Monday, July 30, 2007

OWF Naptime: We Go to the Land Down Under

Unread books. Unplayed video games. Unwritten articles and essays. Unheard podcasts. A brand-new GAMES magazine. My carry-on luggage holds enough entertainment to survive an apocalypse, but it may not be enough for my plane flights in the next two weeks.

Melissa and I head out tonight for New Zealand (Blenheim, Nelson, and Wellington) and Australia (Brisbane and Gold Coast), where we'll taste wine, see the sights, and attend the 27th International Puzzle Party. Maybe I'll bring home some more food-themed puzzles. It will be a nice break from our hectic lives of late. Thanks for all your recommendations on things to do and places to eat; we'll provide a full report.

Don't expect many updates, if any, until we get back in mid August. (On the other hand, I have a short piece on Txakoli filed at the Chronicle's Wine section; it may run before we come home.) Until then, Melissa and I wish you good food and drink.


Sunday, July 29, 2007

Weekly Wine Wrap-Up

Brasserie de Blaugies, "Darbyste," Belgium - Fig juice adds its rich flavor to this tart saison beer, though dark caramel notes emerge as you enjoy the creamy mouthfeel and slight bitterness. Serve this alongside quail stuffed with figs. $10 (750ml)

2004 Herri Mina Irouléguy Blanc, France - This weighty Basque wine, made from the Gros Manseng grape, has nose-prickling petrol and pine scents and a mouthwatering acidity. (ordered from A Côté's wine list, along with an unrecorded Movia Tocai and a Royal Tokaji Wine Company dry Furmint, to accompany a variety of small plates).

Cantillon Fou' Foune, Belgium - Cantillon beer is in a class of its own, and this apricot lambic is a rare find in the Bay Area. Like the rest of the Cantillon line, this is a sour beer, though it has a more bitter finish than other Belgians. Surprisingly little apricot flavor cuts through the lemon pith taste, but the fruit rounds out the beer and adds complexity. Drink this beer with a pork shoulder roast. $10-$15 (from City Beer).

2006 Gauthier Jour de Soif, Bourgueil, France - This Cabernet Franc from the Loire Valley, made with organic grapes, gushes plush scents along every axis of the aroma wheel: upscale floral soap, hints of smoke and baking spices, and potpourri. Rich red fruit flavors dominate the palate alongside strong tannins and a soft acidity. Serve with a good roast chicken. $15 or so at Vintage Berkeley (I've misplaced the receipt).

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Saturday, July 28, 2007

The Wine Mine

Melissa and I stumbled on a new wine shop, called The Wine Mine, in Oakland's Temescal neighborhood. It's been open for two months, part of a new complex of shops that have opened in an old building. Mariposa, a gluten-free bakery, sits next door.

The inventory mixes mainstream and eclectic, and seems to range around France, Spain, Italy and the New World. When we came in, they had a $1 tasting for six Iberian wines. Not quite as cheap as Peter's free tasting from a great inventory, but it's still a hard price to beat. They run the tastings every Saturday.

If you're in the area, check it out.


Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Salon Interviews Ed

Salon has an interview with Ed, my editor at The Art of Eating. It's written by J.R. Norton, better known to food bloggers as CHOW's James Norton.

Because if Bon App├ętit is the food media's Newsweek and Saveur is the Economist, then the Art of Eating is the New York Review of Books: sometimes impenetrable, often spellbinding, and never, ever reductive.

I had to laugh at this quote: "A reader not long ago wrote to me saying: 'You are the guy who had the courage to say all coffee in North America is over-roasted,' and I probably did say something nearly like that." I saw that letter, because the rest of it fumed about letting me write about Vinovation.

Go and read what Ed, one of our country's best food writers, has to say about the culinary world. Go and read what one of my role models says about his influences.


Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Sex and the Simple Red Wine

Melissa and I have been working through the Sex and the City DVDs. I like the show, but something about it irks my inner wine geek.

Whenever one of the four main women orders a cocktail, she goes into specifics: "Get me a Cosmopolitan" or "This is a Staten Island Ice Tea." But when she orders wine, she's vague: "I'd like a glass of red wine" or "Over a glass of white wine and some salmon, Charlotte listened to Trey talk." I can understand why they'd avoid specific wines, but why don't they order merlots and chardonnays? (They often drink Champagne, but I assume the writers, like most people, believe that it's a generic term for sparkling wine.) The four women dine out at nice places. Does a sophisticated woman in New York order "red wine" or "white wine" in tony restaurants? Is that even possible?

I could see that Sarah Jessica Parker's Carrie might order wine by the color, but Cynthia Nixon's Miranda, a partner at a law firm? I don't think so. And Kim Cattrall's Samantha is a devoted hedonist; shouldn't she know something more than red and white? (I like that the show has them drinking red wine; there's none of the "women only drink white wine" nonsense.)

Is this vinous ignorance commonplace on TV? Melissa and I never watch it, and our favorite DVDs tend to have the name Joss Whedon on them, so maybe this is standard fare. Or does the show paint an accurate portrait of a thirtysomething single woman in Manhattan during the late 1990s?

And finally, for SatC fans out there, what type of wine would you pair with each character?

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Tablas Creek Talks Closures

If you've ever heard me talk about screw caps, you know I'm a fan. But Jason Haas, general manager of Tablas Creek, makes a more nuanced argument about closures at the winery's blog. Screw caps are great, he says, but so are corks. It depends on the wine.

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Weekly Wine Wrap-Up

In the interest of getting more tasting notes onto the site, I plan to do weekly roundups of the wine/beer I drank in the previous few days. None of these are samples, but in the future I'll mark those with a *.

2005 Bodegas Val de Sil Godello, Valdeoras, Spain - A modest and mellow white, rich with stone fruit flavors and garnished with anise and mineral notes. Serve with pâté or chicken salad. $20

2004 Clif Bar Winery "The Climber", North Coast, California - The only Clif Bar product I like, this "kitchen sink" red's plush fruit, mild spice and smoke, and scratchy tannins should pair well with summer grillables. $17

2003 Grgich Hills Chardonnay, Napa Valley, California - This weighty wine smelled of musty flowers and had a harsh oak finish — although it also had strong apple flavors and a tingly acidity — but it may have suffered in the wine rack in my apartment. $40

2006 Saracco Moscato d'Asti, Piemonte, Italy - Saracco makes one of my favorite bottles of this fizzy, fruity, floral dessert wine. Moscato d'Asti never fails to win converts when it's poured. Drink this delicate wine with custard-based desserts or as dessert on its own. $13

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Monday, July 23, 2007

Not About Food: Love Song To Editors

I tell anyone who listens that my current passion for improving my writing comes from good editors. (I had good editors when I wrote my books, but I wasn't ready to understand what they were doing). One editor in particular changed my writing forever, both through example and by inspiring me to learn on my own, but I've had the good fortune to stumble across other good editors and coaches. (I've also found some whom I don't like; they just reinforce how wonderful the others are.)

So I enjoyed this ode to editors at Salon enough to post about it here, in the main body of OWF, instead of in the Snack bar on the side or on OWEE. A good editor is a treasure, and I'm not just saying that because some of mine happen to read this site. Some day, I hope to pass to some future young writer the wisdom they continue to give me.


Saturday, July 21, 2007

The Atlas of American Cheese

Melissa and I followed a simple syllabus for our cheese education six or seven years ago. Each week, we would mark a few cheeses in Steven Jenkins' The Cheese Primer, buy them, and eat them that night. One of us would read aloud from the Book of Jenkins or appropriate issues of The Art of Eating, and we would learn something of the history and the people behind each cheese.

That worked for European cheeses. But even seven years ago, The Cheese Primer was riddled with Emmentaler-sized holes about America. Too often, we'd taste a new domestic cheese at a restaurant, go home and look it up, and find nothing. Our industry sprinted ahead as The Cheese Primer stood still.

Other books entered the race — Laura Werlin's All-American Cheese and Wine, for instance — but the cheese industry kept running. New books simply ran out of breath farther on the racetrack than Jenkins' book.

Jeffrey Roberts' The Atlas of American Cheese might have the legs to keep up, if only because of its size. Four hundred fifty pages tell the stories of our country's cheese makers at the rate of one a page, give or take, and in the process tell a larger story of an upstart industry that couldn't exist a decade or two ago, when few American foodies roamed our culinary wasteland.

The book frustrates the hardcore fromagophile. Most of the cheeses get terse descriptions: "Evangeline: Aged three to four weeks; triple cream, soft ripened bloomy-rind, tangy runny; 4 ounce cylinder; ACS," says a typical entry. Pictures tend to feature the people and not their products.

But the atlas hits the locavore or agritourist dead on. Who are your local producers? Thumb through the section for your region. Want to find and taste the cheese? Look up the distribution information for it. Want to tour the farm? Look up its visitor policy and give the cheese makers a call. Want to know who uses their own milk instead of sourcing it? Look for the farmhouse icon on the top of the page. Want organic cheese? Look for the big O icon. If you like information, you'll like this inclusive tome.

The main text on each page tells the story of the farm, such as it is. I don't envy Roberts the work of making each entry unique and interesting — how many different ways can you write "Bob and Joan had goats and found themselves with an excess of milk"? Many of the stories fail to captivate, either because they're not that interesting or because the text itself has a flat, reference-book tone: "Established in 1982, Lively Run is one of the oldest goat dairies in the United States. Located in Interlaken, between Cayuga and Seneca Lakes, it was owned by the Feldman family until 1995. Suzanne, a German citizen, met and married Steve while he was stationed in Germany." Only the not uncommon exclamation points break up the steady pace.

But at least the information is there, which gives this book a hard-to-top advantage. The American cheese industry will keep moving forward, but this book will pace it for a long time.

This book was sent to me as a review copy.


Friday, July 20, 2007

Ripe Time For Fruit Wine, San Francisco Chronicle

When I suggested a piece about fruit wines for the Chronicle, I thought one of the 800-word slots in the section would be a good fit. But Jon came back with, "I think this should be the lead." Who says no to the big spread in the Wine section? So today's Wine section has a big story about fruit wine and my first lead for them (this created a bit of start for me on Wednesday). I've had a minor fascination with these drinks for a long time, probably dating to when I read Joanne Harris' Blackberry Wine and then revived by a piece in Petits Propos Culinaires. Wine snobs tend to sneer at fruit wines, but they have a long legacy in agricultural communities.

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Wednesday, July 18, 2007

My Next Wine Class: Fundamentals I

A friend of mine mentioned that the new UCB Extension Catalog is out, so it's time for me to give you a heads-up about my next wine class. I'll be teaching the second section (starting Oct. 11) of Fundamentals I: Wines of California and Europe. This is a great starter class about wine — years ago, it was the one that got me hooked — that covers the major regions of California and Europe. We'll cover France, Spain, Italy, Portugal, Germany, Austria, Napa, and more. And usually there's good side conversation about wine industry issues. Each class in the eight-week course will include a lecture and lots of wine. I always work my distributor/importer/producer contacts hard for these classes, so that I can stretch the budget to the utmost.

Sign up early; sign up often.

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Sorry About the Blogroll

UPDATE: All better now.
Just a quick note: I noticed that my blogroll, which is created automatically by Bloglines, has stopped working. I never turned off sharing, and now I can't turn it back on. But for some reason Bloglines thinks that I've disabled it. I sent them a note, and hopefully they'll help me get it back up and running. (A lot of programmers prefer to make rather than "buy." This is why; when something breaks we have to wait for someone else to fix it.)


Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Around The Web

The Sustainable Table folks, best known for the Meatrix cartoons that educate about industrial agriculture, have started podcasting. Now you can listen to short pieces about organic, local, and ethical food while you walk to work. Click here for the iTunes link.

Skip Lombardi wrote to me about his Food Stamp Challenge, in which he and his significant other are trying to live on Food Stamp amounts. He distances himself from the politicians who have done this recently, saying, "most of the participants we've read about made little or no attempt to actually cook! They simply went to grocery stores and bought foods that seemed cheap." The two of them, on the other hand, are passionate cooks. They want to stimulate discussion about the benefits of cooking and make constructive suggestions to diners on Food Stamp budgets. Pool resources, they suggest, among other things.

I had never read Peter Barrett's cookblog until he wrote me a couple months ago, but I feel like I've found a kindred spirit on the other side of the country. He salt cures his own meat, experiments with sous vide cooking, and loves good wine.


Terry's Latest Catalogs

Thanks to a post on Eric's blog, I see that Terry Theise has released his latest catalogs. As Eric notes, Terry writes with eloquence and passion about Germany, Austria, Champagne, and the larger world of wine. He drips fantastic quotes: You can't keep up with the shimmering pearls of wisdom that cascade off of him. I work hard for even the tiny glints of color in my text; Terry writes in rainbows as if it's the most natural thing to do.

I suppose I should mention that I have a bit part in Terry's Germany catalog this year. He and I had a friendly email exchange about my Vinovation piece—we get along well—and he reproduced snippets in the text. Terry and I agree about what makes good wine, but I am more accepting of Vinovation's role within the context of modern wine making. (I went to a recent tasting of his, and he said upon spying me, "Derrick, I was so hoping you would come." A perfectly timed pause, and then, "So you can remind yourself what real wine tastes like.")

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Monday, July 16, 2007

Wired Deconstructs Red Bull

What do all those ingredients in Red Bull do? Wired Magazine deconstructs a can's ingredient list and offers real-world (not marketing-hype) information about the effects of each item. From the article:

Like most popular soft drinks, Red Bull is largely sugar water. But don't count on its glucose to "give you wings," as the ad says. Multiple studies have debunked the so-called sugar high.


Saturday, July 14, 2007

The Hog Island Oyster Lover's Cookbook

The foodie lifestyle is a bit like a scavenger hunt, except that you collect experiences instead of items. Collect enough, and the realm of foodiedom embraces you. Collect all of them, and I suppose you become Jeffrey Steingarten.

Just like any good scavenger hunt, some items on the foodie list score more points than others. Eating raw oysters is a high-ticket item; most people can't get past the slimy, soft texture. I couldn't when I tried them as a kid, and I banished them from my mouth for years. But as an adult I fell for the tender, briny raw meat. Once you find your way to them, it's hard to imagine eating them any other way.

So I made the inevitable joke when I opened The Hog Island Oyster Lover's Cookbook: "Why do you need a cookbook for oysters? Isn't every recipe just shuck, slurp, repeat?"

It turns out you can cook them. Who knew? Jairemarie Pomo has recipes for Oysters Rockefeller, Oysters with Chorizo and White Beans, Thai Oyster Soup, and more. She also serves up recipes for raw oyster dishes — Oyster Shooters and Oysters with Cucumber, Lime, and Sake are two of them — and sauces to sprinkle on the meaty morsels. I don't know how much I'd vouch for the recipes as they're written. I made the Oysters Poached in White Wine with Caviar when we had Clotilde et al over for dinner, but on a dry run Melissa and I thought it would need a little zing. I used wasabi caviar instead, and that made the dish. Pomo herself, with another oyster and caviar dish, adds lemon ice.

The recipes may tempt the oyster lover, but Pomo also devotes about 80 pages to oyster lore. Not surprisingly, that information, told in straightforward text, centers around Hog Island, the famous oyster production company in Tomales Bay (there are others nearby, but Hog Island has always managed to combine marketing savvy with high quality). You hear about the favorite shucking knives of the Hog Island staff, their production techniques, and so forth, without learning about other oyster farms. But some of the information is universal: species, shucking technique with asides about equipment, and eating oysters in months without R's. I wish her section on alcohol and oysters covered more drinks — where is Muscadet in her list? why does she only mention French Sauvignon Blancs and not New Zealands, even though the latter often win oyster-wine pairing contests? — but that is the voice of a wine geek. At least she devotes time to the topic.

My favorite oyster recipe is "3-4 drops of lemon juice," but Pomo's dishes keep tempting me. If you like oysters — even if you don't like them raw — you'll find a place for The Hog Island Oyster Cookbook on your shelf.

This book was sent to me for review.


Bonnie's Real Food Campaign

Ethicurean's Bonnie Powell has gotten so riled up about the Hellman's/Yahoo! "Real Food" campaign that she wants to start a netroots campaign to reclaim the term real food. Go read her manifesto, and post your thoughts. I'll have to think about my real food manifesto a bit; I haven't had several hours on a plane to stew about it.

But, hey, Bonnie, I thought you were on vacation.


Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Sweet Corn Ice Cream

Two weeks ago, Melissa and I went to the Ferry Plaza Farmers' Market, and I saw them: the Brentwood corn farmers who perch their table at one corner of the building and sell out of their stock within just two hours. Their ears of corn, which have the color of a delicate custard, are among the sweetest I've ever had. (Modern eating corn has been bred to extreme sweetness to compensate for the fact that its sugars begin their path to flavorless starch as soon as you lop the ear off its stalk.)

I bought four ears.

They weren't destined for the pot or the grill. They were headed straight for the Glace-A-Tron 6000. My friend Tom had mentioned the sweet corn ice cream he saw on a trip to New York last year, and I filed the idea away for months, waiting for the season's bounty.

Neither of my ice cream books have a recipe for corn ice cream, and I forgot to ask Tom for details about the ones he sampled in New York, but I had a good idea of how it would work. Eggs will transform just about any liquid into custard, so I swapped some of my baseline recipe's half-and-half for the "corn milk" I got from pushing the fat kernels through a food mill, about 1 cup from the 4 ears. One taste of the pale, sugary liquid and I reduced my normal sugar proportions from 3/4 cup to 1/2 cup . Finally, I added an extra egg yolk to adjust for the fact that I had removed some of the total fat when I replaced half-and-half with corn milk.

The result was almost perfect: Intense corn flavor trapped in ice cream. But it wasn't quite right. Think of arcing your spoon through a scoop of ice cream. The frozen cream curls off in a smooth line. On my scoop, the cream sheared off in large chunks. And while the corn flavor was intense, it was also one-dimensional. It tasted of pure corn but lacked depth.

A week later, Melissa and I shopped at the Berkeley farmers' market. I saw ears of corn and snatched up another four.

Did you know that at Chez Panisse, they don't use any prep cooks? The evening's cooks prep their own ingredients and adjust the final dishes based on the quality of the produce. It seems like an odd idea—how much do they really change in midstream?—until you're faced with four ears of corn that have nothing except a name in common with the four you bought the week before.

When I ground the kernels in my food mill, I ended up with two tablespoons of juice, a far cry from the 16 I had used the week before. I couldn't imagine the meager amount affecting the final taste. I didn't have time to go back to the market for more, so I improvised. I pureed the kernels with a bit of water and poured the lumpy, squishy mess onto fine-mesh cheesecloth. I gathered the corners to make a sack and began wringing the corn purée, squeezing first with my hands and then twisting the cheesecloth down and down, trying to make a diamond out of the rough goo. Finally, I had a cup of liquid.

This batch of corn milk didn't need a sugar reduction—a different breed, or a relatively long time since harvest? I did, however, replace the half-and-half with cream, and I added cayenne pepper to give the ice cream the depth that its spiritual ancestor had lacked. In fact, I added too much. But other than that, the ice cream was exactly what I wanted, with a perfect texture and a rich, corn flavor that had some kick.

I rarely publish recipes here at OWF, as I've said before, and the corn ice cream illustrates the reason. Recipes provide a template, but they can't know your ingredients. Cookbook authors publish individual experiences, but even when they've been tested by others, they don't represent a universal truth. Which corn ice cream recipe should I print? The one that assumes you have sweet, juicy ears, or the one that assumes you have drier, less sweet ears? You have to understand what a recipe wants to achieve in order to fit your ingredients and your tastes. That's cooking.

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Croatian Wine Country Travels

My friend Frank sent out a link to his business's new blog, which chronicles the travels of Blue Danube's web designer and his friend through the wine country in the Balkans. Blue Danube is an importer, wholesaler, and retailer, so I imagine the bloggers are visiting wineries represented by Frank and his wife Zsuzsa. But you rarely get to read firsthand accounts of these wine regions, and Frank and Zsuzsa are good people worth supporting.

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New Feature: Web Snacks

I just added a new feature to OWF. I call it "Derrick's Web Snacks," and it's nothing more than links I find interesting. Most will be about food—it's an obsession of mine, you know—but some will be about my diverse interests. It's anything I think might be good for a quick read if you're looking for a break but doesn't deserve a post in its own right. If it doesn't show up for you on the right, leave a comment and tell me your browser and operating system.

MovableType and Wordpress probably have this feature out of the box, but I use Blogger, a flint axe in a Bronze Age of publishing solutions. It wasn't easy to add. If you like geeky web things, click here for my description of the process.

If you really despise visiting blogs, Snacks has its own RSS feed


Saturday, July 07, 2007


You're probably sick of reading about it by now, but I'll add my voice to the chorus of huzzahs for Ratatouille, Pixar's latest animated feature film. The story isn't anything new, but the animation and the food motif make this charming film a must-see for foodies everywhere. That means you.


Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Self-Tending BBQ

Tired of tending your barbecue for hours and hours and hours? Maybe you should build a self-tending model like the one that Nathan Moore submitted to the Popular Mechanics do-it-yourself rally. It doesn't look too difficult, given the interview and the drawing. If I ever upgrade to a wood-fired smoker, I'm tempted to build one of these. Or recruit a friend who knows something about mechanics.

As a side note, look at how Moore refers to barbecue as a synonym for slow cooking. Not fast cooking on a grill: That's called grilling. Grilling. Barbecue. Grilling. Barbecue. (Pilotless Drone.) These are two vastly different cooking styles. It's not a barbecue when there's a grill; it's a cookout. (My co-workers once changed the name of our company's "barbecue" to cookout, just to avoid hearing me rant about this topic. I call that a victory.)

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Monday, July 02, 2007

Search On Food and Cooking

Harold McGee has been working with Google to provide a search tool for On Food and Cooking, the must-have book for every cook's shelf. His search field appears on the right side of the site, and the results appear on the right side of the Google Search site. (Don't use the search field at the top of the Google Books page; that's a generic Google Books search.)


Sunday, July 01, 2007

In Search Of Real Food? Skip Yahoo

The other day, I got a press release that serves as a case study in trying to trick potential customers. Hellmann's (or Best Foods for those on this side of the country) has partnered with Yahoo! Food in a campaign they call The Search For Real Food.

Hellmann's. Real Food. No, I just can't make the math work. I don't have a problem with Hellmann's as a food product—none apart from a general stance against flavorless, chemical-laden industrial foods, anyway—but is there any food less real than the preservative-laden spread? Just as megaproducers have co-opted the terms organic and natural and the bucolic imagery they conjure, Hellmann's has tied itself to a term that has traction among modern shoppers. Even if they don't approve or edit the content—and I assume they do—every visitor to that site will conflate Hellmann's and real food. At the very least, they'll believe that Hellmann's actually cares about it.

The PR person who sent me the link mentioned that they'd be looking for good "real food" blog posts to highlight. Here's my recommendation: how to make your own mayonnaise at Taste the real thing, and you'll wonder how anyone considers Hellmann's to be mayonnaise. The real sauce is a snap to make, especially if you use a food processor. It only keeps for a week in the refrigerator, instead of the months and months that Hellmann's will hold up, but which expiration date sounds more like real food?

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