Opening a bottle of good wine with a corkscrew may soon be a thing of the past. Because of the shrinkage of acreage that grows cork trees, corks have become scarce and wine makers have sought alternative ways to seal wine.
First came the plastic corks that don’t crumble like the natural corks do when a corkscrew is applied to them. A number of American wineries that changed to plastic discovered a side benefit. They didn’t have to worry about “corking,” a contamination that sometimes occurs in wine when it is exposed to a bad cork. Sometimes, corks can contain bacteria that can spoil a wine. At other times, the cork just gets musty smelling or bits break off into the wine. These are two conditions that can make the wine not as pleasant to drink.
Recently, more wineries are actually sealing their bottles with screw tops. Though many wine aficionados turned their noses up at the thought, equating it with skid-row wines or fruity college beverages of the past, they soon found that screw tops actually kept even the finest wines at their peak. And, screw tops preserve leftover wine better in the fridge, without it going flat.
Instead of reaching for that package in your supermarket, which often comes from corporate farms or factory animal farms thousands of miles away, make friends with your local farmer at your city’s farmer’s market this summer.
Organizations like Slow Food, Field to Plate, Chiefs Collaborative, Local Harvest, and Fair Food America are trying to educate consumers about where the food they eat comes from and how it’s being grown and harvested. These organizations advocate making connection with the people who grow your food. They suggest that people should buy locally grown foods from farmers markets or directly from growers and ranchers. They suggest reading labels at your supermarket and looking for certified organic, grass-fed, sustainably caught, and fair trade foods.
More importantly, these organizations suggest eating foods in season when their flavors are at their peak. This also means that in order to enjoy strawberries in December, you will need to freeze them in June or make preserves.
Amanda Archibald, founder of Field to Plate, says, “If you are eating off the land, there are no decisions you have to make about vitamins and nutrition, or getting too much of something.” What she says makes sense. It’s sound nutrition. And, local food in season tastes so much better than something picked green and shipped halfway across the world.
Dubbed eighteen years ago in a naming contest sponsored by three Napa Valley wine makers, these wines combined the best qualities of the French varietals Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon (the “merit”) grown here in the US with the blending tradition of Old World Bordeaux (the “heritage”). The result was a line of red and white table wines that was uniquely American. The White Meritage, in particular, is hearty enough to satisfy the hardened Chardonnay enthusiast but is much softer on the palate and tends to age better. It also is less expensive. Though there are more than 150 American wineries producing Meritage wines, they have caught on in Mexico, Canada, and even in Israel and Australia. You can pick up White Meritage wines from California growers like Murrieta’s Well, Lyeth, and St. Supery.
Here’s a quick guide to all of those food labels you find in your supermarket:
Certified Organic: Produce grown without pesticides or chemical fertilizers.
Fair Trade: Foods grown and harvested by companies that offer a living wage and acceptable working and living conditions.
Free-range: Chickens allowed to graze in a large open lot and not housed in cages. Some beef and bison are free-range and may be given some grain during the last few weeks to fatten them up. This doesn’t harm the animal nor expose it to antibiotics.
Grass-fed or Pasture-fed: Animals that have grazed on pasture land and fed only grass and may be raised without antibiotics and growth hormones.
Locally Grown: Food raised locally, usually within a few miles from where you buy it. This does not mean that the food is organically grown or grown using any sustainable agricultural methods.
No Antibiotics: No Growth Hormones: Meat from animals raised without antibiotics and growth hormones.
Shade Grown: Chocolate or coffee grown in the understory of the rainforest, usually at higher elevations.
Sustainably Caught Seafood: Usually caught with a hook and line, with limited by-catch, and includes dolphin-safe tuna.
No, that’s not some obscure reference to the Revolutionary War. It’s a real proposal by the AMA. If this organization of doctors had its way, salt and the products that are made with it will come with a warning label, and sugary products will have an added tax. At the national convention this past June, the American Medical Association announced a manifesto against salt and sugar, two products that physicians have said contribute to high blood pressure, heart disease, and obesity. The AMA wants salt removed from the federal dietary guidelines as a safe food, equating it with saccharin and the cancer scare decades ago. These physicians also want restaurants to be regulated and monitored for the amount of salt added to foods during preparation.
True, Americans do consume too much salt and sugar, but to regulate these natural food additives as the government regulates tobacco and alcohol seems like overkill. Will that really keep Americans from reaching for the salt cellar at home, instead of the Mrs. Dash or stocking their fridges with soft drinks?
Summer is just the right time to show off your artistic side, not only in an edible collage of colors, tastes, shapes, and textures in your salads, but also in your tableware. Though a colorful salad will look good on any plate or bowl, sometimes you just want to make a more intense visual splash at the table. Salad plates are just one way to slow off your creativity. Smaller than a dinner plate, salad china can match your dinnerware or they can be bold solid colors that complement your tableware. Mediterranean designs and rustic stoneware can also add a summer feel to your salad course. But, serving up a green salad on a sunflower-painted plate or putting a pasta salad on a plate that looks like a cabbage leaf will get your guests talking. This is an especially nice touch to do when you are hosting a summer luncheon or tea. And, if you are having trouble getting your youngsters or even your spouse to eat their veggies, put your salads on red or red-orange plates. Psychologists say that these warm colors stimulate the appetite.
It has been long known that chefs use nasturtiums as garnishes and as ingredients in salads. One of the first to peep out of the ground and burst into bloom are spring violets. These orchid-like flowers add color to spring salads, are used for garnishes for tea sandwiches and desserts, and can even be candied for wedding cake decorations. Johnny-jumpups and pansies can also be candied for decorations. Other flowers that can be a great addition to salads are calendula (tangy, peppery taste), anise hyssop (anise flavor), dianthus (pinks taste like cloves), lavender, lovage (celery flavor), and roses. Depending on the variety, marigolds can have a peppery taste or a citrus zing. Squash blossoms have been used in salads, but are also stuffed, sauteed, or breaded and deep fried whole.
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