Wine for the Olympics (Olympics for Wine)

The Winter Olympics are on in Pyeongchang, South Korea, and it’s one of the only times I actually watch regular television. We got rid of cable years ago and hardly ever watch network TV, preferring instead Netflix and Amazon Prime. And, I have to say, I don’t miss network TV at all. I mean, it’s the most frustrating thing to have two minutes of commercials literally every two minutes, not to mention the constant yammering on of the commentators. I wish they added value but they just don’t. Take figure skating, for example. We often wonder what music they’re skating to but no one ever says. In fact, we can barely hear the music over the incessant talking between the two commentators.

While we’re on the subject of figure skating, let me say it’s my favorite Olympic sport to watch but I never get to see it because it’s on too late. I guess maybe if I lived in a different time zone but, for now, I have to read about it on social media and search in vain for video clips of what I missed. It’s sad.

It got me thinking… would it be different if I was more into all the sports, instead of just interested in skating? What if they made wine into an Olympic sport? A few years ago, Netflix released a documentary called, “SOMM.” It followed several young people who were studying for the dreaded and prestigious sommelier exam. The exam has several parts, if I understand correctly, and through the film, we were able to be flies on the wall for some portions of it. They have to prove they can serve wine, and they are given tables to wait on. They also have to prove they can identify wine in a blind taste test, and there is a written exam. Much of the process is in secret, but what if it wasn’t?

I would totally watch people try to taste. We could see the score on the screen or maybe even the answers at the end. We could watch them botch a table service or drop a tray, just like when skiers wipe-out on the slopes. We could get behind these would-be master sommeliers, just as we do the athletes. I think I could be on to something!

The commercials would be much more interesting to watch, to me, since they’d likely be about food and wine. Plus, the stories that accompanied the wine Olympic games would be more interesting to me. They’re filming the next installment of “SOMM” now. I can’t wait to see what’s in store. My own “winolympics.” Cheers!

cross and wine glass with red wine

A Wine for Va”Lent”ine’s Day

Faithful followers may recall in the past I’ve given up wine for Lent. Sometimes, that’s gone well; other times? Well, let’s just say I was a bit grouchier for those 40 to 45 days!

As a “wine blogger,” I struggled with the idea of giving it up again this year. In a way, wine is work for me, when you consider this blog. That being said, I have to say that the nights where I don’t have a glass of wine before bed, I sleep SO much better. I know it impacts my sleep and it might be interesting to further test that theory!

What’s more, Lent is about sacrifice and this is a BIG sacrifice for me and would be a hardship that would force me to truly “suffer.” The icing on the cake that prompted me to go ahead and commit to giving up wine was my husband. He decided to give up wine for Lent. I’ve never had a partner in crime before on my Lenten sacrificial journey. I think it would be a nice way for us to reconnect and support each other in our faith.

This year, Ash Wednesday, the start of Lent and the first day of “fasting,” fell on Valentine’s Day, which posed an interesting problem! We decided together that we would open the sparkling wine that came in my First Leaf shipment as a celebration of the holiday and would begin our sacrifice the next day.

So far, so good without the wine but it’s only been a night! Weekend might be tough! Good thing the husband bought some yummy herbal tea to take its place.

As they say, you definitely can have “too much of a good thing.” So, maybe it’s good to want sometimes and to take breaks from the things we enjoy. That way, we enjoy them that much more when we can get back to them again.

As for this blog, no worries! For the next 40 days or so, I’ll still post but it won’t be about the wine I’m drinking currently. There is plenty to share, including wine book reviews, restaurant reviews (including one overdue review from our trip to Laci’s Tapas Bar for our anniversary) and thoughts on wines I’d love to try and regions I’d love to visit…someday. Meantime, cheers (as I hold up my cup of tea)!

lucia praying

Wine for First Penance

My middle child experienced a rite of Catholic passage this past weekend when she made her first penance. Catholics believe in confession of our sins as a way to be forgiven and live anew. We all make mistakes and this allows us to atone for those errors in judgment and become closer to God in the process.

Typically a child has a first reconciliation experience a few months before their First Holy Communion, which for Lucia will take place in May. Lucia did a great job. Many children are scared to death to confess to a priest for the very first time. And while she really had wanted to see her own priest, she was fortunate enough to meet with another local, young priest, who was generous and kind with her.

She said her prayers and afterward lit a candle to symbolize the “light turning back on” and her beginning anew. She grabbed her certificate and we left. I asked her if she felt better since often I feel better after going to confession. She said not really. But, it was her first time!

It’s exhilarating to watch your child do something impactful for the very first time and it reminds me of things that I really should be doing to model behaviors and actions. In fact, last month, I took Lucia with me to confession so she could see that grownups do it, too! Children really do keep you honest!

In my last post I mentioned the two wines we enjoyed over the weekend, both from Icellars Estate, Niagara-On-The-Lake, Canada. Really, anything goes for a big day like Lucia had. We went all out with a big, juicy red and some yummy pasta, making us both happy after a long day!



Wine for a Hurt Paw

Pets are a lot like children. They need constant care and feeding, playtime, discipline and all your love. They also are not immune to accidents. Saturday afternoon around 4 p.m. we had our first experience with the emergency vet clinic. I let Daisy out as usual and when she came back in her paw was bleeding all over the place. I immediately laid her down and called for help. Everyone came running. We couldn’t determine what was wrong and even though we wrapped it tightly, it didn’t stop. To make matters more challenging, we couldn’t find the special pencil thingie that stops bleeding.

We called our regular vet and a voice mail advised us to go to a clinic across town. We weren’t too sure about it for a variety of reasons not the least of which was the distance. Plus, we sort of remembered there might be one in Camillus or Baldwinsville. Luckily, we were right. I grabbed my things and put her in the car, headed for the Veterinary Clinic and Emergency Care Center about 12 minutes from our home.

Daisy was a good girl throughout the ordeal. She was a little hyper when we arrived but the clinic staff were quick to respond and they took her back immediately while I checked in. I didn’t have but a minute to text the family to tell them we had arrived when Daisy came out as good as new. Turns out she had torn her dew claw completely off. We have NO idea how or where she did that. A bandage for about 24 hours and now she’s as good as new.

If you live in the northern suburbs of Syracuse and every require emergency vet care, I highly recommend the VECCC. They were friendly, efficient and caring. I was in and out in less than 10 minutes. All told, the entire experience from when Daisy came in to when we arrived back home safe and sound was only about 40 minutes.

Needless to say after the adrenaline rush of the whole thing, I was ready for a glass of wine. Good thing we had our choice of the Icellars Estates reds that my husband brought back from Canada. I enjoyed the Syrah with our creamy tortellini and tomato soup, and the Arinna with our Instant Pot pizza pasta (which is so good, it’s like crack!) the following evening.

That means there’s only one bottle left of our special Canadian stash, besides a couple of ice wines in the fridge, which last forever. We’d better make that one count! Cheers!



“No” Wine for a Week

This past week, and the week before it, have been crazy busy in our household. Jon has had back to back opera performances, which means lots of rehearsals nearly every evening. I’m not used to doing the evening routine alone every single night! It’s not necessarily hard but because it’s not the norm, it’s left me completely exhausted. I literally have been getting up at 5 a.m. and haven’t relaxed until 8:30 or 8:45 p.m. every single day.

I don’t tell you this as a sob story because it’s totally fine. I share this because it’s meant I have not had a single glass of wine this entire week! Usually, on normal evenings, I sit down around 8 p.m. with Jon and we open a bottle of something. Without Jon, I hesitate to open a bottle that I know I’ll only drink one glass from. Plus, I’ve been so tired, the last thing I want is a glass. I really just want bed! LOL.

But, not having wine this week reminds me that although I truly enjoy trying all different kinds and thinking about them in the context of my daily life and times, I don’t “need” to drink wine. In fact, I’ve slept a whole lot better and more soundly! Of course, I’ll never know if it’s because I haven’t had that night-cap or if it’s my intensely long days of working out, work (which has been insane due to a crisis project), teaching, kids’ activities (swimming two nights and piano the third night) and general household chores.

Tonight, I’m headed to Jon’s opera performance at Syracuse University’s Setnor School of Music. They are doing a modernized, English translation of Gianni Schicchi. Maybe we’ll have a glass of wine after the performance. I’ll get right on that! Cheers!

journaling, drinking water and eating steel cut oats

Wine for Perseverance

colaneri estate winery

Wine for a Road Trip to Canada

Faithful readers know that a couple of years ago, my husband and I made a trip to Niagara-on-the-Lake in Canada to spend a few days and nights in wine country. We had a wonderful time and fell in love with one winery that had just opened literally days before we visited, Icellars Estate Winery.

Although we did purchase bottles from them, we drank them almost immediately and then missed them; you can’t purchase their wine here in the United States so we’ve been out of luck, following them on social media and wishing we could try the new vintages. The owner even commented back to me once that perhaps I could do a barrel tasting sometime!

At any rate, my husband decided that for Christmas he would surprise me and he made the trip in one day to Niagara-on-the-Lake to get some wine for me from my favorite winery there. The border patrol thought he was crazy, driving all that way for a few bottles of wine but he made it across and on to the winery.

After a minor snafu with the credit card not working (he had to drive to the nearest “petrol” station for an ATM), he procured a few bottles of my favorites. Plus, he did a barrel tasting! He even carefully brought a pipet back to me in a sealed jar. It probably wasn’t exactly the same but even so, how cool is that?

We’ve already enjoyed one bottle but there are a couple left in the wine fridge that we’ll open sooner rather than later. He also stopped at a nearby winery, Colaneri Estate, and picked up a few of their wines, which we also enjoy. They use the Appassimento style, where the grapes are dried in the sun a bit before the wine is made. It’s popular in Italy and brings out interesting, full flavors in the wine.

How far have you gone to get a favorite wine? I’d love to hear your story; share in the comments below! Cheers!

rigatoni with meat sauce in the instant pot

Wine for an Instant Pot

Happy new year! I have been so focused on goal setting and other projects that this blog has taken a back seat for a couple of weeks. But, I’m all set to get back into the swing of posting. One new development I’ve been wanting to share with you is the addition of an Instant Pot to the Howell kitchen.

I received one from my husband this past Christmas and it’s been interesting! The first couple of recipes we tried were pretty good – macaroni and cheese, chicken soup and hard boiled eggs. My husband made a yummy goulash for New Year’s Eve and I’ve since been doing weekly meal prep, including steel cut oats for breakfast each day, as well as lots of other dinner recipes.

For the most part, it’s delicious, fresh food prepared quickly but if I’m being honest, it’s not that much faster than stove top or oven, depending on the recipe. One of the recipes I tried was Portugese Tomato Rice and Shrimp and that bombed. It burned the bottom of the pot and caused it not to pressure cook as it was intended to. That gave me pause and I was nervous the next couple of times I used it, but I’m still using it a few times a week.

I am using a combination of recipes I find on Pinterest, along with three cookbooks I received for Christmas, as well. Tonight, we had rigatoni with meat sauce and I also made banana bread steel cut oats for breakfast for the week.

I’ve cooked with wine in the instant pot but as far as wine that goes with it, really anything goes! We’ve enjoyed so many yummy dishes from steamed fish and veggies that went well with a Chardonnay to pasta dishes with Cabernet Sauvignon.

If you’ve been contemplating an Instant Pot and you are interested in preparing fresh, delicious food for your family in an efficient way, I definitely recommend it. It’s a great addition to our kitchen. In fact, I haven’t even stored it yet! Even the crock pot goes from the basement to our kitchen counter on a somewhat weekly basis. The Instant Pot still hasn’t made it’s way down; it’s being used that much!

If you’ve tried it or if you do try it, please comment below and let me know what you think. Better yet, share your favorite recipe! Cheers!


A Wine for a Christmas Stocking

In my last post I alluded to the fact I was finishing up a Christmas stocking for my son, a long tradition that started with my mom years ago. A couple of years ago at this time, I was finally finishing up a stocking for my daughter, Lucia, nearly seven years after she was born! I was determined to finish it for her but was torn because I also really wanted to start one for Christopher. My mom said she was looking for a new project and would be happy to start Christopher’s stocking for me, and maybe she might even finish it! I was relieved. I quickly picked out a pattern and delivered everything to her.

She worked tirelessly on the stocking but as her health deteriorated, she just couldn’t cross stitch any longer. The stocking was delivered back to me over the summer to finish. But, that was when she got a lot sicker and ultimately passed away in late August. And, after that, I just couldn’t bring myself to pick up the stocking to finish it. There was something about the fact that she held the fabric and pulled the floss through so carefully. I just couldn’t.

But in late October, I decided I had to finish it. It would be special since it would be something she and I made together. Of course, being mom, she left me the hardest part! All kidding aside, she had done a gorgeous job and I had to complete it just as carefully as she did. A week before Christmas I spent the weekend binge sewing to finish it in time for Santa’s arrival. Near the end of the project, I actually ran out of the floss color needed to finish it up! Luckily, my dad found a bunch in her stash of cross stitch paraphernalia. In fact, it was exactly the right amount needed to finish it. Divine intervention?

My husband finished it up, sewing the back on for me. He likes to sew, and I think he wanted a piece of the stocking action, as well. Christopher is one lucky boy to have so many people love him so much that they would work together to finish his Christmas stocking. And, he’s three years old so he didn’t have to wait as long as my middle child!

While sewing I took a break to enjoy some wine, which had an appropriate name, Still and Co. Still always reminds me of Christmas Eve because one of my favorite carols is Still, Still, Still. The winery’s Merlot was lovely and full-bodied, as well, if not a bit tobacco-y.

Still also has a third meaning, in this case. My mom is still with us, helping us complete the stocking, making sure we even had the floss to finish it up! I know she’s watching us all this Christmas season, as we dig our hands into our own stockings from our childhood, so lovingly crafted by her. We all miss her, but she’s still with us and will always be with us. Cheers, and Merry Christmas!


A Wine for Organizing

Cross stitching is a hobby I’ve had since I was about 10 years old (I think?) or maybe even younger, if you count my first needlepoint projects. My mom cross stitched. My grandma cross stitched. I guess you could say it’s in my DNA to be a cross stitcher! At any rate, I used to be much more prolific with my projects, finishing multiple kits per year and even giving them as gifts. Now that I have kids, two jobs and other things vying for my time, I don’t do it as much as I used to. A couple of months ago, I took it up again to finish up a Christmas stocking for my son.

This is a tradition that has been carried down from my own mother. She made homemade stockings for my brothers and me – mine was needlepoint and theirs were cross stitch. So, when I had children of my own, I decided to carry on the torch and make them stockings, too. Maria’s was finished early in her life but poor Lucia had to wait until two years ago for hers! She’s was nearly 7 years old! (I told you I’m not as prolific!) I’ve been finishing up Christopher’s, determined not to make him wait another five years! But, more on that in a future post.

As I worked on his stocking, I neared the end and ran out of a color I needed. I literally needed maybe six or seven strands and ran out. This always happens. I mean, I must have hundreds of DMC floss in the craft room but, of course, this is the color I don’t have. I sent my husband and daughter out to A.C. Moore for more, but they came back with a different style of floss – it was the correct color, but too thick for me to use. It was then that I remembered mom’s floss collection. I figured it had to be still in the house. Dad wouldn’t know what to do with it. So, I texted him, asking if she had DMC floss #746. He found a teeny tiny bit! Plus, he found much, much more.

The following morning after church, he gave me a giant box of all the cross stitch stuff he found. Maria and I eagerly combed through it as soon as we got home. She had complete kits, never opened, including smaller ones for the girls. She had blank hand towels on which you could cross stitch designs. She even had a needlepoint kit, which I’m pretty excited about since I love needlepoint. Best of all? She had hundreds of DMC floss colors, including all of my late grandma’s, as well.

I spent most of the afternoon and evening winding DMC floss around little paper bobbins. It was therapeutic after all that binge cross stitching I had been doing to complete that stocking! I love all the colors and it was a great, mindless activity to get them all wound. I’m nearly done and the next project will be to organize them in order of number into all the plastic boxes we have to store floss.

My next project is a Last Supper kit, by Janlynn my husband gave me last Christmas. I’m feeling a renewed energy around my cross stitch hobby now with all my newfound haul. I’m even thinking about making one of my New Year’s resolutions to commit to 30 minutes a day, three times a week to cross stitching. I really do love it. It de-stresses me and it’s fun! It’s the getting into it that gets me.

Oh, while I was winding floss, I was drinking the most lovely red that came in my latest First Leaf shipment. International Archives: France 2016 Mouvedre France was so yummy and, really, the best wine I’ve had in a long while. It was perfect for sipping along with organizing. What hobby will you recommit to in 2018? Comment below! Cheers!