Beer Escapades, Smoky Tequila, and Black-Owned Wineries: A Boozy Round-Up

Flying Lion Brewing’s Griffin, Evan, and Tyler Williams. Photo by Kyle Johnson.

Some noteworthy stories about alcohol have come pouring in over the past few weeks, so I’m putting together a little round-up:

  • First off, my feature “The Business of Beer” in Middlebury Magazine traces the history of the craft beer explosion, featuring the tales of Midd alum who’ve chosen beer as a career path: Allagash’s Rob Tod, Sleeping Giant’s Matthew Osterman, and most of all, Flying Lion Brewery’s Evan, Tyler, and Griffin Williams. Gluten-intolerant or not a huge beer fan? Don’t worry! This story mostly steers clear from hoppiness and IBUs and instead centers on the heart behind beer-making and the zany people involved.
  • For his latest book, Ted Genoways spent years reporting on one of the dirtiest and most disturbing aspects of our food system: the factory-farmed pork industry and the ignored workers caught in its chains. Thankfully for his own sanity, Ted’s taken a break from this gruesome (but important) topic to delve into the cheerier world of organic tequila-making for his latest Mother Jones story, “Heart of Agave.” From the story:

“Row upon row of blue agaves stretched in all directions, each plant’s needle-tipped leaves rising head high. It was the realization of Murillo’s dream—but he had bigger ambitions. “I can only do so much on my grandfather’s rancho,” Murillo said, “but if I can recruit my neighbors and they recruit others, then we will have a movement.”

Read the rest of the piece as you sip on some Alquimia tequila this afternoon.

  • In more enraging booze news, on Saturday an entire book club—consisting of 10 black women and 1 white woman—was kicked off of the Napa Wine Train for being too boisterous while celebrating a birthday. “We thought the purpose of the Wine Train was to have a good time and enjoy being with a group,” one of the women told the Napa Valley Register. “No one told us of a noise ordinance.”  The episode triggered accusations of racial bias from people online, who protested with the hashtag #laughingwhileblack. The Wine Train CEO has since apologized for being “acutely insensitive to the group,” but not before the women were paraded in front of the entire train before being forced to disembark. Clutch Magazine responded by promoting “5 Black-owned California Wineries to Visit Instead of the Wine Train“—good idea!

Here Comes the Sunflower Seed

McLeod/Wikimedia Commons

McLeod/Wikimedia Commons

I’ve been experimenting with sunflower seeds over the weekend, and I am a convert. Never before had I tried blending a cup of shelled seeds in the mini-cuisinart; what you end up with is a buttery, sticky crumble that makes an excellent binder for veggie burgers, can be spread on crackers on its own, or can be whipped into decadent sauces, such as the vegan hollandaise-like sauce listed below. I paired it with grilled asparagus and cauliflower, and ate it the next morning on some poached eggs with greens, avocado, and quinoa.

Vegan Sunandaise Sauce

Based on the “cheezy sauce” recipe in Ani’s Raw Food Kitchen

  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 cup sunflower seeds
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • a few tablespoons water

Process garlic and salt until as smooth as possible. Add sunflower seeds and process into a powder. Add lemon juice and turmeric until mixed, and then add small amounts of water until the sauce starts to get smooth and fluffy.

Great on grilled vegetables, poached eggs, or as a sauce on any sort of grain or rice veggie bowl. Will keep in the fridge for two days.

Crickets, Moringa, and Robot Arms: Into the Future of Food

“In the not-so-distant future, a robot named Cooki will make you dinner. Cooki will follow a recipe drawn from a database of millions of crowd-sourced ideas accessed through a subscription service similar to iTunes. Then, it will stir together pre-chopped ingredients with a robotic arm. Instead of the $15 required to buy and deliver take-out food, Cooki’s meal will cost you $4 to $5.

At least, that’s how the future will look if Timothy Chen has anything to do with it.

Chen is the CEO of Sereneti Kitchen, the company producing an automated robot that can supposedly cook “restaurant-quality” meals at your kitchen counter and clean up after itself. Chen was one of around a dozen entrepreneurs pitching their victual innovations at a tech event called the “Future of Food,” hosted by the San Francisco co-working space Parisoma on Wednesday. A line snaked around the block at the entrance of the building at 7 p.m. when I arrived. Inside, designers, data-geeks, food marketers, and underground supper club hosts mingled over beers or the papaya-colored smoothie samples from the Pantry vending machine. I overheard the phrases “superfood” and “drought-friendly” more than once over the course of the evening.”

Read more about my foray into the future of food, including cricket cookies, almond brie, and a superplant that might soon eclipse kale.

Have Your Fish and Eat it Too

There’s a lot of dirty aquaculture out there. But new innovations are making fish farming a whole lot more palatable. With our appetite for seafood growing every year, and the oceans running dry—how else are we going to eat fish in the future?

Maybe we shouldn’t. This is something I still struggle with, as a mostly vegetarian-sometimes-fish-eater. In some ways, fish are the worst-off of the animal kingdom, because the oceans are in such bad shape.

But here’s a more positive spin on the situation.  A short film I helped produce along with video genius Brett Brownell, featuring gorgeous Bay Area scenery and a sea shanty for good measure:

If you like the video, read the whole article too.

And don’t forget to try my trout lox recipe.

Rockin the Trout Lox

McFarland Springs trout

McFarland Springs trout

Last week, I came into possession of half of a gorgeous McFarland Springs trout. These fish are farmed, but unlike 99.9% of farmed trout in the US, they eat a completely vegetarian diet—a mixture of nut shells, corn, flax, and algae. The red algae turns their flesh a rosy color, making the raw fish look a bit like salmon. Kenny Belov, the chef and TwoXSea entrepreneur who introduced me to these fish, had been up at McFarland Springs the night before. He described wading into the spring to pull out the trout, and then dunking them into a bucket of icy water to “chill kill” them. Hours later, the fish arrived at Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco, which brings me back to my newly acquired fish fillet, and my overpowering urge to make gravlax.

Traditionally, gravlax are made with salmon. “Grav” stems from the Scandinavian word “grave,” so gravlax roughly means “buried salmon.” Without ever cooking the meat, you cure the flesh by leaving it in a salt-sugar mixture in the fridge for two days; the salt draws water outside of the bacterial cells. You can use other fatty fish, such as trout, and it’s easy to tailor your version to your specific tastes.

Kenny Belov's handiwork

Kenny Belov’s handiwork

There are hundreds of gravlax recipes out there, all offering slightly different proportions of sugar to salt and different flavor profiles. If you’re feeling trepidatious about the process, I recommend reading Mark Bittman’s piece from the late ’90s called “Gravlax without fear: A stunning dish that just looks hard.”

I based my version off of this Gourmet recipe, with my own trout-oriented twists.

What You’ll Need

  • Just over a pound of super fresh trout, skin on, filleted and pin-boned
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • 2 cups kosher salt
  • 1.5 cups sugar
  • 1 bunch dill, finely chopped
  • the zest of two limes
  • 2 tablespoons tequila

Salt and sugar scrub


What to Do

  • In a mixing bowl, combine salt, sugar, lime zest, and dill.
  • Lay a piece of saran wrap on a large pan, preferably one with sides. (The pan should also be longer than the fish fillet.)
  • Dump half of the salt/sugar mixture onto the saran wrap, creating a bed for the fish.
  • Rinse the fish and lay on the salt/sugar bed, skin-side down. Cover the top with some freshly ground pepper.
  • Spread the rest of the salt/sugar rub onto the top of the fish, covering every inch of it.
  • Douse with the tequila.
  • Cover with two more sheets of saran wrap that overlap by half. Seal the sides of the fish packet.
  • Place a smaller pan or dish on top of the fish packet. On that, set some heavy items like cans, bags of beans, or a morter and pestle. This weight will help press the salt into the fish and draw out the juices.
  • Place in the fridge. After 12 hours, remove the weight and flip the fish. Do this again every 12 hours. You should refrigerate the fish from 36-48 hours*.
  • After the flesh feels sort of firm, unwrap the packet and rinse off the fish. Lay on a plate and shave off layers, combining them on a cracker with creamy cheese, sour cream, or creme fraiche and a sprinkle of chives or parsley. Also delicious on a bagel with cream cheese.
Some lovely lox

Some lovely lox

*Kenny told me that trout cures faster than salmon; since it was my first experiment I wanted to play it safe, and I let it cure for 48. The fish turned out a little salty, so I soaked my cured trout in some lukewarm water for 10 minutes and that softened the flavor. All in all, it turned out great but I think I could get away with less salt and less cure-time next round.

Sabores de Colombia

From La Cevicheria in Cartagena

From La Cevicheria in Cartagena

Colombia: A country of hot rains, steep drops, windy coasts, thick jungles. Of iguanas and parrots, leaf-cutter ants and capyberas. Empty wild spaces and cluttered cities. Drummers, dancers, and seasoned criminals; environmentalists, urban renewers, entrepreneurs, street artists.

And fueling it all, its food: hearty, colorful, often fried, and mostly delicious.

I’ll admit, my experience of Colombian food lacked a pretty crucial element. Colombians love meat. Barbacoas, braised pork, beef stews, chicken soups. But it wasn’t so hard to enjoy flavors of the country without being a carnivore (especially because I do love fish).

Behold, a recap of some of the tastes I enjoyed during a ten day trip in Bogotá, Cartagena, Santa Marta, and Parque Tayrona in February. Salud!

IMG_23641. Chocolate con queso:

Because their capital city is chilly and coated in fog year-round, Bogotanos love their hot chocolate, and seem to drink it at all hours of the day. They like it with mild cheese and fresh white bread. At La Puerta Falsa, a popular snack joint near Plaza Bolivar in Bogotá’s Candelaria neighborhood, we were instructed to tear up the cheese and drop it into the hot chocolate, waiting for it to melt a little and then dipping bread in the mixture.

Plaza Simon Bolivar

Plaza Simon Bolivar

2. The sensational Sant Just:

IMG_2374Call me a heretic, but our favorite meal in Bogotá was at a little French/South American fusion bistro, Sant Just Traiteur, right off of Plaza de las Periodistas. We sat an arms-length away from the chef stirring pots, whisking things out of the oven, and stylishly topping off plates with seeds and herbs. The rare salmon on my salad had been marinated in brandy, and sprinkled with toasted quinoa, pumpkin seeds, and a citrus dressing. I dream to return here to eat another creme brulee de maracuya (passionfruit).

3. Platanitos and patacones:

On our flight to Cartagena, they served platanitos (plantain chips) along with a little caramel and some coffee.


You also see patacones, or fried plantains, everywhere along the coast. Especially tasty with fried eggs and hot sauce.

4. Fruta maravillosa:

Everything from perfectly ripe mango and melon to tart, crisp pineapple to fruit we don’t even have a name for, like lulo and uchuva. Sold everywhere on the streets, so juicy and balanced and refreshing in the humidity. In Parque Nacional Tayrona, we split coconuts, ate the meat for breakfast, and drank the water with rum and lime juice. When it was too hot for anything else, creamy popsicles with fresh chunks of coconut in them were the perfect snack.


5. Ajiaco:

Ajiaco is a typical Colombian dish made up of a potato and chicken broth, into which you immerse chicken meat, avocado, capers, rice, and corn. We ate lunch at a delicious and cheap joint in Cartagena called Espíritu Santo, where several people ordered generous portions of ajiaco. I had fish marinated in coconut, served with rice and plantains; so good I forgot about missing out on this traditional stew.



6. Ceviche:

Once we were on the Caribbean, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on some raw fish, and the ceviche in Cartagena does not disappoint. The gorgeous bakery Milas, which serves up delicate gold-encrusted brownies and macaroons and killer limonada de coco, also dishes out a mean shrimp ceviche with fresh corn kernels, coconut milk, and crisp shrimp that almost pop when you bite into them. At La Cevicheria, I ordered a mixed shrimp and fish ceviche. Not as delicate as Milas’, but boosted by a fresh patacón smothered in avocado on the side.

Shrimp ceviche from Milas

Shrimp ceviche from Milas

From La Cevicheria in Cartagena

La Cevicheria

7. Arepa de huevo:

Take an arepa, a disk of dough made from fine cornmeal, and fry it a little bit to give it structure. Open it up like a pita, and crack a raw egg inside, adding a touch of salt. Deep fry the whole thing, until the egg is cooked. Eat fresh, with a splash of Ajibasco (see #9), preferably while watching the waves crash into broken shells at your feet.


A panadería in Parque Tayrona serving arepa de huevo

8. Helado de la raza?

One Colombian ice cream company had an interesting marketing plan…


IMG_24649. AAA: Aguila, Aguardiente, and Ajibasco
Aah, the accessories. Never miss a meal without an ice-cold Aguila beer (tastes sort of like a Pacifico), a shot of aguardiente (liquorice tasting liquor), and Ajibasco, Colombia’s Tobasco sauce (only much, much better).