Thursday, November 1, 2012

Beers by Land and by Sea

One night I had a chat with a beertender about what beers you might take on a camping trip, and I kept thinking on the subject.  Here are some of my favorites:

Beers for a Camping Trip:
Moose Drool Chocolate Brown Ale, Big Sky Brewing Co.
Racer 5 1PA, Bear Republic
Kodiak Brown Ale,  Midnight Sun Brewing Co.

Beers for Fishing (a.k.a. a love letter to Ballast Point):
Ballast Point Black Marlin Porter
Big Swell IPA
Any of them, really, with all those fish on the labels.  

Beers for the Beach:
Red Seal Ale, North Coast
Scrimshaw Pilsner, North Coast
Bikini Blonde Lager, Maui Brewing Co.
Shark Attack Double Red Ale, Port Brewing Co.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

This Latte Will Bring Us Closer

Making their meanest “Judges” faces

Last Thursday I went to my first Latte Art Competition.  It was a Latte Art THROWDOWN, to be exact, presented byLos Angeles Thursday Night Throwdown, aka LATNT, at Fix Coffee in Echo Park.  It was a community event, bringing together people from some of the finest coffee shops on the Eastside.  There were competitors from Fix, Intelligentsia, Coffee Commissary, Cafe Dulce, and Handsome Coffee among others.

Does it seem like a room full of coffee geeks and TOMs-wearing baristas would be all macho about pouring the perfect rosetta design into a latte?  The answer is yes.  Yes they would.  A throwdown?  There may be no sweaty announcer a la Randy Savage, but spectators and competitors alike were just as amped.  Everyone would crowd in to see the drinks handed off at the end of the bar, and cheered for first-time pourers.  One guy even brought his own milk pitchers.  We also were well-fed and well-equipped to party and pour some drinks.  Everyone chipped in.  There were donations from Two Boots PizzaGolden Road giving us some tall boy cans of Point the WAY IPA and the GR Hefeweizen, accessories from LA Coffee Club, which ships locally roasted coffee to its subscribers, amazing samples from Verve Coffee Roasters, and contest beans supplied by Beyond the Grind.

So how does it work?

Two baristas go head-to-head, splitting a double shot of espresso into two 8oz cups, while each of them steams their milk.   After they pour their magic, they shuffle it over to the panel of discerning judges, usually to a chorus of “oohs” from the onlookers.  Then the winning cup is declared by a fist on the table.  In the event of a tiebreaker, the judges call out a new shape (rosetta, tulip) or new milk (nonfat).  (There were several threats of “Soymilk,” which always garnered a laugh.)  So it goes on to the final round, when the winner takes home a big pot of money from the entrance fees.  And who doesn’t want free beer money?  That would make my week.

The LATNT is the ground floor into the world of specialty coffee competitions.

From there it goes on to Barista Nation, and the U.S. and World Barista Championships.  In the upper echelons it is more complicated. Competitors must pour a single espresso, a cappuccino and a signature drink for multiple sensory & technical judges.  It’s easy to scoff at, but it’s just as serious as any cooking or pastry competition.  Brewing coffee is a science, and its very easy to tarnish the taste of these delicately roasted beans when placed in the wrong hands.  The beauty of local roasters like like Jones Coffee in Pasadena and Handsome Coffee in Downtown LA, is that they bring coffee to the height of wine.  The flavor descriptors on that $5 single-origin cup of coffee is no bullshit.  You really can smell and taste the caramel, hazelnuts, and even sage or strawberry.  Terroir is not just for wine.
So if one day you find yourself invited to a Latte Art Competition by that barista friend, do yourself a favor and check it out.  You’ll meet some good people having a good time.  And feel free to wear flannel.

This round of Thursday Night Throwdown began in January.  Finals will be in November.  Stay tuned!
And check out the feature of the event by coffee blogger Smdlr.  She knows what’s up! 

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Poor Fee's Tomato & Black Bean Soup

Mis amigos

It's a week when I need to stretch the almighty dollar pretty far, so I made soup.

Tomato-Black Bean Soup
3 cloves garlic, smashed
1/4 diced yellow onion
1 green chile, diced
4 fresh roma tomatoes, diced
14oz (1 can) vegetable broth (or use bouillon cubes)
4- 14oz cans diced tomatoes in juice
1-29oz can black beans, drained
1 avocado (for garnish)
1 lime (for garnish)
red pepper flakes (optional)

Sweat the garlic, onion and green chile in your soup pot, about 10 minutes.  Add 3 of the fresh tomatoes and let cook down.  Sprinkle in red pepper flakes.  Add canned diced tomatoes and black beans, reserving a few tablespoons to stir in at the end.  Let simmer until hot.

Now bust out that blender! If you have an immersion blender, bravo, that's a fancy kitchen appliance.  If you're like me, you're blending the soup in batches.  Blend until mostly smooth, then transfer back into the soup pot.  Adjust seasoning, and then add the reserved black beans and diced fresh tomato for texture.

Serve with avocado slices, a squeeze of fresh lime juice, your favorite hot sauce, and a hot tortilla. 

For all the canned goods (tomatoes, beans, broth) I try to find salt-free or low sodium wherever possible.  You can always add more salt.   It's not so fun to rinse your dinner with water and wash the flavor out because you dumped too much salt in.  No, it's not.

I also made a salad to go along with...

Collard Green Salad
2 or 3 large leaves collard greens, stems removed, chopped into thin strips
1/2 avocado, diced
1/2 small lime, juiced
salt & pepper
olive oil

I wanted some crunch so I treated the greens like I would raw kale, massaging the leaves with the lime juice and salt.  Simple. Yummy.

Tuesday Tidbit:  I rarely eat collard greens because often they're sitting sloppy and cold in a bowl, and it's the last thing I want to eat with dinner.  BUT I just discovered that raw collard greens pale in comparison to cooked for nutritional value, which boasts 5 times as much fiber, 4 times as much protein, and similar boosts in Vitamin A, Calcium, and Antioxidants.  What's not to love?


Friday, May 18, 2012

Ballast Point Tasting

Happy American Craft Beer Week!  

This is THE week to drink local beer and praise brewers for all their hard work.  This Monday the Golden Gopher Beer Society was host to Ballast Point Brewing & Spirits from San Diego.  We sampled a ton of beers!  Aside from their classics like the Pale Ale, Big Eye IPA, and the Calico Amber, they brought along some specialty high-flavor brews. Here are two of my faves:

San Salvador
Saison Farmhouse Ale
7.5% ABV

Brewed with local white sage, curacao, and elderflower, this Saison is a pleasant balance of malt and earthy grassiness.  It reminded me of Bootlegger's Chocolate Mint porter, the herbs giving a fresh aroma and a tingly mouth feel.

Tongue Buckler
Imperial Red Ale
10% ABV
107 IBU

Man, oh man.  I am in love with Imperial Styles.  They pack a punch, and the Tongue Buckler is no exception.   A fruity, malty explosion with a serious resiny hop backbone.  I swear to you, to me it smelled like Haribo Gummi Bears. Yum!

So what's the deal with Imperial Styles?  

Think high.  Brewers bump up the hops for high bitterness, but then round it out with more malts, making it high alcohol (whee!) with a ton of flavor.  What's an IBU?  It's an International Bittering Unit, or a measure of the bitterness in beer, a scale from 0 to 100.  The next time you find yourself in the beer section at the liquor store, keep that in mind when you want to try a new IPA.  A great super bitter ale is Moylan's Hopsicle Imperial Ale, or Green Flash Palate Wrecker, both with 100+ IBUs.

Ballast Point Brewing is a mere 16 years old, growing from its origins at Home Brew Mart (built in 1992), and has taken the San Diego beer community by storm.   Ballast Point is available in many pockets of the country: Boston, New York City, and of course San Francisco, L.A., even internationally in Japan and the Philippines.  Come to the Golden Gopher for a few pints of Sculpin or Wahoo Wheat, and take home some bottles from 8th Street Bottle Shop.  Many thanks to Sales Reps Matt Wilson and Laura Slayter for leading the tasting.


Ballast Point Brewing & Spirits
10051 Old Grove Road
San Diego, CA 92131

"Real beer lovers, making real good beer." 

Friday, May 11, 2012

What Makes a Stew?

3-lb Young Rabbit

What Makes a Stew? or My Relationship to Meat

Today I was walking down Pico back to my car, amidst the flurry of the Fashion District, and I remembered the first occasion I cooked rabbit. My birthday always falls around Easter, so I made the morbidly-fascinated decision to serve rabbit at my party.  (See previous post for pics.)

At the time I was working at the now closed Fleur de Lys in Monterey Park, which is predominantly Chinese.  I asked around, and the most common response was, "I don't know, a pet store?"  I told one of my regulars Vivian about my conquest for rabbit for dinner.  Three days a week Vivian would come in, order a Double Cappuccino, (extra hot) and try a scone.  She often had comments like, "Not hot enough" or "The scone didn't crumble like it should."  Her daughter was a Pastry Chef in New York.   She was the only one who had an answer to my rabbit question.  "I think I know a place."

She ended up calling me on Saturday afternoon, and told me "there is a market in South LA that sells live ducks.  They might have rabbit."  I wrote down the address, thanked her, and hung up the phone dumbfounded.  "Oh my God," I thought, "She thinks I want a pet?  Does she think I was going to buy the rabbit and kill it?"  Loads of questions ran through my mind.  I wondered what the tradition was at her house, or maybe what was inherited from her family's past.

Binta at the CFCA in Niamey avec poulet
When I was in Niger in 2007 I helped pluck and butcher two freshly-slaughtered chickens.  It was curious, to stare at a chicken (or rabbit) carcass and empathize, feeling like I myself am just bones and meat.  (The year before that I had seen Bodies: The Exhibition in Boston.)  It was humbling and disturbing, to be able to see humans as animals.  Along the same lines, even though the act of turning the "animal" to "meat" is quite shocking, it is also quite human.  It seems to be a challenge in our food culture for people to recognize that fact. 

Perhaps that's what you get living the product-oriented way of life.  "Don't show me the dirty work.  I only want to see the prize." 

And do you know what my family ate for Easter in 2011? Roasted Rabbit.  The tradition lives on. 


Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Cinco de Mayo: Fiesta on the Brink of Summer

Cinco de Mayo: Fiesta on the Brink of Summer

Reennactment in the city of Puebla, Mexico Photo: Eduardo Verdugo, AP

Cinco de Drinko. Drinko de Mayo.  Whichever you call it, Saturday was a day for feasting and drinking.   For many it is a "drinking holiday" just like St. Patrick's Day, where anyone feels right scarfing nachos and slamming tequila shots.  

Un poco de historia...

Not be confused with Mexican Independence Day (September 16th), Cinco de Mayo commemoratess the 1861 Battle of Puebla, in which Mexican forces led by General Ignacio Zaragoza drove the occupying French from the city of Puebla, in a symbolic win for the liberal Mexican government.  Cinco de Mayo became popular in the US in the 1960's during the Chicano Civil Rights Movement, and has since become a celebration of Mexican culture and heritage.




Back to the food...

Just off Franklin Ave. in Los Feliz, a good friend's parents held a last-minute fiesta on their front porch, a great place for conversation. (Anne Stothard thinks so, too!)   On the menu: tacos, guacamole, beer, and tequila.  As I arrived my friend Julia was busy de-pitting avocados and mincing garlic.  Grillmaster Richard was prepping the grill for the array of meats.  There is no rest for the vegetarian at this house.  There was Flank Steak, Argentinian & Mexican Chorizo, and Carnitas al Pastor.

Al Pastor means "shepherd style" and is a Shawarma-inspired spice mix adapted by Lebanese immigrants in Mexico.  The recipe includes roasting the meat with pineapple, leaving it to marinate for days, making the meat sweet, acidic, and ohh so tender.  Our batches were purchased for $2.99/lb at the Produce for Less Market on Melrose.  It's just one of the thousands of mercados and carnicerias scattered across Los Angeles.

We warmed up on Cerveza and shots of Tequila Reposado.  We snacked on slices of chorizo covered in lime juice and chopped cilantro.  After I assisted with the grilling of the flour tortillas, we ate.  Freshly grilled meat, smooth avocado, and the cool spiciness of mango salsa always makes a pleasant bite.  Que bueno!  To the first of many cookouts this season!

Photo credit: Salman Jafri

To the brink...

There's a mystery to this time of year.  Just before the heat of summer,  the wind blows the scents of burning charcoal, rosemary, and jacaranda blossoms down LA sidewalks.  Driving towards Downtown after dinner, with the orange Supermoon rising over the metropolis, I could already feel the bittersweet hope of summertime. 


Saturday, April 28, 2012

Hangar 24 Brewery Tour & Tasting

The groves on Judson St.
Next stop for these oranges: beer.

Hangar 24 Brewery Tour and Tasting

Drive an hour east of Los Angeles on the 10 or 210 freeways, about 1/5 the way to Las Vegas, and you'll hit Redlands.  Drive north on Judson Street past these orange groves, toward the San Bernardino Mountains, and across the street from the Redlands Municipal Airport you'll find Hangar 24 Brewery.  Wednesday afternoon I went with the Golden Gopher bar staff for a tour and tasting.  Driving through the hot and humid valley heat, I was ready for a beer upon arrival.  We were greeted by Wholesaler Market Manager, Rafael Hurtado, and I had a pint as we watched the brewery in action. 

The tour was given by Brewer John Kopta, who moved from Colorado to California a few years ago.  As we passed the grain mill and brew kettles, stepping over large hoses on wet concrete, the hum and buzz of room was constant.   All these guys (bearded and non-bearded alike) run around in their rubber boots and jeans.  To meet current demands, they work 24 hours, 5 days a week.  And the space is surprisingly small for the volume they produce.  I was floored.  At this point I have brewed beer twice, and it is humbling to see production on a larger scale.  A lot of home brewers will make anywhere from 2 to 5 gallons of beer at a time.  At Hangar 24, they brew in 20-25 barrel capacity kettles.

As of April 23rd they have broken ground for expansion to DOUBLE brewing capacity and build a canning system.  (Canned craft beer does not mean it's cheap and tasteless.  It's more cost-effective than bottles, and more importantly environment friendly.)  Last year they produced just over 15,000 barrels, roughly 3,780,000 pints, and graduated from a "Microbrewery" to a "Regional Craft Brewery."  June marks the 4-year anniversary, so look out for the Anniversary Ale, to be announced. 

Just like El Segundo and Golden Road, Hangar 24 is dedicated to making quality brews for locals.  Hangar 24 goes the step of sourcing ingredients locally, not only for the Redlands-grown oranges for the Orange Wheat (pictured above), but dates grown in Coachella Valley for Palmero, their dark and fruity Belgian Dubbel.  (Part of the Local Fields Series.)  The story is heartwarming: Founder Ben Cook and buddies flying planes, talking about life and drinking home brew. The rest is a labor of love. Do yourself a favor and make the drive East, fill a growler, and talk beer with these guys.

Amarillo Pale Ale bottles being labeled


To conclude, allow me to share my Blunder of the trip.

When you make beer in home brew, after you have boiled the grains and pitched the yeast, you need to seal the fermenter (or carboy) with an airlock and stopper.  This allows carbon dioxide to escape, while keeping oxygen out.  To make sure no bacteria has any chance, you fill the airlock with a flavorless, sanitized solution such as vodka.  On this large scale, the airlock is instead a large metal blow-off tube submerged in a bucket of sanitized solution, and the CO2 escaping looks just like boiling water.  Next to the Orange Wheat, you can whiff the vapors of orange peel from across the room.  I made the mistake of sticking my nose in the bucket and getting one, swift sniff.  It was a jolt up my nostril and took my breath away. I've done it once, but I don't recommend this.  It's probably on the same brain cell-melting level of huffing in your parents' garage.  No, no, no.  After we did that, John mentioned the dangers of working in a brewery: high pressure tanks, exploding kegs, and dangerous chemicals.  Duly noted.

Hangar 24 beers are on tap at Golden Gopher.  Stop by in the next few weeks while they still have Pugachev's Cobra, a 16.5% Russian Imperial Stout and Hammerhead, a 13.8% Barleywine aged in Rye Whisky barrels, both from the Barrel Roll Series

Want some Chocolate Porter to go?  Make sure and stop by 8th Street Bottle Shop.  We'll send you home happy.


(Check my math: 1 US liquid barrel=252 pints.  252*15,000=3.78 mil.  Feel free to correct!)

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Happy St. Patty's Day from a Doyle


Happy St. Patrick's Day- A drinking holiday that is not religious, but commercial, where any red-blooded American can claim Irish heritage, and where inexplicably strangers can pinch you.

I was in the play Dancing at Lughnasa by Brian Friel my senior year of high school.  In the climax scene, the sisters dance in the kitchen, one of them putting flour on her face as a mask.  I always romantically imagined if I were to ever live in Ireland, I would spend my afternoons gathering Peat Moss and singing, that hopefully making a loaf of Irish Soda Bread could be that exciting.

My mom has the habit of making Irish Soda Bread, and it is something quite simple and delicious.  Here's a nice recipe (and pic) from Closet Cooking, a great blog.

Irish Soda Bread
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup whole-wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup rolled oats
1 cup buttermilk

1. Mix the flour, baking soda, salt and rolled oats in a bowl.
2. Mix in the buttermilk and form a dough.
3. Shape the dough and place it on a baking sheet or in a loaf pan.
4. Bake in a preheated 375F oven for 40 minutes (the top should be golden brown).

Goes well with Lamb Stew, and Guinness Chocolate Pudding, and whiskey, and Moylan's Dragoons Dry Irish Stout.  It goes on. 

And now the Pogues...


Tuesday, March 13, 2012

El Segundo Brewing Co. Tasting

Once a month in Downtown LA, Golden Gopher Beer Society hosts a beer tasting in which local Professional Brewers share and talk about their beer with guests.  It's a whole lot of fun.  This past Monday, Thomas Kelley from El Segundo Brewing Co. brought 3 excellent beers for an eager crowd to taste.

Blue House Pale Ale 5.5% ABV, IBU-34
The perfect "lawnmower" beer.  Refreshing carbonation, nice aroma, with a bitterness that finishes clean.

Hyperion's Double Stout 7.5% ABV, IBU-35
Chocolate, chocolate, chocolate!  Your girlfriend will love this beer.  Creamy with a sweet chocolate base, and a balance of bitter roasted coffee to balance.  (It smelled like coffee liqueur to me!) An experimentation in style that lies between the traditional or average stout, and your higher ABV Imperial Stouts. 

White Dog I.P.A. 6.7% ABV, IBU-53
Another successful experiment brewed for both hopheads and neophytes alike!  A fairly bitter but lighter-bodied IPA with some serious fruity notes.  This beer is made with 50% wheat in the mash to lighten the body and bring out the citrus character of the hops.  (Made with Sauvin hops from New Zealand, which amazingly taste like White Wine and Grapefruit!)

This was the first time I had ever tasted anything from El Segundo Brewing, and I was pleased as punch.  It was intriguing to hear Thomas Kelley speak about a wide range of topics on opening a brewery.  Did you know that hops are a huge commodity?  There is basically a Gold Rush, with growers raising prices based on availability of popular strains, so much so that brewers will often have to scratch an entire recipe because the hop is no longer available.  The Beer Chicks were in attendance, asking questions, drinking beers and cracking jokes along with the rest of us. 

El Segundo strives to become THE hop-centric brewery in Los Angeles.  They only opened production in May of 2011, and have found great success in the burgeoning LA Craft Beer Scene.   Look out for bottles in stores this summer.
El Segundo's Reserve Citra Pale Ale is on tap along with the 3 tasting beers this month at the Golden Gopher, located at 417 W. 8th Street. Downtown Los Angeles, 90014.  El Segundo brews can be found all over the Southland, including Beer Belly in Koreatown, Mohawk Bend in Echo Park, City Tavern in Culver City, and of course at the Tap Room at the brewery in El Segundo.

For more information on Golden Gopher Beer Society, come down to the bar and ask a bartender to hook you up, and stop by the 8th Street Bottle Shop on your way out!


Sunday, February 26, 2012

Trial by Curds: Making Cheese

Before I finish eating all of it, I'm going to write about it.  Inspired by the last blog post about things I want to make from scratch, today I spent about an hour making Mozzarella Cheese in my friend Angie's kitchen.  I first saw this kit in the little town of Ashfield, MA when I was doing an internship with Double Edge Theatre.  Little known to me there is a cheese genius in this town of dairy farms: Ricki Carroll, who has been running the business with her husband Robert since 1978.

You can order kits to make Cheddar, Feta, Gouda, Parmesan, and more.  You can buy wax,molds, sign up for cheesemaking classes, or by some awesome books on Cheesemaking.  The website has an in-depth overview of cheesemaking, including different animal milks to use, pasteurization, raw milk, and an explanation of what the hell rennet is.

"Rennet is an enzyme derived from the stomachs of calves, lambs or goats before they consume anything but milk. It is about 90% pure chymosin." (a chemical coming from the 4th chamber of the cow's stomach)

Good to know I can thank the cow's 4th stomach, because it was certainly magical to watch curds form as we stirred in the rennet.  The 30-Minute Mozzarella and Ricotta Kit includes enough for 30 batches, including the rennet tablets, citric acid, cheese salt, a dairy thermometer, and cheesecloth.  All you need to supply is a gallon of milk!

(We used Straus Family Creamery Cream-Top Whole Milk.  I ate the cream out of the bottle with a knife! YUM!)

Whey, the byproduct of the boiling and curdling, is a very interesting substance.  It is milk-ish:  a white cloud that tastes quite tangy and is packed with protein, enzymes, and the all-important lactose.  What to do with it?  Dry it out to put in my morning smoothie?  Drink it straight up? You can also feed it to your tomatoes or your dog.  Either way, it's good to keep around.  It will surely enrich the soul.  

What is most interesting is that one gallon of milk does not yield very much cheese.   Cow's milk is 88% water, 3-5% protein and 3-5% fat.  The rest is minerals and enzymes.   My blob of Mozz turned out to be a little smaller than my fist, about 4 inches across.   No wonder cheese costs so much. (The more you know!)

We had a few technical issues: forgot to add salt, and neither of us achieved the 'custard-like' curd that is supposed to form in the pot before moving on to the forming&stretching stage, but in the end it tasted like the full-fat organic cheesy goodness.  We had to consult a website for troubleshooting.  The directions in the booklet were not as in depth as I would have liked.  Our hiccups were from overheating & overstirring.  Heat it too quickly or too much then the structure breaks down and you end of with something that is less elastic & shiny.  Ah, well.  That's what's practice is for.  I suppose it is the first pancake rule: this one's going to the dog.  Maybe by the 10th time we make it, it will take 30 minutes start to finish. Either way, it was a real thrill to learn to make something from scratch! 

Next up, ricotta!  (and more pictures)

Cheers to Cheese,

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Make it From Scratch: A List

Cooking from scratch: Making food with fresh, raw ingredients and eating it tout de suite as it was intended!  For me it's a chance to say, "Hey! I know how hard it is to make this loaf of bread, this bottle of beer, or this pancake."  At one point all real, packaged food was handmade and homemade before it hit an assembly line to be wrapped in cellophane.  Cooking from scratch reminds me always of the effort and love behind really good cooking.
(Some of these aren't necessarily artisanal, but I'm including because they're complicated and intimidating and would be awesome to learn how to cook!)


Mozzarella, Parmesan, Blue, Cheddar


Tortilla Soup
Potatoes Anna

Chocolate Truffles
Apricot Jam
Dried Mangoes or Apples
Buche de Noel

Pork Rillette

Hot Sauce
Mole Sauce 
Dill Pickles

Honey Wine
Mulled Wine

To be continued,

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

I'll admit it: I'm eating Kale

Kale, Kale, Kale.  In light of extolling its nutritional virtues, here is the recipe for my kale salad I had for dinner.  Easy and impromptu.

1 bunch kale
1 small lemon
1 avocado
1 roma tomato
olive oil
balsamic vinegar
Italian seasoning

Rinse and dry kale leaves.  Chop into thin strips and throw in your bowl, discarding stalks.  Squeeze juice of 1 lemon onto kale.  Grabbing small handfuls, massage kale between palms until it begins to soften.  Drizzle olive oil, add salt, and pepper to taste then toss.  Cube avocado meat, then toss.  Slice tomato into chunks.  Add dash of Italian Seasoning and dash of balsamic.  Yum!

For Christmas I made a version with shaved Parmesan and Fennel.  Anyway you do it, lemon and kale make for best friends in a salad.


P.S. For the love of Kale, at about 0:30.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Hot and Salty

Hot and Salty what?

Sriracha. The Rooster. Cock Sauce. The good stuff I pour over my pizza and pho. I'm a big fan of their sister sauce, Sambal Oelek. Good to stir in soups.

I read an enthusiastic blog post by Joshua Bosel at Serious Eats about Sriracha from Scratch. I mean, really, just look at those pretty red jalapenos.
All it takes is the marvel of fermenting pureed chilies, garlic, sugar, salt, vinegar. That's right, this funky hotness is so easily forgettable as a fermented product that we consume. For me, it's a strange thought. It sends shudders of the taste of kimchi down my spine, the rotting cabbage emerging from clay pots buried in the earth.

Articles upon articles do this sauce justice as to its versatility and flavor, and of course, awesomeness. (Even a cookbook, The Sriracha Cookbook.)

It made me think about one of my favorite recent nonfiction reads, Salt: A World History by Mark Kurlansky.

It was first recommended to me years ago on a cross country train ride from Chicago to San Francisco. It reads like a series of historical anecdotes, and sometimes very textbooky without preaching themes and summaries. It goes around the world, chronicling the evolution of salt mines and salt works in China, Italy and the like, and how those societies lived and died by their longevity. It covers curing, pickling, and fermented fish pastes and delicacies like kimchi. There's also a short section on the American-made Tabasco Pepper sauce for the patriots in us. It's an interesting read if you'd ever want to get a better idea of what it takes to get Morton's Table Salt or that fancy Pink Himalayan Salt to your kitchen counter.

Fun Fact: You know why French Gray Sea Salt tastes so good? Because there's dirt in it. True story.


Friday, January 20, 2012

Think like Wine: an essay

Awake at 4am, plagued with a fit of existential jitters, I was suddenly reminded of one of my favorite speeches from Alexander Payne's Sideways.

Miles, (the would-be sommelier played by Paul Giamatti), responds to the question "Why are you so into Pinot?" with one of the best speeches of the movie.

Miles Raymond: Uh, I don't know, I don't know. Um, it's a hard grape to grow, as you know. Right? It's uh, it's thin-skinned, temperamental, ripens early. It's, you know, it's not a survivor like Cabernet, which can just grow anywhere and uh, thrive even when it's neglected. No, Pinot needs constant care and attention. You know? And in fact it can only grow in these really specific, little, tucked away corners of the world. And, and only the most patient and nurturing of growers can do it, really. Only somebody who really takes the time to understand Pinot's potential can then coax it into its fullest expression. Then, I mean, oh its flavors, they're just the most haunting and brilliant and thrilling and subtle and... ancient on the planet.

Any wine lover I know adores this movie, and has put "Have dinner at the Hitching Post" on their bucket list. For me at 4am, I flattered myself to think that I was exactly like a Pinot grape, brilliant but temperamental, and I went on to make perhaps the less than original conclusion that people are complex as wine. Cabernet Sauvignon. Tempranillo. Even a cheap Vin de Table.

Miles here is delving into his true inner romantic, and by extension describing himself. He says, "Only somebody who really takes the time to understand Pinot's potential can then coax it into its fullest expression." In this seduction scene, he's telling his love interest Maya (Virgina Madsen) the exact same things about himself. "I'm stubborn baby, but I'm worth it."

In the question, "Why Wine?" Maya has this to say:

Maya: I like to think about the life of wine...How it's a living thing. I like to think about what was going on the year the grapes were growing; how the sun was shining; if it rained. I like to think about all the people who tended and picked the grapes. And if it's an old wine, how many of them must be dead by now. I like how wine continues to evolve, like if I opened a bottle of wine today it would taste different than if I'd opened it on any other day, because a bottle of wine is actually alive. And it's constantly evolving and gaining complexity. That is, until it peaks, like your '61. And then it begins its steady, inevitable decline. "

Here as Maya speaks she delves into her passion for the creation and story of wine. (And I can't help but agree with her historical romanticism.) She says, "it's constantly evolving and gaining complexity" speaking on not only wine, but on what it is to experience life as a human. She's demonstrating to Miles her desire for him. Unfortunately, as intelligent and emotionally fragmented as he is, can't quite complete the seduction in the moment. This scene is so full of the potential passion that their union could have. It is gut-wrenching, eliciting loads of empathy for Miles from our hearts.

The idea that human characteristics can be applied to wine is crucial to understanding our relationship with food. As much energy it takes to grow, cultivate and manufacture wine, there is a reciprocal effect on those who consume it. This movie makes clear that the the tradition of consuming and manipulating raw ingredients from the ground is at the heart of survival and evolution on our little Earth.

I could get hyperbolic about this movie. Perhaps I already have. Great cast. Great script. It's one of those films that you've just gotta see.


P.S. Haven't seen The Descendants yet. Looking forward to it, Mr. Payne.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

My First Cup of Coffee

After a fantastic dinner at Akasha in Culver City, I am pleasantly full and feeling equally in a romantic mood to make a post. I am a Foursquare addict, and I got a free latte with my meal after checking in tonight. As I was staring into the swirling designs of the crema and milk, I thought back to my strongest memory of drinking coffee.

(Like my beer entry, this was certainly NOT my first cup of coffee in my life. Sure I'd had coffee at home, at shitty diners and my school cafeteria, but this is the ideal memory.)

I'm 16 years old, and it's the summer after my sophomore year of high school. I go on a 3-week trip to France, starting and finishing in Paris. My parents booked a penthouse to rent in the 5th arrondissement near the Sorbonne. Fabulous. Fabulous. It's 6:30 in the morning and I shoot out of bed. Jetlag? My brother and I connect in whispers and decide to go out for a very early breakfast. We take a stroll through the just-washed streets, not yet filled with busy Parisians. My teenage eyes soak in the majesty of the mythical city, so eager and hungry to see what all the fuss is about. We come to a corner, and walk into a cafe as the waitress was busy setting up. We were the first customers.

All I order is a pain au chocolat and a cafe au lait. The croissant? It was that angelic combination of flaky butter and semi-sweet chocolate. The coffee arrives in a large white bowl, which warms your hands as you drink. Who knows where this coffee was roasted, or what method they used to prepare it, but coffee was not coffee before this morning. It was the atmosphere, the hunger and anticipation. After we paid the tab and were on our merry way for a day of kitschy tourism, I knew I was hooked.

And I sure am. Sometimes on my days off from working at a cafe, I forget to get coffee until after dark. I get the classic headache, and become a moaning, aching addict. In those most desperate of situations, even Coffee Bean will do.