Wednesday, May 17, 2023

A Bright Bite from the Islands (via Harlem)

Given Santa Barbara is lallygagging through a grayest of Mays (yeah, I know, we suffer so here in mostly paradise), it's time to figure out ways to force feed ourselves some sunshine. No big surprise that one of my favorite ways to do so is with the help of a potent potable. Of course, even potent potables need helpers, too.

Enter Uncle Waithley's, a newish brand of ginger beer. Not to bore you with what you know, but ginger beer: 1) isn't alcohol, despite the "beer" part; 2) is much zippier than the more common ginger ale, as the ginger and sugar gets fermented together, while ginger ale tends to be a soda product with ginger flavoring added later in the process.

Uncle Waithley's take all of that very seriously, with a product that begs for marketing historical spinning. As they put it, "A family recipe developed by mixologist Karl Franz Williams and inspired by his grandfather, Uncle Waithley, who lived his entire life on the enchanting island of St. Vincent and the Grenadines." Ah, lineage and the allure of the Caribbean. 

The better news is it's not just a good story. This is punchy stuff, mostly because it has a couple of unusual kinks. First, it's got turmeric, and if you use that at home, you probably have something stained vivid yellow-orange you didn't want stained. Here, it gives the beverage a enticing hue, and some of the earthy spice you've grown to know and love in curries.

But there's more spice, too, as Uncle Waithley's also features Scotch bonnet peppers for a real kick. Not every carbonated beverage can get rated in Scoville units. To be fair, it's more heat than hot, but it also is a refreshing surprise than requires you to keep quenching your thirst.

Given that pepper-push, in the photo above you see two Mexican Mules, a variation of the more standard Moscow Mule that swaps in tequila for vodka. Chill those copper mugs (or a rocks glass if you aren't that fancy), crush a bunch of ice, pour 2 oz. of tequila per cup, add a good amount of ice in each, top with Uncle Waithley's (you hope for a 3-2 ratio of ginger beer to booze, but don't sweat it--the cup will do that for you). Add 1/2 oz. of lime juice to each, and also a wedge of lime for more squeezing. 

Truly delish. Can't imagine how good it will be if the temperature ever breaks 67° here. (And yes, they sent me free samples.)

Thursday, May 11, 2023

Alex Prud’homme Captures Our Culinary Commanders-in-Chief


Despite looking somewhat like a fuzzy hard-boiled egg himself, Dwight Eisenhower oversaw one of the most interesting culinary programs in White House history and was probably the best president-cook. That’s the kind of tidbit you’ll learn by attending a May 18 soiree showcasing journalist Alex Prud’homme, author of the recently published Dinner with the President: Food, Politics, and a History of Breaking Bread at the White House. While you’re sipping on reverse martinis and noshing on Field + Fort nibbles inspired by his book, Prud’homme will regale the crowd with, as he puts it, “gastronomic political history.”

The event, hosted by Taste of Santa Barbara, sports local hooks too, even if the 478-page book only touches down at Ronald Reagan’s Rancho del Cielo — a k a the Western White House — for a mere two pages. That’s because Prud’homme’s great-aunt is Julia Child, and he co-wrote her memoir My Life in France.

Care to read the rest then do so at the Independent's site.

Tuesday, May 2, 2023

Where There’s Fuego, There’s Humo: Santa Barbara Couple Starts Mezcal Brand


Ask Elliott Reese what’s the one thing everyone should know about mezcal, and he answers, “That it’s not tequila; it’s honestly better than tequila. I know that’s subjective, but if you want an agave spirit — neat — you can’t beat mezcal.”

For some, those might be fighting words, but Reese knows of what he speaks. Earlier this year, he and his wife, Karen, launched the mezcal brand Fuego y Humo and are eager to share their love for this distilled spirit in Santa Barbara and beyond. After working with José Manuel Méndez, a third-generation mezcalero in Oaxaca, their artisanal brand is currently offering three varietals of mezcal and a terrific story.

Care to read the rest then do so at the Independent's site.

Natty and Bratty: Natural Coast Wine Fest


It would be too glib to say the qualifications for hosting a table at the first Natural Coast Wine Fest on a gorgeous Saturday, April 22, was that you had to pour an orange wine or a pét-nat. Then again, there sure were a lot of them, many delicious, if often funky in the friendliest of ways. Given this was the actual Earth Day, and one of the first weekends after our surprisingly sodden winter, the fest seemed like an open-armed embrace of sunnier seasons. Especially since so many of the wines, even the reds, tasted best with a slight chill, eager to help us lubricate summer afternoons with friends on the porch.

Care to read the rest then do so at the Independent's site.

Friday, April 14, 2023

Vroom with a Cru


That's not a wine named for the famous route of song and lore where you might get your kicks, but from something even kickier. In 2003 Kevin Buckler, who is also the founder and CEO of Adobe Road Winery, won, along with his co-drivers, the Rolex 24 endurance race from the GT class in a baby blue Porsche 911, beating the top-tier prototype cars in a feat that has never been repeated.

So, not surprisingly the 2021 66 White Blend is a racy little number (couldn't resist) engineered from 66% Chardonnay from Santa Barbara County and then some Rhone varietals--19% Marsanne and 15% Viognier--from Lodi. While the Rhone grapes come from a warmer growing region, that doesn't mean they step on the aromatic gas in the final blend--this is very well-balanced for how big it is, aged in just 20% new French oak. You don't win races just through speed but control, and this bottling exhibits those lessons, too.

So there's lemon blossom and lychee on the nose, inviting and a touch exotic, and what follows is more fresh citrus fruit, some green pear, and more floral notes. A lovely bottle to start a party with alongside some good gooey cheese or slab of smoked salmon guests can pick apart.

(And all apologies for the post title. I couldn't resist.)

Monday, April 10, 2023

Lapping Up the Fruity, Bitter, and Pungent


"Olive oil is a fruit, so olive oil is a fruit juice," David Garci-Aguirre explains to me on a Zoom tasting. "The moment you extract oil from an olive it's at its best." The tasting is sponsored by the California Olive Oil Council or COOC, And Garci-Aguirre knows his stuff, as Vice President of Operations and Master Miller at Corto Olive with 14 years in the field.

COOC has two main functions--certifying olive oil producers who do things the right way and promoting that seal-certified oil to the rest of the state and the world. Despite the gorgeous amount of olive oil trees one might spy touring the state, all of California's production is merely 2% of the oil consumed nationwide. "For the three years I've been with COOC, the mission has been the same, for better or worse," Garci-Aguirre insists. "The climate for consumers is still terrible, as supermarket quality oil is very poor. So we have to find California producers that care and have developed the certification process so customers get fresher oil."

One of the stumbling blocks for this project is the average consumer finds low quality oil familiar and therefore acceptable. Turns out that most production worldwide happens two months later than it does at COOC certified producers. Longer hang-time leads to fermentation, alcohol is the byproduct, and you end up with fusty oil. To top that off, commercial EVO often is a blend of oil from around the world--the sample sent to me was a blend from Argentina, Chile, Greece, Italy, Morocco, Peru, Portugal, Spain, and Tunisia. Turns out that an oil that seems like it should show up in a steamer trunk plastered with exotic luggage labels isn't such a great idea. The sad stuff has traveled distance and sat around. So on your tastebuds is stays greasy and unpleasant.

Light, heat, and air are all enemies to quality. That might make things particularly difficult for those in the Midwest, but here in the Golden State, we have a surfeit of great olive oil--indeed, 65% of the state's oil is now COOC seal certified. Yep, it costs more, but part of that is you get what you pay for. It's also been hard to mechanize harvest, but recent advances lead Garci-Aguirre to say, "It makes me so excited, we are going to be able to democratize fresh olive oil."

So look for the COOC label. Their website will help, and lots of the best you can purchase direct-to-consumer. Perhaps some of it will be like the mind-altering oil made solely from Sevillano sample I got to sip--natural, warming, crystal clean, and no oily aftertaste. It ranked high on all three adjectives in this post's title. Given most of us don't do olive oil shots, it's also good to know that Garci-Aguirre discussed a recent study that suggests the polyphenols in high quality oil protect the integrity of tomatoes, say, during cooking. That oil is going to help the tomatoes on your next designer pizza sing.

Even better, olives make for a sustainable California. In addition to having low water needs, they also score well for carbon sequestration. 

Saturday, April 1, 2023

The Galloping Garbanzo


First-year UC Santa Barbara student Elaine Skiadas isn’t so much precocious as she is creative and hungry. When the pandemic hit, the Glencoe, Illinois, native took to Instagram to post recipes. “I could just make stuff up and put it on the Internet,” she recalls. Her Wandering Chickpea persona grew in popularity, gave birth to a blog, and even gave her motivation to buy a better camera.

Two years into the project, she got an email out of the blue from Page Street Publishing asking if she might be interested in writing a cookbook. “I thought, ‘This has to be a joke — I’m 17,’” she says. In a Zoom call, the publisher made an offer and gave her a week to decide. She got back in touch in two hours. She admits, “In my head, a book was a goal that was 10 years out.” On April 11, she will become the 18-year-old author of Fantastic Vegan Recipes for the Teen Cook.

Care to read the rest then do so at the Independent's site.