Friday, September 26, 2014

Vegas, baby, Vegas!

what to do in Las Vegas

Las Vegas. One of my favorite places in the world, simply because there is something for everyone there. Ever since my first trip to Las Vegas with Nick several years ago, I have been convinced that there really is something for everyone- after all, we enjoy Vegas together, we have enjoyed it with friends, heck, even my parents are going there this weekend!

Today, because I have a slight touch of jealousy that my parents will be enjoying Las Vegas and all it has to offer this weekend, I am going to share some of my favorite things to do while in Las Vegas!

rooftop of Pure, at Caesar's Palace
 First, I'm going to start with the nightlife! One of my all-time favorites is Pure, the club located at Caesar's Palace. Like I mentioned, Vegas has something for everyone- and Pure is my place. Neither Nick nor myself are big clubbers- which is why we enjoy Pure. Yes, it is a nightclub- but at the same time, while it offers music, DJs, and dancing; it also offers beautiful views of Las Vegas at night, room to stand without being pushed around, an atmosphere in which you can have a conversation and hear the person you are speaking with, and bars where you can get a drink when you want one. In short, there is absolutely nothing else I could ask for! In my personal opinion, Pure is the best nightclub in Las Vegas, and anybody heading there should check Pure out!

The Grand Canyon. On my first trip to Vegas, Nick was kind enough to surprise me with a helicopter tour of the Grand Canyon, and boy was that ever worth it. Cruising around and seeing the sights in a helicopter was pretty cool, and an experience that anybody would enjoy. Read more about our helicopter tour here. 

Shows, shows, shows. Las Vegas has shows of every type, style, and sort. We have seen several Cirque du Soleil shows- The Beatles LOVE is my favorite. We have seen comedians and showgirls. Las Vegas has a show for anybody, be it sports, music, comedy, circus, or anything else you can think of.

Fabulous dinners out. Las Vegas has so many great restaurants, especially- in my opinion- the Steakhouses. Nick and I love grabbing a nice meal out with a bottle of wine, enjoying each others company. You really can't go wrong with the restaurants in Las Vegas.

a great night out with friends!

Poolside cocktails. Vegas has gorgeous weather for most of the year, so while there make sure to check out a pool party, or just grab a chair and lounge poolside. Cocktail servers will come around checking if anybody needs a drink- strawberry daiquiris are always my favorite! Usually, while I lounge poolside Nick is inside playing Pai Gow poker (his favorite!) …it wouldn't be a Las Vegas post if I didn't mention gambling!

…I have even convinced Nick to hang out in the sun with me on occasion!

The shopping & the view. I have bought so many great dresses in Vegas- including the one I am wearing in the above picture. Beyond the shopping, for a chill night out head to Mix at Mandalay Bay. Located on the 64th floor (and currently undergoing a major remodel, expected to open in February) Mix offers great priced wine and gorgeous views of the strip. 

Overall, Las Vegas has something for everyone- great food, shopping, parties, and relaxation. Of course, Vegas is a huge attraction for gambling- but there is so much more to it than that! For those of you who have been to Vegas, what is your favorite activity?

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Wednesday Wine 101: Champagne Time!

Always keep a bottle of champagne in the fridge

Now that we have talked about white wine, red wine, and decanting red wine, its time to talk about one of my favorite things for Wednesday Wine: Champagne! The above quote is one of my favorites, and a quote that I tend to abide by- I love a good glass of champagne! Here we are with a few of my favorite facts and knowledge about champagne:

Champagne, France map

Firstly, champagne is only champagne when it comes from Champagne, France. While there are certainly other wines with bubbles or frizzante, and even wineries that will say they produce champagne, it is not champagne unless it is from Champagne. Any other 'champagne' is a variety of sparkling wine. Throughout the world, different regions have created different names for the sparkling wines that they produce. Spain produces Cava, Italy produces Moscato and Prosecco, and South Africa produces Cape Classic sparkling wines. 

how to serve champagne

Champagne should always be served in taller, skinnier glasses with a small mouth- these glasses are called flutes. Wide-brimmed glasses will cause champagne to lose some of its bubbles more quickly, depreciating the taste!

champagne tastes

Champagnes can vary greatly in taste, mostly due to the level of sweetness allowed in the champagne. Below are the different classifications of champagne and a little bit about them:

  • Brut: the most commonly produced champagne. Brut will be the driest tasting champagne, unless you go for an extra-brut.
  • Extra-dry: Strangely enough, extra-dry will be slightly sweeter than brut or extra-brut champagnes. 
  • Sec: Sec will be a slightly sweeter version of champagne, while still having a medium level of dryness. 
  • Demi-sec: Demi-sec is the sweetest champagne currently produced. 

Other interesting things to note about Champagne are that non-vintage champagnes are produced from a blend of wines from several years. Vintage champagnes are produced solely from one year's harvest, usually only after an exceptional growing season. 

Champagne is the most labor intensive wine produced in the world. It is blended between the following grapes and grape skins:
Pinot Noir- produced as a white wine, with no skin contact
Pinot Noir- produced as a red wine, macerated (blended) with skins
Pinot Meunier-produced as a white wine
Pinot Meunier- produced as a red wine
Chardonnay- only available in white (green) skins
Most champagnes are created using white Pinot Noir grapes. Rosé champagnes blend red and white grapes, and Blanc de Noirs are made exclusively with Chardonnay. These base wines will create the foundation, which is then bottled with yeast and sugar, producing CO2. By law, Champagne will then be aged at least 18 months, in which the bottle is stored with the neck down at a 45 degree angle, allowing yeast to collect in the neck. Riddling is a technique where the bottle is turned to move the yeast into a cap near the neck. After aging, the bottles are relieved of yeast sediment by a process called discouragement. During discouragement, the bottle is turned upright, the cap removed, and the CO2 pressure will expel the yeast cap along with a little champagne. Finally, a dosage of wine, sugar, grape juice, and brandy is added. The amount of sugar indicates whether the final champagne will be brut, extra-dry, sec, or demo-sec. Finally, the bottle is sealed with a cork and ready to be called champagne!

All of that work just to produce a delicious, bubbly beverage! The great news is, champagne can be enjoyed in a variety of ways:

Champagne is great by the fireplace!

Of course, champagne is great fun to celebrate an engagement!
Nick and I definitely enjoyed playing with champagne for these pictures!
Champagne tastes great around the world- from Mexico, to Thailand,
to the US & Sweden-everywhere I've been its wonderful!
Champagne is always best when accompanied with great company!
And there we have it, with everything- and more- that you have ever wanted to know about champagne! What would you like to learn about next week on Wednesday Wine?

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Wednesday Wine 101: Decanting Your Wine

Wine Decanting Basics

Welcome to Wednesday Wine 101, Week 3! Two weeks ago, I started with the basics and introduced you to the 9 Noble White Grapes. Last week, I introduced you to the 9 Noble Red Grapes. Moving right along with our wine education, this week I will be talking about the what, why, when, how, and who (which grapes) of decanting!

So, first, what is decanting? In terms of wine, it is the process of pouring wine (typically from the bottle) into a glass container called a decanter. As you can see in the above picture, I have a pretty standard looking decanter. There are all sorts of decanters out there, but this one works perfectly well for me and is easy to clean!

Now that we know what decanting is, why do you decant wine? There are two different reasons: firstly, you decant wine to aerate it and give the wine a chance to breathe, or open up. Have you ever opened a bottle of wine, poured yourself a glass, and noticed that the more you drank, the better the wine got? This is because the wine was exposed to air and had a chance to let the flavors develop (and, perhaps, if you drank the whole bottle because anything tastes great eventually!) As you pour wine into the decanter, it is exposed to air and given a chance to breathe, aerate, and develop the flavors within the wine. The second reason to decant wine is if you have (typically) an older bottle of wine with sediment, you decant the wine in order to separate the sediment from the wine. Often, after wine has been in a bottle for 5-10 years, they will produce sediments that will settle in the bottle- it is important to separate these so your bottle tastes better.

Next, which wines should you decant? As mentioned above, any wine that has sediment in it should be decanted to remove this sediment from the wine. Beyond these older wines, I personally recommend decanting any cheap wine, as well as any more full-bodied wines. Decanting a cheap bottle of wine will help to round out the flavors and ease any of the harshness that comes from sulfur dioxides in the bottle. We learned last week from reading about the 9 noble red grapes that more full bodied wines will include Malbecs, Syrahs, and Cabernet Sauvignons. Decanting these more full bodied wines will open them up, allowing more flavors to reach your palate, as well as smoothing out the tannins in the wine. You can decant lighter wines such as pinot noirs, but often these wines are soft enough where decanting is not necessary.

The last thing I will talk about today in regards to decanting wine is how to do it! If you are doing a cheap bottle of wine with no sediment, simply tilt the decanter at about a 45 degree angle and pour the wine into the decanter, allowing the wine to flow down the side of the decanter. With a bottle of wine that has no sediment, you can pour the whole bottle into the decanter. The tricky part of decanting a bottle of wine is when you have a bottle that has sediment in it. In this case, you will perform much the same act, tilting the decanter and slowly pouring the wine from the bottle into the decanter, flowing down the side. Carefully watch the neck of the bottle that you are decanting, and as soon as you see any sediment stop pouring the wine into the decanter. There will be about 1-2 inches (2-5 cm) of wine left in the bottle, and that is OK because you don't want the sediment!

how to decant wine
Me with my trusty decanter!
So there we have it with all the information you need to know about decanting wine! Do you have any further questions about decanting, or is there anything you would like to know about wine?

Sunday, September 14, 2014

52 Weeks // One Year!

Happy Anniversary to my wonderful husband! I must say, the day does have the feeling of just another day. After all, we chose to celebrate our anniversary last weekend with a nice day & night out in Stockholm. Nick had a few days off and we took full advantage of them! We spent some time shopping, then checked out the Gamla Stan and had an amazing dinner. Finally, we headed to meet up with one of Nick's teammates and his wife for a bit and spent some time with them. Nick gave me my anniversary present while in Stockholm, and I had given him his present the day it arrived in the mail- I can't lie, I am terrible at keeping presents a secret, usually ending up giving them to Nick way before the actual event for the present.

Scratch off Travel Map

I knew that the traditional anniversary gift was paper (for the record, when I told Nick this, he asked who makes up those rules?). I wanted to do something related to that, and while there were a couple ideas I thought that a scratch off travel map would be perfect for us. As you can see, we scratched off the countries we have been- the US, Mexico, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Italy, and Thailand- and have already begun our plans to further our travels! We have both been many places on our own- for Nick, pretty much every country in Europe, as well as Russia and many of the ex-Soviet satellite states. For myself, we could then scratch off a few places in Europe, in addition to Costa Rica and Hawaii. However, we wanted this map to be about us, and inspire us to get out and see the world! We both really like our map, and are thinking of ordering another for our home in the US as well as here in Sweden.

anniversary breakfast
heart shaped French Toast & bacon!
So today, its been a quiet day. I woke up early and made a little anniversary breakfast for Nick with french toast and bacon. Beyond that, its just a regular Sunday in our house, waiting for some friends to come over and watch the Minnesota Vikings (hopefully!) kick the Patriot's butts. Of course, I do have a little champagne chilling in the fridge- what's a celebration without champagne?!

I already talked about our anniversary previously, when I wrote about 50 weeks // 50 years. Nick and I talked about our wedding today, and agreed that while it feels like it was just yesterday, it also feels like it was 50 years ago already and that we have been married forever. And I must say, I don't mind that feeling! 

anniversary dinner in Stockholm
enjoying a glass of wine in the Gamla Stan!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

One Event

September 11, 2001. I was in my second class of the day in sixth grade, history. I'm not quite sure what we were learning about, but I remember the female teacher from across the hall running into our classroom, whispering something into my teachers ear, and both of them starting to cry. Then, my teacher turned on the television to the news. While it was still on mute, he said, "Class, I've heard and continue to believe that in each person's life there will be one event, likely tragic, that will change history and the course of their lives forever. These events have spanned history, but they will be events in which you remember where you were at the time, who you were with, what you were doing. Today, unfortunately, I believe will be one of those days. Unfortunately, I believe today is history in the making. Please, stay calm, and watch this broadcast. Remember this day, because this is a day that will change your lives." And with that, he turned the volume on and we began to watch the chaos happening in New York City at the World Trade Center.

Thirteen years later, and I still remember that speech word-for-word. I remember where I was sitting in that classroom, who I was sitting next to, what I was wearing that day, and the feeling and mood throughout the classroom. I remember not fully grasping what was happening. Thirteen years later, and I remember the feelings and emotions of that day.

Always Remember, Never Forget.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Wednesday Wine 101: 9 Noble Red Grapes

Last week, I started my new series for Wednesday Wine 101, a little bit of education on wine! Tips, tricks to finding good wines, general knowledge, and everything in between! Last week, I started by introducing you to the 9 Noble White Grapes. As a quick refresher, there are 18 grapes that are internationally recognized and referred to as the Noble Grapes: 9 white, and 9 red. Today I will delve into the 9 Noble Red grapes! I will list these in order from lightest to darkest.

9 Noble Red Grapes
Enjoying a nice Cabernet Sauvignon in Stockholm!
  1. Pinot Noir: Pinot Noir is the lightest red grape and a great introductory wine. Even after years of wine drinking, it is still a go-to for me! If you want to ease your way into red wine, pinot noir is a great (and delicious!) place to start.
  2. Grenache: Grenache wines tend to be fairly fruit-forward and light colored, with a medium body. It is a more complex grape and can offer a lot of different flavors in one sip. Similar grapes that you may have heard of would be Zinfandels.
  3. Merlot: Merlot tastes very different depending on whether it is grown in cool or warm climates, ranging from a heavier and earthy taste to very fruit-forward. A common characteristic of merlot is that it tends to be very smooth and easy to drink.
  4. Sangiovese: Sangiovese is similar to Pinot Noir in that it is a fairly wine, but will have more tannins and a cherry taste to it. For those of you who are unfamiliar with tannins, they are what makes a wine taste more dry. 
  5. Nebbiolo: Nebbiolo is a very unique grape because it is very light in color, yet very high in tannins and acidity. Nebbiolo wines tend to have a very distinctive scent. 
  6. Tempranillo: Tempranillo wines are more earthy than fruity and high in tannins. Tempranillio grapes ripen early, which is significant for its name, which means "little early one".
  7. Cabernet Sauvignon: Cabernet Sauvignon, or Cab Sauv, is arguably the most well-known grape varietal. Cab Sauv is a balanced, full-bodied wine with a distinct and savory taste. 
  8. Syrah: Syrah offers big, bold flavors with a full-bodied. Syrah tends to have a smooth finish with light tannins. 
  9. Malbec: Malbec is similar to grenache in that it is a candied wine, but will offer darker fruits such as blackberry. Malbecs will be more full-bodied with bold tastes. 
9 Noble Red Wine Grapes

9 Noble Red Grapes
A nice Pinot Noir last Friday for me!
see, even my kitty enjoys a glass of red wine!
That's all I have for you today! Stay tuned for next week's post (preview below!) on how to make any red wine taste better!

9 Noble Red Grapes
Stay tuned next week for a post on decanting wine!
What is something you would like to learn about wine?

Friday, September 5, 2014

Tuk-tuks: An Adventure in Transportation

I think its high time that I talk about transportation in Thailand! On our honeymoon, Nick and I quickly learned the best ways to get around town. As previously mentioned in my review of First Beach Bungalow, while in Koh Samui we were originally a 10-15 minute walk from the main strip of Chaweng Beach. Combine that walk with the incredible heat, and things could get pretty sticky sometimes! Because of this, we often found ourselves wanting to find the easiest transportation around the island. Enter the world of tuk-tuks! An interesting fact: "tuk" in Thai means cheap, so tuk-tuk is a direct translation to cheap-cheap.

Bangkok Tuk-Tuk
Nick hanging off the back of our Koh Samui Tuk-Tuk
While we were in Thailand, we experienced two different types of tuk-tuks. In Koh Samui, tuk-tuks were essentially covered pick-up trucks that accepted passengers. In Bangkok, tuk-tuks were three-wheeled motorcycles. While we were in Koh Samui, we quickly found out that taking a taxi anywhere is a waste of money. As prices in general are cheaper in Thailand, ie. $1-2 for a beer and $2-3 for an entire meal, paying $20+ for a 3-minute taxi ride is somewhat ridiculous. Almost everything in Thailand operates on a barter system- from clothes and souvenir shopping, to taxi and tuk-tuk rides, so it is important to be aware of this. Nick and I made friends with a tuk-tuk driver on one of our first days, and discovered that local Thais will typically only pay 30 baht apiece, while foreigners are charged 50 baht apiece. Of course, if you don't know this and barter, the tuk-tuk drivers will try to tell you it is upwards of 100 baht per person. Essentially, Nick and I could take a tuk-tuk into town for 100 baht (around $3), or pay $20 for that same taxi ride. Tuk-tuk it is!

Before our first ever Bangkok tuk-tuk ride
in the tuk-tuk and ready to go!
In Bangkok, the tuk-tuk rides got a whole lot more interesting! With a metropolitan region containing around 22 million people, of course the traffic is absolutely ridiculous! However, from what Nick and I could tell… tuk-tuks only have to abide by certain traffic rules. For instance, in a line of cars waiting at a traffic light, tuk-tuks simply speed into the lane of oncoming traffic and merge back in with the waiting cars whenever the traffic gets too thick. You can't quite tell from the following pictures, but tuk-tuks are a much more heart-palpitating way of getting around.

Yes, that is oncoming traffic.
And yes, we are in the wrong lane. No fear, tuk-tuk drivers are here!
Our first Bangkok tuk-tuk ride was certainly an adventure to never forget!

As previously mentioned, tuk-tuk means "cheap-cheap". However, make sure you speak with your driver before getting in-- often, tuk-tuk drivers will receive free gasoline or commissions from shopkeepers by having you stop in their store. The driver may tell you that they will take you somewhere for an outrageously low price (fifty cents!) as long as you can stop in to a store or two for them. Of course, once you get in the store, the shopkeepers are laying on the charm and trying to get you to buy things. My best advice- negotiate the tuk-tuk price upfront, saying you won't stop at any stores. Then, if you really want to stop at a store, you can ask your driver and yet not be pressured into buying things. Nick and I did this once, just to experience it.

tuk-tuk warning
While in Thailand, tuk-tuks are definitely an experience and something you must do to experience the culture. They might be a little bit scary at first, but it is similar to a roller-coaster: eventually, you learn to love it! A good word of advice, and many tuk-tuks will have these signs posted: While riding in a tuk-tuk, make sure to keep a hand on your bag. Passing motorcyclists may just make a grab at it!

tuk-tuk advertisement
Above is yet another example of a classic tuk-tuk advertisement. Our driver informed us all about the Thai sex shows… simply read the descriptions and let your imaginations wander. Needless to say, Nick and I did not experience any of these shows…

At first, Nick and I were a little bit worried about taking tuk-tuks around town. Eventually, we learned that it is simply a way of life for Thai people and tourists. So take a deep breath, close your eyes if necessary, and enjoy the ride! While taking tuk-tuks, Nick and I actually received some of the best recommendations all trip for places to shop and eat, as well as things to do. Talking to locals- especially those who deal with tourists and know the industry- can be very helpful to any vacation! What is the craziest mode of transportation you have ever taken on a trip? Have you ever experienced a tuk-tuk?

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Wednesday Wine 101: Day One!

I love a good glass of wine. Some of you may be wondering, what constitutes a good glass of wine? Does it have to be from a certain area, or be a certain price? Is good wine red, white, or sparkling?

Wine Wednesday Noble Grapes
About to enjoy some wine in Paris, France
Wine Wednesday with the girls
Wine nights with the girls in Minneapolis are always my favorite!
Wine with my husband in Cancun, Mexico!

Here's the good news to the above questions: A good wine is entirely up to you and your taste buds! I have enjoyed wines from all around the world, from the USA to Chile to Italy to South Africa to China. I have enjoyed wines that were $8 a bottle, and wines that were upwards of several hundred dollars a bottle. I enjoy red, white, and sparkling wine- however, I will say that I am not a fan of rosé wines, but that is just a personal preferences. Because I love wine so much, my husband suggested to me that I start a wine series. So, from now on, here on Hockey Wife Hockey Life, Wednesdays will be entirely dedicated to wine and spreading some knowledge about it! So, lets get into some wine knowledge!

The classy way of drinking wine before my wedding!
"Relax"-ing with a Riesling this summer!
All wines are made from grapes. Internationally, there are 18 Noble Grapes that are recognized as being international grape varieties that appeal to a wide range of people, and cover the entire spectrum of wine drinking. Of course, there are many more than 18 grape varietals- however, these Noble Grapes are just international varieties. Because I'm in a white wine mood, we will cover the 9 white noble grapes today and next week explore the 9 red noble grapes. While listing the 9 white noble grapes, I will list them from lightest to the most rich.

  1. Pinot Grigio: Pinot Grigio tends to produce a very light, crisp, fruity, and acidic or zesty wine. When you try a Pinot Grigio, your mouth may begin to water after drinking it- this is the acidity in the wine!
  2. Riesling: Rieslings produce very tart wines that can be either dry or sweet. Rieslings are one of the most aromatic grapes, so make sure to smell this one before tasting it! 
  3. Sauvignon Blanc: Sauvignon Blanc is a very green, herbaceous wine that can have a great variety of flavors. It is one of the most widely planted grapes in the world, and can be found throughout Old World countries (think France & Italy) and New World countries (think USA and Australia.) Almost all Sauvignon Blancs will be dry wines, although a select few have began producing sweet wines. 
  4. Chenin Blanc: Chenin Blanc is a fairly light wine similar to Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon Blanc. It is unique because it can be enjoyed either as a dry or sweet wine. Chenin Blanc is very versatile and produces a large range of flavors.
  5. Moscato: Moscato tends to be a fairly sweet wine that can be a little bit bubbly. These bubbles are called "frizzante". Moscato is relatively fruity and can be slightly acidic. 
  6. Gewürztraminer: Gewürztraminer is naturally high in sugar content, producing more sweet wines. Gewürztraminer is aromatic and can also be known for being slightly frizzante. 
  7. Semillon: Semillon grapes will produce wine that is dry with a medium to full body. Depending where Semillon is grown, it can be either similar to Chardonnay and rich, or more like a zesty Sauvignon Blanc.
  8. Viognier: Viognier is a more full-bodied white wine that often has a very floral scent to it. In 1965, Viognier almost went extinct when only several acres were planted in Rhône, France.
  9. Chardonnay: Chardonnay is one of the most well-known white wines, and tend to be very full-bodied and rich. Depending how Chardonnay is aged, it can range from a very buttery to a very oaky taste. 
You may not have heard of each of these grape varietals, and that is A-OK! The grapes are just one of the inputs that go into wines, and often wine will be a mixture of several grapes. For example, many people have heard of Chardonnay, unaware that Chardonnay is a variety of wine but also a variety of grape. Many times, these grapes will be blended in order to create a more complex and flavorful wine. 

9 Noble Grapes White Wine

As you can see from the pictures and information, I have enjoyed wines from all over the world, all over the world! My question to you as I begin this new series: What do you want to learn and know about wine? 
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