Monday, July 11, 2005

A Salty Celebration

There are a gazillion things in life worth celebrating. I almost started this script with the exact opposite statement. Then I realized: there's a hella lot of things to be thankful for here. I won't pretend to be cool and crass...I really dig my life for the most part, and have lately--as in the last couple of years--realized how special my circumstances, and my peeps, are.

So tonight I celebrated a friendship with my pal D. My office mate for the last year, he has just accepted a gig at a lab in Bermuda, where the ratio of grrls to boyz is 3:1. Tsk, tsk. Sorry about that, dear. He has been the closest thing to an equally-as-boorish-as-me-wine-snob that I have found on Long Island. Tonight we celebrated the past year of our growth together, his new island position, my new cratonic gig in Vandyland, and the triathlon I finished yesterday. We realized tonight that we may never see each other again, unless I find a way to Bermuda. It seems like a reasonable objective, eh? Free crash pad on the island in the middle of the Atlantic? A no-brainer. That bit about a triangle? A myth. Supposedly.

We opted to make a light dinner, seeing as how our last evening meal together, months ago, was at Suffolk County's only honorable mention, the poorly named, not particularly inspired, very heavy, yet still very good, Pasta Pasta. Tonight was much greater, and much more conducive to grad-student budget plans. Besides, we have wine. In our possession. Beckoning to be drunk. or drank. or drinked. We opted for grilled pizzas and salad. And vino.

We began the eve with a long chat out on the newly sprouted Kentucky Blue Grass in the back yard while sharing a 2003 blend of Chenin Blanc and Viognier by Pine Ridge Clarksburg. The original plan was to save it for the salad course: baby arugula with roasted peaches, pancetta, and feta in a fig-balsamic vinagrette, but alas. It went a little quicker than we planned. I must admit, being new at this whole blog thing, I failed to pay much attention to the wine inspite of my quasi-wine-geekiness. I expected to have and write great epiphanies about it. Oh well. Am I losing my touch/taste? It's a little late for me to make something up about it. But I assure you, it was nice for a Californian white. And while I originally thought it would be the perfect compliment to the insalate, in blurry hindsight I figure it was decent, but not crisp enough to offset the sweet smoky fullness of the peaches. Good thing we drank most of it sitting in the yard and not at the dinner table.

During the aforementioned Pasta Pasta gathering, I attempted to introduce D. to the virtues of Italian wine. He had just finished a semester of a UC Davis-esque oenology course, rife with tastings and extensive histories of the French, Australian, and American viticultures. I was appalled that the only exposure he gained in the class to Italian wines was the brief fly-by of Sangiovese and Pinot Grigio. Figuring our Italian meal at Pasta Pasta was the perfect time to prove to him that Italian vino reigns supreme as food-wine, I perused the Italian red section for the perfect sleeper bottle (i.e. the great juice at a great value).

Should have known that the words "great" and "value" rarely sequentially occur on Long Island in ANY context, particularly on a restaurant wine list. Having already agreed that if we were to step foot inside Pasta Pasta, we were not going to nickel-and-dime it on the food, our wine budget took the slack. The list provided limited affordable Italian offerings, so I sought sympathetic advice from what I thought was the sophisticated palate of our waitress, who recommeded a Chianti (off the list) over the Valpolicella I was originally eyeing. I do not recall the Chianti she brought, although I remember it was remember-less. Sigh. Always trust yourself. So, my mission on tonight's dinner date was to introduce him to what a good Italian wine has to offer.

Enter the 2001 Ideale La Nunsio Barbera D'Asti.

A wine I have known for a while, this particular bottle ended up in a very generous and tasty Christmas '04 wine gift pack from the lovely Taj over at The Cork And Demon. Having just spent several years working at a restaurant that serves Ideale by the glass, I was extremely familiar with it. Of the several bottles carefully selected by Taj to be included in my gift, it was the only one I knew, and I suspect my familiarity with it came across as disappointment compared to my enthusiasm and curiosity about the others in the box. She sensed it. I denied it. Doh. It wasn't disappointment so much as it was, oh it's you again. Like when you spend too much time with the person you love the most, they become overly familiar.

So when D. and I decided on grilled pizzas, I thought the Ideale would be ideal. Get it? Ideal? It was Italian, it was (in my recollection) fantastic, it would go great with our pies, and enough time had passed such that it was like, for me, trying something new. Indeed, it was as great as I remembered it, but freshly different (kinda like sex with an ex, save the potential emotional fallout). We opted for flatbread pies; he chose roasted red bells, marinated artichokes, and raw, fresh garlic for one. I nerded out and made a carmelized onion, sauteed belgian endive, pancetta and fontina topping for the other.

We sparked up the grill, got the first crust rolled out and onto the grill, and promptly forgot about it. So, we had as an unplanned intermezzo extra-crispy flatbread crust with fontina and extra carbon. We were much more alert the second time around. The pies came out thin, crispy, and while not perfectly round, we thought they were beautiful. We were fully impressed with our efforts. The raw garlic was exceptionally sprightly on the one, the carmelized onions sweetly offset the slight bitterness of the endive on the other.

Ah, the pancetta, well, that's where the saltiness came in. There was a preponderance of pancetta here (recall the pancetta on the salad, too). For some reason, I thought we needed a lot of it, so I bought a lot of it. I used a lot of it. And now I have a lot of it leftover. hmmm. Making up for all those years I never, ever cooked bacon at home.

As for the Ideale, it performed nicely, just as I hoped it would. A little hot off the top (which disappeared within 10 minutes), strawberry-ish front end, earthbound and clean on the finish. And D. liked it. Just as a well-behaved Barbera should, it paid a huge compliment to our toasty za's.

For desert, we went fully local! Seeing how that is sort of the point of this blog, I'm thrilled to announce "Lewin's Farm Blueberries with 2003 Bedell Cellars North Fork Late Harvest
Riesling"! Yahoo! This was simply great. The berries aren't
as tiny as wild Maines, not as plump as Northwest Blues, but somewhere in between: plumpish and mid-sized, slightly tart with the first bite, sliding in to a soft sweetness. Their flavor reminds me of the blue-flavored Lik-em-Stix. Remember those? Did I just date myself? Just plopped those blues into the champagne flutes, and drank 'em down.

The Riesling is actually a blend of 88% Riesling and 12% Gerwurtztraminer. Long Island wineries, just as the upstate New York vineyards, excel at the sweeter varietals because of the colder climate. 2003 was an exceptionally good year for Long Island Riesling because our winter was exceptionally cold. It was a gorgeous goldenrod, so viscous and enticing. Appeared royal against the deep blue of the berries. The winemaker's notes: "The Bedell Cellars Late Harvest Riesling grapes were picked at the peak of perfection and quickly frozen. We then pressed the frozen grapes, and fermented them slowly over several months, using a German Beerenauslese yeast. The resulting wine is a thick juice with exotic flavors of ginger, peaches, pear and mango. It is best served alone or with treats like biscotti or foie gras". I got the peaches and mango. Ginger and pear? Better get another bottle (and some goose liver) and try a little harder. In hindsight, we decided that drinking the whole bottle wasn't very prudent. Hindsight, as in the morning after. Ouch, sugar. Very high sugar. Hence "dessert" wine.

I just realized my regret for not having more fully explored the Island, it's wines and it's agriculture. Granted, my first year here was spent transitioning, practicing patience and acceptance, and struggling to maintain my sanity after leaving a life of easy-access-to-incredible-edibles behind. Anyway this is my first (and last) summer on the Island, admittedly the 'best' season here. Until now, I have not been inspired to explore it. So it goes.

A salty celebration, indeed. Finished with just the right amount of sweetness. The lesson here is to not take anything (or anyone) for granted, particularly if you have attained a fulfilling quality of life. See you in Bermuda!

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Shake it Up

It's time for another change.

Summer has finally arrived on Long Island. So have the fog, the afternoon seabreeze, and the humidity promised me by P. I left Austin last summer, heartbroken and on the nascent fringe of a new identity. Admittedly, my choice of an east coast grad school was tempered by the promise of farm stands, hand-made ice cream, and wicked sweet summer corn and berries. After a seasonally-bimodal lifetime in Central Texas (where, in a calendar year, we see a few months of rain/tornadoes followed by 9 months of the hotasshit season), I yearned for four. Here, I am completing my first full year of four seasons.

Now, it's time to move again. But not before I eke onto my tongue every last drop of native flavors offered by this bizarre place. Yes, I said it: Long Island is uniquely bizarre. Although it does have the redeeming qualities of "u-pick" apple farms (Long Islanders are too macho to spell "you" with the y & o ... they save those letters for greeting their fellow goombahz), LI Sound lobster, acres of corn fields, and berries. Pick yer own strawberries and wild, sneak-into-the-neighbor's-yard, blueberries. And four seasons. Sigh. Just as I begin to finally see and taste the advantages of living on this long, continuous suburb, it's time again for moving on.

My prayer is that it will be a painless transition that segues seamlessly into an explosion of gustatory delight when I land in Nashville, where I hope to find at least three seasons.

Hang on y'all. Here I go.