Wine Tasting Party

Vampire WineOne of our common rituals is to enjoy a nice glass of wine with friends.  Brian doesn’t actually take part, but his culinary background allows him to educate us in the fine art of wine tasting.  Recently, we decided to kick it up a notch and start recording our thoughts on these wine tastings so I started to research different wine tasting forms to see what works best. 

First, we started out with a basic form offered by Wine Country Getaways that also provides other resources to throw your own wine tasting party.  While it was a simple form to fill out, there wasn’t much structure to the form that would make it a good one to use in comparison over time to other wines.  So next, I came across this detail form featured on the Wine Lover’s page that scientifically rates the wine on a 20 point scale based on 12 questions.  The only down side is that it requires focus and a little more time to fill it out completely.  So they also offer this simple form that provides good questions to discuss during a wine tasting.  Another good wine tasting sheet that I have come across is featured on the De Long Wine Info site that provides visual pictures plus all you have to do is circle your preferences.

Last night we tried two different wines.  The first one was a 2004 Shiraz from the Sterling Vintner’s Collection, which is described on the vineyard’s website as:

[A] Shiraz [that] strikes the nose with powerful combination of intense dark fruit, liquorish, cocoa powder and nutmeg followed by round fruit-driven tannins on the palate. Raspberry and black currants linger on the tongue providing a smooth middle and long, lasting finish highlighted by gentle vanilla impressions. Rich in flavors and smooth in body, it holds up to sturdy dishes such as a grilled rib eye or rich pasta carbonara.

Based on the 20 point scale, I rated this wine a “16″ and noted that it was a dry wine with a deep bouquet.  Micheal, on the other hand, gave it a 15.75, and noted that if it was just a little less sour that it would be really good.

Our second wine of the evening was brought by our good friend, George, an intriguing labeled entitled “Vampire“.  Another red, but a 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon this time, which is noted on the vineyard’s website as:

Vampire Cabernet Sauvignon is sourced from several small-berry clones of this traditional Bordeaux varietal, grown in the Paso Robles region of California’s Central Coast.  Classic, small-lot fermentations, followed by aging with both European and American oak, gives full expression to the rich varietal flavors in this wine.  Judiciously blended with small amounts of Merlot for softness, and Syrah for added structure, our Cabernet displays ripe flavor character and a lovely aroma that will continue to develop with additional time in bottle.

This time we were slightly more conservative in our ratings with my rating at 15, Michael at 14.5, and George at 13.  While an overall good wine, it lacked a distinct bouquet and the aroma was only slight.  I suppose the label “Vampire” was misleading as it inspires images of a deep, rich wine that this variety just didn’t live up to.  However, as we’re finding out, never judge a wine by it’s label.

Wine Tasting Sheet

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Creative Everyday

Creative Everyday

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Creative Every Day’s February challenge is to incorporate words into your creative endeavors.  This pastel sketch is actually my third attempt tonight to capture something that called out to me.  While I’ve definitely been creative these past couple of months doing activities that range from making jewelry to designing my own wire-bound journals, I haven’t touched my soft pastels in awhile and it shows. 

My earlier attempts tonight ended up having color selections that clashed so I decided to stay with a simple yellow-green-blue combination.  The flower stylized dragonfly wings is a design I sketched awhile back.  While I have always loved dragonflies, they seem to be reappearing quite frequently right now.  I even saw one yesterday on one of my walks.  As a creature of the wind, dragonflies symbolize the ability to change form, adapt to various situations, and emerge anew. 

When it comes to being creative every day, it’s a lifestyle that embraces all things creative from cooking up a great meal to share with family and friends to practicing the art of feng shui and re-arranging your room in a way that is more pleasing the eye.  Being creative everyday isn’t limited just to traditional forms of creativity from painting to creating music.  It’s about embracing each day with creative energy to sing along with your favorite song and maybe even dance a little jig.  So to inspire you to become more creative everyday, I’ve made this pastel sketch available to download in three different desktop sizes.  cheers!

Posted in Desktops, Pastel Journal Tagged , |

Customized Planner

Customized PlannerFor as long as I can remember, I’ve always wanted to design my own personal planner.  So last year, I started with a plain three-ring binder or as I liked to call it, my Five Dollar Planner.  I kept everything organized in various sections by removable sticky tab dividers, and by the end of the year, I fine tuned my planner organization system to the point where I was ready make my own customized planner.

When it came to creating this planner, I designed it completely from cover to back.  For the covers, I cut some leftover mat board scraps to be slightly bigger than the inner pages.  Then I used a wide variety of materials to decorate the covers from metallic paint to handmade paper.   Once everything was dry, I varnished the covers to provide durability and then as a final touch, I added metal corners.  After the covers were completely assembled, I designed the inner pages, which included:

  1. Monthly Calendar
  2. Monthly Goal Sheets
  3. Health & Fitness log
  4. Home Maintaince List
  5. Wish List
  6. Website Goals/Planning
  7. Ideas
  8. Daily/Weekly Goal Sheets
  9. Prayers/Affirmations

Some of the pages were designed completely from scratch and others were obtained from online resources.  While it might seem to be a daunting task to compile and create a customized planner, the majority of the work was completed over a weekend.  The covers were the most time consuming factor as it takes over a week to allow enough time to let each layer dry.  The end result has been a very productive tool, and probably my only complaint is that the 1″ black wire coil I selected to bind the planner might not be big enough over time as I paste collages and various resources inside the pages.

Posted in Projects Tagged , , |

New Web Design

New Site DesignA couple months ago we tried a magazine web design layout for the site, but found over time that the content just wasn’t as accessible.  So this past weekend, the site got a new look weekend along with an update to WordPress 2.7.  This new design is based on the original chronological format with some additional features including post icons.

The design has been reviewed in both Mozilla 3.0.6 and Internet Explorer 7.  However, please drop me a comment if you notice anything looking a little weird in your browser.  Please note the browser name and version to help assist in my research to resolve the issue.

Posted in Site Updates Tagged |

The Ultimate, Universal, Roasted Garlic Base Tutorial and Recipe

I am having difficulty in starting this post.  I am searching the recesses of my mind for words adequate enough to describe my love of garlic.  It goes in practically anything.  You can make flavored butter for bread, put it in soups, put it in stews, sauces, sitr fry, practically any savory dish from omelettes to venison, etc.,  etc., ad infinitum.  There are health benefits.  Its easy to keep around and can add flavor to anything.

But, there were a few things about garlic that irritated me.  I don’t like having to play with the garlic paper and peel it.  I don’t mind the chopping, but the having to peel it each time slows me down.  When I am creating, I like to be quick on my toes, because I do alot of cooking on-the-fly.  Sure, its only a few seconds, but for me it can be a distraction when I am in that creative mode.  I am always looking for ways to save labor now so that in the future, I can simply just cook.

Also, I live in Florida.  I don’t know what that means to you, but to me it means that things like to go bad quickly and mold.  Garlic can get these little black specks on the bottom, near the root, which can quickly end a good head.  It’s humid here, and I have seen garlic starting to sprout just sitting in a dry spot on the table.

The products that are in the jar, already minced…  Well, I don’t particularly care for them.  I have used them, in an attempt to obtain the speed I want for the creative mode, but they never seem to carry enough flavor.  Goodness knows how long they have been in that jar, too.  I also have a natural aversion to getting things that have been processed when I can process them at home and know exactly what I am putting into my body.

Lastly, we eat alot of garlic.  All told, my wife and I consume about a dozen or so heads of garlic a week.  I put it in nearly everthing.  So, me being the kinda guy that likes to cook on-the-fly by the seat of my pants, every day I was slowing down to process garlic.

So the universal garlic base was born.  The premise is simple.  Roast a ton of garlic heads off at the beginning of the week, turn them into a base and keep it in the fridge.  Now, whenever I need garlic I can just scoop some out of a container and get whatever I need.  It saves time because its already made up for you.  The jarred garlic is expensive and the quality isn’t nearly as good as what you can make yourself.  Also, roasting it and keeping it in the fridge makes sure you don’t have to worry about mold.

The base keeps for a week and a half, if you manage to keep it around that long.  You’ll find yourself using it everything.  So, enough of that, let’s get to the actual process of making it.

You Will Need:

  • About a dozen or so heads of garlic.
  • One lemon
  • Olive oil
  • Pepper and Kosher or Sea Salt
  • A 9×13″ cake pan, or casserole dish.  Pyrex glass is fine.
  • Aluminum foil

Procedure for making the Ultimate, Roasted Garlic Base

1. Line your pan with aluminum foil and set near your work area.

2. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. ( 175 C.)

3. Using a large, serrated bread knife, take off just the top of the garlic head.  you want to make sure each clove had just a little bit of the tip removed.  Try not to remove too much of the garlic clove tops, but you want enough removed to expose the clove.  You can dispose of these tips.  (I save them and use them for making stock.)  Place each head in the pan and line them up in a row.

Note: No, you do not have to peel the garlic.  You might want to removed some of the outer paper of the garlic, but there is no need to peel  the head.

4.  Once you have all of your garlic heads prepared and panned, you will want to brush or drizzle a little olive oil onto the exposed tops.  You don’t really want to drench them in oil, so be careful not to do too much.  If you don’t have a pastry brush, pour a little olive oil into a cup and then use a teaspoon to drizzle it over each head.

5.  Liberally salt and pepper each head.

6.  Using another piece of foil, cover the pan and seal the edges tightly.

7. Place in the oven, on the middle or top rack, for about an hour.

8. Once the garlic is done roasting, remove it from the oven and allow it to rest for about 10 minutes before you remove the foil.  Be careful, there will be steam.

Click for a much better look!

9. After you lift off the foil, you might want to let the garlic cool for about another 20 to 30 minutes.  Be careful, they could still be warm.  You will be next squeezing these little guys out of their husks.  When it comes out, each head should have a nice dark, golden-brown color.  It should be shiny, almost glossy.

10.  THE FUN PART.  I use gloves, but you don’t have to.  Just make sure your hands are very, very clean and well washed with antibacterial soap.  I find that washing the hands and then using gloves lowers the chance of contaminating your newly roasted product and can help extend shelf like.

So what you want to do is, over a bowl, take each husk and squeeze it and watch the garlic cloves shoot out like you are squeezing a tube of toothpaste.  A firm, gentle pressure is all you need.  Try to get out as much of the garlic as possible, making sure no paper gets into the bowl.  You can throw away the husks, or they make great compost.

11. Once you have all of your cloves in the bowl, you can now add the zest of one lemon and a few teaspoons of the juice.

12. Add about a teaspoon or so of salt and fresh black pepper.

13. Add olive oil to the bowl.  Depending on your intended use, you could use more or less.  But, generally, you can figure about a half teaspoon per head.

14. Take a fork and mash it up, making sure each clove is completely mashed.  You want to get it looking like a paste.  Make sure you get the oil well mixed into the product.

15. Store in an airtight container.

And that’s it.  You now have an excellent base you can store in the fridge and use anytime you want and use in practically any dish.  It keeps about a week to ten days.  This tutorial looks like quite a few steps and appears time consuming, but is actually quite simple and goes quickly.  The longest part of the process is actually roasting.

I think I am going to make some garlic butter for the best darned garlic bread ever, which gives me an idea for my next post.

(Afterthought:  You don’t have to add the lemon, if you don’t want to.  Personally, I find it keeps an element of freshness to the final product.  You may also add dried herbs to the base.  In the last pic, I have some oregano in the olive oil that can provide an additional flavor component)

Good luck and Happy Cooking!


Posted in Cooking Tutorials Tagged , , , , , , |

Winter Meditation in the Woods

Shot taken on January 1, 2009 @ Lettuce Lake Park (Tampa, FL)

Image Available for Free Download in the following Desktop Wallpaper sizes:

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Posted in Desktops Tagged |

How to Organize your Digital Photos

My digital photos are somewhat organized, but over the years, I have used different folder naming conventions, which makes it increasingly difficult to find what I want easily.  So today, I developed a method to organize the images using a combination of category and date driven folders.

The first collection of folders is grouped by major categories such as Art Reference, Photos, Prints, Store Photos, and Website Photos.  Within each major category, I break down that particular category further.  Using the “Photo” folder as an example, it contains subcategories such as Friends, Family, Local Events, Nature Walks, Travel, and Work.  Then within those subcategories, I organize the images in folders using the following format:  YEAR.MM.DD – Folder Description (Example: 2008.01.02 – Nature Walk at Lettuce Lake HDR).   By listing the date format backwards, it will keep the folders chronology organized as other date formats can get out of order.  Also within the folder description, I reference important information such as HDR, which stands for high dynamic range so I can easily tell what type of photo is contained within the folder.

Once you get the basic folder structure set up, you can download a free photo organizer such as XnviewIrfanview, or Picasa.  Some of these programs can help you further organize your images by batch renaming of file names, assigning tags (i.e. names of people, places, etc.), or assign ratings so you can easily find your favorite images.  They also assist with editing your photos if you don’t have Photoshop.  Personally, I use Adobe Bridge, which interacts with Photoshop so I can edit photos in batches to automatically resize and apply filters.

Finally, make a habit to organize your photos as you download them in a format that works for you, and of course, don’t forget to back-up your images to a CD, external hard drive, or through an online website that can also assign privacy levels.  And of course, if you have another tip on how to organize photos, please feel free to post your idea in the comments section.

Photo Credits: “why I love my vintage cameras” by Katie Weilbacher

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Little pearls among the ashes. Pearls of hope and faith.

The Unitarian Universalist church of Clearwater hosted an exhibit of Buddhist relics on Sunday November 2nd. The Maitreaya Project Relic Tour, consists of more than 1,000 sacred relics of the Buddha and other Buddhist Masters.

The church, decorated with Buddhist art and ceremonial regalia was filled with an ambiance of peace and tranquility which resonated in our hearts with a subtle joy as we walked in. We were greeted by a monk who told us about the significance of what we were about to find inside.

When a Buddhist spiritual master is cremated, sometimes in the ashes one can find beautiful pearl like crystals called Ringsel. The faithful believe that the Riegsel hold the wisdom and compassion of the holy masters. The belief is that these relics, much like Catholic or Eastern Orthodox relics, in the west hold spiritual qualities which can heal, help seekers find spiritual insight and even answer prayers.

“They are beautiful” I wispered. We felt their power as we walked around the large circular table with a golden statue of Buddha at its center. Some were clear like crystals, some white like pearls and a few looked like tiny specs of gold.

I knelt before the shrine and received a blessing from a monk who said a prayer and held a golden object containing some of the relics over my head. I felt hope, and a lightness of spirit. I whispered my wish, which surprisingly was not the selfish “Give me!” type of wish that usually fills my heart.

As my date and I left the church, I could not help but think. I wish more churches had the attitude of the Unitarian Universaists. I am Unitarian, nor am I a Buddhist, but I really respect a church that can open its doors to those of a different faith. I also felt grateful that my date suggested that we go see the exhibit. Thanks to her, I had an enriching spiritual experience, I learned something about a fascinating faith. As for the healing power of the relics, the cold I have been trying to shake seems to be going away.

Posted in Local Events Tagged , , , |


As a visual artist, I have often been asked to define my style, and nine times out of ten, I fail miserable at being able to defining my style in words.  Yet, if you look at my portfolio, my style is very evident.  From the bold colors to the crisp blacks lines, there is a common thread that connects my works of art that have been created over the years. 

Part of the hesitation to define my style comes from knowing that labels stifle creativity.  Yet, there is a balancing act that takes place in knowing yourself as an artist and giving yourself the creative freedom to explore.  As Julia Cameron states in Walking in this World:

“Art” is less about what we could be and more about what we are than we normally acknowledge.  When we are fixated on getting better, we miss what it is we already are–and this is dangerous because we–as we are–are the origin of our art.  “We” are what makes our art original.  If we are always striving to be something more and something different, we dilute the of what it is we actually are.  [In] doing that, we dilute our art.

This danger of striving to be something more, something different is exactly what I’ve been struggling with this past year.  Part of me questioned if it was time to move onto a different subject matter…something besides the series of senuous female portraits I have been exploring in recent years.  Then another part of me felt compelled to tackle larger scale paintings.  It finally reached the point where I took a break from creating any new paintings. 

Yet even during this creative break, I find myself embracing creativity from designing my own jewelry to painting glass candle holders for our bedroom.  And it’s been during this creative break that I’m rediscovering my style.

Several new ideas for paintings fill my head, but I’m taking one step at a time.  As Julia recommends:

Just as in romance, too serious, too fast, and the fun fizzles out.  We need to flirt with an interest, approach it with a sidelong glance … We must learn to explore, not repress, our intuition.  Intuition is key to creative unfolding.

So I’m getting back to basics, from going on meditative walks to taking artist’s dates.  Every day brings a new adventure, and in time, maybe I’ll finally discover the Holy Grail of paintings.  Until then, I embrace the little sparks of divine inspiration that each day brings.

Post inspired by this week’s theme at Sunday Scribblings

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This week’s theme at Inspire Me Thursday is Nervous.  It comes at the perfect time to explore this emotion, as our economy is, on the surface, unraveling before our very eyes. 

Many people are nervous about something…  Nervous about losing a job or wondering how one might actually find a job in this kind of economy.  Despite this overwhelming aura of anxiety and despair (perpetuated by the news media at large,) I cannot help feel anything but peace, hope and joy. 

As someone that has been laid off three times, I have come to understand that giving in to the worry and nervousness just isn’t worth the emotional investment.

If I do end up laid off, I’ll deal with it then.  Otherwise, I live for the moment, let the worry go, and prepare for the future with a clear mind.

The nervousness needs to be transformed or channeled into something.  To me, it translates into enjoying the many blessings that every day brings.

I’m also a firm believer in planning for the future so I invest and save so that one day, I’ll be able to enjoy the fruits of my labor.  Sure, my 401K’s rate of return sucks, but right now, I’m buying low so eventually I’ll see the light at the end of the tunnel.

With every action there is a consequence and it’s no surprise to me that our economy is in the state it’s in.  Many of us live beyond our means.  But I don’t think the end of the world is coming and that it’s not impossible to arise from this chaos.  Anything is possible if you put your mind to it. 

So as someone that has a hard time identifying with nervousness at the moment, I felt compelled to accept this week’s challenge.  At first, I pondered what to create.  The interesting part is that I already drew the black lines.  They were doodled in my pastel journal, just awaiting the moment where I felt inspired to fill them with color. 

To me, the lines suggest the state that nerviness brings.  The knots in your stomach.  The fears of money in the shades of green.  Even the red heart tells us that hard times bring difficulties into relationships.

But it doesn’t have to be like that.  You can break free from the nervousness.  You just need to take a deep breath and let go of the fear and anxiety.  And take each day as it comes…

Posted in Pastel Journal Tagged |