Thursday, February 18, 2010

Books I'm Reading: Cookbooks and Penguins

I went to our local bookstore recently--that would be Copperfield's, in Santa Rosa's Montgomery Village--to find a copy of one of the Barefoot Contessa cookbooks, seeking the actual recipe for the lemon and butter prawn pasta I mangled not too long ago trying to make it from memory. They didn't have the book, but I ordered a copy.

I got to talking about cookbooks with the woman helping me. We laughed at all the copies of Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking on the shelves. Apparently, it's been selling like hotcakes (what else?) because of interest prompted by the film Julie & Julia (reviewed here). The Joy of Cooking is selling well, too. That makes considerably less sense considering the disdain the film heaps upon the book and its author. I have nothing against the Joy of Cooking. I own a copy. I use it from time to time. There's been a copy in the family for decades. I just don't see Julie & Julia as a recommendation for it. People are interesting.

There was a sale going on. Inevitably, I bought things. I had a big stack of books in just a few minutes that I eventually pared back to four--three of the four books published by Penguin. When books are on sale for just a few dollars--as some of these were--I never hesitate to buy a Penguin edition, even if it's on a subject I have little interest in or by an author unknown to me. Is any publisher on the planet more consistent? I don't think I've ever read a book with a bright orange Penguin spine that wasn't worth the time. In this case, however, I wasn't buying on the strength of the publisher's name. The books caught my attention for various reasons.

I picked up Gut Feelings: The Intelligence of the Unconscious, by Geld Gigerenzer, which suggests that logic and reasoning may be overrated--or at least that we have highly evolved powers of intuition that sometimes serve us better than rational thought; A Summer of Hummingbirds, by Christopher Benfey, a book with a rather long subtitle that obviates the need for further explanation from me--Love, Art, and Scandal in the Intersecting Worlds of Emily Dickinson, Mark Twain, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Martin Johnson Heade; Desire: Where Sex meets Addiction, a book by Susan Cheever (only daughter of John Cheever) that appears to explore the idea that addiction to people (sex, that is) has characteristics rather unusual among addictions, which seems an idea worth delving into; and Mary Cantwell's Manhattan Memoir, being a collection of her three memoirs--American Girl; Manhattan, When I Was Young; and Speaking with Strangers. This will be my first reading of Mary Cantwell, but she comes very well recommended.

And so, my bookshelves--I need more bookshelves--get a little more crowded. When will I get around to these four new books? I don't know. I buy books when the opportunity arises. I get to them as I can. Buying them (rather than going to the library) is a habit from my many years in Tokyo, where it was often hard to get English-language books at all, and anything worthwhile had to be snapped up. Some of the books I buy I sit on for years, waiting for the right mood to strike. Some I start reading the day I acquire them. I treat them rather like wine. Some are waiting to reach maturity, some are for drinking young. I just began a collection of essays by Isaiah Berlin--Four Essays on Liberty. I bought it at least 15 years ago, in Tokyo. And when I'm finished with that? We'll see. Maybe one of these. Maybe not.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Wines I'm Drinking: Chanson Pere et fils Nuits St. Georges

Lest anyone think I drink only cheap Merlot from Grocery Outlet (I've reviewed a number of these recently), I note here that I've just been able to buy some of the 2005 Chanson Pere et Fils Nuits St. Georges. These came from The Wine Spectrum Shop, in Santa Rosa, which occasionally gets very good deals. Well worth a visit. I'll review one of these before too long.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Plants I'm growing: First blooms--Pluot "Flavor King" and Osmanthus x Burkwoodii

I report belatedly that the pluot "Flavor King" and Osmanthus x burkwoodii both started blooming yesterday. Activity has picked up markedly in the garden in the last couple of days with a lull in the rain and warmer weather. It was in the high 60s again today. The Osmanthus bloomed on February 18 in 2009. So, a year according to this plant was 362 days, or close to a calendar year. The photo here is a view of the plant in full bloom in 2009.

The pluot is a trifle problematic. One or two flowers opened in isolation about two weeks ago, which is typical, but a significant number of buds broke today for the first time. Last year, an isolated flower bloomed on February 5th, but I didn't note the start of the real flowering, so my data from last year and this year don't really mesh. Roughly speaking, however, the timing of both the first flower and of the fuller flowering appear to be in line with last year.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Tidbits: Snowbocross

We have "autocross" and "motocross." So, why didn't they call it "snowbocross" instead of the awkward "snowboard cross?"

Plants I'm Growing: Pluot "Dapple Dandy"

Prodded by a suddenly warm day, many buds on the "Dapple Dandy" pluot burst today. Last year, the flowers were hit by virtually constant rain during flowering. The result was almost no fruit following a bumper crop the preceding year. I don't know if the rain was really to blame or if the heavy fruiting of the year before was more the cause. In any case, I'm hoping that this year we'll be able to harvest something. The fruit is excellent when fully ripe--usually in mid-August.

"Dapple Dandy" bloomed on February 5 in 2009, for a fairly short year of 355 days.

Plants I'm Growing: Ribes Aurem (Golden Flowering Currant) 2010

The first flowers opened today on the large golden flowering currant bush by the beehive. Only a few buds have opened--prompted by a sudden wave of warmth; it was in the upper 60s here today. Soon the plant will be a mass of yellow. The bees love these flowers.

This plant bloomed on February 2 in 2009. So, a year according to Ribes aureum was 378 days--one of the longer years the plants in my garden have so far calculated.

Tidbits: The Truth About Socialized Health Care

No comment necessary. This says it all.

The Apparent Trap

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Wines I'm Drinking: More Cheap Merlot from Grocery Outlet

I tasted two more cheap Merlots from Grocery Outlet last night, the 2005 Alamos Merlot from Mendoza in Argentina, and the 2007 Tilia Merlot, also from Mendoza. I recently tasted the 2005 and 2007 Merlots from Chile's Cousiño-Macul. To see the earlier reviews, use the search box above.

The 2007 Tilia Merlot was a deep blackish purple. The nose was rather closed, particularly at first, but it eventually offered hints of oak, something vaguely floral, and citrus scents; there was something that reminded me of the orange-vanilla popsicles I remember from my boyhood--always purchased outside, from a truck, in a hot summer street. On the palate, the wine was tart, light-bodied, and fairly short. It didn't have a lot of grip. There was very little tannin to speak of, just a slightly bitter finish suggestive of citrus rind--blood oranges perhaps. Nothing objectionable, but nothing special either. Fairly priced at $2.99 a bottle (Grocery Outlet offers an additional 10% discount for case purchases, including mixed cases), but this is not one I'd buy again. Probably best with fatty, meaty foods such as spare ribs or barbecue that do well with fairly acidic wines. This normally retails for $8-10 a bottle.

The 2005 Alamos Merlot was a more interesting wine. It was a deep plummy red tinged with brown--showing its age a little bit. It had an earthy, slightly oaky nose, but remained fairly closed. It was considerably more inviting on the palate, offering clean fruit sweetness, light tannins, and good acidity. The flavors were sufficiently concentrated to linger. Despite a somewhat austere, woody finish and light body, the wine came across as fresh and flavorful. Words like "neat" and "compact" kept coming to mind. With a little time, the palate opened out to reveal hints of cherries, plums, and something chocolatey, and ultimately the finish softened a bit too, becoming sweeter and less harsh. Not great wine, and I preferred the 2005 Cousiño-Macul Merlot reviewed elsewhere in these pages, but solid and a very good value at $2.99 a bottle. Sufficiently interesting to warrant having a few bottles around the house for informal occasions. This normally retails for $10-12 a bottle.
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