Wine at Parker and Otis

As I’ve said before, I miss being in the wine business and am excited about a new opportunity that I have to get back into the business without having my own shop, but still being able to taste new wines that come into the market or new vintages of wines already there, and also be able to sell wine on a limited basis.

I’ve arranged with Jennings Brody, the proprietor and force behind Parker and Otis (within walking distance of our loft in downtown Durham), to spend a little time each week in her wine department.


Here’s what’s exciting to me… wine is a subjective thing, but sometimes you taste something that seems to deliver a lot of wine in the customer’s glass for less money than it seems it should cost. I’m not talking about $5.00 wines or $2-buck chuck or such … I bought a wine at Parker and Otis yesterday, one of my friend Andre Tamers’ wines which he imports from Spain – a 2008 Luberri Vineyards Rioja that retails for $18.99, which I thought tasted like a $50.00 wine. In fact, I thought all of the people stuck on expensive California wines should try this Rioja … it has some of the fullness in the mouth and accessible fruit that California wines feature but is so much more complex and elegant on the palate.

The second thing I find interesting about selling wine is that when a wine is good in a particular vintage, once it is gone it is gone so there is some sense of urgency, not like selling pencils or socks where you just order more and you’re never out of stock.

I was delighted to see that Jennings had a number of wines that I love and haven’t been able to find anywhere else because the distributors are out of them. There is a Rosso distributed by Jay Murrie which I love and have a funny story about … remind me to tell you tomorrow afternoon at Parker and Otis. As of Wednesday morning there were a few bottles left in stock for those of you that come early.

Jennings also had three other wines that I am very fond of that are out of stock at their respective distributors … a muscadet from the vigneron I consider the genius of that part of France, Marc Olivier … a frappato, a native red grape from Sicily, which I like to recommend to folks looking for a red wine to serve with certain fish dishes … and a counoise, one of only thirteen grapes allowed in the blend used to make Chateauneuf du Pape. There is one particular domaine that makes a wine that is 100% counoise – not a Chateauneuf du Pape but at 1/10 of the price it is quite good. This wine would probably fall under the category of a Farmer’s table wine, which I wrote about in an earlier post. There was only one bottle left that I snatched up, but there are many other goodies at Parker and Otis.

Hope to see you at Parker and Otis tomorrow – I plan to be there from 4-6.

Parker and Otis
112 S. Duke St.
Durham, NC 27701

Sweet Jupie

Gillian w:Norm

Gillian with Billy’s dog – Norm

I’d like to tell a story about Valentine’s Day and give a shout-out to Kevin Callaghan, friend and local restaurateur. It was Friday afternoon on Valentines day and I thought to myself I’ve done a pretty good job with Ann with a lot of help, Vernon is going to take Emily to Prune so she’ll be adored on Valentine’s Day, and then my thoughts fell to my youngest daughter … the apple of my eye … Jupie. She was working a shift at ACME on Friday night and I thought to myself if I could I would jump in my car, get a beautiful bouquet of flowers and drive to ACME to give Jupie a hug and tell her how lovely I think she is.

It was the height of rush hour and 15-501 was busy so I didn’t want to ask Ann to chauffeur me to get flowers and take them to Jupie because that would ruin her Valentine’s Day, so I sent Kevin a text and asked him if he would stand in as Juper’s dad and go wish her a happy valentine’s day and give her a hug … he texted back that the would … Juper does give the best hugs in town so I felt this wasn’t too much to ask, I wasn’t asking him to bring her flowers, just go out and give Jupie a hug from her Daddy.

Kevin not only stood in for me, but he made Juper feel special, which I had intended. I told this story a few days later and someone asked if not being able to drive is one of the worst things about my “new” life, to which I responded that this might be hard for folks to understand but I don’t think its even in the top 25. In fact, I don’t have learning how to drive again firmly on my list of things to accomplish.

Are there things that you don’t like to eat?

When Emily called and said she was bringing the guy she was dating home I immediately came up with a simple strategy… Emily is easily embarrassed and I wanted to do everything possible to make this go good for her, so I decided that I would serve good food, open good wine and not ask any questions. The man turned out to be the guy she married and had a child with and so he’s been back many more times, but I’ve kept my strategy pretty much the same. By watching him I could tell some of the things he really liked so I try to repeat those on his visits. I served him half of a jerked chicken off the grill and in what seemed like 30 minutes – but I’m sure it was more like 45 – nothing was left but bones; every morsel of meat was gone and that made me smile. At an opportune time I took a chance and asked him “are there any things that you don’t like to eat” and he said something unusual that has caused me to think. Vernon said, “I don’t really much care for cold food” – I’m sure he could tell I was puzzled so he added “why would you eat anything cold when you could have something warm or hot?” 

Reflecting on Vernon’s statement, I realized I have a different but similar categoric statement about what I like when it comes to food … I don’t like dry food, or the opposite would be true – I like moist or wet food. I like soups or stews, but they have to have enough broth where you can get a spoon full. I don’t like meat or fish that is overcooked and therefore dry and I simply can’t eat a sandwich that is dry, which is why a slice of home-grown tomato is such an essential ingredient during tomato season, and its also why I love sandwiches with coleslaw on them – it adds extra moisture to each bite. I don’t like sausages that don’t have a coarse grind or enough fat to make them succulent; I like my scrambled eggs soft and I even like wet martinis, although that’s a different thing altogether. (For more on my feelings about Martinis see my Manhattan post)

What are the things you do or don’t like to eat?

Some thoughts on golf.

I just looked at the long-range forecast and it looks bad for my Sunday golf game. Too bad! But its wintertime and I have a back-up plan if I don’t get to play. Here’s something that I wrote a while ago, but I’ve never posted it, so here it is …

To keep my expectations low, I have been approaching golf as a beginner, because that’s what I really am; having to re-learn the game after my stroke nearly a year ago. As a golf instructor I’ve taught a lot of beginners, and so I remember how hard and frustrating the game can be. There’s a quote by Mac O’Grady that talks about the only antidote to the emotional humiliation the game brings is the antidote of humor, but I must confess I’ve never met a single golfer who has been able to find their poor play funny, or laugh in the face of the desperation you feel when you’re playing really, really badly. Most of a golfer’s humor when the game is going badly is self-deprecating. I believe self compassion is the only antidote.

The quote goes like this: “Golf is a frivolous comedy of errors. Anybody who has played the game long enough, especially on the competitive level, has learned that an unpredictable array of events may sabotage your emotional equilibrium at the most unwanted moment. The only immunity to destruction is to inoculate yourself with the antidote of humor. Humor balances the spirit, the mind, so that we may forget the unbelievable, the brutal, the bizarre, the atrocities and all those crazy events that adventuate from the womb of golf.”

There have been plenty of people who have simply thrown their clubs away and walked away from the game because of the emotional frustration. My father, Ralph, quit one day cold turkey when I was twelve, and never really played again. And I have a friend who used to play before work each day, and one day he put his clubs in the dumpster and never played again. Mark Twain said golf was a good walk spoiled, and in Ron Green, Jr.’s article after the British Open, he had a great quote about the game, about why anyone would choose the game after being slapped in the face over and over again.

I want to try to describe part of why I think golf is so frustrating. In most games, the ball is moving, and so you simply react. You don’t have time to think. But in golf, the situation is totally different: the ball is stationary. So you have really too much time to think and plan what’s going to happen. And you often end up playing your shot with your tension up in your head, thinking how to swing. This takes away most of your athleticism, and when you miss it poorly, you think, “how could I have done that! The ball was sitting still!” You can’t blame it on the ball as you can in other games, like with baseball when you can blame the pitcher, or in football when you can blame the other team’s defense. With golf, the ball is just sitting there waiting for your swing.

My most humiliating golfing experience of late came the day after Adam Scott’s defeat at Royal Lytham in St. Anne’s. I hit shot after shot after shot where my club went into the turf behind the ball. I was hitting at the ball rather than swinging through towards the target, a very common mistake amongst golfers. The harder I tried, the worse I did. And finally I had to call it a day and come back the next day. Happily, I was much better the next day.

When I tell people I’m a beginning golfer, they say, oh but you hit shots that a beginner couldn’t hit. This may be true, but I also hit bad shots that all beginners hit. But I’ve seen beginners improve and my hope is that if I keep at it I can keep getting better.

Who Leona is…

I have been referencing Leona in some of my posts, which has led some people to ask who Leona is …

I talked, she typed and Annie took the picture

I talked, she typed and Annie took the picture

Leona’s parents live on our street and we knew her a little bit before she started coming a couple of days a week to help me do everything from getting to appointments to starting dinner in the afternoon, and she has done all of the blog posts with me. Here’s what I can tell you about Leona … she is kind, smart, very organized, a good driver and has good background and intuition about food and cooking and is interested in learning about wine. Here are some things you probably wouldn’t guess … Leona was born in Germany, she graduated from law school but has decided she isn’t sure whether she wants to practice law.

In a nutshell, I woke up way too early this morning after a terrible nightmare … I forgot what day it was … but eventually realized that Leona was coming this morning so I felt hopeful about the day and it has been a pretty good one. This was one of the things that I hoped to get accomplished today and I’ve done it!

and a beauty to Leona!

Mortgage Lifters

Everything in a food store has a shelf life. Some foods, like bananas, will let you know when they are no longer sellable. Dried beans have two challenges, the first is that customers and merchants alike think they should last forever, and second as they get too old their aroma doesn’t change, nor does their appearance. I recall a post that I did, I believe it was in the early fall, giving people the website of a place in Colorado that I have been buying beans from for years called Adobe Milling.

A couple of weekends ago we had out of town guests from Boston and we were all cooking dinner together on Sunday. We cooked some of Adobe Milling’s white beans, a variety called a Mortgage Lifter, that I’ve really enjoyed in the past, but after hours of cooking these beans I could tell that they were past-crop beans and that they weren’t going to cook back to a buttery bite because they were too old. I apologize if on my recommendation from an earlier post you bought some of these mortgage lifters. When I called the company to complain I ended up talking to the woman in charge of customer service. She pulled up my order and the mystery was solved – she said “Mr. Alexander, I can see when you got your last shipment of beans, and whereas most of the varieties that we shipped you are new crop, the mortgage lifters are from a previous crop because the farmer that grows them had his entire crop wiped out by a storm so we did not have any new crop from him.”

So I was faced with this dilemma … buy some canned white beans, or take a chance on a white bean from the bins at one of the local food stores. I didn’t like the odds on either, and don’t like the taste of beans that have been cooked in a can so I got Leona to take to the internet to see if we could find the beans that I discovered when I was at Whole Foods and we imported from the northwest of Spain. These beans are cooked in glass jars, a method that has been long lost in this country, but is something I would love to see come back.

Leona found, and we ordered the beans in glass from Spain, here are a couple of websites where you can do the same if you are so inclined. The white beans were absolutely delicious … I am trying the chickpeas tonight.

Adobe Milling told me they are going to give me credit for all of the Mortgage Lifters I purchased – I’d much rather have fresh beans than have my money back, but farming is uncertain and the farmer lost his entire crop so I will have to wait and see if he will have a crop in the summer 2014. If he does I will be sure to post it here.

Most people think it is the Italians, specifically those from the region of Tuscany, who love beans the most. But in fact, in my experience, it’s the Spanish. If you visit the fantastic market in Barcelona the bean vendors are truly amazing. In Europe, the very top-quality beans are called Spanish quality. The head of the Spanish company from which we imported beans in glass jars for Whole Foods told me this – the true joy of a bean is when they have a tender and buttery bite. I can’t prove this scientifically, but over the years I have come to believe that unlike other agricultural crops where smaller is better, the bigger the bean, the thinner the skin and the more tender the bite. These Spanish white beans in glass jars are so good because for one they start with better beans and are cooked in a superior cooking vessel – glass vs. tin cans. Having excellent staples in my pantry is like having money in the bank. Capers, anchovies, and now good beans make it easy to put together a delicious meal.

My first glass jar of white beans was used to make seafood and white bean stew that was slow cooked over the course of an afternoon that yielded an amazing broth. Even with fresh high quality seafood the beans were the stars of the dish.