Friday, June 29, 2007

iPhone Day

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Every now and then, I step out of the food groove here on OWF to write a personal message. Births are a good excuse, and this weekend must feel like one for a dear friend of ours, so it's reason enough.

For the last year or year and a half—maybe longer—our friend meriko has all but disappeared from her own life and the lives of her friends and loved ones. In that time period, she's had three dozen days off; that includes weekends and holidays. Her typical work day lasted about 15 hours; often they'd run longer. She's learned to get by with teensy-tiny amounts of sleep.

She doesn't work for a startup.

She was a key member of the team that brought you the most anticipated consumer electronics device on the planet. Few of the people who camped out at Apple Stores on Friday can imagine what she's been through. But we've had up-close seats since she joined the group. (As with everyone, including her husband, she could only say she was working on a secret project until January's MacWorld. Imagine working so hard and not being able to talk to anyone about it.) If you like your new iPhone, if you were impressed by that keynote, if you're amazed it shipped on time, thank meriko and her team for their sacrifices and dedication.

Congratulations, meriko, and welcome back. Melissa and I send hugs galore.

Now, go! Sleep! Take a day off, or maybe even two—in a row.

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Toast Guy Talks

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Taken with an Apple iPhone

The Internet Celebrity Fairy bops about the web, granting with a wave of her wand a flood of traffic, parodies and meme status. After a short time, she moves on to someone else, never to return, leaving a whiff of former Internet glory. No one checks in on Peter Pan, or the Numa Numa kid, or the two Chinese boys anymore, but they can always say, "I was that guy."

It figures that I'd be anonymous when the Fairy visited me.

At the end of April, a throng of Internet fans picked apart this picture of me, looking for any details they could find and discuss. Why? Because the metadata in the photo named the camera that took it: an Apple iPhone. As of today, that's no big deal. Six weeks ago, when a dedicated blogger hit pay dirt by searching for "Taken with an Apple iPhone", it was the centerpiece of frantic forum chatter.

Nothing teaches you to distrust Internet chatterboxes like reading their speculation on a subject of which you have intimate knowledge. Theories flew like birds. The photo was a fake. (Sorry, Gizmodo, you were wrong; but thanks for the "hair as silken as an Arabian stallion's mane" comment.) The photo was part of a viral marketing campaign. (Don't you think they would have staged a better photo?) The photographer was due for the chopping block. (Thankfully, no.) The person in the photo, "Toast Guy," was none other than Richard D. James. (Uh, no.) Toast Guy was the photographer. (I'm still trying to figure out the anatomy one would need for that.) Toast Guy didn't know how to spread jam. (Hey!) Toast Guy was a run-of-the-mill dork. (Hey! Whom are you calling run-of-the-mill?) Toast Guy had an awesome Legend of Zelda hoodie. (He does.)

And oddest of all: Toast Guy was a woman, and an ugly one to boot. I blinked the first time I saw it, but my gender was as much a topic as the photo's source. I've got a ponytail, but it's also clear I haven't shaved in a couple of days. Just a note for any who were confused: Men can grow their hair long, too.


Some forum poster made
a LOLDerrick!

I read it all silently and laughed at the wackiness. I learned that I gave a talk at WWDC on Dashboard a couple years back. (Why can't I figure out the problem with my widget, then?) I learned that I was married to the photographer (I swear, Melissa, we're just friends), who was clearly the woman in the other photograph (she's not). Some people pieced together the details, but by then the furor had died down, and either way I wasn't going to comment. A co-worker joked that he would make up all sorts of lies about me if I didn't tell him the truth; I challenged him to do worse than the other commenters.

The truth is so banal it was funny. A few units were given to team members for real-world testing. My friend had one of those units, and she was told to use it as her normal phone. She took a picture of me with it and uploaded it to Flickr, where it showed up on that search. I wish I could spin some exciting story of corporate intrigue, but I can't.

There is a moral, though: The ability to post on a forum about a secret topic does not make someone an expert. Quite the opposite, in many cases.

Do you want to know some iPhone secrets? Well, tell me if you know any, because I sure don't. Our friend couldn't show it off or demo the phone. She couldn't mention anything that wasn't mentioned in the keynote. She couldn't let us touch it or take a picture of it. It's exciting when you first learn that your friend has the world's coolest product about two months before anyone else, but when you can't really see it or play with it, you quickly move on to just hanging out with her and discussing what an ugly woman you make.

So I can always say, "I was that guy" (yes, a guy) but after today you'll find . . . Wait, Internet Celebrity Fairy! Come back! What if I make up something else? Wait!

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Heft A Hefeweizen In The Chronicle

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I love it when an editor assigns me a topic I don't know much about and asks me to research it. I like to learn, and that type of piece gives me an excuse to explore something outside my ken. A few weeks ago, if you had asked me about hefeweizen, I would have told you that I like it, and I might have remembered that it's made with wheat. After researching and writing a piece about it for today's Chronicle, I can distinguish between the different styles—turns out I prefer Germans—and display a degree of knowledge on the topic. My favorite in the last couple of weeks comes from Weihenstephan.

The word hefeweizen had some amusing side effects. First, the phonetic wordplay possibilities besieged my idle thoughts. Have, half, huff, wise, wizened, vise, ice. For a few days while I wrote the piece, my AIM status message said, "half of ice inn." I restrained myself in the final draft, but it was a tough battle.

Second, the word threw a hurdle in my writing path. I run Word's readability statistics two or three times near the end of my work on a draft. I'm not dogmatic about it, but I strive for nine or below—easy reading for high school grads—and I'm ecstatic when I get below eight. But you pay a high penalty in those calculations for higher numbers of syllables per word: You can guess what a page of hefeweizens does to the score. (The final text, which is all but the same as my final draft, scores an 8.9.)

But who cares about all that? Go read my piece and pop open a hefeweizen—or a hefeweissbier, or a witbier, or an American wheat beer—to sip in the summer heat. Just think how good one would taste as you wait in line for your iPhone.

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Wednesday, June 27, 2007

The Art of Decanting

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A few years back, I took a one-day CIA class named State of the Art Professional Wine Service. Not all the lessons stuck: To this day I have a 10 percent chance of pulling out a cork with an Ah-So opener and a 90 percent chance of shoving it into the wine. But I will never forget the moment when the teacher asked us to name three reasons for decanting wine. We called out the first two—separating old wine from sediment and letting young wine aerate—but the third eluded us. Finally, she said, "Because it's so beautiful."

That simple statement kicked off my small decanting fetish. I watch waiters and wine stewards do it at other tables, and I relish the chance to do it at home. I swirl young wines in our ship's captain decanter, peering through the garnet sheet that spreads along the bottom.

I had high hopes for Sandra Jordan's The Art of Decanting. How could I resist a whole book focused on my secret delight?

But don't bother with this fluffy book. Decanting occupies just a slice of the pages. Corks, corkscrews, glasses, bottles, wine appreciation, and more occupy the rest. Forget any depth with so many topics crowded into this slender volume. I confess that I hadn't heard the term monteith before, but that was all I gleaned from the book. (It's a large, shallow bowl for chilling wine glasses, often with scalloped edges to hold the stems.)

The book made more sense after I read Jordan's back flap bio. She designs "a high-end line of wine country-inspired lifestyle products for the home." Jordan's love for the wine world's accessories approaches fetishism. Photos of simple and complex examples of each object fill the book, demonstrating that wine, like any other hobby, has an infinite amount of gear to buy.

The pictures and presentation suggest a triumph of form over function, and the writing continues the theme. Hyperbole and overwrought prose swirl across the pages. Should they ever make an audiobook version, the publisher should recruit James Lipton to deliver the bombast the text requires. "The glass decanter is the bottle's best ally, for it receives the bottle's precious cargo and opens it to the edifying air." "The decanter stands upon the table; full now, its bounty expands, in scent and flavor, with the air." A deft hand could manage this florid text, but Jordan wings them at the reader in a constant flow, a blinding stream of gilded lilies.

I can forgive the light coverage and the ornate wording as a style choice, but I have no patience for her shoddy information. For a fetishist such as Jordan, screw caps and other new closures must seem crass, but she doesn't mention them in the cork chapter—even to dismiss them as lower life forms—despite their surge in the marketplace. She accepts without question the Riedel marketing speak about glass shapes tailored to each wine, even though controlled tests and two minutes of critical thought argue against the sales patter. (See my similar rant when the Chronicle ran a Riedel puff piece).

But worst of all: "Finally, the server will wish to smell the cork. Beware a moldy odor, Hugh Johnson cautions, which may indicate that the wine is 'corked' (or tainted by TCA, a combination of mold and other unsavory elements) and thus undrinkable. If all is well with the cork, however, then one can feel confident in moving on to the next delightful steps of wine service." Despite Jordan's attempt to bring in an expert, she misses the key word may. You can have a skanky cork atop a great wine and a musty drink when the cork is fine. The only way to know if a wine is corked is to smell it in the glass. "Sniffing the cork" is a common misconception, but Jordan's family is shoulder-deep in the wine industry; they should know better. (By the way, TCA is not "a combination of mold and other unsavory elements," but a specific molecule—2,4,6-trichloranisole—that often comes from mold. If the sentence was a victim of missing-serial-comma syndrome, then I retract this aside and replace it with a complaint about the lack of parallel structure in the list.)

The wine fetishist in your life may appreciate this glorified Wine Enthusiast catalog of accessories, but everyone else can skip it.

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Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Myself in Self

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Welcome to any new Self readers (Self-less ones, too) who wandered here after seeing my quote in the July 2007 issue. The magazine interviewed me, Amy, and Brett for tips about healthy eating.

A site whose most commented-on post covers making your own lard might not strike you as the most obvious place to look for health tips, but Melissa and I follow a number of "best practices." We don't eat processed food, we have a diverse diet, we eat slowly, and we drink wine often. My quote in the magazine says that if you give your body the time to appreciate your food, rather than just shoveling it in as if it's fuel, you give your system time to catch up and tell you it's full. Normal "healthy eating" reduces food to a grocery list of nutrients and calories that you can consume without thinking, and I think that's an unhealthy lifestyle.

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Friday, June 22, 2007

Alice Waters and Chez Panisse

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The food world divides into two camps about Alice Waters: those who see her as the patron saint of sustainable food and those who see her as an elitist hippie who gained fame by stealing the credit that others deserve. No one denies she's an icon.

She barely needs the appositive "founder of Chez Panisse" next to her name, but it's always there, like the implied "you" in an imperative. Waters almost closed the restaurant a few times over its three-decade life, but she has yet to give up on it. It's her passion and her platform. Chez Panisse wouldn't exist without her; nor would she, as a household name, exist without it.

Of course, you can make the case that Chez Panisse exists in spite of Waters' efforts. As you read Thomas McNamee's heavily researched and well-written Alice Waters and Chez Panisse, you'll keep seeing the same question: How did this restaurant survive? McNamee paints Waters as a woman with a flighty demeanor and a solid-steel will, like cotton candy hiding a metal pole. Mesh those two traits and you get a sieve that filters out profit. Waters had no business sense tucked into her arty exterior, and every attempt by others to control her spending slammed against that hard core of obstinance.

But McNamee points out that "impossible" isn't in her vocabulary. She inspires those around her to make it work. She knew that if the food was good—and the ensemble cast of interviewees all agree on Waters' pitch-perfect palate—it would all turn out somehow. And it did. McNamee plucks out a thread that runs through the Chez Panisse history: The perfect person always seemed to appear right when they were most needed.

One of those people was Jeremiah Tower, conspicuously absent as an interview subject in a sea of firsthand accounts—quotes from him all come from his book California Dish or ephemera. Tower and Waters adored each other at first, but like so many relationships, passion wasn't enough for the long haul, and the two now lock horns in a decades-old battle. Perhaps Tower first raised the common cry that Waters claimed his work for her own. He has certainly been the most vocal about his creation of "California cuisine." McNamee makes it clear that Waters isn't innocent of all the charges, though he refrains from passing judgment.

But just as Chez Panisse wouldn't exist without Waters, it would never have survived without Tower. His stunning menus, cooked early in the restaurant's career and bearing little resemblance to today's less elaborate dinners, pushed Chez Panisse into national reviews. Elaborate French feasts, rare ingredients, and an unwillingness to bow to diner comfort made for an unforgettable experience, or so I imagine.

Of course he was high as a kite most of the time. McNamee doesn't pussyfoot over the restaurant's famous drug-and-sexcapades—everyone sleeping with everyone, waiters stoned on the floor—but he doesn't feel the need to tee-hee over it for his reader's enjoyment. It was a fact of the restaurant; it was a fact of the time.

Other famous chefs came and went: Lindsey Shere, Mark Miller, Paul Bertolli, Deborah Madison, Steve Sullivan, Judy Rodgers. The list goes on and on, and McNamee interviews them all, along with the waiters, dishwashers, and friends of the restaurant he could find. Squabbles arose often, but every person who walked into Chez Panisse took away and spread Waters' gospel that the best ingredients are the freshest ingredients. The local and seasonal slant of Chez Panisse's menus grew out of that philosophy—it wasn't a fixture from the start—and so did Waters' activism.

Today, Waters is rarely in the restaurant. She devotes most of her time to speaking out about the deplorable state of school lunches and promoting sustainable agriculture. She has become a famous figure, no longer sporting the beret she wore for years but still recognizable. Slight, still a little scattered, but as passionate as ever. McNamee admires her drive to make the world a better place and respects her commitment to her ideals. She has not become a brand, like so many other famous chefs—no Las Vegas branch of Chez Panisse is planned—but that iron will transformed her restaurant from a quiet statement to a megaphone that all the country can hear.

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Wednesday, June 20, 2007

House Of Mondavi At Cody's 06/28

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My acquaintance Julia Flynn Siler has released her new book The House of Mondavi, an account of Napa's most famous—and perhaps most soap operaesque—family. She'll be speaking at Cody's on June 28th at 7:00pm, and you should go so you can buy a copy of the book and ask pointed questions. Here's Jon's preview of the book.

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The Subjectiveness of Smell

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Slate's Mike Steinberger continues his look at the physiology of tasting wine with a probing of the nose. There's some good information there, and it reinforces what I already tell my students: You are always right about what you smell and what you like.

Steinberger, quoting a researcher, mentions the classic "white wine" vs. "red wine" experiment in which a white wine with red dye results in red wine descriptions. He also alludes to the "label" experiment mentioned in Mindless Eating, in which the same wine with a Napa label gets more praise than when it sports a Montana label, though in this case he mentions "vin de table" versus "grand cru" as the variables. It makes you wonder about the lack of bias in those wine critics who claim to taste wines blind but in fact know the grape and region before they sip.

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Sunday, June 17, 2007

My Favorite Digital Thermometer

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I ran into Marc the other night, and we started talking about digital thermometers. He doesn't like his, and I burst with enthusiasm for mine. Since more of you may be curious about it, let me point you to the Thermapen. It has a wide range of temperatures, and its probe sits right at the point of the thin tip. I use it for everything from meat to ice cream to caramel.

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Friday, June 15, 2007

Brilliant McDonald's PR

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According to the Chicago Tribune, McDonald's will allow six moms to investigate restaurants in the chain, work in the restaurant, and then blog about their experiences and their discoveries.

Who are these moms? I'll bet McDonald's didn't choose top-notch investigative journalists. While pundits quoted in the article say the move could backfire, I think McDonald's has come up with a brilliant idea. Let these women ask "pointed" questions, and then spin them a comfortable answer that they'll post for all their readers to see.

McDonald's will give them tours of the hamburger plant and apple orchards. How very open and transparent of them. I didn't see anything in the article about tours of pork farms for the bacon, slaughterhouses, or shantytowns where slaughterhouse workers live. Will they get to sit in on the meetings where the attendees discuss ways to make advertisements that get children into the restaurant? Will they get to look at the company's financials? And do you think McDonald's will let these women visit the plants and apple farms unannounced?

When I started to blog, and even when I started to write professionally, I found it hard to resist marketing spin. There's a reason none of my clients consider a P.R. person or a marketing rep a valid source. "Your wine won a gold medal? That's great!" "Oh! Alcohol levels don't matter because you balance the wine? Interesting." "You make your wine in the vineyard? That sounds reasonable." Everyone seems so sincere. Several years into this, I'll nod politely and groan inside when I decide not to call them on this pap: If it's not relevant to my article, I don't care what lies they want to tell me, but if it's part of the piece I know enough to ask pointed questions. (Some of my favorites: "So you weren't making balanced wines with low alcohol? Oh, you were? So why up the alcohol?" "Do you think they go well with food?" "If you make wine in the vineyard, why don't you use natural yeast?")

Will the McMoms fall prey to this spin? Maybe not. But six moms with who-knows-what backgrounds against a corporate giant with a well-funded and adept marketing group? My money's on the Golden Arches.

via Chow, which asks good questions about how deep the nutritional analysis will be.

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Where Does Wine Lingo Come From?

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Mike Steinberger has an interesting piece at Slate about how the modern wine tasting note, the "cherry-and-berry" style to use his term, came about. I have struggled to make my tasting notes readable, both here and in print, but I grew up in the "list all the aromas" school, and that's a tough habit to break. The old-school masculine/feminine language isn't any better, as it lacks the ability to communicate with anyone except wine geeks. This is a common subject at the Wine Writers' Symposium, where Karen MacNeil pushes us to write interesting tasting notes.

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Thursday, June 14, 2007

Rice, Peas, and Squash Blossoms

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Photo by Melissa Schneider.

I don't often write a "what we ate last night" post. After all, others do it better. But Melissa decided to take this pretty picture of a weekend dinner I made, and I decided to share it.

We discovered Massa rice a few weeks ago and have used the new find with abandon. With some shelling peas and burgundy amaranth that we found at Saturday's market, we had a nice combination. But I couldn't resist the squash blossoms, which I stuffed with a mixture of goat cheese and crushed almonds before breading and frying the peppery, orange flowers.

Goat cheese with Sauvignon Blanc is a classic pairing, and that grape often has a flavor of green peas. How convenient that our friends gave us a Rochioli Sauvignon Blanc just two weeks before. Bright grassy flavors with a zingy lime zest component refreshed us as we ate.

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Tuesday, June 12, 2007

City Beer

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Hey, San Franciscans. Like beer? Then head down to The City Beer Shop on Folsom. I had never heard of it, but I stopped by to buy some bottles for an upcoming Chronicle article.

The young and knowledgeable owner, Craig, has packed his small space with a wealth of interesting bottles from all around the world. I had no problems finding most of the beer I was hunting, even though some of it is less common. A small bar and some small tables allow you to pull up a stool and taste one of the four or five beers on tap—I suppose you can buy beer and drink it there as well, though I don't know for sure.

I didn't get the full scoop—I was on my lunch break, and I had a mission—but he's only been around for a year. He's still under the radar for a lot of people. I bought my assignment bottles, and then bought four more for my personal inventory. But I was tempted to walk out with a dozen more.

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Sunday, June 10, 2007

Friend Wants Cocktail Help

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This is what I get for bragging about how smart my readers are. My friend Josh sent me the following email, asking for my help and yours.

I recently invented a simple cocktail called "The Rakish Cad." I will admit that I had come up with the name at least five years prior to successfully mastering the recipe. It is now ready to come out of development and be beta tested. Specifically, the drink needs a garnish. Any suggestions? If you are so inclined, please post this query on your wonderful blog. Perhaps OWF(&W) reader's can help out?
The Rakish Cad
Ingredients:
  • 3 oz. High end vodka
  • 1 oz. Moscato D'Asti
  • 1/3 oz. Elderflower syrup.
Directions
- Place all the ingredients in a cocktail shaker over ice, and give it a vigorous shake. Once properly chilled, serve up in a martini glass.

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Friday, June 08, 2007

Goat Milk Ice Cream

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In March, I wrote about some of the ice creams I had made, which prompted frequent and knowledgeable commenter Faustian Bargain to say, “You should try goat's milk ice cream with nothing to flavour it but luscious, fat vanilla beans. It will be a revelation, I assure you.”

I like Lãloo's commercial goat milk ice cream, and so FB's comment nestled into my head until I spied goat milk in the refrigerator at Rainbow Grocery.

I came home like a little boy with a snazzy toy. The Perfect Scoop doesn't have a goat milk ice cream, but On Food and Cooking notes that goat milk has the same fat and protein content as cow milk. Given that, I made a batch of my basic ice cream, replacing the whole milk with my new ingredient.

That first batch was delicious, rich with the flavor of cream and egg and vanilla. But it lacked the grassy tartness of the goat milk. My second batch, sporting 2 cups of goat milk and 1 cup of cream instead of equal amounts, gave me the exact flavor I wanted: a tangy finish and a grassy, barnyardy undercurrent. It was less creamy, obviously, so on the next round I might add a tiny bit of vodka to soften the final ice cream.

Technique: Goat Milk Ice Cream

  • 2 cups whole goat milk
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 vanilla bean
  • 2 egg yolks and 1 egg
  • good medium-sized pot
  • good thermometer
  • fine-mesh sieve
  1. Put goat milk and 1/2 cup sugar into pot. Split vanilla bean down the middle, scrape the seeds into the milk, and add the denuded pod. Stir well to combine. Make an ice bath, put the cream into a bowl, and set the bowl into the ice bath. Put the sieve over the bowl.
  2. Combine eggs and 1/4 cup sugar in a bowl, and whisk them until light and fluffy. Meanwhile, put the pot with milk, sugar, and vanilla over a medium flame.
  3. Heat the milk until it reaches 175°. Temper the egg mixture by pouring 1/2 cup of the hot milk into it, whisking constantly, and then add the eggs back to the pot, whisking as you do. Heat the custard until it reaches 185°, stirring constantly.
  4. Pour the custard through the sieve and into the bowl with the cream that's sitting in the ice bath. Stir the mixture until the base cools. Add the vanilla pod back into the custard (it will have been caught by the sieve), and cover the bowl with plastic wrap, pushing it down so that it touches the custard's surface.
  5. Refrigerate for 8 hours, and make ice cream according to your machine's instructions.

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Cheapest Possible Ice Cream Maker

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Can't afford a Glace-A-Tron 6000? Or a Cuisinart ice cream maker? Or the neato ice cream making balls that shuna mentioned?

How about two plastic baggies? kidsdomain.com gives a guide to making ice cream in plastic bags. Put ingredients in small baggie. Put ice and salt and small baggie into large baggie. Shake, shake, shake.

via boing boing

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Pairing Wine With Indian Food

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The Chronicle's wine section today offers a guide to pairing wine with Indian food.

If you ask about which wine to pair with Indian food, expect a one-word answer. Usually Gewurztraminer. Perhaps Riesling. Maybe Syrah.
An entire culture's cuisine to be paired with a single varietal? Ridiculous.
In fact, they suggest that Gewurztraminer isn't actually a good fit.

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Thursday, June 07, 2007

To Brine Or Not To Brine

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I used to be a fan of brining meat: immersing it into a salty liquid and letting osmosis carry the salt deep into the flesh. Cook's Illustrated has championed the technique for years—they may still—and that's where I first learned of it.

But I've debarked from the brining boat. Brining is useful because industrial producers have stripped the fat and flavor from their animals, breeding instead for lean meat and animals that handle stress better. Put the meat in salty water, however, and you add back flavor and moisture.

But you're not bringing out the natural flavor of the meat; you're adding an "artificial" taste of kosher salt and water. I first moved away from brining when I ordered heritage turkeys in 2002. Marian Burros's famous 2001 New York Times article, the one that brought these birds into the public light, mentioned that the heritage birds had an actual taste, and I thought of a scene in The Soul of a Chef where a cook gets a good piece of meat and says, in effect, "Why would I get rid of that flavor with a brine?" As I bought more quality meat, brining seemed like an unnecessary insult. Of course, Bay Area shoppers have the choice to buy this kind of meat. If I lived elsewhere, I might still brine the meat I could easily get.

As I moved away from brining, I noticed that brined meat was almost too juicy. Chicken, for instance, has a slippery, jelly-like consistency that doesn't feel quite right. Brined pork doesn't suffer from this, but you're still adding juice because commercial pork is too lean and doesn't contribute its own. I've heard cooks complain that the salty juices can't be used for a sauce, but I've never had this problem.

I do season my meat before I cook it. I rub salt on it 24 hours—ideally—in advance, a technique that I first saw in The Zuni Cafe Cookbook, but which I've since seen in other places. The "perfect roast chicken" mentioned a few issues ago in The Art of Eating uses this technique, and of course pre-salting is nothing more than a dry rub, something that grillers and barbecuers do right now.

Do you brine? Pre-salt? None of the above? I wonder if brining is still alive and well, or if it's beginning to die out.

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Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Heritage Cabernet, The Wine News, June/July 2007

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When my editors at The Wine News asked if I wanted to do a piece about heritage clones of Cabernet Sauvignon, I agreed and then thought, "I wonder what that means." After conversations with UC Davis, Silverado Vineyards, Rubicon, and Mondavi, I learned all about these particular vines—the only heritage Cabernet Sauvignon—that formed a crucial part of Napa Valley's history. UC Davis has transformed them into virus-free clones. Interesting stuff, which you can learn about in the June/July issue.

I haven't received my subscription copy yet, but it may be in stores. The issue focuses on California, as do most of the wine glossies this time of year, when the Napa Valley Auction sits on the horizon and all the publishers make their way to Meadowood. Articles about Monte Rosso, Paso Robles, and Spring Mountain also appear in the issue.

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The New York Times On Dinner Parties

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The New York Times has a close-to-home article about foodie dinner parties. Modern hosts worry about serving the best food, finding the most local ingredients, using the best china, hand making everything, receiving judgment about their food, and so forth. (I love the line, "his and her subscriptions to The Art of Eating;" I imagine Ed will also laugh to see his quarterly love letter to the traditional food of the world—often the product of rural frugality—cast as a must-have bourgeois accessory, though the demographic is probably accurate.)

Too bad the author could only find hosts who care more about the impression they make than the joy of friendship; these people sound dreary. Our dinner parties sit far to the right on the bell curve, but I don't cook the way I do to impress people: I cook the way I do because I enjoy it, and I want to do something special for our friends. I get to try out dishes I probably wouldn't do for Melissa and me. I buy special ingredients or hand make them because they taste better, not because I want to pass muster with my guests. We like chatting with our friends over good food and wine, and where better to do so than the comfort of our own home?

I stress about dinner parties, but only because I want the food to taste good, not because I'm worried that my friends will think less of me if something isn't perfect. I could probably name a dozen things I wasn't happy about for Clotilde's dinner party—from subtle flavor quibbles to components that never made it out of the kitchen—but I don't imagine that any of the guests went home thinking, "Well, too bad that didn't work out." Of course, as I've said before, the real secret is to not tell your dinner guests what went wrong. If you're not going to fess up, why stress?

Is the article sketching a difference between New Yorkers and Bay Areans? Or just me and other foodies? How do you feel when you host a dinner party? Are you out to impress? I'd love to hear what you think of the article.

One last thing: I agreed with the idea that foodies who throw fancy dinner parties don't get many invitations in return. Our friends are often intimidated to have us over. But, really, you could order Domino's and beer and we'd be happy guests; the point is to hang out and enjoy each other's company.

via Ethicurean, whose digest writer and husband were actually at Clotilde's dinner, where I did in fact serve home-cured olives.

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Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Random Web Links

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You've heard of alternative closures for bottles? Today's Fart Party comic offers alternative openers.

My co-worker Young sent me a link to these French Wine 101 PDFs. They offer very basic information about key French regions.

People assume that we eat fancy meals every night, but we don't. I'm usually not even hungry come dinnertime; lack of appetite is a standard feature of computer programmers. The people who do trot out a drool-worthy meal every night are our friends Jen and Mike, and she chronicles those dishes at Last Night's Dinner

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Monday, June 04, 2007

Casual Dinner Party

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Photo by Melissa Schneider.

After an eight-month entertaining hiatus, we've gone crazy. A mere week after Clotilde's visit pushed us, blinking after a long slumber, into the sunlight of dinner parties, we had a second feast. We cautioned our friends that it was a casual night: appetizer, opener, main, cheese, and dessert. We even encouraged them to bring wine to share; they went overboard with generosity.

Five courses may not sound like a casual night, but it's easy. Buy the charcuterie for the appetizer platter, serve the cheese on a cheese board, and make a lot of the food in advance.

The Food
Appetizer: Fatted Calf mortadella and rabbit rillettes, olives, fried lemon slices, and duck ham.
The homemade duck ham and olives were already in the refrigerator, so all I had to do to finish was fry the thin lemon slices, which I dredged in flour and buttermilk to emulate a Zuni favorite.

Opener: Greens with pitted cherries, red wine vinaigrette, salt-roasted almonds, and warm goat cheese
This salad derailed me a bit; it took a while to get it out to the table, despite my well-prepared list of to-do items. I would have let everyone serve themselves from a big bowl, but the small rounds of warm goat cheese forced me to plate in the kitchen.

Main: Duck confit with asparagus, roasted potatoes, and roasted onions.
"Duck confit is the ultimate fast food," says Jeremiah Tower in Jeremiah Tower Cooks. Once it's made, you need only reheat it after you pull it from the fat.

Cheese: Beemster, Brie, Gabietou
When we got to the front of the line at the Cheese Board, I said to the cheesemonger, "What are you interested in right now?" I never would have thought to pick a Brie, but he reminded me how good they can be. Ours was from Le Chatelain, whom I normally think of as a Camembert producer. The Beemster is a Dutch cheese with the color of Mimolette, the grittiness of Parmiggiano, and the consistency of Cheddar. The Gabietou was a flavorful Spanish cheese made from a mix of sheep and cow milks.

Dessert: Hot fudge sundaes, with chocolate chip and roasted banana ice creams.
Melissa suggested ice cream, and I extrapolated to hot fudge sundaes. The hot fudge sauce in The Perfect Scoop rocks. I also like David's idea to use stracciatella, an Italian technique where you get "chips" by drizzling melted chocolate in a thin stream into the ice cream as the machine finishes churning it. No more handmade chocolate chips for me.

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Saturday, June 02, 2007

Play Games, Order Another Round Of Drinks

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Two of the most convivial activities are eating and playing games, so why not combine them? The current issue of GAMES Magazine has an article about two restaurants that mix playing and plating. Both focus on electronic games, not good board games.

The first part of the article focuses on Nolan Bushnell—inventor of Pong and the founder of both Atari and Chuck E. Cheese's—and his new uWink chain of restaurants. Tables and bar seats have terminals where customers order food and play games as teams. Bushnell wants to franchise the model and envisions nationwide tournaments.

The second half covers the blue turtle, which sounds like it has more advanced electronic games. The restaurant is run by the for-profit arm of the not-for-profit Mystic Aquarium, and the proceeds go to the aquarium's education and research programs.

The article doesn't offer restaurant reviews, but I'm suspicious of a chain from the guy who brought us Chuck E. Cheese's. The plate of food from the blue turtle looks at least a step above bar food: The dish looks like it has grilled salmon, blanched veggies, and home fries.

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