Blog by Sumana Harihareswara, Changeset founder

25 Dec 2010, 13:19 p.m.

Merry Christmas! Now, Fudge & Red Wine

Hi, reader. I wrote this in 2010 and it's now more than five years old. So it may be very out of date; the world, and I, have changed a lot since I wrote it! I'm keeping this up for historical archive purposes, but the me of today may 100% disagree with what I said then. I rarely edit posts after publishing them, but if I do, I usually leave a note in italics to mark the edit and the reason. If this post is particularly offensive or breaches someone's privacy, please contact me.

fudge with walnutsLeonard and I made fudge last night (via). We divided the recipe down to a third of the batch size Kareila suggested, used regular chocolate instead of white, used whole marshmallows instead of marshmallow creme, and topped the fudge with two ounces of chopped walnuts. And we lined the loafpan with parchment paper for ease of removal (explanation of procedure). Pretty successful, but next time I'll add some walnuts into the batter before it cools (yay interosculated nuts), and maybe cook the batter for longer in the pot to reduce the water content and make the end product harder. Ooh, maybe using ghee to reduce the water in the input ingredients would help too? Anyway, thanks, Kareila, for the inspiration. Neither of us had ever made fudge before!

Also yesterday I got to have lunch with littlebutfierce & phredd at Souen (best soba-in-broth I've ever had) and we enjoyed some Our Daily Red. It's a red wine, a blend from a few different winegrapes, and it's yummy. We didn't finish it and I took the bottle home. A sip just now reminded me why I liked it: a little dry in the initial taste, but pleasingly so, not mouth-puckering, and then a friendly nose-clearing aftertaste like smoke and chocolate cookies.

This is all pretty new to me. I am no wine expert, and used to think it all tasted terrible. But these days I am enjoying red wine. Sometimes when I am eating out with friends I suggest we split a bottle of it, and so then I end up being the one who chooses, because the friends I'm with say "uh, I don't know anything about wine." And then I pick something, with my tiny knowledge of my own preferences and a suggestion from the waiter, and we all like it.

It is the most cliché thing ever to say "People feel intimidated by wine and there's really no need; you should just drink what you like." Imagine me saying that in a Cary Grant accent, dressed in tweeds and sitting by a fireplace, holding a tiny white dog that could never survive on its own in the wild. But more seriously, I will now tell you how I grew to enjoy wine.

Waiting. At 21 I did not like beer or whiskey or wine or any alcohol that tasted bitter, and drank hard liquor with, you know, fruit juice or chocolate sauce or whatever mixed in. I still like Amarula. But as I've aged, I've been more able to appreciate drinks and foods that include bitterness as a component flavor, including dark greens, dark chocolate, and the relevant boozes, such as beer, wine, and Scotch. I believe my taste buds have changed, biologically. Also, I broadened my food palate in general, because Leonard is an awesome cook. Thanks to nature and nurture, I have more of a foundation for enjoying wine. (Also I now have more disposable cash so if I make a bad choice I don't feel awful.)

Trying things in small doses. Vesta does wine by the shot, and when it's slow, the servers are happy to arrange little wine "flights" (little curated collections of like 3-6 miniservings of different wines). Vino Volo might be the only good thing about Newark Liberty Airport; they tell you where any wine they serve sits on their chart. I rinse out my mouth by drinking a little water between trying different wines, but it's not like I have gas chromatography and centrifuges and stuff going on in my mouth and need to clean out the lab equipment between experiments.

Not trying. Sometimes I note down whether I liked a wine, and sometimes I don't. Most wines taste at least okay to me. Diligence is not necessary here; without spreadsheets or magazine-reading or weekend seminars, I learned enough to remember a couple of keywords that remind me of wine I'll probably like. Then when I look at a wine list, I can ask a server, "do you have anything like [keyword]?" and s/he will recommend something and it will be fine, possibly great. I decided it was fine to treat wine the way I aim to treat books, sex, visual art, and music: bask in what I enjoy, rhapsodic and/or analytic as I like, and I'll organically grow all the expertise I need.

I am in charge. The entire system of wine creation and distribution and sale is, like sewing or electronics manufacture or Debian packaging, old. But all these systems are set up as tools for humans to use. I could even make my own wine! All the wine jargon and the stores and the magazines and the rituals are not meant to tell you what to like. They are meant to help you find stuff you like. I treat grapes and years and vineyards and countries of origin like tags, or like the fandom/tag/collection/fictype search axes on Archive of Our Own. I am the consumer and my choice is tautologically correct!

Friends. Rachel Chalmers, for example! A wine-drinking role model. From her life I learn that if you drink wine casually a lot you figure out what you like and you appreciate the good stuff more. And if you drink a wine with a friend you can compare experiences and figure out what flavors you taste in it. Don't worry that you sound pretentious: you are on a taste adventure! You can also get the standard alcohol-facilitated friend-bonding, which can be nice as long as everyone's being responsible and it's just a small fraction of the overall friend-time.

Travel. This year I got to drink locally made wines in Australia, Spain, and India. I treated it as a touristy experience. It is like a little boozy souvenir.

Eating. It slows down the drunkenness and the flavor combinations are better than the wine flavor alone. I don't know what-all the right pairings are, so sometimes I ask a waiter to recommend a red wine to go with whatever dishes I'm eating. Usual results: yum!

Generally being a more relaxed person. Possible failures include: stains, ordering wine so bad you can't finish it, looking like someone who made a small bad decision, interacting with a jerk who acts as though different wine tastes or experience levels are morally significant. None of these are very bad, but I had to be a more relaxed person than I was at 21 to grok that. Then there are the standard possible failure modes of alcohol-drinking, such as letting one's guard down too far, but I prevent those pretty well these days. Yay experience. Basically, instead of trying to Master Wine, I am being okay with bumbling into experiences in the range bleh-to-awesome.

I seriously used to think wine all tasted bad, and red wine specifically was all mouth-puckeringly bitter and dry. Now I don't and I enjoy it. Yay! Next stop: Scotch.


25 Dec 2010, 15:03 p.m.

Wow, that is a hell of a compliment! THANK YOU. A glass of wine with you, my dear.

Jeremy says: "Don't worry about sounding as pretentious as Rach! YOU CANNOT." To which I reply :P

25 Dec 2010, 16:54 p.m.

This is all rather inspiring.

My great-grandfather (the husband of my great-grandmother Nono, in case I've ever mentioned her to you) ran a sweetshop and had a popular fudge recipe. I could try and dig it out if you'd like to try it.

Have a wonderful rest of the Christmas season!

Thomas Thurman
25 Dec 2010, 16:55 p.m.

er, that was me.