Flying Tomatoes: Why You Crave Bloody Marys on a Plane



Lamont vaycays always felt like they started the same way: the family woke up before sun rise, put on our travel uniform of brightly colored nylon sweat suits (read: an early 90’s windbreaker track suit covered in oddly placed geometric shapes), and clambered into a cab to make the hour drive to O’Hare Airport in Chicago. Somehow we were always running late. My mom hurried my little sister and me through security while my dad grumbled about us bringing too much luggage for a 10 day trip. “If you can’t carry it yourself, you can’t bring it,” was an empty threat he often muttered under his breath. As the ‘swish swish swish swish’ sound of nylon rubbing against itself echoed through the domestic terminal of O’Hare, my mom, my sister and I sped walked to the gate with my dad closely following behind, balanced his own carry-on, my mom’s backpack and the Candy Land and Hello Kitty suitcases that, according to my father, were not allowed on the trip.


My little sister, Lisa and I circa the mid 90’s. If you think these puffy paint sweatshirts are good looking, try and imagine how attractive the matching nylon travel sweat suits were. Scrunchies optional.

On-board drink service was and still is my favorite part of any flight. I remember getting so nervous as the two flight attendants wheeled the cart closer to our row. “Don’t screw this up, Leslie!” I would say to myself in my head. “Don’t get a Sprite. You always drink Sprite! How about orange juice? It’s fun, different. You love juice!” The cart stopped next to my seat. “Something to drink?” the flight attendant would chirp. My mom spoke up, “half orange juice, half Sprite please.” My mother was a genius.

To this day I still order half orange juice, half Sprite on an airplane. That is when I don’t have a free boozy drink coupon and use it for a bloody Mary. I love me a good bloody. The orange juice/Sprite combo, however, is incredibly random because I don’t ever drink this concoction anywhere else. I was curious if anyone else had a go to airplane beverage and it turns out that I am not alone. In the small, unconventional poll I held (i.e. asked a handful of friends, family and co-workers what they drink on planes) I found that 7/10 times people will get something they deem as irregular from their day to day drink order. Lots of cranberry juice and ginger ale but the most overwhelming response was tomato juice. Not only did people who ordered tomato juice say it was random but that they really didn’t like tomato juice any other time. The in-flight urge to order a tomato juice-based beverage may be more than just an impulse to drink something different. There is only one thing that could help explain this phenomenon: SCIENCE!

Authors of a paper published on the online journal, Flavour claim that tomatoes may be one of the few things that actually tastes better in the air. The paper titled, “Airplane Noise and the Taste of Umami,” states that while the loud sound of an airplane engine may decrease our ability to taste sweet, salty, bitter or sour it does not affect the taste of umami. Umami, the somewhat elusive “savory” flavor is a key feature of tomatoes. Cue that bloody Mary!

It seems that those who enjoy a bloody Mary on a plane have intuitively uncovered that their tomato-y beverage tastes better in the sky. Next time you board a flight why not partake in a little research of your own. Time to get deliciously-bloody-Mary-drunk, y’all.


“Airplane Noise and the Taste of Umami.”  Flavour Journal. Charles Spence, Charles Michel, Barry Smith:


Best Bang for Your Wine Buck?: Vino at Trader Joe’s

Trader Joe’s in my jam. My local TJ’s is a short walk from my apartment in Chicago so I pop in frequently for all my food necessities. Eggs, milk, bananas, an excessive amount of cheese, the delicious and low-priced chocolate bars they always have conveniently situated at the front cash registers…you name it, I probably get it at TJ’s. There is, however, one category I tend to avoid buying from my fav grocery spot: Wine.

As a self-proclaimed “baller on a budget” I’m often tempted by Trader Joe’s super low wine prices. I’ve got a taste for Champagne with a Two-buck Chuck allowance. So I decided to give the wine at Trader Joe’s a shot and bought a handful of white wine (and one rosé) to check ’em out. Below is what I bought, what I thought and whether or not I’d buy it again.


Portico da Ria Albariño, Josephina Syrah Rosé, Caves des Perrieres Pouilly-Fumé and the Floriana Grüner Veltliner.

Portico Da Ria Albariño 2013 – $7.99
This Albariño was definitely my favorite out of the four bottles I purchased. Albariño is a beautifully aromatic grape varietal that is most often found in the Rías Baixas region of northwest Spain. Albariño generally has lovely aromas of ripe peach and apricot with a slight mineral characteristic and fresh acidity. This particular Albariño possessed these characteristics but in a slightly muted way. Can’t complain for the price though! If you’re on a tight budget but want to drink a fresh, bright white wine that doesn’t suck, pick this bad boy up. I would certainly buy this bottle again.

Josephina Syrah Rosé 2012 – $5.99
Like most twenty-something, red-blooded American females I am pretty easy to please when it comes to rosé. That being said, I found this one particularly difficult to gulp down. Syrah rosé is known for being a little bolder and more savory in style but the Josephina was just big and funky in all the wrong ways. Skip this wine and drink Mad Dog 20/20 instead.

Caves des Perrieres Pouilly-Fumé 2012 – $11.99
Pouilly-Fumé is a dry white wine made from the ever-popular Sauvignon Blanc grape in the Loire region of France. This Loire Sauv Blanc had a classic vegetal quality with notes of honey dew melon and a subtle limetone minerality on the finish. At approximately 12 bucks, this wine was the most expensive of the bunch and while not my favorite it was not terrible. This is the wine to bring with you to that movie theater date where you’re going with that one guy you don’t really like that much but you’ve decided you’ll date him for now so you bring a bottle that’s under $12 because you don’t care much about impressing him but since you have to share the wine with said dude you will bring something that can be enjoyed out of plastic Solo cups during the new Hunger Games movie.

Floriana Grüner Veltliner 2013 – $5.99
A Hungarian Grüner that was totally disappointing. Grüner Veltliner is the most common white grape found in Austria but many growing regions of the world are embracing this wonderful wine. Grüners are typically full-bodied and dry with a memorable floral, spicy and/or white pepper aroma. I have a slight obsession with Grüner so I was bummed to find that this wine was awful. While the low price tag is tempting save your $6 and spend it on something that actually tastes good. Venti Pumpkin Spice Frappuccino, anyone? #PSL



Nashville: Come for the Bachelorette Party, Stay for the Food

According to contemporary American culture, as the Maid of Honor in my sister’s wedding I was responsible for throwing the bride-to-be a “Nashville Ladies’ Weekend” complete with 20 of her closest friends clad in matching t-shirts singing Shaina Twain, or whatever country music enthusiasts listen to these days, fueled by too many shots of Fireball. Thankfully my little sister is not your typical girly-girl bridezilla so she was more than pleased to hear that penis shaped accessories and bar scavenger hunts were not apart of the weekend’s itinerary. As a fellow food and bev enthusiast my sister was thrilled to learn that I made sure to include as many delicious food and drink stops as possible.

I had never been to Nashville, Tennessee so as I planned the Bachelorette Party I relied on dining input from friends and family who live, have lived or simply visited the city. I also obsessively checked Eater Nashville and some other sites on the interwebs like Southern Living’s Nashville City Guide, The Guardian’s Top 10 Restaurants and Diners in Nashville, and The New York Times Nashville’s Rising Stars.

Here’s a little glimpse into some of the deliciously awesome places in Nashville we visited in early September 2014:

DAY 1:



Grits and tomatoes a la Arnold’s!

Arnold’s Country Kitchen
– All About That Meatloaf (the food, not the Grammy-Award winning musician)

Arnold’s is a friendly, family run restaurant located on the south side of Nashville. A classic Tennessee “meat and 3” where you choose one main meat like roast beef, fried shrimp, chicken and dumplings, meatloaf, etc. plus 3 southern style sides. For me it’s hard to pick a main meat because I like to keep my meat options open. I finally made my meaty commitment and went with the dish I’ve always had a soft spot for: meatloaf. The meatloaf was good but the real highlight of the day was the side of grits and tomatoes. The creamy, cheesy richness of the grits balanced by the fun acidity brought on by the tomatoes. Everything about Arnold’s is incredibly laid back and the smiling folks behind the counter make the experience that much more pleasant. Winner of the James Beard America’s Classics award in 2009, Arnold’s is an old school joint with delicious meats (I can’t stop staying ‘meat’!) and endless combinations of menage-a-trios sides. Definitely worth a try.

Arnold’s Country Kitchen
605 8th Ave. S. Nashville


Husk Nashville
– Smother Me in Pimento Cheese Please

Everything about Husk was just as wonderful as I had hoped. Since Husk chef Sean Brock debuted on Anthony Bourdain’s newest food centric TV program I’ve been a total Brock groupie. The PBS show, The Mind of a Chef,  presents Brock as a tatted bad ass with a kind laugh and a soft spot for pork products. Brock’s restaurant seems to embody a similar juxtaposition of trendy rebel and classic Southern charm. Husk is situated in a far off corner of downtown Nashville in the most adorable Southern style historic mansion. A restaurant with a great vibe and approachable service, Husk is the total package when it comes to elegant but friendly fine dining. The highlight of the meal were the Johnnycakes with the most addictive pimento cheese spread. I never wanted that cheesy goodness to end.


A spread of tasty things at Husk.

Husk Nashville
37 Rutledge Street








The Patterson House – Vintage Cocktails Made with Care

Before hitting up the inevitable Broadway bump-and-grind-bachelorette-party scene we decided to go for a cocktail at a low key speak easy style lounge we’d been reading about. The handcrafted cocktails were certainly tasty but be ready to wait 20 minutes and pay a handsome $17-ish per drink. Even with the wait and price tag Patterson was a super cool experience.

The Patterson House
1711 Division St. Nashville

Day 2


The feeling is mutual, Barista Parlour Breakfast Sandwich. I just wanna love you too.

Barista Parlour
– Made by the Gentle Hands of Hipsters

If I could drink Barista Parlour’s iced coffee and eat their biscuits everyday for the rest of my life I’d be happy. We went to Barista Parlour on a Saturday morning at 11am (rookie mistake) and waited over an hour for a coffee and breakfast sandwich. Normally this would grind my gears, but I quickly forgot the unreasonably long wait when I melted into that magical biscuit. In my experience a biscuit is just the vehicle for the sandwich innards. However, the story of this particular breakfast baked good was different. The warm but crumbly biscuit was served as a sandwich that gently hugged its egg, local sausage, white cheddar cheese and peach jam insides. As I was lost in a chaotic sea of hispters wearing inappropriate-for-the-season flannels and slouchie beanies, I could only focus on that beautifully plump lil’ nugget-o-magic that I fell in love with that day.

Barista Parlour
519 Gallatin Ave. Nashville


Day 3


Grilled peaches and burrata @ Pinewood Social. Delicious like whoa.

Pinewood Social – Retro Bowling With Delicious Swagger

Imagine the super cool, bearded love child of Dave & Busters and Lucky Strike and you would get Pinewood Social. Pinewood offers a bowling alley, uber chic coffee bar and poolside lounges with a refurbished Air Stream trailer turning out tacos and frozen cocktails. Air Stream aside, Pinewood also has a full kitchen that offers some pretty tasty fare. The food was surprisingly awesome and I can’t stop thinking about the mind blowing grilled peaches and burrata. Topped with arugula, toasted pecans and a drizzle of olive oil this dish’s secret ingredient appeared to be simplicity. And by simplicity I mean crack cocaine. I’m no chef so don’t quote me on that but this dish was AMAZING. I could have inhaled 3 more plates of this addictive starter.

Pinewood Social
33 Peabody Street Nashville


Yazoo Brewing Company
– Nashville Brewing at its Finest

This stop was definitely a highlight to the weekend. We rented out Yazoo Brewery and got a brewery tour and tasted the full lineup of their current beer selection. The Hop Project IPA was one of my personal favs but the rest of their beers did not disappoint. No need to rent out the whole venue, Yazoo offers public tours throughout the week as well:

Yazoo Brewing Company
910 Division Street Nashville


My dream come true — surrounded by beer, burgers and tacos. Chowing down on Confeastador @ Yazoo Brewing Co.

Confeastador Food Truck – Brisket Tacos. Enough Said.

The fine folks over at Yazoo Brew recommended this awesome food spot on wheels. We were not expecting much but Confeastador surprised us and graced our taste buds with some of the most tender, flavorful brisket we’ve ever experienced. This beautiful brisket was wrapped with love in a warm corn tortilla and served with a slightly sweet yet savory BBQ sauce, pickled jalapeños and onions, cotija cheese and fresh cilantro. Check out Confeastador social media to see where they will be next. Totally worth tracking them down.

Confeastador Food Truck

Sweet Wine is Liquid Sunshine


vino-santo-glass_FotorSweet wine, or dessert wine has many different styles and flavor profiles ranging from light and nutty to sticky and sweet. I refer to it as sweet wine because we don’t have to pigeonhole this delicious liquid treat into a dessert-only beverage. While a great way to heighten your dining experience is to pair a delicious sweet wine with a tasty dessert why not enjoy your fav cheese with a sweet wine for another party-in- your-mouth pairing. Just when you thought cheese couldn’t get any better, it did. Let the magic of a wonderful food and wine pairing sweep you off your feet and eat that cheese and sip that sweet wine like a thug. A thug that loves cheese. And wine. If you’re thinking sweet wine is for sissies that drink low-alcohol, grossly sweet/fruity martinis then you’re wrong.  Sweet wine has a higher alcohol content than most wine (generally between 15-20% alcohol by volume) so you can get nice and boozed up at the end of your meal. That being said, you can still get white girl wasted on sweet wine so you should probably sip it like a fine scotch and enjoy all the subtle flavors and aromas. While sweet wine is just that, sweet, please remember to respect the sweet wine and don’t chug it down like 16 year old girl ready to get wasted on wine coolers at a high school party. Sweet wine is a delicacy and the price reflects how difficult it is to produce. Here are some of the popular styles to get you more familiar with the wide world of sweet wine (liquid sunshine):


Wines that are destined for sweet wines are left on the vine longer to increase sugars and generally aren’t harvested until November or December. Once the grapes are harvested, the winemaker will ferment the grapes (fermentation means: Sugar + Yeast = Alcohol) but stop fermentation before all the sugar has turned into alcohol. This leaves behind some residual sugar making the wine taste sweeter. These wines are often have a tasty raisin-y flavor profile.

Where: Most commonly found in Germany, Alsace and Loire (France)

Grapes: Pinot Gris, Gerwurztraminer, Muscat, Chenin Blanc

BotrytisCinereaGrapes_FotorBotrytis Cinerea or “noble rot” is a fungus that attacks grapes and concentrates the sugars in the fruit. Sounds pretty funky and gross, right? WRONG! Noble rot helps create a complex, honeyed character in sweet wine which helps the wine taste delicious. This fungus will hang out in damp, moist (eww) areas and grow on the skin of grapes. The rot will suck all the moisture out of the grapes and leave them shriveled, fuzzy with mold and full of concentrated sugars. Noble rot often gives the final product a delicious gingery honeyed characteristic. Rot never tasted so good.

Where: Sauternes and Barsac in Bordeaux (France), Germany, Hungary and Loire

Grapes: White grapes tend to respond to noble rot better than red grapes. Semilion, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Furmint (Hungary)



One of the oldest methods used to naturally concentrate sugars in grapes can be found in the methods of producing “straw wines” or “raisin wines.” This old school style of laying grapes on straw mats to dry in the sun or leaving grapes to dry in a cool warehouse for months will produce a rich and deliciously sweet wine. Straw wines often take on a nutty, date-like flavor.

Where: This style of creating sweet wine is often found in warm, Mediterranean climates that have been using the same approach for hundreds of years. Jura (France), Vin Santo and Recioto of Tuscany and Veneto (Italy) and Montilla-Moriles in Spain.

Grapes: Typically Trebbiano and Malvasia for Vin Santo, Garganega for Recioto and Muscat and Pedro Ximenez from Spain.


shiraz-wine-cafe-carmel-indiana-art012Similar to the way Botrytis sucks the moisture out of grapes to concentrate the sugars, freezing grapes will freeze the water within the grape but leave the remaining sugar. In cool climates, freezing the grapes is often a better and more appropriate alternative to drying grapes because of the cooler temperatures. Ice wine (or eiswein in German) is rare because the freezing of grapes must occur naturally and then the grapes must be pressed while still frozen — a very challenging process. The flavor profile of eiswein is often similar to that of the sticky sweet honey character of noble rot wines.

Where: Most commonly found in Canada and Germany although cooler regions in the U.S. are getting into the ice wine game as well.

Grapes: Highly aromatic varieties like Riesling, Gewurztraminer and Sylvaner


This boozy wine is made by adding neutral grape spirits to wine juice in order to kill the yeast and stop fermentation. Remember: Sugar + Yeast = Alcohol so when fermentation is stopped before all the sugar has turned into alcohol there is sugar left over to make the wine taste sweeter. Because grape spirits (think brandy) is added to this style of sweet wine during fermentation, the resulting wine is higher in alcohol, generally between 18-20% ABV (alcohol by volume). Fortified styles of wine include Port, Sherry, Madeira and Vin Doux Naturel. Fortified wine can range anywhere from dry to sweet and have flavors of salty green apple to nutty and figgy.

Where: Port from Northern Portugal; Sherry from the Jerez region in Spain; Maidera, an archipelago off Portugal’s coast.

Grapes: Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca and Tinta Roriz in Port; Palomino, Moscatel and Pedro Ximinez in Sherry



Brunch is a Battlefield by Elena Colás

This week I have the pleasure of featuring an awesome story from an incredibly talented writer. Her name is Elena Colás and she is truly bad ass. Read her thoughts on the ever popular mid-morning meal: brunch.


Mimosas on mimosas on mimosas.


Brunch is a Battlefield
By Elena Colás

“It’s just not our meal,” he sighed.

Propped up on one shoulder she studied his eyes, still blue gray with sleep. Determined though she was, she knew he was telling the truth.

They had mastered the art of dinner. Cooking back to back in the small kitchen, shoulder to shoulder, hip to hip. Venturing out across the city on culinary fieldtrips and tastings for two. Breakfast belonged to them, the smell of sweet coffee and burnt toast hung in the air as she formed those first few hours with dough caked hands. Lunch was rarely shared but nearly always meant a day off together, and so that noon meal was truly their forte. There had been sandwiches devoured on the curb, farmers market picnics, early morning meals that stretched their golden arms and yawned well into the afternoon.

Only brunch eluded them.

Perhaps it was that the meal existed in the chilly shadow of his old job. The brutal Sunday morning schedule of an opening manager at restaurant downtown had made them both early risers- a quality which might have given them an edge over fellow diners, were he not haunted by the howls of tired children and shrill metal forks scraping up the last piece of quiche.

Asking him to brunch felt akin to inviting a Vietnam veteran on a backpacking trip through southeast Asia, though he could still appreciate a good breakfast burrito.

Even more problematic is the fact that brunch required a person to leave the house and exist in public without coffee, a drug available at even the strictest Narcotics Anonymous meetings. The journey to brunch is an exercise in deprivation, leaving little choice for the seasoned addict. Brew some at home only to take a halfhearted sip, burn your tongue and rush out the door, adding the mug to its ever- growing bedside colony. Pick up Starbucks on the way and quickly learn that the only places with bathrooms that are also open on a Sunday morning are brunch restaurants and churches, probably the two most exclusive establishments created by mankind.

There is a scientific study that correlates low blood sugar to increased fighting amongst couples, a study which was no doubt conducted in line for brunch. Offhand comments echo on the walls of angry, empty stomachs. Arguments blossom out of control without the logic of caffeine to rein them in. There is a lethal ratio of decisions to time, meaning that the tiniest choices are allowed a maximum amount of time to stew because what the hell else are you going to do on a Sunday morning but pick between sweet, or savory?

And if fate would have it that the alcohol from the mimosa reaches the brain before the coffee, god help you both.

Lying in bed memories of brunches past ran through her mind and she considered letting it go. Maybe they just weren’t “brunch people”, not destined to stagger through the farmers market like gluten-deprived zombies, drunk on organic gin bloody marys, blowing $50 on kohlrabi they would never use.

There were eggs and bacon in the fridge at home and she could make a mean biscuit. It was hot outside already, and with construction on the train there would no doubt be delays. They had slept in later than usual and were already starving, and this hour they would be guaranteed a 30 minute wait most anywhere.

It was a perfect morning for brunch.


Read more from Elena on her website:


Photo cred: Culture Map Houston:

Summertime and the Livin’ is Boozy


Beach, babes, beers and (volley)balls. #chicagosummer

Post Memorial Day it really starts to feel like summer in Chicago. It hasn’t snowed in at least three weeks. The tulips are in full bloom. The beaches are packed with bitties and bros drinking Four Loko and playing volleyball. (For those of you who are not familiar with Four Loko, click here. And for those who are familiar, click here).

Even though it’s been years since I’ve been out of school, the summer months still signal a sense of vacation and freedom, especially in the city of Chicago. After putting up with treacherous winter conditions, negative bijillion degree weather and polar vortex madness, Chicagoans are more than ready to emerge from hibernation, tropical boozy drink in hand and welcome the sunshine.

In my school days I remember the build up of excitement as we counted down to the last day of school.  I think back to those last weeks of college in Madison, Wisconsin and remember what it felt like to get pumped up for summer break.  That undeniable sense of freedom quickly approaching. As our formative and debaucherous college years came to a close we laughed; we cried; we partied our nuts off. The week before graduation kicked off unofficial Senior Week. Ohhh Senior Week. College seniors’ excuse to drink too much and act like fools before graduation (like we really needed an excuse).

Bacon. Beer. Beautiful. Looking good with that double fist combo, H-Bomb!

Bacon. Beer. Beautiful. Looking good with that double fist combo, H-Bomb!

For seniors that meant a lineup of planned activities: Spring Formal, Senior Bar Crawl, final exams, thesis papers, etc. My own personal itinerary included: drinking too many PBRs and eating too much* bacon at Wando’s Beer & Bacon Night; going to every late night food spot around Madison and stuffing my face with greasy calzones and steamed dumplings at 3 in the morning; showing up incredibly hungover to Astronomy class and falling asleep when the professor turned the lights off in the planetarium lecture hall. There was also a lot of reminiscing: “Remember that time Freshman year when you made out with a midget in front of the dorms?”; “What about when you woke up with a taco bell chalupa in your purse“; “Remember Exotic George, that stripper we rented who got wasted off our booze and hung out on the couch for hours trying to talk girls into giving him a hand job?.” Memories, y’all.

Senior Bar Crawl 2k8.

Senior Bar Crawl 2k8. Game faces. Or whatever you want to call those faces.

In true classy form, Spring Formal was a shit show filled with flasks, chugging vodka in the woman’s bathroom and booty grinding with our dates to Usher party jams. Less I forget the sloppy inhaling of mashed potatoes from the late night dinner buffet. Nothing says “celebrating the culmination of the last four years of college” than binge drinking, dry humping someone else’s date and pounding creamy starch.

The Senior Bar Crawl was a beautiful disaster fueled by too many tequilla shots, lowered inhibitions and drunk 22 year olds wearing matching t-shirts and sombreros. The evening may or may not have ended in sake bombs and Wilson Phillips karaoke. I’d be lying if I said this was the first time my college friends and I were incredibly inappropriate and offensive in public.

Upon finishing my last final around 11:00am I gleefully bounded across campus to the drinking establishment I worked at my senior year. I saddled up to the bar by myself and had my first celebratory draft beer. One beer quickly turned into 5 which then turned into White Russians which then turned into shots of Jameson. (You only graduate from undergrad once, people). Friends and colleagues stopped into the bar and came and went throughout the course of the day and we drank and laughed and cheers’d to our accomplishments. In a haze of joy (and slight inebriation) I looked down at my cell phone to check the time and realized I had 5 missed calls from my Mom. Oh shit. My family was driving from Illinois that afternoon and scheduled to arrive a little after 5pm. The day had quickly gotten away from me. It was a few minutes before 5:00pm and I had been drinking for 6 hours. Whoopsie daisy.

Making our mothers proud.

Making our mothers proud.

My parents have never truly understood my enthusiasm for adult beverages. For those who know my Mom, Dana (who I refer to lovingly as Danamal) know that she does not drink booze. Danamal has never been drunk before. I kid you not. And for those who know me refuse to believe this is true. I think it’s because it’s hard to understand how such a pure, kind, sober woman produced offspring with an affinity for beer bongs and shots of whiskey. That being said, when my family pulled up to the bar that evening I could read the slight horror on Danamal’s face. I love that woman so much and I still feel awful for some of the ridiculousness I’ve put her through over the years. Add driving 4 hours to what you think will be congratulating your mature, grown-up first born on successfully graduating from a notable university but finding said first born wasted at a bar in the middle of the day to the list. To add insult to injury I somehow talked my Dad into taking the first and only shot we’ve ever shared together. My father enjoys the occasional beer or glass of wine but is not one to knock back Jameson shots. I was bringing my Dad over to the dark side and I’m sure Danamal was not pleased.

In the end, my mild hangover was not enough to keep me from walking down the aisle at the Kohl Center in my handsome cap and gown and accepting my diploma.** Summer was now officially underway and so was the next chapter of my life.


*There is no such thing as too much bacon.

**Come to think of it, my diploma wasn’t even in the leather trapper keeper they hand you when you get on stage. I actually don’t know if I ever got a diploma…did I really graduate…??

Thanks to my friends who let me use pics from their Facebook albums. And by ‘let’ I mean ‘I just used them without asking but I’m sure it’s cool.’ Love you guys.


Party in Your Mouth: Champagne & Fried Chicken and Other Awesome Pairings

The Krug lineup from Grande Cuvee to Rose. Photo cred: Haute Living

Champagne pairs with some many delicious things! Especially fried chicken. Who knew? The Krug lineup from Grande Cuvee to Rose. Photo cred: Haute Living

Some things are just meant to go together. Peanut butter and jelly, Wayne and Garth, milk and cookies, Brad and Angelina, Jagermeister and fist pumping d-bags. You get the idea. In the world of wine and food pairings I always thought this was the case as well. There is ultimately one wine that is meant to pair with one dish. This idea was put to rest after an enlightening class at Southern Wine & Spirits in Chicago with Master Sommelier, Serafin Alvarez. “Experiment!,” Sarafin said. “Reference tasting ‘rules’ as guide posts but go from there.”

Wayne and Garth. A perfect pairing indeed.

Wayne and Garth. A perfect pairing indeed.

Food and beverage pairing is not just a snobby pastime for high brow socialites who own wine cellars and ponies. You probably pair your food and drink everyday. Why do you put ketchup on your french fries? Or put cream in your coffee? Or crave a big glass of milk with your chocolaty brownie? They enhance the overall taste! It’s also all about personal taste preference. This became apparent during the food and wine pairing class when all the students voted on the what pairings they liked best. Some people loved the Carneros Chardonnay with the beef tenderloin. Others thought is sucked. Just because you think mayonnaise and lettuce sandwiches with a big glass of Chablis is gross doesn’t mean someone else doesn’t find it delicious. One man’s fav food and bev pairing may activate another man’s gag reflex.

While food and wine pairing is relatively subjective there are some general rules to keep in mind. Remember that there is not one perfect wine to pair with one perfect dish (although there are some classically awesome pairings, I’ll get to that later) but there is such a thing as an offensive/terrible pairing. A bev and food pairing is meant to enhance both the drink and the food. That is what I like to call a party in your mouth (or #partyinmymouth because I think hash tags are hilariously awesome). Let the mouth fiesta begin!

Some things to remember when pairing food and beverages:

1) Consider your sauces and spices, not just the main ingredient

The sauces and spices used when preparing a dish really define the final flavors of what you’re eating. When I first started studying wine about 5 years ago, the Master Sommelier at the restaurant I was working at would constantly challenge me to give a full description of the dish I would pair with a wine and why. Chicken and Chardonnay was not a complete answer. Is the chicken broiled and finished with a beurre blanc or grilled and topped with a pomodoro tomato sauce?? Often times the sauce truly defines the dish and what type of wine should be paired with the meal.

2) Big, bold, high alcohol wines very rarely go with delicate, light dishes

That big, tannic Cabernet is going to drown out the flavors of tuna sashimi. We want to complement and highlight both the wine and the food not squash the other one’s awesomeness. Often times when high tannin wine (like Cabernet) is matched with certain fish (mackerel, sardines or other fish of the oily seafood variety) a metallic taste is created. Ain’t no one want their meal to taste like they’re chewing aluminum foil. Or maybe there’s a huge underground scene of aluminum foil chewing enthusiasts I have yet to meet. Anywho, opt for a lighter wine when you’re toting a bottle to your fav BYOB sushi spot and you can’t go wrong.

3) High acid plus high acid equals awesome

High acid wines (like Sauvignon Blanc, Champagne or German Riesling) are great food pairing wines. Acid cuts through richness and highlights the components of a dish. The acid of wine must always meet or exceed the acid in food. For example, a spinach salad tossed in a vinaigrette would taste a little funky with an oaky, buttery Chardonnay from Napa (low acid wine) but a Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough, New Zealand (high acid wine) would brighten the flavors of both the wine and the food.

3) Spicy food ❤ low alcohol

Spicy Indian or Asian dishes can be difficult to pair. Lower alcohol wine like Riesling or Gewurtztraminer are friendly pairings with spicy foods because the slight sweetness of the wine cuts through the heat of these types of dishes. Think of high alcohol wine as lighter fluid when added to spicy dishes. Don’t ignite that spice with high alcohol booze!

4) Acid cuts through rich, fatty, buttery and salty foods

As previously mentioned, Champagne is a high acid wine. Cue the rich dishes! The high acid of bevs like Champagne cuts through the rich, saltiness of foods like fried chicken or potato chips. Pop that bottle and that bag of Cheetos, yo!

5) When in doubt, rock out a regional pairing

There is a natural relationship between food and wine from a certain part of the world.
Think red sauce pizza and Italian red

Italians know how to do it: Pizza and Italian red wine. Yum!

Italians know how to do it: Pizza and Italian red wine. Yum!

wine. Or grilled meats and dry, red Rioja of Spain. Food and beverage traditions are imbedded in the history of an area. Sometimes it’s OK to accept and embrace these pairings.



Goat Cheese & Sauvignon Blanc (or Sancerre)
High acid cheese meets high acid wine. They fall in love and make beautiful music together…in your mouth

Steak & Cabernet Sauvignon
A big, high tannin red like Cab refreshes the palate after each bite of that fat, juicy red meat

Stilton Blue Cheese & Port
Salty meets sweet and magic happens

Foie Gras & Sauternes
Rich and oily Foie complemented by the sweet richness of the Sauternes. Ah.Maz.Ing.


I also asked some of my friends and colleagues in the food and bev biz what some of their fav pairings were. Below are their awesome responses:

Chicago's legendary fried chicken from Harold's. Pic from Darren Leow @ The Chicago Maroon

Chicago’s legendary fried chicken from Harold’s. Pic from Darren Leow @ The Chicago Maroon

“Krug and Harold’s Fried Chicken (legendary Chicagoland chicken joint). That sound was my mike dropping.” – Patti Robison, Balena Restaurant Beverage Director & Sommelier, Chicago, IL.


“My ideal pairing is Z Burger (Washington, DC burger joint) with extra pickles and Z sauce (like a horseradishy 1000 Island dressing) with a triumphant side of Red Skins victory. Nothing quite like it…or Bells Two Hearted Ale is delicious too.”- Ryan Hansan, Founder/Owner Scratch DC, Washington, DC.


“My favorite pairing is Champagne and Cheetos. I also love Rosso di Montalcino and red sauce pizza, and my new favorite is Muscadet sur lie with crab cakes.” – Priscilla Martin, Balena Restaurant Wine Steward, Chicago, IL.


“Prosecco and chicken tikka masala!” – Lisa Lamont, my little sis and fellow food enthusiast, Washington, DC.


“Best recent pairing was a sausage, mushroom, and bitter greens soup with a Charmat method sparkling Chenin Blanc.  The spice and bitterness of the soup was countered by the sweet grassy flavor of the Chenin.  Of course bubbles and temperature contrast.” – Keith Whitten, Balena Restaurant Sommelier, Chicago, IL.


“I suggest pairing Perennial Artisan Ale’s Woodside Honey Tripel* with Orange or Kung Pao Chicken. Woodside is a Belgian-style triple brewed with urban honey produced in Maplewood, Missouri. The combination produces a beer with a very slight residual sweetness enhanced by the spicy, fruity attributes of the yeast and soft malt characteristic. This beer will bring out the sweetness of the chicken dish, while complementing the spiciness.” – Kerry Bryan, Sales & Marketing Manager, Perennial Artisian Ales, St. Louis, MO.

Beer & cheese. A match made in pairing heaven.

Beer & cheese. A match made in pairing heaven.


“Rochefort 10 (dark Belgian Ale) and Cocoa Cardona (aged goat’s milk cheese rubbed with cocoa powder). Because, duh, beer and cheese. But seriously, the dusty cocoa makes nice with the chocolatey roasted malt and natural acidity of the cheese brings the sweetness of the beer in check. Yum yum.” – Erin Phillips, Balena Restaurant General Manager, Cicerone (certified beer expert) and Certified Sommelier, Chicago, IL.


“The best food and beverage pairing I’ve had recently was an un-oaked Chardonnay from Oregon with a pan-seared halibut. The delicate flavor and firm texture of the halibut was a perfect fit for the bright, yet clean Chardonnay. Chardonnay from Oregon is not often seen, but if you get your hands on one, it will be delicious and incredibly food-friendly, seeing very little to no oak. There is great acidity, great fruit and an elegance that the French would approve of. Paired with a fresh catch of the day is the perfect way to enhance your dining experience, without feeling like you overdid it. However, overindulgence and Fernet is my second favorite pairing.” – Katie Kelly, Wine Director, Citizen Wine Bar & Niche Hospitality Group, Worcester, MA.

*The beer is currently available at Binny’s, Armenetti’s Grand & Western and Puerto Rico Food & Liquors.
Wayne and Garth and Garth and Wayne. Excellent! #TBT Halloween 2k5

Wayne and Garth and Garth and Wayne. Excellent! #TBT Halloween 2k5

Serafin Alvarez, M.S., Southern Wine & Spirits Wine Educator, Grapes to Glass: Mastering the Essentials of Wine
Food and Wine, 15 Rules for Great Food and Wine Pairing:
Food and Wine, An Expert’s Pairing Advice:
Wine Folly, 6 Basics to Food and Wine Pairing: