Saturday, August 25, 2012

Neil Armstrong, 1930-2012


It was a rainy night in eastern Pennsylvania on July 20, 1969, and I was prone on the ground, next to some shrubbery, a poncho draped over my back and head, with my right arm resting on the stock of an M-60 machine gun. It was the last week of my ROTC summer camp at Indiantown Gap Military Reservation ("Say it loud and say it clear/ IG-MAR takes it in the ear" was one of the cleaner of our marching songs), and we were on the field exercise that capped our six week immersion in Army life. I was waiting for an "enemy" patrol I was supposed to ambush, but they never showed. I knew this was the night the Apollo 8 lunar lander was supposed to touch down, but I was far from any TV or radio, apart from my walkie-talkie, and couldn't even look up wistfully at the moon, which was hidden by clouds. It was a few days later that I first heard Neil Armstrong say,“That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

As his New York Times obituary notes, after the round of public adulation and ticker tape parades, Neil Armstrong reverted to being what he always had been, a very private man. He retired from NASA, taught engineering classes at the University of Cincinnati for a time, then took up farming. In this respect he was unlike his fellow Ohioan and space pioneer John Glenn, who plunged into public life and became a U.S. Senator. Armstrong, Glenn, the Wright brothers: what is it about Ohio that engenders a desire to escape the surly bonds of earth?

Joy of Cooking (the band, not the book).


Well, I know Kris and Rita, and Marty Mull
Are meeting at the Troubadour,
We'll get it on with the Joy of Cooking
While the crowd cries out for more

--Peter Rowan, "Lonesome L.A. Cowboy"
In my last post I mentioned Joy of Cooking, the cookbook. This made me think of the band with that name, which emerged from the Berkeley scene in the early 1970s with a sound rooted in blues, funk, and country. I still have, somewhere, a vinyl disc of their second album Closer to the Ground. You can hear the title song from that album through the link above.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Cape Cod wine? Yes. Truro Vineyards' 2009 Cabernet Franc.

On our recent visit to Cape Cod (also see here) we shopped at Main Street Wine & Gourmet in Orleans. While there, I noticed a display of wines from Truro Vineyards, on the Cape.  One of these was a Cabernet Franc.  This is a grape varietal grown in Bordeaux (where it is often blended with the better known Cabernet Sauvignon as well as Merlot, and Petit Verdot to make the renowned wines of that region) and in the Loire Valley of France. Used alone, it produces wines that usually are more intensely flavorful, and so less subtle, than those made with Cabernet Sauvignon and other Bordeaux varietals.

I'd recently had a Cab Franc from Long Island that I thought quite good, and reckoned that a grape that grows well in the cool climate and sandy soil of the North Fork might also succeed on the Cape. This, and the bottle's reasonable price, convinced me to give it a try.  I took it to the roof of our building to open it and take my first taste, posing the bottle against the lower Manhattan skyline and the harbor. The label bears a reproduction of Lois Griffel's impressionist painting, Truro Lighthouse

I poured a glass about a third full and let it sit for a minute to breathe. The color was a true ruby red.  When I held it to my nose and sniffed, I had the impression of standing next to a cherry pie fresh from the oven. The fruit aroma was combined with a warm, toasty scent. My first taste seemed intensely tart. After leaving it in the glass for another minute and swirling it around a bit, I found the initial tartness mellowed, followed by a full-bodied cherry flavor ("Cherry without the cough syrup!" was my wife's later observation), and a slightly, but pleasantly, bitter finish.

I took the bottle downstairs and let the wine breathe some more before dinner, which featured one of my favorites of my wife's extensive culinary repertoire, beef stew Gaston. It's a recipe that can't be found, she said, in any post 1980 edition of Joy of Cooking, because it's not considered "modern." To her consternation, I always add some hot paprika, cayenne pepper, or Louisiana hot sauce. After more breathing, the wine had opened up gloriously, and easily stood up to savory, spicy stew. 

I'm a fan of Alice Feiring and her love of subtle, nuanced wines, and not impressed by what Robert Parker calls "hedonistic fruit bombs." Truro's Cab Franc is "big" and has pronounced fruit flavor, but it's also complex and balanced. It goes well with flavorful food. I may have to try it with Thanksgiving turkey and cranberry sauce; this would be appropriate, as it comes from near where the Mayflower first dropped anchor in the New World. 

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Michael Simmons on Bob Dylan's Tempest


Above is a video of the song "Duquesne Whistle" from Bob Dylan's new album Tempest, thanks to GuardianUK. My friend Michael Simmons has this comment on the song:

It starts like some Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys' 1930s Western Swing thing, like an old song emanating from ancient radio ether, reminding us of Dylan's love for the roots of American music. But after a verse, it hits ramming speed, kicking into a ferocious romping rocker propelled by Tony Garnier's walking bass. The conceit belongs to that grand tradition of long gone train line songs (think City Of New Orleans), representing older, more soulful values that get lost when progress mows down everything in its path. "Listen to that Duquesne whistle blow/Sounds like it's on a final run." A helluva an opener.
Michael has much more to say about the album, and about each song. He sums it up with: "Yes, Dylan delivers."