Food for Thought

Of irony, meat loaf and Basque juice

Irony.

Here’s the setup: I am alone for a few days.

I can listen to whatever music I want, at top volume (I go classic loud — things like Guns N’ Roses, “Sweet Child O’ Mine” at 8 million decibels, Garbage, “Hammerin’ in My Head,” The Art Ensemble of Chicago).

I can also wander anywhere on the culinary map I wish. Kathy is off to see relatives and her ever-longer list of verboten food products is not a factor in any choice I make in the kitchen. Given I don’t precipitate the explosion of an extremity with a monumental attack of gout, I am safe to cross any culinary border at will, without a visa. I can stay up late and eat ice cream from the container. I am free!

Here’s the gem in all this: I have in my possession a bottle of top-flight Cabernet Sauvignon.

A 1997. From a darned good winery. I’m like a soccer mom with a new mini van.

Now, there are some folks who pay heed to the notes in the hoity-toity wine mags that caution would-be vino-savants to be hyper aware of the peak time to drink a particular wine. One reads, for example, that a wine is “drinkable in 2020, or later.”

Blather! Death waits on no wine. And, at my age, I am acutely aware — one might say constantly aware, in the manner of the existentialist — of my certain doom. I’m tied to the tracks, the Big Train is a comin’ and it ain’t slowin’ down.

The last thing I want anyone to say is: “Ah, what a shame, Karl nearly lived long enough to down that bottle of Jean Louis Chave. If he had made it one more year, he could have enjoyed that Pahlmeyer at its peak.”

Excuse me, it’s fermented grape juice. It is supposed to be consumed.

Now.

I’m not waiting. If I have a bottle that, ideally, should be enjoyed by my grandchildren, I will sell it to someone who is fool enough to postpone their pleasure, and I will use the profits to buy four or five bottles of something I can quaff right away. I’m not waiting; I am too near the end to delay. Could happen at noon, or tomorrow, next month, next year, in a decade or two. Doesn’t matter. I’m not saving anything.

So, the Cab goes down this weekend. The timing could not be more perfect: Kathy dislikes tannic, relatively high-alcohol wines.

Not me. I’ll drink ’em all.

Kathy also dislikes the types of food that goes with such wines.

Not me. I like ’em all.

That’s not to say I would go out of my way to purchase high-end Californa Cabs. I prefer more subtle, distinct wines but, every now and then, a Cab from a high-end Napa producer rolls around. Gotta take it for what is is: big, fruit-forward, muscular, legs longer than an NBA center.

And, gotta pair it with something that complements it in a manner that fits its station.

That means meat.

That means red meat.

Again, Kathy is not here — to express her horror when something red and bloody is slapped on the cutting board and in the pan. She is not here to cringe and detail the oh-so-many reasons one should not indulge; everything from the animal’s industrial, brutal demise, to cancers engendered in a moment of thoughtless indulgence that, years later, come back to wreak disaster on the voluptuary’s body.

Nope, she’s not here.

And me, the Cab, and some kind of meat, are.

Yay!

What to eat?

Just for fun, I dial in a couple Web sites that provide the reader with wine and food pairings. I narrow the search down to California Cabs and the results are predictable: pair the wine with roast beef, steak, steak au poivre, lamb chops, lamb shanks, venison, hare stew.

The probable results at the market here in Siberia With a View with these ends in mind are just as predictable.

Hare stew?

Hah!

I’d have to murder the bunny that lives on the hillside next to the house to have hare stew — perhaps run the adorable rascal over with my truck when he is distracted by a cleverly-placed lure (carrot, anyone?) that I’ve placed in the driveway.

Venison?

No thanks. Most game is out of the question. The only thing that could tempt me is an elk tenderloin and, while I have friends and family who are in possession of such a prize, I fear I am not favored, and no gift will come my way.

So, to the meat section of the market I go. In search of lamb.

I locate the very small section of the display case set aside for the remains of our wooly little buddies and discover several packs of sad looking, thin slices of leg of lamb — no doubt removed from a nearly out-of-date joint by a novice manning a slicer in the back room.

There is one package of casually-hacked, gray hunks of flesh labeled “lamb stew meat” (probably from the same leg) and … nothing else.

I corral a gal dressed in the uniform of the establishment. She is putting “price reduced” tags on packages of beef hearts and I ask: “Excuse me, by chance do you have any lamb shanks in the back?”

She looks at me like an eighth-grade biology student looks at the fetal pig she is about to dissect.

“Huh?”

“Lamb shanks. Do you have any lamb shanks stashed in the back?”

“Huh?”

“I am looking for a couple lamb shanks.”

”Shanks?”

“Yes, shanks.”

“Shanks?”

“Lamb shanks.”

“From a lamb?”

“Yes.”

“Shanks?”

Dear lord.

Her eyes uncross.
“Well, I never heard of no shanks, but I’ll go look.”

“Remember, from a lamb.”

She is back before I can take a breath.

“Nope. None of them shanks. Nobody back there has ever heard of ’em.”

“What do they do back there, play cards all day?”

“Nope. Not all day. Sometimes we have to come out and mark down the prices on the old beef hearts.”

I make my way to the beef section. I am not a big fan of steaks, unless they are prime. So, no options here.

Where does that leave me? What can I come up with that’s meaty enough, sturdy enough to stand up to the Cab? Remember, it’s gotta be red. Real red.

It hits me.

Why not, I ask myself, go not only for meaty goodness, but for irony as well? I’m a first-rate post-modernist, I tell myself. Irony is my cup of tea.

So, what to pair with a classy California Cab, produced at an esteemed boutique winery?

Meat loaf, of course.

Proteinapalooza!

I purchase a pound of ground beef, a pound of ground veal (ooh, a calf … they’re cute) and a pound of ground pork. I buy a white onion and a red bell pepper. I need nothing else; I have the other ingredients at home.

Once in the kitchen, I mix the three meats together, well.

I take half the white onion and chunk it up. I take half the red pepper and chunk it up. I peel and chunk four cloves of garlic. I roughly chop about an inch of a stalk of celery. I toss these things into my food processor and pulverize them. I add the sludge to the meat.

I process some fresh bread crumbs and throw them into the meat mix along with two eggs, several tablespoons of heavy cream, a spoon’s worth of coarse mustard, some thyme, some oregano, Kosher salt, freshly ground black pepper and a handful of shaved Parmesan cheese. I incorporate everything very well then take the meat and slap the mess down on a foil covered baking sheet. I shape the meat into a long, uniform loaf. I pop the loaf into a 350 oven. For about an hour and a half. When it comes out, it is tented with foil and left to rest for 20 minutes or so.

If it were for me only, the meat loaf would be enough, but I’ve invited my pal, James, over to enjoy the Cab. So, gracious host that I am, I make a sauce. I use a batch of nearly jelled broth left over from a braised beef dish I made the week before. I add some crushed tomato, freshen up the seasoning and cook it down a bit more. When it is the consistency I desire, I plop in a splash of Worcestershire sauce and some mustard.

I whip up a pot of percatelli, cooked al dente, then mixed over low heat with butter, garlic, cream, lemon juice, black pepper and Parmesan.

What the heck, I steam a few green beans. No one can say I ignore health concerns.

I open the bottle of Cab.

Or, nearly open it. The cork snaps in half as I pull it from the bottle.

Bad sign.

I extract the remainder of the cork. The bottom of the cork is dry, almost chalky.

Bad sign.

I decant the Cab and swirl the wine in the decanter. I smell it.

Real bad sign.

James arrives. I tell him about the omens. He makes a face. He knows.

“Well, just for laughs, pour a bit,” he says.

I do so. The color looks fairly good.

We swirl.

We sniff.

“No way, I don’t even need to taste it,” says James. “It’s toast.”

Toast, indeed.

A disaster.

But, all is not lost. We have a massive meat loaf, some tasty, tangy pasta, some green beans.

I hustle downstairs to my special little room where I keep wine (and where I hide when necessary) and I fish out a wine from the Basque country in France.

“One-hundred percent Tannat,” says James. “Inky good.”

And it is, as touted, inky good. Once it warms and opens up, it is just swell, a fine complement to the meat. Our teeth take on a purple tinge.

We have seconds. Of everything. We drink every drop of the French juice.

So, the irony remains and reigns, doesn’t it? Not the one anticipated, but rather that the meat loaf is the star of the meal. The Cab fades into corked obscurity, and the evening is saved by something subtle, something rural, something Basque.

The attack of gout?

Well, there’s nothing ironic about that, is there?


What's Cookin?

Knock You Naked Brownies

1 box German chocolate cake mix (18.5 ounces)
1 cup chopped nuts
1/3 cup plus 1/2 cup evaporated milk — divided
1/2 cup melted butter
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
60 caramels (unwrapped)
 

1. In a large mixing bowl, combine dry cake mix, nuts, 1/3 cup evaporated milk and melted butter. Press half of the batter into the bottom of a greased 13x9x2 inch glass baking dish. Bake in a preheated oven at 350 degrees for eight minutes.

2. In the microwave or top of a double boiler, melt caramels with remaining 1/2 cup evaporated milk. When caramel mixture is well mixed, pour over baked layer. Cover with chocolate chips. Chill for about an hour or until the caramel is hard.

3. Press the remaining batter on top of morsels. Return to oven and bake for 28 minutes (or less for gooier brownies). Let cool before cutting. Yields about 24 larger brownies or 48 mini-bars.


Jean C. Moore

Pagosa Springs resident Jean (Jeanie) C. Moore passed away peacefully at Pine Ridge Extended Care, Sunday, Dec. 30, 2007. She was 100 years of age.

Jean was born March 19,1907, in El Vado, N.M., to Enriquez and Josefa Martinez. Rosenaldo Chacon and Josefa later married and raised Jean from childhood.

She married Ed Montoya, and had a son, Orlando. After the death of Ed, she later married Robert W. Moore.

Jean was a lifelong resident of Pagosa Springs. She would have celebrated her 101st birthday in March 2008. She worked at La Fonda Inn in Santa Fe, N.M. She worked as a bartender at Pagosa Bar, Spring Inn, La Cantina and the Pagosa Lodge. Jean also ran a restaurant at the Los Banos Hotel (now called the Bear Creek).

Jean was preceded in death by her parents, Rosenaldo and Josefa Chacon, her husbands, Ed Montoya and Robert W. Moore; her sisters, Salome Myers and Mary I. Martinez; and brothers Christobal and Joe Ramon Chacon.

She is survived by her son, Orlando; her grandchildren, Gloria and Michael; some great-grandchildren; and numerous nephews and nieces.

Jean was a very kind and giving person. She took care of her father, Rosenaldo, until his death at age 99. She was a feisty lady to the end, just ask the nurses at Pine Ridge.
Services will be held at the Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church in Pagosa Springs. The rosary will be held Jan. 4, at 6 p.m. The funeral will be held Jan. 5, at 2 p.m.


Flora Barbo

In loving memory of Flora Barbo who went home to her loving savior Dec 26, 2007.
She was a resident of Pagosa Springs, Colo., until 1965, when she moved to California.

She is survived by her husband of 40 years, Whito Barbo; her children Joe (Lalo) Martinez (Josie), Becky Waddell, Gloria Quintana, Sarah Allen, Frances Martire (Jeff), Ruby Salinas and Mabel Marquez. She leaves behind 16 grandchildren, 22 great-grand children and one great-great-grandchild; her sisters in Pagosa Springs, Irene Gomez, Beatrice Rivas and Andrea Ochoa; and numerous nieces, nephews and cousins. 

She will be deeply missed for her generosity, her genuine love of others and her unique sense of humor. 


Engagements

Brea Thompson and Steven Sellers

Don and Eydie Thompson, and Jim and Terri Sellers are happy to announce the engagement of their children, Brea Thompson to Steven Sellers.

Brea graduated from Pagosa Springs High School in December of 2005. She is currently attending Mesa State College in Grand Junction, Colo., for a B.A. in elementary education.

Steven is a 2004 graduate of Pagosa Springs High School. In November of 2007, Steven graduated from the Peace Officer’s Academy at Mesa State College.
The couple plans to marry in June of 2009 in Pagosa Springs. After the wedding, they will reside in Grand Junction.