Sunday, November 23, 2008

Biodynamics: Worthwhile Geomancy

I'm no believer in biodynamics. I wouldn't've been in the 30's when it originated and I'm decidedly not now in an age where slapping on a Demeter Biodynamic label increases the value of your vineyard's acreage a squizillion-fold.

That being said, Joe Eskenazi is seriously missing the point in his SF Guardian article.

I encourage you to read it. It's somewhat enlightening as to the history of biodynamics and sheds some light on a largely occult-based practice that has gained considerable traction in grape growing (and, actually, agriculture in general in many parts of Europe). But for those of you not interested in reading, he essentially decries biodynamics as"voodoo on the vine" and no better than organic farming (at best) and an eerie occult practice whose adherents are a half-step away from Heaven's Gate members (at worst).

Here's the thing: everything he says in the article is, as far as I know, 100% true.

1. Biodynamics does involve a lot of elaborate "preparations" for vineyard management that do involve things like cow blood dilutions and mouse ash dilutions and on and on. However this is little different than the widely-accepted (in Europe) practice of homeopathic medicine, the basic premise that like treats like. Homeopathy does involve the human consumption (in heavily diluted doses) of, amongst other things, crushed up honey bees, arsenic, and belladonna (better known as poison nightshade). Basically, if you have a mouse problem in your vineyard, douse your vineyard in a dilution of mouse ashes; if you have a bee sting, ingest a dilution of powdered honey bees. Is it bullshit? More than likely. Does it have its psychological, procedural, and placebo value? Sure.

2. Biodynamics is not "ultra-organic." It's decidedly not. In some technical ways biodynamics isn't organic since biodynamics (rightfully) allows for the use of sulfur dioxide in the wine-making process, something which the USDA does not. Biodynamics is simply a schedule of generally accepted procedures whose adherents submit for evaluation by a third party regulatory board to receive certification. Just like organic produce, the MPAA ratings system, the State Bar, and on and on and on and on.

3. Most people don't know what biodynamic means. This is true. The vast majority of wine drinkers, waiters, sales reps, and even retailers have little if any understanding of biodynamics. This should change. It should change specifically because it's misleading (as is organic labeling in wine). Virtually all quality small production wineries practice relatively sustainable farming practices. Many producers, organic or otherwise, practice some degree of dry-farming. Many farmers plant cover crops. Almost all use only non-chemical pesticides, though they'll keep the big guns on hand if something should severely threaten their vineyards. Think of it as the homeowner with the shotgun above his bed. He's not out shooting folks every night, but if there's a threat to his home and family, it's coming off the wall.

4. Biodynamics is no better than organic. Sure, that's true. And hell, just to repeat it, biodynamics is no better than simple sustainable low-yield grape growing practices.

But my response to Mr. Eskenazi is, "So what?"

Other than the ignorance of consumers, there's nothing damning in his article. So that's my response. So what? So some people believe in something weird and mystical based almost entirely in occult speculation. That sounds like, well, any religion. Or societal convention. Is believing that having an union between two people that is recognized by state or religious institution somehow a more legitimate expression of love any different than believing that harvesting on the full moon yields fuller fruit flavors?

Only within their respective contexts. It's all constructs, so go along with it. Love is what's in your heart and tastiness is what's in your face, everything else is just a label.

Eskenazi's doing the journalistic equivalent of saying, "pssh, you believe in God? That's stupid. You believe in an omnipotent creator living in a palace in the sky? You're a retard." He's simply missing the point.

What if I were to tell you to free your mind from your worldly ties, spend a good amount of time each day sitting silently, breathing deeply, and clearing your mind, and wearing comfy pants? Sounds good, but would you do it? But what if I tossed you a copy of the Tibetan Canon and "Richard Gere's Zen for Dummies." Startin' to sound a whole lot more appealing, no? I mean, did you see American Gigolo?

And sure you could just decide to lead a good life, try to be a net positive for the world, and enrich the lives of those around you, but being a Christian just has a better ring to most people. And hell, if believing in a magic spaceman who's going to throw the mother of all massives in the next life for true believers is a deal breaker for you to be a decent human being, than I guess I'll roll with it. No skin off my back,

My point? If ascribing to biodynamics is what it takes to get consumers to purchase responsibly farmed produce and growers to pay closer attention to their crops then, well, I'm okay with that. Most things are 80% crazy, but if it takes 80% crazy to produce 20% quality and the 80% crazy doesn't get in the way of others living their lives, then fuck it.

Great expose Joe Eskenazi. Way to attempt to show that ascribing to a belief system that's a net gain to the world is a sham. I think that makes you a net drain. Cheers.

Though I still won't see anything that's been within ejaculation distance of Mel Gibson. I have my own belief constructs to stick to.

Monday, November 17, 2008

These Things Must End

1. "What kind of martinis do you have?"

There are two kinds of martinis, gin and vodka. Or rather, there's one kind of martini, made with gin, and then there's also a "vodka martini." You can then request your martini to any degree of dryness and, grudgingly, I'll let you order a dirty martini. But not a filthy martini. Filthy martinis are for whores.

But just because a drink is in a cocktail glass, that does not make it a martini. And that's right, it's a cocktail glass, not a fucking martini glass. I know that cocktail glass is oh so exciting and reminds you of those old "don't drink and drive" ads from your childhood but it's really mostly an historically anomaly with little functionality.

Now what's my opinion on cocktails appended with the suffix "-tini?" I'll allow it, because it really sounds breathtakingly stupid.

A martini is a drink that puts hair on your chest. It's gin lightly diluted with ice and tempered with a splash of vermouth. That's it.

2. People over the age of 22 who can't cook.

I'm not expecting you to make a perfect souffle or an unbroken aioli. But if you can't make an okay omelette, a respectable pasta sauce, a flavorful roast pork tenderloin, or a not too-dry poached salmon, what the hell have you been doing with your time?

This isn't the 1950's where you lived at home with mom and dad, then lived for four years in a dorm, and then lived in a boarding house for the year or two before you got married and had a wife to cook for you and beat. And women, you're no longer part of a generation who basically spends most of her childhood learning to cook and most of her young adulthood finding a husband to cook for and beat you.

Most of us are going to be unmarried well into our thirties and if you don't know how to cook simply and healthfully for yourself you're going to get fat, doughy, and/or spend a lot of money going out to eat. The best way to get better at cooking? Do it more often.

To further this end, stay tuned for simple cooking tips in future installments of HFF.

3. The Food Network

Briefly, very briefly, the Food Network was a compelling channel about cooking, food, and food history. Now it's a collection of annoying white women (and a few ethnic women who all look remarkably like Rachel Ray) giving tips on how to open up cans and mix ingredients up in a pot mixed with shows starring fat reactionary white guys screaming about how you should love eating a fried mayonnaise sandwich topped with bacon.

Actually that sounds pretty good, but you get my point.

With the enlightening food shows moving over to the Travel Channel or back to their roots on PBS, the Food Network has outlived its usefulness, becoming the cable television equivalent of recipes on the back of Knorr dehydrated broth packets.

Once again we've shifted to taking the path of least resistance, presenting programming that serves not to educate but instead to validate ignorance and laziness.

And there you have it! Join us next time on Horny for Food for the harrowing conclusion of "The Adventures of Bronco Daisy and the Curse of the Wizard's Staff."

Monday, November 10, 2008

Beaujolais-fest '08!

It's November, despite the 80 degree heat, and nothing says November like the annual retreading of the mind-numbing topic of "what wine to drink with Thanksgiving dinner."

The three wines most often written about are:

1. Beaujolais Nouveau
2. Rose (of all kinds)
3. Pinot Noir

I don't disagree with the three recommendations above, though I think that the Beaujolais Nouveau response is more a matter of gimmicky coincidence than any real quality inherent in the wine. In fact, Beaujolais Nouveau is pretty much garbage and always has been.

A bit about Beaujolais. It's a region in France adjacent to Burgundy (some actually consider Beaujolais to be a part of Burgundy). Unlike Burgundy's pinot noir, Beaujolais produces the grape gamay noir. True gamay is produced very little outside of Beaujolais and most domestic wine that is billed as "gamay" is actually one of a few mediocre late-ripening pinot noir clones used primarily in jug wine. There are a few acres of authentic gamay in California and there's starting to be some remarkable domestic gamay in a Beaujolais style.

The gamay grape shares something of a similar flavor profile as pinot noir, with nice plush fruit, good acidity, and soft earthiness. Gamay tends to ripen more, presenting more fleshy berry fruit and doesn't take to the minerality that pinot noir can. Beaujolais will never produce wine as elegant as top Burgundies, but wines from Beaujolais-Villages or one of the Cru Beaujolais villages present fabulously complex wines for a fraction of the price of a comparable Burgundy.

But what of Beaujolais Nouveau? It's what's called a "vin de primeur," a harvest wine that's quickly fermented and consumed within a matter of weeks with virtually no aging. It's a vin ordinaire from the crappiest grapes in the region (you're not going to subject your top vineyards to such treatment). Something simple and quick to celebrate the end of the harvest while you wait for the good wine to be released the next year. Until after World War II it was only ever consumed locally. Seeing an increasing number of tourists from Paris and London coming out to Beaujolais to take part in the harvest festivities, a few savvy negociants came up with the marketing ploy of the "freshness race" for Beaujolais, codifying the worldwide release date for the third Thursday in November. The wine saw a massive surge in popularity in the 1970's and 1980's, particularly in Germany, Japan, and the United States, where light fruity wines were particularly popular. And where people love a good gimmick.

It should be noted that environmentalists are calling on a boycott of the Beaujolais Nouveau, and not just on taste grounds. It reaches world markets on the same day because of costly air shipping, producing a much higher carbon footprint than the more conventional transit method of container ship. I support this.

If you do insist on drinking the Beaujolais Nouveau, then chill it a bit and guzzle with turkey and stuffing. Hell, pour it on your freaking plate. It's like cranberry sauce and gravy in one!

I would recommend highly foregoing the nouveau and get a nice Beaujolais AOC or Villages wine which will also be stellar with your Thanksgiving dinner.

I will be having an 06 Wild Hog Pinot Noir, which I've deliberately held onto from last year's release. Should be good.

Other good nouveau alternatives? Roses are always nice, particularly something in a more lean Old World style in the manner of a Bandol. Crisp aromatic whites in the vein of a southern Rhone or sweetly minerally wines from Germany and Austria. Non-fruit bomb zinfandels from the Russian River or a well-made plush merlot from pretty much anywhere will also be good fits.

Drink up, eat well, boycott Beaujolais Nouveau.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Local - Los Angeles, Ca

In my limited experience in LA, I've found that there's a dearth of simple honest, restaurants that still have an air of refinement and distinction in execution. I'm talking restaurants like 900 Grayson in Berkeley, Brown Sugar Kitchen in Oakland, or the Chow consortium in San Francisco. A place where I can get simple home-y food made from top quality organic ingredients without absurd prices or getting elbowed in the face by absurdly skinny blonde women in ten-inch heels and misappropriated DVF dresses.

I'm not sure what that means, but it sounds right.

Local, a new-ish nouveau diner on Sunset Blvd. about a half-block from Silver Lake Blvd, fills that void. Offering burgers, sandwiches, and a salad bar using almost entirely sustainable, organic, and "local" ingredients.

The restuarant's uber-casual and almost all the seating is outside, either at sunny tables along Sunset or seating under the covered side patio. Most importantly, in an area rife with chic hole-in-the-walls staffed by gloomy hipsters, Local is pretty damn friendly.

I had the vegetarian Reuben, a delightfully messy pile of sauteed mushrooms, sauerkraut, swiss cheese, and dollops of Russian dressing, grilled and served with a pile of spiced thin-cut fries. Girlfriend Charlie had the BLTAC, a grilled BLT with avocado and cheddar on brioche. Also awesome.

Other menu items that looked compelling included the "albondigas" pork burger, egg-less tofu egg salad, and a heritage pork "sloppy joe."

Of note is that Local has a pork burger, turkey burger, quinoa burger, and goat cheese stuffed portobello croquette burger, but no beef burger. In fact there's no beef on a menu that, while offering lots of vegetarian options, is by no means animal-shy. I support this wholeheartedly.

The real highlight looks like it might be the organic by-the-pound salad bar which includes their house curry chicken salad and many other items that go beyond iceberg lettuce and flavorless tomatoes.

Local's open daily for breakfast and lunch (including a great-looking weekend brunch menu) and is open for dinner Tuesday-Saturday, offering dinner entree variations on their lunch staples still for very reasonable prices hovering around $11-$12.

Simple, interesting, tasty organic food in a casual and friendly space for not a whole lot. Go there.

2943 W. Sunset Blvd.
Los Angles, Ca 90026