Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Risotto on SFist

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Photo by Melissa Schneider.
When Melissa and I first started dating, risotto was my main dish. I still make it often, and I decided to write a risotto tutorial for SFist this week. Let me know what you think.

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Friday, November 24, 2006

Talking Tryptophan

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A mini-rant from my inner culinary curmudgeon. Think you felt drowsy yesterday because of all the tryptophan in your turkey? Well, you're wrong. Tryptophan only causes heavy eyelids when you eat a huge amount on an empty stomach.

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Chronicle Wine Gift Guide

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Need a holiday host present or stocking stuffer for the wine lover in your life? The Chronicle has posted a sprawling gift guide to aid your buying decisions. Books, glassware, and, of course, wine all have separate sections.

It won't take long to figure out my favorite item in the guide: my byline as one of the contributors.

Photo by John Lee of the San Francisco Chronicle

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Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Next Year, Kill Your Own Turkey

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Melissa's friend Novella has a nice piece at Salon.com about killing the turkeys she raised at her Berkeley home last year. I believe that everyone who makes the choice to eat meat should, at least once, do the slaughter himself or herself to understand that choice at a deep level. On the other hand, I doubt that our neighbors would appreciate a chicken farm in our living room. But once we have a yard, I want to raise rabbits or chickens.

Yawn

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"Why are you tired," asked a co-worker as I stumbled into a meeting.

"I was up every two hours last night." (Plus, I was up late.)

"Why?"

"I was rendering lard for our Thanksgiving pies and I had to keep an eye on it."

A short pause, and then a burst of surprised laughter.

Well, it made sense at the time.

WTN: 2005 Standing Stone Vineyards Riesling, Finger Lakes, New York State

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I have a back-burner plan to tour New York's Finger Lakes region. I want to visit the closest thing I have to a holy place, and I want to taste an abundance of what many critics consider America's best Riesling.

The state's deep lakes, scratched into the planet's surface with glacial claws, moderate the temperature on the hilly shores, warming the air in the winter and cooling it in the spring, delaying bud break until the danger of frost has passed. It's the kind of almost-too-north climate where Riesling shines.

But good luck finding these wines in the Bay Area. Our wine stores overfloweth—until you want to purchase a wine from a state that doesn't border the Pacific Ocean. Even two of those pose a challenge. So mad props to the Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant for including a Finger Lakes Riesling in a recent wine club shipment.

Tom & Marti Macinski bought their historic vineyards and started Standing Stone Vineyards in 1991, pursuing a dream to produce great wine in this up-and-coming region. Their 2005 Riesling evokes an alpine meadow, with evergreen, flowers, and a splash of petrol minerality. It's not a complex wine, but its bracing acidity and medium-long finish make for a nice dry Riesling. It would go well with white fish dressed in a creamy sauce or mild charcuterie.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Web Reads

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Run, Forest Glen, Run!
They call the Marathon du Médoc, through the vineyards of Bordeaux, the longest marathon in the world. But no one comments on the difficulty of finishing a full marathon where you drink wine at the rest stops. Maybe that's because red wine builds stamina, according to this New York Times article. Sure the findings look tentative, but when it comes to wine, I'm willing to take my chances and drink more.

Thanks, Jeff

Mixology Monday 9
Our friend Dietsch has posted the round-up for the latest edition of Mixology Monday, a cocktail-themed blogging event that brings out everyone's inner bartender. How civilized. IMBB may be a thing of the past, but its descendants continue to thrive.

What Am I Pouring in Class, Part 2
Catherine posted her notes on the wines I poured at the second meeting of my wines of Germany course. I focused on the Nahe, Rheinhessen, and Pfalz, with some extra wines thrown in for comparison purposes. I got my students closer to a coveted membership in the Wine Century Club by pouring Scheurebe, and we found a good German Pinot Noir.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Grammar for Foodies

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I don't have the energy to participate in the they're/their, your/you're, and it's/its battles. I have resigned myself to flinching at the homophonic hiccups that pepper everyone's text, flying under the radar of spell checkers and the quick scan that everyone no doubt does before they press Publish.

But I will sound the trumpet for one small grammatical campaign. A campaign that every food writer can fight. We can make a difference. Where do you shop for produce? At a farmers' market.

Not at a farmer's market. And certainly not at a farmers market, unless you're shopping for personal growers. [UPDATE: Tana points out that the AP style guide says "farmers market," so maybe I'll just campaign against farmers' vs. farmer's. Though I don't understand the "farmers market" usage.]

I, too, have shopped at a farmer's market, choosing common usage over common sense. I understand the urge to succumb to the mass's will. But don't be deceived by the single market; multiple growers sell at a farmers' market. You could visit a farmer's roadside stand, and I imagine the one-stall market we saw in Robion could be a farmer's market. But these are exceptions.

I've made my decision: I hereby swear to you to drop farmer's market from my prose. Who's with me?

Sorry for the repeat, OWEE readers.

Chestnuts Roasting on SFist

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Chestnuts have started to show up at local farmers' markets, and I decided to write about them for my latest SFist column.

Clark Smith's Blog

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Most wine lovers don't know Clark Smith's name, but he probably helped influence a California wine you enjoyed recently (not to mention a host of others). He runs a company called Vinovation, which I talk about in-depth in the upcoming issue of The Art of Eating.

Vinovation provides a lot of services, but the most famous is de-alcoholization through reverse osmosis. Whether you agree with this practice or not, Clark's exploring interesting realms of wine science at his company, and I won't be surprised if his work overturns the curriculum of enology schools around the world.

I recently discovered that he has a blog named GrapeCrafter, with ongoing conversations about wine science. I guarantee you'll find thought-provoking material on his site, which averages an update a week.

Monday, November 13, 2006

WTN: 1998 Nigl Senftenberger Piri "Privat" Grüner Veltliner, Kremstal, Osterreich

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My students and I talked about older Grüner Veltliner when I poured some 2002 and 2003 bottles from Austria's Kremstal and Kamptal regions, the result of a close-out sale at K & L Wines. I have always assumed that GrüVe, as the in-crowd calls it, does not age well, but the reader for my class includes articles from David Schildknecht and Terry Theise wherein they assert the opposite: "If it's under ten years old, it's young," says Terry. The "old" wines I poured two weeks ago had trace elements of the characteristics I associate with aged whites: a certain mellowness; more complex, hard-to-define aromas; a cohesive quality.

But our in-house storage rack is not ideal—nor even all that good—and I worried that the 1998 Grüner Veltliner I pulled from the curved slots would be far along the road to sherryville. As I extracted the dark green bottle, I muttered to myself that I should have moved it long ago to our cellar. The bottle is from Martin Nigl, one of the best producers in the Kremstal if not all of Austria, and its grapes were grown in the Senftenberger Piri vineyard, a terraced bank of urgestein, the local name for a number of primary soil types such as granite and basalt. The bottle deserves better than the temperature fluctuations in our closet.

So you can imagine my sigh of relief as I sniffed the sunshine-yellow wine and found, not excessive oxidation, but a fascinating blend of funky earth, spice, nuttiness, and that rain-washed-mineral character often described as petrol. Flowers, spices, and minerality flavor the wine and its long finish. This wine convinced me that a good GrüVe can sit in a cellar for a long time, though I still wouldn't recommend a setup like ours, where the rack backs onto a wall whose other side sports a radiator. I can only imagine the complex flavors this wine would develop in a decades-long rest under its cocoon of searing acidity. I enjoyed the wine with takeout Vietnamese food from a nearby favorite.

An amusing side note: When I googled this wine, I found myself.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Big Kitchens in Small Packages

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The PR folks at This Old House sent me a note about this photo gallery of decked-out small kitchens. I always like to look at kitchens—on the theory that one day I'll get to remodel my own—and this little gallery offers 13 looks at diminutive kitchens that use space efficiently.

Farm-Raised Wild Boar

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Jack impelled me to catch up with my Bloglines backlog and read this detailed Frank Bruni post about the "wild" items you find on a restaurant menu. Guess what? They're not.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

WTN: 2001 Zlati Grich Estate Laszki Rizling Ice Wine, Slovenia

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Ice wine is something that shouldn't exist. The description alone—wine made from the juice of frozen grapes—suggests a topsy-turvy world.

Look at the pictures. Pickers tromp through snowy vineyards at dawn in late December. They are swaddled in a closet's worth of clothes, not only to keep themselves warm but to keep the grapes cold. In Germany, pickers must bring in the grapes for ice wine before the temperature climbs above -7°C (19°F). This is not a job for the Polish contract workers who work the normal harvest, but for friends and family who view the snow-covered grapes as a miracle bestowed by the wave of an ice fairy's wand.

Peer into a glass of ice wine, and you understand a truth about humanity: We will not be swayed from the path of madness. This liquid peek into our own soul motivated Kitchen Chick to choose ice wines as a theme for this edition of Wine Blogging Wednesday, the monthly virtual tasting group.

Germany's frigid temperatures and high-acid Riesling grapes make the country the king of the world's ice wine regions, but a court of knights and dukes eye the throne: Austria, Germany's southern neighbor and cultural mirror; Canada, unusual for its predictable annual ice wine harvest; Washington, the some time home of stunning ice wines; Slovenia.

Wait. Slovenia? Yes, Slovenia. The Eastern European nation now shares a border with Austria's Styria region, but it used to be part of the sprawling Austrio-Hungarian Empire before it became part of Yugoslavia and then split off to its own destiny. Inevitably Germanic wine making habits sifted through the former Habsburg holdings.

But not German grapes. Noble Riesling doesn't fare well this far south, so Slovenia has filled its vineyards with Laszki Rizling, which is the same grape as Austria's Wälshriesling. No matter the guise it wears, this rustic grape shares little more than phonetics with the more famous variety.

But it can produce a decent ice wine in its own right, as demonstrated by Zlati Gric's slender half-bottle. Germany need not worry about a new dawn of Slovenian Laski Rizling ice wine domination, but this bottle is, at $50 from Blue Danube, one-fourth the cost of an elegant German example. I wouldn't call it complex—the straightforward aroma encompasses resin, minerals and oats, while the mellow acidity serves as a soft backdrop to a flavor that starts as menthol and ends on quiet apple notes. But I would say it's a good way to explore ice wine's compelling mix of sugar and acidity without mortgaging your home, and I'd happily drink it alongside an apple galette.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

My Class: First Session

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What wines am I pouring in my Berkeley Extension class? The general answer is: Anything I can while trying to stay within the meager budget I get. This has involved a fair amount of begging for discounts and working contacts, but I think it's been worth it.

But if you're looking for specifics, wander over to Catherine's site for a list of wines from the first class. I don't get to write tasting notes, of course, because I'm up in the front jabbering away. So I'm glad to see her notes.

That first class I felt nervous and unprepared, but I'm more comfortable with the class now, and the pacing is—I think—much improved.

Well Beyond Cherries and Violets

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I find the average wine tasting note to be boring, and I constantly strive to write better descriptions. David Schildknecht has served as my model until now, but I'm tempted to try my nose at erotic wine tasting, like Ray in this Achewood comic strip.

Mildly risque—perhaps crude is a better word—if such things bother you.

Thanks to Phil for the link

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Book Review: Mindless Eating

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A common joke has an overweight woman stepping up to a fast food restaurant's counter and saying, "I'll have a bacon double cheeseburger, large fries, and a Diet Coke."

We have a complex relationship with food and weight issues. Millions of years of evolution have not adjusted to the abundance of food we now enjoy, and our bodies still respond to food at an unconscious level, causing us to overeat. Marketers study these biological buttons and push them to sell more product—a reality that clouds the free-market/libertarian notion that consumers should take responsibility for their overeating instead of pushing for corporate ethics or government controls on how companies can advertise.

You can probably guess some of the deeply rooted motives that food companies exploit. We're more suggestible when we're hungry. We eat more when food is close to hand. We eat more when we're in a group of overeaters. We enjoy food more when it's presented nicely.

But Brian Wansink's recent book Mindless Eating will stun you with its detailed looks at our urge to overeat. The book draws from his extensive research at Cornell's Food and Brand Lab, where scientists study eating patterns and find surprising results that Wansink narrates in a straightforward tone. Put the word "soy" on a label, and people will like it less than the identical product without the word, even when there's no actual soy in the ingredient list. A wine with a California label gets more praise, and generates more positive feelings about the meal in general, than the same wine with a North Dakota label. Add adjectives to food names—from "succulent" to "free-range"—and diners will prefer the menu, even when it's the same food as the ungarnished text. Serve five-day-old popcorn to two groups, and those with the larger containers will eat more of it as they watch the movie. And like the weight-conscious diner in the "Diet Coke" joke, Subway customers eat more calories than they think because the lean sandwich advertised by the chain provides a "health halo" that blesses the mayonnaise, cheese, and fattier meats a customer adds. Every section is a revelation about the subtle cues that affect our attitudes about the food we eat.

Think knowledge is power? Not in this case. Even if you read the book, your body's subconscious will trap you. Wansink spent a day drilling students with the knowledge that larger containers will cause you to eat more, only to have the students fall for that exact trap a few weeks later. Of course, this is good news for marketers, who leverage these unconscious reactions to sell more product.

But here's the saving grace: You can use the same tricks to help you eat better. At the end of each chapter, Wansink suggests strategies for altering your food landscape in a way that will steer your unconscious to healthier eating. If you have a candy bowl on your desk, move it far enough away that you have to break out of your task to visit it. Buy smaller containers of food, or break a large container into smaller ones, because a serving size is whatever sits in front of you. Improve your dinner parties dramatically by setting the mood, and describing each dish with some extra adjectives. (Which makes you wonder: Do Chez Panisse and its kin make extraordinary food, or does your mind look at the nice setting and per-ingredient provenance and add its own spice?)

The book is sort of a diet book, though not a traditional one. Wansink urges readers to lose weight by eating 100-200 fewer calories a day. He calls this range the "mindless margin," because your body doesn't notice the slight dip in intake, unlike deprivation diets where you starve yourself for short-term weight loss. The standard strategy just makes you crave the foods you gave up, so it's no surprise that 95% of the time, you regain the weight you lost. Or, as Wansink puts it, "The best diet is the one you don't know you're on."

Wansink's weight loss plan will get you back into those tight jeans, but not for next month's party. His diet will only shave 10-20 pounds per year, and it's hard to know how our society's love of instant gratification will mesh with this long-range plan. Former New York Times restaurant critic Mimi Sheraton carved off a ton of weight, but publishers lost interest in her story when they learned it took three years of hard work.

It is a testament to the revelations in this book that I wanted more. I wanted tables that would give me a look at the raw data so that I could make my own judgments. And some concepts get relegated to the endnotes. He mentions a scientific basis for Thomas Keller's "two-bite philosophy" but doesn't elaborate. He says we make 200 food decisions a day, but doesn't provide the background for how he came up with that number.

Paradoxically, perhaps, I noticed the book dragged as Wansink described studies that seemed like subtle variations on points he had already established. When I started the book, I read it at every opportunity; towards the end I kept checking to see how much text was left.

I feel like Wansink gave a pass to companies for their marketing practices, no doubt because they help fund his research. To my mind, there is such a thing as corporate responsibility, but Wansink has no problem with allowing companies to use our brain chemistry for their profit. At least he's willing to teach us how to undo the damage those strategies create.

This book was sent to me as a review copy.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Cuisine Cookbooks Sought

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My cookbook library is well-stocked, should I wish to make any Western European or American dishes. But I often find myself scratching my head while hunting down Chinese, Japanese, and Indian recipes, not to mention a host of other national cuisines.

I want to pick up some basic books for various cuisines, but I'm at a loss. Thankfully, I know of a whole host of food lovers who are passionate and well-informed: you. I'd like your recommendations. If you read my list of technique books, you can get a sense of the type of book I like: technique over dogmatic recipes, a book that treats me as a curious student and not an automaton.

Any cuisine is fair game, but I most often notice my library lacunae when I look for Asian (including Indian) dishes or Central and South American recipes.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Radio Interview With Ed Behr

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Through a convoluted series of events, I found this recent radio interview with my writing idol, Ed Behr. My food blogging friends worship chefs, I worship the publisher of The Art of Eating, the world's best food and wine magazine (an attitude I held long before I started writing for it). The Restaurant Guys start their interview with Ed about 15 minutes into the program (and occasionally interrupt him with ads, so stay with it). Ed discusses the history of his magazine, small producers and their personalities, farming trends, molecular gastronomy, and various specific articles that have appeared over the years (with a big segment on Nicolas Joly and biodynamics).

I note that a couple weeks later the Restaurant Guys interviewed Rowan Jacobsen, now the managing editor of AoE and another writer I admire, but that show doesn't seem to be up yet. (The show has had a number of interesting guests, and I might pull down some other interviews, which are available as a podcast.)

The Chemistry Geek's Guide to Salting Popcorn

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Theodore Gray revels in borderline catastrophic chemical reactions, at least when he's not building a wooden Periodic Table Table that has compartments filled with pure samples of each element (where possible). His latest sodium-fueled stunt? Salting popcorn by bubbling chlorine gas through liquid sodium. The smoke is pure, fresh table salt, but this is hardcore lab work, not like the relatively banal liquid-nitrogen ice cream.

I'm waiting for El Bulli or Alinea to replicate this as the molecular gastronomy equivalent to Cherries Jubilee.

via Ed

OWF News: Book Reviews

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Regular readers have no doubt noticed the increased number of book reviews, a trend which is likely to continue. To make it easy to find past reviews, I've added a "Book Reviews" pop-up on the right, just under the "Favorite Posts" pop-up.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Bye, bye Fishies

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You know how everyone says the seafood industry will collapse if we keep overfishing? It always seems hard to believe, because you can still find fish, right? Not after 2048, according to a report in Science that CNN summarized in a recent article. Scientists looked at a number of ecosystems, and the portrait is grim.

The seafood industry has adopted a predictable stance, arguing that seafood populations fluctuate in natural ways. Objective observer or financial interest? Who to believe?

Spotted on eGullet

Harold McGee's Blog

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A great moment for cooking geeks everywhere. Harold McGee has a blog. His On Food and Cooking is one of the few books that I believe should be on every cook's shelf, so I'll be adding this one to my RSS reader.

Thanks to Tana for mentioning it on her site.