15 May, 2013

Mysteries of the French Countryside

I recently discovered a wonderful book of suspense and romance by Martin Walker, complete with intrigue, sex, food and wine. From the first paragraph I am swept away into the French countryside cheering for the underdogs, waiting for the cross-examinations, following the narrow mountain roads overlooking breathtaking views, and raising a glass to the hamlet’s only café.

The author, Mr. Walker, comes from a political and historical Bruno cover2approach to journalism, but has no difficulty turning his pen to fiction. He regales his readers with the adventures of a lone policeman in Saint-Denis, France in his pilot novel, “Bruno, Chief of Police”. You read that correctly; even though Bruno’s rank is Chief of Police, he is the only policeman in his lovely little village in this part of Burgundian France – Bordeaux. Unraveling the mystery of a murdered Algerian war hero who lived the life of a hermit on the outskirts of town, Bruno must keep the peace on multiple fronts -the crime touches some of the highest seats of the French government Bruno must answer to, while it stirs memories and buried emotions from the war against Nazi Germany among his friends and their relations of Saint-Denis.

As for the genre, there are some that feel a writer must not read what they write for fear of copying. I disagree. When another author does it right, all others should take note, for one can only learn; and learn, I do. For example, these stories The Dark Garden2are about Frenchmen doing French things, in France, yet I am reading in English. But wait, there is plenty of the French language tucked between these pages, craftily woven into the tale – you hardly notice; no need for a character to even say “Bien sûr” or “D’accord”. You just know. Genius. Not how I would have done it, but I find I prefer Walker’s technique.

I love recipes that crop up in books as the characters grill a steak (ooh, must try that marinade) or prepare an egg or potatoes and veggies (so simple, yet so very French). Everywhere Bruno goes he is offered food or drink, giving one an insight into the French way of life. I couldn’t ask for more… except perhaps a second in the series.

Well, I got my wish and a have starting reading “The Dark Vineyard”.


Why You Should Always Carry a Corkscrew

Recently I was at the J. Paul Getty museum with some art friends. The occasion was memorable for many reasons; a few of this group I had not seen for a many years, others I was meeting for the first time. I had never been to The Getty before and the skies were clear enough to see Catalina from the museum balconies. This was a day of firsts. (Those of you who know LA understand the Catalina thing.)

The exhibit I had gone to see was the Pacific Standard Time: Crosscurrents in LA. One of the ‘coolest’ pieces was Ed Ruscha’s 1968 painting, “The Los Angeles County Museum of Art on Fire”.


A funny blog on the subject of the paintings meaning can be found at LACMA.wordpress.com. At the time it was being painted, contemporary artists were angry over not being included in their city’s art scene – there was no place to display their work. Then the LACMA opened - a strict architectural box of a thing surrounded by a mote – very auspicious and not at all reminiscent of a place to expect modern art – still there was few openings for the local arts. The painting expressed the feeling of anger and frustration perfectly and hosted a very lively discussion from our group.

Another painting of interest to me was “A Bigger Splash” byhockney.splash David Hockney. I had always thought that Hockney had drizzled a bit of white paint on his canvas and made a few sweeping strokes to create the splash in the pool. Up close, in fact he had used a tool much like a fork to rake into the wet paint to achieve the splash. The fact that splash detailthe viewer never gets to see who (or what) just entered the water has always been a delight for me.

Then there was lunch. Our group had managed to procure a private board room for our get-together but we had to go down stairs a couple of floors to get something to eat. Coming up in the elevator with trays of soup was hilarious; all of us agreed this scene should be in a movie.

Choosing my meal, I had taken a chance and purchased a $10 half bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon, agreeing to split it with a new acquaintance, but was unconvinced that this was a good idea. Just as one should never prepare a dish for the first time when company is about to arrive (it rarely works out well), the same I think, is true with wines. Shouldn’t one have already tasted and approved of a wine before serving it to guests, to avoid a fiasco? I have never heard of the cab, never seen its label and was more than a little concerned that I did not have a pocket aerator with me. A bad wine is often the reason a situation is remembered and I was not looking forward to this being one of them.

We made ourselves comfortable and tasted our lunch. Ah, the food is fabulous. Let’s try the wine.


No corkscrew.

The investment of time away from my lunch date added worry to my insecurity. Why hadn’t I thought of this before leaving the cafeteria? However, in finding a sommelier I also found the restaurant. Elegant and inviting; artsy and upscale, though relaxed; I will definitely be returning.

Back in our private digs, we pour a bit into our glasses. BeautifulHahndeep vampire red colour - you know, the one with a touch of maroon in it. The very little, but graceful nose tells me this will NOT be awful. There’s hope! Finally, the first sip; full bodied a bit spicy but subtle and well blended, and a lightly sweet aftertaste with a long peppery, astringent finish. We look at each other and I realize my wine lover friend had the same worries, and the same relief. “Mmmm, that’s good.” We agree. “What is this?” I turn the bottle around: Hahn. The label has a signature on it (not unlike my own penmanship) that says ‘Nicky Hahn’. Hey, my namesake! (Again, thank goodness it was a good choice.) Hmm, central coast, 2009. I make a mental note to get more of this. I picked up the cork to reseal the last portion and notice it is embossed with the winery’s website. I have heard some do this, but this is the first time I’ve seen it. Great idea; much easier to pop the cork in your pocket or handbag rather than the whole bottle if you have nothing to write with when you want to remember the wine.

As expected, the red elixir opened the conversation to a animated and enjoyable exchange and topped off a perfect day… truly a day of firsts.


24 April, 2013

The Terrors of Pairing

Pairing suggestions on wine bottle labels is a great idea for those of us who haven't a clue, like me, what is best to eat with a wine I've never tasted before.

cupcake chardonnayI had picked up on a BevMo 5¢ sale (buy one and the second bottle only costs 5¢!), bringing home several whites to beat the summer heat. One of them was a 2010 Cupcake Chardonnay.

When I got ready to open the Cupcake I noticed the back label had pairing suggestions on it.

“Serve chilled with crab cakes, seared Ahi tuna on waffle crackers or fresh baked French bread and cheese”.

Initially, I wondered just how dedicated they were to actual pairing, as everyone and their grandmother knows about the cheese thing, even if molded cheese can be a taste eliminator of subtle flavors in some red wines, but we were talking white. Mulling it over I decided to be impressed by the company’s attempt to educate its interested drinker’s with these mini menus, and to try their advice.

I knew I would enjoy the Ahi – love the stuff.

However the crab gave me pause; first, let me say I’m not a big fan of shellfish, so right off the bat I had misgivings when Cupcake vineyards suggested crab cakes as a pairing possibility. However, I am an experimenter at heart and was feeling particularly courageous, so I decided to try it.

JapaneseSpiderCrabI’ve enjoyed Chardonnay with many dishes, especially lately on our hot Californian afternoons, but for some reason this exoskeletal proposal stuck in my mind. You don’t think it could have anything to do with my arachnophobia, do you? All those legs (count ‘em) and that hard shell… *shudder*. Really, whatever possessed people to eat giant spiders from the sea in the first place? It reminds me of that movie (which I never saw), called “Arachnophobia”. I wondered then, did they honestly hope it would be a blockbuster? Way too many people are freaked out about spiders to want to see it over and over… or at all. And that poster! You know, that one? Yeah, this one:

arachnophobia movie posterThat’s me, in the background, screaming for the hills.

But you think a little phobia could stop me from enjoying a glass of chardonnay?


I worked up the nerve and made crab cakes; the verdict? The wine was the best part of the pair.

However, I see what they mean; the delicate blend of distinct flavors of the Cupcake, being fruity to start with a long woody finish, were not overpowered by the Trader Joe’s Maryland crab cakes. Much like sniffing coffee between perfumes or ‘cleansing’ ones palate with pickled ginger before another bite of sushi, the chardonnay made it possible to get through the meal by completely removing the fishiness with each sip.

salad with eggI’m trying the tuna next. I know I will like that, and now that I know what the Cupcake has to offer, I’m confident the pairing will be excellent, though probably without the waffle crackers. Ahi atop a mixed green salad, complete with six minute egg on top, sliced open to drool out like a Hawaiian volcano is more my style. Ah, I hear screaming : )

So the pairing suggestions on the label idea is GREAT! Just don't rely on it to be rocket science. There will always be someone out there who will have a problem with the combination. Everybody’s different. Just like wine.

But for those of you NOT in love with seafood of any kind, stick with the cheese! Or better still, have a cupcake with this Cupcake.