Thursday, July 16, 2009

Top 200 by Khristopher Lund

Seriously two hundred?

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.

10. Waiting…
9. The Big Night
8. Ratatouille
7. Mostly Martha
6. Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory ‘71
5. Vatel
4. Like Water for Chocolate
3. Eat Drink Man Woman
2. Babette’s Feast
1. Tampopo

10. Akira Kurosawa’s Dreams
9. To Kill a Mockingbird ‘67
8. The Maltese Falcon
7. Ragtime
6. Blade Runner
5. Fandango
4. Blazing Saddles
3. Local Hero
2. Kelly’s Heroes
1. North by Northwest


10. Conan the Barbarian
9. Rambo First Blood
8. Spartacus
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

10. Brazil
9. Psycho ‘60
8. Poltergeist
7. Exorcist
6. Apocalypse Now
5. The Shining
4. Cape Fear ‘91
3. Trainspotting
2. The Cook the Thief His Wife and Her Lover
1. A Clockwork Orange

10. The Lover
9. Mediterraneo
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

10. Paint Your Wagon
9. Camelot
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

10. Amadeus
9. The African Queen
8. It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad Mad World
7. 2001 A Space Odyssey
6. Manhattan
5. Alien
4. The Godfather
3. The Professional
2. Casablanca
1. Dr. Strangelove

10. The Money Tree
9. Point Break
8. A Waking Life
7. Anchorman
6. Fast Times at Ridgemont High
5. Heavy Metal
4. Homegrown
3. Up in Smoke
2. Half Baked
1. The Big Lebowski

10. Animal House
9. Stripes
8. Caddyshack
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

10. Finding Nemo
9. Flushed Away
8. Fantasia
7. Tron
6. The Incredibles
5. Wallace and Gromit
4. Fritz the Cat
3. Spirited Away
2. Ghost in the Shell
1. Akira

10. True Romance
9. Ladyhawk
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
1. Moonstruck

10. Highlander
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
1. Jaws

10. Bio-Dome
9. Transformers
8. Lord of War
7. Sahara
6. Love Actually
5. Easy Money
4. Die Hard
3. Fight Club
2. Snatch
1. Wild Things

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
4. Rollerball
3. Tin Cup
2. Hoosiers
1. North Dallas Forty

10. Altered States
9. The Thing
8. Piano Teacher
7. Naked Lunch
6. The Prophecy
5. Seven
4. Pitch Black
3. Pulp Fiction
2. American Werewolf in London
1. Carrie

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

10. The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou
9. American Photography
8. The Language of Music – Tom Dowd
7. Heavy Petting
6. Grass
5. Hearts of Darkness
4. The Future of Food
3. Dogtown and the Z-Boys
2. Riding Giants
1. Planet Earth

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

History of Olive Oil

Olives from the Grove to the Press to the Bottle to the Palate

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
olive groves.
~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.

~ 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
spicy palate.
~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.”

Frank Meyer letter to a friend, October 1901
Roughly 3000 years ago a yellow lemon tree named citrus limon met a Mandarin orange tree named citrus reticulata and together they gave birth to a vigorous, fragrantly blossomed, golden fruited lemon tree with fruit slightly sweetened by the hint of orange. In its early life it was valued for its success in container plantings as decorative landscaping and the intoxicating aroma from the numerous blossoms. It was not known outside of China until an intrepid plant explorer by the name of Frans Nicholas Meijer happened across an ornamental offspring of that blessed union growing in the courtyard of a home in Peking, and brought back a sample for cultivation in America. Thus the famed citrus tree got its first taste of fame and fortune in the new world in 1908 with the unremarkable name of S.P.I. #23028, later to be named in memorial as the Meyer Lemon.
In 1901 Frans Nicholas Meijer arrived in America from the Netherlands, and upon his arrival was renamed Frank N. Meyer. He was hired soon thereafter by Erwin F. Smith from the U.S.D.A. to work in plant research at the Santa Ana, California Plant Introduction Station. This was an explosive period in agricultural sciences and exploration. America was investing heavily into crop experimentation as a way to create a more diverse agricultural industry, an evolution of going beyond farming to feed a population, towards farming for profit beyond our borders.
The genesis of this atmosphere towards aggressive agricultural investigation began in 1862 with the signing of the Morrill Act by President Abraham Lincoln. It was to establish a national system of colleges devoted to teaching agriculture and the mechanical arts. Twenty years later President Grover Cleveland reinforced it with The Hatch Act of 1887 promoting farming research by supporting a system of state agricultural experiment stations, mostly connected to the Morrill Act colleges. Then in 1906 the Adams Act was signed by Teddy Roosevelt, which encouraged the experimental stations to transition from local agricultural integration and pest management research to original theoretical research, new species introduction, and hybridization for commercial production.
The American citrus industry was created under guidance from the U.S.D.A. A team of great plant biologists, plant geneticists, plant bacteriologists and agricultural explorers banded together to create a system of acquiring and investigating new species for introduction into the American landscape. They were gaining a more dynamic understanding of the unique problems each species brought while being introduced into strange and new non-native eco-systems.
The team’s understanding of plant genetics was accelerated by the rediscovery of forgotten research by a monk named Gregor Johann Mendel. His theories of plant genetics and inherited traits would later become known as “Mendel’s Laws of Inheritance”. Mendel today is known academically as “The Father of Modern Genetics”. The continuation of his work was essential in the understanding of how to transplant non-native species and evaluate their danger for the introduction of new plant disease.
Herbert John Webber and Walter Tennyson Swingle gave new life to Mendel’s work and focused their efforts and experimentation on the family of citrus varieties and their potential for crop introduction. In 1905 together with David Grandison Fairchild they created an office within the U.S.D.A. named The Office of Foreign Seed and Plant Introduction. The connection to the genetics of Mendel’s work and the road map it provided in understanding the complex world of plant origins and the ability to modify them against disease through selective breeding, all paved the way for the creation of a series of plant introduction farms throughout the U.S. It was the Plant Introduction Station in Santa Ana California that became Frank N. Meyer’s base of operations for his explorations into Asia and Russia. In 1905 David Fairchild hired Frank N. Meyer to work as an agricultural explorer for the newly formed Office of Foreign Seed and Plant Introduction. His mandate was to find new varieties unknown to the western world that would provide esthetic and economic value to the diet and industry of America.
Frank N. Meyer’s first plant collection excursion from 1905 to 1908 would take him into China, Russia, and Japan. The historical timing of his adventures was catastrophic. Russia had just declared war on the Japanese in a never ending conflict over the Korean peninsula. The span of Frank’s thirteen years in Russia, China, and Japan are marked by the tumultuous events of the unfolding powers in the East. Frank’s second trip from 1909 to 1912 was to bring him through the fall of the Qing dynasty after a two hundred and fifty plus year reign. Japan seized upon the weakened China, and developed a western style regimented army and navy in the hopes of conquering the mainland giant. The cataclysmic power struggle between nations, and the escalating military activity did not deter a humble plant explorer who forged ahead seeking new discoveries. The third excursion from 1913 to 1915 puts him in the mouth of the dragon, as Japan flexes its new military might, begins the siege of mainland China, and unfurls their infamous “Twenty One Demands” for the conquered population. Sun Yet Sen emerges as a strong philosophical and charismatic leader of the barely unified China. His “Three Principles of the People” is an attempt to emerge from dictatorships and dynasties into a more democratic, albeit socialist, form of unifying the people. He is ousted militarily during the often shifting sands of Chinese rule during this period, and exiled to Shanghai. Frank N. Meyer’s fourth trip from 1916 to 1918 puts him in South East Shanghai and South of the Yangtze river, during which time the world erupts into the first World War, with America joining the fray “over there” in 1917. Once again Frank finds himself in the midst, this time much closer to the dangers of violent military revolutions. This was to be his last excursion. On a war torn day in May of 1918, Frank was steaming up the Yangtze River on his way home and was found dead in his room aboard the Japanese riverboat Feng Yang Maru. The mystery surrounding his death leaves much speculation about his activities while in a conspiratorial atmosphere around the deposed Sun Yet Sen. His explorations led to the introduction of over twenty five hundred new commercial and ornamental species of plants into the United States.

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.”

Frank Meyer in a letter to David Fairchild, May 1907
But it was to be that little ornamental citrus shrub in the Peking courtyard that was to be his legacy. The rich tapestry of the Meyer Lemon’s discovery and delivery across the Pacific does not end there. Oh, no. The popularity of the Meyer Lemon was immediate for its distinctive soft orange hued skin and fragrant slightly sweet juice with a hint of tangerine. It was easy to grow, compact, and notoriously prolific in its blooming and fruiting.
Now, remember all of these foreign acquisitions are being introduced into experimental farms, and cultivated over a period of time to see how they will interact within a given eco-system present within the various growing regions through out the United States. Once passed through the plant introduction stations, a new species becomes available through nurseries for large scale commercial planting. As interest grew and cultivation spread throughout California, a serious threat to the entire citrus industry was about to teach a grave lesson in the spread of plant disease. The Meyer Lemon tree carried an unknown passenger with it wherever it was propagated and planted. Tristeza Citrus Disease will kill all of the other varieties of citrus trees it comes into contact with. Those that do survive are rendered incapable of bearing 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”. The Meyer Lemon tree brought over from China was a symptomless carrier of this scourge. By 1930 the damage was escalating and all of the Meyer Lemon trees were destroyed in California to halt the spread. As a result, it all but disappeared from cultivation.
But like all great stories, just when the hour is at its’ darkest and the heroine is in peril, the deus ex machina arrives to save the day. In 1946 Floyd Dillon and Don Dillon Sr. were entering into a venture to create a series of dwarf citrus trees for ornamental and casual domestic cultivation. They partnered with Dr. Bill Bitters and the team of citrus researchers from UC Riverside and UCLA to graft and create a series of non-diseased and non-disease carrying citrus trees. After years of experimentation the Four Winds Growers was launched, and their inaugural release was the now non-tristeza spreading dwarfed version of the Meyer Lemon Tree. It was released as the “Improved” Meyer Lemon, and today fifty years later all Meyer Lemon trees propagated in California dwarfed or otherwise are derived from that “improved” mother tree.
Weary citrus farmers were not exactly quick to replant this troublesome little gem and it was once again to be in the middle of a revolution. This time however it was the culinary revolution in the early eighties, brought on by chef’s like Alice Waters from the famed Chez Panisse in Berkeley, who gave the Meyer Lemon a culinary rebirth into the lexicon of dynamic flavor discoveries.

….to create a community of friends, lovers, and relatives that spans generations and is in tune with the seasons, the land, and human appetites.”

Chef Alice Waters Chez Panisse 1980
By the way Alice, your Meyer Lemon curd recipe for the ├ęclairs in your Chez Panisse cookbook is out of this world.

In the late 1990’s a family distillery in the Napa Valley began experimenting with the Meyer Lemon because its essential oils lent themselves to excellent distillation. The unique process of using fresh organic Meyer Lemons extracted of all of their worldly essence and then purified through distillation down to its core flavor has created an amazing perfume with the alcohol transporting it to your palate. The Domaine Charbay Meyer Lemon Whole Fruit Vodka is made in limited amounts only once a year when the Meyer’s are perfect. Meyer Lemon Drop anyone?
In 2003 a land owner in the Rutherford Appellation of the Napa Valley planted a twelve acre organic Spanish and Italian varietal olive grove. They juice pound after pound of fresh ripe organic Meyer Lemon’s grown just outside of Fresno, set the lemon juice aside, and crush the rinds of the lemons along with the fresh picked olives under the granite wheel, releasing all of the infused flavors together as their extraordinary Round Pond Meyer Lemon Olive Oil. The juice that was set aside is then combined with pure cane sugar and then cooked down into Meyer Lemon citrus syrup. It is not only used as a sweetener for sauces and toppings, but as a flavored syrup base for cocktail recipes. Make a Meyer Lemon Drop with the Round Pond syrup, substitute brandy for the vodka, and you have a Bay Area classic: the Side Car. The simplicity of the Meyer Lemon syrup drizzled into San Pellegrino is a quick refresher as well.
Every year my enthusiasm for the Napa Valley grape harvest becomes the marker for the arriving Dungeness-Crab season soon followed by the citrus harvest. The brightness of the Meyer Lemon with steamed crab and Strauss Family drawn butter against the backdrop of a gloomy cold winter rainstorm is the perfect culinary counter-punch for what ails you. The compact little gem carries 83mg of vitamin C, 3 grams of fiber, and 15mg of potassium in every 22 calorie lemon. I feel healthier just reading about it.
The cultivation of the Meyer Lemon is once again on the rise. Its unique balance of Mandarin sweet aromatics and a zing of electricity from the lemon’s tart acid, is such a prolific player to the pastry chef and savory chef as well. As more and more chefs embrace a more seasonal approach to their offerings, the Meyer Lemon has been appearing on menus by name.

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 China to America and into our lives. With the aroma therapy of its blossoms and the benefit of its vitamin C, what other citrus fruit can claim to balance you emotionally as well as dietarily? Ladies and Gentlemen I give you the Meyer Lemon. Enjoy!

Meyer Lemon

One sunny spring day on a stroll through St. Helena my wife and I happened across a lemonade stand manned by two young ladies making the greatest lemonade I had ever had. My introduction to the Meyer lemon had been made by the most unassuming of characters. They squeezed fresh Meyer lemons off of the tree ten feet from where I was standing, added to ice cold water and a bit of sugar. The hint of Mandarin orange was delightful as it soften the tart lemon acids. As I sat there enjoying my lemonade I began to wonder who this Meyer fellow was, and the story behind his lemon.

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

Tamale Me All About It

Tamale Me All About It – Slow Food Napa Valley – December 2008Event

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.