“E&J Gallo conned into buying cheap plonk from French vineyards”

As reported in The Guardian today, but nowhere does it appear in the national media in the United States:

French vintners tricked E & J Gallo into buying wine they said was Pinot Noir.  In fact, it was “plonk,” in this case cheap versions of Merlot and Shiraz.  You can find this wine under the label: Red Bicyclette.  (That’s the brand made popular from its appearance in the movie, “Sideways.”)

The profit?

Reported to be $9,500,000.

The penalties as handed down by the French court?

“Claude Courset, head of Ducasse wine merchants, who acted as an intermediary between local producers and a conglomerate which resold the wine to Gallo, was given a six month suspended jail sentence and a fine of $61,000.”

“Sieur d’Arques, the trading company that worked with Gallo on its popular brand of Red Bicyclette wines, was ordered to pay $244,700.”

Hmmm…that’s, let’s see, let’s do the math, $9,500,000 minus $61,00 and then minus $244,7000…

Why, that means the French wine guys made a profit of $9,194,300!


Now why hasn’t this story been reported in the national U.S. media?


The Pinot Noir grapes look like this:

Stock Photo of Pinot Noir Grapes Royalty Free

The Shiraz grapes look like this:

Shiraz Grapes Stock Photos

The Merlot grapes look like this:

stock photo : merlot grapes on the vine


Lent, Day One: On the Wagon for Jesus

Lent began for Catholics yesterday and it was evident, in Boston, from the many ash-etched crosses I saw on foreheads of students entering the gym at Boston University.  As a child, I recall a black smudge rather than a cross.

I had not known, until this morning, that Lent began for the Eastern Orthodox two days prior to the West on a day they apparently call Clean Monday.  That is a perfect name for a new day.

Lent = sacrifice.   40 days, 40 nights.  Your best bet, so it is said, is to fast during Lent.  But if that’s impossible?  Plan B: Give up something you crave.

The purpose of the sacrifice is make room in your mind and heart for thoughts and feelings about God who, after crucifixion, will be resurrected.  Fewer distractions–food being a primary one–means more space for God: His message, His sacrifice, His Rising.  However, I am not certain that the people who centuries ago came up with this mishegas know that, in fact, the hungry think more about eating than God.

It really is as Bob Marley said:

A hungry mob is a angry mob…
A hungry man is a angry man…”

That said, many devout are giving up sweets, meat, and chocolate.

Another popular sacrifice is: alcohol.

Get on the wagon for Jesus!

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The Wednesday Food Sections: An In-Depth, Hard Hitting Report

Every Wednesday I get up especially early anticipating with pleasure the chance to read the weekly Food Sections of The Boston Globe and The New York Times.

I have been doing this for years, it is a favorite time of the day, and it started when I was reporting on-air about food for public radio.

Let’s look at both sections today:

The Boston Globe

1.  A piece on how to cook, “Spanish style chicken,” goes from Spain to Mexico and contains two recipes.  Both recipes have “skinless, boneless chicken breasts” as the principal ingredient.  While this is healthy, in terms of cholesterol, you are as likely to see “skinless, boneless chicken breasts” in this dish when in Spain as you are tofu.  In fact, if health is your concern, why not cut to the chase and use tofu instead of chicken?  The second, Chilaquiles, suggests the use of Monterey Jack cheese, which is a nice American cheese and has nothing to do with Mexican food.  Neither recipe has authenticity and both are misleading in their dilution of the regionalism that is the terroir behind great cuisines.

2.  A review of a new restaurant, Fish Market, which is awarded two and half or two and a quarter stars by the reviewer, it’s hard to tell from the blurry graphics.  Two descriptions stand out in this self-described sushi bar, which also sells udon noodles, shumai, and teriyaki–Folks, it’s not a sushi bar.  Oh, the two items: “Avocado ball,” with “wasabi roe.”  Wasabi is a type of Japanese horseradish.  Roe are fish eggs.  Wasabi roe is…horseradish fish eggs?  The second item: “Truffling tuna,” with, “A sauce infused with the flavor of truffles.”  You mean that synthetic truffle oil?  You mean fresh truffles?  What do you mean?

3.  The cover story is a cool piece on restaurants offering discounts at certain times to hospitality industry workers.  Show the ID, get the break.  Nice.

The New York Times:

1. Two recipes next to each other.  One is for turkey chili with hominey.  Written by Melissa Clark, (whom I met when we went on a free trip to Italy organized some years ago by Oldways), contains 17 ingredients.  17 ingredients for chili, I ask you.  I learned how to make chili at a fire station one Sunday night in downtown Boston.  We’re talking meat, beans, cumin, paprika, salt, pepper, onions, garlic, tomato paste, and beer.  We’re talking delicious.  The second recipe in the Times is by Mark Bittman: six ingredients and I bet it’s great.  Why not let the flavors express the essence?

2.  Cool little blurb on “Sandwiched,” new restaurant opening in the Whitney to be run by Danny Meyer’s group.  If it’s half as good as what he has going at MOMA, we’re in for a treat.

3.  Bargains: New Zealand Pinot Noir for $16!  That comes out to about $2.70 a glass.  Good to recognize wining/dining prices during these bleak economic times.

4. Hilarious piece about twittering chefs getting themselves mad, getting others mad, madness reigns.  Moral: Don’t ask a chef how he or she feels unless you want to know.  Oddest line in the piece: “Stone etched code” that says chefs never criticize other chefs outside the profession.  Which stone is that?  Says who?  Ever talk to a chef about other chefs?  They make Charles Barkley talking trash sound like Mrs. Teasdale.  The best line in the piece is from Chef Ryan Skeen: “They want us to be rock stars, which doesn’t have anything to do with what we do in the kitchen.  But on the other hand, we’re getting paid twice as much as we used to.”  Rock on, Ryan!

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Top Taliban Commander: Next Iron Chef?

Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar (MAGB), top Taliban commander, has been captured by Pakistani and American intelligence troops within the past five days.  This ought to slow down the Taliban’s inevitable overthrow of Pakistan and the subsequent war with India by several months if not years.


Why not, after the information has been, um, elicited from MAGB, reeducate him?  After the Vietnam war ended, General Nguyen Ngoc Loan, made famous in a photo showing him shooting a prisoner in the head, opened a pizza restaurant in Virginia.

I’m not saying this is the best time to open a restaurant: The recession is one thing.

Consumer bias is another: “Are you that Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar?   Well, I’m not patronizing your restaurant, so there.”

But if MAGB could hire the right PR firm, get on Iron Chef, show Americans he’s changed…who’s to say we wouldn’t embrace, “Baradar’s Bistro.”

Suggestion for mural in new bistro:

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The Week Ahead in THTK

Planning a week’s worth of dinners here in The Haas Test Kitchen (THTK)–shopping & cooking–is easy after years of logistics.  The trick is to buy everything needed for meals during off-hours at shops over two days and then to think about what is to be done with the food.  I never use a list and buy what looks good, is on sale or priced fairly while keeping within the season.

Small amounts are key: Never more than a half pound of protein per person.  Some items rarely make it: Most processed food, cheese, and cured meats.  Celebrate that stuff if you want, but it’s toxic as a daily diet.  It’s funny, too, how upscale shops, like Formaggio Kitchen, peddle fancy cheese and pricey meats as if they are something special.  That stuff is special the way a heart attack is special.  Further, preserved meats and cheeses substitute for cooking.

The overriding cuisine is 90% Italian or Italian-American.  This means simple and easy to prepare food that takes no more than 20 minutes of actual preparation.

The final thing is: Having a set number of dishes, about 60, that rotate throughout the year.  So that it’s possible to cook without over-thinking.

All this in mind, the week’s menu:

Monday: Chicken parmesan and sauteed spinach and salad.

Tuesday: Pan seared tuna with golden beets and broccoli.

Wednesday: Turkey chili with Salvadoran red beans.

Thursday: Split pea soup and grilled sausages with fried onions.

Friday: Roasted chickens and leeks and white beans.

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V Day: Troops Have Landed! Victory in Sight!

(Embedded in Marja)  Early reports here in the field indicate that our hearts are full with love: “All Praise To Cupid!  Cupid, the Almighty, Protect Us !”  The sound reverberates from posted loudspeakers on minarets.

Tonight, it will be A Traditional Thanksgiving for Love: Smoked salmon, grilled filet mignon with tiny baked Yukon gold potatoes and little onions, followed by 4 good cookies.

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13 Ways of Looking at a Hamburger

I have the great good fortune to swim in very different pools, unlike Cheever’s hero whose pools all looked the same, the monotony of which reflected a stifling of sexuality he felt to be exaggerated in the suburbs and one reason, ironically, that Cheever, being a closeted homosexual, sought them out.

Instead, I can go to Formaggio Kitchen, which is a shop where 90% of the products are processed: cheese, meat, crackers, chocolate.  It’s an extremely expensive place and the food here is the Macguffin.  It’s really about being rich enough to buy food from Europe and act with hubris informed by decades of privacy and privilege.  Sometimes I picture the people there, transformed like the boys in Pinocchio, into sleek, Arabian race horses prancing and snorting.  Other times I imagine we’re on the top floor of the Waldorf Astoria: The iceberg hit, we survived, and we’re having a good, long laugh.

Or, earlier in the day, at my psychiatric hospital: Nursing staff often bring in home-cooked Italian-American food like noodles baked with ricotta cheese.  The housekeeping staff and most of the mental health workers are from Haiti: They look at the glistening bowls of oranges, apples, pears, and bananas on the units with bemused faces.  “That’s not real fruit,” they may be thinking.

Earlier in the week, at the state’s busiest welfare office, in Roxbury, people are hungry.  Simply, hungry.  Not having work, not fitting into the community, except perhaps through church, are stressful enough, but not having enough to eat makes matters worse.

So I find myself wondering how all these different people can connect if their relationship to something as fundamental as food varies so greatly.  Where is the common ground?

Cooking With Food Stamps

I’m trying to link up Haley House, a bakery and cooking program and all-around culinary eye-opener in the inner city, with the The Department of Transitional Assistance, a.k.a., The Welfare Office.

Welfare is trying to jumpstart a program to teach the unemployed how to eat more nutritious food using Food Stamps.

Haley House could possibly put on demonstrations showing people out-of-work how to cook favorite foods in healthier ways.

I think it is a very exciting marriage of delicious food and people who could benefit from added information that will help maintain or improve health.

The revolution will not be microwaved.

The idea is to combine knowledge with culture, food, and economic limits.

I think this is as interesting as talking about the private joys of food.

Brother, can you spare a lime?

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Spring Awakening

Up here in New England, the rain has been pouring and as fascinating or perhaps spellbinding as the weather is as a topic of conversation, one must turn instead to what my Sixth Grade teacher, Mrs. Little, called harbingers.

Mrs. Little, by the way, used to sell the students honeycombs from her bees.  If you didn’t buy the bee work, you ended up with a “B,” rather than an, “A.”  This was not viewed by the private school administration as a conflict of interest.  Not openly, anyway.  They had their hands full besides with the head of athletics, Mr. Breen, who insisted on inspecting our public hair each September and then again in June.  In the privacy of his office, door open, he’d pull back the elastic of each boy’s underwear–we had all stripped down and lined up: “Small amount of growth.  Medium.   A great deal.”  You get the idea.  How this was considered fundamental to our adolescent development is anyone’s guess.  It segued nicely with his having us all swim naked at the Y while he strolled around the pool in a very tight maroon racing swim suit perhaps thinking of his wife and four children.  Perhaps not.

So you may see why I have an interest in harbingers of Spring, a pleasant distraction:   The food is getting lighter around here.  No heavy stews.  Instead, I’m broiling swordfish or making a great tuna Bolognese inspired by the brilliant Esca cookbook or pan searing shrimp for my wife with ginger, garlic, parsley, and white wine.

Wild life is restorative.

Why, just the other morning, walking the dog, Bello, at six A.M., I smelled a skunk.

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96 Hours Until V-Day

With only 96 hours to go before hosts and hostesses greet you, take your coats, and have you shown to that special table for a night of romance, 147 restaurants in Boston and 582 restaurants in NYC can seat you on Valentine’s Day.

This is from www.opentable.com

In Boston, these restaurants include:

28 Degrees, 29 Newbury, Anthony’s Pier 4, Beacon Street Tavern, The Blue Room, Casablanca, Clio, Hamersley’s, La Voile, OM, and Rialto.

In NYC, the restaurants include:

10 Downing, Aquavit, Barbella, Benoit, Cesca, Cru, db Bistro, DBGB, The Harrison, Megu-Midtown, Mr. K’s, Odeon, Remi, Riingo, and Telepan.

Maybe the recession isn’t over just yet.  Maybe restaurants need to lower prices, rethink business plans…

An empty room:

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