Wednesday, August 29, 2012



izmir is modern smyrna, famous then and now for figs and the sea and not to be confused with the smyrnas of georgia, tennessee, and delaware. in the category of good host countries, denmark and turkey rise to the top of the list. in the former, i sat down to dinner twice with people of only modest acquaintance and didn't get up again for 5 and 7 hours respectively, which brought tycho brahe to mind. in the latter, abundance is the sign of generosity, which is why we sat down in a formal living room on the outskirts of izmir to four bowls of this tomato soup filled with micro-okra. an agricultural specialty of izmir, micro-okra is more mucilaginously crunchy than regular old macro-okra. in the middle right, some yogurt covered in soured pomegranate molasses, a fine combination made even finer in application to okra and tomatoes: cooks take note.

in izmir, the appearance on the table of a platter of very small, thin dolmas indicates the end of the savoury courses, an occasion for dolour that can be assuaged by eating a dolma. i discovered that eating a dolma is a sign to the host that you want another. apparently, leftover dolmas are rare in izmir.

margaux, dauzac, 1988

dauzac 1988

i made dinner (venison, fried peaches, corn, feta, kale, basil, tomatoes, etc) and a bottle of reasonably old bordeaux (AOC margaux, the chateau dauzac is a fifth growth managed by andré lurton's management company) showed up; i'm lucky to have generous friends.

though there was a layer of mould under the capsule, the cork was intact and clean: it emerged from the bottle without incident. other bottles from the same batch had been opened and found wanting, but this one was fine. it was more than fine. for having spent 24 years in the bottle, this was remarkably fresh. the colour had not faded as old reds sometimes will, and in the glass it was full of distinct fragrances: tiny bird chilis, prunes, talcum powder, smoke. in the mouth, it was soft, round, and green like green tea and parsley. maybe a wine better suited to the fall than to high summer.

time is tannin's friend. recently, a bottle of young rhone grenache proved almost undrinkable despite smelling wonderful in the glass; it was like stuffing a styptic pencil down my throat. this was ... quite different.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Monday, August 27, 2012

not-so-old riesling

pratello riesling 2002

i'd just come back from turkey by way of a 10-hour delay in vienna airport, whose only saving grace is widely available wifi, so robust, simple food was indicated. we spent a quiet afternoon with a relatively ancient, unctuous, oxidized italian riesling, marble counters, and lightly cooked beans. the riesling was rich in the way of old whites, flowery but austere, dark in the glass. jp (newly at haus alpenz) plucked this off the otto list by the simple expedient of choosing "the oldest bottle that won't require a second mortgage." it's always nice to drink with a pro.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

the path to meditation

It is against sanctimony and base prudence that much of my argument is directed, not in order to encourage vice, but in order to show that wine is compatible with virtue. The right way to live is by enjoying one’s faculties, striving to like and if possible to love one’s fellows, and also to accept that death is both necessary in itself and a blessed relief to those whom you would otherwise burden. The health fanatics who have poisoned all our natural enjoyments ought, in my view, to be rounded up and locked together in a place where they can bore each other rigid with their futile nostrums for eternal life. The rest of us should live out our days in a chain of linked symposia, in which the catalyst is wine, the means conversation, the goal a serene acceptance of our lot and a determination not to outstay our welcome ... Wine, drunk at the right time, in the right place and the right company, is the path to meditation, and the harbinger of peace.
roger scruton, i drink, therefore i am.

Monday, August 20, 2012

doing it right

in our relentless pursuit of making everyone satisfied that they have "done their best" and that everyone is a perfect snowflake, we often lose sight of how there are right ways to do things and thus, conversely, wrong ways to do things.* someone who is adroit follows an elegant and effective course of action, like odysseus, whose cunning and shrewdness (metis) led him to do the right thing (not a coincidence that droit in the original means right or law). a good printer, a good builder, a good furniture maker—all are adroit in their practice. the same holds for the cook. i found this passage from zhuang zi in the most unlikely of places (fuchsia dunlop, for those who care):
庖丁为文惠君解牛,手之所触,肩之所倚,足之所路履,膝之所倚, 砉然响然,奏刀豁然 ,莫不中音。合于桑林之舞,乃中经首之会。文惠君曰:“嘻, 善哉!技盖至此乎?” 庖丁释刀对曰:“臣之所好者道也,进乎技矣。始臣之解牛之时,所见无非牛者。三年之后,未尝见全牛也。方今之时,臣以神遇而不以目视,官知止而神欲行。依 乎天理,批大郄,导大髋,因其固然。技(枝)经肯綮之未尝,而况大骨乎!良庖岁更刀,割也;族庖月更刀,折也。今臣之刀十九年矣,所解数千牛矣,而刀刃若 新发于硎。彼节者有间,而刀刃者无厚,以有閒入无厚,恢恢乎其于游刃必有余地矣,是以十九年而刀刃若新发于硎。虽然,每至于族,吾见其难为,怵然为戒,视 为止,行为迟,动刀甚微,然已解,如土委地。提刀而立,为之四顾,为之踌躇满志,善刀而藏之。” 文惠君曰:“善哉!吾闻庖丁之言,得养生焉。
fortunately for you (and me), here is the least egregious of the translations of this passage:
His cook was cutting up an ox for the ruler Wen Hui. Whenever he applied his hand, leaned forward with his shoulder, planted his foot, and employed the pressure of his knee, in the audible ripping off of the skin, and slicing operation of the knife, the sounds were all in regular cadence. Movements and sounds proceeded as in the Dance of the Mulberry Forest and the blended notes of the King Shou. The ruler said, 'Ah! Admirable! That your art should have become so perfect!' (Having finished his operation), the cook laid down his knife, and replied to the remark, 'What your servant loves is the method of the Dao, something in advance of any art. When I first began to cut up an ox, I saw nothing but the entire carcase. After three years I ceased to see it as a whole. Now I deal with it in a spirit-like manner, and do not look at it with my eyes. The use of my senses is discarded, and my spirit acts as it wills. Observing the natural lines, (my knife) slips through the great crevices and slides through the great cavities, taking advantage of the facilities thus presented. My art avoids the membranous ligaments, and much more the great bones. A good cook changes his knife every year; (it may have been injured) in cutting. An ordinary cook changes his every month; (it may have been) broken. Now my knife has been in use for nineteen years; it has cut up several thousand oxen, and yet its edge is as sharp as if it had newly come from the whetstone. There are the interstices of the joints, and the edge of the knife has no (appreciable) thickness; when that which is so thin enters where the interstice is, how easily it moves along! The blade has more than room enough. Nevertheless, whenever I come to a complicated joint, and see that there will be some difficulty, I proceed anxiously and with caution, not allowing my eyes to wander from the place, and moving my hand slowly. Then by a very slight movement of the knife, the part is quickly separated, and drops like (a clod of) earth to the ground. Then standing up with the knife in my hand, I look all round, and in a leisurely manner, with an air of satisfaction, wipe it clean, and put it in its sheath.' The ruler Wen Hui said, 'Excellent! I have heard the words of my cook, and learned from them the nourishment of (our) life.'
this passage describes action marked by elegance and economy of means, made possible by extensive and intensive knowledge and a particular approach to action. this approach also permeates dôgen's instructions for chef monks; these tenzo kyōkun (written "as instruction for accomplished practitioners of the way in the future") are worth reading.

Friday, August 17, 2012

pancake poet

The heart of real buckwheats, after all, is fragile, gentle, slow-beating, and indisputably alive ... Made into a batter sparked to life with some sourdough starter, left to ferment and mellow overnight, then sweetened in the morning with a little molasses, and baked on a griddle, the resulting soft, flannel-textured flapjack, with its delicate flavor and nutty, tangy aftertaste, is the pancake ethereal.
john thorne, serious pig

ice cream in the tropics

ice cream is particularly satisfying in the tropics. it melts too quickly to brook any delay or prolongation.

in the motherland, it can be purchased (for a dollar) as a small brick sandwiched between two pieces of baked wafer from an umbrella-shaded pushcart. there must be hundred of these carts, all tended by wizened individuals with old knives sharpened to concavity. the stuff all comes in paperboard-wrapped blocks from the same creamery — always sweet corn, red bean, yam, coconut, and raspberry ripple. a decisive cut, then the cardboard skin is peeled off with the tip of the knife. specialty bars and the like can be bought, but where is the charm in those? sometimes, if you're lucky, you encounter a cart that additionally carries a vat of singapore-style neapolitan: strawberry, chocolate, and sweet corn. this you can only purchase in a stack of tiny spheres in a wafer cone or in sandwich form, wrapped in a slice of soft, sometimes multicoloured bread. at anderson ranch, i made a chocolate and strawberry ice cream sandwich on toasted scali bread. those around me retched and gagged. the ice cream sandwich on bread may be an acquired taste.

there's a reassuring continuity here. flavours, carts, wafers, knife-wielding old men and women. nothing has changed since the 1980s. years ago, one of these pushcarts used to wait on coleman street, outside the old anglo-chinese primary school and ambush us on our way to the MRT station at city hall with a tootling horn and the promise of ice cream.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

westvleteren 12

westvleteren 12

the westvleteren 12 is revered by beer nerds and, like other westvleteren beers, used to be wholly unavailable in the US. even in belgium, it is available only by reservation and in limited quantities at the brewery, located in the trappist abbey of saint sixtus of westvleteren. fortunately, people who are moving and disposing of possessions sometimes come to dinner bearing rare beer. the 12 is a dark brown, strong, malty quadrupel tasting of acacia and chestnut honey but balanced with the bitterness of chicory. the back of the mouth gets the mineral taste of a good molasses. there were lees aplenty (which were grainy and untasty). cellared 28 months from bottling and sale.

khichdi, khichri, khichuri, khichari, kedgeree


large quantities of parsley and a healthy dose of turmeric and cumin are crucial. good with smoked mackerel, but maybe even better with the original, but hard-to-find, smoked haddock. our people are working on it even now. bowl by judith motzkin, maker of the bread device. for more on kedgeree, consult pages 305-327 of john thorne's superb pot on the fire.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

philosophies and approaches

Life is too short for me to approach a meal with the mincing steps of a Japanese prostitute.