Monday, October 3, 2011

A Wining Child

A couple years ago, my in-laws brought us a stick from Paso Robles. It was a bit of vine root for an exotic wine varietal called Mourvèdre, which isn’t a household name like Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, or Cabernet Sauvignon, but alone or blended, it is an essential part of the wines from Spain and southern France. We dropped it in the yard and forgot about it, until it suddenly exploded into a mess of vine, tendrils, and grapes this year.

We figured we could either let it be decorative or actually see if we could produce something drinkable. We’ve got a small herb garden growing in the bed outside the kitchen, and a blood orange tree, a Valencia orange tree, a pomelo tree, a loquat tree, and a macadamia tree – though the squirrels always get to the nuts before we get any. We think there’s value in showing Mikey where the stuff he eats and drinks comes from, even if in the case of the Mourvèdre, he can’t drink it yet.

As a rule of thumb, we learned, one vine can produce about a gallon of wine, which is about 5 bottles. We decided that was a good start.

The first step was constructing a trellis around the grapes to get them up off the ground. The standard is a two-wire trellis, which looks like a miniature phone line. Once we had it up, we could watch the grapes turn from green to red to midnight blue over the summer.

The next step, if we were less dilettantish about this, would be to determine the proper time to harvest them based on Brix sugar ratings from our (nonexistent) equipment. In our more casual approach, we went for general time (Mourvèdre tends to be ready for harvest later than other grapes, in October), look (they should look like balloons which have begun to lose some air), and taste (sweet and yummy).

Yesterday, after Mikey’s nap, I woke him up and asked him if he wanted to stomp on some grapes.

“Now?” he asked. “Yay!”

We took our five gallon bucket from Eagle Rock Supplies in Culver City ( and filled about half full with our harvest, stems and all. Then we began the stomp.

Mikey really got into it, though he was a little alarmed when a bright green spider ran up the side of the bucket, escaping from his squishing. One wonders how many crushed and decomposing spiders end up in the wine we drink everyday.

I removed a couple of stems from the mush, and then, there was only one other step for the day: adding a few grams of potassium metabisulfide to the mix to kill off the wild yeasts, to make room for the wine yeasts we’ll add tomorrow. Mikey wanted to help, of course. And then he wanted to add more.

It’s really no good explaining to a 3-year-old how too many sulfides in wine aren’t considered pleasant to the palate. The best you can do is yank the little package away and substitute with another toy. That works too.

First step done in the process of creating our small batch of Château Peterson-Smith 2011 Mourvèdre.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

"A" Is For Afghan

I haven't written in a while, but the Sprog is, I’m happy to report, an adventurous eater. Yes, he’ll pick green off of his food, but he’ll try anything once. Or twice if we tell him he can’t have any more. At the end of this month, we’re going to my sister’s wedding in England, and then we’re taking a couple days in London and then going to France. While we were cuddling in bed this weekend, I said to him, “You know, while we’re in England and France, I’m going to ask you to try jellied eel, and frogs’ legs, and foie gras, and snail?”

The Sprog thought about it all, and nodded, and asked, “And spiders?”

Sure, why not?

It’s very easy to fall into a rut of serving our son the same thing because I know he likes it. We can go a long way with just shrimp and noodles. But with our belief that our child’s tastebuds should be cosmopolitan, my partner Ted and I are beginning on the alphabet tour of world cuisine. Every week if we can, but at least every month, we’re going to try the food from a different culture from A to Z.

Living in one of the world’s most diverse cities, we have a number of choices of where to begin. Argentinean, though we love it, seemed too easy, all steak and potatoes. Even easier, we could begin with traditional American, but we figured that’s the default. We wanted something exotic to start.

Afghanistan, of course, has been much in the news over the last ten years. We are evidently drawing our troops down from there, but we have also recently had the deadliest conflict of the war, with 38 people killed when their helicopter was shot down. There are maybe a dozen Afghan restaurants in the United States, and one of them – named Khybar – is only a few miles from me.

The Sprog loved the Qabili Palau, which was similar to an Indian rice palao, but with the addition of fried strips of carrots, raisins, almonds, and cubes of veal. Then there was the red lentil Dol, which I thought was some of the best I’ve ever tasted. Finally, the house winner, Mantu, of Uzbek origin, steamed dumplings filled with onions and beef, and then topped with beef curry and yogurt. Dainty and delicious.

So, “A” was a hit. Off to a good start.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Morocc 'N Roll

I’m not sure what to talk about: the Sprog’s enthusiastic embrace of the Moroccan feast I put together or his newfound taste for cat food. I think a little bit of both is part of the story.

Regarding the former, I first encountered Moroccan food myself about 25 years ago in Spain, and fell in love with it. I made pastilla for my friends here in L.A. a couple of years back, and they have requested it again, so this weekend, we went down to Huntington Beach for the occasion. While I cooked, Ted took the Sprog out for his first private flight on our host’s Cessna, out to Catalina Island and back.

When they returned, I put out the spread beginning with meze, the appetizers.

Grilled flatbread, falafel, roasted eggplant dip, olives cured until they resembled raisins, and Turkish salad with plenty of chickpeas.

The entrees were cous-cous with roasted vegetables, lamb tagine with apricots and dates, and the aforementioned pastille which is a sort of a pie with chicken, (one of my favorite things under the sun) preserved lemons, coriander, almonds, and cinnamon. The fact that my friends all dressed the part for the evening added to the magic, as did the Sprog devouring it all. For dessert, I made frozen mangos and yogurt, with rose water, orange flower water, cardamom, and pistachios. The Sprog just called it, “Ice cream.”

The taste for cat food is, of course, all about getting a reaction from us. It began when our cat Floyd sniffed at something the Sprog was eating, which aroused protestations.

“Don’t worry,” we assured him. “Floyd doesn’t like people food. He only likes cat food. You don’t like cat foot, do you?”

“No?” The Sprog replied, but you could see the wheels turning right then. A few hours later, he went into the office my partner Ted shares with the cat’s food bowl, and cleared his throat before demonstratively picking up a morsel of dry cat food and popping it in his mouth.

“Is that good or yucky?” I asked.

“Yucky!” the Sprog said, eyes shining.

But that didn’t stop him from popping another in his mouth. And another today, grinning away. Obviously, if we wanted to raise a critter that only ate cat food, we would have been content with Floyd, but we’re not worried: this pure shock value. There’s nothing about a kibble or a bit of cat food which would hurt the Sprog. If only there was a way to keep him from purring quite so loudly while bathing himself with his tongue …

Friday, March 25, 2011

"I Like It."

Tonight, Friday night, we usually take the Sprog out for sushi, but it was getting a little old, so we thought we’d take him somewhere closer to home. There’s a Southern / Soul Food restaurant on Ventura called Stevie’s Creole Café, and we were craving their fried chicken. They have live music there too, but luckily we got there at 6:30, before the crowds.

We have been thinking lately about the concept of the “family friendly” restaurant. So far, we haven’t had to go to a Chuck E. Cheese or something similar, but we won’t be surprised if that happens someday. We just want to put off that eventuality for as long as possible.

Our working definition of “family friendly” is a place that’s not so stuffy that a giggling child would be viewed as anything but a delight, and not so crowded that the Sprog can’t wander a bit. Because two-year-olds are not big on sitting still for long periods of time.

Stevie’s Creole Café fulfills those criteria, and it’s yummy. We got to a table right away, and ordered up fried oysters, barbecue ribs (Ted), and fried chicken (me). The Sprog first devoured two cornbread muffins. And then the fried oysters came, burning hot, and after Ted and I took bites and announced that we had to wait for them to cool down, the Sprog’s interest turned into fascination. He kept touching them to see if they were still hot, and when they had cooled a little, he took a bit.

“I like it,” he said. It’s a new phrase of his, though typical for a two-year-old “I don’t like it” came first.

Then we had grits, collard greens, red beans and rice, yams, and our chicken and ribs. He is a meat eater for sure, and between the hot, sweet sauce and the experience of gnawing meat off a bone, he became an instant rib fan.

“He sure likes his food,” said one of the other customers.

That he does.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Roe, Roe, Roe

For Ted's birthday a couple weeks ago, his brother brought over some Osetra caviar. We had it with buckwheat blinis and creme fraiche, and the Sprog clearly liked it, just a bit. "Ca Ya Ya."

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Jamie Oliver's TED Speech

You may have seen this before, but worth watching if not:

Friday, February 25, 2011


Last night was a typical weekday dinner, where there was nothing planned and only a few minutes to bang something out. For Ted and myself, I made a Singapore noodle hodgepodge with rice vermicelli, bean sprouts, cabbage, ginger, bok choy, chicken, and lots of curry. It sounded a little bit much for Mikey, so I gave him just the chicken and some of the noodles without the sauce. We all sat down and began eating, but Mikey was more interested in playing with his noodles than eating them. We didn’t let him throw more than a few noodles against the wall before taking it away, an action he didn’t protest. The meal ended with Mikey first in my lap, then in Ted’s, and then back in mine, eating our dinner.

It shouldn’t have surprised me. One, Mikey likes to eat whatever we’re having. Two, we forget that Mikey likes spicy.

Our philosophy has been to try to have healthy food around the house, and when he shows an interest in any of it, we share it with him. Because man cannot live on brown rice alone, some not-so-good food sometimes slips into the house. I have a particular weakness for Tim’s Jalapeño Potato Chips, and catching me nibbling, Mikey asked for one, “Pease!”

“No, they’re spicy.”

“Picy chips, pease.”

“Very spicy,” I warned. As I’ve said before, I am a sucker for “pease.”

“Very picy chips, pease.”

When Mikey shows an interest in a rosebush, we take his hand and show him very, very gently that the thorns are “sharp,” so he understands what that means. I figured it was the same thing with the spicy chip. I gave him the smallest bit of a chip, and he ate it.

“Water pease,” he said, eyes wide.

I gave him a cup of water, and he drank it. A moment later:

“Mo picy chip, pease.”

At Senor Fred’s on Ventura, before we could stop him, he put a spoonful of salsa in his mouth. “Picy!”

At a party at friend’s where a celebrated Thai chef was showcasing her chili dipping sauces, we stupidly plunked Mikey right down on the counter next to the hottest one, and a moment later, his eyes were watering and his tongue was hanging out, “Picy!”

Yes, it’s important that his food is healthy, and his manners are good, but we like that Mikey dislikes bland food and wants big flavors. That’s what we call, in both senses of the phrase, having good taste.