Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Warming up for the shake off at the Ice Hotel...

This afternoon, the games begin! The 9th Annual vodka cup finals, in Lapland, kicks off at the Ice Hotel, in just a few hours. (there are 22 from as many countries).

We got to meet the contestants, last night, at the opening reception. Regional US winners, as well as those from Italy, New Zealand, Australia, England, Serbia, Russia, El Salvador, Mexico - and more - mingled with international journalists, Finlandia execs and the three lovely, blond Finnish models hired to be the event Hostesses, often dressed from head-to-toe in white fur.

Finlandia designed a large, wooden cabin called the "Pure Experience Lodge" for this week's events. One side of the building is ‘winter,’ representing “pure beginnings,” or the pure Finnish water which makes up 60% of the vodka. The other side of the party place is made to look like ‘summer,’ or “pure creation.” In this northern ‘land of the midnight sun’ there are 72 days of constant sunlight. (Winter sees 72 days of darkness.) During the extended summertime, the six row barley grows very rapidly. The barley is then harvested and distilled into alcohol, which is the other 40% of vodka.

At one point, during the party last night, around midnight, there was a commotion on the outdoor terrace of the lodge (where a bar crafted from solid ice stood) serving naturally chilled cocktails. Not wanting to miss out on any excitement, I rushed out to find everyone staring up at the sky, and a chorus of ‘ooohs’ and ‘aahs.’
Aurora borealis (aka: the northern lights) swirled across the night sky, looking like slithering, illuminated galactic serpents. The northern lights are a special treat which only last a short time (not all night) and do not appear on a regular basis, though almost exclusively in winter. Seeing that was the cream on the cake I had not yet finsihed eating!

After the party, we journalists went back to the cabin, and piled into the sauna (wrapped in towels, as our group is
co-ed). The heat was a welcome sensation and I soaked it up, staying in much longer than I do back in the states. We debated whether any of us had the gumption to run outside and hurl ourselves into the snow. Finally, two of us stepped out onto the porch and rubbed handfuls of snow on our arms and legs - that was enough – then, returned immediately to the sauna.

This morning we got up at 7:00, for a breakfast of dark bread, cheese, yogurt and meusli. It was still pitch black outside, and remained so until about 9:00 am, when the sun began to rise.

I pulled on three pairs of socks, two pairs of long underwear, sweatpants, a fleece sweater and a whole snowsuit because our day started off with a snowmobile safari. This morning, the temperature was -25 Celsius. By the time we got on the mobiles, it warmed up slightly. But let’s be realistic, who would notice the difference? With levels of cold, colder, coldest and oh-my-god freezing (the latter seeming like summer weather, now) a few degrees don’t make much difference.

Our guides comprised of one very lage Finnish man with a long blond goatee, and a red-haired Finnish wolan named Piliki, or “cloud.” She said her sisters’ names were the Finnish equivalent of “wind” and “sea.” After quick instructions, we all drove off in a line, following the leader into the vast snowy tundra. Snow-frosted, bare tree branches and evergreens lined our snowmobile path, and there was a tiny creek which, amazingly, managed to have a tirckle of running water.

The sun was an inched above the horizon at about 10:30 am. The first five minutes of snowmobiling, for me, were pretty exciting. The next five minutes, I felt I got the hang of it. Five mintues later, I was freezing and ready for it to be over. We carried on for about 45 mintues more, total, stopping once to drink hot “forrest berry” tea.

Upon return we met up with the contestants at the lodge for lunch, which included another healthy abundance of reindeer and potatoes. Now, we are off to the
Ice Hotel (yes, by Ice Hotel I mean hotel constructed from ice! A future post on that is coming...) for the 9th Annual Vodka Cup to begin. THIS, after all, is why we are here...

Monday, January 29, 2007

The $16.00 Latte...

Dying for coffee. Must wake up. A little jet-lagged. Ordered a coffee to the room. Got a bill for 13.50 Euros, or about $16.00.

Klaus K Hotel is exaggerating a bit... If you ever stay here, don't order room service. The coffee is strong, the milk is creamy, the foam is thick and the handsome, young Finnish lad who delivers sweetens the sting of the price tag - but still...!
Happy, Happy, Joy, Joy!

Luggage arrived. Get to wear new warm clothes. Very Happy.

(btw - Finnair Customer Service is A+. Not only are they patient and polite when you call eight or more times in 24 hours looking for your suitcase, but they say things like, "Yes, I understand that is very inconvenient. We will fix it." And, they do.)

Sunday, January 28, 2007

New Favorite Drink

Sparkling Pamplemousse (I don't know what its really called but this is the name I've decided to slap on it)

Pour 2 oz. Finlandia grapefruit into tall glass, with or without ice. Top with sparkling bitter lemon soda. Squeeze of fresh grapefruit juice. Garnish with grapefruit wheel.

Yummy cocktail - not too sweet, very drinkable. Goes down waaay too easily. This will become a staple in my house when Finlandia launches its new grapefruit flavor in the US, this Spring.
Arriving in Helsinki, Almost Perfect...

Much to my delight, when I checked in for the second leg of my journey, from NY to Helsinki, the woman behind the counter smiled and directed me to the Ambassador's Lounge to wait for my flight. They don't do that if you're flying economy, so it was a huge relief considering its a long flight.

I met up with "Team Finlandia" in the lounge bar. Then we did what travel writers, bartenders and liquor company associates do best - we ordered a few rounds. It is a fun group, and the bartenders look to be a talented lot, indeed! So far, I've met the US Finalists and one from El Salvador. I think we meet the European winners tomorrow, in Lapland. I am going to try to get some info up on each one, so you can play along, in Sipsterland, and choose
your favorite.

The first thing that struck me as we approached the airstrip in Helsinki was the plane window. It was covered in frost. Yep, its gonna be a cold one, kids!

Tonight, we are in Hotel Klaus K, in Helsinki. Simple and swank. Signature minimalist Scandinavian design, incorporating natural materials and clean lines. Adorable room. By adorable I mean small, yet well-decorated. I'd love to link to it and show you, but for some reason my tool bar isn't working... (almost perfect)

Now, the bad news... my luggage is nowhere to be found. Finnair has no answers. I've been calling all day. Yes, all my warm weather purchases are in my suitcaes. It is about 12
degrees (F) here (read: freezing) and we haven't even headed north yet. Then, when we got to the hotel, half of our rooms weren't ready.

So, a little group of us walked just a few blocks from the hotel, to get coffees (awesome lattes!) and sandwiches (amazing sunflower seed bread stuffed with meat and cheese). With my hat, gloves, long johns or $25 dollar socks locked safely within my missing suitcase, I shivered til I went numb. Upon return to the hotel, Carol, who represents Finlandia vodka, took pity on me and lent me a pair of long johns and socks. God bless her!

Cocktails in the hotel bar can heal everything, though. That's the El Salvadorian bartender up on the bar (left) doing bar tricks and already flirting with every lady in the room. I'm thinking this is gonna be one hell of a cocktail competition!
The Root (s) of The Matter...

I wasn’t trying to mislead anyone. I wasn’t intentionally exploiting the compassion of strangers. I only wanted to hide my roots.

As reflected in the “comments” section in a couple of my blog posts, people notice hair color! My hairdresser was booked so, a few days ago, I swung by the supermarket and grabbed a box of “dark golden blond,” intending to do it myself. Yes, risky, but desperate times call for desperate measures.

It has been a hectic couple of weeks. We moved into our new apartment on Jan. 14, had a party a week later, then my birthday a few days after that. Not to mention, two articles on deadline and, after a phone meeting with my new Lit Agent, Lilly, a ton of notes to work into the second draft of my cocktail book proposal. I woke up at 4:45, this morning, so as to make my 7:00 am flight to New York. Starring, blurrily, at my tired face in the mirror, I realized what slipped through the cracks…

“Crap!” I thought, “I look like crap! What if I run into the cocktail finalists or other journos on the connecting flight from NY to Helsinki? What kind of Muse has 2-inch long, dishwater-blond roots?” Ack! No time to do it right then. I was already cutting it close to make it to the airport on time.

I braided my bi-colored locks and grabbed a leopard-print scarf, which covers not only my roots, but my whole head. Perfect. I threw the box of Garnier into my suitcase and figured that, after arriving at the hotel on Sunday morning, I should have 7 hours to get some sleep and touch up my hair-color before meeting up with the others.

(I also learned, this morning, that driving 80 miles-an-hour down the 405, without traffic, gets me from our bathroom in Sherman Oaks to the check-in counter at LAX in 20 minutes, flat.)

I did not count on the reaction some people have to seeing a caffeine-deprived, pale-faced woman with bags under her eyes and her head swathed in a scarf. Once on the plane, I noticed that the Steward's soft smiles and extra attention were directed, specifically, to me. At first, I thought he was just doing his job - being nice to the passengers. But then he came over and whispered that if I’d like to lay down, there was a whole empty row I could have to myself. Did he think there was something wrong with me, and that's why I was wearing the scarf on my head? Feeling a wave of horrified guilt, I considered taking off the scarf, so he could see that I have hair, I'm perfectly fine, and he could direct his kindness to someone else on this flight who may be truly unwell, and need to recline.

But, frankly, I don’t want to take off the scarf. In my most vapid self of selves, I’d rather wear it than reveal that my personal appearance has taken a backseat to my work - for months, now. Thank God I’m back in LA so I can re-implement a healthy level of superficiality into my life. While away, I’ve gained 2 pant sizes worth of weight and completely replaced mani / pedis with manu-script rewrites. Time to get some balance in my life. (All work and no play makes The Liquid Muse a little chunky and unkempt.)

So, am I a shameless opportunist if my leopard scarf happens to also get me preferential treatment – or Heaven forbid - upgraded? Isn’t being a savvy traveler the root of the matter?

Friday, January 26, 2007

Gearing Up for Lapland…

I am so excited about this trip to Finland! I’ll be covering Finlandia vodka’s 9th Annual International Vodka Cup Cocktail Competition. My flight leaves tomorrow morning, so I had a lot of last-minute preparation…

My biggest priority? Buy WARM CLOTHES! With temperatures reaching double-digits below zero, rest assured, this Girl Scout is going prepared!

a. Jacket - My warmest jacket is probably my faux-fur, full length leopard coat. While I love this “trashique” accessory for the right occasions, I can imagine it is highly inappropriate for this trip. Anyway, Finlandia mailed out some very warm jackets to those participating in this excursion, ensuring none of us will freeze to death in the icy tundra. (Good call!)

b. Long-Johns – My husband, Jason, suggested I check out Buffalo Exchange. For LONG JOHNS! I gasped in horror, “Honey, you do realize those are underwear, right?! I’m not wearing used underwear.” He also sees nothing wrong with renting wetsuits, which I find totally gross cuz’, like, heeelloooo… people pee in them to warm them up in the ocean… I have only had three surfing lessons – but, trust me, I own my own wetsuit. As of today, same goes for super-thick, extra-warm, expedition-strength long johns. Icy tundra, here I come!

c. Gloves – The clerk helped me choose some gloves at REI, today. I told him that I am hardly ever in cold weather so I didn’t want to spend a fortune but I didn’t want to be cold. He guided me to the REI brand gloves, as they are less expensive – and as good – as the rest. I tried them on, and they fit… well, like a glove. (Sorry, had to say it.) When I got to the cashier I found out that the “house brand” is still a whopping $65.00… but, what the hell. I believe snow mobiling and dogsledding are involved at some point next week. Gloves seem like a good idea.

d. Socks – What can I say? I bought a pair of $25 dollar socks. And, silk liners. Cold feet suck. Of course, I only bought one pair of each… well, I guess I can wash them out by hand at night. Well, except when I’m wearing them, which will be pretty-much 24-7. Hmm… well, I’m married now. No one on the trip will get close enough to my feet to notice. Screw it. I’ll make do with one pair of each.

So, $165.00 later, I left REI with all the stuff to make sleeping in the Ice Hotel survivable. (Don't get me wrong - I’m totally looking forward to it, but as a California girl – 40 below scares the sh** out of me!) Back home, I dug my sweaters out of storage, finally get to wear my “Year of the Cock” (rooster, Chinese new year, two years ago) ski hat and got batteries for my camera. I even got the manual out so I can learn how to use it on the plane. (I am not in any way technology inclined. Yes, to me, even a digital camera is “technology.”)

Speaking of technology…

My wonderful, fabulous, stupendous, generous, handsome husband bought me my birthday present today… It is what I have always wanted but never had… A brand new Mac laptop!!! I cannot explain the joy. It was even better than when he proposed. I mean, I almost cried, then jumped his bones right in the Mac store. I’m sick with excitement – I freakin’ love that thing, and I’ve only owned it a few hours. Ah… my precious… (stroke, stroke)

I know this may come as a shock to most people living in 2007 but I have never owned a laptop. I know, ridiculous, isn’t it. I don’t have a “crackberry,” either. Being a journalist, blogger – hell, even back when I was in PR - I managed to do it all on a desktop. I still love my iMac desktop. We’ve been through a lot together. Just ‘cause I got the younger, shinier, sleeker version, I’m still loyal to #1, and keeping it around. At least for now.

And, with the great timing, it will make blogging from the cocktail competition in Finland that much more efficient. Now, that is the way to break in a new piece of technology! Stay tuned for all the fun-and-games. I’ll do my best to report often and in detail, so Sipsters everywhere can have the Finland experience. Step one, everyone pour yourself a shot of Finlandia vokda. one-two-three... down the hatch, and here we go! (And, you don’t even have to gear up!)

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Cherry Blossom in January
In honor of lil' sis's tattoo...

My sister, Amy (who lives in Paris and proves, in this photo, that the French Women Don't Get Fat book is right on the money) got her first tattoo! It is a cherry blossom branch, which symbolizes strength and fragility, an image revered by Japanese Samurai warriors.
To celebrate this event, I am posting a sneak-peek at the Mandarin Oriental's specialty cocktail, to be served during Washington DC's Cherry Blossom Festival, when the banks of the Potomac explode with pink and white flowers, each spring, attracting vistors from around the world.
On on March 27, 1912, Tokyo Mayor Yukio Ozaki’s gifted 3,000 Japanese cherry trees to the US, as an effort to enhance the growing friendship between the countries.
Today, the festival incorporates a sushi/sake
celebration, bike tours of the Tidal Basin, art exhibits, kimono fashion shows, traditional dance and singing, martial arts demonstrations and, of course, specialty cocktails!
Red Mouth

(Recipe, courtesy of the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, Washington DC. Drink photo, courtesy of Moshe Zusman)

3⁄4 ounce white rum
3⁄4 ounce Heering Cherry Liqueur
3⁄4 ounce cream
1 1⁄4 ounce milk

Heat all ingredients and pour into heat-resistant glass.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Daily Muse - Subscribe Now!

Today's my birthday so I get to do what I love most... gather new Sipsters into The Liquid Muse Community!

Subscribe to The Liquid Muse by clicking the link in the upper, left corner of this blog. Like other popular, subscriber-friendly lifestyle sites, cocktail news will be delivered directly to your inbox, keeping you "in the know" faster than any other cocktail enthusiasts in the world. You will also get to guide The Liquid Muse posts by filling out the (optional) subscriber questionnaire. Additionally, only subscribers get the monthly Museletter, which features drink specials at your favorite hot-spots and other inspired Sipster benefits.

Obviously, it is free to become a Sipster, and I will never sell your info or spam you. (I hate when that happens to me!) So - watcha waitin' for? Let's share a cocktail!
Celebrity Sips

What Jay-Z’s Got... (Served With A Twist...)

Jay-Z’s slick video “Show Me What You Got” hit airwaves, last fall, and got chins wagging. On the heels of Cristal champagne snubbing loyal rappers singing its praises, the hip-hop mogul sent a little “up yours!” message of his own.

The Economist quotes Federic Rouzaud (Managing Director of Cristal producer Louis Roederer) inferring discontent with the less-than-classy rap industry as clientele, “We can’t forbid people from buying it. I’m sure Dom Perignon or Krug would be delighted to have their business.”

Multi-platinum recording star, music producer and nightclub owner, Jay-Z retorted that Rouzaud’s comments were racist, and boycotted the brand, banishing Cristal from his famous 40 / 40 club and replacing it with little-known (though, now, infamous) Armand de Brignac, produced by a small, French, 200 year-old family-owned vineyard.

When Jay-Z highlighted the gold bottle bearing the “Ace” logo in that first video off Kingdom Come, released last fall, rumors started flying. Many speculated that Jay-Z owned the champagne company, which ignited intrigue in both the hip-hop and liquor industries, as demonstrated in these articles in Prohiphop and Business Week. More serious (and decidedly less pop-culture friendly) publications, such as the Washington Post dismissed the hulla-baloo but none-the-less had something to say about it.

I decided to follow up and find out, for myself, what the current status is. Does Jay-Z own the brand, or merely a fan? How exactly are “Ace” and the rap star related? Scott Cohen, Director of Marketing for Armand de Brignac, was kind enough to reply to my inquiry and give me this response:

"Obviously we were very happy to have Jay show our brand in his video for “Show Me What You Got” last year; it’s certainly led to great things for the product, although we cannot meet the demand due to the very limited, all hand-made production process. Despite all of the attention, we would not compromise the quality of the brand in order to produce higher volume. Jay-Z is not affiliated with the brand (in terms of ownership or paid endorsement) at this time, and we have not been informed of any forthcoming videos in which he plans to show off Armand’s bottle."

But... here is a little Sipster Secret...

Despite all this whirlwind of media speculation as to which champagne Jay-Z drinks, I learned (from a source I swore to keep anonymous) that the Def Jam CEO isn't even partial to bubbly.

His drink of choice? Belvedere Vodka. When it comes to a cocktail, THAT is what Jay-Z's got...

Monday, January 22, 2007

Here is my Fan-tab-u-lous new LOGO, thanks to Jordan Schlecter of Sixty Five Design in Los Angeles. Anyone needing a graphic designer? Jordan is fantastic. (And, yes, I'm a paying customer - no trade for publicity... my excitement with his work is 100% sincere!)
More Cocktail Coverage To Come...

Cocktail enthusiasts, rejoice with me! According to Keith Kelly at the New York Post, “Bauer Publishing, home to InTouch Weekly and Life & Style Weekly, is getting ready to crank out a new weekly lifestyle magazine called Cocktail Weekly, aimed at women in their 20's. The magazine is slated to launch in September and will carry a $2.49 cover price.”

Thanks to fellow blogger, Joy, for the hot tip!
Richard Sandoval Defines Modern Mexican

I lived in downtown DC from 2005 – ’06. One of the many perks of that urban experience was having Zengo right next door to my building. Owned by Richard Sandoval, Bon Appetit’s 9th Annual American Food and Entertaining Awards 2006 Restaurateur of the Year, the Latin-Asian inspired dining spot features creative dishes (including sushi!) and cocktails (I love the Blushing Geisha). I often met friends or business associates there for a nosh and a chat. Obviously, interviewing the restaurant mogul was very exciting, and left me with a Pavlovic hankering for a dragon roll and a cocktail.

Sandoval’s Modern Mexican Restaurant Group (worth over $20 million) has locations throughout the US, with outposts opening soon in Mexico, Dubai and India. His existing restaurants: Maya (New York, San Francisco), Pampano (New York), Zengo (Denver, Washington DC), Tamayo (Denver), La Sandia (Denver) and Isla (Las Vegas) earned him accolades in the New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and Denver Post, and mentions in Food Arts, Food and Wine, Wine Enthusiast and Hispanic Business magazines.

Heralded by some as “the best Hispanic chef in the US,” Sandoval shares credit for his success with his staff. “I’ve put many years of hard work into my career that it is gratifying to be recognized for my work. I have also been very good at surrounding myself with great people at all my restaurants.” He enthusiastically emphasizes, “These awards are a reflection of their work, too.”

Today, Richard takes pride in bringing Mexican flavor into international limelight and feels his status a 'Celebrity Chef' inspires future Latino culinary stars. He explains, “More than anything, I want to impact future generations. I want to motivate young people, and give them someone to look up to in promoting our culture and our food.”

Sandoval began down a culinary path at age 12, helping at his father’s restaurants (Madieras and Villa Fiore) in Mexico. He then went to high school in California and, later, attended the University of New Mexico, where he played on the tennis team. Sandoval jokes that he realized “there wasn’t much money in playing tennis” after playing professionally in Europe, and revisited his original passion: cooking.

After graduating from the CIA in New York, Sandoval returned to his homeland and practiced his art under the tutelage of his father. In 1992, Richard won Mexico's National Toque de Oro (equivalent to Chef of the Year). Inspired to further his career on an international level, Sandoval headed back to the Big Apple. In 1997, he launched an eatery of his own. He recalls, “I loved the excitement of New York and there I opened my first restaurant, Maya.”

Following the success of his first enterprise, he collaborated with opera singer and restaurateur, Placido Domingo for his next. Sandoval explains, “I knew Placido from Acapulco. When I moved to New York to open Maya, he had a restaurant called Placido. He wanted to re-conceptualize his restaurant, so we decided to team up. I had an idea to open a seafood restaurant. Pampano was our first collaboration.” After its success, the two opened Zengo, in Washington, DC, in 2005.

With restaurants already in plum locations such as New York and San Francisco, I was curious as to why he has the most restaurants in a smaller city, such as Denver. “If you look at the geographic locations of my restaurants, you will see that I never had a plan,” jokes the restaurateur. “I was approached by a developer in Denver, so I opened Tamayo. Then another developer there asked me to open another restaurant. My restaurants have done very well in Denver, and it is a growing market. We have another one opening in 2007.” This year will also see Pampano branching out to Los Angeles, in the Beverly / Wilshire area.

Now that Modern Mexican Restaurant Group has grown quite rapidly, Sandoval plans new locations more strategically. He explains, “We want to expand areas where we have restaurants already. For example, we have plans to open something in Tysons Corner, VA, which is not far from Zengo in DC.”

Still, Sandoval beams at the prospect of taking his cuisine to the world market. There is talk of opening the next Zengo to Mumbai, India. He will also set up shop in the extravagant Royal Meridian Hotel in Dubai, one of today’s most glamorous destinations. “Dubai is exciting,” states Sandoval, “I’m always on the cutting edge with my restaurants, and Dubai is at the forefront of trends when it comes to architecture and, now, restaurants.”

Other international endeavors have emotional appeal, such as taking over a restaurant from his in Mexico, this year. Richard shares, “My father has had it for 25 years. I will redesign it and reopen it with my interpretation.” He is pleased to take carry his father’s torch to the next generation, and reflects, “I am excited because it is where I started my career. It feels like everything coming full circle.”

His favorite cocktail?
"I love mojitos. I’ve gotten more involved with the beverage program in my restaurants. I like mojitos because they use a lot of flavors that I do in my food; lemon, mint. I like using a lot of different flavors in my cooking. I like cocktails that are flavorful and balanced.” Sandoval is also a fan of high quality tequilas, and looks forward to sharing Modern Mexican flavors with the world.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

To Your Health!

I just had to try it. Pomegranate wine. Who knew? I picked up a bottle from Whole Foods, yesterday.

Intrigued but skeptical, I expected the worst. And, guess what? It is not half bad. Not at all…
Obviously, this semi-sweet red wine has its limits. I would not suggest drinking it throughout an entire meal. However, the sweet / tart of the pomegranate balanced nicely against rich and creamy brie and crackers. I imagine it could be quite delightful with dessert… a lemon tart or chocolate brownie, perhaps?

This wine comes from Armenia where pomegranates grow in abundance. The Armenian Wine website has more info. Here are the highlights:

Cultivated since prehistoric times, this fruit appears throughout history as a symbol of fertility, royalty, hope, and abundance. Celebrated in art, mythology, religious texts and literature for centuries, pomegranates appear in Greek mythology, Egyptian papyrus, and are depicted on the floor mosaics of Pompeii. Pomegranates appeared in China a century before the Christian era, and have been mentioned in the Old Testament several times, referred to as “rimmon.”

The word “pomegranate” is derived from Middle French pome garnete which literally means "seeded apple” (one contains as many as 800 seeds). Recent preliminary studies extol the health benefits of pomegranates. A University of California study suggests that “the total antioxidant capacity of 100 ml of pomegranate juice is two to three times that of 100 ml of red wine and of 100 ml of green tea.” Israel's Institute of Technology indicates that pomegranate seed polyphenols possess potent cardiovascular protection and anti-inflammatory effects, which means that if consumed daily over a long period of time, pomegranates may help to combat cancer, and prevent hardening of arteries.

Researchers in England are studying the possibility using pomegranates in the developement of an HIV anti-viral agent, and in India, a preliminary study shows pomegranate seeds to have potent antimicrobial activities against Bacillus subtilis, Escherichia coli, and Saccharomyces cerevisiae.

So what are you waiting for? Do you need any better excuse to indulge in a bottle of Pomegranate wine? Consider it research.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Five for Five

International Journalist Extraordinaire, Kristin Lowe, “tagged” me with the “Five Things You Didn’t Know About Me.” For whomever may be interested, here are my five things:

1) Familial: I am the first person in my family (both sides) to be born in America. My sister is the second, though she lives in Paris, now.

2) Hippy-Dippy: I lived in a tent for two months, over the millennium, at Drop Zones (skydiving centers) in Taupo, New Zealand and Byron Bay, Australia (one month each). The highlight of that trip was spending my 30th birthday hiking barefoot along a muddy trail to the most gigantic, magnificent waterfall I’ve ever seen. That moment, standing small in front of the thundering power of nature, put my whole life in perspective.

3) Future: One day, I will disappear to a small, stone farmhouse in Spain, surrounded by sunflowers, lavender, sheep and chickens, and finally sit down to finish writing my book.

4) Educational: I have a degree in French (Literature) and a minor in Theatre.

5) Embarrasing: When I worked at Miramax Films (in LA, mid-90’s) we used those weird message-sending machines for internal communication (at the time, this was considered better than email, for some reason). The first and last initials of our names served as our “address.” One day, I sent a message to my buddy “MG” who worked in a different department, outlining some rather explicit, intimate details of my date, the night before. As it turns out, a big-wig Executive had the same initials, and called his Assistant into his office to inquire, “Who is NB and why is she sending me this message?!” Needless to say, I slinked around, with downcast eyes and bright red cheeks, for quite some time!

Here are my five tags: BabsieD, DCCeline, Amanda, Emily, Deb

Friday, January 12, 2007

In honor of Martin Luther King Day, A tribute to Ella Fitzgerald

Loved by all fans of all races, religions and nationalities, Ella Fitzgerald still captivates the hearts of audiences today. This week, the US Post Office created a stamp with her likeness to honor the songstress.

Dubbed "The First Lady of Song," Ella Fitzgerald was born in Virginia in 1917. The most popular female jazz singer for more than half a century, she won 13 Grammy awards throughout the course of her life, and sold over 40 million albums.

Her sultry ballads and lively jazz echoed through the world’s top venues (including 26 performances at Carnegie Hall!) She collaborated with other infamous jazz greats, such as Duke Ellington, Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra, Dizzy Gillespie and Benny Goodman. By the 1990s, Ella had recorded over 200 albums. (Among her many albums, check out the perfect cocktail party companion: Ella and Her Fellas, Cocktail Hour.)

In 1987, United States President Ronald Reagan awarded Ella the National Medal of Arts. France presented her with their Commander of Arts and Letters award, and several Ivy league universities bestowed Ella with honorary doctorates. A strong supporter of civil rights, and child welfare, Fitzgerald was also active in social causes.

In September of 1986, Ella underwent quintuple coronary bypass surgery. She was also diagnosed with diabetes and had failing eyesight. Despite protests by family and friends, Ella returned to the stage and pushed on with an exhaustive schedule.

At age 76, due to severe circulatory problems, both of her legs were amputated. After that, she rarely performed but found enjoyment sitting in her backyard, spending time with her son and granddaughter, Alice. She is quoted as saying, "I just want to smell the air, listen to the birds and hear Alice laugh.” On June 15, 1996, Ella Fitzgerald died in her Beverly Hills home, and was laid to rest in Inglewood, California.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

All That Glitters…

Now that the holidays are finally over, my favorite time of year has arrived… Award Season! It kicks off with the 64th Annual Golden Globe® Awards on Monday, January 15th.

Last year, I was a guest Entertainment Reporter covering the Golden Globes on Alhurra Television, in Virginia. This year, back in LA, I'm throwing my own award-watching party at home. If you feel inclined to do the same, consider whipping up a Gold Standard. Word has it that this cocktail will be served all weekend in the Access Hollywood “STUFF YOU MUST...” Lounge at LA's Sofitel Hotel. (Even if you can’t get your hands on the Hollywood swag, you can still drink like a star!)

The Gold Standard Cocktail
(Courtesy of BACARDI)
1 1/2 oz. BACARDI Limon
1 oz. Cointreau
1 1/2 oz. POM Wonderful
Dash Sprite
Pomegranate seeds
Lemon Swirl and 24K Gold Flecks (optional)

Shake BACARDI Limon, Cointreau, Pomegranate juice and strain into chilled martini glass. Top with Sprite and garnish with pomegranate seeds, Lemon swirl and 24K Gold Flecks.

Meanwhile... ever wonder where to get edible gold leaf? Here is your answer!

*No affiliation with The Golden Globe® Awards or the HFPA.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Sipster Submission

This post is part Celebrity Sips and part Sipster Submission. Sipster, Kristin Mendes, of Frisco, Texas sent in this fun story of the Toni Braxton concert - and themed cocktail - she experienced on a recent trip to Las Vegas. She says:

“I went to the Toni Braxton ‘Revealed’ concert in Vegas, at Harrah's. It was really great! The sexy girl and guy dancers made it even better… very provocative.

My favorite part wa
s when she sang “Unbreak my Heart” (which, by the way, got voted “worst breakup song ever.”) Toni even poked fun at it with a running commentary, which was hilarious. “How can you un-break someone's heart? etc." Meanwhile, I was singing so loudly that the woman in front of me turned around! I don't know if the Toni-tini's were talking, or my love of the song, but it was a memorable moment for me.

One thing I know is that the audience was truly touched by Toni Braxton, and felt a connection. Even the woman whose ear I was singing in sweetly said “goodbye” to me at the end of the show.

We loved the part where she tells how she got her start. Babyface discovered her singing as she was putting gas in her car and told her to come sing for him. The story even came with pictures (you know, eighties hair…) She is much prettier now! (as we all are, hopefully!) Anyway, try this drink - it's awesome!!”

(Courtesy of Harrah's, Las Vegas)
1 1/2 parts Absolut Ruby Red Vodka,
3/4 parts X-Rated passion fruit Liqueur,
3/4 parts Sence Rose Nectar,
1/2 parts Amoretti Pomegranate Syrup

Shake all ingredients with ice, and enjoy.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Ambassador Mariano Fernandez

And the Chilean Spirit (s)

This summer, Michelle Bachelet made history by becoming the first female President of Chile. (I wonder when the US will join the ranks of the progressive countries around the world with female leadership…)

President Bachelet’s life and political action is the stuff of inspiring novels and films, to be sure. Heroic, determined, modern – downright revolutionary, in my humble opinion – she is by far one of the most admirable women on the planet, today.

With her assumption of the highest position of power in Chile, came the changing of the guard, so to speak. I was lucky enough to meet the newly appointed Chilean Ambassador to the United States, Mariano Fernandez, and his wife, Maria, upon their arrival in Washington DC, this summer, just before I moved back to California. In addition to an impressive political career and several top-tier Ambassadorial appointments (London, Madrid, Rome), His Excellency is a wine connoisseur and bon vivant. His charm and knowledge left me feeling quite lucky to have had the opportunity to be one of the first journalists to interview him at the Embassy, a mere three weeks after settling into his new post.

I am writing an article about Ambassador Fernandez for an upcoming issue of a premiere glossy DC Magazine... However, I have been wanting to share a few tidbits from my first interview with Ambassador Fernandez, regarding Chilean wine and native spirit, Pisco, with the Liquid Muse Community since July! Finally, here it is:

In the world of wine, the Ambassador’s credentials include being Honorary President of the Chilean Sommelier Association and a member of the exclusive, invitation-only International Wine Academy. Ambassador Fernandez sits on many juries and enjoys his involvement as a “wine taster.” He refers to his own cellar (made up of thousands of bottles) as “reasonable” but does not consider himself a “collector” as he intends for his wines to be drunk, rather than merely amassed and abandoned.

While the Ambassador says he does not hold a preference for Chilean wines, per se, he admits that he “loves to inspire interest in Chilean wines in the US.” He notes some of the biggest selling points of Chilean wine are: the good price for the quality, the volume of annual production and the undiscovered jewels produced in his country.

In Chile, the growing conditions are so favorable, while land and labor remain reasonable, that attaining a reasonably priced quality product is relatively easy. To give an idea of pricing, a $10 Chilean vintage will be quite acceptable. Something in the realm of $50 can be quite exceptional. Ambassador Fernandez outlines Chile’s big advantage as, “Our ordinary, simple wines are very drinkable compared to others in well known countries.”

An enthusiast of all types of “vino”, the Ambassador chooses his wine to fit the occasion. He explains, “I love simple wines with a salad, when in a hurry. I enjoy what I call ‘meditation wine’ with a small piece of bread or cheese.” The Ambassador also revels in “very special, impressive wine” though he keeps that indulgence in moderation. Of those revered moments he says, “I love high quality wines but it is impossible to drink those every day. You need the necessary place to drink them, and the time to reflect on them, talk about them, appreciate them.”

Bustling with over 5 million residents, Santiago is surrounded by mountains and boasts a Mediterranean climate – dry, warm in summer, cold in winter, slightly rocky terrain… in other words, ideal wine-growing conditions. Vineyards lie within 100 miles of the capital city, making wine tasting an accessible pastime for local residents and tourists.

In the late 1980’s and early 1990's, Chilean wines exploded onto the international stage. Today, like previously colonized regions (such the US, Argentina, South Africa, New Zealand, etc.) Chile’s grapes are poised to rival their Old World ancestors. Where did they begin? Chile's wine history runs deep.

According to Ambassador Fernandez, the Conquistadors first brought grape vines to produce wine for mass. By 1557, 10 years after the Spanish came, Chile was producing wine in such amounts that it could be exported to surrounding regions. The Ambassdor highlights that when mining became big business in Chile in the mid-19th Century, wealthy mine owners began to import French Oak barrels, and vines from Bordeaux, enhancing Chile’s wine production. Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Riesling are among Chile’s thriving grape varietals.

As a matter of fact, the French Carmenere grape, a medium-bodied grape used in smoky, bold reds, has all but disappeared in France, due to crop disease. Luckily, Carmenere had already been planted in Chile, and became one of its flagship grapes. Interested in trying a Carmenere blend for yourself? The Ambassador suggests Coyam (a word borrowed from the native Mapucha tribe) which blends carmenere grapes with cabernet sauvignon, merlot syrah and mourvedre. At less than $25 per bottle, it is a must-try!

A couple of other suggestions include:

Marques de Casa Concha’s 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon, described in May 2006 by Wine Spectator as, “Very solid, with ripe cassis, blackberry and boysenberry fruit offset by vanilla, mineral and cocoa notes.”

Casa La Postole’s 2000 Merlot and 2002 Sauvignon Blanc

On to Pisco!
I have already written about the battle between Chile and Peru regarding Pisco, a clear, strong spirit made from distilled from grapes, on The Liquid Muse, and encourage interested readers to check this post called “Sour Grapes?” for more detailed info. Still, having the Chilean Ambassador before me, however, I could not resist asking his opinion on just who has the right to claim the Pisco Sour as their national drink!

Officially, the Chilean Embassy graciously shares the right to the Pisco Sour with their neighbors. However, Ambassador Fernandez did admit, “I would prefer not to have the argument. Both countries drink it. Pisco is produced in Peru and Chile but we produce 10 times the amount than Peru.” Beneath a layer of seriousness, he adds with a twinkle in his eye, “We won the battle.”

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Happy New Year!

The Liquid Muse Waxes Poetic in Honor of Iemanja, Goddess of the Ocean

Looking out at the Pacific today, I realized that it is no coincidence that my most recent incarnation is as The Liquid Muse. Being a "creative type" drawn especially to sharing my efforts via writing, performing and producing events, I have funneled my talents into several different areas over my 36 years. One of the main themes, however, that run through my endeavors is fluidity, water, liquid.

Maybe its because I'm Aquarius, or because my life is in constant motion. Maybe its because with each new tide, I feel every wave shimmer with renewed energy. Maybe its because I was born in the City by the Bay, to parents both from seaside regions, that I am forever drawn back to the water's edge. Since very young, I collected seashells and had private conversations with the ocean, hoping to absorb some of its power, grace and movement.

It was with astonishment that I learned of Iemanja, Goddess of the Ocean, while spending New Year's Eve 2001 in Rio de Janeiro. Incorporating old and new religions, and cultural traditions, Cariocas (residents of Rio) dress in all white, and descend upon the beach each December 31, with offerings for the Goddess. Gifts include white flowers, perfumed oils and tiny boats are set afloat in the water, carrying soap, mirrors or other finery fit for a feminine Deity.

According to believers, if the Goddess is happy with the person making the offering, she will accept the gift, and it is swallowed up by the sea. The person may then make a wish for the year, and Iemanja will grant it. However, if the offering is returned, the Goddess is angry, and the person must make a better attempt at pleasing her in the new year.

I was so awestruck by the beauty of the thousands of faithful carrying flowers to the shore that I investigated a little deeper, and found that Iemanja has several incarnations, in several religions around the world. The one with which I am most familiar is the Macumba religion, which was brought to Brazil with the Africans captured and transported across the ocean as slaves. It is said that those prisoners were so terrified by the dangerous journey (rightly so, as many died) that they would pray to Iemanja for safe delivery in the new land. Those who arrived continued to thank her on her feast day.

Another thing I found interesting, being brought up Catholic, are the many similarities between Iemanja and Our Lady of Guadalupe (which is the "version" of Mary to which I am most drawn). Both are often depicted in blue robes, both are offered flowers - pink roses for Our Lady of Guadalupe. Both Mary and Iemanja are considered maternal and have compassion for the people who invoke a connection with them. I have a near-drowing experience, in the ocean, and Our Lady of Guadalupe plays a role in my rescuing - but that is a story best told in person.

I was so inspired by all that I had learned about Iemanja on that first trip to Rio that I named my Brazilian Bikini importing business Iemanja Swimwear. I produced splashy events, featuring gorgeous Brazilian models in the beautiful swimwear. Of course, the name was probably not the best for an American business, as most people couldn't pronounce it or remember it... but I was happy to honor the Goddess and people were usually fascinated to learn about her.

I went back to Rio for New Year's Eve 2002, with my sister, and experienced Iemanja's feast day, again. It was just as beautiful as I had remembered from the year before. I spent this year's back home in LA, but did manage my own little journey to the ocean. Among my requests is a happy 2007 to Sipsters everywhere!