Fancy wine dinners and such


L to R: Cory Bolton, Emmanuel Kemiji, George Reis

Despite my interest in cocktails, spirits, and most things in that world, I’ve largely left the wine side of things to my husband. When we were invited to attend the Miura/Clos Pissarra Winemaker Dinner at Ocean by Sous Chef and friend Cory Bolton, A.K.A. Tater, we jumped at the chance. For me, it was a chance to experience wine in a new way, and for Adam, it was the third time he’s eaten there as a customer even though he worked there for five years.


Pairing dinners are a lot of fun. The food tends to be created around the drinks rather than the other way around, a dynamic that my nerdy bartender heart adores. Chef and owner George Reis’s dinner didn’t disappoint. When we walked in the door, we were greeted with a Pisco Sour to start the night off on a light, refreshing note. Our table was an interesting mix of business professionals and people in the wine and spirits business, which kept conversation flowing like wine through the dinner, and our server Melissa was on her game.


First course

In the past, the spirit and cocktail dinners that I’ve attended didn’t focus as much on seafood, so it was pretty cool to open with some crab salad, smoky grilled octopus, and a sweet, mineral-y oyster. Paired with this course was El Sol Blanc, a white grenache from Montsant. The wine was crisp and vegetal like a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, with a creamy texture, grassy nose and touch of gooseberry, which played off the seafood well. I should also note that, as I learned during the dinner, white grenache is quite rare.


We continued with a delicately balanced Phyllo Sea Scallop Napoleon plated with ham hock jus and enoki mushrooms. The scallop was rich and creamy, offset by the salt of the jus and the salmon roe on top. This course was paired with the Miura Pinot Noir, their full-bodied, juicy, and approachable wine, said Master Sommelier and Propieter Emmanuel Kemiji.



One thing I’d heard before but that hadn’t really registered previously was that pinot noir is “the most difficult varietal to grow and the most fickle wine to make.” The Miura was deeply spicy, with black and red cherry and a touch of spice on the nose. In contrast to the scent, the wine itself was solidly medium-bodied. With the food, the darker fruit notes complemented the lightly earthy mushrooms well.



Rabbit Ballotine

The next course, a Rabbot Ballotine, was my favorite. The ballotine was a kind of roulade that combined ground thigh and tenderloin meat with crunchy nuts wrapped in chicken skin. Holy crap. It was creamy and tender, and the carrots underneath were sweet and tender. The accompanying sage risotto was perfectly cooked, and taunted me into eating more than I should (I’m lactose intolerant). With the wine, it was just about perfect. Grown in a Spanish region with a 2,000 year viticultural history, this grenache was unexpected: the nose was more like a port than an unfortified wine, and the surprisingly light body was balanced by bold flavors of dried cranberries, sherry, prune, honey, and dark fruit.




Our main course was seared venison with a creamy, toasty celeriac rösti, fava bean puree, mushroom puree, and roasted blue foot and trumpet mushrooms. The venison was quite good: it was tender and lean, but not gamey. The trumpet mushrooms lent it a dark truffle flavor. The Aristan (not Artisan), a wine named for Kemiji’s sons, was a much bigger wine, flavor-wise, and tasted more like a cabernet than anything else, making it a great pairing for the only red meat course of the night.


FullSizeRender_4Dessert was a more…exotic sensory experience than I was expecting. The Meyer Lemon Buzz Button Sorbet introduced itself with as a lovely lemon sorbet accompanied by a nutty, crunchy cracker and sweet lattice, but with a twist. With every bite, my tongue felt like it was buzzing and went a bit numb.

Since I was unfamiliar with the buzz button, a friend and server brought us two. I promptly dropped one of the tiny flowers, but quickly ate the other. The numbness intensified and spread to the area where I was chewing. The interaction of that flavor with the bubbly cava was interesting, but all I could taste was something that seemed to be the color yellow.

One of Kemiji’s last words on the subject of pairing was that “great food makes wine taste a lot better.” The opposite is true, but they’re good words to live by, in my book.

Photos c/o Cory Bolton. 


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Stock the Bar (It’s ALIVE!)

Lots of things have happen since I last posted. It’s been a tumultuous time, and I hope to get back to posting about different local and national organizations that do amazing work in the community and world.

As I’ve mentioned before, self-care is a hugely necessary part of any and all social justice work. For me, that means a bath, hot cup of tea, or some sort of boozy tipple. Sometimes, it even means writing about something that will bring joy to others’ taste buds. Like my new book (that was subtle)! It’s called The Classic & Craft Cocktail Recipe Book, and it’s available on Amazon and, of course, from me.

It also occasionally means being silly with my friends. You may recall that David Griner and I did a couple of fun posts matching stock photo characters with what I would serve them if they walked into my bar. Given that I’m pretty sure one of these did walk into my bar last Halloween, I feel like I have a bit more experience than usual with this set. Without further ado:

mermaidAttina, Ariel’s sister, will probably need something refreshing and relatively low proof, given that I’m pretty sure mermaids die if they dry out. Since she’s already obsessed with bubbles, I’d fix her an Aperol Spritz. It’s the perfect thing to make her feel like she’s part of this world.

Next Halloween, I plan to dress up as a mad mixologist: lab coat, goggles, beaker of craft cocktail or PBR and a what-the-hell-are-you-drinking attitude. But this dude will need a drink before then or his brain might turn to mush from all that math. At my bar, I’d serve a Rob Roy, sometimes called a Scotch Manhattan, with several extra napkins: he’ll either forget his drink and knock it over (my M.O.) or need them to scribble down a flash of brilliance.

Is it too soon to make an Alt-Right Barbie joke? In any case, off-brand Lara Croft here would get a Whistlepig whiskey and Buffalo Rock ginger ale. You know, mixing something that has a great tag line and all-American branding but is actually made outside the U.S. with something made locally.

sexy-cleopatraTo start, I dig her outfit, and would tell her so. Based on the mod rags, I’d serve her a Harvey Wallbanger (basically a Screwdriver with a float of Galliano) with a giant fruit garnish and an Austin Powers dance. Cheers, bay-bee.

A wizard walks into a bar…I’ve been waiting a while to use that joke. But someone as fancy as this guy deserves an absolutely magical cocktail. Like a Zombie variation with a flaming lime shell, served with a friendly “YER A WIZARD, LARRY!” to top it off. Even if it was a quiet Tuesday.

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How To Read A Cocktail Recipe

Outside of writing, tutoring, and working at My Sister’s Closet at the YWCA, I teach bartending classes every quarter at the Homewood Library. Sharing my knowledge from bartending and writing research is one of the most fun ways to blend the two vocations together.

For every class, I batch the cocktails that attendees drinks, then demonstrate how to mix each cocktail on its own. All of the juices and syrups are made before the class begins. When I talk through making the cocktail, it looks easy. But without hundreds of hours of practice, many of the movements and practices probably don’t feel natural. That’s OK.

Next time you want to make a cocktail at home, keep a few things in mind to make the outcome more delicious. If you’re so inclined, you can apply these tips to the recipes in my book that’s due to come out in December.

  1. Be confident. Everybody looks silly shaking cocktails. Do it with confidence, and you’ll look more the part of the badass bartender.
  2. Avoid ingredients with artificial ingredients. Store bought syrups and juices
  3. Be precise. Use jiggers or other measuring devices. Yes, many bartenders don’t, but if they’re making craft cocktails, they’ve had a lot of training. At home, 1/8 ounce too much or too little of an ingredient can throw a drink way out of whack. Use the dang jigger.
  4. Read into instructions. “Shake vigorously” usually means to shake a cocktail for 10-20 seconds, 10 for pellet or chip ice, and 20 for huge cubes. Same goes for “stir vigorously.”

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Let’s talk about The Media: Day 2

news-1Let’s get one thing out of the way: A lot of things about the upcoming administration scare the shit out of me. But one of the most troubling is the President-elect’s unwillingness to allow reporters follow his actions. Traditionally, a corps of reporters has followed the President’s moves to report on meetings, health updates, and policy coming out of the White House.

To paraphrase a wonderful Facebook post from a friend, it is entirely possible to influence what is run on even the most mainstream sites. Here are a few tips from Julie:

  1. I probably sound like a broken record, but speak up! If you want to see more of something or less of something else, let the publication know. Editors listen, and in the days of waning ad revenue, they want to know what gets your eyeballs onto their page.
  2. Stay away from fake news, especially to prove a point.
  3. If you can afford it, subscribe to publications that pay writers well and are fact-checked.

She’s even put out a list of several of those publications on that Facebook post.

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Double post: Let’s talk about The Media day 1

newY’all all know I’m addicted to NPR. You’ve probably guessed that I’m also a sucker for a beautifully written Washington Post, gut-wrenching Atlantic or quippy New Yorker column. But all of my media, including the most conservative channels got this election wrong. Not just a little wrong, bigly W-R-O-N-G. Or big league. Whatever.

Some people place the failure on the proliferation of fake news sites like these. One writer for one of these outlets even went as far as to say “I think Donald Trump is in the White House because of me.” Google and Facebook showed up a little bit late to the party, vowing to vet and monitor publishers’ veracity a week after the election.

There are probably some of y’all out there saying “But Clair, you’re a writer. You’ve written articles for The Media. You’re part of it!” Yeah, well, I write about cocktails and I’m a fact-checker. That second part is what you should focus on: it means that I get to regularly pick apart articles to make sure that they’re watertight. It, along with my physics background, means I really like numbers.

“But censorship!” you cry. When approximately 38 percent of the articles on these websites have been found by one survey to be a mixture of true and false or mostly false, it’s damaging to the mere hope of any sort of civilized discourse. In comparison, the so-called mainstream media gets it right much, much more frequently, or about 90 percent of the time.

Here’s the rub: It’s likely that most people who read this post will be ideologically similar to me. It’s conversations like this that must happen over the next four years. But with news sites like this on both sides of the aisle propagating what are literally different sets of facts, the talks are nearly impossible.

If you’d like to get a heads up when you’re visiting a possible fake news site, download the Google Chrome extensions suggested here. To make things even cooler, another detector called FiB has been developed by college students and will hopefully be available very, very soon.

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Filed under BlogLikeCrazy, See Clair Write, Social Justice

Take a walk: Self-care

self-careIt may not be an organization doing good work in the community, but you can’t do sustainable good for others if you’re not practicing self-care. Though getting something done after pushing through may be satisfactory, it also makes you susceptible to colds, viruses, and other forms of illness.

For me, that means binge watching something mindless on Netflix (like “Reign,” which absolutely fits the bill) while playing a silly browser game and working out at least twice a week. But if that doesn’t sound like pure bliss, explore your options. Whether it’s an intense workout, dinner out with friends, a long soak in the tub with a beverage of your choosing, or a couple hours of video games, self-care doesn’t have to be expensive. Heck, if you love to walk outside or watch videos of puppies, it can be free. Whatever it is, take the time out to care for yourself so you can care for others.

Don’t believe me on this one? Well, check out the TED playlist on the subject or Lifehacker’s take or Psychology Today. Stress, like that caused by your job, home life, political realities, etc., is really bad for your body (Google Scholar backs me up here with more than three million papers for the search). Self-care is a way to re-center, re-evaluate, and give yourself some space to exist in the moment. Cold season is upon us, and I’ll say it again: you can’t effectively fight for others if you’re ill yourself. Be gentle.


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Day Four: the YWCA

ywcaFor this entry, there’s a caveat. I work part-time at the YWCA in our secondhand store, My Sister’s Closet. Fxmmes, if you’re ever in need of cheap work clothes, we have a pretty awesome selection. More info on that in this article by my wonderful and talented best friend.

Though the YWCA is a national organization, each local chapter chooses their service areas based on the area’s needs. For the YWCA of Central Alabama, those four areas are domestic violence services, childcare, affordable housing, and social justice. These programs serve both the heart of the city and the rural areas that surround it.

With a powerful member of Trump’s proposed cabinet accused of domestic violence and who has actively expressed anti-semitic, misogynistic, generally hateful rhetoric, it’s more important to put energy and focus on the good, unsexy work being done to eliminate racism, empower women, and promote peace, justice, freedom, and dignity for all. That is, after all, the YWCA’s mission.

If you have any questions about the organization, I’ll do my best to answer. Get involved by volunteering, even for a couple hours a week or for special events, or donate.

If you’re ever in need of domestic violence services, call 205-322-4878.

This is part of a series on organizations that will fight tooth and nail to protect the rights of all. If you are looking for resources on allyship other than organizations you can support, check out this list.


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