Friday, December 24, 2010

Miscellaneous: Lemons and Christmas

I spent the morning bottling wine again (more on that subject soon). Working out in the driveway, I was admiring the bumper crop of lemons and other citrus fruit we have on the trees this year.

It reminded me of Christmas holidays I've spent in Europe (this being Christmas Eve, it seemed natural to think of such things)--specifically Christmas in Italy. In Italy (at least in Tuscany) it's the custom to decorate with branches of lemons and oranges, which is very pretty (although to someone living in Tokyo at the time--the land of the $3 lemon--it seemed terribly extravagant). Italy is a nice place to spend Christmas, although Paris isn't bad either. I spent most of the summer in France this past year (2010). Wish I were there now--although I hear the weather is wretched at the moment....

Wines I'm drinking: 2005 Bodegas Gran Ducay "Monte Ducay" Cariñena Reserva

I recently tasted the 2005 Bodegas Gran Ducay "Monte Ducay" Cariñena Reserva from Trader Joe's. Although not indicated on the label, I suspect this is made mostly from Tempranillo, probably with some Grenache thrown in. It comes from Cariñena, one of the four Denominación de Origen wine growing regions in Aragon, in northeast Spain. Cariñena was originally known for its native grape of the same name, although we more commonly see the French spelling, Carignan (or Carignane in the US; confusingly, the locals often call it Mazuelo), but today Tempranillo, Grenache, and other grapes appear to be grown more widely here. Traditionally Cariñena made rough, highly alcoholic red wines mostly for blending, but a switch to better grape varieties, lower alcohol levels, and modern equipment has resulted in lighter, fruitier wines more suited to modern palates. This wine is a good example of the modern style. It comes unusually packaged, the entire bottle wrapped in paper. Tasting notes follow.

The wine was a medium blackish-red color, not really showing much age but without any of the purple hues of a young wine either. Bright, cassis-scented nose with hints of vanilla suggestive of aging in American oak. Generally, a fresh, attractive nose, if not highly distinctive in any way. Later there was a hint of cloves. Light but balanced on the palate. Good acidity with a rush of fruity sweetness on the mid-palate, balanced by fine-grained tannins. Overall the impression the wine gave was a trifle rough, but appealing. Light, fruity, tasty, and with a buttery quality on a moderately long finish. Good everyday wine and an excellent value at $5.99 at Trader Joe's.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Plants I'm Growing--First Blooms: Cyclamen Coum (2011)

Although it's still 2010, I count this as the first blossom of 2011 in the yard because this plant usually blooms in the first week of January, and little else will be coming into bloom any time soon, except for candytuft. This tiny little cyclamen has done wonderfully. I planted two or three a few years ago and there is now a thick mat of leaves about two feet square. The plant appears to spread both by underground roots and by seed.

This flower opened on December 21, 2010. Cyclamen coum started to bloom on January 3, 2010 last winter and on January 8 in 2009. Thus, a year according to this plant was 352 days this season, 360 days in the preceding season.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Food I'm Eating: Crab Cakes

I recently got the recipe friends use to make what have consistently been the best crab cakes I've ever tasted--better than any restaurant crab cakes I've had. I have the directions scribbled on the back of a post card. They're certain to get lost. Rather than annoy friends by asking for the recipe again, I record it here. This strategy has the added benefit of passing it on to the rest of the world--not that this recipe is unique; it may be a fairly standard one. All I know is that it works. Enjoy.

  • One pound of crab meat
  • A couple of slices of bread with the crust removed (or, use panko-style bread crumbs)
  • Milk to soak the bread in
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • One teaspoon Old Bay Spice (I found it in the seafood section at Safeway)
  • One tablespoon baking powder
  • One tablespoon mayonnaise
  • One tablespoon chopped parsley
  • One tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • One shallot diced small
  • One beaten egg
Directions: You can soak the bread in the milk to make it soft and then mix this in with the main ingredients as a binder, but I prefer to forget the bread, form the cakes, and then dip these in panko bread crumbs, in which case you get a slightly crunchy outside coating. The drawback is that the cakes don't hold together as well and need to be turned with care. In any case, first, sauté the shallots until just golden, reserve, and allow to cool while following the next steps. Put the crab meat into an appropriately sized bowl, add all the ingredients (including the shallots now and the bread if you've decided to use it) and mix well. Form the mixture into cakes. Dip in the bread crumbs until coated (if you didn't use the bread as a binder). Fry the cakes in a little olive oil and butter until golden brown. Garnish with lemon wedges and sprigs of parsley. Serve immediately. A well-chilled dry white wine is an excellent accompaniment. Champagne is ideal. Otherwise, Chablis (real Chablis), a crisp Marsanne or Rousanne from Wellington Vineyards, or wines like Sancerre, Menetou-Salon, St. Veran, or Pouilly Fuissé would be my choice.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Found Art: Weathered Table (December 20, 2010)

On a recent trip to Berkeley, I found much serendipitous art. This scratched and weathered table top on Fourth St., with its interestingly placed hardware, caught my eye. It reminded me of something by Barcelona-born artist Antoni Tapies. I'll be posting more from Berkeley in the coming days.

Books I'm Reading: Champagne

I've just finished reading Champagne, by Don and Petie Kladstrup (Harper Perennial, 2006). The book is subtitled How the World's Most Glamorous Wine Triumphed over War and Hard Times. The book, as the subtitle suggests, is a brief look at the vicissitudes the Champagne region has suffered over the years--from repeated military invasions to the invasion of phylloxera (the deadly root louse that nearly wiped out all of France's wine production in the late-1800s). This breezy history of the region, the wine, and the people who have made Champagne (especially figures that have had an important influence on its history--including Attila the Hun, Veuve Clicquot, Dom Pérignon, Louis IV, and Napoleon) is an easy page-turner, but entertaining and informative nevertheless. Good light reading for a rainy afternoon. By the same authors as Wine and War.

Rain: Nearly Steady Rain (December 17-21, 2010)

In the past few days, it's rained off and on, and we've had pretty much steady rain since last night (the night of the 20th). So far, we've accumulated another 2.75 inches since last reporting, it continues to rain, and more rain is expected--through Christmas at least. That brings our total to 15.15 inches as of around noon on the 21st, but that will probably rise in the next few days. The historical average for December 20 in Santa Rosa is 9.31 inches, so we remain well ahead of normal rainfall levels.

[Update: On the evening of the 21st, we got another 0.25 inches, bringing the total to 15.4 inches.]
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