Friday, February 25, 2011


Don't miss this post from The Pour about using words to describe wine. If you write about or talk about wine, you inevitably end up describing it. It's easy to lapse into winespeak.

I've consciously backed away from the most egregious types of winespeak in my writing. Using descriptors like "wild violets and lychee fruit" doesn't really help anyone. Every now and again you might encounter a wine that is worthy of such talk, and there's nothing wrong with batting around the smells and tastes of a wine with your friends, but there's no need to get carried away.

Wine is fermented grape juice. Sometimes the best thing to do is eat, drink and enjoy.


Sunday, February 13, 2011

Signs of Spring

While much of the country is still locked in winter's grip, the end is in sight here in the Carolinas. We still have more cold weather to come, but there's light at the end of the tunnel.

I was reminded of this while I was working in the yard today (in short sleeves). Among the long-neglected leaves were a couple of dandelions, just starting to show some yellow.

The days are getting longer, and we'll have many warm days to come. It's also time to start thinking ahead to spring planting.

One of my goals for this year is to ramp up my gardening skills. I come by my gardening impulses naturally, as both my parents have seriously green thumbs. Presently, my skills might not be apparent upon viewing our yard, but what some people might see see as "neglected" is actually "biodiverse."

The local bird population definitely appreciates it. My approach is to let nature do its thing with minimal interference. More on that later.

In the meantime, bring on spring.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Eat, Drink & Be Local

Every year around Valentine's Day, I like to share my rant about what a ridiculous "holiday" it is. On the other hand, it's a great time to indulge yourself, your friends or your sweetie. Just steer clear of the kissing teddy bears at your local drugstore.

Instead, support your local merchants. Slow Food Columbia has partnered with the South Carolina Small Business Chamber of Commerce to encourage everyone to patronize local businesses for their faux holiday celebrating and all year long.

In that spirit, we started out the day at the All-Local Farmers' Market where we picked up lots of local food to enjoy over the weekend: City Roots greens, Sea Eagle tuna steaks, Wil-Moore Farms steaks and Heather's bread. You won't catch me anywhere near a restaurant until the rush has passed.

E also surprised me a little early with some cool new art from The Half and Half.


"Lessons in Beer Drinking"

On a side note, the ALFM raised $3,000 for Wil-Moore Farms this morning. The goal is $15,000, so we're going to keep working until we get there. Donate online at

Friday, February 11, 2011

Time to Rally

There are moments when I wish I had legions of readers. Okay, there are lots of moments.

I'm wishing for the legions at this moment because I want to do everything I can to get the word out about lending a hand to Robin and Keith Willoughby of Wil-Moore Farms. It's been less than a week since we heard the news that one of their barns had burned, and the local community has sprung into action.

There's a link to some more information about what happened at under News. There's also a link to make a donation via PayPal. This Saturday at the All-Local Farmers' Market, some of the vendors will be donating a portion of their sales to support Wil-Moore. They'll also be "passing the hat" and donating 50 percent of ALFM t-shirt sales.

Please do whatever you can to help out.

Small farms are a labor of love and a gift to the community. It involves long hours, hard work and occasional heartbreak. We're so fortunate to have Wil-Moore Farms and all the wonderful products they bring to our tables.

Hope to see you there.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Home Cooking

I like to cook. That doesn’t mean I like to cook every single night or that every meal I prepare brings me great joy.

No, there are nights when cooking infuriates me. There are meals that miss the mark – sometimes broadly and sometimes narrowly. There are times when I fall into a cooking rut and prepare the same five or six dishes over and over until I can’t stand the thought of any of them.

There are also times when cooking gives me immense satisfaction, and I walk away from the table feeling satisfied in body and soul. Last night was such a night.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not a particularly skilled cook. I’m in the vast middle ground talent-wise, and my repertoire is pretty limited. But, I enjoy the act of cooking, and E boosts my confidence with her (wisely considered) praise.

Something I take small pride in is the ability to improvise. When you hit the kitchen after a long day at work, it’s useful to be able to look at what’s in the fridge and forge the contents into something tasty.

I had soup on my mind, but my failure to locate a ham bone derailed my dreams of bean soup. This is where the improvisation starts.

A roadmap to soup:


What better way to get started than bacon? I had two lonely strips of thick-cut bacon in need of a home. I diced them and dropped them into a medium soup pot over medium heat. When they were brown and crispy I removed the bits with a slotted spoon.

Quite a few soup recipes start with a foundation of sautéed vegetables to form a base of flavor. The French call it a mirepoix. Latinos or Italians might call it a soffritto. I call it whatever I have in the fridge: a couple stalks of celery, two small carrots, half a red onion, part of a red pepper and a couple cloves of garlic. I diced everything (the garlic very finely) and sautéed the mix in the bacon drippings.


I would have loved to use chicken broth, but I had none. I’ve sworn off canned broth, so that leaves water. I warmed up four cups in the microwave. When the vegetables were softened and aromatic, I added the water along with a couple bay leaves.


Now it was time to give my soup some body. I still had beans on my mind, so I added a can of white beans, drained and rinsed. I needed something to thicken things up, and I had some potatoes that were also in need of using. I peeled and diced the potatoes into half-inch pieces.

I simmered the soup for about 20 minutes, partly covered. While it was simmering, I gave some thought to the seasoning. Since I used water instead of broth, I was concerned it wouldn’t have the deep flavor I wanted (and I cursed not being about to find a ham bone again).

What I did have was some country ham trimmings from Four Oaks Farm. I pan fried and chopped the trimmings so I had about a quarter cup. Into the pot they went.

Once the potato was nice and soft, I removed the pot from the stove and gave the contents a thrashing with a potato masher. I wanted to thicken the soup while still leaving some small bits of potato. It needed a dash of salt and some ground pepper.


To add a little more depth of flavor, I added a handful (1/3 cup?) of grated parmesan cheese. The final touch was a dash of hot sauce.

Perfection in a bowl.

This is hardly a recipe. I may have left out a step or an ingredient, because as usual I wasn't taking notes.

The moral of the story is that you can follow some basic guidelines and create some really good food from whatever you have at hand.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Sad Sunday

I had a much different post planned for today, but some bad news has my mind on other things.

I frequently mention our Saturday visits to Columbia's All-Local Farmers' Market. One of our favorite vendors is Wil-Moore Farms, a local source for cheese, eggs, chicken, goat and much, much more.

This morning, a fire destroyed one of their barns along with around 1000 chickens. Thankfully, no one in their family was hurt, and the fire didn't spread. My heart goes out them, and our thoughts will be with them as they work to recover.

Hearing of their loss makes me even more thankful for them and the other local farmers, food artisans and craftspeople who keep us supplied with so many good things.

This morning I cooked up a pork shoulder from Caw Caw Creek Farm. You just can't compare the rich, earthy flavor of the meat to the stuff that comes from the grocery store.

I have no doubt that the local food scene will rally around Wil-Moore and do whatever we can to help them recover. It also strengthens my resolve to buy local food whenever I can.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Five Tips for Buying Wine

When I was new to buying wine, I clearly remember being overwhelmed and intimidated by wine stores. One boutique wine shop in particular stands out.

I ended up buying a bottle of French white wine and being terribly disappointed. In retrospect, the bottle was probably corked, and I should have taken it back. Lesson learned.

When I was selling wine, I saw people who were obviously struggling with the process. Here are my top five suggestions for buying wine:

1.) Location is everything.

Finding a wine seller with a knowledgeable and friendly staff will improve your wine buying experience in leaps and bounds. Even some grocery stores now have someone on staff to help shoppers. Ask for help.

Whoever helps you should ask lots of questions. If they don’t or if they come off as pompous jerks, you should look elsewhere. Shopping for wine should be fun.

It’s worth the effort to go out of your way if you have to. You’ll end up spending less in the long run and enjoying the wine a lot more.

2.) Take notes.

I’m terrible at this. Fortunately, while I can’t remember anyone’s birthday to save my life, I can easily recall wines I drank ten years ago. That’s selective memory in action.

Keeping a wine journal is the best way to remeber wines you want to buy again, wines you never want to see again and it gives you easy way to tell a waiter or wine salesperson what you've liked in the past.

3.) Fear not.

There is far more good wine than bad wine. Don’t be afraid to buy a bottle just because it looks interesting. The more wine you buy the better your instincts will get.

4.) Buy low.

Price does not equate with quality. If you’re still reading this, you’re probably someone who doesn’t buy lots of wine. More expensive wines frequently aren’t made for casual wine drinkers or novices.

Inexpensive wines are typically easy drinking and accessible. They don’t need to age or be decanted. It also stretches your wine budget.

One important exception to this rule – avoid cheap cabernet sauvignon, merlot and chardonnay from California. Although there are exceptions to this exception, California churns out a flood of mediocre, low-priced bottles of these three wines.

Look for Spanish garnacha or temperanillo (or blends of both), Argentine malbec and Italian sangiovese.

5.) Know your importer.

This is something that has served me well over the years. If I like a wine, I take note of who the importer is. Importers have a certain style and tend to have some consistency across their portfolio.

Even if the wines are from different grapes, wineries or even countries, quality is frequently the common denominator. Three importers that instantly come to my mind are Eric Solomon, Jorge Ordóñez and Columbia’s own Spanish Vines.

Friday, February 04, 2011

Friday Night Link

It's a cold, rainy night here in Columbia. It's a great night for baked spaghetti alla puttanesca (thanks to E for the leftovers), arugula salad and fresh bread.

If you need something to warm your heart, check out this story from the NY Times.

Happy Friday.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Weeknight Cooking

Cooking during the work week is challenging. At least it is for me anyway.

I usually have something in mind by the time I hit the house, but after I've chopped, diced, sautéed, boiled and cursed a few times -- I'm worn out. This explains why I rarely have blog posts about weeknight dinners.

Tonight I arrived home a little early and whipped up some crab cakes real quick. During the week, it's easier for me to make things I've made a hundred times before.

I'm writing this short post while I sip on a glass of wine. My are crab cakes resting in the fridge awaiting a hot skillet, and the last thing I have to do is make a dressing. I'm serving the cakes with a simple side of dressed arugula.

We're (possibly) going out later so something light seemed in order. Since it's a weeknight, some inexpensive wine was also in order.

Domain de la Hallopière Vin de Pays du Val de Loire 2009 ($7.99, Green's Beverage)

Chardonnay from the Loire Valley? I wouldn't have expected it either. Chardonnay is more commonly used as a blending grape in the Loire, but this wine is a real find.

It's juicy without being overripe, clean and fresh with notes of white peach and lemon. I'm guessing it was done in stainless steel, because there's not a hint of oak. Fine with me.

Now it's time for that dressing. I'm thinking about a little mayo, some mustard, fresh lemon juice and a spoonful of hoisin sauce. We'll see how that works out.

Cheers. It's almost Friday.