Saturday, December 19, 2009

A Tale Of Two Meals

Lateness often confounds my grand schemes and forces me to scramble, resulting in dinners that are far from my original intention but serviceable nonetheless. As always, freezer, pantry, and leftovers provide the difference between decent and awful.

In this instance, I grabbed some boudin noir from the freezer. While they were thawing, I threw some scarlet runner beans in the pressure cooker with leeks, onions, garlic, burdock, carrot, herbs, and some smoked chicken stock. Once that got all hissy, I cubed and caramelized some parsnip in a pan with just oil, adding a bit of salt when the pieces were nice and brown on the outside and soft in the middle. I cooked the sausages in a pan until they were done- the deep purple gone a lovely mahogany- and then sautéed bok choy with garlic in the sausage pan, deglazing with white wine. Last I toasted stale chunks of homemade bread with some oil and spices to make croutons, thereby shoehorning some grain into this pretty nutritious cacophony.

The key really was in taking the time to treat the ingredients differently; had I thrown it all together it would have been OK, but having the various things each done à point made for much more pleasurable eating. My original plan involved breaking this down into even more component parts, and giving them a wider variety of treatments, but I had an hour and so this was it. One of these days I'm going to do a better job of time management, especially as it pertains to dinner. Probably next year. Yeah, that's it.

A couple of nights later, similarly beset with haste, I grabbed the two uncooked boudins that remained and cut them up into small pieces, giving those a sautée with diced bacon from the end of a hunk. I just can't say enough good things about having slab after slab of homemade bacon in the freezer. To the meaty goodness I added some leftover sweet potato purée, leftover brown rice, and leftover collards cooked with grated turnips and bonito flakes that Chris had made when they came over on the intervening evening. (We made chicken-fried quail with biscuits and gravy and cranberry sauce).

I seasoned the hot mess and rolled it up in blanched collard leaves that I had stripped the stems off so they'd roll up nicely. And thus, stuffed cabbage remixed with the available. I baked them in a roughly 50/50 mixture of pork stock and buttermilk, using a few extra collard leaves as a lid.

That liquid reduced wonderfully, absorbing all sorts of complex leafy, meaty flavors and adding richness and acidity in equal measure. This was the very essence of peasant food- a complete meal, made from bits and pieces- but with all of those pieces being of the highest possible quality.

I can't remember what I opened with this- I think it was an '03 Jaboulet Vacqueyras- but we had an instructive wine duo with the Southern meal the night before. Chris brought a 2000 Sean Thackrey Aquila Sangiovese, and I pulled out a 1999 Ciacci Piccolomini Brunello so we could study the differences between old and new world Sangiovese. Starting off with the Aquila, it was a big glass of smiles; once his wines get to this age, the fruit and the funk are kind of tied in intensity, so there's a nice balance. But moving on the Brunello was a revelation- it was like a fine cigar dipped in pussy and black cherries and tar and smoked postcoitally in a magnificent horse barn with a view of the vineyards. Returning, the Aquila was a little like Cherry Coke. Not necessarily in a bad way, but it just showed the degree to which Italy is and will always be California's unattainable wet dream. And I say this as an avowed lover of Thackrey's wines.


Sean Thackrey said...


I must say the following quote is possibly the most ignorantly offensive comment I have ever read (or heard) with respect to one of my wines, which is why I am commenting on a wine blog, something I otherwise never have done, and do not plan to do again.

That comment is: "the Aquila was a little like Cherry Coke. Not necessarily in a bad way, but it just showed the degree to which Italy is and will always be California's unattainable wet dream."

You may well ask why this is ignorant instead of merely astonishingly offensive.

Why, let's pick another obvious example: let's think why Italy is and will always be California's (& by extension America's) unattainable wet dream with respect, say, to modern art. Seems reasonable, if you're ignorant, but apparently you're an artist, so you could surely help by pointing out just who those Italian painters since 1940 are, the attempt to imitate whose genius was such an unattainable wet dream to our own dabblers, such as Rothko, Kline, Motherwell, Pollock, Johns, Diebenkorn, and so on.

Parenthetically, what exactly is an "unattainable" wet dream, if I may ask without provoking a more personal answer than we may wish to have? Wet dreams are by definition attainable; that's why they're wet.

But I digress. My point is simple: how dare you suggest that I have ever had any interest whatever in imitating any wine, much less any Italian wine, much less Brunello, and therefore that the Aquila is a failure to achieve a goal I've never thought of having? Much less suggest that such a desire is somehow universal, although doomed in advance, among California winemakers?

As to your nasty little insult about Cherry Coke, I can only remark that it shows a familiarity with that taste that I can't claim to share. I prefer Orangina, Coke's unattainable wet dream; obviously, that's what Cherry Coke wants to be, isn't it?

Sean Thackrey

peter said...

(This is in two parts because there's a limit on number of characters per comment).

Well, Sean, I'm flattered that this is the first blog comment that you've ever left. If you're a regular reader, then I hope you have noticed the many, many, many times I've praised your wines- all of them, at all stages of development- and lauded your skill and passion in making what is hands down my favorite group of California wines. Ask John, and he will confirm this. I recently sold the bulk of my collection to fund an impending kitchen renovation, but your wines remain in my cellar. I am and will continue to be a huge fan of you and your work, and I have brought friend after friend to your mailing list by enthusiastically opening bottles for them.

What I meant by that comment was more an observation about the fundamental differences between California and Italy, and the way my taste evolves as I journey through a life informed by wine drinking. I may have unfairly singled out the Aquila to make the point, and I apologize sincerely for having offended you, but I do believe that tasting the two examples of Sangiovese together illuminated this difference in a way that was enlightening.

I love the Aquila, and more so as it ages. I cherish my unlabeled bottles from the year between Centaur and Aquila. If I was glib in referring to it, it's only due to familiarity because I have drunk so much of it and own so much more of it that I look forward to drinking. And I write this for me, and by extension for those readers who have been around for a while and so are accustomed to frequent mentions of you and your wines. (I hope you read the post where your 87 Orion fooled a French sommelier into thinking it was 2000 Margaux). I never for a second meant to impute to you goals or aspirations or anything else- I was simply relaying my experience tasting two wines together.

As for the cherry coke reference, I said "a little like." I remember specifically a recent offering in which you wrote "just don't call it Brunello" about the Aquila- or something to that effect- and I took it to heart. The thing about blogs is that sometimes we have a lot of time and really try to compose something for the ages and sometimes we just bang out a few grafs because it's all that life allows for at that moment. And you seem to have come in at the latter sort of time.

I take your point about art history, and have lots of heroes from America and the new world, but there are few human-made artifacts in this world that transport me as much as those by Fra Angelico or Piero della Francesca. If I have a predilection for being in love with Italian renaissance painting, then that is part of who I am. It may in part be due to the fact that I spent some formative years in Italy, and first fell in love as an adult there, forming the standard by which all future relationships have been judged. And I don't for a second think that my own work measures up to theirs.

peter said...

I hope you have read more of the posts on here, so that this isn't seen in a vacuum. I hope you see how much I respect you and your talent by my continued devotion to your wines by virtue of the copious praise I have lavished upon your wines on this very site- and also because I order more every time you offer a new vintage.

I would never for a second presume to speak for you, your aspirations, or for what you hope to achieve with your wines. But this blog is mine, and I write what I want here. And I stand by this printed record as one of your biggest fans. There are lots of other ways I could have come at this issue, but lately the Italy/California thing has been much on my mind. If I used coarse shorthand to address it, then that's what I felt at the time, or that's what I was able to get written while my son sat in my lap and clamored to watch spaceships on YouTube while I was writing. (Which is what actually happened). I had no idea that you even read this. That knowledge surely would have shaped my choices.

Pissing you off has never been a goal of mine. Quite the opposite. I still regret missing the chance to meet you when we were last in the Bay area, and I hope we have the chance again in the future. For what it's worth, I referred to you as a genius this very evening at a dinner from which I have just returned.

Sean, I'm sorry I insulted you. It was not my intention to do so. Please don't write me off as an ignorant asshole on the basis of this one post. This has to be a space where I can vent, riff, fuck around, be funny, be dead serious, or anything else as I see fit. Because it's mine, and I love it, and if it were otherwise it wouldn't be any damn good. I venture to guess that that might have something in common with the way you work. But please do not for a second confuse my tone from earlier today with an indictment of your ability or integrity as a winemaker.


Zoomie said...

Sean, I do live in the Bay area and will be looking up your wines. Peter, nice, groveling apology. I hope he accepts it.

cook eat FRET said...

peter, you did your part and with huge amounts of grace. don't think another thing of it.

i alone have bought a total of 3 cases of sean's wine this year because of YOU.

i love your blog and stand behind your description. no more groveling.

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