Monday, February 27, 2006

Take Action!

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Since I started editing Growers & Grocers, I have become more political about my food, believe it or not. So here are two bills before the House of Representatives that you should know about. It's very easy to write your Representative, but a phone call carries a lot more weight.

First, HR 4167 would prevent local and state communities from imposing their own labelling laws. That means that if your state, or your town, wanted to require companies to identify genetically modified foods, you wouldn't be able to do it. I'm going to go out on a limb and suggest that a nationally imposed label would serve corporations more than consumers. Call me cynical.

HR 710 provides federal funds to help start farmer's markets around the nation. You know how I feel about farmer's markets: They provide income to small farmers; they keep money in the local economy; the food is usually better. But many need a kick start to get going. This bill would help.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Rosenblum Article Sidebar (and Correction)

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Photo by Melissa Schneider.

My sidebar didn't make it into my Edible East Bay, Issue 2, article about Rosenblum, so I decided to run the text here. The tasting notes cover wines that stood out as I researched the piece. I've also added the contact info for the wineries that I wrote about, for anyone interested.

Finally, a slight correction for those who have picked up the issue. If you're confused about the transition to the second page of the article, this sentence fragment will help: "Thomas Coyne, one of the best wine makers in the Livermore Valley (see Edible East Bay, issue 1) got his"

Tasting Notes
2002 JC Cellars Ventana Vineyards Syrah, Monterey, $30
A standout wine with beautiful blackberry aromas and an earthy aroma. Pleasant hints of pepper and herbs. Solid cherry flavors and a vanilla finish mingle well with the vibrant acidity and mild tannins. The alcohol gives it a heavy mouthfeel that stands up to rich food like rack of lamb, but it also gives it a hot finish.

2001 Dashe Cellars "Todd Brothers Ranch" Zinfandel, Alexander Valley, $23
This well-balanced wine has bready, earthy aromas and an almost floral flavor. The tannins and acidity assert their presence without overwhelming the wine. Its high alcohol (15%) makes it tough to pair with food, but a fatty steak would certainly stand up to it.

2003 Rosenblum Cellars Napa Valley Zinfandel, Lyons Reserve, $32
"That's mountain fruit for you," said Kent Rosenblum with a shrug when I commented on this lovely wine. Aromas of boysenberry syrup and baking spices with a wonderful acidity. The vines are a century-old-clone of Zinfandel.

Winery Contact Info
Dashe Cellars
http://www.dashecellars.com
55 4th Street
Oakland, CA 94607
510-452-1800

JC Cellars
http://www.jccellars.com
3000 Washington Street
Alameda, CA 94501
510-749-9463

Rosenblum Cellars
http://www.rosenblumcellars.com
Tasting room hours: 11am - 6pm
2900 Main Street, Suite 1100
Alameda, CA 94501
510-865-7007

Thomas Coyne
http://thomascoynewinery.com
51 E. Vallecitos Road
Livermore, CA 94550
925-373-6541

Zoom Vineyards
3058 Soscol Avenue
Napa, CA 94558
707-258-1488

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Tuesday, February 21, 2006

SFist Is Full Of Beans

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Photo by Melissa Schneider.

At least they are today, thanks to my write-up about Rancho Gordo beans, the best dried beans you're likely to find. Read it. Enjoy it. Comment on it.

In other news, I'm told that issue 2 of Edible East Bay will arrive in stores very soon. Maybe even next week. It includes my article about Rosenblum Cellars and the folks who have been shaped by their time in the Alameda facility, as well as several other top-notch articles about the East Bay food culture.

And since this has become a Derrick-spotting post, I'll mention that I saw the final draft of my Mosel piece, which uses 5 of Melissa's photos, and I imagine it'll be available in a month or so. Finally, I sold a piece to a major wine magazine that should be out in the June or July time frame, but I'm keeping that a surprise: Let's just say it's a big departure from my normal sale. Don't worry about forgetting about these; I'll be sure to mention them again.


Monday, February 20, 2006

The OWF "Eat 'Til You Drop" Tour: wd-50

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Chefs have divided modern haute cuisine into two main branches: a group that celebrates pure flavors of ingredients and traditional practices, and another that uses the latest scientific discoveries to push food to new, unimagined places. One worships the perfect peach, the other, hard-to-pronounce chemicals that shift the molecular structure of foie gras and mayonnaise. Centuries of knowledge on one hand, vacuum sealers and laboratory-grade bain-mairies for sous vide cooking on the other.

Melissa and I have known about the "molecular gastronomy" movement for a while, but we hadn't eaten at a restaurant that practices the full spectrum of techniques. When we asked Hillel at tastingmenu.com for advice on where to eat in New York, he urged us to try wd-50, Wylie Dufresne's science-meets-cuisine temple on Manhattan's Lower East Side.

We ordered the tasting menu, which includes twelve courses and wine pairings, and settled in for an evening of amazement. Throughout the night, I kept asking myself "How did he do that?" My traditional French and Italian slant, coupled with the inevitable influence of California cuisine, gave me little context to understand the mechanics. How do you get a reservoir of warm beet consommé into the middle of a foie gras torchon? How do you make olive oil powder? How do you shape mayonnaise into a cube, and then fry it?

But this isn't just stunt cooking: Melissa and I enjoyed every single dish. The silky foie gras torchon oozed a warm beet liquid over the candied olives and pea streusel underneath. The tomato sorbet with olive oil powder and tiny little croutons—an homage to bruschetta—repackaged familar flavors into different forms and textures. We swabbed up the sweet carrot purée in the carrot-coconut "sunnyside up," a trompe d'oeil that looked and acted like a fried egg. We liked the food so much that we ordered a 3-course dessert tasting menu to fit in before the cocoa cotton ball mignardise (and yes, that pushed us well into gluttonous).

It does raise some questions: Is this actually a cuisine, or is it just playing with your food? Should chefs embrace these techniques, or focus on more traditional cooking, what Regina Schrambling calls "the simply extraordinary pleasure of great ingredients treated with intelligence, with only little tricks like passion fruit in a sauce needed to make halibut taste like something entirely new."

I think molecular gastronomy is the new fusion cuisine, which at its best created new culinary combinations that resonated throughout the kitchens of the world. Of course, at its worst it became a tired cliché, and I'm sure we'll be inundated with hip, new, and boring molecular gastronomy establishments within a few years. But the best will challenge us, excite us, and delight us. And those lessons will instruct other chefs who will pick and choose the techniques they like the best. Would I want to eat wd-50's food every night? No, nor even monthly. But next time we go to New York, I plan to visit Chef Dufresne again to see what new rabbits he's pulling out of his sleeve.

Next on the OWF "Eat 'Til You Drop Tour:" New York Recap followed by Bern's Steakhouse

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Wanted: Growers & Grocers Writers

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As many of you know, I'm the editor of Growers & Grocers, part of the Well Fed food blogging network.

Several of my writers have become too busy to contribute anymore, and so I'm reaching out to you, my readers. If you're interested in writing for Growers & Grocers, send me a note. Writers make a percentage of the site's income based on the number of posts.

The site focuses on anything from soil to shelf, covering diverse topics such as agricultural policy, marketing to children, innovations in packaging, profiles of producers, and information about specific ingredients. Look through the archives and you'll get a good sense of what I need.

E-mail me at the address in the upper right if you're interested, and we'll figure out if it's a good fit on both sides. Writing samples are appreciated; a blog will suffice.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Red Wine and Cheese

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The food world went ballistic last month when news broke that a forthcoming study debunked the notion that wine and cheese go well together.

Over at Slate, Mike Steinberger tries to calm the panic by looking at a draft of the study. Yes, he says, the study shows that cheese diminished the character of each wine. But the better wines still tasted better than the awful wines, he says.

I've been opting for white wine with cheese for years now, but Steinberger gives red wine lovers some hope in his article.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

WineParty on SFist

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"It's Tuesday on SFist, and you know what that means, right? Yes you, in the back, waving your arms frantically?"

"You're off a week. Your In the Kitchen column is every other week now."

"Oh. Good point. Uh... No, wait! I did write for SFist this week. I reviewed WineParty, a wine-tasting party kit from SmartsCo! Sort of an 'In the Cellar' bonus post."

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Salon Interviews Bunny Crumpacker

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Salon has an interview with Bunny Crumpacker (her real name?) about her new book The Sex Life of Food.

I'm sure the book isn't supposed to be an exhaustively researched academic tome, but this sentence caught my eye: [The apple is] just loaded with symbolism and history in that, in the Western world, it goes all the way back to Adam and Eve in the garden.

Except, of course, that it doesn't. Find the Bible talking about Adam and Eve and apples. Go ahead, have fun. Most experts think that the original authors implicated the lovely quince, which is native to the Middle East, but in fact the specific fruit isn't named.

The rest of the interview is equally fluffy; I think I'll pass on the book.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

We Interrupt This Blogcast

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And so peer pressure has its way with me. Not that there's been a lot of pressure on me to do the "Four Things" post that even A-List bloggers have been deigning to do from high up on the blogosphere power law curve. But Pavel, who's a dear friend and, not coincidentally, the person who married us, is the person doing the pressuring, and no one can resist Pavel. You'll just have to trust me on this.

So here are my "Four Things."

Four jobs I've had:
1. Assistant zookeeper
2. Veterinary assistant
3. Programmer
4. Writer

Four movies I can watch over and over:
1. The Princess Bride
2. Pirates of the Caribbean
3. The Lord of the Rings, as one long, continuous story
4. Groundhog Day (repeat viewings = nested loop, but in a good way)

Four places I've lived:
1. Yuma, AZ
2. The Philippines
3. Visalia, California
4. Oakland, California

Four TV shows I love: (Note, we don't watch a lot of TV)
1. Cowboy Bebop
2. Buffy the Vampire Slayer
3. The Simpsons
4. Veronica Mars

Four places I've vacationed:
1. Tampa, FL (blog post on that, forthcoming. As a sneak peek, I had the best taste of wine I've ever had in my life in Tampa)
2. Opatija, Croatia
3. Tokyo, Japan
4. Paris, France, often.

Four of my favorite dishes: (I was tempted to open this up and see if you all could guess them)
1. Duck confit (just cured/cooked some in the last two nights, in fact)
2. Terrine de foie gras
3. Braised Short Ribs
4. Really good charcuterie in any form.
Note, I do actually like vegetables. Just to clarify

Four sites I visit daily regularly:
1. Bloglines, which visits a hundred or so sites daily on my behalf.
2. The Java API reference.
3. Melissa's Photo Stream
4. Well Fed Main Page

Four places I'd rather be right now:
1. France
2. The French Laundry
3. Cooking
4. Six days in the future, when our release is done at work

Four bloggers I'm tagging:
1. Sean. C'mon, Sean, do an invective for us.
2. Heather
3. Phil
4. Mary Beth

Fennel on SFist

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Photo by Melissa Schneider.
It was only a matter of time before I covered fennel on SFist. It's one of my favorite vegetables, after all.

As some of you may have noticed, I'm now doing my In The Kitchen column every other week. Time gets ever more scarce, especially with my editorial duties at Growers & Grocers and a particularly grueling week or two (or was it three) at work.

Monday, February 06, 2006

WTN: 2001 Jamek "Ried Achleiten", Grüner Veltliner Smaragd, Osterreich

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Photo by Melissa Schneider.

A common belief among casual wine drinkers is that age improves any wine. Wine store employees and wine critics reinforce this by writing "drinks well now, or for the next five years."

In reality, most wine doesn't benefit from time in the bottle. Some wine matures and becomes something better; most wine changes for the worse.

But I was still surprised at how far south our bottle of the 2001 Jamek "Ried Achleiten" Grüner Veltliner Smaragd had gone. Instead of this Austrian grape's bracing acidity and telltale white pepper aromas, the deep gold wine smelled of cheese with a little lanolin, some corn, and the merest hints of tropical fruit. The wine was almost watery and offered a mellow acidity. It wasn't bad, but it wasn't what I wanted from a bottle of Grüner.

I blame the storage conditions in our apartment. We store about half our wine at Subterraneum, but at home we don't have a wine refrigerator, largely because I feel the building would blow up if we plugged one into the wall: Melissa can't run her electric kettle unless we turn off all the lights. So I don't have high hopes for our second bottle, which is too bad. It's a good wine in its youth, and it should still be okay a mere four to five years later.

Remember, kids: Drink early and drink often.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

WBW 18: The Age of Riesling

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Bill Mayer overlooking Germany's Mosel River
Photo by Melissa Schneider.

His Subject Is Fine German and Austrian Wines
If you chat with Bill Mayer at the Berkeley Farmer's Market where he shops, you might think he's a Berkeley professor. He has the distinguished look, the liberal politics, the modulated tone, and the extensive knowledge about every subject that might come up in conversation. And in a way, Bill is a teacher: His subject is fine German and Austrian wines, and his business, The Age of Riesling, is his metaphorical classroom.

The Age of Riesling isn't a typical wine store. Bill runs it from his North Berkeley home, storing the wine in a temperature-controlled warehouse until you order it. Typical store or not, you won't find a broader inventory of the best German and Austrian wines outside of those countries. I'm convinced that everyone who's passionate about these wines eventually finds their way to Bill, and once they do, wonders how they ever made it so far without knowing him. He carries wines from a variety of importers, but the bulk of his catalog comes from Terry Theise's portfolio.


Some of the Mosel wines Bill carries
Photo by Melissa Schneider.

The newsletters Bill sends out about the wines he's tasted that year are treasures, his prose painting portraits of the people and the regions alongside the lyrical descriptions of the wines. He's travelled to Germany almost every year since 1990, and Austria only slightly less, visiting producers and tasting the wines so he can decide which to carry that year. Melissa and I tagged along with him for a few visits while we were in the Mosel, and we noticed the warmth and affection he and the wine makers had for each other. These are his friends, his extended family, and the feeling is mutual.

"A String of Accidents"
Like most people in the wine industry, Bill found his way to the business through "a string of accidents." He started working at a wine store because school required a job with more regular hours than his carpentry work, and he became hooked. He eventually found his way to the now-defunct Pacific Wine Company and developed an interest in German wines that paralleled his love of German culture in general. In the early 90's, Bill's knowledge of these wines was unusual: "I didn't know a whole lot then, but it was more than anyone else." When the Pacific Wine Company closed, he decided to sell German wine directly to some of his former customers, and The Age of Riesling was born.

And now it's maturing into a different form. Bill has started importing a small number of wines from Austrian producers. "I've fallen hard for Austria: the culture, the beauty of the land, and the wine culture," he says of his decision to import these wines. He'll focus on lesser-known producers and regions. "I wouldn't do it unless I could do small estates," he explains. "You feel like you're dealing not just with someone who's hand making the wines, but making them in an individual way that expresses a family and a town and a culture." The first shipment should arrive in March, so keep an eye out. Since Bill is doing the importing himself, he hopes to offer some good values for customers.


Poetry and Wine
Photo by Melissa Schneider.

His Real Life
Bill is passionate about wine, but even more so about poetry. He considers poetry his real life, the one that The Age of Riesling supports. He started writing his own poems at the urging of a 10th-grade teacher, and he hasn't stopped since. He doesn't put a label to the type of poetry he writes, preferring to say that "poetry is meant to have content, and is meant to delight or move its readers. What it's done since the time of Gilgamesh." Melissa and I have been fortunate enough to hear him read his work—that even, resonant voice serves him well in readings—and we'd recommend you pick up one (or more!) of his books, which are available directly from him.

You can see why I chose The Age of Riesling for Tyler's Wine Blogging Wednesday theme: wine shops that feel the love. While The Age of Riesling doesn't have a storefront, it's a resource that anyone who loves these wines should know about. Check out the site, and drop Bill a note. Tell him I sent you.