to the second floor. The solid door to the room is at least two inches thick. He built wine racks inside, on both sides of the door. In the back there is space for several cases that we leave in the boxes. The room holds about 300 + bottles, all kept at a balmy and constant 58º, the best temperature for storing red wine.

Many of the photos we saw today do something similar. Some are visible to the world, and show off the wine through a glass door. Some become little circular caves with stone encasings. There are cellars that spiral down into a seemingly finished hole beneath the house; some are actually in a cellar, or basement. Others are off of a game room; some are near the kitchen or dining room. When we eventually build our house in Tucson, our wine cellar will be off the dining room, and we’re obsessed with how it will look.

The space is 13’ X 7’ and will hold up to 2,000 bottles. The floor will be the same tile that flows through the house, big and ceramic. The interior will have racks. Whether they’re wood racks or perhaps something a little more modern, like steel rods suspended vertically from the ceiling with wooden pieces placed horizontally to actually hold each bottle. We’d like the walls to be textured. We’ve looked at paint, which is always an option, more tile, the aforementioned stucco, or some combination thereof. But there’s another idea that presented itself this morning as we browsed through Houzz. We’re calling it bomb-shelter chic.

The exterior of the house will be stucco with some additional stonework for texture. Mike, our architect, wants to bring the stone into the house, pulling through the motif in order to keep the house even more fluid. We’ve talked about putting the same stone on the wall of the fireplace in the great room as well as the outdoor fireplace and the outdoor kitchen. Today, we wondered about also bringing the stone in on the wall just inside the entry way, in the dining room, then having the stone taper off so that it looks unfinished in a highly finished and on-purpose way. This wall is where the door to our cellar will be. The doorframe for the arched door will be inset and house, most-likely, a solid door, maybe one with a window to allow the exterior world to look in and the interior world to look out.

We’re thinking this could be very interesting, very chic, especially if the interior looks a bit like a cave. As far as bomb shelters go, this is one we would gladly spend time in until it was safe.

Or until we ran out of wine. To run out of wine would be oh-so shabby (chic). 

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Things I've learned

by Lorin Michel Sunday, May 13, 2012 11:01 PM

On this mother’s day, I’m celebrating some of what I’ve learned as a daughter, as a mother and as a friend, in no particular order. These are the things that make me who I am, that make me happy, that make me sad, that make me alive. I know there are more things I’ve learned; I know that in many ways I’ve just begun to learn. Every day is an adventure and a new opportunity, a new lesson, a new joy and sometimes sorrow. But it’s all part of life and love. So here are some of the things that come to mind as I sit here at the kitchen table on this Sunday.

To never run with scissors, and when handing scissors or knives to another, to do so with the pointy end facing in, not out.

To treat people with respect and to follow the golden rule. I’m not religious but do unto others as you would have others do unto you seems like a no-brainer.

To not swim immediately after eating because I might get a cramp, something thoroughly debunked but old habits stick.

That money doesn’t grow on trees and that leaving the door open in the middle of winter evidently provides warmth for those outside. That I wasn’t, in fact, born in a barn.

How to properly set a table for a dinner party, and to truly enjoy the effect.

How to make meatballs and tomato sauce; how to make a pan of lasagna. How to eat at a restaurant and re-invent the meal at home by knowing what certain spices taste like.

That cheap red wine gives you a headache, and that a car with a great stereo system playing great music sounds great even and especially with the sunroof open.

That people really shouldn’t get married until they’re in their 30s because none of us really become the people we are meant to be until we leave our 20s behind.

That raising a child takes more than simply giving birth to him; that loving and caring and supporting and nurturing and teaching has nothing to do with biology. That when you live with people long enough, they start to look a like.

That dog is my co-pilot.

To always keep the car’s gas tank as close to half as possible, as often as possible, just in case.

That The West Wing is still one of the best television shows to ever air.

That turkey bacon is almost as good as regular and better for you, especially when served with a lovely omelet stuffed with mushrooms, broccoli, and three different types of cheese.

To take care of my knees and hips, and that you should always have a big supply of Motrin, just in case.

That red wine goes with just about everything but pancakes.

That good sneakers are essential for good footwork.

To call my mother as often as possible and to accept that sometimes she really does know best. But not always.

That love actually makes the world go round and that politics is the opposite of love.

That hypocrites abound but to cut them a little slack for they know not how ignorant they are.

That sisters rock and best girlfriends are required, and that dogs are the greatest creatures to walk the planet.

That I miss my dog every single minute of every single day, even when I’m sleeping, but I also know that he had a good life with us, a long life, and a happy life. Still…

To err on the side of positive rather than negative; to believe that everything happens for a reason even if the reason doesn’t readily present itself; that everything happens when it’s supposed to; and that gut instincts should always be trusted.

That I am mostly happy and sometimes sad and often stressed and that all of those things and more are what it means to be alive and living it out loud every day.

That there is always something worth celebrating, even on the darkest of days.

That I love and am loved, and that on this Sunday, this mother’s day, this May 13, is the start of something very possible and even probable: another day and another chance to enjoy this life. Cheers.

In which Lorin discovers her best reason yet to drink wine

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, April 25, 2012 10:26 PM

I was doing a little reading today when I was supposed to be doing a little writing. This happens often when I’m tired. I can spend hours not writing. I can find any number of reasons to continue not writing. I start laundry, I make phone calls, I surf the ‘net. I send out emails that do entail some writing but it’s minimal allowing me to get through them fairly easily, though each one takes me longer than it otherwise would. At 1:30, the doorbell rang. Usually my first thought is: go away. If someone is ringing the doorbell it usually means they want to either sell me something (religion; magazines; girl scout cookies) or want to sell something for me (real estate agents who want me to list my house). Either way, I’m not buying and I’m not selling.

When Maguire was alive, the doorbell used to be cause for not-wanted sales people to run away quickly. Nothing says go away better than an 80 pound dog bounding to the door, feet flying in all directions, ears fully forward, tail straight out, fur standing straight up, seen through the window, barking his fool head off. I used to stand at the top of stairs and laugh as the bell-ringing offender scurried off. Even in his vintage puppy days, he would still amble toward the door, nothing really flying, but ears still fully forward, fur standing somewhat up, barking his deeper, wisdom-filled, get-off-my-lawn bark. People were still intimidated but not always as scared.

Today’s ringing doorbell only brought me to the door. I wasn’t running with limbs flying, though my ears were somewhat alert. My hair wasn’t standing straight up and my tail – well, let’s just leave my tail out of this. Also, no barking. The only reason I even ambled, and I did amble, to the door rather than ignore it entirely was because I needed a break from all of my not-writing, and I knew it was the delivery guy from the California Wine Club. Each month we get a delivery from the club, red wines from many boutique wineries, usually in the state but always from the west. They come right to the door, announced by the doorbell. The previous day, they are announced by an email that says to expect the shipment. This is good because one has to sign when one gets a wine delivery.

I signed my name, took the box, bid the delivery dude adieu, or hasta la vista, and ambled to the kitchen to open it up and see what delectable delights awaited my palette. It was wine from Tobin James of Paso Robles. Since we only get red, we got four bottles of Titan Hills Fiasco, a reserve red wine from 2008. It’s a blend of Syrah (55%), Zinfandel (25%) and Barbera (20%). I have no doubt we’ll be trying it shortly.

Since I needed to get back to my non-writing, I grabbed the newsletter that always accompanies each shipment, and headed upstairs. It’s called Uncorked, and its main story was “It’s a party in your glass at Tobin James Cellars.” I settled back into my desk chair and started flipping through, stopping when I found an article about the health benefits of moderate wine consumption. Turns out they are numerous. For instance, 1,379 people in an Icelandic study who drank moderately were 32% less likely to get cataracts. In the European Journal of Neurology, Belgian researchers posted their study of 1,431 people with multiple sclerosis and their findings that the ones who enjoyed wine also enjoyed less inflammation.

Wine, according to the University of Spain, can help keep you skinny, or at least “lower the risk of obesity.” It can protect the body against some cancers, due to the phenolic compounds, or antibacterials. It can also reduce the chance of stroke.

But the biggest news I found was this, and I quote: “There are major findings like reduced mortality for moderate drinkers…” If I drink wine my chances of mortality are reduced. Pause for effect.

I won’t die if I drink wine. If that’s not cause for celebration, I don’t know what it is.

Honey? Pour me a glass.

The grapes of rath

by Lorin Michel Friday, March 23, 2012 11:18 PM

Some days I have subjects that offer themselves up for posting. Some days, it’s easy. Other days, not so much. And then there are days when a fun play on words or a headline pops into my brain absolutely unannounced and unsolicited and I am left with the need to craft a post around it. With that in mind, dear readers, welcome to today’s post.

Of course, the obvious reference is to the great depression era novel written by John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath, which is decidedly not cheery and not at all celebratory. It’s been quite some time since I read it (and truth be told, I’m not a huge Steinbeck fan), but if I remember correctly, it was about the struggle between the powerful and the powerless. The Joads, led by Tom Joad, were a poor family driven from their home by drought and the dust bowl and headed to California, the land of sunshine, honey and grapes, at least in the northern part.

Evidently the title has some roots in The Battle Hymm of the Republic by Julia Ward Howe, as in “Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord: He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored....”

Those lyrics reference a passage in Revelation, an apocalyptic appeal to divine justice and deliverance from oppression, which seems accurate considering the subject matter of the novel. Here’s the passage: “And the angel thrust his sickle into the earth, and gathered the vine of the earth, and cast it into the great winepress of the wrath of God.” Then there’s more about blood and horses and a thousand and six hundred furlongs, none of which did I like nor understand.

Still, notice the vines and winepress reference. It’s about grapes.

The novel itself uses the phrase at the end of chapter 25 when Steinbeck is writing about the deliberate destruction of food in order for the merchants to keep the price high: “… and in the eyes of the hungry there is a growing wrath. In the souls of the people the grapes of wrath are filling and growing heavy, growing heavy for the vintage.”

It’s all very solemn stuff.

But what of the grapes of rath? I wondered if it could have the same cyclical meaning. And is my wont, I decided to do a bit of research. Rath, it seems, is from Middle English, which is not to be confused with Middle Earth and The Lord of the Rings. Rath in its most archaic meaning is used to describe growing, blooming or ripening early in the year or season. I can see how grapes might be part of that process. This was making me believe that the rath in grapes of really does have to do with grapes and not the metaphor of grapes.

I dug a little deeper.

In Irish history, the word rath was used to describe a circular enclosure surrounded by an earthen wall. A winery perhaps? The description goes on to say that the enclosure was often a dwelling and a stronghold in former times.

The Irish poet William Butler Yeats, a personal favorite of mine, wrote in The Wanderings of Oisin:  “Much wondering to see upon all hands, of wattles and woodwork made, Your bell-mounted churches, and guardless the sacred cairn and the rath, And a small and a feeble populace stopping with mattock and space, Or weeding or ploughing with faces a-shining with much-toil wet; While in this place and that place, with bodies unglorious, their chieftains stood.”

Bruce Springsteen released an album in 1995 entitled The Ghost of Tom Joad. The title track as well as most of the album sought to draw comparisons between the dust bowl, which drove people like the Joads west, and modern society. It’s also not very cheery, though Springsteen remains another personal favorite of mine because of his storytelling. In my musically uneducated mind, his storytelling is what makes him the star that he is. That and the late Clarence Clemmons. Alas, that’s best saved for another blog post.

So to recap, the grapes of wrath is a struggle for equality. The grapes of rath could be the fruits grown within the confines of an earthen wall. I can’t help but wonder if the grapes of rath were offered instead of the grapes of wrath if we wouldn’t all be much happier.

Something to think about on this quiet afternoon. 

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live out loud

The perfect couple

by Lorin Michel Thursday, March 1, 2012 11:26 PM

I believe there are two types of people in the world: those who like sweets and those who like salt. Yes, a sweets person has been known to eat a potato chip now and again and a salt person will occasionally indulge in something sweet. Though when they reach for their treat of choice, one goes for a donut and the other to the peanuts.

I’m a salt person. I like some sweets but I don’t gravitate toward them. If there were two bowls on a table, one filled with potato chips and the other with M & Ms, I’d go for the chips though after I might have an M just to curb the salt. I do the same when I have a meal with garlic and being of partial Italian descent, I have meals with garlic quite a bit.

I’ve never truly understood the “need” for chocolate. I sometimes like it but if I never had it again, I’d probably be just fine. Correction: I would be just fine. Except when there’s a really heavy red wine involved. There’s something about the velvety feel of a syrah on the tongue. It’s inky in color, thick and luscious; a meal unto itself. And when you drink it, it is a party. A really good one like a Black Bear Block Syrah or Mesa Reserve Syrah, both 2007, from Zaca Mesa, doesn’t even require food. In fact, food could ruin the purity of the bouquet, the intoxication of the taste, the wonder of the finish. Food however, does not extend to chocolate. A heavy red wine, a syrah or a petite syrah, even a port, needs a beautiful dark chocolate morsel to complement it.

Here’s why: Chocolate actually has very intense flavors that range from sweet to bitter to acidic to fruity. Much like wine. And they are the perfect companion to each other.

When we were in Paso Robles two weeks ago, we went to several places that served a Port with dark chocolate. It was a party in the mouth. It was both a bitter alternative to the sweet and a sweet alternative to the bitter, which makes perfect sense since the darker the chocolate, the more likely it will be to taste wonderfully good with the red wine. Darker chocolate with deep-roasted flavors are ideal with wines that are also dark and toasty. The general rule is that lighter chocolates (40 – 50% cocoa) should be with lighter wines and darker chocolates (75 – 90%) should be with darker wines.

Like the way grapes are nurtured according to regions, encouraging distinct flavors to characterize a wine, so too are chocolates associated with the regions they come from. The soil, air and water of a region all make for a difference in flavor. The type of cocoa bean, as well as how its dried and processed, has an effect on its taste. Grapes are aged in oak and the type of oak and how long it’s aged have an effect on its flavor.

Wine and chocolate may be the perfect couple. They both symbolize love and romance. Romantic dinners often involve wine; chocolate too is part of the equation.

We’ve taken to having Nestle Dark Chocolate Morsels with our wine. It’s not the best chocolate but it does the job, especially at the end of a long day when romance is in short supply. But this perfect couple still likes the perfect coupling of dark chocolate and dark red wine. The special combination of taste makes us feel equally special.

So much for being salty.

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live out loud

The year past, the weekend this. What living it out loud means.

by Lorin Michel Sunday, February 19, 2012 10:56 PM

It’s Sunday night. I’m sitting on my couch in front of the fire, my feet slippered, my dog slumbering, my husband next to me, a glass of wine within reach. I’m tired but sated. I am celebrating the quiet even as I embrace the last few days of joyous chaos, days that began ordinarily enough with work and the thought of spending time with friends and progressed quickly into a grand surprise that included even more friends. It seems that Bobbi had the idea to invite my family and my Pam to celebrate my birthday in December. The timing wasn’t good though with it being the holidays and people planning for parties, being with family, enjoying the season. Kevin then built from the idea and thought: February. Wine tasting. We’ll make it a party, with surprise guests; we’ll celebrate.

Wine tasting: Roy, me, Bobbi, John, Pam

Celebrate we did, from the moment we walked into the house in Paso, a rented ranch with several levels built atop a hill and nestled into the trees. It was surreal. Roy and Bobbi meeting us outside; Pam and John sitting at the bar inside; Kevin behind me. And me, surprised, thrilled, apprehensive, amazed, ready.

We introduced Pam and John to the wonders of wine tasting, to the swirl, sip, swallow involved in the art. Then they went off to San Simeon to visit the castle that William Randolph Hearst built while Roy and Bobbi and Kevin and I went to taste more. You do have to build up a tolerance, stamina. It’s exhausting; hard work. I kid.

We made dinner, we drank more wine. We played a game called Catch Phrase, an absolute riot. We were all yelling, high-fiving, laughing, swearing, stomping our feet, hitting the table, raising another glass. We talked well into the night, sharing stories, bonding all over again. It was amazing.

Me and Bobbi

I have come to a number of realizations in the last year, the strongest of which is that I am blessed with the people in my life. My husband, my family, my friends. Perhaps it’s not so much of a realization as an embrace of a simple fact: I am loved. It’s an incredible feeling, a security. It fills my heart and makes my life a good place to live.   

One year ago today I started a little project called Live it Out Loud. The idea: to find one thing to celebrate, to find joy in, every day. From the simple to the sometimes profound and unexpected, I have done that. It has become a real cause for me, one I have come to cherish. Each day I look forward to writing my post.

My inspiration came from Bobbi’s late sister Betsy, a woman who succumbed to cancer about a year and a half ago at the age of 42. She had fought for about twenty years, nearly half of her life, always with an amazing, positive attitude, and her mantra from Emile Zola: “if you ask me what I came to do I will tell you. I came to live life out loud.”

Betsy died on September 5, 2010. I decided on February 19, 2011 to also live my life out loud, with little nuggets from what are mostly just ordinary daily experiences. A walk with my husband, a brightly lit moon, a piece of music. Friends, family, my dog. My life is rich and wondrous. Writing this blog allows me to remember that – to celebrate that – every day.

What began as a possibility has evolved into a reality. From the sadness of Betsy’s loss comes the celebration of life and all of its pleasures. I hope she would approve. I think she would.

Live it out loud, always and forever.

My peeps in Paso

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live out loud

The first day in Paso Robles with friends

by Lorin Michel Saturday, February 18, 2012 12:41 AM

Day one. Wine tasting in Paso. As an extension of my birthday, we are now in Paso Robles, first time ever. We’ve been wanting to come for some time, but for whatever reason, we’ve never managed to drive the slightly over three hours to get here. Kevin and Bobbi made the decision to come on my actual birthday in December. Paso. February.

The view from the house

To pick up where I left off last night, Pam and her husband are here. I still can’t quite believe it. As I type this, she’s sitting on the couch with a laptop, checking her email, listening to my husband talk about wine, discussing the intricacies of making wine, segueing into some football talk with Mason. It’s been so long since we spent any time together, and yet, it’s easy. Comfortable. There are a lot of people around so we haven’t been able to just sit and chat, but that’s not what this trip is about. This trip is about all of us, hanging out, tasting wine, relaxing, eating good home cooked food, listening to music. Relaxing.

The six of us – Kevin and I, Roy and Bobbi, and Pam and John – started the day as most people do, with much coffee. Then we piled into the cars, and off we went to begin. We started at Niner, which looks like a Spanish style mission, big flat stones and high windows. Inside, vaulted ceilings with beams, a tasting counter in the center, an enormous fireplace on the side. In the back room, a kitchen filled with industrial stainless steel equipment, the tables ready for a Mardi Gras party tomorrow night where they’ll serve jambalaya.

In the hills was a heart-shaped grove of trees, nestled between two converging hillsides, dormant grape vines on either side.

Inside Niner

We wound our way to Midnight Cellars, where we were greeted by a beautiful Maine Coon cat named Chardonnay who followed us inside and proceeded to sleep on the purses that Bobbi and Pam had placed on the floor in front of the bar. We were the only ones there and our pourer spent a lot of time with us, pouring more than was on the tasting menu. At L’Aventure, we tasted four wines, all made by a French wine maker in a Bordeaux and Rhone style. They were great. Treana Hope was next. Also quiet, largely because it was a Friday and Friday’s are not huge tasting days on an obscure day in February. It will be busier tomorrow. It being so quiet today meant that we could hang at the tasting bars longer than we might have otherwise because there was no hurry for us to leave, time to taste and talk and learn about how each winery makes wine. We chatted with the pourer and then moved outside to sit in the sun for a few minutes, in slotted rocking chairs made of teak, relaxing, basking, enjoying the wonder of the day and the break from reality.

The Model A

Last stop, a hilltop winery with a view that gazed across the valley, clear and crisp. Calcareous. The sun was still high enough that the air was warm. We stood outside, all of us, with our wine glasses. A chocolate lab was playing in the grass. Several other couples were sipping their taste at an outdoor table. A Model A truck in amazing condition was parked near the barn awaiting its cargo.

The day was getting late. We were all tired and incredibly lazy. A day of wine tasting will do that.

We headed back to the house in the hills, the house with no cell service, no high-speed internet, but lots of wine, lots of good food, amazing friends.

Mason is cooking tonight. He’s in the kitchen trying to find things to cook with. He’s making hot pastrami sandwiches. I’m hungry already. Bobbi is taking a nap. Roy is looking through the photos he took today. Kevin is sitting at the bar, watching Mason cook, having another glass of wine. I’m writing.

It’s a lovely night after a lovelier day. Tomorrow will be another. I hope we’ll be up to it. After all, wine tasting is hard work, and the vines are leading the way.

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live out loud

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