Salad Days

I am playing catch-up ball with this post, as I neglected to report on the last box. Although this missive will cover two boxes, the theme can be summed up in one word: raw. Summer’s bloody heat has arrived in full force, bringing along its hair-destroying playmate humidity, and seriously curbing my desire to stand over a hot stove. Therefore: salads. Leafy, slaw-y, shaved, chunky, elaborately swathed or simply dressed, because it’s just too damn hot for much else.

I first heard the term “salad days” in a Minor Threat song in the mid-80s (old lady alert!) and thought the connection of leafy greens with youthful exuberance was sooo clever. Several years later I found out that Shakespeare thought so, too, four centuries earlier. Thank you, American public educational system.

The Bard coined the phrase in Antony and Cleopatra, in a speech where Cleo  expresses her regret over hooking up with Julius Caesar:

…My salad days, / When I was green in judgment, cold in blood…

I’m not really one for literary criticism, but I am one for snark. The funniest explication I have seen of this phrase comes from Fowler’s Modern English Usage:

Whether the point is that youth, like salad, is raw, or that salad is highly flavoured and youth loves high flavours, or that innocent herbs are youth’s food as milk is babes’ and meat is men’s, few of those who use the phrase could perhaps tell us; if so, it is fitter for parrots’ than for human speech.

Oh, man: I love Fowler. My personal copy comes from the 1937 reprinting of the 1926 first edition. If you love words, or if you love cranky British invective, track down a copy of Fowler. You will howl with laughter at his acerbic dicta. Take, for example, his gospel on the split infinitive:

The English-speaking world may be divided into (1) those who neither know nor care what a split infinitive is; (2) those who do not know, but care very much; (3) those who know and condemn; (4) those who know and approve; and (5) those who know and distinguish. … Those who neither know nor care are the vast majority, and are a happy folk, to be envied by the minority classes.

Enough about words. Let’s talk about food.

The boxes:

Cucumbers, beets, lettuce, carrots, kale, celery, mint.

Cucumbers, beets, lettuce, carrots, kale, celery, summer savory, mint.

Strawberries, squash, basil, kohlrabi, radishes, kale, garlic scapes.

Strawberries, squash, basil, kohlrabi, radishes, kale, garlic scapes.

 

And here’s what I did:

Due to the super-garlicky dressing on this slaw (owing to the garlic scapes in the aioli), I apologize to everyone to whom I gave this. I should have included breath mints. Yikes.

Kohlrabi slaw with garlic scape aioli and smoked turkey.

Kohlrabi slaw with garlic scape aioli and smoked turkey.

I spied fresh favas at the farmers market, so I sold one of my own kidneys (favas are expensive!) and bought a pound of pods, which yielded approximately 17 fava beans to blanch and peel. I braised them with tomato and garlic and served them over my box lettuce and a piece of salmon. Happily, no one showed up with a liver and a nice Chianti.

Seared salmon with braised tomatoes and fava beans over leaf lettuce.

Seared salmon with braised tomatoes and fava beans over leaf lettuce.

I nicked the recipe for the chickpea and lentil salad directly from Smitten Kitchen, who nicked it from the profoundly delightful April Bloomfield. I added the kale and cukes from the box to freshen it even more.

Chickpea and lentil salad with kale, cucumbers, feta, and toasted pepitas.

Chickpea and lentil salad with kale, cucumbers, feta, and toasted pepitas.

Similarly, I followed pickling genius Cathy Barrow’s recipes for giardiniera pretty faithfully, adding farmers market cauliflower and peppers to the carrots and celery in the box. I made three hefty jars of this and I’m not sharing. #sorrynotsorry

Giardiniera.

Giardiniera.

Roasted beets and cucumber jumbled with mango, basil, and mint in a salad that curiously—and possibly disturbingly—resembles rainbow sherbet.

Roasted beet salad with mango, cucumber, goat cheese, macadamia nuts and a mint-basil dressing.

Roasted beet salad with mango, cucumber, goat cheese, macadamia nuts and a mint-basil dressing.

These bizarre breakfast sandwiches resulted from an experiment with 9-grain bread. Although not an epic fail, the bread needs more work for this application. The bacon jam and summer savory omelet were pretty good though.

9-grain buns with bacon jam, brie, and summer savory omelet.

9-grain buns with bacon jam, brie, and summer savory omelet.

I did turn on the stove to roast some of the beautiful baby carrots. I am quite batty for a slow roasted carrot, especially if that carrot is bathed in beef fat and sprinkled with flaky salt, as these carrots were. Ate ’em with my fingers, like candy.

Carrots roasted in beef fat.

Carrots roasted in beef fat.

The strawberries became a lovely, albeit wee, birthday tart.

Strawberry tart.

Strawberry tart.

Not shown: some squash tacos and my summer post-workout staple dinner of sauteed kale topped with fried eggs and an inadvisable amount of jalapeno peppers.

And finally, because all of this fantastically healthy food can only do so much for the sake of one’s soul. I offer you a ridiculously decadent, quite hideous chocolate cake, with not one redeeming nutritional quality.

Chocolate malt, peanut butter, and marshmallow cake.

Chocolate malt, peanut butter, and marshmallow cake.

******************************************************************************

Since my last post and its rather embarrassing meditation on my own lack of achievement (although: For the Love of Spock is available for pre-order now on iTunes; you simply MUST add this film to your collection), I have managed to achieve even less (woohoo: consistency!) and admire excellence even more. During a business trip in Denver, I saw kd lang, Neko Case, and Laura Viers in concert at the truly paradisaical Denver Botanical Gardens. While all three were fantastic, kd lang slayed the crowd with her cover of Neil Young’s Helpless. I’m not really a Neil Young fan (ducks to avoid being hit in the head with rotten fruit), but DAMN: this is a powerful song, rendered even more mind-blowing by the medieval cathedral-quality pipes on kd.

Cogitate on this a bit. You can thank me later.

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Christmas in June

Full disclosure: this ish is lengthy. If you’re interested in the food, redirect your browser after the kimchi. If you are interested in the frantic musings of an intellectually-starved middle-aged lady, God bless your bravery. You may want to consider some professional help.

Presents come in boxes; gifts require a different delivery mechanism. This week, I received both.

The latest vegetable box burst riotously with green and red, a summery head-nod to Yuletide presents. Here’s what I unwrapped:

Green & red: Christmas in June! Fennel, rhubarb, cilantro, scallions, radishes, red Russian kale, arugula, Napa cabbage.

Green & red: Christmas in June! Fennel, rhubarb, cilantro, scallions, radishes, red Russian kale, arugula, Napa cabbage.

And here’s what I did:

I roasted the fennel with plum tomatoes to make a very tasty soup, finished with a pesto made from the fennel fronds, garlic, almonds, parsley, olive oil, and salt and pepper. I think this pesto will also be great with fish (it’s cheeseless), white wine steamed mussels, or a riff on bouillabaisse.

Roasted fennel and tomato soup with fennel frond pesto.

Roasted fennel and tomato soup with fennel frond pesto.

The arugula also went into pesto. I slathered it on a sourdough focaccia with tomatoes and olives.

Focaccia with arugula pesto and other stuff.

Focaccia with arugula pesto and other stuff.

The rhubarb—I am always shocked at how many closet rhubarb fans are out there—joined another huge haul of rhubarb (thank you, Dave Morin!) and emerged as both rhubarb-strawberry sorbet and a batch of truly unattractive rhubarb pop tarts.

Rhubarb-strawberry sorbet.

Rhubarb-strawberry sorbet.

Perhaps the ugliest rhubarb pop tarts on record.

Perhaps the ugliest rhubarb pop tarts on record.

The cilantro garnished a loose interpretation of a Vietnamese cold rice noodle salad.

Cold rice noodle salad with pickled vegetables, chicken, peanuts, lime, and herbs.

Cold rice noodle salad with pickled vegetables, chicken, peanuts, lime, and herbs.

And the kale got friendly with some chorizo, potatoes, and eggs for a set of hearty breakfast burritos. I forgot to photograph the burritos, but my friends at the gym happily covered my butt by providing mid-bite burrito shots. Thank you, Dacia and Tonya!

Breakfast burrito with potatoes, kale, chorizo, eggs and cheese.

Breakfast burrito with potatoes, kale, chorizo, eggs and cheese.

The radishes I pickled and the cabbage became a tiny jar of kimchi. Briny, funky food in jars #FTW.

Kimchi & pickled radishes.

Kimchi & pickled radishes.

Which brings me to gifts. This week I had the incredible opportunity, thanks to the insane kindness and generosity of my friend Morgan, to attend the Boston screening of “For the Love of Spock,” a new film by Adam Nimoy exploring both the life of Leonard Nimoy and his iconic role of Mr. Spock. Both man and character have transfixed generations of both super-cool and super-geeky people (one might—one should—argue that those two groups overlap significantly). I’ve written about my own history with Spock in the Bowie tribute, a relationship for which I give all credit to The Unit.

LLAP.

LLAP.

Here’s the thing about gifts: they don’t come from a wallet. They come from a brain, a heart, a soul. You can’t predict a gift, or even really wish for it, because you often don’t know you want it. Maybe you don’t want it. Maybe you just need it, which is far less glamorous. A gift requires sacrifice on the part of the giver and a gift is almost never deserved, so there’s a good bit of grace involved. And grace is a messy, messy thing.

Before I get involved in my own navel-gazing about how this film fascinated me, let me be clear: GO SEE THIS FILM. It should be out in September. Even if you have no history with Star Trek, GO SEE THIS FILM. It is a beautifully realized, artfully rendered narrative. Adam Nimoy’s film-making will make your Grinchy heart grow at least three sizes. The score, performed by The Macedonian Radio Symphony Orchestra, lends all the right emotional notes to a story of such depth and gravitas. GO SEE THIS FILM.

I know I drone on and on about how much High Intensity Interval Training has done for my fitness level. Well, this film was freaking HIIT for my brain. This film exhilarated me, gave me that deliciously painful, sweaty-and-breathless, endorphin-riddled high of a much-needed punishing workout. I stayed up all night emailing The (poor, long-suffering) Unit (still in Greece, and therefore not middle of the night for him….just sayin’) bouncing philosophical constructs off him, trying to fine tune the precise Greek words I needed to describe what I wanted to express. Then, the even more complicated task: trying to determine how to internalize this art that had riveted me so deeply.

In the opening scene of the film, Nimoy  quotes his own poem, I may not be:

I may not be the fastest
I may not be the tallest
Or the strongest

I may not be the best
Or the brightest

But one thing I can do better
Than anyone else…

That is

To be me

I know this resonated with many of us at the screening that night. For some it was a comfort, but for me it kicked the Itty Bitty Shitty Committee into full voice, and the following is a faithful rendering of the minutes of the committee meeting that occurred the following morning (I know, because my phone recorded it when I should have been recording my to-do list for the day):

What if the best you is just comically boring? Just fantastically, hideously inadequate? And, not even fantastically inadequate—because that might even be cool—but inadequately inadequate. Totally beige. No! Not even beige. That’s not giving beige enough credit, because there’s some nuance in beige. Whatever is more beige than beige. Ugh! I need a new word.

I think we now all know why I am not pursued by fancy New York literary types, asking me to write dialog.

The concept that continues to swim around in my head and in my gut involves the battle between mastery and excellence. I love mastering things. I can doggedly pursue a singular task or technique until I can do a passable job of it. This blog overflows with my avocational promiscuities: cultivating sourdough, St. John’s-style donuts, making jam, cutting up a pig, blind tasting a wine. But I inevitably lose focus once I’ve reached an acceptable level of competency. I never rise to excellence. Excellence requires more than skill; it requires inspiration—and endurance when inspiration disappears. Only the very strong can fight for excellence and only the confident can find it. To all this, add agility, discipline, and an open-mind. Excellence is not for weaklings.

Adam Nimoy focused a loving yet honest lens on his father’s life and career. Every frame of his film bespeaks painstaking craftsmanship, unwavering vision, and tremendous soul. Excellence lives in this exciting, provocative, subtle, captivating film. And it issues a challenge to the rest of us to rise up.

Thank you, Morgan. Thank you, Adam. Thank you, Leonard. I didn’t know I needed this gift and I certainly didn’t deserve it. But I’m thrilled (and a little scared) to have received it. The rest of you: GO SEE THIS FILM.

Morgan’s brother, Adam’s son, Jonah covered Bowie’s Starman for the closing credits with his band Furiosa. It’s also pretty damn excellent.

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The Box: Season 3 Begins!

June is june-ing all over the place, which means the vegetable box has returned!

We experienced a very mild winter in New England this year (although if you had asked me about it in mid-February, I would have scowled, cast my Reynauds-stricken fingers upon you, and proclaimed that surely atomic winter has descended upon us). I wonder what effect the lack of snow (or perhaps the capricious nature of our weather in general) will have upon vegetable harvest this year.

The first box exploded joyfully with green: Swiss chard, lettuce, bok choy, asparagus, and thyme, accessorized by magenta radishes and ecru mushrooms.

asparagus, radishes, golden oyster mushrooms, lettuce, bok choy, thyme

asparagus, radishes, golden oyster mushrooms, lettuce, bok choy, thyme

And here’s what I cooked:

truffled potato sourdough flatbread with shaved asparagus, thyme, and goat cheese

truffled potato sourdough flatbread with shaved asparagus, thyme, and goat cheese

I’ve been experimenting with sourdough lately, which means that I always have leftover starter in need of a project. Hence, this flatbread. The end product tasted fine, but the structure of the dough disappointed me. More work needed here, obviously.

lamb barbacoa tacos with shaved yellow pepper and cucumber slaw

lamb barbacoa tacos with shaved yellow pepper and cucumber slaw

Not to toot my own horn here, but these tacos were THE BOMB. I am rapidly adopting the opinion that all things can shine when under the influence of chiles.

sweet potato, black bean, and Swiss chard burrito with lime-cilantro rice

sweet potato, black bean, and Swiss chard burrito with lime-cilantro rice

The burritos above and the chicken below I delivered to the folks at my gym. Thank heavens for friends who will not roll their eyes too badly when I walk into HIIT training and declare, “I brought lunch.”

Ssam-glazed chicken with soy-braised bok choy

Ssam-glazed chicken with soy-braised bok choy

And now we reach the point where my challenge involving the box collides with my challenge involving the cellar. I retrieved this fabulous wine from its shelf: a 2012 Palmina Undici, 100% Sangiovese from three vineyards in the Central Coast region of California. I bought this bottle on my recent tasting trip and although it has only just reached its prime drinking window, I wanted us to try it now so, if we loved it, we could buy more bottles to seriously cellar while the wine is still available.

2012 Palmina Undici, 100% Sangiovese from the Central Coast

2012 Palmina Undici, 100% Sangiovese from the Central Coast

I should probably just open my wallet and tell the Palmina people to take whatever is in there. This wine really impressed me in the Palmina tasting room and none of the charm was lost at my house. The wine is less fruit driven than most California Sangioveses, and very much in line with an old world wine. Leather, tobacco, and rose petals on the nose transform into cranberry, orange pith, and minerals on the palate: juicy, but not sweet.

I served this with a simple pasta, cacio e pepe, and pan roasted asparagus and mushrooms garnished with bits of crispy prosciutto. The match worked very well: the char on the asparagus and the saltiness of the prosciutto held up nicely to the subdued fruit notes in the wine; the floral quality of the black pepper in the pasta melded easily with the rose notes in the glass. I imagine this wine would also stand up to barbecue or a juicy steak.

cacio e pepe

cacio e pepe

roasted asparagus and mushrooms with crumbled proscuitto

roasted asparagus and mushrooms with crumbled prosciutto

It feels good to have these vegetable cooking challenges again! I warn all of my friends to expect food deliveries from me over the next several weeks: The Unit takes himself off the Greece again so I (a) will have extra time on my hands and (b) need someone to cook for.

Signing off with the first track off the new Andrew Bird album, featuring the kind of awesome Fiona Apple. Bird’s melodies—alternately poignant and ebullient–express so often what I cannot articulate. I have spent hours getting lost in his previous albums. I feel quite certain I’ll fall into a rabbit hole with this one, too.

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Cellar Shopping: Chateau Gabaron Bordeaux & von Hovel Riesling Spatlese

I have made some very ugly food lately to accompany some very beautiful wine. What can I say? I seek the paradox.

First up, as I stated last time, I felt compelled to let my cellar shopping lead me to a red. The chosen bottle has lain in the top row of my rack for a few years now, and I have studiously avoided it. I won this Bordeaux in an auction and frankly I knew nothing about it, so I have steered clear of it because learning things is hard. Still: I set a goal, and one must at the very least address one’s goals, even if one does not achieve them*. A web perusal didn’t reveal much either: just a few reviews of other vintages on the wine website equivalents of Yelp. Ergo: not particularly helpful or trustworthy. But, on consideration. Bordeaux? OK, yeah. 2009 vintage? Supposedly drinking pretty well right now. Bottled at the chateau? Always a good bet.

*Please do not repeat these words back to me when I complain about my inability to run a fast half-marathon, organize my shoe collection, or give up sugar, because that would be mean.

The Bordeaux. My espresso maker photobombs.

The Bordeaux. My espresso maker photobombs.

On the Sunday we opened this bottle, I had just spent two days with nine other crazy people learning how to deliver and coach High Intensity Interval Training programs on an indoor cycle. (NB: Have you heard of Sprint? Lemme tell ya: this program puts the OW in WOW. Good stuff!) We punished out legs and shoved our noggins full of the latest exercise science. By Sunday night, my body was battered and my mind was numb. Luckily, the Jamie of Saturday did the Jamie of Sunday a solid by throwing some hefty hunks of beef chuck into the slow cooker with a good glug of red wine and aromatics. By the time I dragged my sorry butt home on Sunday, the beef was tender (but NOT falling apart; thank you Serious Eats!) and the house smelled delightfully meaty. I roasted some carrots in duck fat, topped them with a handful of toasted pumpkin seeds, and served the mess of it over buttered noodles and sauteed mushrooms. We slathered planks of toast with beef marrow and sea salt because carbs soothe the soul.

Carrots roasted in duck fat.

Carrots roasted in duck fat.

Beef stews with mushrooms over buttered noodles. Carrots with toasted pepitas and a marrow-slathered/sea-salted piece of toast on the side.

Beef stew with mushrooms over buttered noodles. Carrots with toasted pepitas and a marrow-slathered/sea-salted piece of toast on the side.

The wine matched well! If I trust my tastebuds, Chateau Gabaron is a right bank wine, as it displayed more Merlot characteristics than the left bank Cabernet Sauvignon dominated wines do. It reminded me greatly of a Pomerol, with notes of violets and black currents on the nose. The palate followed suit, with medium tannins and an underscore of minerals. We decanted about an hour before dinner; I think two hours would have served the wine better. Although this wine drank well now, I think it could have cellared well for another three to five years at least. I can assure you, though, that my tired bones and empty belly could not have cared less about its aging potential. This meal, although supremely ugly, nourished me in the best possible way.

Grade: B+. The stew slightly overpowered the wine. A lighter beef or veal dish would have worked better.

*********

For wine #2, I jumped back into my wheelhouse of super-acidic, highly aromatic whites. Several months ago, I bought four bottles of the 2007 von Hövel Spätslese Riesling. We drank one immediately and I swooned. This wine has more structure than the Golden Gate Bridge and enough quirky finesse to walk the runway at Martin Margiela.

resilingIt smells of dried green apple, dried apricot, mango, honeysuckle, lime blossom, and over-ripe peach. It also has the delightful Riesling tell-tales of petrol and wet slate. The palate is off-dry, but immediately balanced by high acidity, which brings tension and intelligence to the wine. The palate, driven by dried peaches, apricots, mango and lime zest sets up a gloriously long, distinct finish of minerality. This bottle should really be my profile photo on all social media because I want to grow up to be this wine. At eight years old it shines, but I think I’ll keep the final two bottles in the cellar, as its balance of  sugar and acid balance suggest that it will age well for another decade or two.

Korean chicken wings: sticky, sweet, and spicy.

Korean chicken wings: sticky, sweet, and spicy.

And to think that I served this sublime wine with chicken wings! Yes: I did. It’s a sad, predictable cliché (as I imagine all clichés are), but I do love spicy Asian food with Riesling, so we ate Korean chicken wings and kimchi pancake for dinner. The pancake suffers horribly in the looks department: it will win no beauty pageant. It might, however, take home the trophy in an arm wrestling contest, as the funky kimchi and the duck fat I used to fry it made this one assertive pancake.

Kimchi pancakes with black sesame dipping sauce: an abomination in form, but quite tasty.

Kimchi pancakes with black sesame dipping sauce: an abomination in form, but quite tasty.

Grade: A-, due to the sheer ugliness of the pancake.

********

And now for something that deserves a solid A: I am completely besotted with the new Nada Surf album. I must confess that I have a real issue with Nada Surf. I cannot listen to them responsibly. When I hook into a NS song, one listen turns into seven in a row, turns into forty-two, turns into something completely embarrassing (as if forty-two wasn’t enough to blush over). And that’s where we are with this particular song, the first single off the album. I don’t like the video; it’s too twee for me. But, golly, Matthew Caws’s voice! And, the short grey hair is so fetching! Happy listening.

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Cellar Shopping: Epiphany Grenache Blanc

I am breaking my own rule, set forth in my last post, about showing some love to the drink-ready bottles in my cellar. Having just returned from a really fantastic tasting trip in Santa Ynez, an hour north of Santa Barbara and the location of the zany but poignant film Sideways, I was impatient to open one of my new acquisitions and thereby to extend the delicious freedom one feels when one is solo in paradise 3,000 miles away from responsibility.*

-boom-

-boom-

*Everything about this trip pleased me: I stayed in the too-cute-for-words Danish enclave of Solvang (check out the Solvang Gardens if you ever need a place to stay; those folks are sweeter than the abelskiver served in every breakfast joint in town); the weather was ordered direct from central casting (50°F in the morning, 75 in the afternoon); the scenery was ostentatious in its beauty; and I met a slew of really nifty folks (one of the best perks of solo travelling).

This is either Heaven or the Ballard Canyon Road. I forget.

This is either Heaven or the Ballard Canyon Road. I forget.

I had been to the area three times before, first with the Unit and twice by myself, so I had a decent idea of where I wanted to go taste, but I also hoped to branch out a bit on this trip and try some new places. I took recommendations from the nifty folks (see above) I met along the way and landed in a bunch of really special spots. I’m sure future posts will see me rhapsodizing about the wines from Sarloos & Son, Palmina, Rusack, E11even, and Flying Goat, but today’s post is dedicated to this gem from Epiphany.

epiphanyEpiphany is owned by Eli Parker, son of the movie cowboy (and wine impresario) Fess Parker. The Unit and I came to their tasting room in Los Olivos by accident on our first trip here in 2006, and, quite frankly, we shut the place down. They practically forcibly escorted us out the door at closing time. It was very much a “you-don’t-have-to-go-home-but-you-can’t-stay-here” thing. The wine that clinched the deal was their 2002 Petite Sirah, a muscular behemoth that became the glug of choice at our annual cassoulet parties. Since then, we’ve loved their Rhône varietals and their lip-smacking red blends, particularly the Gypsy, which pairs extremely well with a Baconator from Wendy’s.

Epiphany has a new tasting room in Los Olivos: a very slick affair with low slung, chrome accented banquettes and a decidedly chill atmosphere, but happily the wines still bear the refined punch of winemaker Blair Fox. I bought a slew of reds, including the 2013 vintage of the always outstanding Cabernet Sauvignon-Syrah blend to add to my now vertical collection of that wine (two vintages—shortest possible vertical!), but the treat of the tasting was a snappy Grenache Blanc.

My tasting notes read:

  • nose: melon, yellow pear, lemon candy, smoke
  • palate: crisp acidity, med body, melon, smoked meat, mineral–flint?
  • I want to eat: smoky bacon, capers, kimchi, roasted tomatoes
  • Drink now

I went with my initial reactions when deciding what to cook. In what seems to be a Sunday evening tradition, we started off with some shards of crispy chicken skin, sprinkled with chicken salt (stay tuned for more about the magic of chicken salt).

Chicken2: Fried chicken skin, gilded with chicken salt.

Chickensquared: Fried chicken skin, gilded with chicken salt.

Then, crispy chicken thighs, braised with smoky bacon, kimchi, and blistered tomatoes, over ginger fried rice. I snuck an anchovy into the rice to give the salty kick I associated with capers in my tasting notes.

Mid-braise.

Mid-braise.

The verdict: A+! At the risk of dislocating my own shoulder patting myself on the back, this combination sang. The funky edge of the kimchi played very nicely with the round melon notes in the wine; the wine’s balanced acidity elevated the complex smokiness of the (admitted fantastic on its own) Benton’s bacon; and the ginger in the fried rice brought out even more of the pear notes in the wine’s aroma.

With ginger (and anchovy) fried rice.

With ginger (and anchovy) fried rice.

I am sad I only bought one bottle of this, but thrilled that I allowed myself to join Epiphany’s wine club so I can easily get more in the future.

Next week, I’ll head back to the cellar. The Unit is tiring of my fixation with white wines, so I think it’s time for a red.

*******

While driving down the idyllic Ballard Canyon Road, I was again overcome with how unappreciative I am of all the beauty in my life. It’s shameful. I am, every day, surrounded by kind, thoughtful, super smart, and wickedly funny people who tolerate me and all my laziness, pettiness, and weirdness. They bring profound beauty to my life every damn day. To quote the Wombats (whom I saw, incidentally, with about ten other people at the creepy Club Hell in 2009, maybe?): learn from my mistakes, people. Recognize the beauty. Celebrate the irony. Dance to Joy Division.

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Cellar Shopping: Domaine Skouros Moscofilero

It’ll probably come as no surprise that I’m a little bit of a dork about wine. Whenever I add to our collection, I put a colored paper collar around each new bottle with my tasting notes, some foods I think it would pair well with, and the year(s) it should be consumed. The paper colors correspond to different trips I’ve taken or tastings I’ve attended, so I can get a quick visual when looking at a wine rack on what lies where. If I see purple, for instance, I know that those wines are from the trip to Santa Ynez I took in 2013; green means Greek wines I tasted last summer.

Bottles, logged in the computer and tagged with tasting notes.

Bottles with pink tags from 2014’s Sonoma trip, logged in the computer and tagged with tasting notes.

Much too infrequently, I take stock of the racks in our basement that we hyperbolically refer to as our wine cellar. Each time I do this, I inevitably get agitated at the bottles that are aging past their prime because we have neglected or forgotten about them. Several years back, I tried to combat our carelessness/oblivion with a new racking convention: ready-to-drink bottles on the top rows, stuff that could stand more age down below. And it works…occasionally. But then I’ll go on a trip or go to a tasting and bring home a mess of wine that I am too lazy to rack properly, which kind of renders the whole racking convention moot.

In my shame, I’ll try to foist some of the blame off on The Unit. Conversations too often go like this:

Me: We need to start drinking some of these nice bottles we’ve got.

Unit: Great. Let’s do it. Let’s open one tonight.

Me: No, not tonight. I’m not cooking anything worthy of a nice bottle.

Unit: Well, you can’t have it both ways, you know. You can’t want to drink them and then not want to drink them.

Me: WHAT IS YOUR POINT???

As I’ve pointed out before: I’m not real fun to live with.

And speaking of points, here’s mine: once a week I heretofore pledge to go shopping in my cellar for a lovely bottle of peaking wine and build a meal around it. Dare I admit that this prospect scares me? I have dual fears: (1) that the contents of the bottle will bear no relationship whatsoever to the pronouncement I engraved on the little slip of colored paper, and (2) that I will cook a completely unworthy meal thereby insulting the wine. Of course, now that I see those fears in print, I realize they’re both kind of silly. Because, (1) who’s going to care, really, that I got the descriptors wrong, and (2) who’s going to care, really, about the food if the wine is fantastic?*

*Hint: the answer to both of these questions is only me.

Our first experiments involved a lovely bottle of Gewurztraminer, a 2011 Odinstal from the Pfalz, which went very well with an oyster po boy and only OK with a slow cooked salmon over Anson Mills grits (but, damn, were those grits amazing).  We first had this wine on New Year’s Eve at birch and it was the sip of the night.

This wine is dry, lacy, floral, and delicate. Beautiful and clean, with exotic spice and teeth-stripping acidity.

This wine is dry, lacy, floral, and delicate. Beautiful and clean, with exotic spice and teeth-stripping acidity. Sadly, no photos of dinner.

Next up, a bottle of 2014 Domaine Skouras Moscofilero from the Peloponnese. I first had this wine at a Greek wine dinner last summer, organized by sommeliers Ian Magiros and Maria Dolos at Nick’s on Broadway. I bought a lot of bottles that night, and thus far none have disappointed.

wine

My tasting notes read: Pre-phylloxera vines. Palate: ↑ acidiy, salinity, citrus. → minerality. Nose: Stonefruit, white flowers, lemons. I want to eat sesame seeds with this. Drink NOW!

I am a little annoyed that I didn’t give myself any greater direction than “sesame seeds,” but since I was so adamant on it I figured I should definitely follow that culinary path.

In the glass, this wine delivered on all fronts. It was zippy and alive. It smelled a little like baby’s breath, wet rocks, under-ripe peaches, and lemon peel, and tasted remarkably similar. I got lemon and lime pith on the palate, although the Unit argued that it was the fruit, not the pith. Leave it to me to seek the bitterness, right?

Here’s what we ate:

Chicken thighs, marinated with herbs and tahini, roasted with onions and olives.

Chicken thighs, marinated with herbs and tahini, roasted with onions and olives.

Piyaz, made with Rancho Gordo Corona Beans.

Piyaz, made with Rancho Gordo Corona Beans.

The final plate: chicken, beans, and tzaziki (the by-product of an overly zealous bit of yogurt making).

The final plate: chicken, beans, and tzaziki (the by-product of an overly zealous bit of yogurt making).

I drizzled everything with this lip-smacking Sicilian lemon vinegar that I received from the wonderful Monika & Jenni. I have been secretly drinking this straight from the bottle. It's that good.

I drizzled everything with this lip-smacking Sicilian lemon vinegar that I received from the wonderful Monika & Jenni. I have been secretly drinking this straight from the bottle. It’s that good.

The final verdict: B+. The food, although quite delicious in and of itself, was certainly not the best match for this wonderful wine. In retrospect, I should have gone with a hearty seafood, like grilled squid. I think a garlicky skordalia sauce on potatoes would have done well, too. I will chalk it up to experience and indulge some hand-rubbing that I now have an empty spot in the cellar to fill with a new and exciting bottle.

Signing off with a slightly very cheesy Olivia Newton-John track from the really horribly movie Xanadu. So good, though!

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Golden Years: Our Anniversary and a Bowie Tribute

The Unit and I recently marked our twenty-eighth year of getting hitched. I don’t ask for any accolades on staying put for almost thirty years because, frankly, I’ve had it pretty easy in this relationship. Despite my multiple complaints about his stick-in-the-mud-ness, the Unit is a pretty open-minded guy. He appreciates a good debate and will concede a point when confronted with a cogent, logical argument. He doesn’t storm off in anger or slam doors. He’s funny, insanely smart, and kind.

So damn young.

So damn young.

If you know me, and you probably do if you are reading this, you are aware that I am mercurial, cranky, and vindictive. Cynical on a good day; caustic on the others. I let the garbage overflow the bin and I buy a lot of shoes. I’m not a lot of fun to live with (unless you’re a cat: then I’m awesome). Nutshell: The Unit got the short end of this deal.

We never make too much of fuss about our anniversary, coming as it does on the heels of the holidays. No gifts, no parties, but generally a nice dinner—sometimes in, sometimes out—and a lovely bottle of wine.

rev biblia chora

This year we did both. A dinner at home, focused on a lovely and aromatic bottle of Assyrtiko/Sauvignon Blanc that he brought back from Greece this summer. This wine offered powerful SB aromatics of citrus and stone fruit, with a bracing minerality and refreshing acidity. It ticked off lots of boxes on the “Jamie Samons List of Desired Wine Attributes.”

We drank this with hummus and chicken shawarma, and the combination positively sang.

Chicken shawarma in a pita. Not as good as Mamoun's, but OK considering it was a first try and I lack proper shawarma infrastructure.

Chicken shawarma in a pita. Not as good as Mamoun’s, but OK considering it was a first try and I lack proper shawarma infrastructure.

Hummus topped with crispy chickpeas, toasted pumpkin seeds, and fried chicken skin.

Hummus topped with crispy chickpeas, toasted pumpkin seeds, and fried chicken skin.

That night we also watched a favorite Star Trek episode, “City on the Edge of Forever,” a classic featuring a young and altruistic Joan Collins, decades before she donned her signature Dynasty shoulder pads.*

*When The Unit and I first married, he was shocked to learn that I had never seen the original Star Trek, so we spent the first eighty days of our wedded life watching the oeuvre (seventy-nine episodes plus the pilot) on our ratty rabbit-eared TV. “Amok Time” is still my favorite.

Photos courtesy of Oberlin. I can't say it enough: go eat this food and drink this wine (or any wine on their menu: they're all fantastic).

Photos courtesy of Oberlin. I can’t say it enough: go eat this food and drink this wine (or any wine on their menu: they’re all fantastic).

The next night we betook ourselves to Oberlin, the inspired new restaurant from Heidi and Ben Sukle, who also brought us birch. We feasted on raw lobster, roasted beets, pork sugo with hand-made pasta, roasted scup, and a deliriously good apple tart. Basically, if something is on the menu, I urge you to eat it. Chef Ben has obviously sold his soul to the devil to create such stick-in-your-head-for-days deliciousness and Heidi has created an atmosphere that is at once fantastically comfortable and seamlessly elegant. The wine list boasts dozens of gems, including the above-pictured gloriously bizarre and funky rosé, which co-ferments red grapes and white grapes, bringing some real tannins to the glass. It’s cloudy (all natural!), tangy, and a real stand-up partner with food. It’s also of limited quantity, so get into Oberlin to try it—and everything else—soon!

The day we dined at Oberlin was also the day we learned of David Bowie’s death. Like many Bowie fans, I always appreciated his weirdness, his “aesthetic promiscuity” (his words), and his panache. In these days of manufactured pop stars, adolescent lyrics, and auto-tuned everything, Bowie’s genius stands in stark contrast.

My Bowie tribute: glittery Beatrix Ong Mary Janes and skinny leather pants.

My Bowie tribute: glittery Beatrix Ong Mary Janes and skinny leather pants.

 

To draw a connection between the two nights of anniversary celebration, in “City on the Edge of Forever,” the Guardian of Forever tells Kirk and Spock (Starman!!), “Many such journeys are possible. Let me be your gateway.”

Bowie, also, was a gateway.

The etiquette cognoscenti designate every anniversary between 25 and 30 as “silver.” I’m going to take a detour and declare this one golden.

Don’t let me hear you say life’s taking you nowhere.

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No Package January

The new year (and a new decade for me) has arrived and I’m trying not to be stupid.

jan_1Experiments with resolutions in the past have met with limited success; Chinese No Year, for example, was a worthwhile, albeit difficult year, while Wearing All My Weird Vintage Clothes Year fizzled out by the second week of January. In an effort to learn from past experiences, I plan to avoid resolutions this year that deal with either the size of my ass or the condition of my soul. Instead, I will look squarely into the dual abysses of my garbage can and recycling bin.

I’m ditching the packaging, my friends. Because, although I love to assemble things from scratch for other people, when it comes to feeding myself, I too often resort to a can of soup, a bag of lettuce, or a manufactured nutrition bar. Shameful. Icky. Super convenient.

Yes, that is a candy wrapper next to the quest bar wrapper. #shame

Yes, that is a candy wrapper next to the quest bar wrapper. #shame

Obviously, some things are exempt from the “no package” goal.

IMG_2031

Awesome bottle from my dear friend Nick!

Awesome bottle from my dear friend Nick!

And another fine bottle from Jenni & Monika. BTW, have we talked lately about what truly generous and stellar friends I have?

And another fine bottle from Jenni & Monika. BTW, have we talked lately about what truly generous and stellar friends I have?

With any luck, this attempt will require me to cook more for myself, or—at the very least—eat food that has been prepared by real hands, and if the experts are to be believed, this is the way to living a healthy-ish and happy life.

More updates soon. Wish me luck!

 

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A Christmas Carol

On December 24, 1933 in Brooklyn, New York, Carol Larsen made her way into this world. I didn’t meet her until about sixty-five years later because she happened to be the mother of my dearest friend Anastasia, but I can guarantee that none of her youthful snap and effervescence had diminished. From the instant I met her, I loved the way she gave her opinions (forcefully, and often with incredulity that anyone could possibly disagree) and I loved the way she gave her love (generously, but not blindly).

Always stylish, always a New Yorker.

Always stylish, always a New Yorker.

Broadway musicals, baseball, Bishop Fulton J. Sheen, the Catholic Church, her children, their spouses and her grandchildren: all these things lit sparks in her eyes. Because my bestie Anastasia is such an amazing and giving person, The Unit and I spent much time with Carol (and the rest of the gorgeous Luby/Freymann clan) over the years: Thanksgiving dinners, Christmases, summer evenings on Squam Lake, holiday parties, 70th and 80th birthday bashes. We got to see Carol dance and sing and glow with pride in the presence of her family.

On December 13, Carol died, surrounded by her family. Anastasia told me that in the evening they all sang show tunes together and listened to vintage Brooklyn Dodgers games (God bless the internet). At the risk of sounding maudlin, it seems like a great party.

Emilio Pucci for Formfit Rogers, a gift from Carol's personal collection.

Emilio Pucci for Formfit Rogers, a gift from Carol’s personal collection.

If you’ve ever talked to me for longer than seventeen seconds, you know that I had a, ahem, complicated relationship with my own mother. In Carol, I found a friend with motherly overtones but also with a healthy dose of cynicism. She and I shared a birthday and a love of vintage Pucci (Carol even gifted me one of her Pucci slips from the 1970s when the designer did a line of underthings for Formfit Rogers), but that didn’t keep her from giving me a good “snap out of it!” talking-to when I acted like a nincompoop. She loved my husband, too. Together they took on matters of great doctrinal and sociopolitical importance in conversations that lasted hours.

At Carol’s funeral mass, her son Tim read a glorious Scripture from Proverbs that described her perfectly:

She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come. (Proverbs 31:25)

Strong, stylish, and appreciative of a good party.

When I am sad or confused, I often bake. The precision required for measuring, mixing, and cooking distracts my troubled mind and often calms me. During Carol’s service, I tried (unsuccessfully, I might add) not to sob like a baby by wondering what I would bake for her. I thought it should be something Irish to honor her heritage. Maybe tart and snappy. A little bit decadent, but not pretentious. At home in diverse situations.

nuts butter cheese

I decided, somewhere between my second and third crying jags (seriously, it was the Irish prayer that got me), upon a savory shortbread. Ina Garten’s recipe was my guide. Later that day, I gathered Irish butter, blue cheese from Jasper Hill in Vermont (where Carol lived for a while in the 1970s), and walnuts. I weighed, measured, blended, and baked. The house smelled glorious.

These biscuits have a delicate crumb but a stealthfully assertive flavor—the oomph from that Bayley Hazen blue plays nicely with the creamy butter and slightly bitter walnuts. They would go great with a cup of strong tea, but I chose to pair them with a tipple of Redbreast Irish Whiskey*, named after the robin redbreast, a songbird so loyal to what it loves that it refuses to leave even in the harshest of conditions. Again, a lot like Carol.

Carol called the Irish vase an "OBG" gift: oldie but goodie.

Carol called the Irish vase an “OBG” gift: oldie but goodie.

(*Anastasia gave me my first bottle of Redbreast! Score another one for the Lubys!)

single pot still

We cannot thank Carol’s family enough for letting us trespass so brazenly on their family time to visit Carol while she was in the hospital and hospice. To all the Lubys: we acutely appreciate your generosity of time and spirit. We see Carol’s love reflected in all of you.

 

I’ll sign off with a Christmas song I think Carol and I both enjoyed: she for Bing Crosby, I for David Bowie, both of us for the joy promised in the lyric.

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Frying pan, fire, and the smell of sulfur from a freshly-lit match

Do you ever feel like life is a constant merry-go-round of frying pan and fire? This is where I am now—and the most shameful part of it is that I’m the one holding the match. I don’t know how much of this ennui corresponds to run-of-the-mill seasonal stuff (as I am wont to experience) or to my recent visit to Texas (which is also par for the course for me), but I certainly feel stuck, restrained, and uncomfortable, like I’m wearing a too-tight jacket or a poorly-fitting bra. Or maybe that whole Mercury-in-retrograde situation just hit me particularly hard.

Anyway, the penultimate box arrived shortly before my departure for the Lone Star State and I scrambled to tend to everything before I left. What I did was quite uninspired (see previous paragraph on ennui).

The box contained:

Kale, watercress, thyme, acorn squash, red potatoes, shitake mushrooms, various-hued carrots, and a cracked watermelon.

Kale, watercress, thyme, acorn squash, red potatoes, shitake mushrooms, various-hued carrots, and a cracked watermelon.

And here’s what I did:

I confit-ed the mushrooms in olive oil with shallot and thyme (a la Mrs. Wheelbarrow). These little nuggets will enhance an omelet, a pizza, or some risotto in the future.

Shitake mushroom confit.

Shitake mushroom confit.

I roasted the squash and combined it with crisp apple, spicy radish, and crunchy pecans in a salad. I’m ashamed I didn’t have any lovely bleu cheese to add, as that would have improved this salad immensely.

Salad of roasted acorn squash, shaved apple and radish, greens, and toasted pecans.

Salad of roasted acorn squash, shaved apple and radish, greens, and toasted pecans.

Some of the potatoes and the orange carrots went into individually-sized chicken pot pies that I stowed in the freezer. I believe the Unit ate all of these while I was in Texas.

Chicken pot pie.

Chicken pot pie.

The yellow carrots became a lovely soup, to which I added only one tiny piece of crispy bacon. The wheat and oat bread I nabbed from Smitten Kitchen. It’s a chewy, yummy, dead easy-to-make loaf. I highly recommend it.

Golden carrot soup, with homemade wheat/oat bread and a crispy slice of bacon.

Golden carrot soup, with homemade wheat/oat bread and a crispy slice of bacon.

I steamed the kale and watercress and then froze the leaves in ice cube trays for future use in smoothies.

Steamed kale and watercress, frozen into cubes.

Steamed kale and watercress, frozen into cubes.

The watermelon, sadly, lacked flavor (maybe it escaped through the crack?), so I cubed the flesh and froze it. Maybe sorbet or granita in the future?

So: only one more box, and already I regret that I didn’t exhibit more ambition with this fine produce. Frying pan, fire, and the smell of sulfur from a freshly-lit match.

****

Moment of cuteness: While in Texas, I got the opportunity to meet my new grand-niece, Harper. Harper is the latest in a long line of completely adorable spawn of my nieces and nephews. For a cranky, barren-wombed old lady like myself, it is a comfort to me to know that my family keeps cranking out legit good-looking kids. It also confirms that my decision not to muck up that gene pool was a good one.

Harper Halliday

Harper Halliday

This precious little peanut made me think of the song “Harper Lee” by the Irish band Little Green Cars. The song is subversive, yet sweet; moody, yet melodic; a wry meditation on To Kill a Mockingbird. LGC’s duo, Stevie Appleby and Faye O’ Rourke, constantly charm, snatching rotten darkness from its lowest point and giving it a triumphant new slant, somewhat in the way a cute baby can turn a gloomy cynic into a pile of mush for a moment or two.

Enjoy the fall, y’all!

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