Accidental Food Writing

One of the most memorable pieces of food writing is said to be Proust’s description of a madeleine from Remembrance of Things Past – quite possibly the most unintentional pieces of food writing out there. Actually, there’s very little about the madeleine in there, it’s mostly about the tea if anything, but that’s not how it’s remembered. (For more about this subject see my previous post “The Craft of Food Writing: The Madeleine“)

I’m now reading Gabriel García Márquez memoir Living to Tell the Tale. In this book (first chapter) I discovered one of the most vivid  and mesmerizing descriptions of eating I’ve read. And this is definitely not a food book. Good food writing (and wine writing), in my opinion, does not rely on frilly descriptors, it does not require physical description of the food; it evokes a response (good or bad) from the reader. Here’s the quote, hope you enjoy it as much as I did…

From the moment I tasted the soup I had the sensation that an entire sleeping world was waking in my memory. Tastes that had been mine in childhood and that I had lost when I left the town reappeared intact with each spoonful, and they gripped my heart.”

Any fan of Márquez will be enthralled with the beginning of this book and happily follow him through the rest (I’m not finished yet, so can’t vouch for the ending).

What’s your favorite piece of “accidental” food writing?


Seems I’m more into writing about beverages these days than wandering. Let’s just call this little tour of the best food pairing wines of the world a wandering of a different sort.

Today I’m doing a bit of research for another article I’m writing… this will also be the basis for a tasting menu for a beverage-centric dinner series I plan to begin in the new year.

Today I’m studying sherry (fortified wine from the south of Spain). As I mentioned a few posts ago, I attended a sherry tasting recently. I’ve long been a fan of sherry and a full believer in its magical affinity for food. I’ve even studied sherry as part of broader wine studies programs. Still, there is so very much to learn.

One of the books I’ve consulted today is “Sherry” by Julian Jeffs, originally published in 1961 (I’m reading the 3rd edition from 1982 (there’s a 2006 edition out, but not in our library at this time); the other is the completely revised 3rd edition of “Exploring Wine”
by the wine faculty of The Culinary Institute of America (it’s a hefty tome, but so very worth it if you are as big a research geek as I am).

Sherry is definitely becoming more mainstream than it has been over the past 25 or so years. Its reputation as a “grandma” drink turned young Americans off, and the fact that most sherry is at its most tasty with food – not as a cocktail replacement. Sommeliers have long known the wonders of sherry and are eager to turn open-minded customers on to its wonders. Kinda like they did with another favorite, Riesling, which also had a dip in its appeal for some time.

A little bit of sherry trivia before I return to my research… according to Julian Jeffs, foot pressing (stomping grapes) was the normal method used in Jerez (where sherry is from) until as recently as the 1960s.

Anyone else love sherry? Any favorite food pairings you’d care to share?

Riesling Goes with Everything

I just submit November’s Eat and Tell column, so you should be seeing it up very soon (see the links section to the right). In it, I discuss some basics about why certain foods and beverages go together.

Like people, some are very particular about the company they keep – personalities clash and nobody’s happy. Then there are those that seem to get along with everyone – anywhere they go, all types of personalities – everyone is happy. Riesling is of the latter sort.

First of all, all Rieslings are not the same – they can range from bone-dry, tart-crisp and simple to some of the most complex, honey-like dessert wines available – and everything in between. Riesling’s typically low alcohol content, high acidity, complex floral, fruit and mineral aromas, and frequent bit of residual sweetness give it the ability to pair with an endless array of foods. Rieslings are happy with their native cuisines of Germany and Alsace, yet they are the wine of choice with the aromatic spicy cuisine of Southeast Asia and India because of their versatility, complexity and that little bit of sweetness I mentioned earlier. Riesling goes with everything from the most simple raw oysters to… well, see below for my most recent blissful encounter with Riesling.

Earlier this week I had lunch at L’Ecole with Chrysta Wilson of Kiss My Bundt while she was on an all-to0-brief visit to NYC. Lunch was outstanding and perfectly paired with this month’s Staff Pick, 2009 Dönnhoff Riesling (Nahe, Germany), an ever-so-slightly off-dry Riesling: tingly-crisp, Asian pear-like, with subtle layers of exotic fruit and mineral aromas. It went with pretty much everything we ate that day – escargot with Asian pear; cavatelli with sundried tomatoes and olives; perfectly cooked pork chop with cider jus and polenta; seared scallops with butternut squash puree, Brussels sprouts, and pomegranate; rabbit with chorizo and bacon; and a not-too-sweet pumpkin soufflé – yes, a huge lunch!

New York Taste – What I Did Last Night

Last night marked my third year working the New York Magazine “New York Taste” event at Skylight in Soho with our restaurant L’Ecole. Of all the tasting events we participate in, this is my favorite. For such a high-profile event, it is intimate and warm – enjoyable for guests and chefs alike.

We were in good company, surrounded by friends – the gang from Fatty ‘Cue (almost all alumni of FCI), Kevin Lasko and crew from Park Avenue Autumn (with their apple treat decked apple tree), Morimoto, The Meatball Shop (more FCI alums), etc… Always a pleasure to spend an evening working alongside some of the best (and oft unsung talent) in the business.

Our dish was curry leeks with raisins, duck breast, & duck egg cream with cucumber cilantro salad. Of course, it wouldn’t be complete without a beverage pairing so we poured chilled “chasers” of banana-flavored Maker’s Mark (one of our high-tech cocktails that you could learn about in our upcoming “Holiday Cocktails” class). The flavor of the banana was rich and pure and paired perfectly with the curry, and was particularly refreshing without any added sweetness. 

For a slide show of the event including many more (and better!) photos as featured on New York Magazine’s Grub Street, click here…

To be a Writer, you must WRITE

Today is the first day of National Novel Writing Month. I heard about it through my writing group; but, since there’s little chance any of us (in the group) will write a novel this month, we are challenging ourselves to at least write something every day of November.

For many bloggers, posting every day is nothing new. In fact, my beloved teacher, blogging guru Steven Shaw, insisted on it when I began this project as part of the first-ever Food Blogging class at the International Culinary Center. Coincidentally, the next round of this life-changing class begins tonight!

"Beloved Teacher"

 So, in honor of the start of a new blogging class, National Novel Writing Month, and simply to get back to writing what I love (at least as much as writing what I must), I am going to post every day this month. If all goes well, maybe even longer!

Professional Development

Over the past several months I’ve been expanding my beverage tasting horizons – all in the name of “professional development”… can’t teach food and beverage pairing without a well-exposed palate… in short, I get to drink for work. Did I mention how much I love the business I’m in?

In addition to attaining a WSET certification in spirits earlier this year, I’ve also been focussing on more specific beverages…

Mmmm Pretty Beers


... and some of the foods that go with them

Beer and Food Pairing:

First of all, it was refreshing to focus my attention on another type of fermented beverage for a little while – one that happens to go better with many types of food than the one I teach about (no offense wine, I still love you most of all). We tasted pilsners, ales – pale & amber, and a couple of types of stout, focussing on their acid level, body, various aromas and flavors, and perceived sweetness – all things that impact what foods go best. I found IPA to be the most versatile for its brightness, exotic aromas, and depth. I was also reminded that a chocolate-y stout is a much better accomplice for chocolate than any Zin or Cab I’ve tried with it.

Sherry Tasting:

This one was part of a larger Spanish wine tasting event… I’ve long had a special place in my heart for sherries. They just don’t get the credit they deserve – not even from sommeliers. They certainly don’t get the proper placement and recognition on my restaurant wine lists. Sherries have range (tart and light to unctuous and sweet), depth, and complexity (intentional oxidation adds new flavors & aromas, etc.) that make them a better beverage choice with many foods. I have to write a paper about this one, so you’ll probably read more about sherry here in the near future.

Scotch Tasting:

I must admit that, even after my certification class, I did not really appreciate Scotch (not a fan of peat). I didn’t realize, at the time, that there is so very much more to Scotch than smoke & peat – in fact, many don’t have those characteristics at all. My eyes were opened and mind changed by a passionate & extremely knowledgable instructor, and some really good Scotch! I’m now a convert and planning a Scotch/Whisky-only multi-course pairing dinner for the spring. More on that soon as well. Have another whisk(e)y tasting this week to keep me on my toes!

Wine Tastings:

You can never taste enough wine. Especially when you teach about it. Under the circumstances, I don’t even come close to tasting enough wine on a regular basis (professionally, that is). I’m trying to rectify that situation. In addition to the aforementioned Spanish wine tasting event, I also attended one on Chateauneuf du Pape (some of my favorite reds) and Tavel (arguably some of the best roses out there). I’ll be attending a Bordeaux tasting event this week that I will be writing about for Eat and Tell in November… will keep you posted.

LA in Nibbles and Bites

This trip, I’ve kept the itinerary to a minimum – my hostess has a broken foot and I’m content to relax and go with the flow of being on vacation. We had the party to keep us busy the first day and a tasting event to attend on Saturday night (more in my next post), and several farmers markets I wanted to visit in an effort to reintroduce myself to cooking (more on that soon, as well)!

In between, we have managed to do a little bit of exploring. Here are a couple of places we visited for nibbles and bites, in the next couple of posts I’ll write about a wine tasting event and my reintroduction to cooking!

Yogurtland: I never really got into the frozen yogurt craze that seemed to enthrall so many over the past few years – never been to Pinkberry, or any of its competitors for that matter. That said, I’m never one to turn down a sweet treat, so when Amy tempted me with frozen yogurt flavors like taro and lychee, I was quick to agree to the short drive to La Brea and 3rd. This is a self-serve shop – a wall lined with softserve taps dispensing flavors ranging from tart plain yogurt to blueberry, chocolate, toasted coconut, and the promised taro and lychee. The line leads you past two condiment/topping bars before you get to the scales where you pay by the pound for your custom-blended concoction. I opted for four flavors: tart plain, taro, lychee and toasted coconut (all non-fat and full flavor) topped with mochi bits and tender coconut flakes. The texture was rich and silky, the flavors were pure and intense (though the toasted coconut was a bit weaker than the rest). The plain was a good foil for the three tropical flavors and the lychee was a bit tart – a good balance for the sweeter taro. Amy skipped the coconut (both the yogurt and the flakes). Together, for two generous servings, I paid just over $5… I would have paid that much for mine alone.

Cube Marketplace & Cafe: (on N. La Brea near Clinton Street) Amy and I went here for an early lunch on Saturday before an adventure in Orange County that I will write about in a subsequent post. The room is comfortable-industrial (not mutually exclusive terms in restaurant design). The four corners of the room comprise the marketplace – not terribly convenient for real shopping, great point-of-sale material for those seated next to the shelves of Rancho Gordo beans, Luxardo Maraschino cherries, Sicilian marzipan, olive oils, and pastas. The rest of the room is comfortable restaurant seating – booth-style banquettes, well-spaced tables and bar seating. There’s also a great cheese and salami selection displayed at the rear of the room. There were two menus – one for a vast assortment of cheeses, salumi, and small snacks (assorted olives, marcona almonds, and “huge toasted corn kernels”), the other for more substantial fare. Everything sounded so good that we had a very difficult time deciding, especially since we were only there for a light bite. We opted for the aforementioned toasted corn kernels (yum!), grilled baby octopus with grilled radicchio, pizza with buratta, prosciutto, and grilled garlic scapes, and sautéed fava tendrils with garlic and lemon. The octopus was tender and succulent, the fava tendrils (a first for both of us) were addictive – sautéed summer – green, bright, lemony. The pizza was good but not great – the ingredients were beyond fresh and the flavors were right on, but the crust was disappointingly nondescript.  Next time I’ll go for one of the many enticing pasta dishes and more of the farm-fresh side dishes (and some cheese, and salami, and…). I did, by the way, pick up some of my favorite Rancho Gordo beans to go, how could I resist?

The Release Party

Last night was the release party for Life of Reiley’s two latest books – Chrysta Wilson’s Kiss My Bundt and Amy Reiley’s new collaboration with Juan-Carlos Cruz, The Love Diet which is coming out next week. The party was at Amy’s house which is designed around a large open kitchen created specifically for events and commercial production, and I got to finally do some cooking! We featured recipes from The Love Diet including addictive walnut-blue cheese brittle and spicy lemongrass mussels. (I’ll try to get some recipes and more photos in very soon).

The festivities began a few hours before the actual party when the first couple cases of the new book were delivered. Amy has a tradition that when she gets the first editions of her books, she toasts with a glass of a custom blended Hennessey Cognac that she blended herself on a special visit to the distiller. What a treat – it was so feminine, delicate spices and lingering floral aromas… a great start!

After the initial media-only hour, the real party began. Friends poured in including Lisa Peju of Peju Winery who brought along some great Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon to go with the Perrier Joet Champagne. All of the wines were set up as pairings for Kiss My Bundt’s decadent Lemon Basil, Red Velvet and Callebaut Dark Chocolate bundt cakes.

It was a beautiful Southern California night; an outdoor living room set-up was ideal for comfortable conversation, and the evening was enjoyed by all. Amy held up well despite a broken foot and the obvious absence of her co-author who was, unfortunately, unable to attend for complicated personal reasons.