Our Friend Across the Way

 (for Lex on his birthday – by AMH)

Like a moth forced
To fly in daylight
He crosses the way
Like the aroma of clematis in autumn.
He brings
Cool Italian shirts
Kenyan Coffee
Carolina dogs and grilled burgers
Pastel drawings on brown paper
And tales of Shiloh.
(She wears his cap.)
Goddess of the turn house.

Like a constant waxing moon.
He crosses
Golfing all the way
Straight and down the middle
(Until Ollie barks his entrance.)
Bringing
Bread that will not mold
Butter from contented cows
Fried chicken (all we can eat elegantly.)
One, just one, belly laugh at PTI
Staying awake until the moon is up
Again, and he can cross back.

Hidden (but not to Ollie)
In the belly of a wooden horse.
He brings
We never know.
A palate like a comfy chair
A paperless, endless recipe
For anything.
A history of grits
A jar of best beans
A box (a box?) of discovered wine
A tale from within a Tuscan village
Conquered, forever in his debt.

Then,
From a calm, from a yellow sky
He bursts
Always standing
Always with an eye
Just for you (or for the next)
With a Poem.
He begins
Your neck stiffens.
He ends
Cradling your heart.
A beauty to you.

And a beauty to you, too.
Our friend from across the way.

Coffee Deliciousness

This is a long post (and quest) to find delicious coffee for me to brew in the morning. If you don’t brew coffee at home, this might be too much for you to want to read with its accompanying links. The bottom line is that I believe that today’s best roasters, called the Third Wave – have gone too far and are going too lightly, not allowing the natural sugars to develop to produce what I consider to be a delicious cup.

I hope that there will be a Fourth Wave of roasters and retailers featuring a City Roast. Since I began gathering information for this post, I have found a couple of coffees that are tasting just right to my palate. I consulted with Grant Tennille and Badi Bradley, who got some Panther coffee for me from Miami. I have enjoyed their East Coast blend. Locally I have bought Intelligentsia’s Rwandan coffee, which I sampled at Market Street in Chapel Hill. The story of how the women of Rwanda have worked to reestablish coffee as an origin is a great story for another time. MAny of you probably remember it from 3 Cups, as we featured it prominently.

Here’s where I was a few months ago (thankfully my morning coffee is improving):

When I make my morning coffee I often don’t like the result. If it is roasted an eyelash too dark with any hint of carbon flavors I can’t drink it. On the other side of the spectrum, I often find I don’t enjoy the coffees that are roasted too lightly.

In my opinion it parallels the way craft brewers have overcorrected from the atrocities of Budweiser to create a beer that is too hoppy, alcoholic and in your face. Every once in a while I get a coffee that really tastes right to me. When I have asked what the roast level or Agtron number is, it seems what Kevin Knox describes as a City Roast. When I have asked a roaster the Agtron number on a coffee that I really liked, the answer has been an Agtron level of 74 or 75. Agtron is a spectrophotometer that is used to measure degree of coffee roast precisely.

It is appropriate to say that Kevin Cox has forgotten more than I know about coffee. Here’s a link to his site, Coffee Contrarian. Here’s what Kevin has to say about my coffee dilemma. He’s specifically addressing my issue with coffee being over roasted and how Peet’s and Starbucks began a trend with good intentions that were associated to a specific location and roasting conditions. Dark roasting has gotten out of hand. The American culture enjoys plenty of sugary syrup and cream to make those burnt tasting coffees drinkable.

Here’s a little history from Kevin:

“Peet’s opened in 1966. Alfred Peet had a coffee background, but learned the retail side and much else working behind the counter at Freed, Teller & Freed, the great San Francisco roaster-retailer on Polk Street that I’m sure you visited. Alfred didn’t seem to give Freed’s much credit, but they and not Peets were the true specialty coffee pioneers in the Bay area, predating Peet’s by 67 years – and they did the classic Full City Roast to perfection!

The Peet’s roast style was the product of Alfred’s taste, his ability to source super high-acid, dense, high-grown coffees of a quality not previously seen very often if at all in the United States, AND the naturally soft Bay area water, which allowed the modest acidity of his darkly-roasted coffee to still be perceptible (something that would not have been the case with even moderatly hard water). One has to bear in mind that both Alfred Peet and the founders of Starbucks never intended their companies to be anyting but local, so the roast style and brewing were 100% dialed in to their particular place.

Jerry Baldwin, the most articulate of the three founders of Starbucks, once told me that he wished that roasters and roast styles could be local and regional the way great beer breweries were many years ago. I think that during the late 70’s and 80’s he regarded George Howell’s Coffee Connection as the East Coast equivalent of Peet’s, and I know for sure that he loved drinking their coffee and respected their roast style while preferring his own (and vice versa). Personally I still very much enjoy Indonesian coffees in particular from Peet’s, as I think they stand up to the roast style very well, provided the coffee is brewed in an Aeropress or commercial espresso machine. It’s the coffee equivalent of a good Russian Imperial Stout; not something I’d want for a steady diet, but okay once in awhile.”

Kevin has also answered my quest to find a full city roast. Here’s what he says about my inability to find the coffee that I really want to be drinking: “In recent years the classic full city roast, as represented by Freed, Teller & Freed, Schapira’s, Pannikin, Kobos, The Coffee Connection and others (including Allegro during my tenure) has become almost extinct, as Third Wavers push the envelope in the city-to-cinnamon roast range while Starbucks and Peets incinerate mostly crap. Counter Culture and Batdorf are just about the only readily-available coffees I find that are still roasted in that range….the rest is either lemon juice or charcoal.”

On my Facebook page, I included a couple articles about the other end of the spectrum, which is coffee being roasted too lightly. It doesn’t stay in the roaster long enough to develop the naturally occurring sugars in the bean, which I feel is what provides a delicious cup.

 

 

Additional Wine Importers

My last post was about finding good wines when there’s not a really good wine store. I provided a list of importers who’s wine should be found on the shelves of any wine store that’s paying attention.  I have thought of three other importers and I know that there are many more. All of these importers don’t just represent estates, they represent estates making natural wines of distinction. Meaning you get some special in your glass when you buy a bottle.

Here’s my importer additions: Jon David Hedrick Selections, Authentiquevin, and Vintage 59. Jon David Hedrick just celebrated his 10th year in business and represents the Loire region in France. Some would say that the Loire is epicenter of natural wine production in Europe.

Finding Good Wine

I am often asked from friends in other parts of the country how to go about finding the small estate natural wines that I am fond of and often write about. If there is not an “ahead of the curve” wine shop who is gathering a selection of these wines in one spot in your town or community then here’s what I recommend –

Before I start, I hear some people saying, “What is natural wine anyway?” Natural wine is a very fluid term used in a way like the term natural food was being used in the 60’s. I know what it means to me, but there is not a clear certifiable definition. Wine made with nothing added and nothing taken away, the way wine was made 100 years ago. Isn’t all wine made like that…absolutely not. In the same way that modern food science has been able to make a hostess Twinkie to sit on the shelf to approximate a pastry, modern food science has made wine a processed food. Here’s a good article that will explain my point: http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2009/11/03/how-wine-became-like-fast-food.html

So how do you find natural wine that tastes real and alive that you can feel good about drinking? There are about a dozen importers who have combed the European countryside in search of just this kind of wine. I recently was put to this same task while visiting friends in New Jersey. They asked if I would be willing to accompany them to the liquor store where they were often left to buy their wine. They are lucky enough to live close enough to NYC, but sometimes the liquor store will have to do. So when I was asked to join them to shop their local liquor store, I said, “Of course” – which was in a cinder block building with a gravel drive with pot holes the size of pick-up

Inside after scanning the shelves for anything recognizable, the salesman asked, “Can I help you?” I proceed to employ the same strategy I am about to give to you.  I asked, “Do you have any Kermit Lynch, Neal Rosenthal, or Joe Dressner selections?” He responded, “Let me get he buyer in the back room, he’s more familiar with what we’ve got.I think that we do.”

IMG_3327

I asked the wine buyer the same question and he said, “Indeed, we do.” He showed me a few bottles from each importer’s selection and I was able to find close to a case of wine that I would have bought myself. He also told me that they also had other Muscadet, Cru Beaujolais, and Malbec selections at better prices. There lies the trap. Sure, they are better prices. They are most often not natural wines nor are they nearly as good.

IMG_3325

Here are a few other of my favorite importers when looking for delicious and fairly priced natural wine- Andre Tamers of De Maison Selections – mostly Spanish wine and sherry, but adding some French estates. Terry Theise imports German and Austrian wines with also a selection of grower champagne. The Haw River Wine Man imports Italian wines. There are others, but I will stop with these now.

These are the one’s that more generic stores will have a better chance of having. If you go to a store that has none of these importers’ wines, it is a sign that the owners are asleep at the switch!

I welcome questions and comments. I will stop with this today.

We’re lucky to have lots of good independent stores in this area to keep you out of Trader Joe’s and Total Wine. I particularly like Parker and Otis in Durham, where I volunteer my time and passion in their wine department.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bargain Bubble for the Holidays

The other day a good friend said to me, “it’s the holidays and champagne is so festive. I would like to buy some, but I can’t afford it.” True champagne, meaning the kind that comes from the small AOC (appellation d’origine controlee) of Champagne, France is the most highly regulated wine on earth. Their goal is to make sure that no matter where on the planet that you buy a bottle, it will be good. The flip side is that it will never be cheap.

I had a bottle of sparkling wine at the festive and very tasty friends and family night at Juju in Durham. The wine was a Cremant d’ Alsace. The wine was excellent, dry, full of flavor, yet elegant and perfect with our meal. Thanks to Charlie Deal for the recommendation.

IMG_1174

Things to know about Cremant:

  • Cremant is one of the terms used to refer to sparkling wine not made in Champagne.
  • Cremant is known for being a more affordable sparkling choice than champagne.
  • It is the second most consumed sparkling wine by the French. They seem to have a good sense about such things.
  • Another thing to know is the winemakers practice methode champenoise to emulate a champagne experience for the drinker.
  • Depending on where the Cremant is made, will determine what grapes are used.
  • Other than the benefit of great sparkling wine at a reasonable price, most Cremant is produced by small growers. That’s a beauty!

Most people know about Cava from Spain and Prosecco from Italy. Today I wanted to share my Cremant experience!

A Beauty to Andre’ Tamers and to Sherry

Here’s a shout out to Andre` Tamers and the pioneering work he has done with an underdog in the wine world. He has taken sherry, an under appreciated wine, and re-introduced real sherry to America. It’s working! It’s catching on. Ann gave me this book, A Modern Guide to Sherry, which is beautifully written by Talia Baiocchi for our anniversary. I fell in love with it at the fifth page. Keep reading, I’ll show you why.

IMG_3214

Baiocchi says, “I had my second sip of sherry the year after I returned from Italy, when I wandered into Bar Jamon, a pocket square of a restaurant on Irving Place in New York’s Gramercy neighborhood, just down the block from the wine store where I worked. I went for the ham, but I left loving sherry. That night the bartender poured me the first real sherry I’d ever tasted: a chilled copita of oloroso. It was both incredibly foreign and totally familiar – like an old Barolo laced with iodine that was amplified, reduced, and somehow elegant despite its heft. It sparked that dull, joyous pulse in the gut that travels north, gains momentum in the chest, and releases all its pent up energy behind the eyes in the same way that good 90’s rock choruses, eggs with truffles on them, love, Barolo, and log rides do. It’s a variety of bliss, I guess; the kind that is best expressed through tears or dancing – or if you’ve had enough sherry, both.”

I am learning more about sherry and part of that is drinking it every now and then. I am not yet in the habit of wanting sherry when I want a drink to accompany my meal. I just had a copita (sherry glass) of El Maestro Sierra Amontillado (12 years old) at Mateo with my tuna melt. The sherry was amazingly different and satisfying.

FullSizeRender

In my pursuit to learn more about sherry, I am lucky have Mateo Tapas as my neighbor, only 40 seconds of a walk away from my loft in Durham. Thanks to the collaboration between Matt Kelley and Michael Maller of Mateo and Andre` Tamers of De Maison Selections, I have one of the largest sherry offerings in the United States right here in my neighborhood.

If you think you don’t like sherry, I am going to recommend you give it another try. Head to Mateo to check out their selection. Their staff is knowledgeable about their sherry list and will assist you to find something you will enjoy.

A Love Affair with Lemons

My assistant, Shelly, and I both love the flavor of lemons. Last night we had a dish that we have been talking making about for weeks: Lemon Chicken. If you had been in the room with us last night, you may have laughed and suggested that we reminded you of Forrest Gump, how he continually listed all of the ways that one might enjoy shrimp. We listed all of the lemon dishes we love: lemon vinaigrette, lemon pasta, lemon pot de creme, lemon pie, lemon tart, lemon curd, lemon soufflé – we decided to stop at that many. I was feeling like Forrest Gump… Shrimp burger…

Last night’s lemon chicken was made with bone-in chicken thighs- seared in a cast iron pan and finished in the oven. Right before the chicken was finished roasting, Shelly poured a lemon sauce over the chicken and finished the thighs with a quick broil to keep the skin nice and crispy.

IMG_3207

I have said before that if we compare food to music, I like high notes better than low one’s- the treble better than base. Maybe that’s why I love lemon. Last year’s trip to the Amalfi coast and sampling all the regional lemon dishes from that part of the world was a peak experience.

Since Shelly did the lion’s share of the cooking and the photography, I’m going to let her post that recipe on her site lovingfooandlife.com. We’ve decided to post about this dish on each of our blogs. Watch for the recipe later this week. I will let you know when it goes live.

 

Pumpkin Pumpkin Pie

The mincemeat making happened yesterday with Cindy, Ann, and Shelly. When I tasted our mincemeat before heading to bed last night, I said, “this may be the best we’ve ever done.” I could have been swayed a little by Gillian’s exuberant remarks after she tasted it when she came over for dinner last night. The mincemeat is done, so this story is about the Pumpkin Pumpkin pie.

In the early days of wellspring, we had a very talented woman, Anne Clarke, who had worked for a restaurant group in Center City Philadelphia. I asked Anne if she had any ideas for turning an ordinary pumpkin pie into something extraordinary and delicious. She developed the pumpkin-pumpkin pie, which is a basic pumpkin pie with a pumpkin mousse layer on the top.

Pumpkin Pumpkin Pie became legendary in the Wellspring circles. We sold as many as we could make in the days before Thanksgiving. We printed the recipe on our grocery sacks for anyone to make at home.

Here are 3 things I like about the Pumpkin Pumpkin pie:

1)    It looks festive and smashingly impressive

2)    It eliminates any chance for a dry pumpkin pie

3)    It eliminates the need to stop and whip cream before serving the pie

Ann makes this pie every year. Even though I cheer for the mincemeat to gain popularity, this pumpkin-pumpkin is everyone’s favorite.

Here’s the recipe:

PUmpkin Pumpkin Pie

 

Here’s the recipe:

Time for Pie

I am thinking about pies. I have two stories. One is about pumpkin pies. One is about the mincemeat making ritual, which will happen this afternoon.

I want to be careful about exactly what I say because I was taken to task by my friend Paul, who is from England – he didn’t like the fact that in an earlier story that I credited New Englanders with transforming mincemeat into primarily fruit pies. Check here for what Wiki has to say about the history of mincemeat.

I love this ritual of making mincemeat. What I like about it is that it doesn’t have a precise recipe. You have to balance the level of spice and sweetness. Mincemeat gets its name from the word mince, which refers to being finely chopped.

The original article wasn’t used in a dessert pie, but rather a meat pie (p-y-e) – today there is often no meat in mincemeat pie at all. Some recipes call for a little bit of beef fat. In my version, I simply use a knob of butter. Even though I assure the children that there is no meat in the mincemeat pie, they opt for the other option – particularly the pumpkin-pumpkin pie, which is another story.

The key to good mincemeat is to get the spice and sweetness ratio correct. Every year the recipe is a little different. My friend Cindy is determined to get a recipe documented for people to follow. That has yet to happen. She’s working on it.

The main ingredients are apples, slow cooked for hours dried currants and dried cherries. The liquid is apple cider and a skoche (that’s Lex speak for about two ounces) of bourbon (or brandy). The spices in my recipe are cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, and cloves. I get to use the almost used up jars of jam that are close to crystallizing in the fridge. Orange marmalade and apple butter are particularly good.

Thirty-nine Years with Annie

On our 39th wedding anniversary, I wanted to say more than “I am a lucky guy.” I want to say a little more about my partner of 39 years.

I would like to describe something that you might not know about Ann. She has the most unique composite of business skills of anyone I have ever met. A blend of practicality, courage, and stalwartness – a unique bend of those things.

A popular exercise amongst sports commentators is to pose the question… and if the sport is football – they ask “which quarterback would you choose to build a team around?” If its basketball it’s about the point guard. If someone posed the question to me, “if you were starting a business and building a team – and you could have anyone to build the business and the team around – who would you pick?” I would pick Ann.

Ann has the ability to know and have the courage to say what needs to be said when no one else is going to say it. There are many decisions in a business’s life that are critical to business’ success. I am an idea guy, prone to excess and grandiosity. I need an Ann to reign me in.

I probably won’t start another business. I promised myself that I wouldn’t have a restaurant, although I already have a concept. Because I love ideas, I have a well-defined idea if I wanted to.

And a beauty to Ann Alexander!