Bringing 2013 To A Close (Oh, and Becks Are Now Employed).

It is amazing that 2013 is almost done. Fortunately for Marc and I, it was mostly a pretty phenomenal year and we are incredibly grateful for that.

We had the Australian Walkabout for 3+ months, which was an awesome experience and way more worthwhile than we ever could have hoped for.

We watched our parents get healthier and defy their respective ages. We also made our brother-in-law a CrossFit convert after he resisted for so long. :-)

We hosted another successful "Open That Bottle Night" (after we did one in Australia!!!) and JDRF dinner, and we had "Beck The Halls" storm back into our lives with a vengeance! Our families and our friends continue to make us chuckle and to be supportive of our endeavors.

We had visitors from all over, including 4 of our nephews and nieces. We got to spend Thanksgiving in NY and Christmas in SoCal, both of which were so much fun.

We mostly remained injury-free to pursue our fitness activities around swimming, running and CrossFit.

The decision to close Purple Teeth Cellars. Yes, this is a positive thing because we were able to close the business down on our terms so we can focus on other projects going forward.

We both found jobs that we are excited about (more below). It was worth taking the time off and then taking our time to find opportunities that we are passionate about.

And most importantly, we are both healthy and very thankful for that.

Some of the "not so great" things in 2013 include:

The broken hand and recovery with the "purple claw".

3 of our close friends being diagnosed with some form of breast cancer. Fortunately they all seem on the road to recovery. But HUGE dislike here.

The Yankees and the New York Giants 2013 campaigns (ok, this only negatively impacts one of us for this one and truthfully - not a huge deal in the grand scheme of things).

So in reality, it was a very good year for the Becks.

I'll let Marc decide if he wants to talk about his role, but he is happy and excited which is all that matters to me.

About 3+ months ago, I asked a close friend if she wanted to move forward on an idea that we had only talked about in passing. She said yes pretty quickly, which was pretty exciting but a little scary.

Reason it was a little scary was that this is a completely new space for me. We have created a non-profit called "uPower" that will focus on getting underprivileged kids in Seattle to after-school fitness activities. My role is "Executive Director" - aka the "GSD" person. The initial emphasis will be working with local CrossFits here in Seattle and pairing up with local schools.

It's been a busy few months trying to get this off of the ground, but we have made a ton of progress. You won't find a website yet as that is still in development, but behind-the-scenes... trust me, I have been busy working with my co-founder on building the best infrastructure we can so we are hopefully in a position to scale this concept properly. 

I am fortunate to have an awesome Board of Directors to help me out so we can move this concept forward. We are lucky to have a network of people who can connect us with experts as we get more educated on a myriad of topics. And yes, it's a whole new subject matter for me but I am embracing the challenges ahead.

So with that, onward to next year. Hoping for all of you to have a wonderful 2014!

My Australian Summary

Great time and I'm sure I forgot some things.

+Jill is now known as "Aussie J". That was her nickname on my temporary phone over there.

Best (no particular order)
    * Great Ocean Road
    * Great Barrier Reef
    * Wilson's Promontory
    * Cradle Mountain / Dove Lake
    * Flight over SW Tasmania and boat ride while out there (wow!)
    * Whitsunday Islands - 3x snorkeling in single day
    * New Years Eve
    * Open That Bottle Night
  Wine Regions
    * Barossa
    * Margaret River
    * McLaren Vale
  Sights/Tours (not already mentioned)
    * Ferry system in Sydney Harbour
    * Pinnacles
  Pools (in order)
    * Andrew Charlton Pool (clean)
    * North Sydney Olympic Pool (view/location)
    * Icebergs - Bondi Beach Pool (stunning but cold)

Worst (no order)
    * King's Canyon --> Alice Springs via Tour Bus (talk about boring and trapped)
    * Fraser Island --> Mackay via car (too long with last 90 minutes dark and animals lurking)
    * Fraser Island (not that great in general other than Champagne Pools)
    * Mount Kosciuszko (drenching rain & no visibility == miserable)
    * Fraser Island (salty starter AND main for dinner. yuk.)
    * Daintree (mosquitos)
  Wine Regions
    * Mornington Peninsula
    * Heathcote (there is good stuff here)
    * Grampians area
    * Tasmania
  Sights/Tours (not already mentioned)
    * MONA in Tasmania
    * Bike tour in Melbourne (too much bike WALKING)

21 Feb: Perth (WA) --> "Rotto" (WA) --> Perth (WA).

Quokka sighting and a bonus 'Scrabble' word
Jill never heard of before
One of the great things about traveling is the people you meet along the way. +Marc and I have been really lucky to get some solid recos on things to check out during various parts of our journey. Our server from Monday night suggested that we check out Rottnest Island (aka "Rotto" to the locals) during our stay in Perth as it was an easy day trip for us.

We slept in a bit because the last few mornings have been early starts for us and because the forecast called for some morning rain, which meant no need to rush out the door. After buying some tickets, we caught a ferry from Fremantle to Rotto, which also included bike rentals. We knew it was going to be another scorcher in Perth, but Andrew, one of our hosts told us that being on Rotto will give us 2-3 Celsius worth of relief. 

Views from the bike ride around "Rotto"
It sure didn't feel like that. The rain passed, as did the clouds. It was hot, sunny and hot (yes, I said that twice). No shade and not many places to refill the water bottles. My refill bottle was boiling so I opted not to drink that. We cycled the perimeter of the island, which is just under 18 miles. Towards the end, Marc wanted to stop at a particular cove to swim and look for sea creatures. We didn't get any snorkel gear but boy, did that water feel good.... Wow. We found out that it was a "cool" 37 Celsius on the island. Oy.

Wait - is that a "Jill in the water" sighting?
While we enjoyed cycling on Rotto (and got to see some native quokkas!!), we decided to catch an earlier ferry back. Lunchtime had passed and I knew we were eating dinner on the early side to accommodate the school schedule of young Dylan. My gimpy wrist was absolutely not pleased with me. Quite honestly all I wanted was some fresh ice cream or gelato, which is very rare these days. No luck in Fremantle. Had to settle for a somewhat all-natural mint chip ice cream at the local supermarket near our friends' house. Oh well.

We decided to cook dinner for our friends again since it's nice to get in some home cooking when you can on a trip like this. We got some duck, sauteed a bunch of veggies, and cracked open some wine. It was a nice way to end what was a very hot and steamy day.

Thanks for tuning in. More entries to come on here and more photos to be updated to Flickr.

23 Jan: Melbourne (VIC).

Jill picking out the "best looking"
Moreton Bay Bugs because she
has so much experience with them -
errrr.... not really
[NOTE: +Marc and I know we are slightly behind on our entries. It is going to take us a couple of days to recover from "Booze-A-Palooza" with Chris and Shelly in order to catch up. :-)]

Yeah for IPsec and Windows
When you travel for a bit, technology can help out a ton but it can't do everything and some things require manual intervention. Hair cut for Marc, shipping souvenirs back to Sydney, paying bills, reviewing the next set of things on our itinerary to see if any tweaks are necessary, and food shopping. It was a gorgeous day and fortunately the Blacks' live in an awesome neighborhood to get all of that done. But food shopping was more involved because of what was on tap for the evening.

Chris and Shelly were part of the original "Open That Bottle Night" crew in Seattle. When they moved to Australia, Marc and I were sad because they were people we really enjoyed hanging out with. As the trip got closer, the 4 of us knew we needed to resurrect OTBN on one of our nights in Melbourne. But things were complicated by the fact that we (Becks) didn't have our usual arsenal of wines at our disposal for the celebrations, and the Blacks had their stuff in storage in Brisbane (a long ways away).
Jill recognized her "chicken scratch"
immediately on the 2002 RWT and
went into shock

Chris took over sommelier duties and we contributed a dessert wine that we had the other night at Vue de Monde that we all loved and found earlier in the week in our sojourn to Rutherglen. 

Chris did awesome with his picks and why they were picked. In an absolute shocker (no sarcasm!), Chris had a bottle signed by me and a styrofoam cup entitled "Vista Wine Glass" from when we shipped Vista. He found a later vintage of the same wine in the local wine shop. Well played, Mr. Black, well played.

Shelly did a fab job on the 'roo!
Marc LOVED it!
Shelly cooked up a great salad and some "roo". Yes, that is kangaroo. Our 1st try at eating it. It didn't taste like chicken. , but more of a cross between lamb and beef. We expected it to be more gamey like lamb. But we enjoyed it. I also made "bugs", a local seafood specialty here. They are called "Moreton Bay Bugs" and I can best describe them as mini-lobsters. Marc made a great dessert and took care of cooking the duck once I marinated the breasts. I think I also got Shelly over the hump of the virtues of using dried beans instead of canned the next time she wants to serve cannelinis. 
Booz-a-palooza & OTBN merge

We had a great men's quarterfinal match going on in the background with some 80s music on a warm, but windy night. It was so much fun. We toasted to many things over the course of the evening and laughed a lot. Told them about our last OTBN in Seattle where the term 'spatchcocked' was used in many different contexts. What's funny is that you see that term on many menus here in Australia. Go figure. 

Let's just say that Marc and I were happy that we didn't have to work the next day....

Trail run? Really?

So we are two weeks post-NYC and the best thing I could say about my recovery period since then is that I actually rested.  Not really by choice, but because I caught whatever cold/flu thing has been going around as we returned home.  It has really knocked the wind out of me, but I finally had enough and decided to venture back to Crossfit yesterday.  I took it really easy, but was happy to get back it. And clearly I did enough squats to make my rear end sore.

I didn't know what I would be doing today, but last night one of my friends (and running buds), AK, decided to e-mail me with an interesting proposition -- do a 4-5 mile trail run near our respective houses.  For those of you that know me, trails are NOT my thing.  I tend to do dumb things like sprain an ankle, lose a shoe in a bog of mud (yes, this happened), etc.

KK and AK's collard greens with bacon!
I decided to accept because I needed to get a run in and having an excuse to take it easy, and AK has been wearing me down to get me on the trails.  We had her, her husband and some others for dinner last weekend and she was definitely doing some lobbying over some amazing pulled pork and collard greens.  :-)

As I was chatting with Marc last night about it, I said one of the things that I need to focus on during a proper trail run is that I need to ignore pace and focus on effort, along with the experience of just being on a trail.  Turns out that AK asked me about that same thing as we drove to the park, and she concurred that I needed to just recalibrate what I should expect to get out of a trail run.

We went out this morning and it turns out that it probably ranked pretty low on the technical side, and didn't have 'too much' on the "Rocks and Roots" side (H/T to other friend: RP).  I trusted AK to know a course where I could feel challenged in a good way, and have a good time, and of course, I was right.  It also seemed poetic after the body of "Caballo Blanco" was found yesterday. His story was a major focus in Christopher McDougal's, "Born To Run", which I read last year and enjoyed.  RIP, Caballo Blanco.

Big Green Egg Pulled Pork!
AK was great in giving me some tips and at times, she was more aggressive on the downhills (my weakness on trails - all mental).  It was good.  She would slow down to let me catch up.  While it felt hilly, it wasn't too bad on the elevation scale.  It did feel like a harder effort just because I hadn't run in 2 weeks (or done much of any physical activity) and because of the lingering cold.

Unfortunately I had some issues with the Garmin so I am showing AK's capture of the run.  The weather ended up being pleasant, and while it was pretty windy elsewhere, we were protected from it in the trees (as predicted by AK).

Paleo Twinkies by MMKR!
Going back to the pulled pork (which was smoked in the BGE!) and collard greens discussion, one of our good friends MMKR brought over one of her baking creations known as "Paleo Twinkies".  While a couple of tweaks needed to be made, they were tasty and Paleo!  Other dishes have been conjured up at Chez Beck recently like smoked whole duck, cassoulet, lasagna (made with leftover BGE pulled pork - holla!) and some Bo Ssam for Super Bowl Sunday -- and of course a Big Blue win!  OTBN, as usual, was a huge success with great friends, amazing food and some stellar wines.

Marc, Erik and Dave getting ready to carve one of the smoked ducks!
Finally we are officially into baseball season, although you wouldn't really know it.  You probably missed it that the Seattle Mariners played 2 real season games in Japan against the Oakland A's.  And yes, those games counted and pretty much no one in those markets saw the games because they were at 3am PST.  But somehow MLB Network and ESPN are advertising "Opening Day" for this upcoming week.  

I think it was a disaster all around because the Mariners have now gone back to playing pre-season games after playing 'real' games.  Huh?  One of the many reasons I, along with many others, continue to think Bud Selig is a schmuck.  But hey - Go Yanks!

Before I forget, special congrats to my awesome coach, Kim, for her awesome performance in Texas this morning in her Ironman!

Hoping this is more like a "break"

I just typed up an entry on the Purple Teeth Cellars website about the demise of a column that has become regular reading here in the Beck household - the "Tastings" column from the Wall Street Journal. Needless to say, I am not happy about this development.

We have blogged in the past (see here and here) about one of the column's biggest contributions to the wine drinkers' community - Open That Bottle Night. People around the world celebrate it in different ways, but we do a potluck with friends at the house with everyone bringing a wine that focuses on a fun story about how the bottle was procured.

I don't see the tradition ending in the Beck household just because Dottie and John aren't writing their column for the WSJ anymore. I just hope that they are taking a break and will pop up in a new forum that truly showcases their talent for writing and love for wine.

I already know that I am making the cassoulet from Madison Park Cafe for our part of the 2010 OTBN potluck and I am darned excited about it now that I received a couple of pointers after giving it a go earlier this month! So I'll be raising my glass to Dottie and John anyway. Hope you do the same if you do some version of OTBN or have read their column or one of their books.

In honor of Dottie and John's rating system for wine, I give the cessation of the column a big, fat "Yech!" (you can all imagine what that rating means).

What a 24 hour stretch….

Well yesterday started out with a first – me running 10 miles for the first time in my entire life. I haven't been talking about this too much on the blog, but for a long time I have been trying to run a ½ marathon but have had lots of injuries that have precluded me from getting there. My previous high was 9 miles but it was with enormous pain in my shins (aka shin splints), so the fact that I am sitting here the day after with only a minor bit of soreness in my knee is a positive thing. We'll see as we ramp up for my 1st race – coming up soon.

After the run, it was time to prep for yet another 'Open That Bottle Night' at the house. An awesome crew of people with some excellent wines:

So JoAnna and Mary get the award for the best story (prize TBD but it may have to do something with Purple Teeth Cellars – ahem). JoAnna grew up in the Tri-Cities and she had an aspiration to be able to afford to buy wines from a winery close by known as J. Bookwalter. So when she and Mary went there a few years ago, JoAnna just said to Mary that money was going to be spent on a case of wine and that was it. Hmmm….. Apparently this mindset was something new to Mary, but eventually she came around…. Mary stepped up and splurged on a bottle to go along with JoAnna's case. To those not in attendance, let me assure you that the delivery was pretty hilarious, especially because they both tend to like some great labels like Pepper Bridge (my favorite in WA State). And now Marc and I have a new winery in the Columbia Valley to check out because we need to acquire more wine.

Some words about the Kindzmarauli Sapervi Dessert Wine (1997). This was given to me back in 1998 when I hosted my very 1st dinner party back in my shoebox in the West Village by a gentleman named Matt Bartels (now Bartelsian). Now there was a ton of alcohol consumed at this dinner party – one might use the word 'paralytic' to describe the state of things including one person needing to be carried to the cab to get home. I guess that had to do with the sangria that my friend, Ian, and I made. Oops. Anyway we never got to Matt's bottle but I had always vaguely remembered the description as some kind of Armenian cognac thing. Most of the bottle was in the Cyrillic lettering, so I never bothered to really look at it in too much detail. Matt had just gotten engaged to the woman who would become his wife (Ella) and she was Armenian so we didn't give the origins of the bottle much thought except for the fact that it was really cool…. Now this bottle has been in 4 cross-country moves, apartments/condos/houses with different temperature fluctuations, etc. I finally told Marc that we had open this year since I got it 10 years ago and also reconnected with Matt on Facebook. We discovered it was actually a semi-sweet red, which made us even more skeptical of how it was going to taste. It actually tasted pretty nice – not too syrupy, great flavors, etc. I think we are going to do some kind of candle holder thing with the bottle itself. But the wine in the bottle ended up being quite the positive surprise.

My favorite wine of the evening was actually the 2001 Atalon Merlot, which was purchased because Michael wanted to be "anti-Sideways". "Sideways" was the movie that pretty much killed a lot of Merlot producers for a long time because the main character had a personal vendetta against the grape. This is not to say that I didn't enjoy any of the other wines but I had to pick my favorite of the evening. The Lokoyas brought by Sharon and Ralph were superb (BTW, we love that Ralph had an obsessive wine buying phase in the 90s and he is so generous to share with us every year), and the '97 rocked. The Glaetzer from the Ba-ross-a (not Ba-rose-a) Valley was very spicy and the Kistler Chardonnay was perfectly paired with Michael's seafood appetizer of salmon, crab, shrimp, garlic and some other excellent ingredients.

We needed something healthy at some point in the dinner and Sharon came through with an excellent salad that was not only healthy, but tasty. JoAnna and Mary came through in the pinch with some fruit pies (liked the key lime one). Shelly and Chris brought a very globally oriented cheese course which included some Drunken Goat (very appropriate). Rebecca made an outstanding twice baked potato dish that could not have gone better with the main course (Brasato al Barolo) and the wines served with dinner, particularly the Lokoya Cabs. And finally, Marc made some kick-a** chocolate truffles from a recipe in Wine Spectator. No leftovers on that one unfortunately.

Fun times…. Thanks to all who trekked to the house for an outstanding evening.

STOP THE PRESSES: Marc eats seafood that Jill cooked!

Every relationship has milestones of some kind.  Tonight Marc and I had one; one that I would not have considered had it not been for OTBN last month.  I was food shopping this afternoon and Tom Douglas, who was basically the 1st chef from the Pacific Northwest to make to the big time, was signing books and cooking some halibut.  For those of you outside of the Pacific NW, halibut is very much in season right now here and it is awesome!

Based on the fact that two of our friends cooked seafood at OTBN that Marc ate, I decided to take a chance and ask Chef Douglas for some tips - namely how to get Marc to eat more seafood (fried does not count).  In addition to halibut, he recommended some locally procured Dover Sole to try out on him.  So I went and bought one small fillet for us to split and was told to season with some bread crumbs, lemon pepper, garlic and olive oil.

The payoff:  Marc ate one bite..... Marc ate two bites...... Marc ate five bites in total, which was about half.  Because Dover Sole is so delicate, you have to be careful how you cook it so it came apart as I was transferring it from the pan to the plate.  So Marc thought it was "mushy" but he would eat it again!  It's a start!

I'll have to start plotting the next fish in the seafood curriculum - will keep you posted!  And before I forget - Thanks Chef Douglas!

OTBN.... post-game wrap-up.

Well Marc and I had our inaugural dinner party (OTBN) at our new home. It was actually supposed to be a month earlier, and then we decided to move so that changed things a bit. It was also the opportunity to break in our new dining room table, which we ordered from an outfit in Georgia called Primitive Folks. Danette clearly takes much pride in her work and I would not hesitate to recommend her and her company.

As you can see from the pictures, we had a great time and consumed massive amounts of food and wine. Some people managed to do some work over the evening - crazy.
Rebecca and Patrick, can you write off the food and wine since you guys were talking shop? :-)

The highlight of the evening for me was the fact that Patrick and Dina both made seafood dishes that Marc actually ate. In the picture below, you will see an empty plate in front of an empty chair. That chair belongs to Marc and his plate is pretty clean. Patrick made a starter dish that consisted of crab meat, and a host of other wonderful things. Dina took advantage of the fact that halibut season literally starting yesterday and made some wonderful halibut cheeks with some polenta and tomato coulis. YUM!

Everyone had to come and present why their wine was selectd for the evening. We had everything from:
  1. "sticking it to the man" - Chris and Shelly
  2. "going through phases of spending thousands of dollars on wine a long time ago and this is part of the last case" - Sharon and Ralph
  3. "the wine we had on our first date 6 years ago and OTBN is on that anniversary" - Rebecca and Michael
  4. "found it in some shop on the Champs-Elysees" - Patrick
  5. "was part of the winemaking process one year" - Laurie
  6. "discovered Piedmont wines on a recent trip to Italy and now I'm hooked" - Dina
  7. "the wine that made us decide to get married in Healdsburg" - Marc and Jill

But the best story was from Maureen and the story of her family unexpectedly inheriting a winery with Concord grapes and being absolutely clueless on what to do. So basically they knocked on a neighbor's door and asked for some help. "Hey, you got some sugar and by the way, how do you run a winery?" That makes this entry fall into the YCMTSU category.

What a fun time - and as expected, I'm writing this from the couch. Time for some leftovers. YUM!

TGIF and OTBN..... Woo woo.

Well, I am glad we made it to Friday. A lot of interesting food articles were discovered this week, so we'll get to those in a sec. Lots to say - what a shock.

First off, I want to say that my thoughts and prayers are going out to the Edwards' family, as in John Edwards who is running for President. John Edwards' wife, Elizabeth, recently announced that her cancer has returned and it is an incurable form. The good news is that a pretty decent quality of life can be maintained with the right treatment. That being said, it has been consistently reported that Mrs. Edwards was adamant about her husband remaining in the campaign. What galls me is that I can't believe some people are criticizing this family for their decision. It is their own decision and none of our business. Do people not have enough things to worry about? I still have no idea who I am voting for, but obviously I am pulling for the Edwards family as they deal with this news. For the record, I thought that Mr. Edwards was the better Democratic candidate in '04, but that's not giving him a lot of credit when you compare him to John Kerry.

I used to work at Merrill Lynch in their Research Technology area, and we supported all of the equity and fixed income analysts. With all of the regulatory scrutiny recently, everyone seem to be calling for the demise of sell-side research. Clearly this indicates it is not as close to death as people might think. I kind of think of the same thing when people talk about the demise of Windows (yes, that Windows). OK disclaimer - I work on networking technologies (this is another technology I support) on Windows at Microsoft. But why would I work on a product that I did not believe would be successful?!! DUH!

Lisa, my sister who is a guidance counselor in a middle school, has a tough job. Middle school education was the subject of a recent article in the New York Times. Check it out. Incidentally, I am going down in flames in my bracket for the NCAA Men's Tourney. I went the upset route with Duke. Big mistake. HUGE! The Women's Tourney is way more interesting with upsets. Go Marist!

OK - on to some entertainment to lighten things up a bit. I talked about Manny Ramirez auctioning his grill off earlier this week. Well I guess his auction violated eBay policy because they could not verify it was actually him. Too bad, Manny. Goes back to YCMTSU. :-)

R.W. Apple, Jr. keeps living on. He was the subject of a recent article in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Mr. Apple's last piece is a glowing portrait of his favorite spots in a story headlined "Savoring Seattle," published in the spring issue of Town & Country Travel. I have blogged about him in the past here and here. He was a kick and seemed like he would have been a really cool person to listen to.

Article in this week's NYT Dining & Wine section regarding cooking with wine. Ian and I took many cooking classes together, and our first one was a paella class at Peter Kump's (now known as the Institute of Culinary Education). I remember the instructor, Shirley King, vividly, and most important, she taught us a very important lesson - keep in mind this was very early on in my cooking days. If a wine is not good enough to drink, why cook with it? I have used that philosophy for years, but this week Julia Moskin argues that you can cook with really poor tasting wine. I suppose you can, but why? There are so many excellent and inexpensive bottles of wine out there. Gosh - that was a fun class. I remember that Ian was massively hungover from too much port from that class.

Speaking of Ian, he always talks about "offroading" in the kitchen. This article talks about that, and I have to say - when you improvise on a recipe under pressure AND it works, it is pretty darn cool.

OTBN is tomorrow, albeit a month late because of the move. I am psyched. More on that on Sunday when Marc and I recover on the couch.