Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Wine Wednesday: Barefoot Refresh

Usually, trying something new is a good idea.  It keeps you from getting stuck in a rut, and introduces you to new things that you might have been missing out on.  But sometimes there are red flags warning you that maybe you shouldn't try some things.  In nature, certain fruits and berries are marked with colors or spots to warn that they are not for consumption.  And in the grocery store , we have labels to help us figure things out.  The thing is, you still have to use your common senses.  And unfortunately, I did not use that when I picked out our featured wine.

When I saw the Barefoot Refresh bottle, I was intrigued.  Barefoot is one of my go-to cheap wines.  And I'm a sucker for a new product.  But what is a "refresh"?  Is it like a wine cooler?  I read the bottle and it gave me little clue as to what this meant.  The giant red flag that I ignored was the line on the bottom of the label that said "Refreshing light wine style".  What the hell is a wine style?  I don't know, but I decided to find out.  I kind of wish I hadn't.

It turns out, that this is sort of a sparkling wine.  I guess sparkling might not be the right word.  Fizzy fits better.  It is also pretty sweet.  Kind of like if you mix cheap wine with sprite.  Honestly, gross.  I would not recommend this for anything, but if you find yourself in possession of it for some reason, I guess it could be used to make sangria.
Excuse the mess, there was a culinary adventure going on.
Wine: Barefoot Refresh
 Year: ?
 Region: ?
 Purchased From: Fry's
 Price: $5.99
Verdict: 1/5 
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Friday, September 21, 2012

Goodbye, Summer! No, seriously, goodbye. Get out of here.

Oh hey everyone.  I'm just sitting here in my pjs drinking a pumpkin spice latte and listening to my Bon Iver Station on Pandora.  I'm just ready for it to be fall.  It's currently 88 degrees outside at 10:19 am, but I am wishing for pumpkins and leaves and chilly mornings.  Usually I fight the end of summer like a kid fights their bedtime, but that is because summer in Oregon is so fleeting.  After spending the summer in a climate that is literally trying to kill me (seriously, humans are not meant to live in a place that is consistently 110 degrees.  We just aren't)  I am more ready than I have ever been for summer to be over.  When I was younger, I would try to get summer to hurry up and start.  Like when I still lived in Anchorage, I would start wearing shorts in March just because the sun came out, even though there was still 2 feet of snow on the ground.  Now I'm trying to hurry along autumn in the same way, drinking my pumpkin beverages and sometimes even wearing pants.  Pants!!  Ok, so they are capris, but still.
Pumpkin Spice Latte

  I used to be a Starbucks fiend.  I would scrape up as much change as I could find to buy my four dollar caffeinated beverage, I couldn't wait for the seasonal specialty drinks to be available, if I was having a rough day it could at least be improved by a trip to the 'bux.  Then I moved to Portland, where it is pretty uncool to like Starbucks.  Portland has very strong opinions on all things, including beverages.  Beer, wine, cocktails, and coffee.  Probably Kombucha.  Most people still think of Seattle as the Coffee Capital of the World, but Portland has risen up to challenge them for the title.  My old roommate used to call me a coffee snob because I insisted that my coffee not come from a can.  But any true coffee snob would be appalled by the fact that I not only go to Starbucks for my coffee, but I also use the beans at home!  Sometimes I don't even grind them myself.  And I don't even use a french press!  But my time in PDX did give me an appreciation for the finer coffees and coffee shops.  And then I moved to a place where Starbucks really is the best coffee you can get. 

I don't venture to Starbucks often these days.  Mostly because leaving the house strictly for a coffee seems kind of ridiculous.  And we have implemented some austerity measures around here, since the whole reason we moved to Arizona was to save some money.  I did stop by last week to get the newly released PSL (That's a Pumpkin Spice Latte, for those of you who are too cool to not know the Starbucks lingo), as part of my Ushering In Fall Policy.  Then I started seeing these "Make your own Pumpkin Spice Latte" posts all over the place.  I decided to give it a shot.

 I have been searching for pumpkin pie spice everywhere.  I normally buy my spices in bulk, because it is sooooooo much cheaper.  But there is only one store in my area that has bulk spices, and the selection isn't that great.  So after going to several stores, I finally found it at Target.  Not Sprouts.  Not Whole Foods.  Target.  I gathered the other ingredients, and here is what I made!  I used a recipe from one of my favorite food sites, The Kitchn.
Representing Portland with my mason jar of coffee.  Also, yes that is vanilla flavor, not extract.  I made a horrible mistake at Trader Joe's.  At least it isn't imitation.

Pumpkin Spice Latte
From The Kitchn

Makes 2 to 3 servings
2 cups milk
2 heaping tablespoons canned pumpkin
1 to 2 tablespoons sugar or sugar substitute
2 tablespoons vanilla extract (I used vanilla flavor.  The shame....)
1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice, plus more to garnish
1 to 2 shots espresso, about 1/4 cup of espresso or 1/2 cup of strong brewed coffee
Whipped cream, to garnish

In a saucepan whisk together milk, pumpkin and sugar and cook on medium heat, stirring, until steaming. Remove from heat, stir in vanilla and spice, transfer to a blender and process for 15 seconds until foamy.  Or just whisk the mixture really well with a wire whisk.  ( I just whisked it and it was fine).
Fill half the mug with the mixture, top with coffee.
Just whisk it!

Top with whipped cream, if desired, and sprinkle pumpkin pie spice, nutmeg, or cinnamon on top. (Trust me, it IS desired.  Just do it).

The egg might not be pretty, but it was delicious.

 I used Almond Breeze Unsweetened Vanilla milk.  I don't like to drink much real milk, although I am not at all dairy free.  I just thought I would try it with this, since it is very creamy and low calorie.  Only 40 calories per cup!  You could very easily use regular milk, and I will probably try it that way sometimes.  BUT, if you decide to get the almond milk like I did, it is VERY IMPORTANT that you get this specific brand.  Almond Breeze.  I have tried other brands and they taste like crap, no joke.  To save on calories be sure it is unsweetened as well.  If you accidentally get sweetened ( I have done that before also) just don't add sugar to the drink until you can do a taste test.

I also think that topping this with whipped cream and a little additional dash of pumpkin pie spice really makes this drink.  I highly recommend it.  Now when you have all the ingredients you can whip this up in the morning and enjoy your delicious pumpkiny beverage without ever having to leave the house!  I might even pull out my fall decorations today.  Get ready K, you just might be coming home to some pumpkins!  But not before I pour myself another cup of coffee.  Because this is happening.

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Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Wine Wednesday: The Wingman Shiraz and Viognier blend

Welcome to a new series here on PDX to PHX.  It's called Wine Wednesday.  I decided to start doing little wine reviews for people who like wine, but don't spend a ton of money on it.  And honesty, buying a cheap wine can be really risky.  You might luck out and get one that is awesome, but you have an equal chance of buying one that is on par with the vinegar in your pantry.  And how do you know?  If you are like me, you stick to the few labels that you know to be tried and true, and don't take a risk on one you are not sure about.  But then you risk missing out on some new and awesome wines!  I had a favorite Pinot Gris at Trader Joe's that was AMAZING and only $3.99.  Of course they no longer carry it, so now I am on the search again for decent and cheap wines. 

Let it be known - I love wine, but I am NOT a wine snob.  I'm not going to talk very much about the nose, or how you can taste hints of plum, cherries and vanilla - although I might mention it if I can actually taste those things.  I'm probably not going to say that a wine is "chewy".  I don't think it is necessary to drink my wine out of an expensive wine glasses in order to enjoy it.  To be honest, although I like wine, and even the culture of wine, I think that for the most part wine snobs are phoney and full of it.  So there, I said it.

This week, we will take a look at a wine that lured me in with it's pretty label (that happens often.  I am guilty of judging wine bottles by their labels) and the fact that it is a Shiraz/Viognier blend.  I have never heard of such a blend, but it turns out it really isn't that uncommon.  Apparently, many wine makers can and do blend up to 20% Viognier grapes into Shiraz, and they don't even have to label it.  The reason that it is common to blend these two particular grapes is because they both grow in the same region of France.  I learned all of this while trying to figure out if I should chill this or not.  The answer is:  Serve slightly chilled.  I'm not sure how cold slightly chilled is, but since it is still around 100 degrees here, I went with "serve as cold as possible".

Verdict:  This was very fruity and juicy.  Serving it cold actually made it very refreshing, which is something I normally don't associate with red wine.  And this was a dark red wine,  it definitely has more Shiraz than it does Viognier.  But the Viognier did seem to give it a lighter body, and took away some of the  heaviness that sometimes comes with a red.  I would definitely recommend this to serve with red meat, or anytime you feel like drinking a red wine on a hot day.  As a side note, K did not care for this wine at all, so to each her own. 

Wine: The Wingman By The Country Fair
Year: 2010
Region: California
Purchased From: Trader Joe's
Price: $6.99
Verdict: 3.5/5 
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Tuesday, September 11, 2012


Could it be?  Is summer starting to retreat here in the desert?  I feel a spark of hope.  The last week or two, the temperatures have been slightly less like an oven.  Last week, our daily high rarely went over 100, and this week my trusty app is showing not one day reaching 100!  OK, a few of those days the high is 98 or 99, and everyday will reach the 90s, but I call this progress.  I am up extra early today, and it has been a drizzly morning.  Since it's only 72 degrees, I actually have the sliding glass door open, and get to feel some cool air.  The sound of cars driving on wet pavement is oddly comforting.

    K and I must be on a roll, because we went for another daytrip this weekend.  Sunday we drove up to Sedona, which has now made my list of "coolest places I've ever been".  The drive showed the diversity of the topography here in AZ.  Of course we started in desert, but it was a different landscape than the drive to Payson.  I noticed more green and trees than I expected.  We spied flat topped mesas in the distance.

We soon were on a plain, and I could swear this must be what Oklahoma or Kansas looks like.  So, I've never been to Oklahoma or Kansas, but that is what I imagine them to look like.

Can you imagine the buffalo?

  After that, as the car kept climbing in elevation, we were in a rocky, mountainous area with actual pines trees.  They were small, and not the kind I'm used to, but it was refreshing.  Finally, as we approached Sedona, I was about to complain that we hadn't seen any of the famous red rocks, when they suddenly came into view.
There they are!

Bell Rock

Cathedral Rock

I don't know the name of this one!

  The red rocks are breathtaking.  They are different than anything I've seen before, and yet I found a comfort in being so close to so many mountains.  Supposedly they have "energy vortexes" on and around the rocks that strengthen your inner being.  I don't know about vortexes, but I did feel energized and happy with this visit.  The red rocks, although completely different from anything I'm used to, also reminded me in a weird way of the mountains where I grew up in Anchorage.  Something about being so close to such tall mountains.  And the hippie vibe, with the vortexes, aura photographs and crystals, reminded me of my hometown of Eugene.  Combine that with all of the natural beauty, cooler temperatures, and spending a day with K, and I was a happy girl.

  We started out having lunch at a place called Ken's.  Since it was only 82 degrees, we could comfortably sit on the deck and have a view of the trees and famous red rocks.  I sipped on a prickly pear margarita.
Prickly Pear Margarita

The view while we had lunch on the deck

  After that, we went across the street to an "arts and craft village" called Tlaquepaque.  Yeah, I don't know how to pronounce it either.  Walking around here, we felt like we were in a movie version of a Mexican village.  Although we could tell it wasn't an authentic village - everything was too perfect - we still enjoyed the beautiful setting.  We wandered for awhile, through doorways and into courtyards, sitting by a fountain in the shade.  The artwork sold there wasn't really my style, although if you are into southwestern art it might be your thing.

 After spending some time there, we decided to visit uptown Sedona.  When we found a parking lot behind some of the buisinesses on the main street, it was like we had driven into a national park view point.  We were surrounded by the red rocks.

 We took a stroll up and down the street.  Although this area is obviously very touristy, and there are some aggressive tour guides trying to get you to pay them for their services, it is still beautiful and I'm glad we didn't miss it.  We have already decided that we would like to take a long weekend in Sedona to be able to experience more of what it has to offer.  I'm so glad that we went there, even for the day.  It is comforting to know that there are such beautiful and refreshing places within a few hours of our new home.
Rollie's Camera - since 1961!

Uptown Sedona

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Tuesday, September 4, 2012


This weekend was Labor Day Weekend, the official end of summer for most people.  Here in AZ we are still reaching 100+ degrees everyday, so our goal was not to enjoy the last few weeks of summer, but to get out of the heat and maybe see some trees.  We decided to do a quick day trip to a town about 100 miles away called Payson.  We mostly chose Payson when our Phoenix Guidebook told us that due to the elevation of 5,000 feet, the temperature is typically 20 degrees cooler than in the Valley (That is what they the Greater Phoenix area - THE Valley).  There were also some alluring words thrown around like "Mountains" and "cool pine forests".  Since this was a spur of the moment trip, we didn't have time to go too far, so we were sold.  The drive was about an hour and a half, and quite pleasant.  We started out in typical desert terrain, and as soon as we got out of the city it felt like we were in the Southwest of the movies.  I sometimes forget that we live in the Southwest, because rather than red rocks and cacti we are surrounded by concrete and transplanted palm trees.  But when I have a chance to see what the Southwest actually looks like, I can understand why people think it's beautiful here.
Red Mountain or Mt. McDowell
We started getting excited to see trees, and we passed through a "cactus forest".
Look at all the green!

 And we even found real shade, created by clouds!
We reached Payson, and drove down the Main street until we saw a body of water.  It turned out to be a possibly man made lake, but I was still excited.  Plus, it was surrounded by green grass and real, actual trees.  We parked and started walking around.  It just so happened that we found the Zane Grey Cabin and Rim Country Museum.
Lake with Museum in the background

Replica Zane Grey Cabin

 Zane Grey was an American novelist who wrote many best selling western novels during the first few decades of the 20th Century.  After our tour of the museum, we decided he also sounded like a jerk.  I'm a nerd who loves museums, and although this one was a little on the dry side, I still enjoyed it.  The cabin was a replica, as his original cabin was destroyed in a forest fire in 1990.  In addition to the Zane Grey Cabin, there was also a museum dedicated to the history of the region, from the earliest people who settled in the area, through the period that the Apache people lived there, and though the mining and logging periods by the white settlers.

While we were in the Museum, we missed a rain storm.  After leaving, we walked around the lake, enjoying the 90 degree weather and the ability to be outside for longer than 3 minutes.  After that, we decided that rather than eat at a mediocre restaurant, we would head home to our Weber and grill some flank steak.

I was pretty pleased with our first day trip, especially the realization that it isn't that difficult to get out of the city and into some areas that have something different to offer.
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