July 2006 Archives

Shoot the oyster


Uh-oh, the Feds are getting into the act. First it was the state-level Health Dep't telling folks not to eat bivalves because a bacterium, Vibrio parahaemolyticus, had infested oyster beds in along Hood Canal. Wrote letter to Seattle Times, I did, pointing out that the vibrio bacterium is effectively neutralized in a solution of 12 percent alcohol: in other words, a glass of white wine. Slurp.

Oyster plateau Lyon1.jpg

But of course the gummint won't tell folks to imbibe. Instead they closed the beds, recalled the oysters, and opened--we kid you not--a marine biotoxin hotline (800-562-5632) and an online biotoxin bulletin.

Slurp. That was last week. Now the heavy hitters from DC have arrived. Food & Drug Admin cites 70 cases of food poisoning, here and on east coast, blamed on bivalves.


Where's Dr. Yi-Cheng Su when you need him? He's the one doing research, at the OSU's Seafood Lab in Newport, that shows wine neutralizes 99% of the vibrio pathogen in 60 seconds. Reported here.

So play it safe: don't slurp that oyster after all. Chew it well and slurp the wine instead.

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Lutefisk & Watermelon


Seafood Fest in Ballard this weekend, and it's a tough way to earn $50: win the lutefisk eating contest. Gadhus morua, Atlantic cod, the fish that was to the Vikings and the Basques (yes, the Basques!) what the buffalo was to the Plainsman: sustenance on the road to conquest. Salted, soaked in lye, boiled and baked, it turns into a smelly fish jello, scarfed down by desperate men. Desperate for fifty bucks, at any rate.

Lutefisk eaters getting ready.JPG Lutefisk contest underway.jpg.JPG

The kiddies have an easier time of it: watermelon. The winning strategy: put your face into it! The prize: a brand new bike. Ah, to be a kid again.

Watermelon eaters.JPG

What's with Chicago lately?


Sandburg's City of the Broad Shoulders is getting pretty narrow-minded.

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Cloud Gate sculpture at Millennium Park: skewed perspectives?

First came bans on smoking and foie gras. Next they targeted trans fat. Now they're going to make Wal-Mart to pay their poor schlubs $10 an hour.What's the Chicago City Council going to futz with next? Apple pie recipes? The shape of martini glasses at Gibson's?

OK, smoking's bad for you. Yes, some animals are raised for food. Sure, there's bad fat. Duh, stores that sell stuff for low prices pay low wages. But they're substituting wishful thinking for reality. Outlawing foie gras makes no more sense than mandating a minimum wage for specific employers; it's the Nanny State gone berserk.

Just imagine Mary Poppins as Hog Butcher to the World? Eeew.

Wine connections

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Bottle of top Burgundy catches my eye one night at Black Bottle in Belltown: a 1999 Très Girard from Morey-St.-Denis. A wine merchant from Portland brought it along for a weekend in Seattle. Complex aromas, earthy and leathery. Smooth as silk. Three days later, as it happens, I'm standing in that very vineyard. A photo-op at the very least.

Debbie w Morey St Denis1.JPG Castel Tres Girard.JPG

The domaine that produced this wine in 1999, Michel Magnien, has now passed to his son, Frederick Magnien. And the "Castel" itself has become a respected country hotel.

Along that same line, Georges Duboeuf's vineyards, photographed earlier this month, and his wines, poured at Seattle Center's Bastille Day celebration.

Beaujolais vineyards.JPG Duboeuf bottles.JPG

Nothing earthshaking about this; it's just an illustration: wine's first obligation is to be true to its origin. Wars are fought over less, much less.

Blah of Seattle


You can blame a long-gone street fair called Bite of Chicago. Back in the early 1980s, a guy named Al Silverman, who owned an Olde English joint behind the Factoria Mall called Barnaby's, smelled the bratwurst and an opportunity; he launched a modest festival at Greenlake.

Twenty-five years later, Bite of Seattle, still owned by Silverman's Festivals, Inc., takes over Seattle Center for three days at the height of summer, feeding over 400,000 visitors. Most of them look well-fed to start with, which doesn't prevent them from lining up for elephant ears, funnel cakes and churros.

Reassuring sight: Kathy Casey, whose Dish D'lish takeout at SeaTac makes leaving town tolerable. Coming soon, she confides, the first step in going national: a Dish at the airport in Vegas.

Winners at Bite.JPG Kathy Casey at Bite.JPG Winning entree at Bite.JPG

Most of the food barely edible; brisk biz at the beer gardens to wash it down.

Exception is Rainy Day Roll from Wallingford's Rain, $5 plate of California crunch topped with avocado salsa. Original, tasty, good value.

At other extreme is Steel Pig BBQ's side of collard greens, inexplicably voted best "Take a Walk on the Wild Side." Dry bitter, inedible sludge; $2 into the dumpster.

Scary sights:
* the line to dunk $3 ears of roasted corn into vats of butter when the same vegetable is sold perhaps 100 steps away at QFC for a dime.
* the 100-foot hot dog to celebrate Franz Bakery's 100-year history. More than I want to eat.
* the 53-foot hot pink semi trailer called Venus Vibrance. Something from Gillette to do with a vibrating, exfoliating razor for women. More than I want to know.

Churros.JPG Roasted corn at Bite1.JPG Curly fries.JPG Venus Vibrance at Bite.JPG

When a felon's not engaged


It could be the anthem of that disgraced Congressman retiring to his yacht:

When a felon's not engaged in his employment
Or maturing his felonious little plans
His capacity for innocent enjoyment
Is just as great as any honest man's.

It's sung by a chorus of Keystone Kops, whose courage must be kept up by "the trumpet's martial sound" lest they lose the heart to do their duty and capture the pirates.

Pirates-PostCarddc.jpg Christina w fans.jpg.JPG
Pirates poster; Christina Villareale with fans

Those would be the Pirates of Penzance, and all this is, of course, just a Gilbert & Sullivan romp with a plot that's simultaneously antiquated and silly, contemporary and profound. "O men of dark and dismal fate, forego your cruel employ" could be the Libs talking to the Neocons, no? "Oh false one, you have deceived me" could be Karl sticking it to Valerie. "Go to death and go to slaughter" could be a memo from the Pentagon if it weren't so hilarious.

Darling of the show is locally-grown soprano Christina Villareale as the girl whose "homely face and bad complexion have caused all hope to disappear of ever winning man's affection." Hah! What a voice, what a performer!

Playing the very model of a modern Major General is none other than KIRO talk show host Dave Ross. Had he won the Congressional election, he'd be singing his patter to the Beltway crowd:

When I have learnt what progress has been made in modern gunnery
When I know more of tactics than a novice in a nunnery...

He knows he's telling a terribly story, but then, as we've learned over the decades, the World's Policeman's lot is not a happy one. The show, however, is a graceful delight. Take any heart, take mine.

Pirates of Penzance, Bagley Wright Theater through July 29th, 206-443-2222

How Green Was My Kitchen


How green was my kitchen-1.JPGBack in Seattle after three weeks in France and straight to the market. Live basil plant, gorgeous red sunflowers, and the good things of summer in the Pacific Northwest: berries, tomatoes, zucchini, sweet onions, peas.

Exciting, dealing with all this bounty! Don't want to waste even a minute clearing the countertop. Slice the tomatoes, top with chopped onions, fresh basil, olive oil, Russell's 532 seasoning (salt, pepper, mystery spice), olive oil, balsamic. Hmm, seems to be room in the center of the tray for another salad. Quick! Mushrooms, yellow pepper, avocado, rice-wine vinegar. Heaven.

Resolution for the rest of the summer: no processed foods. Nothing frozen or shrink-wrapped. To the extent possible, won't buy stuff that comes in a box, bottle or can. Exceptions for milk and yogurt containers. And wine.

Footnote about the Mother & Child sculpture in the kitchen foliage: it's a study for Frederick Littman's popular bronze fountain in Portland's Council Crest Park. Hey, there's the Basilique de Notre Dame in Vézelay, why not a Notre Dame du Basilic at home?

Street scene

Bastille Day in Post Alley1.JPG Brian Bermudez on sax1.JPG Chanteuse1.JPG Filles Tournoires dancers.JPG
Cornish senior Brian Bermudez blows for Orchestra L'Pow; Filles Tournoires can-can girls.

Whenever Parisians celebrate or protest, they're said to "descend into the street," usually the Champs Elysées; when Seattle's Campagne stages its annual Bastille Day festival, they simply commandeer Post Alley.

A charming idea: at the formal restaurant upstairs, would-be Royalists dine on a $70 menu of crab, caviar, and a rich, aristocratic dish called vol-au-vent financière (puff pastry filled with veal sweetbreads, squab, duck, wild mushrooms and foie gras).

In the alley down below, Revolutionaries eat cake, or at least sugary bugnes lyonnaises. Or pommes frites with garlic mayonnaise, depending on taste. Beer, wine, and a succession of "French" street performers, including an ambitious chanteuse whose notion of Liberté Égalité and Fraternité extended to Déshabillé.

And voila1.JPG Wrapped in the Tricolor1.JPG Look at that Escargot1.JPG
She goes by many names; today it's the Swedish Housewife.

What would have got a working girl of Marie Antoinette's time busted for vagrancy gets nothing but smiles on July 14th, 2006. Vive la révolution!

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Sweet France

La douce France, sweet France, land of fragrant food and refreshing wine, celebrates her 217th birthday as a Republic today, her Fête Nationale. A festive day!

Vegetable pie.JPG Wine at Conty.JPG Risotto at Conty.JPG
Summer supper at Le Conty in Beaune: vegetable quiche; 500-ml bottle of Mercurey; risotto with shiitake mushrooms, asparagus points and hazelnuts, perfumed with dill and blue cornflowers.

Tourism is the number one industry here by far. It's a land of 65 milllion, give or take, who welcome 75 million visitors a year, more than any other country. Yet it's fragmented: tough convincing a mechanic that he's part of "tourism" even though he fixes the tractor that plows the vineyard that produces the wine that draws visitors to Burgundy in the first place.

And why do Americans come? Cultural history and gastronomy are the biggest attractions. What the French call art de vivre. We stay an average of 9 days, about as long as Irish tourists, but the Irish go to the beaches and religious sites. Indians, Japanese and Hong Kong Chinese go shopping. Israelis and Swedes go skiing. Norwegians go barging. Italians go to spas. Mexicans go sightseeing. Visitors from the Emirates are into soft adventures. Chinese and South Koreans are into historic monmuments.

Germans and Brits are the most numerous visitors, by the way. North Americans account for maybe 5 percent. Still comes to 3 million a year, but not the be-all and end-all we like to think.

The French Government Tourist Office has published a booklet to help hospitality professionals keep track of the preferences of visitors from three dozen countries. Rye bread at breakfast for the Finns, lunch at 3 PM for the Spaniards. Good morning is Goedendag for the Flemish, Bom dia for Brazilians. They know their wines in Luxembourg. Contrary to myth, Japanese eat more than just fish. 'Merkins want a glass of water with dinner, call the main course their "entree" and expect coffee before dessert. Mon dieu! it's no wonder the waiter has trouble keeping things straight.

Could it be that 'Merkin travelers--used to being the center of attention at home--make for bad tourists overseas? Not all, to be sure. But the self-absorbed loudmouths who aren't happy unless they have all the comforts of home (stall showers; non-fat fromage, double-tall Diet Cokes; double-wide king-sized beds; "customer-is-king" deferential service), well, maybe they should just stay home.

Zizou, USA


Thoughts while watching TV in a leafy Paris suburb:

TV in Vesinet.JPG zidane materrazi.jpg

Almost universally admired, elected to the leadership of his championship team, the embodiment of his nation's commitment to tolerance and diversity ... and yet, while the world watches, he squanders that goodwill in response to a vile but essentially harmless insult. The French are baffled, transfixed by the endless replays of his hotheaded response, saddened by the consequences of his action.

I'm talking of course about the Gallic inability to understand a country that could elect George Bush. A country it admires, yet with leader whose actions it cannot fathom or condone.

My guess: the French will dismiss Zidane's head-butt as an "unfortunate blemish" on a brilliant career. Let's hope, post-Bush, that the 'Merkin invasion of Iraq will be viewed with similar forgiveness.

Meantime, we prepare and share a midsummer supper: Cavaillon melon with Parma ham. Leg of lamb. Provençale tomatoes, fresh green beans. Fruit cobbler. French wine, Italian wine. Food conquers all.

Cooking in France.JPG Preparing melon w ham.JPG Leg of lamb.JPG Tomates provencales.JPG



This is the way the World Cup ends, not with a whimper but bang, a not-so-beau geste from Zizou. What a shame, what a shame.

Head butt.JPG Zidane head-butt.jpg Chirac.JPG

Frog-in-chief Chirac tries to smooth it over, to no avail. Worn down, worn out, the hero of French soccer behaved like, well, a trash-talkin' NFL lineman. Quelle horreur, quelle honte!

Love on a bike

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Lyon, France's second city, offers its citizens and visitors a number of choices when it comes to mobility: first, drop the car in one of dozens of municipal parking garages. Then: three subway lines, two tramways, numerous buses, a funicular...and two thousand public bicycles.

And off you go.JPG On the road.JPG

The bike deal is called Velo'V, short for Vélo-ville, vélo being French for bike, the whole thing pronounced v-love. Love it I do, and so do the locals. Grand Lyon (the regional government association, kind of like Seattle's Metro) contracted with JCDecaux, the private outfit that builds a variety of useful public structures (we have their toilets in Seattle) to put some 200 bike stands on the city streets. They take up two or three regular parking spaces, every few blocks. Each one holds maybe a dozen bikes. Insert your bank card into the machine and take off with a bike. Three speeds, basket to carry your stuff.

First 15 minutes are free (first half-hour if you're a regular subscriber); first full hour costs all of one euro; second hour two euros. So the trick is to string together one-way rentals: when you reach your first destination, anywhere in town, you return the bike to the nearest stand and pick up another one when you're ready to continue. And the city swarms with these bikes!

Ties flapping, businessmen in suits ride by. Shopping bag or schoolbooks atop basket, housewives head to a nearby market, students to a quiet café. Shopkeepers run errands. Tourists do a bit of sightseeing.

But not 'Merkin tourists, whose "striped" credit cards can't activate the system. Takes a Yerpeen "smart card" with a chip. (New York Times article on Lyon last week fails to mention this; my correction appears in today's edition.) Complained to JCDecaux; they answered that "foreign" cards are an upgrade, in the works. At least they answered.

Meantime, it's like a two-wheeled, one-way Flexcar system. The naysayers who complained Velo'V was taking away valuable street parking are now among its biggest boosters. Love on the streets, bring it on!

Bikes at the ready.JPG Swipe your card.JPG Press the button.JPG
Bikes at the ready, swipe your card, press the button, ride off!

UPDATES: Not just Lyon! Correspondents suggest train stations throughout Germany, Brussels, Bologna. No doubt many more!

Paris: Small World

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Paris Seine Eiffel Tower.JPG

Long summer nights, brilliantly illuminated monuments: predictable pleasures of Paris. Walk over to Juveniles, longtime favorite, for a glass or two and a plate or two. New kid behind the bar, Matt Damon look-alike. "Hello, Mr. Holden."

Turns out it's Devon Magee, one of the Magee kids who grew up literally across the street in Madrona. Haven't seen him for six, seven years at least. How'd he get here from Seattle? Worked at Esquin and Seattle Wine Outlet, did summer French program at Middlebury, walked into Juves a couple of months ago, got hired. Speaks great French (has French girlfriend, évidemment), really knows his wines.

Juveniles.JPG Devan Magee.JPG

Juveniles, 47 rue Richelieu, 75001 Paris, +331.42 97 46 49

A sense of place

Village of Aloxe w hill of Corton.JPG

The village of Aloxe lies amidst sloping vineyards less than five miles from Beaune, below a forested hilltop known as the Bois de Corton. And just below the treeline, the famous vineyards of Corton-Charlemagne produce some of Burgundy's most stunning and powerful wines.

At Domaine Senard, in the center of the village, you can taste top wines from the surrounding vineyards--grand cru Corton and Corton Charlemagne--in the course of a hearty lunch. I call it "tasting with your feet." About $50 for the best of the best, an unmatched opportunity to absorb what makes Burgundy unique: that each tiny parcel produces a singular wine, with attributes that cannot be duplicated anywhere else. Here and here alone, Corton Charlemagne.

In the vineyards of Le Corton.jpg Aloxe Corton map.jpg Corton bottles.JPG

Domaine Comte Senard, Aloxe-Corton, +333.

Beaune on the 4th of July

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So what do expat Americans do in France when Independence Day rolls around? Same thing they'd do at home: fire up the grill and invite the neighbors over for a feast. Alex Gambal, formerly of Washington, D.C., arrived in Burgundy 13 years ago and set up shop as a négociant and winemaker. His business partner (and resident culinarian) John Hayes shuttles back & forth; he's also finance director of the Nantucket Wine Festival.

Beaune in the USA.JPG John Hayes w Alex Gambal.JPG

Lively mix of residents and visitors, and the perfect occasion to bring out wines with little commercial viability, such as magnums of 1997 Beaujolais from the village of Fleurie. Exactly the sort of bottle appreciated by locals, who know the potential of their wines and despair at the superficial reviews of wine writers on deadline assigned to pass judgment only on the latest vintage.

BBQ chez Alex.JPG Magnum of Fleurie.JPG Alex w Les Amoureuses.JPG

Alex knows. In his cellar, he reminds you: this isn't chardonnay, it's white Burgundy. Not pinot noir but red Burgundy. Specifically, this bottle is made with grapes grown in 2001 in the premier cru vineyard called Les Amoureuses in the village of Chambolle-Musigny. If you can't understand the difference, you don't deserve to be here.

Alex Gambal, 14 Bd Jules Ferry, Beaune +333 8022 7581

What tripe!


Does tripe make you squeamish? Then feel free to stop reading this now. Go noodle around on eBay or something. Foodies know that the internal organs of bovine and porcine animals--liver, kidneys, stomach, intestines--have long been a part of the human diet. Sadly, we 'Merkins would rather relegate all that good stuff to cat food.

Cafe Fed starters.JPG Tablier de Sapeur.JPG

Not here in Lyon. Take Tablier de Sapeur, a superb dish (literally "Fireman's Apron") made with what's known as fraise. Not sweet strawberries but chewy tripe, the lining of beef and veal stomach and intestines. Pounded flat, coarsely breaded and sautéed, garnished with lemon and accompanied by a a sauce gribiche of chopped capers and cornichons, it's the centerpiece of that unique Lyon institution, the bouchon.

In fact, there are always 8 or 9 main courses on the menu here at the Café des Fédérations, the city's most celebrated bouchon, and there are always a few "safe" choices for reluctant tourists (a fluffy quenelle of pike, chicken in a vinegar reduction, pork stew). It's a tiny, convivial spot, with red-check tablecloths, local Beaujolais served in heavy-bottomed pots, 46-centiliter decanters, and a seemingly endless array of appetizers: sausages, salad, duck-liver pâté, poached egg in a red wine sauce, and so on. Cheese follows, then dessert. Nothing like it.

Cafe Fed cheeses.JPG

Back to the Fireman's Apron for a second: Seattle readers will find that it resembles, in appearance, preparation and texture, the no-less-exotic Puget Sound geoduck. Surely you're not going to feed that to the cat, are you?

Café des Federations, 8 rue Major Martin, Lyon, +334 7828 2600

Ronaldo & Ronaldinho

Brazilian namesakes ineffective against surprisingly strong French team led by veterans Zidane & Barthez. Saw "my guys" three months ago playing for Madrid and Barcelona, each scoring goal. Last night, zippo.

ronronceleb_cb_250x180.jpg ZidaneBarthez.jpg

So it's now Allez les Bleus! Football fever sweeping the country, much as it did before France won the World Cup in 1988. Portugal coming up on Wednesday; will be watching.

Allez les bleus.JPG
TV at a cafe near Lyon.

About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from July 2006 listed from newest to oldest.

June 2006 is the previous archive.

August 2006 is the next archive.

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