as i was sitting down to start writing this, it occurred to me that I may be starting to toe the line of decadence that generally turns me off a lot of the more popular food blogs I’ve happened to peruse. while I’ve in the past year become much more willing to invest a little more money in the food I buy, particularly where frivolous purchases of passion (uhh, $16.99 for a 50 ml bottle of truffle oil, anyone?), and exploratory forays into the world of fancy condiments are concerned, i still believe that i am by and large remaining true to my (punk?) roots, and that the veneer of affluence is so much artifice, much the way your average not-nearly-so-fancy-as-it-pretends-to-be restaurant is probably more about garnish, presentation, and the obscurantist fog of pretentious gastro-jargon as it is about well-prepared food and quality ingredients.
where am I going with this? arrogant as i am, i still want this space to be at all times more helpful and inspiring than haughty and intimidating (speaking as I am as if anybody actually reads it), and i don’t want people to feel the way i do when i read other food blogs and am like “wow, it sure is easy to eat awesomely when you’re fucking rich, asshole,” although, come to think of it, that the bulk of my content so far has consisted in drunken polemicizing (sp?) about chips, perhaps such a risk is pretty low. that said, i’ve just been thinking lately about how rad food, or rather, food that i eat about which i feel radly, has depended soo much on just the little things like making sure when i’m dumpstering that if i don’t know what something is, i take a lot of it, look it up, and figure out what to do with it, or when i’m in a grocery store, buy chicory or some red cabbage sprouts instead of lettuce or spinach, or buy two less 40s in my life and get an olive oil that’s twice as good as i might otherwise. this shit is paying off.
anyway, Dinner The Other Night: the salad (an afterthought) outflanked and fully ass-thrashed the soup (which was still pretty good), and the wine was a pleasant surprise.
it’s funny because i confused the description of the wine i bought with the one i didn’t, and probably because i was expecting something with a hint of vanilla and a lingering, almost buttery finish, that’s more or less what i got, even though it’s not technically what i bought. i mean, to the extent that if the wine i did get actually claimed vanilla overtones, i probably would have believed it, although it’s really more the butter thing that felt real with this wine. it’s white, by the way. this one just claims to be a “medium full bodied win with and appealing, aromatic bouquet” and “lively, fruity flavour with fresh-grape overtones.” conveniently, i don’t really know what any of that means, but it’s really rather good. not too dry or two sweet, it feels pretty mellow, and maybe if I think really hard about what a fermented “fresh-grape” would taste like, maybe it’s true. anyway, it’s called Black Tree Hill, out of south Africa, the white cuvee, barrel no. 54, and it cost something like $12.69 (for 750ml) at the IGA. i fully recommend it and would say something like “no, for thirteen bucks it’s a totally decent wine. i wouldn’t rave about it, but i’d absolutely drink it if nobody had anything better to suggest.” high praise. (note: i’ve found that ReWine’s Toro Loco actually tastes something like a cheap, less nuanced imitation of this wine, which for almost half 7.99 is pretty acceptable)
salad was chicory (which is the same thing as frisee, apparently, and i thought the same thing as curly endive, but now that I’m looking at it i can just feel how wrong i was. rather, frisee is a member of the larger chicory family) and snow pea sprouts, with red bartlett pear, grated jerusalem artichoke (aka sunchoke, aka poire de terre, aka topinambours, which i’d never had before, but they’re on sale at PA right now so i thought the Time was Now. they look like rotund little pieces of really fresh ginger, not at all like artichokes, but taste sort of like if a radish was not peppery, but very faintly tasted like an artichoke), and three things that seriously owned SO HARD and in my opinion brought and kept the whole thing together, thus meriting this listly enumeration:
- fior’ di latte mozzarella – t just found out that originally/traditionally, mozzarella was a specifically buffalo milk cheese, and that it only gradually evolved, or in the opinion of cheesophiles (whom t have decided to call “cheesies”), devolved into the cow’s milk, bland brick new world staple with which the most of us are familiar. and i only slightly less recently had the opportunity to taste buffalo mozzarella, which here costs an arm and a leg, but in italy (where i inexplicably was, briefly) they throw around like sheep shit (sort of). i’ll save me talking about that for a later post, but suffice to say, my buddy Mario with whom i work recommended to me this fior’ di latte shit as an ersatz but still goddamn delicious and comparably affordable cow’s milk alternative to the original buffalo shit. and he’s right. it’s great. still a novice cheese eater after six years of veganism, i tend to claim i don’t really “like” or “care that much” about cheese, but it is indeed shit like this that throws that shit back in my face, and reminds me of the really amazing difference between tastes which are merely mild and those which are subtle and delicate and, ultimately, life enriching for their tender restraint. it’s something so mild at first that your initial reaction is to pronounce it bland and slink off to nurse, cowed and muttering, your twenty-eight-dollars-per-kilo (or something like that, i don’t actually remember the price, but it was somewhere around six or seven bucks for a 250g lump) wounds. but then! before you even fully finish that though, the rest of the taste creeps up on you and it’s so fresh and slightly tart and when you dump a little bit of olive oil and salt and coarse pepper on that guy, it’s just….complete. Santa Lucia, btw, is the brand.
- Madagascar green peppercorns. in brine – this was the first time i’d had peppercorns not in a dried state. i intend to look it up to see if green are actually a different species or merely an unripened stage of black, but goddammit eitherway, if you like pepper, this is delicious. i got a little tiny 30g tin of them for like, a buck eighty nine (also PA) just out of curiosity, and i am now fully confident that this will become a staple of my kitchen. they’re about the size of dried green peppercorns, but soft, and initially you get an almost capery impression (minus the pickling), but as soon as you bite into the core there’s this really real and bright blast of pepperiness, exactly that taste which is always lurking in a weird shadowy way in and behind and around good black pepper, but never seeming to actually be fully embodied therein, like the way consubstantiation puts Christ in and around and above and below the bread without the bread really being Christ. i can’t put my finger on it but I swear there’s a subtle impression of a decent gin to them as well. also, there’s a crude drawing of little black dudes in shabby pants in some sort of….pepper grove, i guess, with the phrase “IN ITS NATURAL STAGE” inscribed on the label below. weird.
- coarse sea salt! also recommended by Mario (who’s getting a lot of play on this site lately), i picked this sack up for under four bucks at Aubut (the wholesaler in st henri). it’s 750g, from a company called Bela Mandil – blue text on a clear bag, “Sal Marinho Tradicional” from Portugal, and if i understood Portuguese (which I don’t think I do), i assume that i would ascertain from the packaging that it’s collected by hand (?), all natural, and has been awarded the Slow Food Award For the Defense of Biodiversity, which is not bad for under four dollars especially when it’s Fucking Awesome and Reminds You What Salt Actually Tastes Like, because sure you get an overall salty taste from whatever you put it on, but you also regularly encounter these bulghar-sized chunks of Solid Fucking Salt From The Sea (where sharks, as well as giant squids and huge whales all live), and, well, i like salt (and have been thinking that probably i should also read Salt, as missed-the-good-ship-Kurlansky-by-five-years as that is).
honourable mention goes to the extra virgin olive oil (Lefas, pretty damn good for your buck, available hither and thither, so if you buy your olive oil in a big tin, do it up, because it’s worth it), and this remarkably decent white wine vinegar that we picked up in Palermo for chicken scratch, so if you can find it here for cheap (it’s called Bonanno), i highly recommend it.
the soup was celery-potato-cauliflower, and while not amazing, after ¾ of that bottle of wine, i decided that i needed to eat 4 bowls of it, so it couldn’t have been that bad. lately i’ve been all over ruthlessly frying chunks of bread in butter and pepper and herbs in lieu of the less artery-punching baking method for producing croutons. this i came into while camping this summer after finding that the once frozen rye bread we brought crumbled into sandwich-uselessness upon thawing, and in a fit of waste-not-want-notness, blasting that in a pan over the campfire with a bunch of butter and cheese and dumping it as a top layer for whatever chili, stew or beans we were eating. i have never looked back.
listening: The Indestructible Beat of Soweto comp, Fairport Convention, John Cale’s “Fear Is A Man’s Best Friend,” Thin Lizzy’s “Shades of a Blue Orphanage.”