Alex Weiser at the Hungry Cat. Photo by Foodwoolf.
The first time I ever saw a crosne, the grubby looking Chinese tuber known for its crunchy, earthy-sweet flavor, was at the Weiser Family Farm stand at the Santa Monica Farmers’ Market. I bought a bag full, along with sunchokes, from a golden-faced man in a wide-brimmed hat whose smile radiated like sunshine on stainless. I met him again, months later, in the same wide-brimmed hat, crunching through Purple Haze carrots at the Hollywood Farmers’ Market, and finally introduced myself. Since 1982, Alex Weiser’s friendly face has been working the area farmers’ markets, his face as familiar as the parsnips, potatoes and sprouting broccoli he talks about enthusiastically with local chefs and foodies.
Okay, I have to be honest here—when I first tasted many of the 2005 Bordeaux at last year’s UGC (Union des Grands Crus de Bordeax) tasting in Santa Monica, I wasn’t exactly a fan. For all my excitement about getting to taste Mouton and Cheval Blanc out of the gate, wines that I had only read about, my actual experience was less interesting. Many of the wines were huge, tannic monsters that made your mouth feel like it was stuffed with wine-saturated cotton balls. Subtle cassis, raspberry, anise and coffee notes lurked beneath the surface, hinting at what was to come, but after 20 or 30 wines (I was spitting, I promise) I had the worst case of palate fatigue. Discerning aromatics or flavors was next to impossible another 10 wines in, and all I was left with in my notes were comments about structure and texture.
I’ve been barrel tasting before, and up until the UGC tasting had prided myself on my ability to taste past a wine’s youthfulness, to anticipate its potential. But I realized that Bordeaux was a different animal entirely. At a tasting like the UCG, you’re not trying to determine what the wine might taste like in six months or even a year, you’re trying to gauge the quality of something that, most of the winemakers would hope, will sit in your cellar for a decade or more before the cork is popped. In that case, my crystal ball was quite blurry, particularly since I haven’t had the opportunity to taste many of these wines over time, to have a frame of reference of how they would evolve. It made me appreciate my colleagues at K&L with 30-plus years of experience even more. Not only had they tried many of the wines we sell in their astringent nascent stages, they have watched them mature—first like parents, surprised at how life influences their children, then like grandparents, with decades of life experience lending a little insight into who their grandkids will become.
Strawberries from Harry’s Berries@ the Hollywood Farmers’ Market
Sometimes I think I want to just throw in the towel. Writing is hard work, and some days the last thing I want to do, after a full day writing and editing for work, is to sit in front of the computer while the last hours of sunshine and warmth recede into purplish sunsets. To me a bad day writing is like a bad day cooking—you’ve still got something you created in front of you, but do you really want to eat it? Continue reading
A couple of years ago I didn’t know peas had a season—the only ones I’d ever ate came from the freezer section of the grocery store. They were a standby veg, little green orbs best reserved for swollen ankles and pot pies. But peas are so much more than the Jolly Green Giant would lead you to believe (that deceptive behemoth has lied before, you know). Peas are nature’s indicator species, announcing spring’s arrival louder than any of the birds chirping away the morning news outside my window.
Murcotts at Burkart Farms, Hollywood Farmers’ Market, Murcott Olive Oil Ice Cream
The pile of Murcotts at Burkhart’s farmers’ market stand shrank a little this week, the stack looking more like a pile of bright orange tennis balls left behind on the playground than winter’s citrus bounty. Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating, you can see the stand above, and the selection is far from paltry. But I’m waxing a little poetic this morning about winter’s waning. There are probably only a few more weeks left in Murcott season, and I’m a little melancholy. I almost packed up my sweaters in defiance of Mother Nature, hoping the razzing would prolong the season just a couple more weeks. But it looks like our wedding is going to be next spring, instead of the fall, and I couldn’t afford to piss her off. I may want more Murcotts now, but next April I want warm days and mild evenings and mountains of springtime produce to help execute the dinner menu that’s slowly evolving in my head. Continue reading
I love tradition. Not the staid, dogmatic kind, but tradition that bubbles up through generations, crafts passed from grandfather to son to grandson. These traditions hold the secrets of the land, of the sun and, in Marko Karakasevic’s case, the still. Marko is a 13th generation winemaker and distiller at Charbay, a winery and distillery perched atop Napa’s Spring Mountain. He works with his father, Master Distiller Miles Karakasevic, mother Susan, sister Lara and wife-to-be Jenni, to create and promote some of the most adventurous spirits on today’s market.
I first learned of the Karakasevic clan from the folks at Martini House in St. Helena while working on an article about pomegranate cocktails for the San Francisco Chroncile. I’m a big fan of their clean-drinking, natural tasting pomegrante vodka, along with a number of their other products, particularly their Ruby Port. So I was duly excited when I recieved a sample of their newest product, a Pomegranate Dessert Wine, in the mail. Made using organically grown, tree-ripened, California pomegranates, this digestivo combines the tart-sweet flavors of full-flavored pomegranates with the earthy undercurrents of barrel-aged Pinot Noir brandy.
I have to admit, I wasn’t immediately a fan of this, like I was of their vodkas. I served the bottle with a sweet fruit dessert, which just amplified the port-style wine’s sweetness. I also served it room temperature, which made the wine’s 18.7% alcohol seem overwhelming. I tried it again though, about a week later, at cellar temperature and on its own, and was swept away by the tangy, deep pomegranate flavor. It had the vibrancy and fruitiness of ruby port with high tones of orange zest and cherry to counter the spice-spiked chocolaty richness in the mouth. But what really wowed me was the prominent acidity, which lingers with a faint pomegranate flavor on the palate long after your last sip. At cellar temperature, the alcoholic heat faded and the sticky sweetness was tamed by the juicy acidity. I recommened trying this with a triple-creme brie and Marcona almonds or poured over vanilla ice cream. It would also make a delicious Kir or a possible substitute in brandy-based cocktails (Pomegrante Sidecar?). I’m thinking I might pair it with strawberries for an upcoming sorbet experiment. So many options!
I hate dry meat. Most of the time reheated chicken, pork chops and even steak make we want to gag; it’s like chewing on wet cottonballs. So when it comes to leftovers, I prefer to eat things cold. Sometimes I may take this too far (fried rice?), but other times it yields something as delicious as the original dish. On Tuesday, I posted a recipe for Duck with Murcott Tangerines and Beluga Lentils. Since it’s just Neal and I, a dish like this (which serves four) yields a couple of days of leftovers, I decided to cut the duck into bite-sized pieces, toss it all in a bowl, including the lentils, with some baby arugula, fresh Murcott segments, a drizzle of olive oil and the leftover balsamic reduction. It was so good the first time I had it, I packed the leftover leftovers to bring up to San Luis Obispo for a pincic lunch!