Saturday, December 31, 2005

Meat: Cured: Salumi Artisan Cured Meats

The short version of my introduction to the cured meats of Armandino Batali would describe an impulsive mid-week trip to Napa just as the most significant flooding of the last several years was beginning to get underway. As I've no editor though, I can provide some additional color.

After several years of trying to keep up with our daily subscription to the New York Times, we pared back to weekend delivery about a year ago. Most of the time this works out just fine, but I broke down on Wednesday this week and dropped four quarters into the NYT box down on Lakeshore Avenue. The Dining Out section was a love letter to certain of my interests, with multiple articles about Napa, including Blue-Collar Napa Joins the Gold Rush.

On the strength of the articles comments on Pilar, we made a 7:30 reservation for dinner the next day. The food there was good. Curiously plump and moist mussels with a chorizo broth were a revelation. In anticipation of seasonal excess we'd elected to make a night of it, and booked a room at a local hotel offering terraces with a view of the meandering Napa River. After dinner, we watched as local officials told concerned meteorolgists that they were very concerned about a series of approaching storms (as I write this, residents of Napa are being asked to seek shelter and to avoid downtown in particular).

By the time we made it to Dean and Deluca the next afternoon, sections of Highway 29 had already flooded. Getting into the parking lot meant crossing through a twelve inch deep puddle just as the rain started to pickup. I made a beeline for the cured meat counter and two items immedaitely got my attention.

They were the Cinnamon Pancetta and Mole Salami of Salumi Artisan Cured Meats. For good measure I picked up a Salumeria Biellese Wild Board Cacciatorini and a quarter pound of their prosciutto, but the idea of the flavors in the other two meats stayed on my mind for the duration of the hour-plus long ride home. The mole salami had an assist, as my wife and I had a slice each at the standing room only tables at the back of the store.

The meats are produced by Armandino Batali, the father of Mario Batali, at his shop and restaurant in Seattle, Washington. The Salumi website has an informative newsletter of sorts that offers great detail on little known meats like Culatello. Regular readers (I think there are at least two of you) probably know that I'm down with Mario cause. My wife and I loved our meal at Babbo, and I thoroughly expect us to take a trip back to NYC so that we can check out Dave Pasternak's food at Esca.

It would be easy to dismiss the interest in these salumi as a function of the industry that Mario Batali has become, it would also be a mistake. Any perpetuation of the cured meat tradition of Italy is something to support, and these flavor combinations make an immediate kind of sense. The cinnamon pancetta has a savory depth that grounds the bright salt flavors that permeate the meats' fat. The spices in the mole salami accomplish a similar result.

You can order both directly from Salumi.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Wine: Vinography: Trying To Pin Down an Apellation's Flavors

A post to Vinography today describes a 40 bottle tasting of Dry Creek Valley zinfandels. The express purpose of the tasting was to establish what Dry Creek on the whole tastes like. This got my attention because the Dry Creek Valley is just about the only American wine growing region that I have had a sense of tasting a particular way. Namely, like cherries.

I've mentioned this before in relation to two wines in particular — a 1996 Peterson Winery Zinfandel and the 2002 Somers Ranch Zinfandel. The Dry Creek Vineyards folks prefer to describe the fruit as pomegranate, which has an attractive specificity but seems a little willful.

It would be tempting to say that Paso Robles also has a distinctive terroir, if pressed though I could only describe wines from the area as characteristically huge and high in alcohol content. Which isn't to say that Dry Creek doesn't have it's fair share of full-bodied and 15+ percent wines. We had one from Hop Kiln last month that gave the well known Rosenblum Rockpile Road a run for it's money. Both also evoke cherry.

Still... regardless of my sense that wines from Dry Creek Valley taste a particular way, an attempt to isolate the characteristic taste derived from that place in particular seems almost necessarily quixotic. The idiosyncractic sensibilities of the wine makers are part of what make Dry Creek so attractive in comparison to Napa.

I have never heard of an effort to isolate the taste unique to wines from Napa. What I do tend to hear when people describe cabernet from Napa, is how characteristic a given wine is with relation to some groupthink archetype of the varietal. I believe a tremendous effort goes in to ensuring that this is so, and it was never more clear to me than during a visit to Cakebread Cellars.

After years of steering clear of the larger wineries of Napa and Sonoma, we took a tour of Cakebread after spending a week in and around Anderson Valley. Our guide described an elaborate system of sensors planted among the roots of each head vine in the vineyard. Any fluctatuation in the precise moisture and mineral content of the soil of a given head vine triggered an actual alarm in the wine maker's home. The financial stakes that encourage this sort of approach to viticulture are clear enough, but the end result is almost necessarily increased homogenization - precisely the opposite of terroir.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Food: Holidays: Christmas Dinner

Actually able to pre-post about the meal we'll be putting on tonight, which means I've an opportunity to let you in on one of the dirtier secrets here at Consumptive HQ. Many of the photos of dishes which have shown up here over the months are actually shot the day after they have been served. Leftovers, alas.

This has everything to do with my uncanny ability to underestimate just how much time will be required to pull off a five course meal for eight, or a four course meal for sixteen. Pre-posting though means that we've been cooking off and on for three days, and even now my wife is removing brussel sprouts from a stalk.

Here's the menu:

· Lilet with Key Lime Twist
· Local lettuces with pomegranate (seeds & vinaigrette) and a single walnut
· Spicy tamales of Moscovy Mallard served with a Cilantro sauce
· Roast Beast et al. - Goose, Stuffing, Brussel Sprouts, and Roast Fennel.
· Four cookies for your delectation
· Buche du Noel with Meringue Mushrooms, a la Jacques Pepin

With the house being new to us, and our not knowing exactly where we'll be putting everyone or what they'll be sitting on, my comfort level is not crushingly high. but we're t-minus six hours from having to throw down. So now, we wait.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Wine: Syrah: Alban Vineyards: Pandora 2001

I picked this bottle up about 9 months ago over at Paul Marcus, and we've been meaning to drink it for a few weeks now. We knew what we were getting into. I'd fallen for the creative bottling a couple of years ago on the way to a friends' Thanksgiving dinner. The cork is sealed in bright red wax, the label is evocative of a Haight-Ashbury magic carpet ride, and the base of the bottle is as agressively tapered as the neck is long. It's a stand out and a crowd pleaser, though you may find as I did that sharing such a bottle with a crowd can leave you wanting for more.

The label et al. are particularly arresting because the more widely available wines produced by John Alban are already fairly striking. Uniformly heavy, with a stylized grape vine motif that makes me want to rethink my ambivalence toward the word classy.

Pandora is a small production blend of Syrah and Grenache. The percentages vary from year to year, but production holds steady at 200 cases. The wine hits the dominant strains of various cult favorites. It's exceedingly high in alcohol, coming in at 15.9%. A few bottles I can think of top this number (The Jackass Hill Zin, at over 18 percent for instance), but at 15+ percent the Pandora packs a wallop. The wine is dominated by dark berry fruit and spice, but manages to pull in some of the flint and earth that I've come to associate with other Alban Vineyards wines. Not as much flint as some, but it's certainly there.

We drank about two thirds of this bottle with some Buffalo Osso Bucco, and then proceeded to try and assemble our buche du noel to comic effect. I would realize the next morning that I had freewheeled my way through techniques 228 and 229 in Jacques Pepin Techniques unintentionally concocting a recipe on the fly. Magic carpet ride indeed.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Fruit: Lemons: Meyer

Meyer lemons are a bay area staple; all over recipes in cook books from Chez Panisse and the restuarants of Chez Panisse alums. It is easiest to describe the flavor of these lemons in relation to more familiar varieties. They are less tart, less brightly acidic, have a thinner skin, and are more sweet.

According to the Splendid Table, the lemon variety was introduced to California in 1908 by Frank Meyer, a "plant explorer" for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Peak season in most areas is November, December, and January, but can extend to April.

As they ripen, the yellow skin of Meyer lemons becomes more golden, even slightly orange. Scientists speculate that the lemon is actually a hybrid of lemon and oranges, possibly mandarins. The Splendid Table maintains they were found growing near Peking. Four Winds suggests that the species was used decoratively in door ways - of course they also describe the flavor as mystical.

Similar to my sense of Fuji apples, I maintain that experience of eating a Meyer lemon has less to do with it being exceptionally sweet than it does a depth of taste and flavor that borders on savory.

A woman I work with brought these lemons into the office. At the time they were bright yellow, and the skin felt thicker than I was accustomed to. I speculated that they might be Lisbon lemons, and over the course of a day squirreled away six of them.

Vegetables: Cylindra Beets

Picked these up at the Grand Lake Farmers' Market
today, where the folks at Tip Top Farms described them as "Italian Beets". Googling for Italian beets mostly returns results on chioggas. So, to some extent I am speculating that these are cylindras because, well, they appear to be cylindrical.

My childhood experience with beets was limited to the canned variety. I disliked them. Apparently beets still have a bad rap though. As a result, seed hawkers resort to the nutrition pitch:
Double duty crop. Beets return double your money – the roots are delicious and nutritious, while the greens are edible and attractive.
When you are hawking seeds for an unusually shaped beet, still and yet more inventiveness is required:
Elongated 6-8 in. beets, with more uniform slices than round types.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Food Writing: Criticism: To the Moon, Alice?

About a month ago Daniel Patterson published an article in the Sunday New York Times. If you have a NYT account, you can still read the article "To the Moon, Alice?" here.

You may be asking yourself if you are about to read a spirited rebuttal of some month old piece of food writing. Alternatively, you may be asking if there will be any photos in this post.


D.Patterson's article asserts that the food stylings of Chez Panisse have had a tremendously limiting effect on restaurant cooking here in the bay area. He is focused on this assertion:
Today, there are two points on which most people seem to agree. The first is that the majority of the food in the Bay Area is delicious; the second is that it is not very innovative.
The tremendously frustrating thing about the article isn't this assertion (which in addition to being wrong is small of both mind and heart), but how the author manages to undermine it by tossing around oddly out of whack observations about our local food scene while failing in anyway to support his argument.

Let's take a look at some of those observations...
1. Delfina, Quince, A-16, and Pizzaiolo are highly regarded.
I contend that Delfina, Quince, A-16 and Pizzaiolo are not "highly regarded" but rather popular. My overwhelmingly neutral view on Pizzaiolo in particular, is somewhat established.

2. Zuni & Oliveto Are A Lot Like Chez Panisse
Very few people are given the forum that Daniel Patterson was afforded by dint of his successful run at Frisson; an actual shot at NYT ink. To squander any portion of this opportunity to say something meaningful about food, by taking the time to observe that two chefs who were themselves influential in defining what we think of as the Chez Panisse sensibility, have gone on to cook food that evokes the same sensibility is just wrong.

3. The Slanted Door is Too Chez Panisse-Like
To be fair, Patterson makes an almost off-hand comment that even The Slanted Door owed something to Alice Waters' vision. Tough not to imply a note of disdain for ethnic food in this one. I wish everyone stuffed my spring rolls with organic greens.
Instead of dishing out smack on local restaurants that are known quantities, Patterson could have discussed what actually constitutes innovation. He could have sought it out, rather than implying that it oughta be where it is in fact more or less beside the point.

Or, more basically, I don't want Alice Waters, Paul Bertolli, Judy Rogers, or their current crop of chefs to make me a foam.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Book: Original Tastes

I've begun discussing an idea with my wife about original tastes in food. It first occurred to me when I took photos of Arizmendi Sourdough Beer Rye back in October, particularly the one at left. In brief, the idea is that mass produced foods deliberately evoke certain attributes of what cultures once recognized as intrinsic to a specific foodstuff, in the absence of the domestic and commercial practices that established these original attributes though the evocation has replaced the source material.

Now, this is plainly not a new idea. But unlike cultural fields where it would be passe to even address the ubiquity and ubiquitous consumption of a knock-off --fashion comes to mind-- I haven't seen it addressed with food.

Also, whereas the fashion industry has a top-down influence on the clothes we wear, food has a bottom-up influence on what corporations produce. There are lots of examples of this kind of bottom-up influence (McDonald's going green, grocery chains embracing organic, etc.), but I'll save lengthy discussion of those for another post. Bear in mind though that all of these choices are about opportunities to make more money.

Still, with fashion detail-for-detail replication is the point of commoditization. And this is if anything the opposite concern of something like Walter Benjamin's essay The Work of Art In the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. With mass produced food, reduction of the complexity of tastes and textures to a low --if not lowest-- common demoniator seems to be the point.

There is a corollary to this idea that has to do with what I described as "vegetable terroir" in my first post on Wild Boar tomatoes. We are generally reluctant to consider food in terms that we reserve for other cultural products. This even relates to terms that are used for wine, like terroir. I talk about food a lot, with people who enjoy food a lot, and I have never been asked for my views or been offered a view of whether I prefer tomatoes from one part of the state over another.

I have had discussions with people about efforts like the Slow Food Ark of Tastes. These discussions are born largely out of food discoveries, like the arrival in my life this year of Bronx Grapes.

Hopefully lots to chew on here, but I'll stake out grounds for future discussion with this closing argument:

While any discussion of the corporate sponsored erosion of idiosyncratic values and attributes is necessarily involved in a larger debate about globalism, and is also necessarily political, I think we can agree though that a really good tomato is a really good tomato. That a lot of people will probably never get to eat one, and that it is for lack of a better word somewhat un-American to not want to at least ensure that they have an opportunity to consciously decide whether or not to.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Wine: Zinfandel: Chez Panisse Zinfandel Week

About five years ago, we began having dinner with four friends at Chez Panisse each year during Zinfandel Week - the event usually falls during the second or third week of December. Zinfandel from coveted vintages (1994 and 1997) and a few cult wines (Martinelli Jackass Hill, Turley Wine Cellars Black Sears Vineyard) find their way on to the list.

The reasonable prices these wines are offered at, along with the high alcohol content the varietal tends to pack, have led to some memorable evenings about which very little is actually remembered. My personal favorite involving a stomach-clutching after dinner tour of the all too fragrant prosciutto room.

This year though travel plans and the birth of a baby boy took two couples out of the mix for most of the week. Luckily, our travelling friends --who happen to work at the restaurant-- made it back to the bay area in time to secure 5 half-bottles of wine from the list. Here, in the order we drank them, was the line-up:

1999 Storybook Mountain Vineyards, Napa Valley, Mayacamas Range
1997 Sky Vineyards, Napa Valley, Mt. Veeder
1997 Franus, Napa valley, Mt. Veeder
1996 Peterson Winery, Dry Creek Valley
1997 Ridge Vineyards, Geyserville

Grapes for the first three wines were all harvested from moutain (that is, not valley floor) vineyards, and at least two were dry farmed. We expected these similarities to play out more assertively across the wines than they eventually did.

The Storybook had some characteristic plum & dark cherry fruit, was medium-bodied, and there was also another dark element to it which we identified variously as tobacco, leather, or dust. In comparison the Sky was considerably brighter, this expressed itself in both the fruit and acid - so lively that it seemed almost effervescent. The Franus was elegant by comparison. The color and body were more akin to the Storybook. Softer almost velvety mouth feel, and cabernet-like earth and spice. This wine was from the Brandlin vineyard on Mt. Veeder, and the Franus website offers a good description of the vineyard and wines.

On a side note, I have opted to not select wine from Franus on more that one occasion because of a deep and abiding label-hate. Imagine my considerable joy at seeing the flash movie on their homepage depicting the old label being literally fragmented by an oh-so helpful rebranding effort.

The Peterson had the bright cherry flavors that I tend to associate with Dry Creek wines. This taste range isn't a favorite of mine, but the intensity of flavor and sheer depth of Dry Creek wines always win me over.

Ultimately we made it to the Peterson Winery bottle, but not the Geyserville. Full of wine and full of beef bourgogne and garlic mashed potatoes.

Stopping after two bottles worth of wine prompted a round of serious self-examination. Though I suspect our host may have been acting on behalf of the bottle, which by all accounts was one of the better california wines of the 1997 vinatge. I hear it is scheduled to make an appearance at our Christmas dinner later this month.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Food: Mexican: Tamales: Butternut Squash

For purposes of indexing, I've described these tamalaes as Mexican. They are also thoroughly east bay - stuffed with a mixture of butternut squash, nopales, poblano chile, and jack cheese. We also used banana leaves as the wrapper - I'd seen them used first on Iron Chef America, and then eaten pork tamales prepared that way at Tamarindo Antojeria.

The recipe we used called for a couple of steps that I probably would have approached differently, if left to my own gringo devices. Rather than placing enough masa on the leaf or husk to completely surround the filling, the recipe recommended packing additional masa directly on top of the filling. Apaprently tamales should also be steamed in the full upright position, using balled-up tin foil if necessary to keep them that way.

We served these with an avocado based sauce of my own devising.

Editor's note (08 December 2005): It has been brought to my attention that I failed to attribute the vision for these tamales to my lovely and talented wife. I assert that this was an innocent oversight, rather than --say-- base blackguardism, an oversight which I am happy to correct.

Cheese: Roaring 40's Blue

According to the information packed write-up over at Gary Danko:
cow/ blue cheese/ pasteurized - wax sealed to preserve the moisture content and to also limit the development of the blueing. This most popular cheese begins on the Island of Tasmania (Australia) where the diverse plant life offers up flavor unlike anything else in the world. It's name is derived from the 40th parallel that relies upon a wind pattern strong enough to give sailing ships a boost, but not so hard that shipwrecks result...
We first came across this cheese at A.O.C., down in Los Angeles. I could go on at considerable length about that particular meal, but suffice to say the Roaring 40's, was the standout on a first-rate cheese plate.

Assertively sweet, creamy, and densely flavorful. Our local favorite the Point Reyes Blue is austere by comparison.

Hadn't seen it anywhere in the bay area, until a couple of weeks ago when it turned up at Market Hall. Their "blue-haired cheese lady" indicated that it wasn't hard to get, but that they did have to remember to order it. She expects them to have it through the end of the year.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Cake: Cranberry Up-side Down

The division of culinary labor in our house falls roughly along the divide between sweet and savory. Such distinctions and their nuances are loaded topics in a house occupied by an academic concerned with feminist issues who winds up chopping a lot of vegetables and a recovering academic who likes to think of themselves as somewhat enlightened.

All that aside though, one of the desserts I genuinely look forward to eating is this Cranberry Up-side down cake - we brought this one to Thanksgiving dinner.

My wife makes the cake according to a Marion Cunningham recipe, with two distinct nods to contemporary taste: less sugar, more cranberries.The cake is baked in an old MagnaLite skillet I've had since college.

Scrupulous and fruitless googling for this recipe lead me to suspect that ours is an adaptation of the ubiquitous M.Cunningham pineapple version.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Wine: Languedoc: 2003 Coteaux du Languedoc Rouge - Château de Lascaux

This was another bottle I picked up the day before we moved into our new digs. As it's a "value of the month" ($12.50/bottle), and given my consumptive proclivities, the Château de Lascaux may seem an unlikely choice for me and a special occasion...

I was introduced to it at the first wedding I attended with my wife. Before settling on it, the bride and groom had conducted a tasting at Kermit Lynch. We weren't rolling quite that high when our wedding came 'round, but we capitalized on their initiative and served it all the same.

The wine has more structure and better mouth feel than the price would suggest, and is cranky in the way that we like: tannic and funky, all sorts of dark tastes. Good company for a mid-week meal, though I can't recall what we served it alongside.

Wine: Champagne: J.Lassalle Rosé

I was dispatched to Kermit Lynch the day before we moved into our new house. This was ostensibly a trip to pick up boxes from a friend who works there. In addition to the boxes, I managed to come home with two persuasively recommended champagnes — the 2001 J.Lassalle Rosé and the 1998 Paul Bara Spécial Club.

We drank the J.Lassalle first, serving it with some house cured salmon from Market Hall. Despite the recommendation, I was unprepared for just how much we enjoyed this wine. Here's the Kermit write-up:
Lassalle’s Champagne Rosé is very pale in color with strawberry and raspberry perfume in the subtle bouquet. No, it doesn’t shout, and red wine was not added to color it. It grows on you—a connoisseur’s rosé, and it is bone dry!
Agreed on all counts, especially how dry it was. It is also worth pointing out that the color of the wine was more copper than pink and that the bubbles had an incredibly fine bead.

If you're planning on buying some bubbly from Kermit, November is apparently the time — 11th month discounts abound in their current newsletter (PDF Format).

Fruit: Apples: Sundowner

I saw these for the first time at the Grand Lake Farmers' Market this past weekend. They may have shown up earlier though, it's been a week or two since I've made it down there.

This apple was not particularly flavorful, but it had classic apple aromatics —as opposed to the floral qualities of the Pink Lady aromatics— and a clean tart taste. The red and white lenticles seen here are considered typical of the variety.

According to the Brandt's Fruit Trees website, the Sundowner (also known by the varietal name Cripps Red) is a product of the Western Australian Department of Agriculture Breeding Program. Like the Pink Lady, developed in the same program, it is a cross between Lady Williams and Golden Delicious apples.

Of particular interest to me, was the note about how late the fruit comes to maturity. In fact, in the Pacific Northwest it can't be brought to maturity.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Been a while

Haven't had much time to post these past two weeks, my wife and I having consumed that most precious of bay area consumptibles - a house. So, I'm sneaking this post in while at work (more on that later).

This didn't prevent us from heading up to Dry Creek Valley a couple of Saturdays ago; the fence posts along the driveway up to Rafanelli each topped with a pumpkin. Availability at Rafanelli is down to 3 bottles of merlot per person ($27.00 per bottle), 1 bottle of zinfandel ($32.00 per bottle), and a bottle each of two Hillside Terrace Select cabernets (100.00 per bottle).

Pickings were slim at Ridge too. York Creek Petite Sirah is gone for good - the folks who supplied these grapes to Ridge will be using them in their own cabernet. I had a bottle from 1998 a few months back - one of the more memorable bottles I had this year. But maybe I just dig on fumes and char. I picked up the Jimsomare you see below (that's Iron Chef America on the TV btw) and a few odds & ends.

Work though. It's been busy enough that I've had to eat lunch on campus a few times recently. To give you some idea, I type between bites of 'Lamb & Argentinian Style Potatoes'. The the hash-slinger behind the counter at our cafeteria asked if I wanted,"the sauce on it." When I asked what kind of sauce the lamb came with he said,"a lamb-based sauce."

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Saturday Market Recap - Volume 03

Been a while since I provided a Market Recap, but here we are with volume three. Some event had brought out a bunch of costume-clad kids and prompted some rearranging of the stalls. With Halloween a week or so away, you could still find peaches and plums - though most were poor specimens.

Before heading down to the market, I mentioned to several friends that I was pretty sure heirloom tomatoes were done and gone for the year. Not so. Several stands hand them for the going rate of 2.00 a pound. After a one week hiatus Wild Boar Farms returned with their beautifully distressed and obscure heirlooms (at left). The one reference to Wild Boar I was able find, indcates that they usually give with selections from over 70 varieties of tomato through early November.

In addition to making the Farmer's Market rounds, our Saturday ritual includes a stop at the Arizmendi Cooperative. Arizmendi emerged as a sister co-op to the Cheeseboard back in 1997. In a typical week we'll grab two Zampano, a piece or two of the always changing Saturday Focaccia, an Oat Scone, and some olives and cheese. If we're lucky, we'll get out for under 20.00.

The Chez Panisse Vegetables Cookbook indicates that Eggplant should be in season from mid-summer to early fall. Somehow eggplant didn't get my attention until this weekend though. I picked up four types including a couple thai varieties, a straight-up old school eggplant, and some Japanese eggplant. I got these all from Tip Top Farms who, after weeks of suggesting it might happen, were suddenly and totally out of Sugar Plums.

Bread: Arizmendi Cooperative: Zampano

When I arrived in Berkeley back in the early 90's, one of the few indulgences I could routinely afford was the Cheeseboard Cheese Roll. For $1.25 you got a dense, wheat sourdough roll shot through with gobs of asiago cheese. The crust could be so crispy that I had friends who feared it. After a few years of this though, I was ready for an occasional change-up. It arrived one day in the form of a Zampano. Somewhere along the way, I moved away from North Berkeley and to Oakland. The Zampano became my Saturday morning mainstay.

The best ones will have a darker bottom crust, that is almost chewy - studded here and there with corn meal. Even when relatively dark, the crust is never more than golden brown. The light sourdough roll itself tastes strongly of olive oil. If you bite into one the toppings will immedaitely be transferred to your face. The Parmesan will fall off in big sheets, leaving mostly red pepper and salt. The same thing happens if you slice it before eating.

A couple of words of caution if you are inclined to head out in search of a Zampano. Be sure to consult the daily bread schedule of your local Cheeseboard sister-cooperative before doing so. Also, at the Lakeshore Arizmendi they are not part of the morning pastry line up - you may have to wait if you get there much before 10:30 or 11:00.

Bread: Arizmendi Cooperative: Sourdough Beer Rye

My wife suggested that we pick one of these up. I was game despite certain childhood associations(1) with beer bread and rye bread. Suspecting all the while that some New Belgium Brewing Company beer must be involved. The guy at the counter brought me back down to earth though. They'd used some Samuel Adams Holiday beer for their starter.

Ingredient quibbles aside, what's tremendously appealing about an artisanal bread like this is the visual and tactile experience of a thing that most super market bread can only reference. Rought crust peeling back from the peak of the dense and heavy round. That kind of thing.

The rye taste of this bread was somewhat secondary to the sourdough, perfect for my sensibilities(2) though.

(1) Shortly after my mother met my dad, they went on a beer bread kick. I was 5 at the time. About all I remember was that you baked the beer bread in a clear glass tube that may or may not have been part of some kit. They baked a lot of it, and I recall liking it. In restrospect I am suspicious that it might be some dead giveaway of an economic or cultural handicap.

(2) I have childhood memories of rye bread as well — of not enjoying the taste of caraway.

Vegetable: Beets: Red Ace

In the course of a year, we eat a lot of beets. There was a four month long period in the spring where there were always beets in the fridge. I pickled, fried, and roasted them. Roasted beets hold a special place in my wife's heart, owing to her time at Chez Panisse (where they figured prominently in staff meals).

I like the flavor and color of the common or Italian beet, and will occasionally pick up some orange or pink chioggas. Red Ace's are fast-growing (maturity takes about 2 months), flavorful, and particularly sweet. Some websites refer to them as a Short Top Detroit hybrid variety. Couldn't find much background on this distinction.

After I'd snapped these photos, a certain Beet Fan was ready to shun the entire batch. Something about the photos looking "too commercial." This has something to do with the color of the beets, a really shocking red, but also my camera's tendency to amp up reds.

Vegetable: Greens

Don't know much about these yet. Saw them at the stand next to Hamada Farms and thought they might be ramps - wrong season, wrong shape, but a guy can always hope. The guy at the booth told us the 3-word name twice, but none of the variations I am remembering turn anything up in google. He also pointed out that the flowers were edible.

We nibbled the small yellow blossoms as soon as we got home, a delicate flavor akin to nasturtiums (Tropaeolum majus). The leaves of this mystery green are very smooth, and relatively tender. None of the spines of rapini or nettle, and not rigidly wrinkled like kale or some pe-tsai varietals of chinese cabbage.

I'll have more to say after I prepare these, in the mean time here's the soft-focus background goodness. You'll notice the roots in the foreground, most things sold at the stand where we picked these up have roots attached.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Fruit: Apples: Pink Lady

My sources say that the Pink Lady is a natural hybrid of Golden Delicious and Lady Williams apples, originally developed as part of a breeding program in western Australia and introduced to consumers in 1985. Write ups on Pink Lady apples tend to describe them as crisp, tart, and sweet. For my money, a good Fuji will be more crisp and any number of apples could be described as more tart (Granny Smith, Pippen, maybe even Braeburn).

That said, the flesh of this apple is atypically dense and it has an aromatic quality that borders on floral. I negatively associate this with the Delicious varietals. If you're into that kind of thing, then this may be a more interesting way to get your fix. The Pink blush and pale spots seen here are typical of the variety, and are generally attributed to cool evenings. Harvest dates are mid to late October.

Fruit: Apples: Fuji

According to Produce Pete,"This variety is a cross of Red Delicious and Ralls Janet bred at a Japanese research station." It was introduced to the American market in the early 1980's.

I will permit myself a brief digression on the level of discourse you can expect when reading up on Apples. Almost all of the online resources I found for apples, were thinly veiled opportunities to plug the growing conditions unique to Washington state or the grit and pluck of Washington Apple farmers. Phrases like,"Washington State is the birthplace of the world's best apples" are thrown around without the slightest qualification.

I had my first Fuji apple relatively recently. I picked one up at Berkeley Bowl a few years ago and fell hard for the consistency. I've heard people describe Fujis as "super sweet", though I think what they are noticing is actually the lack of a prominent tart or tangy element. I've also not been able to find a good description of the taste that I think of as unique to these apples; definitely clean, but almost savory as well.

While the Fuji is a late-season apple, in the Bay Area you can find them pretty much year round. I picked these up at the Grand Lake Farmers' Market, from the stand where I got my Pink Lady and Crimson Gold apples.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Wine: Rose: Les Paillieres "Au Petit Bonheur" 2004

Earlier this year I dropped by Kermit Lynch and picked up one bottle of each of their rose wines. It was an odd time to do so. I took home a magnum of the previous years Domaine Tempier Bandol, and some things they had just gotten in - about a dozen bottles in all.

A week later we had friends over, and they brought along a bottle of the Les Paillieres "Au Petit Bonheur". This is the first year that the wine had been made, and it hadn't been in stock when I stopped by. Kermit's notes on the wine are in his July Newsletter. Vinography has a good account of the relationship between Kermit Lynch and Les Pallieres (as i understand it, Kermit has a 50% stake).

The wine is tart, the slightest bit cranky, and about as tasty and dry as one could hope - fruit leans to strawberry for me. This photo doesn't do the label justice, but does capture the color of the wine.

Wine: St. Estephe: Chateau Les Ormes de Pez: 1994

This is another bottle I picked up in the Old and Rare section at K and L for right around 20.00. Forget what we ate with it, but recall it tasting very french after the Dehlinger Syrah. Bright red color, straight-forward strcuture, with a leafy aspect that I enjoy in lighter cabernet-based wines.

The remarkable thing here, and with a surprising number of 10+ year old Bordeaux, is just how affordable they can be at K and L. The complexity of the drinking experience, if not necessarily the wine itself, simply increases with 10 years of bottle age.

Restaurants: Oakland: "B"

Ate at "B" for lunch yesterday. The restaurant is located across from Cafe 817 in Oakland's Old Town district, and is owned by a very nice guy named Kevin who also owns Box Lunch Company in San Francisco.

When we sat down for lunch, we noticed that between the six of us we had 3 different menus. When we brought it up, Kevin sat down at our table and explained that the menus were very expensive to print up each week (the cool looking "B" that is there logo is embossed into each of them), talked us through what was and wasn't on the menu, and described what was good and available that day.

This is the sort of thing that you will either find charming or annoying, but know going in that the restaurant is still finding its way - they were also out of the first two beers I ordered.

Our waitress --standing underneath a circular chandelier fashioned from bright white antlers-- offered up that they had plans to stay open later on weekends, to have DJ's, and generally bring people to downtown Oakland.

Just in case the food and Ridge Lytton Springs Zinfandel for 46.00 a bottle might not be enough. I saw a good range of dishes, including the following:

· Slow-roasted baby artichokes
· Wood oven roasted Calamari, with chili aioli
· Meat on a stick (Painted Hills Beef), with chili aioli
· French Fries with herbs and garlic
· Asian pear and Brie Sandwhich
· Roasted beet salad

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Fruit: Apples: Crimson Gold (crab)

Picked these up on a whim last week at the Grand Lake Farmers' Market. It had been expressly communicated to me that if I were bringing apples home, I'd be eating them on my own. My wife was willing to entertain the idea of pears, but just wasn't ready to acknowledge the departure of summer in the way that 3 pounds of Fuji apples can make you acknowledge.

The sign over these apples called out in black magic marker that they were "tart not bitter". And this was true. I have just a few memories of pulling crab apples off a tree and biting into something that was wholly tannic, and tasted slightly of dirt.

I've had full-sized Crimson Golds before and been underwhelmed by both the taste and texture. These were only pleasantly tart, already sweet, and redolent of archetypal apple.

Wine: Syrah: Dehlinger: Goldridge Vineyard 2000

My first exposure to Dehlinger wine came about 3 years ago, stumbling across a few bottles of 1986 Cabernet at North Berkeley Wine. I'd dropped by North Berkeley just after they'd moved into their new digs at MLK and Cedar, and hadn't really got their collection - a lot of which was still in boxes that crowded the aisles. A year or so later I came back by and they seemed to have a lot of older wine that didn't cost much more than current vintages. I picked up some bordeaux, including a '64 Chateau Beychevelle, and one bottle of the '86 Dehlinger cab.

It was inky stuff, with more vegetal character than I'd grown accustomed to in wine from the Russian River area. It had been just over 35.00 a bottle though, and I promptly went back and picked up 3 more. It was elegant in a way that was difficult to articulate, something to do with the perverse fecundity of rotting leaves.

Onto 2000. I picked up this Syrah at K & L for 39.99 - they indicate that the wine originally retailed for 59.99. My notes and Robert Parker's aren't all that different, though I question whether a wine this big and deep can objectively be described as "medium-bodied".

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

New Belgium Follow-Up

Our friendly neighborhood Bay Area Beer Ranger stumbled across my post about "2° Below Winter Ale" - the seasonal beer that New Belgium will distribute in bars and restaurants beginning this week. If you haven't already, be sure to check out his comments on that post for the scoop.

He was also kind enough to drop by an entirely custom and thoroughly limited edition 6-pack of 2° Below for the misses and I. As the beer will only be available on tap, between now and January, thought I'd share the branding with you:

Tomatoes: Purple Plum: Wild Boar

The Wild Boar Farm folks, from Suisun Valley, refer to these as Evan's Purple Plum tomatoes. They also describe their tomatoes as,"Soon to be world famous." I've eaten a lot of tomatoes this year and this was the first time I felt I had to photograph and come up with words.

The flavor is appropriately sweet and tart, and manages to be meaty without the starchy density of some varieties. In smaller tomatoes of this type, the seed and juice to flesh ratio is probably more akin to a cherry tomato than a traditional plum.

What got me was the incredibly deep hue of the tomatoes --an intensely dusty purple and red-- and the blemishes on the fruit. Even the heirlooms I pick up at Berkeley Bowl or from other vendors at the Grand Lake Farmers' Market adhere to a more traditional notion of aesthetic appeal.

Some of this may be self-inflicted; if I'm dropping 4.00 to 6.00 a pound on produce, I do expect it to be pretty. Something about these Purple Plums though redefines the terms of that expectation.

Rather than some idealized notion of a tomato, they are a tomato that appears to have come from a specific place at a specific time - a kind of vegetable terroir that is only heightened by their being in the last week of the season.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Fruit: Figs

I'd be remiss if I let a whole season of figs go by without a photo. I've mentioned figs here a few times now. Should note that the season appears to be pretty much over. Stores are likely to have them for a while, but the Farmer's Market was running on fumes this morning.

Price hanging steady at 5.00 a basket, the stall where I tracked them down presented them in such a way as to imply scarcity. Two baskets occupying a wide open stretch of table top, three more baskets hidden behind a sign advertising persimmons.

My online research turned up at least one other person (click at your own risk) who feels as strongly as I do about figs:
The Supreme Court of the United States has proven that the law is a barren garden where nothing grows -- except for fig trees. It is Satan's orchard. Justices David Souter and Ruth Bader Ginsburg are the tree surgeons in the abominable nursery of evil.

Of course.

Wine: Zinfandel: Haywood Estates: 1997 Los Chamizal Vineyard

It's unlikely that a quick glance at this blog would convey just how much I'm into wine. This has something to do with how difficult it can be to photograph wine. Generally I drink my wine in the evening, and what with glass being a reflective surface it can be hard to capture the glass and not also your own reflection.

That said, folks who know me will likely be surprised that the first bottle to drive me to post was this conglomerate-owned Zin. While the bottle relates the story of Peter Haywood planting vines on the steep terraces of a sonoma hill back in 1976, Haywood Estates belonged to Allied Domecq until Allied Domecq was acquired by "Pernod Ricard in partnership with Fortune Brands."

Have a history with this bottle though. Shortly after being dot-commed back in 1999, we tasted this wine at the Buena Vista (another Allied Domecq brand) tasting room in Sonoma. After stopping at Ravenswood, and being told by the room staff to not bother buying any of there wine there because Cost Plus carried most of it for much less, Buena Vista seemed stuffy. The 5.00 charge for the premium tasting seemed positively Napa-like.

The Haywood Estates zin made it all worth while though. Bone-dry nose that smelled like dust, dark fruit with pronounced acidity, more elegant than you'd expect for a '97 coming in at 14.5% alcohol. We splurged 40.00-worth on a single bottle. A year and a half later, with me laid off and considering everything from moving to Portland to taking up teaching, we drank it. It wasn't everything we remembered, but we'd been on a tear through our cellar.

Flash forward a few years. Stopped at Buckingham Wine and Spirits this past Friday, on a whim after a meeting with our real estate agent. Seems like they almost always have one bottle on the shelves that has no business being in a small liquor store on at Buckingham Wind and Spirits on Lakeshore avenue. This time around it was the 1997 Haywood Estates Los Chamizal Zin.

The cork on this bottle had seeped a bit, but the nose was just as I remembered.