Thursday, July 16, 2009
It all started with a, “What do you mean you haven’t seen The Wild Bunch?”
“Well why don’t you send me a list of the top ten I should have seen?”
Ten, sure, ten adventures, ten romances, ten foodie, there is no just ten. So I started writing categories for top tens, and ended up with twenty top ten lists. As with all “Best Of’s” and “Top Ten’s” there is bound to be differences of opinion and generational gaps. I welcome all input as it is the best way to expand my cinematic enjoyment by experiencing that which others consider to be the best.
TOP 10 FOODIE MOVIES
9. The Big Night
7. Mostly Martha
6. Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory ‘71
4. Like Water for Chocolate
3. Eat Drink Man Woman
2. Babette’s Feast
TOP 10 FOUNDATION MOVIES
10. Akira Kurosawa’s Dreams
9. To Kill a Mockingbird ‘67
8. The Maltese Falcon
6. Blade Runner
4. Blazing Saddles
3. Local Hero
2. Kelly’s Heroes
1. North by Northwest
TOP 10 ALPHA MALE MOVIES
10. Conan the Barbarian
9. Rambo First Blood
7. Road Warrior
6. Full Metal Jacket
5. The Predator
4. Hunt for Red October
3. The Dirty Dozen
2. Raiders of the Lost Ark
1. The Wild Bunch
TOP 10 DISTURBING MOVIES
9. Psycho ‘60
6. Apocalypse Now
5. The Shining
4. Cape Fear ‘91
2. The Cook the Thief His Wife and Her Lover
1. A Clockwork Orange
TOP 10 FOREIGN FILMS
10. The Lover
8. Pan’s Labyrinth
7. Red White & Blue – Three Colors Trilogy
6. The Decalogue
5. The Last Kiss
4. The Coke Cola Kid
3. The City of Lost Children
2. Tie Me Up Tie Me Down
1. Cinema Paradiso
TOP 10 MUSICALS
10. Paint Your Wagon
8. Across the Universe
7. The Wizard of Oz
6. West Side Story
5. Mary Poppins
4. O Brother Where Art Thou?
3. A Chorus Line
2. The Commitments
1. Guys and Dolls
TOP 10 CLASSICS
9. The African Queen
8. It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad Mad World
7. 2001 A Space Odyssey
4. The Godfather
3. The Professional
1. Dr. Strangelove
TOP 10 STONER FLICKS
10. The Money Tree
9. Point Break
8. A Waking Life
6. Fast Times at Ridgemont High
5. Heavy Metal
3. Up in Smoke
2. Half Baked
1. The Big Lebowski
TOP 10 COMEDIES
10. Animal House
7. Monty Python and the Holy Grail
6. History of the World Part I
5. Galaxy Quest
4. Tommy Boy
3. Happy Gilmore
2. My Cousin Vinny
1. Young Frankenstein
TOP 10 ANIMATED
10. Finding Nemo
9. Flushed Away
6. The Incredibles
5. Wallace and Gromit
4. Fritz the Cat
3. Spirited Away
2. Ghost in the Shell
TOP 10 ROMANCES
10. True Romance
8. The Fifth Element
7. The Illusionist
6. Gone With the Wind
5. Roman Holiday
4. The Notebook
3. The African Queen
2. When Harry Met Sally
TOP 10 THAT DID NOT MAKE A LIST
9. Ice Pirates
8. The World According to Garp
7. Time Bandits
6. The Conquest of the Planet of the Apes
5. The Blues Brothers ’80
4. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
2. The Magnificent Seven
TOP 10 GUILTY PLEASURE
8. Lord of War
6. Love Actually
5. Easy Money
4. Die Hard
3. Fight Club
1. Wild Things
TOP 10 SPORTS VICTORIES
10. The Big Blue
9. The Right Stuff
8. Major League
7. Let it Ride
6. Any Given Sunday
5. The Legend of Drunken Master
3. Tin Cup
1. North Dallas Forty
TOP 10 FREAKS
10. Altered States
9. The Thing
8. Piano Teacher
7. Naked Lunch
6. The Prophecy
4. Pitch Black
3. Pulp Fiction
2. American Werewolf in London
TOP 10 PLOT TWISTS
10. Gorky Park
9. The Hunger
8. The Sting
7. Silence of the Lambs
6. The Birds
5. The War of the Worlds ’53
4. Dr. No
3. Three Days of the Condor
2. Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow
1. Rear Window ‘54
TOP 10 DOCUMENTARIES
10. The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou
9. American Photography
8. The Language of Music – Tom Dowd
7. Heavy Petting
5. Hearts of Darkness
4. The Future of Food
3. Dogtown and the Z-Boys
2. Riding Giants
1. Planet Earth
TOP 10 WHAT IF ?
10. Mind Walk – A Film for Passionate Thinkers
9. What The Bleep Do We Know?
8. Logan’s Run ’76
7. Planet of the Apes ’68
6. Fahrenheit 451
5. Dune ’84
4. King Kong ’76
3. Jurassic Park
2. Men in Black
1. Lord of the Rings ‘02
Sunday, April 19, 2009
The wild olive tree is native to Asia Minor and references to them date back roughly 6000 years ago, mainly in modern day Iran, Syria, and Palestine. It was thought to be the first cultivated crop by nomadic man. The modern fruit-bearing olive tree, olea europaea, dates back to the 17th century bc where it first appeared in print in Egyptian records and was mentioned numerous times in the Bible. The word “olive” comes from the Latin olivea which first appeared in English around 1200ad. Olive trees were introduced to California in 1769 by the Spanish Franciscan Friars. Their mandate from the Spanish Crown was to explore this new land and set up a series of missions, where they would plant yellow mustard grass for trail marking, black mission fig trees for food, mission grapes for sacramental wines and brandy, and mission olive trees for olive oil. From the first mission on the Baja peninsula south of San Diego six hundred and thirty miles north to the town square in Sonoma there is a series of twenty one missions marking the Friars explorations. The collection of missions and the trail that connected them became known as the El Camino Real, or the royal road.
Olive trees were cultivated in Asia Minor originally because the trees grew wild in that environment, the resulting oil that was created from well suited growing conditions for the olives was thought to taste better. Those original Olive trees were cultivated, and cuttings were taken everywhere for planting across the Mediterranean. Today Spain and Italy are still the leaders internationally in olives and olive oil production. But California has developed a reputation for some of the highest quality internationally. Mainly because of the science of agriculture in California with the ag focused state college system. You can receive a degree in horticulture and plant biology from UC Davis with a focus in Pomology, the study of olives, right along side of the graduates in the viticultural school of Enology, the study of grapes and wine making. Sometimes in Europe there is not as much focus on the study of new methods and plantings, rather a focus on tradition and traditional varieties. In the hands of an artisan the century old plus trees of Spain and Italy are still capable of the greatest olive oils on the planet. Much of the excellence is consumed locally and does not make it to the states. Fraud and dilution has been the scourge of the European olive oil industry as of late, unfortunately stories of canola oil being soaked in the left over olive paste from olive oil production to absorb aroma, and then being bottled as extra virgin are not rare. Blech. California has developed a fascination with the aromas and textures of the different olive varieties and how they respond to the varied Mediterranean micro climates available in California’s wine growing regions. The quality of California olive oils has escalated because of the precision farming of the olives, the greater appreciation for blending several varieties together to achieve balanced texture and aroma, and the extreme attention to sanitation, temperature control, and oxidation during production. You align all of these elements, and the results are an explosion of high quality olive oils from specifically engineered olive groves, planted and organically grown to precise ripeness, for maximum aroma and flavor, processed in winery-like conditions.
Different weather and location has an effect on the olives flavors and textures, heat, cold, humidity, rain fall, and different soils, rich and loamy, or rocky and hot. In the case of olives, yes flavor is a big factor in the flesh and stone of the olive, but equal if not more important consideration is paid to the oleic acid content and the water content in the olives. When a wine grape is ready to pick, you can pop one in your mouth and taste the sugars and acids in the grape juice and make a sensory determination about the flavor. The olive is not very pleasant to eat raw. As a matter of fact it is pretty much inedible when raw. So color is the number one factor in determining the ripeness for harvest decisions. Breaking open an olive to examine the depth of the ripeness penetration into the flesh and its’ uniformity is the final step before the pick decision is made. Each variety of olive has its’ own color band of ripeness indicators.
An olive tree likes to have its interior branches thinned to allow for more light and air through the canopy. This encourages better and more even ripening of the olives, which becomes important during harvest where the attempt is to pick each tree entirely on the day of peak aromatics and ripeness. The skill and understanding of the pruning sets the harvest size. After the annual pruning the olive tree is, pretty much, a hands-off proposition until harvest. Water is an essential control element as too much dilutes the essential oils collecting in the olives, and too little devigorates and shrivels the olives. Just like with grape vines, the age of the plant will diminish the yield of fruit as they grow older. Olive trees have a natural alternate bearing harvest cycle. One year they carry a heavy crop, the next year lean. Better crop management is the only way to mediate the drastic swings, but the weather can always throw you curve balls every harvest season. On a good year, with a well maintained tree, depending on the extraction method for the oil, you can expect roughly three quarters to one gallon of extra virgin olive oil per tree. That is right per tree. One ton of ripe olives will yield in the neighborhood of 14 gallons of olive oil. We are talking labor of love.
Freshness and handling of the freshly picked olives are the two most important factors in determining purity of flavor and extra virgin classification. Raw olives begin oxidizing immediately after being harvested. They contain an oleic acid that can degrade the quality of the oil if too much is present in the olives. The more you bruise an olive with rough handling, and the longer the olives wait after harvesting before being processed, the more oleic acid you release into the olives flesh. Oleic acid is the number one contributor to bitterness in the finished oil. The classification of olive oil grades is based on the oleic acid content.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil is the first cold pressing of the olives with up to 1% oleic acid present. It is considered the finest and fruitiest, and thus the most expensive. Generally deeper in color and more intense in flavor.
Virgin Olive Oil is also the first cold pressing of the olives, but the oleic acid content is up to 3%.
Fino Olive Oil is a blend of extra virgin and virgin olive oils
Light Olive Oil this version contains the same amount of beneficial monounsaturated fats as regular olive oils, but due to the refining process, it is lighter in color and has essentially no flavor. This makes a good choice for baking and other purposes where the heavier flavor might not be desirable. This process also gives it a higher smoke point, making it a prime candidate for high-heat cooking.
All olive oil production regardless of classification begins much the same way. This process has not seen much change in 5000 years. Even today’s most modern olive mill equipment can still be comprised of two heavy stone wheels for gentle crushing. Each olive contains millions of plant cells that each contain one drop of oil. By crushing the olives, you crush all of those individual drops together to form larger drops that keep combining until a rich fluid is formed. There are two basic methods for drawing the olive oil away from the olives.
The Olive Press – The technique behind pressing the olives is basically as old as the first cultivated tree. The first relics of olive presses found date back to the Greeks and are around 5000 years old.
~Harvest the olives all at once from each tree at the peak of perfect ripeness.
~Harvesting is accomplished by either a machine grabber for shaking the olive
tree by the trunk and collecting the olives onto tarps as they fall off,
or by the manual method of long poles used to grab each branch of
the olive tree by hand and shake it until all of the ripe olives fall onto a
~Olive harvest can run from October to February.
~Wash the olives to remove foreign materials and dirt and dust.
~The olives are gently ground for 30 minutes under the granite millstones
or pulverized in a hammer mill until a glistening paste forms.
~The olive paste is spread onto fiber disks and stacked on top of each other.
~These disks are placed under a hydraulic piston and compressed.
~The resulting liquid is a combination of olive oil and water.
~The olive oil and water need to be separated. Old school is to place the
liquid in a vessel and let the oil and water separate naturally. Modern
style is to place the liquid in a centrifuge and spin the water out.
~Good quality can be achieved with this method given extreme devotion to
sanitation of the press disks between pressings.
~Quality can degrade if the sanitation is not kept up, and in order to clean the
disks properly, there is a delay between pressings, allowing the paste to
oxidize further increasing the bitter oleic acids.
The Olive Mill-This technique differs from the press in that the system is designed to process the olives without exposing them to oxygen. The efficiency of this continuous process and the ability to maximize the quality yield of the olives has contributed to an increase in quality. With no delays in processing for filter pad cleaning, and a hands-off precision to the separation phase, the achievable quality goes up.
~ Harvest the olives all at once from each tree at the peak of perfect ripeness.
~Olive harvest can run from October to February
~ Wash the olives to remove foreign materials and dirt and dust.
~The olives can be transformed into paste with two methods. The paste is
a combination of the mashed olives water and olive oil.
~The Hammer Mill – which pulverizes the olives and releases more of
the peppery pungency of the olives.
~The Stone Mill – which crushes the olives under one ton stone
wheels, considered a more gentle process for extracting the
pure richness and luxury of the olives.
~The two processes can be utilized in the same mill to create
complexity and mouthfeel to perfection.
~The olive paste is then massaged in a vat with an auger for thirty five minutes
until it literally glistens with olive oil.
~The paste now needs to be separated from the olive oil so it is transferred
into a horizontal centrifuge, where the oil and water are spun out of the
~The remaining dry paste is composted and used as nutrient material for the
~The olive oil and water now need to be separated. This time it is a vertical
centrifuge that spins the water out of the olive oil.
~The pure olive oil can now be transferred into steel tanks with a nitrogen gas
blanket on top of the liquid so as to eliminate any oxidation. This also
allows for the oil to be drawn fresh for months after harvest, or until
ready for bottling.
STORAGE AND LONGEVITY
~ Nine months after the olive oil is bottled is the window of freshness. The olive oil
will still be fine after that, but there will be a noticeable oxidative taste.
~The date on an olive oil bottle is the date of its’ bottling, not the year the olives
were grown. So the storage methods for the oils before bottling can have a
direct effect on the life span of the olive oil.
~Once opened a bottle should remain fresh for thirty to sixty days.
~Olive oils should be stored like wine, in a cool dark environment.
~In America, for the first time in history, olive oils are being tested for the oleic oil
content present in the finished oil. If it exceeds .08% oleic acid, it can no longer
be sold as Extra Virgin.
~Cold pressing refers to keeping the temperature below 80˚ during processing, which
ensures the greatest capture of nutrients and flavor.
~Heat can be used to extract a greater amount of olive oil per ton of olives, but there
is a quality diminishment and a lack of freshness in the flavor.
~Color of the finished olive oil is not a giant factor in quality, so colored glasses are
often used to taste and smell, minimizing the oxidative effect of sunlight.
~Warm the oil slightly by cupping the glass in your hand and rolling the oil around.
~Take in the aroma after swirling, by putting your nose at the edge of the glass,
rather than in the middle as with wine.
~Sip a small amount.
~Roll it over your tongue.
~Aerate the oil by sucking air through your teeth while the oil is still in your mouth.
~Swallow the oil, yes I said swallow it.
~Some people will cough after swallowing the oil, this is actually considered a
complement to olive oil producers, as it shows intensity.
~Use crisp apple slices to cleanse the palate between tastes.
~Italian olive varieties are often harvested earlier and greener for a more peppery and
~Spanish olives are often harvested later in the season and much riper for a more rich
and buttery texture and flavor.
Monday, March 23, 2009
“I am pessimistic by nature, and have not found a road which leads to relaxation. I withdraw from humanity and try to find relaxation with plants. I live now in expectation of what will come.”
“Our short life will never be long enough to find out all about this mighty land. When I think about all these unexplored areas, I get fairly dazzled; one will never be able to cover them all. I will have to roam around in my next life.”
“….to create a community of friends, lovers, and relatives that spans generations and is in tune with the seasons, the land, and human appetites.”
In the late 1990’s a family distillery in the
Chef Robert Curry delivers a richly scented Meyer Lemon and artichoke risotto while tucked into the luxury at Auberge du Soleil’s main dining room, or maybe the classic wood oven roasted whole fish with Meyer Lemon and shaved fennel salad at chef Michael Chiarello’s hot new spot Bottega in Yountville, and the finale of a semolina cake with sherried currants and Meyer Lemon mascarpone at the new restaurant and enoteca Elements in Napa.
A lemon that not only serves as a decorative plant, a highly aromatically blossomed plant, a producer of sought after fruit, an inspiration for vodka, olive oil, syrup, breakfast, lunch, dinner, dessert, cocktails, whew! The journey admired from
The Meyer lemon was not known outside of China until a plant explorer working for the United States Department of Agriculture happened across an ornamental citrus tree growing in a courtyard in Peking, and brought back a sample for cultivation in California. In 1908 with the unremarkable name of S.P.I. #23028, Frans Nicholas Meijer, an immigrant from the Netherlands later renamed Frank N. Meyer, introduced this little gem into America. It was discovered to be the combination of the citrus limon lemon tree, and the citrus reticulata Mandarin orange tree, giving you a combination of aromatic blossoms, thin-skinned sweet fruit with a hint of orange, and vigorous production, making it a hit for decorative container plantings as well as orchard performance.
Unfortunately when first introduced the Meyer lemon tree carried an unknown citrus disease wherever it was propagated and planted. The citrus disease killed all other varieties of citrus trees and those that survived could not bear fruit. The almost complete global devastation of the citrus industry as a result of the spread of this disease was so disheartening that the Brazilian and Portuguese farmers named the disease “Tristeza” meaning “sadness”. By 1930 most of the Meyer lemon trees were destroyed to halt the spread. In the early1950’s the Meyer lemon was reintroduced for cultivation, by the Four Winds Growers, under the comforting name “Improved Meyer Lemon”. This disease free version has regained its place as one of the great citrus varieties on the planet, and its journey through the multitude of creations it has spawned is no where near its end.
Let me take you on a route through wine country with Meyer lemon creations as our sign posts on the gastronomical pathway. Shall we begin in Santa Rosa at Rosso Pizzeria and Wine Bar for the Meyer Lemon Dungeness Crab Louie Piadine, where the lemon is wedged and eaten skin-on mixed with the fresh local crab and rich dressing? Then it is up to the Seghesio Family winery in Healdsburg for lunch in the Founder’s Room and Fay’s Pan Fried Wild Steelhead with Capers and Meyer lemons with a glass of the crisp Fiano white wine. Over Spring Mountain to the Domaine Charbay Distilley and Winery or “The Still on the Hill”, as it is known by locals, for a bottle of the Meyer Lemon Vodka, a super secret process of macerating pulverized Meyer Lemons to extract all of their earthly essence then distilling them down to their purest form. I recommend it with San Pellegrino and a few Meyer lemon wedges, maybe a sprig of lemon verbena. On to the deck at Rutherford’s Auberge du Soleil, and the epic view of wine country from the restaurant, while we breathe in the steam rising from Chef Curry’s richly scented Meyer lemon and artichoke risotto. Let us walk off lunch a bit and tour the Round Pond Estate Olive Mill in Rutherford, and sample their Meyer lemon olive oil and Meyer lemon citrus syrup. They take the time to slice thousands of organic Meyer lemons and juice the liquid out of each by hand, then crush the rinds with their organically grown estate olives under the one ton granite wheel to produce a beautifully aromatic and versatile Meyer lemon olive oil. At my house the Meyer lemon olive oil is used to garnish a fresh spring sweet pea and yogurt soup with Meyer lemon zest. With the help of the Cowgirl Creamery in Petaluma the lemon juice that was set aside is cooked down with cane sugar to produce the Meyer lemon citrus syrup. Yes, a syrup fit for dessert, but try a splash with the Charbay cocktail above. Our journey is almost at an end, but we must stop into Yountville’s newest hot spot Bottega, where chef Michael Chiarello’s, whole fish emerging from the wood fired oven is joined by the heavenly aroma of the roasting Meyer lemons along side. Exhausted? Just one more stop I promise. We must finish you off with a slice of the semolina cake topped with a zing of Meyer lemon mascarpone at Enoteca Elements in Napa.
Three thousand years to get here, fifty years of cultivation to make it available, one culinary revolution to put it into our brains, and one experience to put it into our hearts. Come take the Meyer lemon journey through wine country, the mustard grass is blooming, and the Dungeness crab is waiting.
Maybe a twist of Meyer lemon with your espresso before heading home?
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
Can there be a more universally appealing and crowd pleasing dish than the great tamale? We got a first hand lesson as to why family members are all enlisted to help assemble these tasty and oh so versatile treats. Originally designed as a soldiers marching meal, it has evolved into an easy mobile feast, with variations working their way into every Central and South American country. The major differences being the wrap used, from the corn husk wraps of Northern Mexico, to the banana leaves used in Panama. The whole idea of a well rounded meal being a bit of starch, a bit of meat or fish, and a bit of vegetables all ready to eat right away after a brief steaming, or frozen and kept for enjoyment later. The history of serving tamales at Christmas was an opportunity for families who all return home in December after the harvest, to collect and spread the labor of assembly amongst everyone. A big meal is enjoyed night of, and then everyone can take tamales home for smaller family meals.
Dan Mills’ studio and his enthusiasm for people and entertainment could not have been a warmer more perfect location for our event. Steve Sando and his magic beans and dried chilies are always an excellent and flavorful addition to the gastronomical fray. The Blonde Ale from Silverado Brewing Company was a hit to help cool the burn from Maria’s fresh tomatillo salsa. A special thank you to Karen for her timely event whip cracking, and her radish and fresh spring mix salad, also an aide in softening the heat of the spicy chilies. But the night was a hit because of Maria and Dora. There bright smiles and traditional cooking genius partnered with the Napa Slow Food memberships culinary excitability made for a fun night all around. The gals sometime laugh at the fact as a group of people we can become so excited about tamale, but at the same time they understand that many of their sisters and mothers and friends are the last generation that will learn how to make these dishes, and they lament their passing.
But as a group we achieved that which this whole organization is based on, a convivial night of celebrating local fresh food, new and old friends, and a bit of culinary preservation. Good, Clean and Fair is that so much to ask? Bravo one and all. As promised I have attached a copy of the recipes and some of the pictures taken that night.