Category Wine

May Day Pig Roast on San Juan

Tuesday night, I hosted a pig roast here at the house, to celebrate the (near) coming of spring weather, and of course it was May Day, the international leftist labor holiday (which is always good to celebrate somehow).  Madden had lined up two suckling pigs and Jason, a butcher on the island, came out Monday to help us with the "prep" work — which meant dispatching the little guys and dressing the carcasses (pics of most of the process on Flickr).Wholepigchoucroute

Madden and I brined both pigs overnight, one in a straight sugar/salt solution, the other in a smoked paprika/herb brine for a Spanish-inspired effect.  On the day of the roast, we got one on the rotisserie (the Spanish one) and the other into the oven to roast.  The latter was served on a bed of Madden’s sauerkraut, along with homemade crepinettes and spaetzle, which were stirfried in a wok with brown butter.  The spanish pig was served with homemade chorizo-inspired sausage and paella-style rice, along with a beef cheek and cannellini bean soup. 

15 people showed up and made short work of the two pigs, a mountain of food (including numerous salads and other contributions), and a gigantic pile of wine bottles.  Marc flew up from Seattle with another wine group friend, Justin, bringing some excellent wines including a Raveneau, a Leflaive, a Corton Clos du Roi, Chave St. Joseph (estate bottling), and a PX 1927 for a sticky finisher.  The weather cooperated and we were able to hang out on the deck until quite late.  It was a terrific evening, and one I hope to repeat many times as the weather gets better. 

An Evening at Coupage in Seattle

I had a terrific evening last night at Coupage, here in Seattle. The restaurant, located in Madrona close by the Hi-Spot, blends Korean and classical French cuisine, and is the first Seattle effort of Portland chef Tom Hurley, along with chef Rachel Yang. I recommend it very highly; last night’s meal was perhaps the best food experience I’ve had in Seattle in a long time — possibly since my first revelatory evening combing the menu at Lark.

Walking up to the restaurant along 34th, I could smell grilling meat a block away. Getting closer, it turns out Hurley had a Weber kettle out on the sidewalk and was grilling Kobe beef and some chickens as specials. His plan is to add more grill capacity, both here at Coupage and his new upcoming restaurant downtown. When he does, make reservations immediately because this man can grill.

I dined with Marc and Bill, a couple of friends from our tasting group and both aficionados of white Burgundy. They took care of white wines, with a “starter” Coche-Dury 1996 Meursault, followed by two Leflaive Chevalier-Montrachets: 1985 and 1988. All three wines were stunning, but for me the 1988 was absolutely a standout: dense, creamy, spicy, lush, but still possessed of a crisp minerality and good acid. Pretty darned near a perfect glass of wine. The whites were accompanied by the mache salad, dressed with a nice truffle vinaigrette, grilled maitake mushrooms and marinated bamboo shoot (the latter was savory and tasty and my favorite part of the dish). We also tried the wild mushroom Bi Bim Bop, a variant on the Korean classic and very tasty. We finished off the first course with the crispy pork belly — not my favorite of the three but still excellent.

As a “mid” course to finish up the whites we had the duck paparadelle pasta, which I thought was excellent. Throughout the meal at various times, Hurley came out and told us about the food, his philosophy for preparing food and running a kitchen, and I recommend talking to him. He’s led an interesting life and has the energy and passion for food you see in a rare few.

The “main” course was a family-style platter of the night’s special — grilled Kobe beef and grilled chicken. Both were superb, especially the chicken breast and the crispy end pieces of the Kobe. I served the Henri Bonneau 1990 Chateauneuf du Pape “Marie Beurrier,” which although a “second” cuvee for Bonneau (alongside the Cuvee Celestins), was a masterpiece. Deep, sweet, yet beefy and herbal, it reminded me strongly of the best bottles of 1981 Beaucastel — “Mourvedre cotton candy” was Parker’s descriptor for the latter, and although Bonneau uses very little besides Grenache in his blends, it fits. The man makes pure Grenache taste deep, dark, and complex like Mourvedre. Naturally, my stock of these wines is tiny, given availability and price, so this isn’t a wine I’ll taste again for quite awhile but I’m amazed at the experience. Marc opened a 1970 Jaboulet La Chapelle as well, but the bottle seemed to be a bit tired — clearly La Chapelle underneath a slight soy sauce layer.

We had a selection of desserts, but what stood out for me was one of the ice creams in my sampler: sweet chili ice cream. Just the faintest hint of a sriracha-like chili, which went well with the 1989 Von Hovel auslese that Bill brought.

In all, the evening was terrific — good friends, great food, and spectacular wines. I can’t recommend Coupage highly enough.

Week in Seattle

It’s a beautiful day on the ferry Yakima, headed up to Friday Harbor. Clear and cold, the remnants of this week’s snow hardened into icy hummocks in the ferry line. I have no idea what I’ll find when I get back home to the island, except possibly more of the same. As long as power has been fairly continuous and no trees fell, there shouldn’t be any problem at the house. I’ll feel better next week, though, when my generator gets installed (it’s now sitting on a little pallet in the garage).

I spent the week down in Seattle, handling beginning-of-school chores, finding a place to rent in town, and doing some social events.

In the latter category, our book group is reading Proust, and we’re making decent progress through Swann’s Way — most of us are reading the new Lydia Davis translation, which I have to say is very readable. Not sure whether I’d ever have read Proust without a group commitment, but between Richard Rorty’s writings on Proust and my friends, it seemed well worth it. This time around Christian hosted, serving a great Italian dinner, and we finished off with home-baked cookies and a 1983 Filhot Sauternes I had in the cellar (very tasty and nearing a full maturity in my opinion).

I also attended Roy Hersh’s “Great Seattle Madeira Tasting,” but since he makes his living writing about wine, I’ll give him a chance to write his article about the wines and the tasting before I comment on the wines. I will say, however, that it was a great opportunity to get a perspective across many great wines, and reconfirm my impressions about which producers and styles of Madeira I most enjoy.

I’ve found a place in Seattle, so starting February 1st I’ll have a place to live working at the UW. My landlord and roommate, Scott, is an artist and the house is chock full of art, deeply homey, and just a little bit funky. It should be fun. The only downside (if there is one at all) is that I’d been enjoying my time at the WAC — the king beds are amazingly comfortable and it’s really good for me to be a couple of floors away from the gym. But it’s also fairly expensive if I’m down in Seattle every two weeks, so it’s time for something different.

After some administrative preliminaries at school, I stocked up on academic-priced software (Mathematica, Endnote, and the Adobe CS2 suite) and math books (I need to bone up in several areas for my dissertation research). The University Book Store continues to be a terrific source, not just for textbooks, but technical books of all kinds. I wish I could say the same for Barnes and Noble at University Village, however. It still rivals and sometimes exceeds UBS for computers and programming books, but in days past the math and science sections were also highly competitive. Sadly, both subjects have been gutted, reduced to an aisle or so from their former 2-3 full aisles and a couple of side displays. Market forces, no doubt, but this does point out why the extreme libertarian argument for “markets in everything” ought to be rejected in certain realms of life — obscure and low-volume books might be useless commercially but they often serve a key role in research and scholarship. Which is why we have libraries and university-connected bookstores, I guess. And Amazon, of course.

We’re now past Lopez Island and on our way to San Juan Channel. The sky is clouding up a bit, and the island shores around us are white with light snow accumulation. It’s a frosty winter world up here, but a beautiful one. Seattle is a good change, but I can’t wait to be home.

Turning Forty

Well, it finally happened and I turned forty today.  I feel, perhaps oddly, fairly happy about that.  A few moments where you face the serious possibility, or at least the strong probability of…well, of not turning forty seem to be enough to reverse the usual angst about this "milestone."  Unlike the year that preceded it, this last twelve months has been both a lucky and happy one for me.  Despite closing up shop at Network Clarity, I ended up with a great job with a great team at Microsoft, and I ended up able to take some time away from the computer industry, contemplate how to go back to finish my Ph.D., and move into a great house up north.  My brother is healthy and employed, and things appear to be looking good for him as well.  You really can’t ask for much more than that. 

My friends from Saltspring Island came down this weekend by kayak, paddling from Sidney over to Roche Harbor on Friday.  Sounded like a nice paddle, albeit with some tough parts.  We cooked a great meal of grilled pork and asparagus on Friday, served with a Paul Bara NV rose champagne from a couple of years back.  Then, after a mellow Saturday spent at the farmer’s market, going to the art gallery, and taking photographs,Dsc_0060
we had a terrific dinner at Steps Wine Bar and Cafe in Friday Harbor.  Madden had his birthday at the beginning of this last week, and roasted a whole lamb, braised some juicy tender beef brisket, and grilled chicken; last night we explored the seafood aspects of the menu with a delicious tempura rock cod with a sesame apple fennel "slaw," a fish sausage cased in a ring of squash and grilled, and a slab of fresh-caught sablefish on a celeriac puree with what appeared to be a truffled stuffing for the sablefish.  Combined with a Roederer Estates rose sparkling wine from the wine list, and the incredible 2004 Fevre Chablis Les Clos (tight, minerally, but with good lemon cream aromas), the meal was completed with a "smores" with house-made graham cracker cake, chocolate sauce, and the best "marshmallow" I’ve ever had. 

Today, after my friends took the ferry back to Sidney, I went back to Arctic Raven, a wonderful gallery in Friday Harbor that specializes in native American art.  In particular, Lee has recently exhibited both Richard Hunt, and is now finishing a Susan Point exhibit.  Some of the Susan Point works were incredible, especially (in my opinion), the glass or sculptural works.  I finally made up my mind between a couple of yellow cedar sculpture pieces, and found a serigraph/watercolor for the living room.  All in all, a terrific birthday weekend. 

Unpacking at the new place…

I’m getting unpacked at the new house and have almost finished the kitchen and other essentials.  Putting up bookshelves and attacking the massive stacks of book boxes will have to wait just a bit,Dsc_0062
because the electrical & network wiring guys haven’t finished their work yet.  After a brief flurry of activity while I was doing the move in Seattle, they’re nowhere to be seen (again). 

Much of the rest of my "home improvement" project list is done at this point — "creative" paint jobs are gone, in favor of a Linen White with bright white trim (accent walls to be chosen later after I get a sense of how furniture and the rug collection fits); the deck is complete, roof replaced with a nice forest green metal roof, crawl space and undercarriage of the house has been cleaned out, insect sprayed, and re-insulated in spots, and a nice bamboo hardwood floor installed in the guest bedroom.  Pretty much all that’s left is minor touch-up painting, some cabinet touch-up in the kitchen, replacement of the chimney for the wood stove, and of course the darned electrical and network wiring.

Because of the latter, I’m currently without TV and haven’t really set up my other computers yet.  I expect that happen in a week or so.  Then I can set up a working environment and unpack some office stuff.  Office furniture doesn’t arrive until the end of the month or so, because like much furniture, they don’t really build it until you order it.  The upshot is that I figure mid-September will be about when I’ll be fully unpacked and have access to whatever I’m trying to find.   

I need to find a dining room light fixture — there’s a spot for installation and the wiring’s all there but the previous owner took her antique chandelier (which she told me about, it’s not a problem), but I haven’t had time to find a new one yet.  Next time I’m in Seattle I’ll find something, before it starts getting dark early. 


Went to the farmer’s market again today, and picked up a wide assortment of produce, including some terrific "torpedo" red onions, ultra-fresh cabbages, shallots, heirloom tomatoes in five varieties, potatoes, heirloom carrots, fresh salad greens, green beans, and basil, all from Waldron Island except for the potatoes and tomatoes, which were grown here on San Juan.  I also picked up fresh sockeye salmon fillet, and tomorrow night I’ll likely do a shallot preparation on the grill with roasted potatoes and a salad. 

I also pre-ordered pickling cucumbers from Nootka Rose Farm on Waldron, along with fresh dill heads.  They’ll be picking ’em for next Saturday’s market, and I’ll have 10 pounds to pickle shortly thereafter.  I’ll probably also do a big batch of pickled green beans at the same time.   

After a couple of days of drizzly, slightly rainy weather, clear skies and beautiful sunsets arrivedDsc_0058
again yesterday, and I spent much of last evening sitting on the deck with a glass of Chablis (2002 Servin Les Pargues), a dish of olives, and two books:  Nigel Slater’s "The Kitchen Diaries: A Year in the Kitchen" (not published in the USA yet but available now from Amazon UK), and a book of essays on Richard Rorty’s work:  "Rorty and His Critics (Philosophy and Their Critics)" Both are fascinating, and I ended up reading until the last light of sunset disappeared (outdoor lighting on the deck is another project, but my electrician claims it’s a tough one because of the solid walls on the north face of the house). 

Now that I’ve got the kitchen unpacked, dinner was a brown rice stir fry of fresh vegetables and chicken marinated in chili sauce, soy, and a hint of star anise.  I’d set up the wok stand burner on the new deck, and the whole thing was a pleasure — prep work in the new kitchen to stir frying on the deck.  I wish there was an easy way to put a partial roof on part of the deck so I can keep doing this all year, but maybe next year.  At the moment I’m ready for projects and contractors to be finished so I can begin to build a "routine" here on the island. 

Of Paradise Terrestre

Very early this morning, I steered my very over-loaded Land Rover, stuffed to the gills with bedding, temporary deck furniture, books, network gear, half a case of wine (and glasses!), coffee-making apparatus, and a couple of shorts and shirts northward, to take possession of the house on San Juan Island. 

I felt a deep sense of coming "home" upon driving from Friday Harbor to the house.  I’d worked up here as an archaeologist (and student) in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, and this island (in particular) had a strong effect on my emotional geography.  The islands have loomed, throughout the intervening years, as my unrequited "paradise terrestre."  I think I became, to quote Lawrence Durrell, an "islomane":

Somewhere among the notebooks of Gideon I once found a list of diseases as yet unclassified by medical science, and among these there occurred the word Islomania, which was described as a rare but by no means unknown affliction of spirit.  There are people, as Gideon used to say, by way of explanation, who find islands somehow irrestistable.  The mere knowledge that the are on an island, a little world surrounded by the sea, fills them with an indescribable intoxication….But like all Gideon’s theories it was an ingenious one.  I recall how it was debated by candlelight in the Villa Cleobolus until the moon went down on the debate, and Gideon’s contentions were muffed in his yawns; until Hoyle began to tap his spectacles upon his thumbnail of his left hand, which was his way of starting to say goodnight….Yet the word stuck; and though Hoyle refused its application to any but Aegean islands….we all of us, by tacit admission, knew ourselves to be ‘islomanes.’

Lawrence Durrell, Reflections on a Marine Venus

To begin my first day of intensive Islomane therapy, I arrived on the first direct ferry of the morning, along with a gaggle (herd?) of tourists including about a zillion teenagers bound for some kind of camp, and stopped in Friday Harbor for the keys to the house.  For most of the day, Andrew (from Rock Island) worked on getting me Internet service, via their 900 MHz wireless "Canopy" service from Mt. Constitution (I look out to the northeast from San Juan Island) — successfully getting me between 2-3Mbits down and 5-600Kbits up by the time we were done (thanks, Andrew!). 

After I finished putting together a bed and buying a few essentials (soap, toilet paper, dishwasher soap, garbage bags), I had a celebratory dinner at Steps Wine Bar and Cafe, about which I’ve previously written.  Madden and Tawm took great care of me, and I had some utterly spectacular local English peas (served with yam gnocchi, garlic, and a bit of brown butter), and tiny carrots, in a savory vinegar and molasses sauce, grilled.  Amazing.  I could be a vegetarian quite easily with food like this.  Madden started me off with a revelatory Pineau des Charentes, a slightly sweet aperitif made in Cognac from unfermented grape juice halted with Cognac (basically, a vin doux natural or vin doux licquer).  I followed this with a bottle of 1988 Vieux Telegraphe Chateauneuf from the cellar, which actually needed more air to open up than I thought.  Still great tannins and acidity, and a beefy, iron-and-blood note in the nose, coupled with some spiciness when fully open.  Two hours later I’m drinking the rest sitting on the deck, with red fruit, spices, and definite iron, with less of the beefy/bloody thing as it thins out.

We finished with a bread pudding with an amazing mango puree with fresh vanilla beans and balsamic drizzle, accompanied by a Coteaux du Layon (a sweet Chenin Blanc dessert wine from the Loire Valley), and finally a shot of espresso.

I arrived home just as the sunlight turned golden and sunset occurred, and now as I write these words the last glow is fading, behind Saturna Island in the Canadian Gulf Islands.  The sea is calm and I’m left on the deck typing and listening to the occasional sigh of a wave lapping on the beach, so far below. 

A perfect day for a long-latent islomane to return to what has, after all these years, turned out to be not just a set of memories, but hopefully…..home.