I love dining by candlelight. I can hardly wait until the days grow shorter and cool enough to huddle a little closer around the warmth of the family table. And because I love the aromas of fresh herbs and tantalizing meats and vegetables, you can bet those candles won't be competing for my olfactory attention with cloying or harsh odors. Non-scented candles are the rule when it comes to setting a delectable table.
Scented candles have their place to be sure. Save the lavender for the bedroom and the sandalwood for the livingroom if you like. But scent is only one consideration. Just what is being burned and breathed, anyway, when we light that match? Turns out that the vast majority of cheaply produced candles are made of paraffin, a petroleum derivative. Ick! A better alternative are those made of traditional beeswax. For an entertaining look at how a modern craftsperson makes beeswax candles, I refer you to Daryl Hannah's profile of the Blue Corn candle makers and beekeepers. (Note: After this week, you will find it in her archives under the title "beeswax", week 16.)
These days, it seems like I can't watch a half hour of TV without being bombarded with products designed for my nose. I can understand the product manufacturers wanting to mask an unpleasant chemical odor, or enhance the pleasure of using an otherwise nondescript product. But the recent glut of odor oriented products have reached new heights of nuerotic obsessiveness over the marketability of the perceptions of our schnozz.
There are two products that vie, in my mind, for Dumbest. The first is a product that purports to create a "fresh" odor wherever you spray it, which the audience is encouraged to do more liberally than a puppy with a hyperactive bladder marking it's territory. The product name rhymes with "fib-ease". Even more ludicrous are those little cd-player machines that "play" an array of scents into the room as if it were some kind of olfactory music. If our perceptions of odors is as closely linked to memory as biological science tells us, I shudder to think what disorienting and random collection of events will, in future, become ingrained in the personal histories of people who live in such an environment. I can see a future day at the beach bringing back vivid memories of.....what? Vacuuming the livingroom? Watching TV? Commercial jingles? (Big Brother is a stinker!)
The stinkers are everywhere. Plugged into walls, sitting on the counter top, shooting out of a spray bottle in regularly timed intervals. This can't be good for us, people. Thank God I am not one of those poor souls who is allergic to them. Think of the poor household pet, who's sensitivity to smell is about a bazillion times more acute than us featherless bipeds. I remember reading about one pet owner who took her dog to a pet psychic, wanting to know what was causing him to drool, pant and become hyper anxious when he came home from being away. Turns out it was the odor of one of her cleaning products. She took the chemicals away and poof: Rover is happy again.
Sometimes chemical manufacturers add a scent to a product that is toxic and odorless, so as to warn the user that "there's something in here that you should be careful about." I wonder how many odors are there to mask the same thing?
Maybe we should raise a stink about it and let Mother Nature lead us by the nose instead.
My older son Evan is a senior at UC Berkeley. He writes reviews (usually about music or local events) for the online school newspaper, the Daily Cal. When I went to read his latest article, what should I see but his brilliantly written Sorority food review.
Sometimes, I get so depressed about how our government and big corporations are destroying the planet. I know I am not alone. Food bloggers are perhaps more aware than the general population about how the way we eat and grow food has an enormous impact on the quality and survivability of our environment.
If you are looking for ways to be part of the solution, I commend to you Daryl Hannah's video blog, called dhlovelife. Each brief video entry profiles someone, somewhere, doing something positive to promote the good life (including good food!) in a way that helps to protect and cherish our beautiful home, planet earth.
The entries are entertaining, inspiring and most of all informative. Please check it out, and consider adding Daryl's blog to your own link list or blog roll. Meanwhile, here's an interview with and about Daryl's environmental activism.
There I was, clicking on my own link to Cookie Madness, when I saw that it had been replaced by an erroneous site. I fixed the link! I knew that change was in the works....but it slipped by me. I noticed another of my favorite food bloggers had the old link in her blogroll too. So....Cookie Madness fans--change your blogroll links!
I have a new favorite fish dish: Broiled red snapper. I chose red snapper only because I knew I thought fish would go well with the zucchini I was going to serve with it. It was perfect! I didn't really know what to do with it, but I consulted Helen's blog Beyond Salmon and saw that it was a semi-firm fish that could be broiled, just as I have done with salmon. So I mixed up a little olive oil with some diced shallots, salt and pepper, and a generous squeeze of lemon juice, drizzled it over the fish and broiled it for several minutes on each side. It was well received by everyone at the table. I think I may have thrown on a little garnish of parsley flakes too.
Like everyone else with a kitchen garden, I am up to my elbows in zucchini right now and looking for tasty ways to prepare it. When I saw this zucchini fritter recipe on Simply Recipes, I knew I had to try it.
The only modification I made to Elise's recipe was to add a generous dash of cayenne pepper to the fritter mix. It was the perfect amount of heat, and only enhanced the delicate interior and crispy exterior of the fritters. Another hit, and a nice complement to the fish along with a fresh green salad.
It sure is nice to know I can count on my favorite food blogs to keep me inspired in the kitchen.
The sense of smell is as important, or even more important, to the enjoyment of of the taste of food and wine as are the responses of the taste buds on our tongue. However I suffer from a somewhat uneducated or under-sensitive sense of smell. This has often caused me consternation and frustration. There have been times when I have wondered if I have a form of "olfactory blindness", similar to the color blindness that others suffer from. My sister says she cannot smell anything at all! Whether these are genetic or psychological issues, or some combination of the two, is unclear. However as someone who loves both food and wine, I have a strong interest in doing what I can to enhance whatever discernment I have in the area of scent perception.
Ann C. Noble understands my plight. As long ago as 1990 she created a remarkable tool called the Wine Aroma Wheel. This tool describes the aromas commonly associated with the variety of wines, further delineated into categories of red, white and sparkling wines. She suggests ways to train your nose by comparing odors from non-wine sources such as asparagus, cloves or honey (for white wines), or bell pepper and anise (for reds). Of course there is some overlap (vanilla) for all types of wine. She also includes a methodology for training your nose to discern "off" odors that indicate oxidation or cork spoilage.
Truly this is a great service to someone like me. Training my olfactory sense through wine appreciation will enhance my ability to appreciate not only wine but the whole sensory world that can be apprehended through my schnozz. And even if I do have some olfactory disabilities that are genetic, at least I can strengthen and enhance what sensibilities I do have.
And besides...who couldn't use another tool to pair great wine with great food?
Our good friends the Spencers came to visit during the last week of July, and they told us about their dining experience at the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco. I learned that for a flat fee, diners could sample from the huge variety of offerings from the students currently studying at the Academy. Fortunately for me, my good friend Patrice was willing to accompany me for dinner and show me herself what it was all about.
One of my favorite things to do is enjoy a buffet of great variety, especially of foods that are new or rare to me. This fit the bill nicely. It was expensive: I believe it was about $38 dollars a plate, plus more for beverages. In addition, one must be cognizant of the fact that these are student offerings, not those of a five star chef (despite the price tag). But having said that, I found it tremendously fun to sample from the huge menu, and feel like a decadent foodie. What follows is an account in words and pictures, comic book style, of our culinary adventure. I only wish the pictures came out better, but I am new to this business of taking photographs surreptitiously in a dining establishment. Guess I'll have to get over that.