Wednesday, March 31, 2010
The charoset is a chopped apple (anything but Red Delicious, please) mixed with a package of chopped pecans, a handful of chopped dates, a sprinkle of cinnamon and sugar, and a splash of Sandeman's 10-year tawny port. My, but the family gobbled it up.
The horseradish is the prepared creamy kind, tipped out from a pretty little round jar; parsley and salt water are easily at hand; never having understood how one roasts an egg, I content myself with a boiled one.
As for the shankbone -- well. Once, years ago, I bought one and roasted it properly. Then one year (probably the very next) whilst running about the Pesach-tide kitchen with first-graders and a toddler underfoot bless them, I realized I had forgotten the shankbone. I asked my older daughter to "draw me a sheep" to represent what was missing, and she obliged. We put it on the seder plate, and then I tucked it into our one haggadah as a bookmark. The next year, there it was, and so we used it again. Now it has become our somewhat bedraggled shankbone.
And as for the Italian Thinkbread, you may suspect I am joking. Not at all. I found it next to the matza in the grocery store's kosher aisle. It has sun-dried tomatoes and olive oil in it. The family gobbled that up, too.
Raymond Sokolov described Passover succinctly in The Jewish-American Kitchen. He said that, apart from the obvious, the major point of the seder is to keep children curious and involved in the prayers, questions, blessings, and readings by letting them participate in the rituals, as well as eat the succession of "symbolic anti-foods. Then, they are fed a very filling meal." He has gorgeous photographs of the perfect fantasy seder, the matzah ball soup, the brisket, the gefilte fish, the tzimmes, and all complete with brocade tablecloths, lovely china and flowers, and heavy silver candlesticks in the background. ("The table should be set as festively as possible.") It all ends in "a splendor of non-flour desserts," photographs of those, too, included -- scrumptious, cloud-light honey cakes and plates of walnut brittle poised beside little crystal tea cups sitting in lacy gold holders. Perfect.
Ideally the seder, if conducted only among deeply interested and patient adults who want faithfully to worship through the entire Haggadah before and after eating, could go on for hours and could serve as a satisfying spiritual channel to antiquity -- the story comes from ancient Egypt, the meal from Rome -- to one's ancestors, and I suppose to God. In reality it can be a tortuous affair for many, or at any rate a uniquely strained yet workaday dinner, filled with much surreptitious glancing at watches and shushing of children, much hurry and worry over the rapidly cooling foods, and inevitable thoughts of the mess in the kitchen afterwards. A meal that comes with its own built in emotional pressure -- you should feel glorious about this, startinnngg now -- can be hard to look forward to and a relief to get over. What is the satisfaction of it? -- and not just Passover but, who knows, for some people perhaps Thanksgiving or Christmas too? Are these meals nearly as pleasurable as pizza on the couch in front of the Super Bowl, or is pleasure in sacred meals trivial? I wonder if there will be a time when centuries of ritual will have made the Super Bowl party a huge and anxious task, which people will thankfully dismiss when it's over, as in the words of the Haggadah: "And so we end the Passover Seder. We have conducted it according to custom, according to law...."
And we haven't even mentioned the fantastic preparatory work that will have gone on, in observant families, for weeks before the holiday, to clean the house of any and all chametz (foods containing any leavening), to bring out a separate set of dishes, to kasher the silverware, and so on. When Passover falls on a Saturday night, very observant families face the problem of having to run a seder when no cooking or other preparation has been permitted since the sabbath began the previous evening. I did once, only once, prepare and have ready a cold Passover dinner for a Saturday night. It was early on in my conversionary fervor. (Hell, speaking of fervor, I once knew a woman who tried wearing a wig for a while.) Of that cold meal, the less said the better.
I salute those who make it their business to do it all fully and with joy. This year, my solution was minestrone with Italian Thinkbread, a seder plate with our traditional paper shankbone on the table, and a nod to the good Lord for conveniently arranging this Passover for one of my Mondays off. Next year ... we'll think about it next year.
2 pounds of inexpensive beef -- big, flat "steaks" are easy to use
3-4 carrots, scraped and chopped
3-4 stalks of celery, chopped
3 cloves of garlic, diced
2 big onions, chopped
2 leeks, chopped
1 small head of Savoy cabbage, cored and sliced thin
2 tomatoes, halved and seeds removed
1-2 sprigs of fresh rosemary; other fresh or dried herbs -- basil, oregano, thyme, etc. -- to your taste
vegetable or beef broth or water
1/3 cup red wine
1 can of black beans (you may add these, rinsed, toward the end of the cooking time)
Sear the beef in olive oil in a heavy pan until it is nicely browned on both sides. Put it into a big stockpot (mine has a capacity of 16 quarts). Add a little more olive oil or butter as needed to the pan, and briefly saute the vegetables in batches, so that they soften and perhaps brown a little, instead of just steaming. As each batch finishes, add it to the meat in the stockpot. Add the herbs. (I put the rosemary into a paper coffee filter and staple it shut, so that the rosemary leaves will not disperse throughout the soup.) Finally, deglaze the pan with about 1/3 cup or so of red wine of your choice. Boil the wine briefly so you are not putting it into the stockpot "raw."
When everything you want in your soup is in the stockpot, add water to cover the solids, or use a beef or vegetable broth if you have one handy. Bring to a boil, and simmer for 4 or 5 hours, tasting and adding salt and pepper as necessary. You may also boil some rice or noodles separately, to spoon into each guest's bowl if they wish it. Pass grated Parmesan or other hard cheese separately.
Sunday, March 28, 2010
Oxblood-red, velvet red -- Chinese red -- plum red;
scent of earth, bramble;
acidic, tannic -- not too fruity; tight?
malbec, 48% -- merlot 28% -- cabernet sauvignon 12% -- syrah 12%
a little cedar with time, a little cigar? -- caramel, spice. Firm.
This is a firm, strong young wine. It inspires images of a young man in a suit and a fedora, a young man of firm gaze and firm handshake, of effortless and unconscious good posture, of firm, no-nonsense wants and a firm friendly gaze.
Perhaps the wine makes me think of a strong, able, fedora-ed young man because Clos de los Siete has such a firm, strong pedigree. Three years ago, Alder Yarrow at Vinography wrote with rapture of the massive vineyards of Tunuyan crouched beneath the still more massive tilt of the Andes, and of the work and the fortune that had obviously gone into carving the wineries that make Clos de los Siete out of the rocks and high plains of Mendoza. The vines themselves were only three years old then and were already producing excellent wine. Who did it all?
The people who did are nothing less than "household names in France," as David Kingsbury wrote in Wine Business Monthly when the first vintage of Clos de los Siete approached the market in 2002. Of the six partners who ventured in to the project with winemaker Michel Rolland (thus making siete), some come from the families who happen to manufacture Mirage jets, or who used to manufacture Cristal d'Arque crystal; all have deep roots in Bordeaux. One is simply surnamed Rothschild.
For his investment, each partner got a separate parcel of the total 2000 acre Vista Flores purchase for his own vineyard and bodega. Each makes his own wine. All contribute juice to the property's flagship blend, Clos de los Siete. To begin it all, the land needed downright pioneering work to make it arable -- huge rocks removed, storm-ravaged gullies filled in, drip irrigation systems installed -- because it was the location that had mattered. High altitude, the relative protection of the Andes from bad weather, a sun-loving northern facing, wide plains open to good air circulation, and those poor soils that vinifera grapes love, were all what attracted Michel Rolland to this region to begin with.
As for Michel Rolland: he is "the most famous wine consultant in the world -- perhaps the only famous wine consultant in the world" (Eric Asimov, The Pour, October 11, 2006). He is savior. (Of what?) He is Satan. (What?) He is ... let me explain this way. When you, in your little corner of the world, tell a wine industry professional with twenty years in the business that you are sampling Clos de los Siete, and you chirp, "The winemaker's name is Michel Rolland -- it's a French name, so it's not 'Michelle,' he's" -- when you do all that, the professional gives you a sort of gaping, arch-browed basilisk stare and states, "I know who Michel Rolland is." I suppose it would be like telling someone with a twenty year career in computers that you've been reading such an interesting book about this man named Bill Gates ....
Anyway, Savior of what, and Satan to whom? Michel Rolland, born and reared on his family's estate, Chateau Le Bon Pasteur, in the Pomerol district of Bordeaux, and an oenologist and consultant to a hundred wineries around the world, seems to be the one man responsible for creating the luscious, soft, jammy, high alcohol red wines that modern drinkers from the 1980s onward have loved. (Savior.) Some people with long memories are aghast at this new "uniformity" of taste among red wines, cabernets and merlots, that used to be more subtle, thinner, tauter, more loaded with acids and tannins and therefore more in need of the bottle aging that modern wine buyers won't wait for. They are called "Napa-ized," these lush contemporary wines, or, significantly, "Pomerolled." Michael Broadbent, with his unfathomably rich experience tasting very old vintages, calls them all the "global red." Satan.
In an interview given to Bordeaux News and reproduced at one of the pages of Beekman Wines & Liquors (a New Jersey wine store with a good website), Michel Rolland explains his wine making practices simply. It used to be, he says, that "the vagaries of the weather" controlled what a wine finally tasted like. Lack of sunshine, or a cool growing season or both, left the grower with no choice but to harvest and make wine from unripe grapes. The results often were thin, "herbaceous" -- think green pepper -- wines that everyone was simply accustomed to. A very good and flavorful wine then was a comparatively rare treat. By the same token beware, he advises, the winemaker today who is proud of making wines the way his father and grandfather did. "Those are the wineries that go downhill," and those the wines that consumers don't want and don't buy. He could be accused of rather disingenuous circular reasoning here -- haven't he and his good friend Robert Parker trained consumers not to like what he doesn't like? -- but his ideas are borne out, subtly, in good old-fashioned product every wine shop has on its shelves. No one can say that Champagne and Cognac have gone downhill, but we owe those delicious drinks, just for a start, to our ancestors' struggles to make something agreeable out of an unpleasing abundance of boring or sour liquids. Champagne from underripe chardonnay and pinot noir grapes, and Cognac distilled from dull and acidic trebbiano wines, are just two of these.
Rolland decided fairly early in his career that "you cannot make good wine from less than completely ripe grapes" and so he determined that he was not going to put up with the vagaries of nature's mastery over the plants. He wanted vines producing ripe grapes on a "relatively regular basis." He also wanted mildews and rots controlled, so that they would cause no such thing as a "catastrophic year" in a vineyard. (Recall the site chosen for Clos de los Siete: a sunny, north-aspect open plain with good air circulation, to help combat humidity and rot.) His answer for the vines themselves was to cut away excess foliage to allow more sun to get through, and to cut away excess grape bunches as well, to reduce strain on the root system and allow the grapes remaining to come to full maturity. Using these techniques, vintages that might have been "mediocre" instead gave him very good wines; add his insistence that red wines need time in new oak barrels -- think caramel, vanilla, barbecue -- and you have the recipe for the "fruit bomb" red, able to be produced all over the world, which his detractors seem to think tastes too good.
I suspect that Michel Rolland can't have been the first person to prune grape vines, nor to notice that the weather is a problem, but his techniques are credited with transforming matters in the last twenty years. They've even got their own names, which don't appear yet in wine books. Are effeuillage (the thinning of the leaves) and eclaircissage (pruning the bunches) as new as all that? And in spite of everything, can he really say of his wines, "I try to capture the typicity of local terroir ... terroir is more important than the winemaker"?
Perhaps. In any case, the person who is just learning about wine has a problem when it comes to understanding this alleged, fruit bomb "global red." If they are so ubiquitous, how do you know when you haven't got one sitting before you? I happened to taste a different Argentinian wine, 100% malbec, the night before trying Clos de los Siete, and this seemed to be cherry pie exploding in the glass. Delicious -- but then it made Michel Rolland's blend, with its doses of grown up cabernet, merlot, and syrah, seem to me very good but lean, taut, and buttoned down. Unfruity. Firm. If I must revise my opinion, which I am forever chirping to people, that red blends are "softer" than straight varietals, well then. I shall have to revise my opinion.
We must simply go on learning. Luckily oenophilic homework is pleasant. Clos de los Siete retails for about $18 or $19; for more on M. Rolland, you might go to:
Michel Rolland and the New Bordeaux style (Beekman Wine & Liquors, no date)
Clos de los Siete: Michel Rolland Develops Argentine Winery (Wine Business Monthly, 9/10/2002
Who is Michel Rolland? (The Wine Cellar blog, 2/9/2005)
Satan or Savior: Setting the Grape Standard (Eric Asimov, The New York Times, 10/11/2006)
The Wines of Clos de los Siete, Tunuyan, Argentina (Alder Yarrow, Vinography, 1/31/2007)
And you might like to rent Mondovino, a 2004 film by Jonathan Nossiter, in which M. Rolland appears as a sort of robber baron Bacchus, stamping out the diversity in wine our grandfathers knew, while making pots of money and laughing "like Mephistopheles." Oenophilic homework is -- no, let's simplify. Wine is fun.
An update, April 2, 2010: for more information on the jammy, Napa style red wines of even Bordeaux's 2009 vintage, see the post "High alcohol: why it is a problem," in Jamie Good's Wine Blog, March 31, 2010.
Saturday, March 27, 2010
Every possible good thing you can eat is in this wine. Dates. Cakes soaked with liqueurs or brandies. Plums, prunes, raisins. Baked cherries and compotes, all manner of pies, gently spiced pastries, jams and stewed fruits and syrups. And you eat the wine. It's so thick and chewy and has such a nice little piquant acid kick at the end, that you can't possibly think of merely drinking it. Strong stuff, too. Before you toddle over for another bite, remember that it does weigh in at 20% alcohol. How do you say "wow" and "I think I'm done" in Portuguese?
And as for the modern vogue for pairing port with fine chocolate, all I can say is, please no. Don't force two beautiful things to compete with one another. Prima donnas exist for a reason.
Retail, about $45.
Wednesday, March 24, 2010
With the waning of Sir Kenelm Digby's philosophic reputation his name has not become obscure. It stands, vaguely perhaps, but permanently, for something versatile and brilliant and romantic. He remains a perpetual type of the hero of romance, the double hero, in the field of action and the realm of the spirit. Had he lived in an earlier age he would now be a mythological personage ....
So when, in a seventeenth-century bookseller's advertisement, I lighted on a reference to the curious compilation of receipts entitled The Closet of Sir Kenelm Digby Opened, having the usual idea of him as a great gentleman, romantic Royalist, and somewhat out-of-date philosopher, I was enough astonished at seeing his name attached to what seemed to me, in my ignorance, outside even his wide fields of interest, to hunt for the book without delay, examine its contents, and inquire as to its authenticity. Of course I found it was not unknown.
Of course. People who are thrown into the company of antique cookbook aficionados can't help but stub a toe against some of the pioneers in the field (the Menagier de Paris, anyone?) and so with Anne MacDonell as our guide, we unthinkingly stub a toe against the door of Sir Kenelm's Closet. The book is to be found at that wonderful website Project Gutenberg, which is where the three of us happened to meet. It is the source for all the page numbers that follow.
Before delving into those receipts which struck Miss MacDonell as so extraneous to the man's real career, it might help to know just a little bit about him, and why she could assert that waning philosophic reputation or no, his name "had not become obscure." Digby was born into the English aristocracy in 1603, a few months after the death of the last Tudor, great Queen Elizabeth. He lived a life that only a gentleman of the hothouse, cloak-and-rapier Tudor-Stuart age could do. This was a time when a boy of good family (even one whose father was executed as a major Gunpowder Plotter), with an income of £3000 a year, could leave Oxford without taking a degree at seventeen, and yet grow into a man who knew six languages, traveled eagerly, had the freedom of royal courts and papal chambers; a man who actually outfitted and commanded a pirate expedition against French and Venetian shipping at Scanderoon (in modern Turkey), on his own authority, while still in his early twenties. (He won.) He corresponded with the great scholars of the time, married a beautiful lady and fathered a large family, dabbled eagerly in science, wrote memoirs, changed religions in a period of religious ferment and was jailed and then exiled a couple of times for it -- a "hero of the realm of the spirit," Miss MacDonell had said -- killed a man in a duel in Paris, and in general lived life at full gallop.
I suppose his name had not become obscure simply because, a hundred years ago, people were still taught something about colorful figures in school. When MacDonell attested to Sir Kenelm's philosophic reputation, only, being in decline, she meant his reputation as a "natural philosopher," that is, a scientist. In the seventeenth century, modern science was of course in its toddlerhood, still allied with alchemy and the occult, and still open to interesting contributions from well-educated gentry amateurs. For that, Sir Kenelm was perfectly made. He seems to have been best known for his "Powder of Sympathy," a magical substance, given him by an Italian friar, reputed to cure wounds at a distance when applied to the garment of an injured man. Hence his reputation's pesky Edwardian decline. Still, when MacDonell describes him affectionately as an amateur and even a dilettante, she rightly points out that this was saying a great deal. "In his own day," she says, he "was looked on almost as [Francis] Bacon's equal, was the friend of Bacon, Galileo, Descartes, Harvey, Ben Jonson, Cromwell, and all the great spirits of his time," as well as "the intimate of kings, and the special friend of queens" ( p. 3). His legend was such that when he visited Descartes incognito -- English gentlemen abroad did this sort of thing -- Descartes needed only a little of his exuberant fireside conversation to announce, " 'you can be none other than Digby' " (p. 11).
None other than Digby -- who also busied himself, during one of his stays in a sort of starched-ruff prison as a "recusant Catholic" and friend and Chancellor to the Catholic queen Henrietta Maria, with serious experiments in glass making (p. 9).
As to the tendency of this serious man to collect recipes, which started early, Miss MacDonell can explain. In the seventeenth century, scientists, alchemists, and everybody else were passionately concerned to prolong life, and the prime way to do that seemed to be through eating and drinking as wholesomely as possible. What were medicines then anyway, except toxic, disgusting anti-foods? Rumor blamed Sir Kenelm himself for inadvertently killing his beloved wife Venetia by making her drink "viper wine" for her complexion. (The huge sunflower in the Van Dyck portrait may represent the widower's loyalty.) Miss MacDonell elaborates on the link between the natural philosopher and, frankly, the foodie:
"The distance between the healer and the cook has grown to be immense in recent times. The College of Physicians and Mary Jane in the kitchen are not on nodding terms.... But in the seventeenth century the gap can hardly be said to have existed at all. At the back of the doctor is plainly seen the figure of the herbalist and simpler, who appear again prominently in the still-room and the kitchen, by the side of great ladies and great gentlemen, bent on making the best and the most of the pleasures of the table no doubt, but quite as much on the maintenance of health as of hospitality" (p. 16).
Thus we come to the Closet, Opened.
I hope to be forgiven for stepping inside and poking determinedly around in here. As historical documents, old cookbooks strike me as psychologically priceless. They help us really imagine the alien-ness of daily life in long gone times. So often we calmly observe art, buildings, and documents, and reassure ourselves how recognizable humanity always is, in love and suffering and hope and so on. True enough, but humanity also spends a lot of each day concerned with eating and drinking whatever is to hand. Which means there were times when individual human beings ate and drank things that we can scarcely identify, much less would we touch with a ten foot pole. Seeing proof of this in old "receipts" brings our ancestors curiously alive in a way that all the platitudes about a common human condition do not.
So we venture in. Sir Kenelm begins with over a hundred recipes just for mead, each of them carefully different and a fair number carefully credited to their makers, be they "my lord Herbert" or "my lady Stuart" or "the Ambassador of Muscovy's steward." Mead, or metheglin or white metheglin, was (and is) an ancient beverage, a mixture of honey, water, and herbs, boiled, cooled, strained, and poured off into a scrupulously clean receptacle to "work" (ferment). If you wanted a really backbreaking day of it, you could try Meath with Raisins (p. 62): to a cauldron boiling with forty gallons of water and ten gallons of honey, put in a bagful of forty pounds' weight of "blew Raisins of the sun." After this finished simmering flavorfully, you would drag it out, let it drain into the mead, and then further press out all its liquid before throwing away the bag and husks and carrying on with the brewing. This batch would be ready to drink in nine months.
Sir Kenelm's professionalism with regard to mead carries through in his treatment of all that follows. Fruit wines and ciders "excellent in sharp gonorrhoeas" come next, and then sweet puddings, "potages" (soups), gruels, more drinks including a "plague water" of masses of herbs steeped in white wine and then distilled, "hotchpots" (beef stews), roast meats (whose instructions include lots of beating raw slices of meat with the butt of a knife to tenderize them), savory puddings, fish (also beaten tender and then boiled), game, and practically everything else to be found in a modern cookbook except recipes for fresh vegetables. And what the modern cookbook omits, Sir Kenelm includes. There are instructions on fattening chickens on ale, on cheese- and "gelly"-making, and on making candies, "pleasant cordial tablets," that are as much medicines as sweets.
Certainly this is a cookbook for the well-to-do, but like any modern collection, it also surely inventories special or complex dishes that nobody ate regularly. And while certainly the rural poor could find themselves reduced to eating breads made of peas, beans, or acorns in Tudor and Stuart bad times, this doesn't necessarily mean that no person below the rank of earl ever got near Digby-style foods. All classes were surprisingly close to husbandry and to one another, and were equally hemmed in by religious restrictions at the table. All classes ate fish for the seven weeks of Lent, all appreciated sweet creamy foods as a foil to the prevalence of salted meats and fish; country people who could find work at a great estate also lived and ate there, while, as MacDonell remarks, my lady Soandso still looked after her own milk cows. She also prepared her own "simples," herbal remedies from her garden. So when we enter Sir Kenelm's Closet, we are not entering some tiny windowless place where the rich gobbled in cruel disdain for the poor. We are entering a place that Sir Kenelm strove to fill with as many healthful pleasurable things to eat and drink as possible, and that his steward opened to anyone who could read.
There are a few surprises. Turkey makes an appearance (p. 119), at a time when England's new world colonies were barely settled. Other American gifts like chocolate, potatoes, and tomatoes are not to be found. "Puff past" is also here, a hundred and fifty years before Careme is said to have invented it (p. 93) -- this receipt is different, but still includes a mass of butter to be "rowled" up in not too much "flowr." There are actual recognizable instructions for making pears poached in red wine. And it seems you can eat, although I have no intention of doing so and wouldn't recommend it, the little inner stalks of tulips after the flower petals have fallen away in spring. Of these imitation "pease," Sir Kenelm advises, "In the Spring (about the beginning of May) the flowry-leaves of Tulips do fall away, and there remains within them the end of the stalk, which in time will turn to seed. Take that seedy end (then very tender) and pick from it the little excrescencies about it, and cut it into short pieces, and boil them and dress them as you would do Pease; and they will taste like Pease, and be very savoury" (p. 85).
We must recall that people were often unwell in these rude times, possibly the doctor-ridden, gouty rich moreso than the plain-living and untended poor, and that many adults' teeth were in a very parlous state. This may explain the presence of recipes for little fireside potations, little comforting pappy things for the beshawled invalid to savor alone, over his private chafing dish. A "posset" was a quickly made pudding of boiled milk or cream, ale, eggs, sack (sherry), spices, sugar, ambergris , and sometimes bits of bread. Leftover gravy thickened with eggs, stirred in a chafing dish with some meat or bread added, plus lemon or orange juice, salt, pepper, and an onion, comprised a "nourishing hachy" (p. 92). And Sir Kenelm gratefully recorded the experience of a Jesuit who brought back from China the secret of tea with egg: you pour good strong tea, steaming hot, into a bowl where you have beaten two eggs with some sugar. "So drink it hot. This is when you come home from attending business abroad, and are very hungry, and yet have not conveniency to eat presently a competent meal. This presently discusseth and satisfieth all rawness and indigence of the stomack, flyeth suddainly over the whole body and into the veins, and strengtheneth exceedingly, and preserves one a good while from necessity of eating" (p. 79).
But in general, apart from a few comfort foods and a few familiar things like turkey or tulips, the Closet remains a Narnia-like fantasy world of extravagant and forgotten and again, surely not everyday eatables. Make Cock-ale by adding a paste of cooked chicken meat, dates, raisins, sherry, nutmeg, and mace to a vat of eight gallons of ale. "Stop it close six or seven days, and then bottle it, and a month after you may drink it" (p. 86). Add oysters and pistachios to your beef stew. (This is the sort of grossness that our friend Careme of the puff paste, circa 1810, put a stop to.) Neat's tongues are good for fine mince pyes. And eggs, milk, cream, and butter, once known as the white meats, apparently were not often a procurement problem in seventeenth-century England ... and lampreys must be fresh caught, held in clean water until they ooze their mud, then scraped off, gutted, baked, and preserved a year under a thick coat of butter poured over them as soon as they come out of the oven (p. 105). I seem to recall that more than one medieval prince died after a dish of lampreys. And what to make, literally, of those scores of fresh gathered herbs, also a part of the cooking day? The unidentifiable ones sound pretty ("Pellitory of the Wall"), while the identifiable ones, like tansy, carry warnings about toxicity in modern gardening books. "Consult a trained herbalist." Or, for heaven's sake, don't eat tansy.
Will you dare attempt to cook from it? Remember too, in that case, that the Closet is a chronicle of incredible work, and of massive quantities, fit for the servant-stuffed kitchens of a great house. Hartman, the steward, compiled this book, though the servant's voice only occasionally comes through ("send them up in the same dish you bake them in" (p. 94). Are you ready to make cherry wine? In that case you will hand-pit and hand-crush a hundred pounds of cherries (p. 69). Cakes will require six pounds of butter, ten pounds of currants, a peck of flour (32 cups), and an unspecified amount of ale-yeast (p. 122). Some few dishes really are effete concoctions whose preparations must have sapped the strength of many men, but were probably untasted much by those sitting below the salt. The queen liked a "pressis mourissant" [sic?], a broth made by pressing out in a heavy press all the juices of a partly roasted leg of mutton, a leg of veal, and a capon. These juices were mixed with the juice of an orange and a little salt, to create a very healthful soup which cured consumption after long use (p. 83). I have no doubt that the pressed joints of all that good meat were put to some good use below stairs.
He ends, most gracefully and as no modern cookbook will, with conserve of red roses, a gelly made of rose petals, sugar, and water. "Finis." Sir Kenelm, still in the midst of his vigorous career, was on his way to Paris for his health when his old complaint, "the stone," struck him hard. He turned back from his journey and died in 1665, a month before he would have turned sixty-two.
After we emerge from the Closet and close its door in a stupor of imaginative exhaustion, we'll remember noticing that quite a while back, we had found Digby, during one of his stays in prison, putting aside occultish works to experiment with glass making. Miss MacDonell did say that his one actual scientific invention was "a particular kind of glass bottle" (p. 14).
It seems to have been more than merely particular. Hugh Johnson, in Vintage: the Story of Wine, says that probably sometime in the 1630s, our Sir gentleman Digby had actually become a glass factory owner, of the hands-on kind. His factory's improved coal-fired furnaces and better glass recipe (so to speak) were soon producing bottles heavier, stronger, and darker, stained by the coal fumes, than anyone else's had ever been. They even had the modern punt, the bottom indentation where the blow pipe was taken away. The innovation helped better distribute their weight and made them sturdy standing up. Over the next thirty years other men claimed the new bottle's invention, until in 1662 Parliament stepped in and officially gave Digby, ex-con that he was, full credit. "He was the father of the modern wine bottle" (Johnson, p. 194).
Is that all. After all his receipts and his pirate expeditions, his faking his own death to escape the attentions of the amorous French queen Marie de Medici (did we forget that? She seems to have been something of a cougar), his memoirs and diplomatic missions, his languages and his sympathetic Powders, it turns out that Miss MacDonell was right. He has not become obscure. Not really. We may never make his Cock-Ale nor his Stepponi (raisin and lemon wine), nor any of his hundred and six meads, though his receipts perhaps gladdened many a stomach and soul in his own day. But every time we venture into the wine aisle of the grocery store and look down those vast shelves lined with stably standing, safely shippable product, we are seeing the efforts of our own Sir Kenelm, knight, Chancellor, pirate, gourmand; we are breathing just a whiff of busy, Van Dyckish, cloak-and-rapier, amateur scientist and friend-of-Descartes, seventeenth century air. When we bring our bottle home and set it on the table, why, there he is in a corner of the kitchen, no doubt nodding approval, the ghost in the plumed hat. Perhaps he is stirring up a little nourishing hachy for us, too, to pair with our wine.
We can only nod to Miss Anne MacDonell, who found him and stood amazed at his relevance despite the "usual ideas," -- and then doff our own plumed hats in thrilled respect. And then all sit down, thankfully, to eat and drink. Hail, Sir Kenelm.
Sir Kenelm Digby, by Anthony van Dyck; image from BBC 4
Saturday, March 20, 2010
This is a Chilean-sourced cabernet from California's Laurel Glen. The winemaker's name is Patrick Campbell. His Lifelong Obsession with Che reveals his Stubborn Egalitarian Streak. The wine is "not currently in general distribution" -- ah no? -- even though it's intended to appeal to "wine lovers with a social conscience."
Well, I have one of those, too. Here are more Laurel Glen wines, in case you feel like boycotting the whole line.
- 2004 Laurel Glen Estate Cabernet, Sonoma Mountain
- 2005 Counterpoint, Estate Cabernet Sonoma Mountain
- 2007 Reds, Lodi
- 2007 ZaZin, Old Vine Zinfandel, Lodi
- 2007 Terra Rosa, Malbec, Argentina
- 2007 Terra Divina Old Vine Malbec Valle de Uco
- 2006 Vale la Pena, Malbec, Mendoza
Are the wines any good? Are part of the proceeds of this one donated to some precious little charity? Are we being fair? Do we give a shit?
Due thanks to Robin Garr's Wine Lover's Page, and its e-mail "30-second wine adviser," for alerting me, in the most cheery and complacent terms, to the existence of the product. I've unsubscribed from that, too.
"Che Guevera exposed: the Killer on the Lefties' t shirts," by Humberto Fontova, at Town Hall.com
Monday, March 15, 2010
Must also refresh memory re: map of Italy re: wine. Montepulciano d'Abruzzo (the grape from the region) not the same as Vino Nobile di Montepulciano (the wine from the region, inside Tuscany), nor Rosso di Montepulciano (ditto).
Monte Maria montepulcian d'Abruzzo -- look for the swoopy M on the label.
Retail, about $10.
Sunday, March 14, 2010
A little light -- a little silky --
a little sour -- a little gamy --
a little fruity with time --
proceed delicately -- appreciate
Gary Farrell wines
Retail: about $40
Tuesday, March 9, 2010
You will need:
4 cups cake flour
4 tsp baking powder
1 cup butter (2 sticks), softened and ready to cream
2 cups sugar
6 egg yolks
1 and 1/2 cups milk
2 tsp vanilla or 1 tsp orange extract
After collecting all your ingredients and supplies, you might order the work like this:
Separate the 6 eggs if you haven't already. Grease two 8 x 8 x 2 square pans.
Sift the flour and add the baking powder to it. Sift again into a bowl, and set aside.
If you don't have a sifter, pushing the flour through a fine large mesh strainer with a spoon will do. Let it fall onto wax paper and then spoon it up into a measuring cup. Level off the piled flour in the cup without jarring the cup on the table or rapping it with the knife, which causes the flour to settle and skew the correct measurement.
I must admit, I never sifted flour for baking recipes, until consulting this little book and finding that it exactly diagnosed a cake problem that I hadn't even been aware of: the Hump in the Middle. Flour tends to pack, the authors say, a peculiarity which sifting combats. One cup of flour taken directly from the bag actually contains more flour than a sifted cup. Therefore, "the woman who is 'too busy to bother to sift' may easily put an extra cup of flour into a cake -- and ruin it! ALWAYS SIFT FLOUR ONCE BEFORE MEASURING." Humped, tough cakes, tough pie crusts, and "humped, tunneled muffins" all bespeak the use of too much flour.
So I began sifting. My cakes no longer hump in the middle. I feel chastened. You must sift, too. Actually, it becomes rather Zen-like. You will like it. Sift.
Next, cream the butter, and add the sugar to it gradually. Beat until fluffy.
Now beat the egg yolks with an electric beater "until they turn thick and pale" or "lemon colored."
If you have never bothered with a step like this before either, I can testify that it really does happen. Egg yolks thicken, gain in volume, and turn a beautiful shade of pale cream-yellow. When you thump the bottom of the bowl, a hollow echo sounds.
Pour the beaten yolks into the creamed butter-sugar, combine, and then beat the whole mixture very well.
Add, alternately, portions of the flour and of the 1 and 1/2 cups milk to the batter. Combine thoroughly each time. When all the flour and milk has been added, add the vanilla and mix in.
Now beat the final batter very well.
Pour and scrape the batter into your two greased pans. It will be "light," "smooth," and "fluffy," and take on a "sunny sheen." (All true. These women were having a lot of serious fun in the General Foods' test kitchens in 1933.) Smooth the batter out to the edges of each pan.
Bake at 350 F for about 40 minutes, or until nicely browned and done.
Now make the chocolate frosting. The original recipe calls for Luscious Lemon frosting, but I prefer chocolate. We'll use Barbara Kafka's childhood recipe, as given in the December 1987 issue of Gourmet magazine.
1 stick butter
8, eight, squares of Baker's Chocolate
3 cups of confectioner's sugar -- also sifted!
2/3 cup milk
1/2 tsp coarse kosher salt (I used regular salt)
1 tsp vanilla
Melt the butter and chocolate together in the top of a double boiler over simmering water or, watching it carefully, in a heavy bottomed saucepan. When it is all melted, set it aside to cool.
Place the sifted sugar into a large bowl. Scald the milk (you can microwave it on high for a minute). Mix the milk with the sugar and beat it well to dissolve any lumps. Mix in the salt and the vanilla.
Pour in the chocolate butter mixture. Blend well.
Refrigerate the frosting for 30 minutes to an hour, until it is of spreadable consistency. Fill and frost the Economical Gold Cake,
... which is henceforth to be called "Happy cake." Why? Because a person who is health conscious might be aghast at the amounts of butter, eggs, and milk in this cake. In that case, you would quote deeply authoritative studies ("I read it somewhere") to say that people who allow themselves regular little treats, even technically harmful ones, are happier and live longer than those who do not. Pipe smokers, I believe, live longer than non-pipe smokers, because as far as their immune systems and so on are concerned, the happiness of enjoying the treat counteracts whatever ill effects tobacco would have. The same is true, I feel sure, for a cake made of all this good butter and eggs. And then after quoting your sources you would wave a piece of it under a nice health conscious person's nose, and encourage a forkful, on the grounds that, see? -- this is "Happy" cake. All About Home Baking is now out of copyright, so I think I am on safe legal ground in renaming it, too.
And isn't the retro square shape fun?
Sunday, March 7, 2010
Ruby red grapefruit color -- very slight gamy aroma -- juicy, fresh, a tiny bit leathery -- very good.
Dry roses are the rarest finds in the wine aisle of a grocery store. I'm told that they become more sought after and therefore easier to find in the summer, when people's taste changes and the crisp refreshment of a dry rose seems right, just as the warmth of a red seems right in winter. Of course this makes some sense, but I confess to feeling just a bit impatient with such sensible seasonal thinking, especially if it becomes rigid and cramps my style, or my learning curve. Let's don't feel we must wait till June: do have a nice dinner of crisp fried fish, any time, or a creamy pasta dish, anytime, and see how well a dry rose pairs with either -- ignoring for the moment what the wind, rain, and sun are doing outside.
Wednesday, March 3, 2010
Soft -- luscious -- blackberries
Rather simple -- regal -- no busyness -- no swirl of oak, caramel, chocolate, etc. etc.
Very adult -- pair it with something adult -- creamy -- sophisticated.
Why does only one image come to mind?
Image from The Fresh Site.
For more background on Twomey merlot, made by the good people famed for Silver Oak cabernet sauvignon, do visit the Twomey website here.