Thursday, February 25, 2021

Samin Nosrat on Fame, Food, and Writing

The James Beard Award–winning author and Netflix star Samin Nosrat needs no introduction. To call her thought- and taste-provoking. Salt Fat Acid Heat a cookbook is like saying Hamlet is a ghost story — except Shakespeare didn’t have such nifty infographics.

It’s our great fortune that she will be part of an UCSB Arts & Lectures virtual talk on Sunday, February 28, at 11 a.m. Moderated by Santa Barbara’s own restaurateur Sherry Villanueva, owner of The Lark, La Paloma, Loquita, and other hotspots, the chat also features Israeli-English author/chef Yotam Ottolenghi — remember when his book Plenty would be set dressing on television shows as a symbol that characters had hip taste?

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

And, yes, she's as warm and funny and self-deprecating and engaged as she seems on the Netflix show in real life, if a 35 minute phone interview is real life.

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

A Review of "Having and Being Had" by Eula Biss


Eula Biss wants me to be better and I’m not sure I’m up for that. When I refer to the quick several page essays that build up to her book Having and Being Had as prose poems, I do so to praise and not blame, warn, not scare. Her jewel-like essays are pristine and precise, exciting and exacting. They ask of you as reader to weigh every word for there’s always a bit more there (and it has to do with you). It’s as if the space between each period and the first letter of her next sentence is a silent accusation of your life.

Want to read the rest then do so at the California Review of Books.

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Genever, With Your Orange Hair, Genever, With Your Green Eyes*

Which came first, the genever or the gin? Wait, you don't know genever? Well, then you should have been on the Zoom tasting I was part of on Monday, all about genever, America's Lost European Spirit (which as a tag line is brilliant marketing, no?).

So it's simple (unless you're trying to distill a good one)--genever, originating in the 1500s in Holland (well, The Low Countries, back in the day), must have two things: malt spirit + juniper berries. Like gin, which it preceded, it's usually got botanicals, sometimes of the "if I told you I'd have to kill you" variety. It can be aged or un-aged, in oak or not. It can have added caramel color to suggest it had been aged (kind of a reverse Grecian Formula for spirits). It's got a great history, helping create the term "dutch courage" and being connecting to William of Orange--when he married into English royalty, genever and gin came with him.

And this is way too late in my post to add the most important thing, it's damn delicious, in lots of different styles. Sarah Lawson-Stopps, bartender at Wildhawk in San Francisco and a genever brand ambassador, took us through the evening, a tasting of five different expressions showing the ranges within the two basic styles. The first, the old style, is darker and with more malt (15%-100%) and makes one think of whiskey, the second, the young style, is lighter, brighter, and more like a dry style gin (with a malt percentage under 15%). 

That younger style is a bit more in ascendancy now, as genever is still recovering from its near fatal moment during U.S. Prohibition. But mixologists of the past 10 years or so find it fascinating for its backstory and versatility, so get used to seeing it more frequently behind your favorite bars. Why not, given Bobby's Schiedam Jenever you could easily assume was just a dry gin, but then its Indonesian botanicals sneak up on you--lemongrass, cardamom, ginger. Or when you could drink Rutte Old Simon Genever, 40% malt, so brilliantly complex, even more so with its additions of celery, carob, and a distillate of roasted hazelnuts! How convenient that along with our sample bottles (nowhere near the gorgeous full 750 ml bottles most genevers sell to the public in) we were sent snifter packets of classic botanicals to snort. Makes a Zoom event a lot more sensory.

And then there's the origin of a shot and a beer, which goes back to genever. Kopstootje is the Dutch term for this special ritual, and it translates as "head butt." So if you want to be a mating ram at your bar, get them to pour a healthy shot of genever into one of the classic tulip classics that match the spirit and have your beer ready to go. And by healthy shot, I mean one that almost over pours--the goal is to have an arcing meniscus of genever above the glass, the rainbow for you to wish the exciting future of your night upon. Then you lean in--I mean, you aren't trying to pick up that close to an overflowing glass--with your hands behind your back and sip deep. There's even a crazy method where you lip-lock the tulip into your mouth and toss it back that way, but I'm too old for that kind of uncouth thing. Even if the genever itself has a good four centuries on me.

*OK, this title doesn't really make sense, but I just really like this Eurythmics song, sorry.

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

To Syrah, with Love


While the term Rhone Rangers always makes me think of winemakers astride giant wine bottles in Monument Valley--"Heigh ho, Nebuchadnezzar, away!"--the serious side of me never minds a ride with a few glasses of Syrah (or Grenache or Mourvedre or...). For as Santa Barbara legend Bob Lindquist put it, quoting Jim Fiolek, "Syrah delivers what Merlot promised." 

All of that is a far too fanciful way to introduce a quick look at the Santa Barbara Rhone Rangers' recent event on February 4, a Syrah tasting that took viewers on a quick tour of the county. Moderated by Lamar Engel of The Wine Militia (sorry, but by now that's a name that has to change, no?), it featured a stellar winemaker cast with brilliant bottles to boot:  

 Larry Schaffer of tercero wines with his 2014 Syrah - Larner Vineyard, Ballard Canyon 

Matt Brady of SAMsARA Wines with his 2017 Syrah - Zotovich Vineyard, Sta Rita Hills  

Kristin Bryden of Zaca Mesa with her 2016 Syrah - Black Bear Block, Estate Vineyard, Los Olivos

And the aforementioned - Bob Lindquist of Lindquist Wines with a barrel sample of his 2019 Syrah - Bien Nacido Vyd Z Block, Santa Maria Valley  

The group was wise, entertaining, and sometimes geeky, even entering into a clone discussion of Syrah as if it were all finicky like Pinot Noir or something! (Although they seemed to agree that site trumps clone for making a good wine.) Whatever the topic, this free Zoom also made clear Santa Barbara winemaking stands tall (and often foot stomps hard). 

And, perhaps, underlined one of the "problems" for creating a vinous Santa Barbara County identity. For this event featured four delicious syrahs (and we were lucky to taste three of them, all except for the barrel sample, and for that we swapped in a Jaffurs 2016 Syrah Bien Nacido Vineyard, which was a gorgeous monster, btw) that made clear site and winemaking will lead you to very different expressions of the same grape. The tercero, at just 12.9% ABV, lured you in to its loveliness, with a floral character the others didn't touch. It's the kind of wine that forces you to wake up and be aware, which is a good thing. The SAMsARA, with Brady's fondness for whole cluster, added a pleasing, despite the words I'm going to use, vegetal funk--a unique wine that made you keep sipping more. The Zaca Mesa, from the warmest location (and the SB vineyard that first planted Syrah way back when--we got a lot of history, too), had a fascinating depth and spice. And then Bob's wine--well, we don't know as we couldn't have any, but how could it not rock having been made by one of our county's founding wine fathers?

Even better, the SB Rhone Rangers will be doing more of these events, so go check out what they have to offer. And drink their wines--you won't get one expression of anything, but you will get a scrumptiously expressive everything.