Saturday, October 29, 2011

Italian wine & food pairing

A couple of nights ago, I had the honor to attend an incredible event.  Agio Italian Bistro, in Palatine, IL and Altadonna Wines presented an intimate evening full of decadent food and fine wine.

Altadonna's celebrated winemaker, Niccolo Chioccioli, flew in from the winery in Italy to share his delicious insights on the food and wine pairings.  He was just delightful.  He is incredibly knowledgeable without a ounce of snobbery.  

Niccolo's father, Stefano started the family winemaking business.   According to Stefano “the role of a winemaker is to enhance the land where he works” by creating wines with “the maximum quality expression of the area.” The Altadonna line features six wines made from the principle grape varietals of Italy in their purity. From Pinot Grigio in the Tre Venezie to Nero d’Avola in Sicily, each wine reflects his expertise in working with the various and distinct regions of Italy.

He also said that, Anna Altadonna -- Stefano’s beloved wife -- was the inspiration for these wines. Her integrity is the same quality the family hopes to encapsulate in every bottle. 
With this perfect combination of passion, integrity and love they have created some incredible wines.  I am going to look into stocking these wines in my boutique.   

Here is the menu from the event:

Pinot Grigio: Goat cheese salad with a balsamic vinaigrette

Pinot Nero: Saffron and mushroom risotto  

Sangiovese: Meatballs and roasted peppers

Nero d'Avola: Grilled pork tenderloin with veal sauce

 I would not even attempt to recreate these dishes- the Chef at Agio is a magic man.  But-with a few tweaks- maybe this is the answer to my next food and wine seminar.  That is, if I can get my hands on this incredible wine.  I'll keep you posted.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Wine + Food = Fun!

As I have started thinking about hosting another wine and food tasting, I remembered how much we fun had with our Summer Food & Wine Pairing Seminar.  I always make it a point to ensure that everyone feels relaxed & comfortable- no intimidating wine snobs : ) 

I also want everyone to know that you really don’t have to spend a lot of money to get a great bottle of wine.  In our tastings we always feature fantastic yet affordable wines. I do all the research.  I learn about grapes, the vineyards, the winery, the weather, the wine making process, pairing the wine with food- everything I can find.   

These are the fantastic pairings we had at that seminar:
White wine
Bogle Sauvignon Blanc
 Black Tiger Shrimp with Pesto Aioli- The lemony undertones in this wine are a natural blend with the shrimp.  The creamy and exhilarating aioli brings it all together- in a good way.

Bogle Chardonnay
Aged Irish Cheddar on classic cracker- This pair marries tangy, salty and nutty with fruity and creamy.  Exciting and different without being offensive ; )

Cupcake Chardonnay
Artichoke and Jalapeño with Jack Cheese on a crostini- The tanginess and spice of the artichoke and jalapeño prove that opposites attract when paired with this buttery chardonnay.

Two Oceans Sauvignon Blanc
French style gourmet smoked sausage with blue cheese on baguette slice with Dijon mustard- The fresh, vibrant flavors of this wine can be savored with the herbs and fromage in this “oui-sconsin” sausage. Perfect pairing for a Bastille’s Day picnic.

Twisted Pinot Grigio
Italian Meatballs with Marinara- When speaking of this Pinot, It’s been said that the nose brings to mind Lemon Italian Ices. Well what better to match with than Italian meatballs in a nice marinara? Unexpected? Yes. Yet they do flatter one another.

Schlink Haus Riesling
Colby on crispy bagel chip- The smooth flavor of the all American Colby cheese is the perfect complement to this highly aromatic German wine. German and American combinations are a proven success.  There are over 51 million German American citizens in the United States!

Red wine

Ménage a trios red
Potato Chips-sea salt and pepper: The flavors of the Ménage a Trois Red seem to be magnified by the potato chips with the sea salt and pepper.  Almost like magic…

Gnarly Head Old Vine Zinfandel
Turkey Chili served on tortilla chip- The luscious berry flavors, layered with pepper in this wine can makes a humble bowl of chili come alive!

Gnarly Head Pinot Noir (one of my personal fav's)
Havarti cheese on pita cracker- This creamy, buttery cheese balances out the vibrant, explosive Pinot.  It is true- opposites attract.

Twisted Cabernet
Muenster Cheese on Pita Chip- This strong cheese is never intimidated by Cabernet.  It’s a healthy liaison.  Quite becoming...

1830 Malbec-Cabernet Sauvignon 2007
Tortilla chips and savory salsa- With a wine this lusciously complex all you need is a simple chip and a savory tomato salsa to bring out the sweetness in life.

Maggio Petite Sirah
Twix candy bar- Most people know that this wine has peppery tendencies.  It just calls out for a little “sugar”, if you know what I mean…

I hope you’ll try some of these pairings.  Please let me know if you have any ideas you’d like to share.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Fast forward

Well, now you know all about the beginning.  Now I'm going to fast forward to the middle. 

After having lived on the East coast for six years, we decided to move back to the Chicago area.  With the help of my brother in law, we found a great location to open a liquor store.  It was right next to a Walgreen's and Walgreen's had just decided to stop selling liquor.  We thought it was a perfect location and we would be able to capture the market of customers that had been buying liquor from Walgreen's.

 It was so good to be back in my home town, surrounded by family.  It was a very exciting time. We were searching for a new home & we were working on the store, plus, I had just started a new job.

We rented the store as an empty box.  My Mom, sister and I  rolled up our sleeves and painted and scrubbed floors, while the guys were out buying coolers and shelving.  It was a lot of work, but it was worth it.  When we finally opened the doors, the store was beautiful.  It has always been very important to keep the store spotless, well lit and smelling nice.  We always want out customers to enjoy their visit.  We also found a radio station that seems to appeal to everyone.  It's music from the  80's- who can resist?

Harry ran the store & my mom helped out for a few months in the beginning.  Harry found his calling.  He really loved running a small family business.  He loved the interaction with our customers and being part of the local community.  I was working full time and doing a fair amount of business travel. Thank God I had a job because it took some time to build the business to the point of actually making a profit.  In the beginning, the little strip mall was empty except for a dental practice.  It wasn't until a couple of little stores opened that we started getting more customers.  Many people didn't even know we were there. 

Our big break came when a fantastic Polish Deli opened a couple of doors down.  It was always busy and many of their customers would stop in our store for their liquor needs.  We started to carry an extensive selection of Polish beer and vodka.  The owners of the deli were really nice people who ended up being good friends.  They are gone now, but the deli remains.  The strip mall is actually full now.  We have a vitamin store, gift shop & dental practice. 

The economy hit us hard, like most other businesses.  Plus, I lost my job.  Like many people, I tried to find another job- sent out thousands of resumes-got little response and then kind of gave up.  I started to focus on my writing .  I became the 'Chicago Alternative Health Examiner' for the Examiner online publication.  It pays by the number of people that read your article.  I make about $50 per year : )

I also wrote a book.  I wanted to write a book geared towards adolescents/ young adults.  I was and still am an avid reader and when I was a child I loved mysteries.  My favorites were 'Trixie Belden' and 'Nancy Drew'.  My book has mystery, mysticism , a love story and of course there is a morale to the story.  It's called 'Hirens Magical Adventure' and some of it is based on Harry's own experiences as a child.  It's about an American Indian boy who is sent to India for the Summer to learn about his heritage.  Let's just say he gets more than he bargained for ; )  I published it as a E-book.  Maybe some day it will be in print. 

Right about then we encountered another challenge with our store.  I mentioned that the reason we chose our location was because it was right by a Walgreen's and that Walgreen's had stopped selling liquor, so we hoped to serve those customers.  Well, Walgreen's has decided to start selling beer and wine again.  As a huge corporation, they have major buying power.  We could never compete with them on price.  They can offer sale items at below our cost!  So, even though excellent customer service has always been a priority, we realized we had to offer something extra to our customers.  

I thought it would be a good idea to focus on our wine drinkers.  I have coordinated two wine & food tasting seminars so far.  I really enjoy the whole process.  I am learning so much as I go along.  We are really lucky to have the support of our friend Jason Tulloss.  He runs the Schaumburg Wine Club and is nice enough to post our events on their website.  Most of our participants have been from the wine club.  They are a great group of people. 

I'm trying to think of some ideas for the next event.  It will probably be something related to entertaining over the holidays.  I'd better get to work on that- the month of October is almost gone!

Monday, October 24, 2011

How it all began

My name is Kathleen Patel. I'm not Indian by birth, but I've had the honor of joining the Indian community because of my marriage.

When I met my husband, Hiren (Harry to most of his friends), I knew nothing about India or its culture. Although I must admit that as a little girl playing dress-up, I used to wrap sheets around me in a feeble attempt to look like I was wearing a sari. I even used my mother's lipstick to create a bindi - the decorative dot that Indian women wear on their forehead. I guess I always admired the beauty and elegance of Indian women.

My husband, Harry, and I met almost twenty years ago - completely due to fate.  This is why I believe in destiny.

For years I went to work everyday and turned on my radio on to the same station.   On this particulat day, for some reason, I could only get reception for one station.  It was a station I had not listened to before that day.  All day long, the DJ's talked about a fun celebration for Bastille Day.  It was going to be happening that night, Friday, July 14th, 1992.  After hearing about it all day, I called my sister and asked her if she wanted to go to the festival after work.  She did and we were soon on our way to changing our lives.

Harry happened to be in my hometown, Chicago, on business. He was exhibiting at the convention center and staying at the Hotel Sofitel. That was where I found the love of my life. We met while standing in line for a glass of wine.  We instantly bonded. We watched the fireworks together. By the end of the week we both knew in our hearts that we were soul mates.

When I dropped Harry off at the airport he told me that he loved me. We both had tears in our eyes as he boarded the plane to New York.

When I returned to work, my radio was back to normal and I was able to get my regular station.  It was meant to be.

Little did we know, however, that we were on a rocky road to happiness. We both had a lot of learning to do.

When I first started to learn about the Indian culture, it was an exciting adventure. I wanted to know everything. I would haunt Devon Avenue every weekend - it made me feel closer to Harry during our long-distance romance. I wanted to learn all the beauty secrets of Indian women and I purchased all the lotions and oils that I could find.  I bought all of the Indian masala (spice) mixes and attempted to make Indian dishes for my family. I wasn't very good at it but my mother and sisters didn't have the heart to tell me.

I made Basmati rice every day and used Indian hair oil every weekend. I did research on India and the Hindu religion. I even bought the Bhagavad Gita,which is kind of like the Hindu bible. I would report all my escapades to Harry on the telephone every night.

Harry and I earned and used a lot of frequent-flyer miles over the next year. I had met his extended family in the states- his brother, wife and young daughter.  I had met several of his friends. I had also spoken to his mother, brother and sister in law, who live in India, over the phone.

I know his family was apprehensive of Harry getting seriously involved with an American girl. I could understand their fear. All they really knew about Americans was what they saw on television. Shows and music videos on MTV and such- didn't really make a good impression for Americans.

I wanted them to know that I was not the type of American portrayed on MTV - that I was, in fact, ashamed of that ridiculous American stereotype.

Being a first-generation Irish American myself, I feel that my values and morals originate from my heritage. The Irish culture is similar to the Indian in the fact that we are very family-oriented with strong values, respect and religion. I wrote several long letters to his family, explaining my beliefs and values.

Our relationship was met with a lot of opposition. Some of Harry's Indian friends tried to convince him to dump me, because I was American. It was a tough time.  I shed many tears that year.

On my side, initially people tried to warn me of the differences in our cultures and the problems we could encounter, but after meeting Harry and realizing what a decent, moral man he is, he was embraced by all my friends and family.

It was rather ironic. White Americans always are accused of being racists and bigots but it was actually a handful of Harry's Indian friends who were screaming the loudest. It was very sad.

On the other hand, the Indians who did accept me were some of the most gracious, hospitable and considerate people I have met.  My biggest advocate was Harry's brother, MG, who lived in California.  MG was married to a lovely Austrian woman named Brigitte and had a gorgeous young daughter named Neesha.

What it all comes down to is this: If you see that someone is happily in love, if you love that person, you will be happy for them.  My in-laws were kinder and more accepting than any of his friends.  It almost seemed to become a struggle for control. 

It was the most difficult time in our relationship but it made us stronger. In the end we discovered that the people who really loved us cared only about our happiness and were able to put aside any prejudice or racism. A year after we met, both of our families gave us their blessings for our marriage.

The next question that arose was what type of ceremony we would have. We both agreed that we believe in God and we respect each other's beliefs and religion. I attend many Hindu prayer services known as pujas and Harry attends mass with me on Catholic holidays.

We decided to marry in a non-denominational chapel. It was not a church or a temple, but it was a house of God. We are a nontraditional couple and we had a nontraditional wedding in Vegas (of course) but when we went to India later that year, we had a special puja to celebrate our marriage.

The most exciting experience of all was that first trip to India. We prepared for months. We shopped and packed and shopped and packed some more. We had four huge suitcases weighing in at about 80 pounds each. I didn't bring any clothes because I wanted to buy the lovely two-piece outfits that are called salwar kameez in India. I had purchased some tapes to learn to speak Hindi and I listened to them faithfully every day.

I was so nervous when our plane landed in Mumbai; it felt as though my heart would explode. I really didn't know what to expect. I wanted so badly for Harry's family to love me. I was soon to learn that I would be enveloped with love from the moment I met them.

They welcomed me with open arms. I was treated like royalty. I even felt guilty about being pampered so much and I kept offering to do little jobs around the house. They wouldn't allow me to lift a finger. I was so grateful to be a part of a family so full of love and goodness.

I also was struck by the hospitality of everyone I met in India. I was so touched by all the kindness shown me. Even the poorest people wanted to share a cup of tea and whatever food they had. The community where my in-laws live is particularly close knit.

In fact, after having spent an afternoon in bed with stomache ache and diarrhea, the following morning I was approached by at least a dozen people who were concerned about me. We still laugh about that today.

I had planned to impress everyone with my newly-acquired Hindi vocabulary. Unfortunately, I was so nervous all I could remember was "Where is the railway station?"

Since then we have made several trips to India and I have had the opportunity to really get to know my Indian family and bond with them. My mother-in-law also has spent time with us here in the states. Oh, and my cooking has improved. I can really make some great Dal, and Pav Bhaji is my specialty. My dishes don't always come out exactly authentic, but they're made with love.

Harry and I will celebrate our 19th wedding anniversary this next August. We are looking forward to celebrating at least 50 more.

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