stinging nettle pasta, I think it was pasta

Hank Shaw’s recent post reminded me of a dish I had a couple years ago, which was, I am fairly sure, tagliatelle with nettles, garlic and olive oil. It was great. It was unique. It was unforgettable. I think we ate it kind of like this:


I don’t remember where we found the nettles, but that’s not important. What is important is that we failed to cook all the sting out of them.

There wasn’t a lot of sting—we hadn’t noticed it adjusting the seasoning—but after a few bites, we could feel the prickle on our tongues and lips. And then we became aware of the full length of our esophaguses. Which is a strange but not unpleasant thing; a thing that makes you sit up a little.

The effect was, in all, enlivening. It was a fine night. I think this year I’m going to try to do it again.

wild greens in winter


Foraging for wild greens on January 28th. It’s been a fairly mild winter here, the temperature only having dropped as low as 8 degrees Fahrenheit in a place that usually sees a seasonal low closer to -8. And we had snow cover for our cold-snap, which is probably why we still have a few patches of wild greens to pick. These are some kind of wild cress, Pepper Cress is the Appalachian name for it, I’m told. We made a pesto out of it last night and it was good, though a little stringy. Next time, we’ll chop it up before we grind it. Today we put it in salad.

seedsavers is down!

Seed Savers Exchange, the best seed-selling non-profit you could donate money to (don’t worry, it’s included in the seed-cost), recently hugely famous, with orders going through the roof since this whole local-food mania picked up (bless it), their website is down: SERVER TOO BUSY, all it says, white background. Good for them! Maybe order soon if you want in.

buy wine I like

Because I’ve been asked, by three of the four people who actually read this blog, and because those three or four people occasionally have me for dinner, (and so it’s in my interest to influence their taste)—for these reasons, I’ve written this primer for buying wine. It’s biased, but it’s all true.

1. Buying wine without knowledge of the individual producer is gambling. You read the label as best you can for clues as to what kind of wine it’s going to be and whether you’re going to like it, and then you bet the bottle-price that you’re right. Sometimes you lose, sometimes you win big. The more you know, the better your odds.

2. There are tricks that help narrow the odds fast, like knowing the rules of a card game. It is good to know the rules of poker before you put money down, say.

3. The first rule is that place of origin trumps grape. This is less a factor of climate than of culture: Californians tend to make one style of wine, Burgundians another. However, it is also true that most non-Europeans tend to make similar wines. This is because they have no tradition, and so follow fashion: they make what sells.

4. The fashion currently is for big, viscous, jammy, fruity, high-alcohol, often vanilla-flavored (oaky) wines, which are made to be drunk like cocktails and usually detract from a meal. These wines are friendly to palates used to syrupy soft drinks, and to people who need to be smacked to be impressed enough by a wine to spend money on it. Rule: non-European wine from an unknown producer will usually be made in this style.

5. European wine is vastly more interesting, more varied, more difficult, and more likely to improve and improve with the taste of good food. Every region makes several wines in styles altogether distinct from every neighboring region. Many people find this intimidating, and try to cling to grape varieties, which are used to roughly designate style in New-World wines. This method is doomed. Rule one again: place of origin trumps grape.

6. You don’t have to be familiar with (it’s a cliché) every hamlet in France to consistently buy good wine at a good price. There are tricks.

    Trick #1: Choose a region (a country will do) and only drink wines from that region until you get a sense of it. Then, choose another.

    Trick #2: Forget regions, buy by importer.

7. A bottle’s importer is usually listed on its back label. Some importers are huge, follow fashion, and are only out to make a buck. Others are boutique operations with two employees who only sell wine they believe in, aesthetically, politically, spiritually. Each importer has its own palate and its own politics, and may or may not have distribution where you live. The trick for you is to find a few you agree with. Once you do, you’re golden: buy everything they import that you can afford; they will rarely lead you astray.

Appendix I—Miscellaneous advice that didn’t fit anywhere else: Wines from famous places are usually overpriced. Wines with over 13.5% alcohol tend to be more viscous and less versatile with food than lighter ones. Beyond this fact, don’t sweat food-pairings. Forget any prejudice you may have against pink wine, or red or white for that matter. It’s silly. Don’t sweat whether a wine is “good” or not. It’s a drink, after all, not a class marker. That said, one in maybe ten bottles sealed with natural cork is “corked,” and will taste a little like mildew or wet cardboard. A reasonable wine-seller will refund you for these, with a receipt.

maple sugar on a small scale (1857)

“928. Making Sugar on a Small Scale.—J. Herrick, of Lyndeborough, N.H., wrote to us in 1857 as follows: “My orchard consists of seventy-five trees of second growth, scattered along walls or in a pasture of fifteen acres. I tap with a three-fourth-inch auger four feet from the ground, and hang the bucket by a ring, on a hook driven into the tree so close to the spout that the wind will not waste the sap. I tap at this height that cattle can not disturb the bucket. Some might object on the ground that the lower a tree is tapped the more sap will run. This is not the fact, for the sap will flow as freely by cutting off a topmost branch as it will from a root of the same size laid bare in the ground. And again, any one may learn this fact from the red squirrel, who, by the way, is a famous sugar-maker, and knows when to tap a tree and where to do it. He performs his tapping in the highest perpendicular limbs or twigs, and leaves the sun and wind to do the evaporating, and in due season and pleasant weather you will see him come round and with great gusto gather his sirup [sic] into his stomach.”

from Facts for Farmers. (New York: A. J. Johnson, 1870.)

fresh popcorn, hot damn.

Just popped my first ever batch of fresh, local this-year’s popcorn. It behaved very strangely.

It started popping almost as soon as it hit the pan, and popped itself out so fast there wasn’t any danger at all of scorching. The flavor was clean and fresh, though not particularly significantly moreso than the regular, and the texture was slightly more moist.

At first the texture was a little inferior to regular corn, as it sort of pan-caked down into hard flakes between your teeth, but after a few minutes that was less noticeable.

Probably this is all a function of water content and will get more like what we’re used to as it cures. I wonder how old the average shelf-bag of popping corn is.

Anyway, good stuff.

peg-legged bossy

peg-legged Bossy

From The Cattle of the World by Alvin Howard Sanders. (Washington: The National Geographic Society, 1926.)

there was a wine post here, somewhere

and it will be back, in a slightly more reasonable form, perhaps shortly.

I Hate Recipes, and a recipe for Famous Fake Mac.

I can’t learn from recipes. I have no interest whatsoever in recipe books, 95% of cookbooks. I use them sometimes, but tellingly, I only follow recipes for things I originally learned to make from recipes—in other words, things I never learned how to make, and still don’t know how to make, even after I’ve made them dozens of times. This is what recipes do to me, they make me stupid and keep me dependent. Occasionally I find the time to take a recipe I use and make something I can use out of it. For example, my mother’s “famous macaroni,” as written on the back of a Christmas card stored in the back of my 70’s Joy:

Famous Macaroni

cook (1 pound) macaronis
Toast {1 c. nutrit. yeast
{1/2 c. flour
Add 2/3 c. oil, stir while it bubbles
Add 3 c. water. stir & whisk until thickened
Add 4 tbsp. tamari
1 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp pepper
(1/2 tsp. chopped garlic)<--optional First, let me say that this is actually good. Good, solid comfort food, that I make about twice a month—something friends always love, though I am sometimes reticent about what it's made of until after they admit as much. It is a museum piece of my cultural heritage, though it only dates back to about 1970. Not that, of course, I ever make it as written: I use much more garlic, measure poorly, and season to taste. And I'm tired of having to look it up every time I want to make such a simple sauce. So I took it apart and gave it a little thought, and here it is again like I might write it down: Fake Mac Sauce

toast yeast and flour (2/1)
oil til smooth
water to texture
tamari, salt, pepper, garlic.

And having made the recipe into something I can understand, what it looks like in my own head:

Fake Mac = 2/1.

I think I can remember that.