Friday, December 31, 2021

10 New Year's Resolutions For My Readers

Happy New Year's Eve and I expect most of the celebrations tonight will be more low key than usual, especially considering the pandemic which is surging once again. Hopefully, you spend this holiday safely, and that doesn't preclude drinking some type of delicious Sparkling Wine, from Champagne to Crémant d'Alsace, Cava to Franciacorta, or something Sparkling from a U.S. producer. It's my fervent wish that this New Year is better for all of us, in so many ways, than 2021. 

This is also the time when many people will ponder the conduct of their lives and choose to make Resolutions, the things they want to do, or not do, to make their lives better in the New Year. Maybe you want to give up smoking or lose weight, maybe you want to start going to a gym regularly or save more money. Unfortunately, many people will break their resolutions after only a short time, within less than a month, so numerous people will choose not to make a resolution, figuring they won't follow it anyways.

As I've done for the last several years, I want to offer some alternative suggestions for resolutions, all connected to food and drink. Rather than deal in absolutes, or exact measurements, I merely hope that you choose to do your best to follow these suggested resolutions with the simple goal of doing better than you did last year. I don't expect anyone to follow these resolutions all the time. Please just do your best. I think you might find this easier to do than a more specific resolution which is an either/or proposition. Seek continued forward progress in these ten resolutions throughout the entire year.

1) Resolve to eat & drink healthier
This encompasses so much, such as eating less calories, consuming less sugar, and choosing items that have less unwanted chemicals. Take small steps in your approach rather than diving into a major change. The smaller steps won't seem as burdensome and it will make it easier to take another small step later on. And even small changes can bring about positive changes, especially when they accumulate over time. We all would benefit from eating and drinking healthier and it will also help our environment and economy.

2) Resolve to consume more local food & drink
Local products can help the environment, the local economy and benefit the local community. Plus, many of those local products can be healthier than mass produced, overly processed foods that might come from thousands of miles away. Eating more local seafood is such a great idea, for many reasons, from bettering your health to helping the local fishing industry. This resolution also includes drinking local wines, as every state now produces wine, and you might be surprised by the quality of some of that local wine. Not all local food and drink is delicious or good for the environment, so do some research to find out the best.

3) Resolve to eat more seafood, especially domestic
Seafood can be extremely healthy for you, especially those fish rich in Omega-3s, so it is an excellent choice for dinner. Seafood is also delicious, versatile and often easy to prepare. Yes, it can be more expensive, but it is well worth the added cost, and there are ways to get more value in your seafood purchases. Buying more domestic seafood will help our economy, rather than buying so much imported seafood. Eating more seafood can be one of the healthiest life changes you ever make. It has scientifically been proven that consuming 26 pounds of seafood annually will reduce your chances of heart disease by 36%. An easy and delicious resolution.

4) Resolve to expand your drink horizons
Don't keep drinking the same old stuff all the time. There are so many wonderful beverages out there to taste, and you might find some new favorites. Break out of your rut and endeavor to try something new on a regular basis. If you mainly drink Chardonnay, venture out and try some other white wines, such as Gruner Veltliner, Trebbiano or Albarino. Try Sherry, Sake, Japanese Whisky, Mezcal, Franciacorta, Baijiu, and other under-appreciated beverages. Taste it all, constantly trying new beverages, and continue drinking those you enjoy.

5) Resolve to expand your food horizons
In a similar vein, don't keep eating the same old stuff all the time. There are so many wonderful foods out there to taste, to see if you can find some new favorites. Break out of your rut and endeavor to try something new on a regular basis. Try some less common meats, from rabbit to wild boar, or maybe something even more unusual like insects or guinea pig. Seek out cuisines that are new to you, and look for new ingredients you can try out in your own kitchen. Taste it all, constantly trying new foods, and continue eating what you enjoy

6) Resolve to cook more at home
Cooking at home is another way to benefit the environment, and it can be more economical than eating out all the time. It also gives you a better handle on exactly what you eat, so you can make the food as healthy as you desire. It can be fun too, if you cook with someone else, breaking the potential boredom of cooking alone. Be creative in what you cook, seek out new recipes, and share recipes with others.

7) Resolve not to be THAT jerk when you dine out
When you dine out at a restaurant, get take-out, or delivery, please be polite and show respect to everyone working at or for the restaurant. Don't fault the restaurants for legal restrictions they must follow. Don't scream about violations of your alleged "rights." Don't demand special treatment or threaten the restaurant just because you write reviews on some community website. Tip genrously, showing your servers gratitude for all their hard work. If you have a problem at a restaurant, speak to the management and see if they can resolve your issue. If you enjoy a restaurant, spread the word about your positive experience. Good restaurants can use, and deserve, all the help they can get, especially in these times. It's a very tough industry, and a very tough time, and consumers need to better understand its difficulties, and be more understanding of restaurant efforts.

8) Resolve to give more to fight hunger
Despite the wealth of the U.S., there are still far too many people in our country who can't afford to eat properly. Hunger is a major problem in our country, as well as all across the world, and one that we can do something about. Give food or money to local food banks, national organizations, or any other charity that is trying to combat this problem. Those of us without food security issues can all help out, in whatever way we are capable.

9) Resolve not to waste as much food
It is said that up to 40% of our food ends up as waste, and that is a nearly unbelievable statistic. Food waste can lead to higher food prices and cause more environmental damage. Do your part to help reduce food waste. Don't make as much food as normal when making a meal so you don't have leftovers in the first place. As your mother probably once said to you, finish everything on your plate. Use any leftovers to make additional meals.

10) Resolve not to drink & drive
As I have said time and time again, do not drive if you are impaired at all by alcohol. It is much too dangerous and you could injure or kill yourself or someone else. Even if you don't get in an accident, you could be arrested and that comes with its own high costs. It isn't worth doing it, so please just don't drink and drive. Take a Uber, taxi, or catch a ride with someone else.

Is there anything I missed?

Tuesday, December 28, 2021

Chinese Food For New Year's Eve: The Origins

With New Year's Eve coming this Friday, many people are making plans to dine at Chinese restaurants that night, or order Chinese take-out. It's definitely the busiest night of the year for Chinese restaurants, especially for take-out, and they often have to hire more staff to handle all of the business. Chinese food on New Year's Eve is a lengthy tradition in Massachusetts, as well as a few other states, but when did this tradition begin? 

There doesn't appear to be any consensus on the origins of this tradition but an exploration of its history can enlighten us to sone degree. The tradition is probably older than many believe, and its roots definitely extend even further back in time, over 100 years. 
Around 1919, there were roughly a dozen or so Chinese restaurants in Boston, and this was also the first time one of them advertised that they were hosting a New Year's Eve celebration. The Boston Globe, December 28, 1919, printed an advertisement for Grand Garden, at 660 Washington Street, which was having a New Year's Eve Celebration with "Cabaret--Jazz Orchestra." I'll note that this is actually a Chinese & American restaurant, although the ad doesn't mention "Chinese" at all. 

The Grand Garden was not the only Chinese restaurant celebrating New Year's Eve in 1919. The Boston Herald, December 31, 1919, had ads for three other Chinese restaurants, including The Hankow, Oriental and Honk Kong. The Hankow had a New Year's Celebration dinner, for $1.50, and the ad presented the extensive menu, although much of the menu was American cuisine. 

The Oriental had a New Year's Eve celebration, with a $2 cover, and also offered a New Year's Dinner for $2.00, although the menu wasn't mentioned.

The Hong Kong also offered a Supper for New Year's Eve and a Dinner for New Year's Day, for $1.50. 
So, we can see that going to a Chinese restaurant for New Year's Eve extends back over 100 years. 

In 1920, other Chinese restaurants also offered New Year's Eve celebrations. The Boston Globe, December 30, 1920, had ads for the Grand Garden, The King, Joy Yong, Royal; and the Shanghai. The Grand Garden was open until 2am for their New Year's Eve celebration, and this ad mentioned they served American and Chinese cuisine. 

This ad was for three Chinese restaurants, The King, Joy Yong, and Royal, which celebrated New Year's Eve and New Year's Day, offering food, favors and music. The ad stated, "Begin the Year Right. Intoxicate Only with Delicious Viands."

The Shanghai's ad mentioned they would have New Year's Eve souvenirs, favors and cabaret. 

The Boston Herald, December 31, 1920, also had an ad for the Court Restaurant which offered a New Year's Eve Celebration, with souvenirs, favors, music and cabaret. They also had specials for New Year's Day. 

With the advent of Prohibition and later World War 2, New Year's Eve celebrations became much less frequent and ads for Chinese restaurants celebrating the holiday vanished. They started to return during the 1950s, and it was this period when take-out Chinese food for this holiday also saw its major growth, with the adoption of the "oyster pail," the ubiquitous Chinese take-out container we all now know and love. The familiar white box, with the metal handle, had been invented over 50 years before, but it was during the 1950s that Chinese restaurants started using it. 

The Boston Daily Record, December 24, 1951, printed an ad for The Cathay House, noting ”Special Containers for Food Taken Out.”  The Boston Daily Record, December 15, 1952, presented an ad for the House of Wong, and also noted, “Special container for food to be taken out.” Take-out Chinese food had been offered at least as far back as 1916, but the oyster pail made it much easier, helping to keep the food warm. 

The Patriot Ledger, December 29, 1950, printed an ad for King Joy’s China Restaurant in Quincy, noting it was hosting a New Year’s Eve celebration, offering “Something different for your home parties” although it doesn’t specifically mention take-out. 

The Boston American, December 29, 1952, had an ad for the House of Wong, with an open house on  New Year’s Eve, noting it was open until early hours. 

The Patriot Ledger, December 31, 1953, presented another ad for King Joy’s China Restaurant, including their “Chinese Party Table,” available from 9pm-1am, for New Year's Eve. The ad also stated you could get orders for home parties.  

The Boston Globe, December 20, 1958, noted several Chinese restaurants which were offering New Year's Eve specials. This included the South Seas (which recently opened), the China House (on Boylston St.) and the Cathay House (on Beach St.).

The Boston Globe, December 22, 1958, printed an ad for the South Seas, a restaurant-lounge, at 21 Harrison Ave, which was accepting New Year’s Eve reservations.

The Boston Globe, December 29, 1959, presented an ad for Gamsum, noting it's open house for New Year’s Eve, and that take out orders were available too. 

As the 1960s began, New Year's Eve celebrations at Chinese restaurants, along with take-out, became even more popular. The Boston Globe, December 26, 1960, published an article on “Boston’s Famed Eating Spots Offer Festive Entertainment for Double New Year Galas.” New Year's Eve was on Saturday and celebrations will also being held on Sunday evening, January 1. However, there was a curfew of midnight on New Year's Eve, which meant that all drinking and entertainment had to stop at midnight although guests could remain around until 1am.

The article also mentioned that  “China Pearl, a new Chinese dine and dance spot, will also have its first party.” The article continued, “China House, Boylston’s famous spot, will hold open house also.” 

Ads for China Pearl and China House are presented above, noting their celebrations and also offering take-out for the holiday.

The Boston Globe, December 31, 1960, printed an ad for China Sky in Dorchester, with New Year's Eve hours until 4am, and with take-out available.

The next year, there were positive changes in Boston. The Boston Globe, December 28, 1961, stated that places with entertainment could now stay open until 4am, and some of the Chinese restaurants celebrating New Year's Eve included China House, China Pearl and Gamsum Restaurant

In subsequent years, Chinese food on New Year's Eve became even more and more popular. It makes for great party food, as you can order a multitude of dishes and everyone can sample a little bit of each dish. It's often very affordable, even when you order a large amount of food. It's delicious and most people like some type of Chinese food. It also has the force of tradition, so many people feel compelled to follow this long tradition over the years. 

Do you enjoy Chinese food for New Year's Eve? If so, dine-in or take-out? 

Monday, December 27, 2021

My Favorite Fiction of 2021: Lot of Book Recommendations

What were your favorite fiction books this year?

Back in December 2011, I started a series, Authors, Alcohol & Accolades, which asked some of my favorite authors about their preferred drinks, both alcoholic and nonalcoholic. There have been 11 editions of this column so far, with more coming in the future. The inspiration for this series is that I am a voracious reader, of both fiction and nonfiction, and I wanted to combine that interest with my love of food & drink. The series has proven popular and it has been fascinating to explore what authors enjoy drinking.

Each year, as an addendum to that series, I've been posting a list of my Favorite Fiction Books, including books of Science Fiction/Fantasy/Horror and Mystery/Crime/Thriller. During the past twelve months, I've read over 250 books, both fiction and non-fiction, which provides a large pool for my choices. Most of the books on these lists were published in 2021, though there are some exceptions which were published in prior years but which I didn't read until this past year.

Onto my Book Recommendations...

First, let me provide my Top Three Reads Of The Year, those three books which thoroughly impressed and engaged me, compelling and creative works which I'm sure to read again in the future. These exceptional books have my highest, and unqualified, recommendation. They are not listed in any specific order of preference.

Razorblade Tears 
by S.A. Cosby
Last year, Cosby's novel, Blacktop Wasteland, was one of my Top Three Reads Of The Year, and his latest book makes the list this year too. Once again, Cosby has crafted an intense and riveting thriller, a tale of revenge and so much more. Two ex-convicts, a white man and a black man, seek vengeance against the men who killed their married, gay sons. It's an exciting tale of fatherhood and prejudice, of death and redemption. It's also thought provoking and powerful, a worthy successor to Cosby's previous novel. I highly recommend you read both of Cosby's novels.

The Maleficent Seven 
by Cameron Johnston
What a fun, thrilling and more unique fantasy tale, where the villains take center stage to save the world. They must stage a last stand in a small town against a powerful enemy, although each villain has their own agenda as well. It's dark and humorous, intense and enthralling, bloody and bloodier. There's some cool twists and it will keep you on the edge of your seat from start to finish. It's a standalone novel although you'd wish there were more to come. 

The Thousand Crimes of Ming Tsu 
by Tom Lin
An excellent Western, with a Chinese assassin as the lead, it's a tale of rescue and vengeance, peopled with numerous colorful characters. It's great to see the diversity in this novel, and it's a thrilling ride, and would make for a great movie too. There's a threat of mysticism throughout the book which adds to its appeal. Western novels like this need much more attention. 


Second, let me provide a top ten list of my other Favorite SF/Fantasy/Horror Novels of 2021. Please note that these books are not in any specific order of preference. I've also added a top ten list of Honorable Mentions

The Liar of Red Valley by Walter Goodwater
Rovers by Richard Lange
The Children of Red Peak by Craig DiLouie
Absynthe by Brendan Bellecourt
Norylska Groans by Michael Fletcher & Clayton Snyder
We Shall Sing a Song Into The Deep by Andrew Kelly Stewart



Third, here are my top ten Favorite Mystery/Crime/Thriller Novels of 2021. From gritty noir to more high-tech thrillers, this books are exciting and riveting, sure to get your blood pumping and your heart racing. Again, these books are not in any specific order of preference.

Tricky by Josh Stallings
Lies We Bury by Elle Marr
Dark Sky (Joe Pickett #21) by C.J. Box 
The Next Wife by Kaira Rouda
Her Last Breath by Hilary Davidson
Billy Summers by Stephen King
Bullet Train by Kotaro Isaka 


Fourth, here are a few of my Favorite Anthologies, Novellas & Short Stories of 2021. These often seem to get ignored on many other "Best Of" lists but I believe they are definitely worthy of attention.
A Dead Djinn in Cairo by P. Djeli Clark
The Haunting of Tram Car 015 by P. Djeli Clark

All of the books on this list garner my earnest recommendations and you should check them out. They would make great holiday gifts for others, or even yourself. Please support an author, a small, independent business person, and buy more books. And if you read and enjoy a book, please leave a review of that book online and tell all your friends about it. The author would greatly appreciate your efforts. 

What were some of your favorite fictional books this year?

Friday, December 24, 2021

Merry Christmas & Happy Holidays To All

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to my family, friends, readers and everyone else!

May the glad tidings of this holiday season shine on you, your family and friends. Once again, due to the pandemic, our celebrations may be different, and likely more low key. We may still have smaller celebrations, with only close groups of family members. This is necessary to prevent the spread of Covid-19, and it is a small price to pay for the health of our loved ones. Please, please be safe this year.

This is one of my favorite times of year. It should be a joyous occasion, reveling in all of our blessings, for no matter what ills there may be, there still is much to appreciate. That appreciation deserves recognition and sharing, and not only during the holidays. Do not dwell on the negative but rather embrace all that is good in your life.

It is also a time for giving, for sharing with those less fortunate than us. Please donate as much as you can to your favorite charities, whether you give money, time or goods. Even small donations can make a significant impact. Think of more than just yourself at this time and throughout the year.

Make sure you have a safe holiday as well. Please, please, please don't drink and drive, and drive safely and cautiously. If you are going to drink, let someone else drive, or take a taxi, Uber or public transportation. Again, please do not drink and drive! I hope that everyone will remain around to celebrate the New Year and see what 2022 brings all of us.

Drink and dine with passion this holiday, as well as every day of the year! Passion is what gives our lives meaning, what drives us toward excellence. A life devoid of passion is empty and shallow, and desperately needs change. Seek out whatever makes you passionate and revel in its delights. And share your passion with others.

Happy Holidays!

Thursday, December 23, 2021

2021: Favorite Wine, Spirit, Sake & Drink-Related Items

What were some of my favorite Wine, Spirit, Sake & Drink-related related items of the past year?

As 2021 has arrived, it's time to reflect upon the past year, to remember and savor pleasant memories. I've already posted a few of my annual Favorite Lists, including My Favorite Restaurants, My Favorite Food-Related ItemsTop Ten Wines Under $20. and Top Ten Wines Over $20. It's time now to cover my Favorite Wine, Spirit, Sake and Drink-Related Items. . 

This is certainly not a complete list but it is more a sampling of compelling and memorable matters I have experienced and posted about over the past year. This is also a purely subjective list, based on my own preferences, and makes no claims about being the "best" of anything. But all of the items here have earned my strong recommendations and I hope you will enjoy them as well. For more wine related items, you can just search my blog posts for the past year.


Favorite Discount Wine Stores: Consumers always want bargains, excellent value wines which won't stretch their wallets. You can buy the cheap, mass-produced commercial wines which can be found in almost any wine store or, instead, you can seek out excellent, value wines which put to shame those cheap wines. Certain discount wine stores provide not only excellent prices but also an interesting selection and good service. I want to highlight two such stores which continue, year after year, to do an especially good job, places where I go to seek bargains: Bin Ends in Braintree & Needham, and Rapid Liquors in Stoneham. Shop at any of those stores and you won't be disappointed.

Favorite Wine Stores: This is a small list of wine stores which consistently impress me with their selection and service. Each shop is worthy of your patronage and wine lovers should make the effort to visit these places if you have not done so yet.
Malden Center Fine Wines in Malden
Lower Falls Wine Company in Newton Lower Falls
Wine-Sense in Andover
Wine Press in Brookline and Wine Press in the Fenway
Streetcar Wines in Jamaica Plain
Marty's Fine Wines in Newton
Croatian Premium Wine in Boston (Only an online store, but you can get their wines delivered to you, with a great selection of Croatian wines)

Favorite Vermont Wine Store: The Meditrina Wine & Cheese shop, in Chester, Vermont, is an excellent place with a very compelling beer and wine selection, and some gourmet foods. It's a small store, but there's plenty of food and drink available, filling the shelves floor to ceiling, and I bet you'll find plenty to tantalize you, including plenty of natural wines, small production wines, and other intriguing wines, They have wine at all price points and any wine lover will find much of interest. This well-curated selection would be impressive wherever it was located. The shop also conducts regular wine tastings. 

Favorite Restaurant Wine Lists: I want to highlight a few restaurants which this year offered some intriguing and excellent wine lists. 
     Krasi: With the second largest Greek wine list in the country, you'll find almost any type of Greek wine you could desire. There are so many excellent options that you might have difficulty selecting a bottle, but the sommelier and staff can help guide you through the intriguing list. Expand your palate and explore the wonders of Greek wine.
    Nightshade Noodle Bar: Their eclectic, well-curated wine list has primarily more natural wines from small producers. There's plenty of interesting options available, and the wines pair very well with their delicious cuisine. 
     Pammy's: Their wine list is mainly Italian but with some other unique wines, from places including Vermont, Oregon, Washington and California. Plenty of excellent options, including a number of Orange wines, and plenty of Nebbiolo as well. 

Favorite Cocktail Spots: 
     Committee: Their Ultra Crushable Retsina Cocktail impressed me this year. It's rare to find Retsina in a cocktail, and it was made with Stray Dog Wild Gin, Flower Tea and Lime. This cocktail was well balanced, tasty and refreshing, with subtle pine notes beside a dominant herbal melange, mild tea notes, and a touch of sour from the limes. Their Frozen Mastjito was also excellent, a creative and tasty frozen drink, perfect for summer. 
     Nightshade Noodle Bar: I enjoyed numerous tasty cocktails here, including the Nightshade Mai Tai,  Saigon Cigar Club, the Nha Trang Beach (with Mezcal), and Coconut Margarita. And on their dessert list, I loved the Thai Tea, a small Thai Tea Mai Tai. The cocktails are creative, well-balanced and delicious. 

Favorite Spirit Class: With the pandemic, there have been far fewer wine and spirit classes. However, I was able to attend A Baijiu Class with Derek Sandhaus. Baijiu is under-appreciated in the U.S. so it's cool to see at least a few people promoting it in the local area. Derek is personable, down to earth, passionate and very knowledgeable. We tasted four Baijiu and a Baijiu cocktail, while listening to all Derek had to teach us. Fun, tasty and informative. 

Favorite High-End Baijiu: The Luzhou Laojiao Guajiao National Cellar ($220/500ml) is produced in a very traditional manner, aged for at least 5 years in natural caves, and is 104 proof. The nose is complex, with a find blend of herbal and fruity notes, and on the palate it's equally complex. You'll find tropical and stone fruit flavors, complemented by herbal and peppery elements with a hint of anise. It's also silky smooth with a lengthy, pleasing finish, perfect for slowly sipping, enjoying each complex and delicious taste. Taste this Baijiu and I'm sure you'll become a Baijiu convert. 

Favorite Value Baijiu: For a less expensive choice, the Ming River Baijiu ($37.99) is an excellent option. It's made from locally harvested red sorghum grain and pure well water. It is fermented in a traditional mudpit, using naturally harvested yeast, and then distilled in small batches in a pot still. It is then commonly aged for up to two years before the final blending. On the nose, the Baijiu is fruity and appealing, without any aromas which would turn off someone. It isn't the off-putting aroma of which some people assume all Baijiu possess. When you taste it, there's an intriguing melange of flavors, with prominent tropical fruit flavors, especially some pineapple, with an undercurrent of anise and pepper and some floral notes. It possesses a lengthy finish, a mild sweetness, and there's an umami element as well. Well balanced and complex, this Baijiu is delicious on its own, but also is very versatile for cocktails.

Favorite Baijiu Cocktail: For World Baijiu Day, Sumiao Hunan Kitchen, in Cambridge, created the Peppermelon Baijiu cocktail. It ws made with Baijiu, fresh Watermelon juice, black pepper honey syrup, and lemon juice. It has a mild sweetness, a rich watermelon flavor, a subtle peppery kick and the Baijiu came out primarily on the finish. It was nicely balanced, perfect for the summer, and the components worked very well with the Baijiu. And the peppered piece of watermelon on the rim of the glass was a nice treat once the cocktail was gone.

Favorite Vermouth: Maybe the first modern Japanese version of Vermouth, the Oka Brand Japanese Bermutto is fascinating and delicious. It is made from a base of Junmai Sake, which is fortified with Kuma Shochu, a 100% rice Shochu, and has an 18% ABV. Four botanicals are added to it, including Yuzu, Kabosu, Sansho & Yomogi. Tasting it on its own, the Bermutto has a prominent yuzu/citrus aroma, with a subtle herbal accent, and on the palate, it is dry and the yuzu/citrus remains the main flavor, with hints of herbal notes and a mildly bitter finish from the Yomogi. That bitterness is much more restrained than the wormwood taste found in many other vermouths. This is excellent in cocktails.

Favorite Gin: After experiencing Stray Dog Wild Gin, a Greek gin, at Committee, I knew I needed to add it to my home bar. The gin is made with a number of wild-foraged botanicals as well as other ingredients, including sage, fennel seed, rosemary, mastiha, bay leaf, lemon, orange, cardamom, juniper, and coriander. They also use mountain spring water. It's hand-crafted in small batches using traditional copper pot stills. On the nose, there are definite notes of juniper, although it's more subdued than many other gins. You'll also find other herbal notes mixing with the juniper. On the palate, it's a smooth and compelling gin, with a wonderful melange of herbal and citrus flavors, where the juniper is but one aspect of the whole. It is well-balanced, with all of the ingredients working harmoniously together. Each sip seems to bring something different to your mouth, and it's easy to slowly sip a glass and savor its complexity.

Favorite Bouborn Cream: The Black Button Bespoke Bourbon Cream, made in New York, is made with their Bourbon, fresh farm cream, and a little caramel. It's absolutely delicious, with a rich, creamy mouthfeel and delicious and complex notes of cream, caramel, vanilla and spices. It has a nice freshness to it that some other cream liqueurs lack. This Bourbon Cream is going to appeal to many people, and is perfect on its own, although you could make cocktails with it as well. 

Favorite Canned Cocktail: Also from Black Button distillery, the CanBee Cocktails Bee's Knees is their first canned cocktail, using the Bee's Knees recipe that was likely invented during Prohibition. This canned cocktail is made with their own Citrus-Forward Gun, real lemon juice, and farm-fresh honey (made from their own bees), without any artificial flavors or colors. I found it to be light, refreshing and tasty. It wasn't overly sweet or sour, but possessed a nice balance of flavors, citrus and botanicals. And with its lower alcohol, you can enjoy a few on a nice summer day, at the beach, on a boat, etc. There's a light effervescence to the cocktail, and it would work well with food too, especially seafood. 

Favorite Cider: The Shacksbury Whistle-Pig Lo-Ball is a limited edition, a "barrel aged highball cider," at 4.8% ABV, which was aged in WhistlePig's Vermont white oak barrels that were used to age their FarmStock whiskey. The Lo-Ball is crisp and dry, quite refreshing, and possesses a rich apple flavor complemented with spicy notes and a subtle hint of whiskey. It was well balanced, with a pleasing finish, and I was extremely glad that I bought it. With its low alcohol content, you can easily have a few cans in a fine summer day, or a crisp autumn afternoon. It is certainly delicious on its own, but could also pair well with a variety of foods.

Favorite Wine/Spirit/Cocktail Histories: This year, I wrote four fascinating historical articles which touched on spirits and/or cocktails. 

Favorite Honjozo Sake: The Yuki Otoko "Yeti" Honjozo  was made with Gohyakumangoku and Koishibuki rice, polished down to 65%, a bit more than what is required to be a Honjozo. The Sake also has a 15.5% ABV, a SMV +8, and an Acidity of 1.2. It is said to be "Dry, light and clean like melting snow."It also can be served chilled, warmed, or at room temperature. I found it to be a clean and refreshing Sake, with a savory kick of umami. Subtle melon and citrus flavors with the umami taking center stage. This would be excellent for seafood, mushrooms, or truffle dishes. The umami of the Sake makes it even more food friendly. Or you can just enjoy this Sake on its own, slowly sipped and enjoyed.

Favorite Sake Pairing: Cheese and Sake isn't a traditional pairing, but it works very well, with different Sakes pairing well with a variety of different cheeses. This past year, I tried Pairing Feta & Sake: Greece Meets Japan. I had three different Feta cheeses, including the Dodoni (a sheep's milk, from the southern region of Greece), Arahova Barrel (a sheep's milk, barrel aged), and the Olympus (also sheep's milk). I also have two Sakes, the Koshi No Kanbai Sai "Blue River" Junmai Ginjo and  the Fukucho "Seaside" Junmai Sparkling Sake. It was a fun and enlightening tasting, and the Sparkling Sake was the most compelling Sake for the Feta. 

Favorite Sake Educational Resource: For some of the latest and most fascinating current information about Sake, you need to read the Sake Industry News by John Gauntner. Each twice-monthly issue contains numerous intriguing news articles, sure to interest all Sake lovers, and with information you would be hard pressed to find elsewhere. I've learned plenty from this newsletter and eagerly look forward to each new issue. There's not enough Sake news available out there, and Gauntner is filling a much-needed niche. If you're interested in Sake, you definitely should subscribe. 

What were some of your favorite Wine, Spirit, Sake & Drink-related items this year?

Wednesday, December 22, 2021

2021: Top Ten Wines Over $20

What were some of my favorite wines of the past year?

As 2021 has arrived, it's time to reflect upon the past year, to remember and savor pleasant memories. I've already posted a few of my annual Favorite Lists, including My Favorite Restaurants, My Favorite Food-Related Items, and Top Ten Wines Under $20. It's now time for my list of Top Ten Wines Over $20

This list includes wines that not only I enjoyed, but which I also found to be particularly compelling for various reasons. They might be especially delicious, something more unique or just excellent values for the price. They all stand out, for some particular reason, above the other wines that I've tasted this past year. 

This is a purely subjective list, based on my own preferences, and makes no claims about being the "best" wines out there. It is primarily the wines which spoke to me the loudest, even when they were subtle wines. These are all wines that I strongly recommend and which I believe many other wine lovers would also enjoy.

The wines are not listed in any particular order and each choice is linked to my more detailed prior review. All of these value wines are worth your consideration but please also note that the prices are approximations and the actual price may vary in your area. In addition, some of the wines might not be available in your local region, though you might be able to order them from the winery or an online store, dependent on your state's shipping laws. 


1) 2019 Ritosa Malvazija Istarska ($22)
This Croatian white wine, from the Istrian region, thoroughly impressed me. Made from 100% Malvazija Istarska, the wine has a 13% ABV, and was very aromatic, with pleasant floral and spice notes. My first sip brought a smile to my face. It was complex and compelling, with a wonderful melange of harmonious flavors. It was fresh and crisp, refreshing and satisfying with a moderately lengthy finish. On the palate, it was fruity (especially peach and pear) and floral, spicy and with a nice minerality. There was so much going on in this wine, and all of it was delicious. I could easily sip this on its own, relaxing outside on a warm summer day, but it would also be a fine accompaniment with seafood, light chicken dishes, and cheese. 

2) 2017 Quinta da Baseira Tinto Bom ($22)
This Portuguese wine is produced from 100% Tinta Nacional, also known as Vinhão or Sousao. The grapes for this wine are trod by foot in steel vats, and aged in stainless steel for about three years. With a 13% ABV, the wine is also unfined, unfiltered, and has no added So2. It is more of a natural wine, intended to show the terroir of the vineyard. On the nose, there were interesting red fruit aromas with a hint of earthiness. It was medium-bodied, with a medium-red color, less dark than expected, and on the palate it was light, crisp and refreshing, with a mild effervescence, and flavors of red and black berries, and an earthy undertone. It possessed an intriguing taste, complex and delicious, with a lengthy and pleasing finish. Simply delicious. Serve slightly chilled, and enjoy on its own or with anything grilled.

3) 2019 Les Vins Pirouettes Eros by Vincent ($25)
An "orange" wine from Alsace! This wine is a blend, of 20 year old grapes from a Biodynamic vineyard, of 40% Pinot Gris, 40% Riesling, and 20% Sylvaner. The grapes are fermented on the skins for about 25 days, and the pink color of the wine comes from the Pinot Gris, which is a pink-colored variety. The wine is also aged on the lees in large foudre for about eight months. On the nose, there's an intriguing aroma of spice, citrus, and apples, although there are hints of even more. And on the palate, there's a compelling and complex melange of flavors, such a joy in the mouth. It is primarily savory, with baking spices, pepper, black tea, and more, combined with a variety of fruits, from citrus to pineapple. It is crisp, dry, well-balanced and with a pleasing, lengthy finish. Each sip brings something a little different to your mouth, and this is a wine you can slowly savor and enjoy. 

4) 2016 Vina Skaramuca Plavac Mali Dingac ($24)
Another Croatian wine, this red is made from 100% Plavac Mali, organically grown, and made with natural yeasts. It is aged for 12 months in large 3000L barrels, aged for another 6 months in the bottle, and has a 14% ABV. and is in a bigger, bolder style. This wine tends more to richer, black fruit flavors, like plum and black cherry, with an ample spicy element, strong tannins, and a touch of earthiness. A lengthy finish, nicely balanced, and quite tasty. This is a wine to pair with hearty dishes, from steak to stews. Or some wild boar. 
I explored a number of Nova Scotian wines this year, and was pleased to find so many tasty wines. This Rosé is a blend of Pinot Meunier, L'Acadie Blanc and Frontenac Noir. The wine was fermented in stainless steel and has only an 11% ABV. The Rosé had a nice pale pink color with a delightful nose of red fruits and a touch of herbal accents. On the palate, it was crisp, dry and clean, with juicy red fruit flavors of strawberry, watermelon and peach, with subtle touches of herbs. It was refreshing and delicious, with a moderately long finish. It was tasty on its own, but would also pair well with a variety of foods. 

6) NV Blomidon Cremant ($28) 
Another Nova Scotian wine, this is from a winery from which I've enjoyed a number of their wines. This Crémant, produced in the Méthode Traditionnelle, is a blend of Seyval Blanc, L'Acadie Blanc, and Chardonnay. This sparkling wine was disgorged in the winter of 2020 and only has an 11% ABV. With such a low ABV, you can easily have a couple glasses without any worry. On the nose, the sparkling wine was aromatic with fresh apple and stone fruit notes. When I peruse the glass, it had plenty of tiny bubbles and a bright golden color. On the palate, it was delicious and delightful, being crisp, dry and creamy. It was refreshing, with flavors of apple and pear, and a touch of minerality. It has a very dry, pleasant and lengthy finish.

7) 2019 Blomidon Estate Baco Noir ($22)
This Nova Scotian red wine is made from 100% Baco Noir, but the winery's website lacks any details of its production process, although it seems like it has seen some aging in American oak and it only has a 12% ABV. The wine has a medium-red color with pleasing aromas of red and black fruit with a touch of spice. On the palate, it was smooth and juicy, with rich black and red fruits, including some cherry and blackberry, complemented by some vanilla and other spices. Mild tannins, good acidity, and a nice finish. A very tasty wine, it had nice character and complexity, and would be excellent on its own or paired with food. 

8) 2019 Bent Ridge Winery Contorto ($23)
And one more Nova Scotian wine! This red wine is produced from 100% Marquette, and unfortunately, details of the production process are not available on the winery's website. I suspect it has received some oak aging and it has a 13.5% ABV. On the nose, there are notes of black fruits and spice, and the wine has a rich, dark red color. On the palate, it has a relatively complex and tasty blend of flavors, including black cherry and black raspberry, with spice notes and a touch of vanilla. It's a bolder wine, yet the tannins are still restrained, and the wine is balanced, with good acidity and a pleasing finish. This is a wine probably best paired with food, and the back label suggests pasta as one possible pairing..

9) 2017 Sarris Vineyards "V is for Vostilidi" ($30) 
What a fascinating and unique Greek wine! I first tasted this wine at Krasi, and loved it so much I had to order a case for home. The is 100% Vostilidi (an indigenous Greek grape), spontaneously fermented and aged for about 11 months in a neutral 2-ton Austrian oak barrel. The vines are organic, although not certified, and the wine has a 13.2% ABV. The color of the wine reminded me more of an orange wine than the usual white wine. On the nose, I found an appealing blend of fruit notes, from apricot to peach, with a tinge of honey. And on my palate, it provided a complex and intriguing melange of flavors, including peach, apricot, vanilla, sweet orange and sesame! I don't recall the last wine that ever brought to mind sesame seeds but I loved that aspect of the wine. Good acidity, some minerality, firm tannins, plenty of umami, and a touch of floral notes. So much going on in each sip and the finish was lengthy and very satisfying. Highly recommended!

10) Multivintage Bruno Paillard Premiere Cuvee Champagne ($60)
The final wine on my list is a splurge-worthy wine, especially for the holidays. This Champagne is the flagship wine for the style of this winery. In general, this Cuvée is a blend of about 25 vintages. The wine is also a blend of about 45% Pinot Noir, 35% Chardonnay, and 22% Pinot Meunier, from a selection of 35 of the 320 crus of Champagne. The wine is aged for three years sur lie, longer than the legal requirement, and then aged for at least another five months after disgorgement. The Première Cuvée has a nice golden color and very tiny bubbles are visible in your glass. The aromas are intriguing, with a fine melange of red berries, orange and grapefruit, and a hint of almond. As I tasted this wine, its elegance, complexity and freshness stood out, pure deliciousness and each sip made me crave more. Dry and crisp, the flavors were complex and tasty, including apple, citrus, almond, a touch of brioche, a streak of minerality, and red fruits, but each sip seemed to bring forth even more flavors. It's the type of Champagne to slowly sip, to revel in the different, intriguing flavors that flit over your palate. The finish is lengthy and satisfying, clean and pure. I loved this Champagne! Its elegance, subtlety and complexity are captivating. 


This year, 6 countries/regions made the list with Nova Scotia taking the lead with four spots, followed by Croatia in second place with two spots. The other countries/regions include Portugal, Alsace, Greece, and France, all with one spot each. As for wine types, the list is also broken down into one  Rosé, two Whites, four Reds, two Sparkling, and one skin-contact White. I have other wine recommendations on my blog and you just have to search for them. 

If you have some of your own recommendations for excellent wines you've enjoyed, please add them to the comments.

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

2021: Top Ten Wines Under $20

What were some of my favorite wines of the past year?

As 2021 has arrived, it's time to reflect upon the past year, to remember and savor pleasant memories. I've already posted a couple of my annual Favorite Lists, My Favorite Restaurants and My Favorite Food-Related Items, and it's time now to starting covering my Favorite Wines. This first list are my Top Ten Wines Under $20

This list includes wines that not only I enjoyed, but which I also found to be particularly compelling for various reasons. They might be especially delicious, something more unique or just excellent values for the price. They all stand out, for some particular reason, above the other wines that I've tasted this past year.

This is a purely subjective list, based on my own preferences, and makes no claims about being the "best" wines out there. It is primarily the wines which spoke to me the loudest, even when they were subtle wines. These are all wines that I strongly recommend and which I believe many other wine lovers would also enjoy.

The wines are not listed in any particular order and each choice is linked to my more detailed prior review. All of these value wines are worth your consideration but please also note that the prices are approximations and the actual price may vary in your area. In addition, some of the wines might not be available in your local region, though you might be able to order them from the winery or an online store, dependent on your state's shipping laws. 


1) 2020 Ameal Loureiro ($18)
It's no surprise that there's more Portuguese wines on this list than any other country. Portugal often offers many delicious value wines. This wine is produced from 100% Loureiro (from 20 year old vines), sits on the lees in stainless steel for about 7 months and has a 11.5% ABV. Although it's from the Vinho Verde DOC, this isn't what you may think of as such a wine. I fell in love with this wine from the first sip. It possessed an intriguing nose, stone fruits and floral elements, and on the palate, its complexity and rich flavors burst through. It was crisp, fresh and dry, with a delightful melange of citrus, peach, floral notes, minerality and subtle herbal touches. This wine was well-balanced with a lengthy and delicious finish. I'd highly recommend buying this wine by the case, to impress your guests during the year.

2) 2020 Esporao Bico Amarelo ($12)
This Portuguese wine, from one of my favorite producers, is a blend of about 40% Loureiro (from Quinta do Ameal) and 30% each of Alvarinho & Avesso (sourced from nearby growers). With an ABV of 11.5%, the wine remains on the lees for 3-4 months, and possesses no effervescence. On the palate, it's light, crisp and refreshing, with bright notes of lemon, citrus and floral elements. It's a simple wine, in a good way, something to just sip and enjoy, especially on a fine summer day. It would also pair very well with seafood or light dishes. 

3) 2019 Uivo Renegado ($15)
This Portuguese wine is rather unique, a field blend of more than 25 indigenous grapes, both red and white, in a rough 50/50 mix. The vines are 70+ years old, and grow on 2 hectares of schist and granite at an altitude of about 650 meters. The grapes are trod by foot in large granite lagares, and undergo spontaneous fermentation with wild yeasts. About 5% of the wine is aged for six months in 2-3 year old chestnut barrels and the rest is aged in cement. It's also not fined or filtered, and has only an 11.5% ABV. The wine has a dark pink color, resembling a Rosé, and on the nose, there are red berries and subtle herbal notes. On the palate, it's crisp and fresh, with tasty cherry and strawberry flavors, and a savory element, a subtle melange of herbs and spice. There is also a hint of spritz, which enhances the refreshing nature of the wine. It possesses plenty of complexity, especially at this price point, and has a pleasing finish too.  

4) 2017 Chateau Vartely Individo Saperavi ($16)
From Moldova, this wine is made from 100% Saperavi, aged for about 12 months in oak and has only a 13.5% ABV. This was a pleasing, easy drinking wine, one which should appeal to many different palates. It possessed a fruity aroma, with only a hint of spice, and on the palate, the fruit was prominent, delicious notes go ripe plum, blackberries and black cherry, with subtle spice notes and a hint of herbs. It was silky and smooth, with a moderately long and enjoyable finish. Simply delicious, although it wasn't a simple wine! You could enjoy this wine on its own, although it would work well with a wide variety of foods, from pizza to burgers.

5) 2020 Tussock Jumper Chenin Blanc ($11.99)
From South Africa, this wine is made with 100% Chenin Blanc and has a 13.5% ABV. It was produced with minimal cellar intervention, and spent about four months aging on the lees. I found this vintage similar to that of 2017, possessed of crisp acidity, tropical fruit flavors, and some subtle mineralogy. There were some peach notes in this vintage, and it had a pleasing and fairly long finish. I paired the Chenin Blanc with some simple seared scallops, and it was a fine pairing. This wine is very food friendly, and perfect for the summer, sipping on its own, or paired with salads, chicken, and seafood. 

6) 2017 Vina Skaramuca Plavac Premium ($16)
This Croatian wine is made from 100% Plavac Mali from vineyards in Pelješac and the Dingač. It was fermented in stainless steel, aged for 6 months in large 3000L barrels, aged for another 6 months in the bottle, and has a 13% ABV. This is a lighter, easier drinking Plavac Mali, with plenty of tasty red and black fruit flavors, good acidity, and some subtle spice notes. This is an everyday wine, perfect on its own or with everything from pizza to burgers, tacos to salmon.

7) 2017 Fronton de Oro Tinto ($19.99)
From Spain's Canary Islands, this intriguing wine is a blend of Listán Negro and Tintilla de Rota.  The wine is fermented in stainless steel tanks, and then aged in mostly used American oak for about three months. With only a 13.5% ABV, only about 4,000 cases of this wine are produced. This is a medium-red colored wine, with an appealing nose of red fruits, floral notes, and hints of spice. On the palate, there's a freshness to the wine, with delicious and juicy tastes of cherry, blackberry, and plum. Good acidity, nicely balanced, a hint of earthiness, and on the finish, there's a nice peppery kick. With a nice complexity, this wine very much appealed to me. It would pair well with burgers to pizza, barbecue to salmon.

8) 2020 Bott Freres Rose d'Alsace ($19.99)
The wines of Alsace also have a special place in my heart. This tasty Rosé is made from 100% Pinot Noir, from 20 year old vines in chalky soil, and was aged in stainless steel tanks for about 8-10 months. With a 14% ABV, the wine has a rich pink color and an appealing aroma of fresh red berries and floral notes. On the palate, it's fresh and crisp, with tasty red fruit flavors, especially raspberry and strawberry, with a floral accent, and a nice streak of minerality. Well balanced, complex, and with a lengthy finish, this Rosé is absolutely delicious, perfect on its own or paired with food. 

9) 2020 Sainte-Famille Lost Bell Baco Noir ($19.99)
Nova Scotia wineries are producing some interesting and delicious wnes. This Nova Scotian wine is made from 100% Baco Noir, although the winery website doesn't provide any details on this wine and its production. It has an 11% ABV, making it one of the lower alcohol red wines I've had in some time. It's a dark colored wine, with pleasant black fruit aromas and a hint of spice. On the palate, it's medium-bodied, easy drinking, with lots of juicy black fruit flavors, including blackberry and black cherry. It's an everyday wine, fine on its own, although it will pair well with everything from burgers to pizza, pasta to stews. It is a relatively simple wine, but not a one-note wine.

10) Jost Vineyards Selkie Rose Frizzante ($19.99)
Also from Nova Scotia, this sparkling wine is produced from a "proprietary blend" of grapes, which may include a couple hybrids, DeChaunac and Marquette. It's a lightly sparkling wine, produced by the Charmat method, and only has a 8.5% ABV, making it much lower alcohol than many sparkling wines. It doesn't appear this wine underwent any oak aging. The Rosé has a bright oink color and an appealing nose of bright red fruits. On the palate, it is fresh and crisp, with a light effervescence and delicious red berry flavors with hints of citrus, and a mild sweetness on the finish. It's tasty on its own, although it would pair well with a variety of dishes, including dishes with a bit of spicy heat, as the mild sweetness would work well. 

Seven countries/regions made the list this year, with Portugal in first place, occupying three spots on the list. Nova Scotia was in second place with two spots, and the other countries, Moldova, South Africa, Croatia, Spain, and Alsace, occupying one spot. As for wine types, the list is also broken down into one Rosé, three Whites, five Reds, and one Sparkling. I have other wine recommendations on my blog and you just have to search for them. 

If you have some of your own recommendations for excellent wines under $20 you've enjoyed, please add them to the comments.

Monday, December 20, 2021

2021: Favorite Food-Related Items

What were some of my favorite food-related items of the past year?

Let me continue the lists of my best recommendations and favorites of 2021. I've already posted my Favorite Restaurants of 2021. Now, I want to address my Favorite Food-Related Items of the past year.

This is certainly not a complete list but it is more a sampling of memorable food items I've experienced and/or posted about over the past year. This is also a purely subjective list, based on my own preferences, and makes no claims about being the "best" of anything. But all of the items here have earned my strong recommendations and I hope you will enjoy them as well. For more food-related items, you can just search my blog posts for the past year.

Favorite Culinary School:
 NECAT is a local culinary school which trains people from challenging backgrounds, from ex-convicts to recovering addicts, from the homeless to the chronically unemployed. NECAT fills an important need for culinary help while helping numerous people achieve a better life. It is such a worthy school, helping to transform lives, and it really touches my heart. It helps individuals while also helping the community, and I continue, year after year, to try to raise awareness of NECAT so that its good work can continue and even expand. It is one of my favorite causes and is well worthy of your continued support.
Favorite Food Rant: At the start of the year, I wrote Rant: Duck Wings > Chicken Wings, and it's an issue that brings out strong feelings in me. Chicken wings get all the attention, probably in large part because they are inexpensive. However, duck wings are more flavorful, but not enough restaurants serve them. Chicken meat is much milder, and the sauce and coating is far more important to bring more flavor to them. Duck wings don't have to rely as much on sauces and coatings to offer delicious flavors. Let's hope that in 2022, we start to see more duck wings available on local restaurant menus. 

Vietnamese Restaurant List: In honor of Vietnamese New Year, I compiled a list of Vietnamese restaurants, largely in the eastern portion of Massachusetts. This is a work in progress, which I shall revise and expand over time. If you know of any Vietnamese restaurants in Massachusetts which aren't on my list, please send me the info and I'll add it. 

Food History Articles: During the pandemic, it's been tough for many food writers and some have simply written sporadically, especially those who concentrated on restaurant reviews. For myself, I 've continued to devote many hours to researching and writing numerous historical food articles, combing through thousands of newspapers and books. I've especially delved into the origins of numerous foods, trying to seek out their true origins, and not just accepting the unsubstantiated claims of others. Here are over 25 historical articles I completed this past year. 

My Chinese related articles include:

My other food history articles include:

Vermont Trip: In August, I spent several days in southern Vermont, investigating some of the food scene there, including a few visits to cool and unique farms. Vermont has much to offer and I look forward to returning in 2022, to explore more of the options. 
Check out my four posts about this trip:
Chester, Vermont: Helping Hands & Wine, Cheese, Pies, Candy, Donuts & More (Including the Chester Candy Company, Southern Pie Company, and Smitty's Chester Market)
Vermont Raised Mangalitsa Pigs: Bring on the Lard (Superb heirloom pork products!)

Favorite Vermont Restaurant: I thoroughly enjoyed a fine dinner at the Social House: A Culinary Treasure in Manchester, Vermont. It has a small menu, which changes frequently depending on seasonality and what's available, but which offers plenty of appealing options. Such tasty options like Hamachi Crudo, Grilled Octopus, and Gnocchi all Buttera. They also make excellent cocktails and have a good wine list. I'd definitely return here and it worth a stop if you're in southern Vermont. 

Nova Scotia Trip: In the fall, I traveled to Nova Scotia, mainly as a family trip, but with a few culinary highlights, including:
Eastern Passage, Nova Scotia: Dockside Donuts Truck (Mini-donuts, made to order, where you choose your own toppings. A tasty treat.). 
Pictou County Pizza: A Nova Scotian Specialty (A unique regional pizza style made with a brown sauce, not a red sauce, loaded with spicy pepperoni and then covered with cheese.)

What were some of your favorite food-related items this year?