Friday, 20 February 2009

Broken Radiator

It is the room that is euphemistically referred to as The Study. It contains an overloaded bookcase, an overstuffed armchair, and the outdated desktop computer from which Wine Goose publishes her musings. Just as the country faces into its worst winter in 21 years, the radiator in this vital hub packs up, with disastrous consequences for all the family.

Mr R reacts by relocating the overstuffed armchair to the Family Room. For him, no more quiet literature-filled evenings, instead he is forced to deal with the reality that is The X Factor, Strictly Come Dancing, and the Disney Channel. The consequences for the children are surely dire, but have yet to be assessed - check back in 20 or 30 years. Wine Goose, being of a practical nature, sees this as a multi-step process.

The first option is denial. Yes, it is possible to check emails while still dressed as the Eskimo that walked the children to school. But the novelty soon wears off, accelerated by the quick glimpse of yet another 'For Sale' sign being erected across the street. DIY is the next step, and armed only with pliers, accompanied by a bucket-bearing enthusiastic son she finally succeeds in opening the vent. Result. Horrible black oily smelly liquid is sprayed all over the previously pristine cream walls. Still no heat. Time to call in the professionals. A highly-recommended plumber charges a fortune to turn some valves, scratch his head, and walk away with a handsome fee. The Study remains a no go zone and Wine Goose, in desperation, decides that there is no other option but to open her wallet and throw all her money at the problem. Sort of a metaphor for our times.

Difficult to recommend a wine in the current climate - instead try saving some money by drinking Ribena or Miwadi, you'll get all the fruit flavours but none of the alcohol, and at a vastly reduced price.

Thursday, 25 December 2008

Note to Santa

Dear Santa

Next year, please deliver fewer self-assembly items.

With heartfelt thanks,

Yours sincerely,

Mr R

Friday, 26 September 2008

Camogie Mom

The summer holidays are well and truly over. Almost before they began. The weather resolutely refused to cooperate and it only now as October approaches that the rain has stayed away for long enough to allow the kids a bit of time in the garden after school. That's if they can fit in any time in the garden with all the activities that are scheduled around them.

Ballet - 'well she loves it so I'll put up with the astronomical fees, lack of parking on a busy road and associated stress levels just so that she can prance around in a leotard once a week.'

Swimming - 'it's a necessary life skill so I'm not going to suffer the ignominy of being the only mother whose child is still in armbands at the age of 5.' Overheated pool, regular ear infections and having to compete with the other mothers in the fashion stakes are a small price to pay for the privilege of watching the little darlings wait their turn to be yelled at as they struggle up and down an overcrowded swimming lane.

Arts and Crafts - 'an after school activity that gives me an extra hour to wash, iron, cook etc.' Impossible to resist.

Ball skills - 'he may be young but he's very gifted, my husband has already hinted that I should prepare my speech - it's traditional for the mother of the captain of the winning Senior Cup team apparently....'

It is as she unloads the boot of her estate car (while the children settle themselves in front of yet another useless TV programme and demand to know what's for supper) that Wine Goose loses concentration and slips into a dream. It goes like this.

She receives a call from Mary McAleese, up there in Áras an Uachtaráin. 'We've decided the country needs a Vice President.' 'Em, Mary, where did you get my number?' 'From the phone book'. 'Okay, but why me?' 'Well, you're a woman, and you fit the required age and address profile so we thought you might be interested. And you're on the local schools Parents Association so you have some experience of politics.' Wine Goose is flattered. She briefly thinks about calling Mr R with her exciting news, but after a few moments careful consideration decides against taking up the offer. There are lots of reasons for this - lack of real political knowledge and fear of exposing herself and her family to intense media scrutiny coming top of the list. And to date, her experience with the Parents Association has been one of enormous frustration, not least from having to put up with the slow pace at which decisions are made.

On the other side of the Atlantic Sarah Palin has no such reservations and enters the fray with such gusto that Wine Goose is left stunned. How on the earth does the lady manage to juggle? Who is feeding her baby? Who is raising her family? Who is she? Where did she come from? Are Hillary Clinton voters really going to switch their vote, when they have no common ideologies? Is it really a possibility that somebody plucked from relative obscurity could potentially become the first female President of the United States? Wine Goose wonders if perhaps she has been a little too hasty in her own decision.

According to Decanter magazine, Palin Syrah, a small organic wine from Chile, has found itself embroiled in the turmoil surrounding the Republican campaign in the US presidential race. The wine, linked, for obvious reasons, with the Republican vice-presidential candidate, has drawn media attention in the U.S. News organisations in the country are tracking sales of the brand and connecting the label's fortunes to the popularity of Palin's right-wing politics. Chris Tavelli, a partner in San Francisco's Yield Wine Bar started serving Palin Syrah before Republican presidential candidate John McCain asked Palin to be his running-mate. Following Palin's nomination, sales of the wine plummeted in liberal San Francisco. But Tavelli is reluctant to take it off his wine list. 'It's good, organic and affordable,' he said.

Camogie is a Celtic team sport, the women's variant of hurling. Palin wines are not currently available in Ireland.

Sunday, 31 August 2008

Study Leave

Wine Goose is officially a student. Add that to my other titles and suddenly "I'm a housewife, I'm a mother, I'm a student." Back in the last century, before we were all 'worth it' Jerry Hall made a fortune from a similar pronunciation. Except that her case the line ran "I'm a housewife, I'm a mother, I'm a model" Lucrative, but surely not as challenging as attempting to achieve the WSET Level 3 Advanced Certificate in Wines and Spirits.

According to the Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET), the qualification objective is to provide a core knowledge of the wide range of wines and spirits around the world to equip those in a supervisory capacity with the authority and confidence to make informed decisions in a wide variety of trade situations. It is intended for people employed in the drinks and hospitality industries needing core information to advise with authority and make informed selections of wines and spirits; and also wine connoisseurs who wish to learn about wines and spirits in a rigorous and structured manner and gain an internationally recognised wine and spirit qualification.

Wine Goose considers that because of her part-time work in a Wine Shop she will have a considerable advantage over her fellow students and strolls confidently into the musty hotel conference room for the first lecture. Tonight's topic is broadly titled 'Winemaking', and deals with grape varieties, climate and weather, soils and topography, viticulture, vinification, maturation and bottling. She arrives early - there is more to an evening class to just studying and Wine Goose is keen to suss out her fellow students from an advantageous position at the back of the class. Predictably they are a mix of male and female, young and old, big and small; drawn from all walks of life and all keen to further their knowledge or keep their brains operational until time takes its inevitable toll and the process of forgetting everything ever learnt begins to take place. Wine Goose has a foot in both camps.

Very soon it becomes clear that this is not going to be easy. Various methods of training and pruning vines are presented, along with reasons for and against using them in particular wine regions, all of which we are expected to remember. Well I might have some chance if the presentation wasn't immediately followed by complicated diagrams of the fermentation process. My brain, by which I mean the small part that didn't turn to mush immediately following the birth of my first child, is filled to bursting point but there's more to come - vineyard pests and diseases. Carry this lecture on for an hour longer and the course can change its name to 'Cures for Insomnia'. Wine Goose glances around her in desperation - but all eyes are fully focused on the lecturer and what he has to say. Panic sets in, and Wine Goose considers fleeing. Surely at this early stage she can escape unnoticed. But then a reprieve - it's tasting time. Each student places 6 ISO tasting glasses on his or her desk and is served a small amount of 6 mystery wines. The exam itself will consist of 3 units - a multiple choice paper of 50 questions, a question paper requiring short written answers and (terrifyingly) an internally set and assessed blind tasting of one wine. We will be required to judge its appearance, aroma and flavour characteristics, then attempt to name it from a list of 4 possibles, as well as give it a retail price.

Help. I suddenly consider that perhaps I have been too ambitious and should really stick to flower arranging or French conversation classes. One hour, and lots of swirling and spitting later, Wine Goose concludes that she is actually quite good at picking up aroma and flavour characteristics, but needs to work on assessing tannin and acidity levels. It's a starting point, and she resolves to work on these weak points during the coming week. The lecturer sends everybody home with a clear message that they should read and absorb the chapter on French wine regions and wine laws by the following week. My heart sinks with the realisation that I am really up against it - my initial advantage has been completely wiped out. It is the summer holidays and Wine Goose devotes 12-14 hours of each day to pandering to the children's requirements. This does not leave much time for reading, much less retaining, any information.

But Wine Goose does not give up easily and continues to attend the lectures each week, hoping to absorb the necessary information to pass the exam (ambitions of achieving a Distinction have now been abandoned). And no more blogs until that exam is over. For a delicious summer dessert requiring minimum preparation simply pour some Pedro Ximinez sherry over a bowl of HB vanilla ice cream. Made entirely from Pedro Ximenez grapes that have been allowed to dry for two weeks in the sun after the harvest, this sherry is deep golden brown color, rich, sweet, and full bodied. It has an aroma of caramel and roasted nuts with a buttery, creamy richness on the palate and a luxuriously long finish. Good value at €12.50 for a half bottle (37.5 l), 17% alcohol.

Sunday, 27 July 2008

Venetian Holiday

Wine Goose awakes early, tiptoes out of her bedroom to the adjacent kitchen, peers out the window before satisfying herself that it is safe to emerge, and then hauls open the double doors to the balcony. A weak Adriatic sun greets her efforts and she sets about arranging the terrace table so that Mr R and the children will enjoy a sun shaded breakfast. First mission completed she now quietly collects her wallet, dons her Fit Flops, then descends the stairs before making the short journey to the local supermarket.

En route she is joined by an international mixture of fellow holiday makers - Germans, Dutch, Austrian, Swiss, English, Irish, Italian - work hard all year and you too shall be rewarded with your fortnight in the sun. The enthusiasm is catching. On arrival at the local shop Wine Goose works hard at hiding her astonishment at the prices. Despite loading her basket with luxury items her breakfast bill does not exceed €10.00 and she returns to her family with renewed vigour.

After breakfast a replete and clearly relaxed Mr R suggests a visit to the local beach. The offer is greeted with delight by the kids and Wine Goose swings into action, getting them into their swimsuits and applying sunscreen. Can't the manufacturers do a little more ground research before they launch this stuff on the public? A fortnight of twice daily applications is enough to drive a normally sane housewife to a home holiday. Bad enough that the children will not stand still, the stuff refuses to come out of the bottle unless in a massive gloop, and then adheres not only to the children but also to both sides of the mothers hand, with no possibility of removal until they are completely covered. Add the insufferable heat and it almost becomes unbearable. But it has to be done - to appear with sunburnt kids nowadays is akin to admitting to following Kabullah. Offering up a silent prayer for the days when they eventually take off to Ibiza with their classmates, Wine Goose hooshes the children out the door in the direction of the beach. Only when they are out of sight does she interrupt Mr R's persistent novel reading and send him sprinting in their wake.

Following a frantic session of washing-up dishes and sorting clothes Wine Goose joins the family on the gently shelving pleasantly warmed Adriatic shores. 'Where were you mummy?' asks our son. 'Oh, just back at the house applying suntan lotion' I reply. That afternoon, after yet another sleepless siesta and following a hectic session of child-watching at the swimming pool Wine Goose decides it's time for her to take a break from catering, and calls Mr R's bluff. She suggests that he comes good on his threat of cooking one of his signature dishes - Spaghetti alla Bolognese, something that he has heretofore claimed can only be achieved in the land of it's origin, with the requisite ingredients to hand. The entire family is happy to march him to the supermarket. The children are admirable in their ability to sniff out the finest peppers, mushrooms, carrots, aubergines and onions. A new take on the classic dish - Jamie Oliver watch out.

Whilst they are seemingly occupied with shopping Wine Goose takes a few minutes to wander the wine aisle. She is not expecting miracles, hoping only for a reasonably priced bottle of Chianti Classico or maybe even a Bardolino. Initially it seems like she might be correct in her prediction. The supermarket is clearly catering to the holiday market - Muller-Thurgau abounds. This is a spectacularly underperforming variety, offering wines of neutral flavours, but its a name that's familiar to the German market, and Wine Goose notices more than a few large bottles being removed from the shelves. Then there's Lambrusco. Keep walking; dolce (sweet) and amabile (semi-sweet) versions are enough to send the seasoned wine lover running for cover. But then she spots it. Hidden at the back of a shelf lurks a bottle of Lambrusco Secco - Wine Goose pounces - there is no more perfect accompaniment to Italian tomato based dishes. A lightly sparkling red wine, it has lots of fruit and just the correct amount of acidity to balance a superlative Bolognaise dish. Can Mr R deliver a meal that matches up to the wine? Readers, watch this space....

Friday, 27 June 2008

Bouncy Castle

To celebrate the occasion of our son's 4th birthday, we have agreed to his request for a Bouncy Castle. Said castle is booked (Spiderman), invitations issued and themed tableware ordered. Acceptances pour in and Wine Goose spends her 'free' mornings trawling supermarkets and €2 shops for innovative tat and cut-price sweets to fill the obligatory party bags.

On the eve of big day, the castle arrives and is sneaked into the garden as the children listen to bedtime stories. Wine Goose gets a quick demonstration and list of instructions from the supplier, then off he goes to enjoy his weekend, mentioning as he leaves that he can't collect it until the following Tuesday. We have four full days of bouncing ahead of us. Wine Goose is delighted by the prospect and envisages inviting all the neighbouring children around for a bounce in the days after the party.

Mr R sinks heavily down into his armchair, puts his head in his hands and asks if Wine Goose has checked if the supplier is insured. If anything was further from her mind Wine Goose can not at this moment think of it. Mr R reacts to this news by burying his head deeper in his hands and sighing deeply. He then goes on to suggest a litany of possible accidents that might happen, starting with minor bumps and bruises then working all the way up to spinal injuries and worse. Wine Goose reacts by opening a bottle of Valpolicella Classico, a light, fruity quaffing wine. She suspects that with the direction the conversation is taking she has quite some quaffing in front of her. There isn't really much she can say, but as she lurches off to bed she suggests to Mr R that perhaps the afternoon will pass without incident and the young guests will go home with happy memories of the party. He nods grimly. Wine Goose then spends the next 8 hours tossing and turning, scenes worse than those suggested by Mr R play themselves out in her head in the early hours, so that she is utterly exhausted by dawn. Mr R sleeps soundly, and awakes refreshed.

The unsuspecting children arrive down for breakfast to find a vast plastic carpet has taken over the garden; they have absolutely no idea what it can be and are thrilled when Mr R plugs it in. The bouncing begins, closely monitored by Mr R of course. Wine Goose is busy preparing the house so does not have time to dwell on potential disasters. The guests begin to arrive and launch themselves at the inflatable structure. No chance of limiting them to the recommended maximum of six at a time. One mother remarks on our bravery 'after what happened in England' as she sails out the door. Wine Goose offers up a silent prayer that Mr R is well out of earshot and wishes her an enjoyable afternoon. Mercifully the party not only passes without incident, but is a huge success, and weeks later is still being talked about by our son and his peers.

Saturday, 31 May 2008

Package Holiday - end

"Ladies and gentlemen, we have now commenced our descent and in 10 minutes will be landing at Seville airport" announces Flight Attendant Anita. It is her first day on the tannoy and already she has irritated most of the passengers beyond belief with her annoying accent, poor pronunciation and erroneous announcements. She then goes blabbering on about fastening seat belts, extinguishing cigarettes (?) and putting seat backs in the upright position. But nobody is listening, Anita lost our attention the moment she uttered the word Seville. We all thought we were going directly to Dublin, so now there is intense speculation among the passengers as to the reasons for this sudden change of plan.

Wine Goose first checks that there are no flames licking the exterior of the aircraft. She then reassures herself that the back of the airplane has not become separated from the front. (No, she does not watch Lost, she does not have time. She has however seen the teasers many times and is familiar with the way the aircraft splits into two parts). Satisfied that whatever the problem is, it seems that we may well make it to Seville before disaster strikes; she turns to discuss the situation with Mr R, and those in the surrounding seats. What is about these type of announcements that prompt passengers to start talking disaster? The conversations start with "last year I was on a flight that overshot the runway," or "a friend of mine was on a flight from the Canaries that had to make an emergency landing in Spain a few weeks ago."

Wine Goose is not particularly superstitious, but she would prefer to withhold discussing such stories until she has been safely delivered into the terminal building. Now, she decides, thousands of feet above terra firma, is probably a better time to reflect on the falling value of her family home in the suburbs, or some such rubbish. And so she relaxes back into her seat, sort of, given that she has a young child on each side and is on an aircraft. "Mummy I need to go to the toilet" whispers our son. "That's fine, darling, as soon as we touch down in Seville we'll get you in there, only 2 minutes to go". Cue Anita: "Ladies and yentlemen (sp), during our refuelling stop in Seville, the toilets will be closED". We touch down; Wine Goose takes her son firmly by the hand and presents him to the first available flight attendant. "This little boy needs to go to the toilet. The toilets are closED" is the predictable response. So just how should Wine Goose respond "Well that's fine, he's 3 years old and will wait for another 2 hours while you useless fuel miscalculators refill the plane". The hell. Wine Goose suggests to her son that he find a suitable corner for his wee-wee. The toilets are magically reopened. For the next 2 hours, on the boiling hot tarmac of Seville airport, child after child files past to go to the toilet. Score 1 Wine Goose.

Then, hours later than planned, we arrive back at Dublin airport. Exhausted. Rather than battle with the fallout of the Sunday game at Croke Park Mr R decides to splash out on a taxi home. All the sooner to deal with the empty fridge, mountains of laundry, overgrown garden, piles of post....Vive les vacances. What else can Wine Goose do but pour herself a glass of deliciously fresh and fruity Torres Vina Sol, horribly sobering at €10.00 a bottle.