It is still mid-summer as far as I can see, no matter if the kids are back in school, and the boatloads of Halloween candy have arrived in the store and are sitting on palletts all over the receiving dock. Why yes, the stuff will all be two months old by the time the little ghosts and goblins exclaim over it dropping into their bags on a (likely) freezing cold night at the end of October! And by then, the Christmas cookies will already have replaced the candy behind-the-scenes ....
But this is still summer, and still the season for picnics and potato salads. The recipe for this one may look daunting with its immense list of ingredients, but it really isn't difficult. Simply separate, in your mind, the three basic tasks: fry the bacon; make the creamy dressing; and cook the potatoes and assemble the salad as you would any other. It comes from Of Tide and Thyme, by the Junior League of Annapolis, Maryland, 1995 (reprinted 2003). I have encountered this cookbook in two places: at the local Goodwill resale shop, where I bought it, and at the Chicago Public Library's main branch on State Street in the Loop. Who knew? Perhaps the Junior League had something of a following.
First, fry the bacon until crisp, and drain it on paper towels. Crumble and set aside.
Boil the potatoes and the eggs, and cool and peel both. Dice the potatoes. Remove the yolks from the eggs, set aside the whites, and mash the yolks in a small bowl.
Make the dressing: mix the mashed egg yolks, mayonnaise, mustard, sour cream, and salt and pepper. Set aside.
Chop the reserved egg whites and combine them with the potatoes, bacon, onion, celery, and the Italian dressing if using.
Now, the scrumptious coup de grace: fold in the sour cream dressing.
Chill at least two hours.
We didn't wait that long.
There is Caberlee and Coopernet, and Ernie Banks' 512 Chardonnay. Mike Ditka has a pinot grigio and a merlot, and Dick Butkus' picture is on the label of his Legends 51 cabernet sauvignon. Proceeds from sales of this last help benefit his foundation combating steroid use among teen athletes.
Other sports-themed wines, mostly from Event Wines, serve a similar purpose: they are a fun buy for the fans, they bring crowds to (and drive sales for) retail stores when the celebrity on the label arrives in person for a few hours to chat and sign autographs, and of course they help raise money for many good causes. What I find odd is that all these celebrity-athlete-themed wines feature men on the label, and are directed to men, or to women buying gifts for men -- I dare say, sometimes buying gag gifts for men. It's not a question of my wanting to see "equality" in novelty wines or anything like that. It's just that most wine buyers are women buying for themselves, and I should think that if Event Wines can do a roaring business with this line of product, they could do an even more roaring business with novelty wines marketed to women. And when I say marketed to women, I mean, talk to us about something besides breast cancer.
Think of the women athletes who could grace the label of a charity wine. Figure skaters. Gymnasts. Downhill skiers (remember Picabo Street?). The Olympic women's soccer teams and hockey teams who did so well in past years -- the details are not at my fingertips, but any market researcher able to put together wrestler Don "the Magnificent" Muraco's Flying Head Butt merlot, benefiting Usos The Samoan Family Foundation, could certainly think up a wine for Kristi Yamaguchi or Nadia Comaneci to sponsor. Then there are the sports of fencing, archery, or anything equestrian to consider. They are little known, but the image of a woman with a rapier, a bow, or a horse on a wine label is bound to appeal to any woman buyer.
Could it be that Kristi Yamaguchi's or, say, Peggy Fleming's fees would be far outside what Event Wines could afford? Could it be that these women and all others like them would have no interest in either wine or charitable giving, whereas Curt Schilling ("Schardonnay") and Mike Ditka really do have?
Or is it all just a matter of taste?
From Julia Child's French Chef Cookbook, where they are called Concombres persilles, ou a la creme -- parslied or creamed cucumbers. Why not both, I ask? These, I presume, are what Amy Adams as Julie Powell spears with a fork in Julie and Julia, as she raves, "these cucumbers are a revelation." The French Chef Cookbook is not the same as Mastering the Art of French Cooking, but it is drawn from the television show which had its origins in Mastering, which in turn of course inspired Powell's blog and the movie.
But we move on to deliciousness. It's perfectly simple. Think French, and pour on the cream.
To begin, peel 6 cucumbers, cut them in half lengthwise, and scoop out the seeds with a spoon. (I used only 3 very large cucumbers, reasoning that perhaps the vegetable was grown and harvested smaller in Julia's day, and so today's three equals yesterday's six. We are after all talking about the produce of 50 years ago. The recipe seemed to come out fine.)
Cut the cucumbers into lengthwise strips, and then cut the strips into short pieces. Toss them in a bowl with 2 Tbsp wine vinegar (I used white wine), 1 and 1/2 tsp salt, and a dash of sugar. Let them stand 20 minutes. Drain and dry on paper towels.
In a large heavy skillet, heat 2 to 3 Tbsp butter. Add the cucumbers and 2 Tbsp minced shallots or scallions -- I used yellow onions, which also seemed fine. Cook everything slowly, tossing frequently, until the cucumbers are "tenderly crisp but not browned."
Meanwhile, simmer 1 cup of heavy cream in a small pan, reducing it by about half. Mince 3 Tbsp parsley.
"Just before serving, toss the cucumbers with the cream and parsley. Turn into a hot dish."
And spear with a fork, and eat, and exclaim. These cucumbers are a revelation. If you want to see Julia herself prepare them, look up her old 1960s-era television show; this recipe, along with a few more for garlic mashed potatoes and a turnip and onion casserole, is a part of the sixty-ninth show, "Vegetables for the birds."
The accompanying wine -- a rich buttery chardonnay, perhaps? Better, a delicious sweet riesling? Your choice.
Sometimes you do find out the danged-est things.
My family has strong links to beautiful eastern Iowa, thanks to an aunt and uncle and cousins who moved there almost forty years ago. Cedar Rapids and Iowa City are the collective family stomping grounds, with excursions to Kirkwood Junior College (for a horse show) and Riverside ("future birthplace of Capt. James T. Kirk") an exciting part of more recent reunions. It so happens that among the small towns in the vicinity is Swisher, from whence a cousin took his bride many years ago.
Imagine my amazement, then, to look over some promotional materials for Cedar Ridge Distillery, maker of whiskey, rums, brandies, gin, vodkas, grappa, lemoncella, and "lamponcella" liqueurs, and see that the company address is actually Swisher, Iowa. My goodness. It brings back memories of long car trips through cornfields and soybean fields under glaring summer suns, of stalwart looking but sometimes decayed mid-western farms beside I-80, of the slowly rising, forested hills approaching "the River" -- the Mississippi has no other name, once you get close to it -- and of arrival in small, hilly towns where the houses are neat and old, the shady gardens full of summer color, and everything looks just slightly, interestingly ajar because you know this is someone else's home and not yours.
But about the lamponcella. I can't do better than to quote the promotional materials.
"Lampone" is Italian for raspberry. Cedar Ridge Lamponcella is the raspberry companion to our very popular Lemoncella. To create this sweet, intense raspberry liqueur, we start by soaking tanks of fresh raspberries in triple-distilled 192 proof spirits. This "geist" [a German word?] is then distilled again to create an awesome raspberry eau-de-vie [French for water of life, i.e., fruit-based brandy]. This eau-de-vie is then added to tanks of sweet raspberry puree, resulting in 64-proof liqueur. Cedar Ridge Lamponcella can be served straight up, be mixed 50/50 with Clearheart Vodka [the company's own] to make a beautiful, tasty raspberry martini, or drizzled over cheesecake or ice cream for a delicious dessert. (64% alcohol/vol.)
It sounds excellent, although I think there is a mistake here in declaring the same number, 64, represents both the alcohol content and the proof of the final product. And I would have excised the adjective awesome, which is practically meaningless now.
Still. Minor quibbles. And they say their Clearheart Vodka has been praised in the New York Times, by cocktail editor Colleen Graham. "Perfect and spectacular," she said.
And all in Swisher, Iowa! I feel as if it all redounds to my credit, somehow.
Columbine Special Reserve, Casablanca Valley, Chile
strong "New Zealand" aroma -- is this gooseberry?
grass -- kiwi peel -- something like very faint cigarette smoke --
mouth puckering acidity -- somewhat hard (even chewy?) finish
I do like my sauvignon blancs to be as New Zealand-ish as possible. It seems I can never find one as bursting with grapefruit as I'd like -- the hunt for them is akin, in the sphere of white wines, to my hunt for an agreeable chianti among the reds (I want them as horsy and gamy as possible).
Nevertheless this was very good -- a pretty successful return from the field, you might say. (Although to be fair, the quarry came to me, via a salesman's sample.) And which William Cole winery are we talking about? There is the William Cole vineyards, owned by William and Jane Ballentine, that makes cabernet sauvignons in Napa Valley's St. Helena, and there is the William Cole vineyards, owned by Chilean native William Cole, that makes all sorts of wines in Chile's Casablanca Valley. He is the one who names some of his wines "Columbine," after the software company he used to run in Colorado, whose state flower is the columbine. Ah, there we are.
So good with a hot summer night snack of crackers and fresh mozzarella cheese. Retail, about $10. Even better.
Let's decipher the very plain German label.
The year 2004 and the name in big print, August Kesseler, are self-explanatory. The bottom of the label says "pinot noir," which also helps.
As to the rest, including the fine print laid out sideways around the back of the bottle. Erzeugerabfullung means bottled by the producer, which is Weingut (winery) August Kesseler. Qualitatswein: legally this is a middle-tier quality of wine, made under more stringent conditions than a table or country wine, but under less stringent conditions than a Qualitatswein which has also earned the right to call itself either a Qualitatswein bestimmter Anbaugebiet (QbA), wine from a guaranteed specific place, or a Qualitatswein mit Pradikat (QmP), wine of guaranteed place and special characteristics.
It's trocken (dry), from Assmannshausen, a village in Germany's Rheingau noted for its -- guess what -- red wines made from spatburgunder (pinot noir). This word incorporates both the German spat, meaning late, and the word burgundy, which is of course the French province that is pinot's home. "Late" refers to the grape's habit of ripening late, although Ron and Sharon Herbst tell us that Germany also grows another variant of pinot noir which ripens early and is called Fruhburgunder (The New Wine Lover's Companion).
russet-purple, autumn leaves color
plum juice, plum skin
tiniest bit of earth or smoke
I'm told, and reading in books confirms, that the spatburgunders of Assmannshausen are vinified in the French style, that is, they are meant to be light, delicate, and subtle, and not the roaring California grape jelly bombs that pinot lovers now complain about. Indeed, it seems a German pinot noir can't help but be delicate and subtle, since Germany's climate and the mountainous terrain of its grape growing regions gives pinot the long, cool growing season it needs. Pinot is the fragile, frustrating, siren grape. If it can struggle slowly to some ripeness without giving up the natural acidity which balances sugar levels, gives interest, and eventually helps the wine age in bottle, then it will come through at its best. And pinot, at its best, comes from cool, hilly places: Burgundy, the Rheingau, Oregon, the cool coastal valleys of California. Elsewhere, in hotter, flatter lands, including elsewhere in California, intense heat and sunshine send any grape's sweetness zooming up to boring plushness in no time, wiping out its acid levels and resulting in, well, the "California style" -- dark color, high alcohol (all that fermented sugar), and unctuous jamminess.
This August Kesseler was not at all unctuous, was instead very lovely. (A customer at Ye Olde wine Shoppe once got irate with me because I used words like "lovely" and "nice" to describe a wine. "That means nothing to me," she fumed. However, I only used those vague words because she had already told me she knew nothing about wine and so didn't want to hear any jargon like "acidity" or "tannin." That too "meant nothing to her." How on earth do you describe a wine, or any product at all, to someone who forbids the use of language? "Well you old battle axe, it's not chocolate milk"? But one mustn't alienate the customer.)
Yes, lovely. It seems to me that with a little experience you can begin to distinguish a good wine from a more commonplace one -- and even here, we are not talking about $30 or $50 wines, although Kesseler languished on the shelf at $25 -- by the way a good wine tastes almost like a food. Wine writers will gabble about wine being a food when they are trying to defend its not being a drug, a depressant, a mere alcohol delivery system. They'll cite studies about its healthful properties and so forth. But a good wine is foodlike in another way. It can be as interesting as a food, can seem to have the varied tastes, textures, and aromas of something solid. It can tempt you back for sip after sip just for its own sake, not at all for mere purposes of study and cogitation. And if the alcohol levels are normal, rather than California jam jar style (there is a wine called Jam Jar, a sweet syrah), your head will stay nice and clear too, and you'll be able to enjoy your actual meal into the bargain.
If you can find August Kesseler spatburgunder from Assmannshausen, snap it up, but do be careful about serving temperature. It must be just cool enough -- too cold, say straight from the fridge, and it becomes thick, sluggish, and grainy-gummy, too warm and it turns harsh and spiky, as do all warm red wines. Take your bottle from the refrigerator on a warm summer day, pour the wine into a glass, and let it sit for fifteen minutes. That should be just about right.
Retail -- originally, $25; alas, now $9.99 on the closeout rack. No one is going to plunk down serious money for (triple threat) an unknown German red.
For more on German wines, you might consult the blog Schiller Wine, especially the article on Walter Schug's journey from Assmannshausen to California's Carneros AVA.
Pretty names, aren't they?
2002 Peter Lehmann Eight Songs shiraz, Barossa Valley, Australia
Sometimes a wine will put funny ideas into your head. This shiraz first called to mind words like satiny -- blackberry -- finishing acidity -- soft, lush, and then it made me think: "a great actor departs the stage."
What an odd image for wine, and how odd that it should leap into words without my struggling over it. I suppose the combination came to me because this very good wine had a good-tasting but somewhat lean and faded strength and stature, no longer resembling what a fresh-from-the-harvest shiraz can be -- nearly black with prunes and chocolate, brawny with tannin, and fiery with alcohol.
(Retail, about $35 to $55 if you can still find the 2002 vintage. Wine Searcher lists the 2007 vintage as averaging about $16.)
As for the pretty name, "Eight Songs," it has a convoluted etymology. According to the back of the label and other sources, it refers to a set of paintings by Australian artist Rod Schubert, privately owned by Peter Lehmann and hanging on the walls of his The Cellar Door. The paintings' theme is based on a sort of mini-mini one-man operetta about King George III originally composed and produced in the late 1960s (Eight Songs for a Mad King), a work in turn based on the fact that the king once used a mechanical organ, which played eight songs, to try and train wild birds to sing.
Peter Lehmann, I'm told, is the Robert Mondavi of Australia. That is certainly a less convoluted image to remember him by.
2007 Hess chardonnay Su'Skol vineyard, Napa Valley
Sound; banana-pineapple -- acid/hardness smoothed in vanilla oak. "Entry-level serious wine for the newbie ready to move up" (according to the sales rep.). The pretty name, Su'Skol, was given to the vineyard to honor the indigenous Su'Skol people of that area of Napa, who "used the site as a meeting place and valued the nearby sources of fish and game." This christening is evidently fairly recent; wine drinkers at CellarTracker can remember when the chardonnay was just Hess. Retail, about $20.
The reason why one salesman could pigeonhole Peter Lehmann for me, plus let me in on the secret of a chardonnay designed to be "entry-level serious," is because both wines belong to one portfolio, that of Hess family. It's a good-sized portfolio. It also includes Glen Carlou wines from South Africa, Argentina's Colome, and California's Artezin (they produce Mendocino County and Sonoma County zinfandels) and Sequana (they make single vineyard Russian River pinot noirs -- in other words, the labels of these will say, "(1) Sequana, (2) Sundawg Ridge Vineyard (or "Dutton Ranch" or "Sarmento Vineyard"), (3) Green Valley of Russian River Valley (4) pinot noir"). Incidentally, the Russian River valley is in Sonoma County.
I can't help being fascinated by the way winemakers at once boast what they do, and yet sometimes wish to cloak what they do. I ask myself when and why, or when not and why not. For a long time I've entertained ambitious plans to make a flow chart of the California wine industry, so that I can begin to understand exactly where Gallo leaves off and everything else begins -- which just might be essentially the whole story. "All ye know on earth, and all ye need to know," as the poet (Keats?) said. I thought I could practice my plan with Hess Collection, as it seems small and manageable, and yet reaches out and puts its stamp on things all over the world that you must work a bit to identify.
But what a fool I was to imagine any such flow chart could be simple to produce. Take Hess, for instance. That smiling, healthy, golden-aged couple in the publicity materials, he with his black cowboy hat and she with her draped orange scarf, simply glow with arugula-fed West Coast sunshine, and with the joy of living the life they want making great wine, expanding the business -- even to the point of owning the Robert Mondavi of Australia -- and opening art galleries and things. More power to them. Have you guessed by now that the family are Swiss, made beer and then bottled water for more than a century in Bern, and only bought land in Napa in the late 1970s? Good guess. But it means that in sheer California seniority, Gallo outranks them by far. And now how do I start any of my flow charts, even the simple ones?
This is one of our family's absolutely tried and true, favorite dinner recipes, especially useful for either a quick meal or a hot-weather meal, or both. I devised it years ago following ideas taken from a woman's magazine, possibly Family Circle. The original version called for strips of zucchini and carrot to be peeled off with a vegetable peeler and tossed in to boil among the noodles, which assemblage you then drained altogether and sauced with (I think) a jarred tomato sauce.
I have imprew-ved it, which of course means adding butter, garlic, and mushrooms. If your family dislikes mushrooms, cackle evilly and add them anyway -- baby bella and oyster will be nice choices. In winter, the wine you want to accompany this is any spicy warm zinfandel or any buttery, caramel-y chardonnay. In summer, you shall choose a chilled dry rose. Really. I must insist.
Spaghetti with vegetable ribbon sauce
Start by melting 4 Tbsp of butter and/or olive oil in a heavy skillet. Then add 1 or 2 onions, diced, and soften them just to the point of browning slightly, cooking about 10 minutes. (The onions will caramelize better in butter than in oil. The chemistry behind this humble culinary truth is unknown to me.)
Then, add the strips you have peeled from 1 or 2 carrots (peel the rough outer parts of the carrots first), and 1 or 2 zucchini.
Toss and stir the vegetables together, adding salt and pepper to taste, and then a few sprigs of fresh thyme and a few fresh basil leaves. (Substitute dried thyme and basil if you prefer, about 1/2 teaspoon of each to start.) Add an 8 ounce package of fresh mushrooms at any time, depending on whether you want to give them a little browning, in which case you will want to cook them in a fairly empty pan, or whether you want to just let them cook with everything else and release their juices anyhow.
Moisten everything with about 1/4 cup white wine, and then add a diced fresh clove of garlic. Cover the pan and simmer while you slice 4 to 5 fresh tomatoes. Place them on top.
Then, simply simmer away for about half an hour, until all the vegetables wilt, the tomato skins can be peeled off easily with a tongs, and you have a delicious (if somewhat watery, to be sure) sauce.
Meanwhile, you can boil a pot of water for noodles and grate some cheese for serving. Parmesan works, but at our house we have recently discovered Kasseri, of which I know as little as I do of onion-caramelizing chemistry. It is very tasty, however.
And P.S.: don't forget the giveaway, which now has 10 (count 'em!) entries and which will close at noon CDT tomorrow. Good luck to all.
We're talking about the good people at Gallo, of course. (Why do I add "of course"? Perhaps because we're going to talk about a delicious wine at a good price. That's Gallo. They spend their working lives going to the mat for us.)
Their newest endeavor, at least at our store, is Apothic Red. It's a blend of zinfandel, syrah, and merlot, and I was hugely proud of myself when I first tasted it in an upstairs office because I guessed right about the zinfandel. The aroma of chocolate was my clue. Unfortunately, I guessed wrong about the rest of the blend.
I'm not sure that anyone's brilliantly recognizing the grapes contributing to the rest of the blend, nor even the nature of the grapes themselves, matters much anyway. Not that syrah and merlot don't add their own characteristics, not that zinfandel overwhelms all or that I wouldn't have been thrilled to guess right about it all, but: I think the winemakers intended to create just one experience here. They intended to give us a friendly, jammy, sticky-luscious, California fruit bomb red. We might even put it more dramatically, the way hysterical newspaper headline writers sometimes do. California. Fruit. Bomb. Red. Syrah and merlot and zinfandel, on their own you know, or in more judicious mixtures, can do far different, more austere, flinty and noble things. Here they have been thrown together into a kind of sumptuous, blowsy purple mess, which I hasten to admit I entirely enjoyed.
As we sat there tasting that afternoon, the good man from Gallo hoping to "place" Apothic Red on the shelves allowed calmly that "It's nice. It's got a touch of residual sugar ... " I looked at him somewhat askance albeit deeply respectfully and thought, It's got more than a touch of residual sugar. It's loaded with it, I daresay not only because that makes it tasty but because -- I have since been told -- it is intended to compete with the other luscious fruit bomb reds just down the aisle, wines like Menage a Trois or (I would think) Marietta Old Vine Red. At the $9 to $10 price point, it should compete very well.
But I've saved the best for last. I've saved for last the reason why I love the fine people at Gallo. They make yummy inexpensive wines, yes. More importantly, who else would have the sheer gall to tell us, on the back of Apothic Red's label:
Inspired by the "Apotheca," a mysterious place where wine was blended and stored in 13th century Europe, Apothic Red offers a truly unique wine experience.
Well of course it does. Why wouldn't wines have been blended and stored in a mysterious place called the Apotheca in 13th century Europe? What the hell, it's possible. That was a long time ago and Europe is a big place. I can just picture some brand new hire buried in the marketing department somewhere amid the giant tanks and pipes and office blocs in Modesto, on her first day on the job, thinking this one up, emailing it to her boss and him replying, "Hey, go for it." And there it is, on the label. I wonder if she was told to keep it to exactly 25 words.
Now the good people at Gallo are no fools, so before we begin laughing out the other side of our mouths, we ought to remind ourselves it's quite possible they have done their homework and actually have some sort of reasoning behind this extraordinary and insouciant claim. Can we recreate their homework?
Apotheca sounds like apothecary, an old word which means druggist, stemming from Latin and Greek roots having to do with shopkeeping, warehousing, "putting away" (apotheke). That seems small help. I hurriedly consult the indexes to some large books of European history and some large books on wine, and I find no place, however mysterious, leaping out from the 1200s called such. When I consult the internet's far flung sources, I get quite a few references to the word, but all lead back to this particular wine. One reviewer thinks the verbiage about the Apotheca is unprovable but "pretty cool," tastes everything in the wine from blackberry sorbet to fern and elder fruit, raves about its excellent value, and thinks it will "drink well through 2013." I daresay. But they will no doubt keep making it through 2013 anyway.
What's remarkable is that if we keep on surfing our far-flung resources, we find there is another wine called, not "Apothic," but Apotheca. Named also for that mysterious place in 13th century Europe? Who knows? At any rate, you can't have any of this one. It is the creation of Andy Erickson, a Napa Valley winemaker renowned for the achievements of his own Favia winery as well as for the glorious juices he concocts for a roster of clients, among whom Screaming Eagle stands paramount. A Manhattan-based blogger and wholesale wine merchant at Drink the good stuff! got a chance to taste this Apotheca about a year and a half ago (March 2009), at the same time she was tasting a first release of another of Mr. Erickson's wines, Ovid. Mr. Erickson seems to appreciate classical or medieval references.
Anyway, of Apotheca, she writes:
"We moved on to taste a barrel sample of a 2007 wine that was made solely for the Premier Napa Valley Auction. Apotheca is a blend of Andy and company's favorite lots [vineyard areas and their grapes], all of which were fermented in concrete. This wine is super concentrated, WOW! Too bad it will not be available commercially because this stuff is killer.
"Too bad it will not be available commercially." With this we approach an extremely rarefied world, the world of superfamous, superexpensive, luxury trade Napa Valley wine making. Art wine, literally. We are beyond anything so mundane as cliques, boutiques, tastings closed to the public, or industry secrets. We are in a world where the best wines are simply not made to be sold to mere people at all -- they are made, as medieval stone cutters carved cathedral gargoyles that would never be seen again once the scaffolding was taken down, for the joy of artistic creation and apparently the pleasure of God. Screaming Eagle, Dancing Hares, Ovid, Pritchard Hill (where Apotheca was made) -- these are wines released perhaps 5 cases at a time, and sold for tens of thousands of dollars to wealthy collectors once a year, at beyond-exclusive trade auctions that are California's equivalent to France's annual en primeur, straight-from-the-barrel Bordeaux sales. The Nakagawa Wine Company of Tokyo bought 5 cases of Toto's Opium Dream (cabernet sauvignon) for $80,000. The navigation buttons for the website of Napa Valley Vintners' "Premiere Napa Valley Auction" are in (I presume) Japanese.
Perfectly fine. But since I can't find, and think it highly unlikely that I will find, any proof that there was ever a mysterious and inspirational place called the Apotheca in 13th century Europe where wines were made and stored, I can only guess that as we come down to earth and drink a glass of scrumptious Apothic Red, we are enjoying, with the good people at Gallo, a little joke at Andy Erickson's expense. Maybe at Screaming Eagle's, at all Napa's expense. And yet maybe it's a more serious joke than we think. After all, what is in the bottle of Apotheca that is not in the bottle of Apothic Red? Yes, yes, "artisanal, handcrafted, soulful expression of the land," etc., and yes, we understand for a start that trainloads of grapes from all over California will not have the taste and strength of a few baskets of grapes lovingly seen to their destiny at one favored vineyard in Russian River valley. But. In the end, we do have two bottles filled with grape juices that the winemaker likes to experiment with, juices that earn some of the same enthusiastic adjectives -- power, opulence, ripe berries -- whether from the genteelly whispering Napa Valley Vintners or from the rather more chest-thumping Las Vegas Review-Journal. It's your ten dollars, for you can only experiment with the one; you decide if you like it.
A joke then, a jab, a gauntlet thrown down? How medieval. Not that Napa will deign to notice. However I do hope that that first time hire in Modesto who got this brilliant idea, or possibly the upper-echelon, gray-flannel-suit man who had it and then delegated it, each get a raise. Who knows but that this is the closest most of us will ever get to the legendary Screaming Eagle?
Dear Gallo. I love these people.
There's a great on-line store called Cookware.com, which sells all kinds of nifty kitchen gadgets, and from good makers, too -- Le Creuset, Calphalon, Zwilling-J.A.-Henckels among many others. If I had a $50 gift certificate in my hand to go shopping online anywhere, I think I'd go there. However, the $50 gift certificate that I can actually give away very soon -- no kidding -- is good at a huge array of shopping sites, taking us to the kitchen and then some. CSN Stores is the sponsor. The company's 200+ sites sell every imaginable thing for home, office, and beyond, from dining room sets to tailgating supplies to baby things to luggage to, of course, cookware. They've even got a Luxe by CSN site where you can hunt up those to-die-for shoes and your next "the Sak." And yes, you can find wine accessories, too.
So, let us delve into the details, and launch this giveaway. I know that the next kitchen-y item on my wish list is an immersion blender, a handy tool for mixing soups that I only learned about very recently. To be entered into the drawing for CSN'S gift certificate, leave a comment on this post and tell me (and the whole world, bwaaaah ha ha ha) what tops your "home, office or beyond" shopping wish list. Remember, I may be obsessed by the kitchen, but the $50 is good at any of CSN's more than 200 stores.
When you leave your comment, be sure of course to include your email. I'll keep the comments board open for ten days, until July 29 (does the date ring a bell? It was the day of Princess Diana's wedding, 29 years ago), and then I'll put all the emails into a hat and pick a winner at random.
Now this should be fun. Good luck to all.
Much more like a peach cake. As Madeleine Kamman sniffs -- and she rarely sniffs, but here I think she does -- in the great New Making of a Cook, "Coming as I do from Europe, I have always had a lot of trouble understanding why quick breads, which contain so much sugar, can be called breads. For me and pretty much all Europeans, they are a heavier form of cake, truly cakes not breads."
Note, a "heavier form of cake." And she is probably right. Perhaps the simple and unexciting reason our quick breads are so called is because we bake them in loaf pans, and so they come out looking breadish.
What follows is a recipe for a spiced peach nut (bread) cake, heavy indeed with sugar, fruit, and eggs, and not anything that our Madeleine is responsible for. It's from the Pillsbury company's "Simply From Scratch -- Volume 3" booklet, published in 1981. I'm glad to report it calls unabashedly for canned peaches (and their syrup), which are so easy to work with and tasty too. I went so far as to choose canned chopped peaches, which were easier still. They were "the bomb," isn't that the word?
Spicy peach cake
Preheat the oven to 350 F. Grease and flour a 9 x 5 or and 8 x 4 inch loaf pan. (Aha.)
In a large bowl combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, baking soda, spices, butter, eggs, peaches and 1/2 cup reserved syrup. Beat well. Stir in nuts.
Pour into the prepared pan, and bake for 40 t0 50 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center of the loaf comes out clean. Remove from pan, and cool completely.
In a small bowl, combine the glaze ingredients:
Notice the glaze is rather thin, and the finished cake, as good as it is, not the most attractive-looking thing in the world. Perhaps another reason why we call such confections by the humble name of bread?
Lot 10, Napa
Clear bright ruby
as usual with cabernets, near scentless
light -- could this be subtlety?
smoke and berries come through later
acidic along the tongue -- little tannin
(label claims "firm tannin" -- we think not)
next day, butter -- meat -- licorice
Retail, about $17
This wine wants a steak to accompany it, I think. But I have also gotten into the habit of pairing all my wines, of an evening, with a few crackers and a few slices of fresh mozzarella cheese. The plain creaminess of the cheese and the salty richness of the crackers (I'm a fan of Town House wheat myself) seems to flatter whatever is in the glass. In this case, something very elegant and so tasty.
Tangley Oaks winery
The distinct chardonnay aroma -- the words "smell" and "nose" both seem wrong to me -- of bananas and maybe some sort of tropical flower, and caramel -- remember the scene in The Last Emperor, when the deranged, beautiful young Chinese empress eats an orchid at the Japanese embassy reception? -- then the taste and the mouthwatering acidity of pineapple; and the full but not gooey body of a fine chardonnay, a chardonnay that is not all banana candy and an oak plank. You keep on sipping and smacking your lips and trying to decide what you taste more of, the tartness or the acidity or the caramel or the lush but not overripe tropic fruit. I think the winemakers would call all of this balance.
The words Sangiacomo Family Vineyard on the label open up an interesting window into the California wine industry, indeed any wine industry anywhere. The novice asks (if he thinks of it) who are all these people, and how do they make wine? One way is for a winery like Benziger to not only grow its own grapes to make wine, but also to buy some grapes from another family farm entirely. In the present case, Benziger is a client of Sangiacomo Family Vineyards, and one of many clients at that. Steele, La Crema, and Acacia are just a few others that you might see fairly regularly on wine store shelves. The Sangiacomos used to grow fruit, until choosing to make a switch to grapes in the 1980s.
Smart move. Good wine.
And fairly affordable. Retail, about $15.
We may balk at the idea of hot soup in summer. We would be wrong.
Julia Child tells us, in The French Chef Cookbook, that early summer in the Mediterranean is the time for eating soupe au pistou, a light vegetable soup finished off au pistou, with a cupful of thick garlic and basil paste stirred right in. (Think pesto, the Italian fresh mashed basil garnish.) This is the season when the soup's prime ingredients, not only basil but the first young beans plus zucchini and maybe peas and sweet peppers, come in fresh from the gardens. Elizabeth David, quoted in the compilation South Wind Through the Kitchen: the Best of Elizabeth David, does not mention Mediterranean summers but largely agrees with Julia's roster of ingredients for this easily made, delectable, and potently garlicky soup.
What follows is a Midwestern amalgamation of both divas' recipes. I felt free to amalgamate because it's summer here too, and la soupe, it seems, though made in all kinds of ways, still always contains ingredients easily to hand here. Potatoes, pasta, carrots, and beans are required -- young green beans certainly, but also white beans of the sort (Navy or Great Northern) that we are used to seeing only dried or canned; what Julia Child means, I presume, when she mentions fresh "horticultural" beans. I reached for a can of Great Northern, because there they were and anyway, another French authority, Madeleine Kamman, assures us "the American bean canning industry is excellent." The liquid needed is plain water, not a heavy wintry beef or veal stock. The pistou will always contain garlic, basil, and olive oil, but may also boast grated cheese, tomato paste, and in Elizabeth David's case, pine nuts. I admit I skipped those.
By the way, in her instructions Julia goes all out and recommends 2 Tbsp salt to 3 quarts of water. Perhaps when she wrote this she had already met and heeded James Beard, who said in one of his books that most people's biggest cooking problem is timidity with the salt shaker. Still, the proportion given makes a pretty salty soup. Feel free to cut it a bit.
The accompanying wine? -- would you believe, a cool, bright, strongly citrusy sauvignon blanc from Kim Crawford? It was clean, cleansing, refreshing, and just right.
You will need:
To begin, heat the 2 to 3 Tbsp olive oil in a large soup pot. Add in succession the onion, carrot, potatoes, and leeks, and saute all until the onions and leeks are limp and fragrant. (Elizabeth David adds a fresh tomato here, and then eliminates tomato paste from her pistou.) Pour in the water and add the salt. Bring to a boil and simmer, uncovered, for about 40 minutes. This is the soup base.
About half an hour before serving, add the zucchini and both kinds of beans, and any other fresh vegetables you are using. Julia Child suggests peas and either green or red sweet peppers. Return the soup to a simmer while you make the pistou. It's traditional to add a handful of pasta at this point, but if you want the soup gluten free, you will skip that step.
In a small bowl, or using a mortar and pestle, mash the garlic, basil, cheese, and tomato paste into a thick paste. Slowly dribble in the olive oil, beating with an electric beater, until the oil forms an emulsion and the mixture is thick and lightens somewhat in color.
Before serving, stir the pistou into the soup by spoonfuls. Combine thoroughly and reheat completely. Serve hot with a good bread, more grated cheese -- and the summery wine of your choice.