Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Burn Baby, Burn!

A few days after my exam Sandi came over and made me a celebration dinner of my favorite dish she makes- Yorkshire pudding and roast beef which we enjoyed with Michael David's Freakshow Cabernet Sauvignon from Lodi. 

 The next day I headed out to the backyard, lit up the fire bowl, and proceeded to burn all my study guides, papers, and flashcards from the last 3 years of wine tests I have taken.  It took about 30 minutes.  Oh so satisfying!

The Big Day

Pictures cannot do justice to the Aria Casino & Hotel of Las Vegas where I took my level 2 sommelier exam last month. From the moment I walked in I  thought, "I do not belong in here!  This place must have a dress code- so fancy!"

I scouted out the convention center the night before the test, to make sure I would know where to go in the morning.  I wanted to give myself every advantage because I did not want to fail this exam for any reason, though I knew I had a decent chance of failing given the fact that I don't work in a restaurant and my blind tasting is hit and miss!  But I was running out of time to take the test, and since it wasn't coming to Phoenix I decided I would travel to Vegas to take it, which is an easy drive.

I left Sunday morning.  It took me about 6.5 hours to get to Vegas.  The drive is uneventful save for a beautiful stretch of Joshua Tree National forest about halfway between and the mountainous border crossing between Arizona and Nevada which is quite gorgeous. I felt comfortable going to Vegas since I have been there half a dozen times or so in the past, the last time being in 2006 for a class for work.  I decided to stay at the Excalibur because the price was right and it was within walking distance to Aria.  When I arrived in town the traffic was really bad.  At just a block or two from my hotel I found out the whole Las Vegas Blvd was shut down due to a marathon.  I could see my hotel but I could not get to it.  Already stressed out enough as it was this was not a welcome obstacle.  With the help of one local and Matt on the phone I was able to find my way around the south end of the strip through much traffic and pulled into my hotel about an hour and half later.  I checked in worn out and starving but I had a lot to do.  First I walked up to the Aria to find the testing site and then I got a bite to eat at a wonderful woodfire oven pizza place called 800 Degrees which I had passed on my walk to Aria.  I did make one little stop at the Bellagio to watch the water show which is the best thing in Las Vegas as far as I am concerned.  Then back to my hotel room to go through my flashcards one more time.  Exhausted, I went to bed around 9. 

I woke around 6 the next morning to get ready with plenty of time for breakfast and one last pass through flashcards which I did at Starbucks where I had a $4 plain croissant.  No coffee or tea to mess up my palate but I did swish with Cava right before I entered the exam room. 

The exam room was large and had about 100 people in it I would guess.  Less than 10 women.  There were 8 Master Somms there to proctor the exam.  I didn't know this at the time but later heard that Las Vegas has the largest concentration of Somms in one place (glad I didn't know that before, it would have made me even more nervous).  Each place setting had a red and white wine and the tasting grids and exam face down, as well as water and a pad of paper.  The exam started promptly at 8:20.  We had 45 minutes to complete the written exam of 45 questions and the deductive tasting of two wines.  I started with working through the white wine, which I thought was fairly obvious and then took a quick assessment of the red wine before moving on to the written exam.  I first answered all the questions I felt confident of and then went back and forth between the red wine and remaining questions.  I checked and rechecked the written.  I felt pretty good about the white wine and the written exam but had no idea what the red wine was.  I made my best guess and used the entire 45 minutes.

Upon arrival before the written I had been given my service exam time which was noon.  So now I had over 2 hours to wait.  I stayed at the Aria and went through more flashcards. I also got a bite to eat down in the casino and talked to some of the other candidates, some of whom were at the bar.  As candidates finished their service exam they came down to the bar and started drinking!  And some were so nervous about the service exam they had a drink or two before!  I knew a drink would not be a good idea for me but I did talk to a few people, one candidate in particular who worked as a server in Las Vegas at a high end restaurant.  He was there taking the exam for the second time, as he failed the blind tasting the first time.  He said he smoked the service portion the first time but he was still nervous this time!  Yikes!  I headed back up stairs and talked to  a few lady candidates who had just finished the service exam.  One of them had a real problem with the cork and had to take the cage off so she could get the cork out. Another lady, I learned, had to have 2 Master's help her get her sparkling open!  And another candidate was telling me the corks were really tough and to open the sparkling in the ice bucket but I had never done that before so I didn't think it was a good idea to start today! 

Finally my noon time service exam was here.  I was very nervous but also very anxious to get it over with and be free.  I wanted to pass so bad and be done with studying but I knew that even if I didn't pass this the first time around the exam would no longer be a mystery to me that I didn't know how to study for.  Now, I would know what to expect.  Even if I failed it and had to take it again the study time would be much diminished as I would know exactly at what level they were testing at.  But still I wanted to pass so bad and be done studying for good.  I was tired of flashcards, tired of drinking just the blind varietals, and most of all tired of this test hanging over my head!! 

I entered the mock restaurant room with 5 other candidates and a Master gave us the scenario.  Each of us was assigned a table with a Master seated at it (and 3 other imaginary guests).  We were told what Champagne was ordered and to go greet the table before we started our Champagne service.  One thing I didn't know until then was that the service exam is timed.  Twelve minutes is all you have to perform the Champagne service as well as answer all the Master's questions table side. I was given a very soft spoken gentleman.  I had to strain to hear him.  I had to pour wine for him and his table guests and was told 4 additional guests would be joining them later.  I performed the service with just a few small mistakes, although I was so nervous you could hear the glasses rattling on my tray as I brought them to the table (since I forgot to line the tray with a serviette!).  I had a little trouble opening the bottle and the Master who led us in gave me a tip for my stuck cork which worked.  My bottle did make a pop but it wasn't huge so I felt okay about it.  After pouring the extra glasses at the side station  I then had to clear the table to the Champagne and walk around the room with the full tray (here is where waitressing throughout high school and when I first moved to Tucson helped me albeit over 15 years ago now!).  I went back to the table where I was asked about a dozen or more questions about food and wine pairing, cocktails, aperitifs, cordials, sparkling wines, and spirits.  My service might have been just okay but I knew all the answers to each question the Master asked me so I felt like I performed well enough overall to pass the service exam.  Twelve minutes after walking into the room  I was done.  And hopefully done forever.

I left the Aria and went for a walk outside where I called Matt to tell him  about it.  Of course I did this in front of the Bellagio, just in case the water show was going to pop up.  I had 3 hours to burn til I would get my results.  At this point I felt like I passed all portions of the exam except for maybe the red wine.  I was afraid I had gotten that wrong and wrong enough to have to repeat the test.  I hoped and prayed not.  I ended up going back to the Aria and listened to my ipod while I waited.  But guess what I didn't listen to?  Not wine podcasts! 

The results were to be given out at 3:45.  We were back in the original large exam room.  They began by congratulating everyone for coming this far in the process.  Then they began to read off the names of the candidates who passed.  My name did not get read until about three quarters of the way through so I was really starting to lose hope.  But finally it was read. I thanked God as I sat back down with my certificate and pin.  I was so happy and relieved I could have cried right then and there.  As soon as the names were all announced every one proceeded to celebrate with a glass of bubbly- Blason Rose Perrier-Jouet.  Before I grabbed my glass I snapped a pic of my certificate and sent it to Matt and to all my friends and family members who had been praying for me to  let them know I had passed.  I stuck around for a little while talking joyfully with some of the other candidates and then headed back to my hotel to get changed so I could go get something to eat.  The stress of it all caused me to lay down for a while in my hotel room even though I was starving.  I went back to 800 Degrees for another pizza and thought about how I was in there just the night before wondering how this very day would go...

The next day I got up bright and early, eager to head back home.  The drive home was uneventful with a quick pit stop at my favorite place in Phoenix, Halfprice Books where I picked up some Peter Reinhart bread baking books.  What a great find on the heels of my exam, now that I am free to reading whatever I want again!

That evening Matt and I celebrated  with my favorite takeout- Indian Butter Chicken and also drank the special wine I bought for this occasion- Nicolas Feuillatte Palmes d'Or Brut Champagne 1999.  And as far as opening it went, I had Matt do it! 

Monday, December 08, 2014

Last Day of Blind Tasting Practice with my Study Partner

My study partner Tali and I have been meeting once a week for the last 6 months practicing blind tasting together.  Usually it is just the two of us with Matt pouring four blind wines for us to deductively taste through.  Every so often her boyfriend Nathan joins us as well as Matt.  My last study night with her was about one week before the exam (which I was to take on November17th).  Nathan and Matt joined us that night as we worked through 8 wines.  I look pretty calm, don't I?  Ha!

A Welcome Addition to the Casa

 We have talked about how awesome it would be to have a hot tub on our back patio since we bought this house.  We had set aside some money to take a trip this year that we were unable to take and so decided to use the money to get a hot tub.  Since we knew it would be delivered with a crane we invited some people over to watch.  The delivery  guys arrived a bit early and I was the only one here.  I took many pictures as I stood there hoping the hot tub would not come crashing through our roof as they lifted it over the house. Thankfully these guys know what they are doing and they lowered it down just where it needed to go.  Unfortunately I was the only one to see all the magic.  They set it up for us and Ariana was the first one in.  We  had dinner with friends who came over to see it that  night and then after Matt got back from his soccer game we got in.  We use it now about  every other day.  My favorite time of day to use it is right as the sun is going down, after a day of work.

Visit Home

I went home for a visit on my birthday this Fall.  I asked my sister to get me a bottle of Souverain Cab so I could drink it on my birthday night.  She and my niece also baked me some Chocolate Chip cookies which was great because I am a cookie monster!

It was great to see my family and especially fun hanging with my niece and nephews.  We played some frisbee and went to the park a number of times.  Jax didn't remember me from last year but he was my buddy in no time.  

While home my sisters and I and some of their friend went on a dinner cruise on the St. Croix River, Regan and I worked at the Desiring God conference, and my Mom made me my favorite meal (Thanksgiving).  Jamie and I shopped and went to lunch, Regan and I drank wine, and Steven brought over a number of homemade goodies he made so I could try them including the most delicious pulpy grape juice- yum!  He also gave me two unique bottles of wine- one from Minnesota and one from Texas.  Both were surprisingly good.  I also got to do an impromptu wine tasting at my friend Jane's house for a few ladies.  Good times!
Birthday wine and cookies

Whiskey Tasting with Benjamin

 Mid summer Matt hosted a whiskey tasting at our house.  Sixteen men attended and we made 18 pizzas from the wood fired oven.  It was a lot of work and we were grateful to have Sandi's help for the evening.

The tasting was led by a friend of ours, Benjamin, who is whiskey expert and a very interesting character indeed.  The guys tasted through 8 different whiskies and at the end everyone got to have a real pour of a whiskey of their choice before the bottles were raffled off to the attendees. A very fun and informative night.  Thanks Benjamin!

Tamal Party causes Earthquake!

Ok, so its been a good 6 months since I've posted. But I've had good reason.  I swore off all extracurricular activity so I could focus on studying for my level 2 sommelier test which I finally took last month.  Now that the exam is over it's time for me to play catch up!

At the end of June some of the men folk got together for a weekend of fun in Albuquerque while some of the ladies stayed behind in Tucson.  Yunuen, Betsy and I spent a fun evening together making corn tamales, which turned out fantastic!  We used Marcela Valladolid's recipe

Later that night as Yunuen and I were sitting on the couch watching some Friends we felt a flutter go through the house.  Yunuen asked me if I felt anything and I said it felt like a heavy truck had gone by and rattled the house.  About a half an hour later Ryan text Yunuen to see if we had felt the earthquake.  We looked it up on the news and sure enough Tucson had experienced a little earthquake at about 10 PM. Thankfully this is an extremely rare occurrence in Arizona and we can laugh about it with pictures like this:

Sunday, June 22, 2014


Happy Birthday to my Honey!

We celebrated by having a delicious lunch with filet mignon roast with gorgonzola sauce, the best potatoes ever, homemade bread and Altano Douro Reserva 2006.  Sandi joined us for lunch and to watch the World Cup.  She also baked Matt his favorite dessert, apple pie.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Preparing for the Exam...

God has been providing for me this past year in many different ways  as I prepare for my level 2 somm exam which I hope to take in the next couple of months.  I started teaching wine classes at work this year which has been scary and great all at the same time.  I have also been trying to learn about cocktails by making some of the most classic ones.  I have been reading tons of books and making an endless amount flashcards and will also begin practicing service too very soon.  But the most fun has to be blind tasting with my friend Tali.  We met on the International Guild of Sommeliers website when I posted a thread about how I was looking for a study partner.  She just took her level 1 exam last winter and is also studying for level two. We have been meeting once a week to taste together and it  has been very helpful and fun. 
Teaching a class at work

making my first cocktail

Monday, June 16, 2014

Bread Baking Brings Friends Together

Last month I taught a bread baking class in my home to some ladies from my church.  We baked 3 loaves together; a white sandwich loaf, a loaf swirled with pesto and roasted red peppers and a crusty artisan loaf.  Here are a few pics of us at the end of the night hanging out while the bread bakes and then eating it fresh from the oven.  Great fun!

The Rottmans used the bread class as an excuse to come down from Phoenix and stay with us for the weekend. We were able to have an early dinner with the Rotts and Janks before the Janks had to head back down to Mexico.