To Sink or Swim in a Glass of Grenache

Grenache Wine

While most fathers try to teach their sons useful, practical things like how to change a tire or fix a leaky faucet, my father was bent on teaching me how to make wine. Every Saturday in October when I was growing up in Swansea, MA, just over the border from Providence, he would rouse me from bed at the Dickensian hour of 8:30 a.m. I’d stumble out to the acre of grapevines in the backyard and sleepily eat a bowl of Count Chocula cereal while he quizzed me on whether the grapes were ready for crushing. The tiny vineyard, along with a sizable vegetable garden and a dozen and a half fruit trees, was a holdover from his youth in Portugal. As a child on São Miguel, the largest of the Azorean Islands, he helped his father make the family wine. Now, apparently, my Dad felt it was my turn. As he droned on, I fantasized about sticking my tongue to one of the cold metal poles that held up the vines, just so I could make him stop. Read more »

Lost in the Atlantic: The Azores and Its Hearty Food

Lost in the Atlantic

I get all kinds of responses when I tell people where my family’s from. My favorite was uttered at a party by a young woman swathed in a gauzy, tie-dyed dress who was eating an alarming amount of hummus: “Oh, the Azores! You know, they’re the remains of the lost city of Atlantis. I lived there in a past life.”

Most people know surprisingly little about my family’s homeland, and even less about our food. And for good reason: Strewn some 1,000 miles off the coast of Portugal, the Azores — São Miguel, Faial, São Jorge and six other islands — are happily marooned in the middle of the Atlantic. Unfortunately, so too is our distinctive cuisine.

But geographic isolation is only one conspirator in our food’s invisibility. Like most peasant cuisines, Azorean cooking is home-based; economics prevent most families from frequenting restaurants. Mine was so poor that açordas — brothy soups filled with swollen chunks of crusty homemade bread — were sometimes all there was to fill bellies. Read more »

Abstinence Makes the Taste Buds Grow Fonder

I have butterfat flowing through my veins, and I have the documents to prove it. The day before my 40th birthday the universe decided to torment me with a little game of Mess With Your Head. I was happily gathering information for this month’s column about ice cream, perhaps God’s greatest gift to mankind after elastic waistbands and Entertainment Weekly. While dipping away in batches of homemade heaven (research, of course), the phone rang.

Best Food Writing 2001

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“David, it’s Dr. Rysz,” said the voice in a guttural Polish accent. I had had some routine blood work done the week before, and my doctor was calling with the results.

“Everything looks normal,” she said in even, modulated tones. Then an involuntary intake of breath: “Except for your cholesterol. It’s a bit elevated—252.”

Two hundred and fifty-two? Two hundred and fifty-two? That’s in the danger-Will Robinson zone. It should be well under 200, she informed me.

The spoonful of hazelnut crunch hovered before my mouth. I contemplated lapping it up, but this felt too diabolical considering Dr. Rysz’s pronouncement. So I just stood there dazed as it dripped onto my sandals. Read more »

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