Life in Black and White, The Sequel

From the very first moment I tasted white truffles, I was hooked.  I don't know what it is, but that flavor really speaks to me.  The funny thing is that I have no memory of that first time - as if white truffles have been in my blood since birth - and for something I love so much one would think I could remember my first time.  Perhaps I was a truffle pig in a past life.  (Now, wouldn't that make for an interesting past life regression with a hypnotist?)

I once thought that white truffles were merely stronger-tasting versions of the black, but their flavors and aromas are distinctly different.  The earthy, musky scent of the black truffle is much more subtle, while that of the white truffle is extremely heady, garlicky and can be overpowering.  White truffle detractors liken the aroma to that of a teenage boy's gym sneaker.  I personally think they are just bitter because they can't afford them.  The white Alba truffle from Italy - tuber magnatum pico - can run upwards of $220 an ounce!  Oregon is producing very good-quality white truffles at a fraction of the price - but they aren't quite the same.


Life in Black and White

You may be thinking that, as an amateur photographer, I am writing about black and white photography.  But, no - this is something much more tasty.  Black and white truffles!  Of course, the title of this post did make me think of presenting all the photos in black and white.  Instead, I have played around with the saturation and overall look, and had some fun making them almost black and white.

This is Part One of two parts: Black Truffles.

Really, in the end - or in the beginning for that matter - truffles are not much to look at.  Resembling deep, intense black lumps of dirt, they are earthy smelling and tasting fungi that grow in the dirt in close proximity to the roots of trees - oak trees, to be specific.  The root of the word truffle comes to us from the Latin tuber, meaning lump.  How appropriate.  It morphed into tufer, which went on to become truffe in French, tartufo in Italian and truffle in English.

The most famous of the French truffles come form the PĂ©rigord region of Southwest France, between Bordeaux and Toulouse.  But there are many other regions in which they grow, including Provence, and during the autumn and winter there are numerous regional festivals celebrating these little black lumps.   In fact, about 80% of the truffles grown in France come from the Southeast region.  At this moment, I refer you back to Susan and Towny's blog, The Modern Trobadors, and specifically to their recent posting (Don't Forget Provence in the Winter) which discusses the different truffle festivals of Provence. Be sure to stay tuned for their upcoming post in which they go a-truffle-hunting with Artur.


Four Letter Words

Food.  Wine.  Two of my favorite expletives in the English language.  I once thought of expletives as the bad four letter words - words that required deleting, or having one's mouth washed out with soap - until I discovered that the word expletive comes from the Latin explere, meaning "to fill" or "fill out."  And isn't that just the perfect food-lover's term?  Oh, and the word companion.  I love its etymology more than anything; it comes from Latin cum (with) + panis (bread, or food).  And how lovely is it that companions bring us to the table to enjoy our (expletives) food and wine?

Food and wine together are a great pairing.  But, like 'Astaire and Rogers' or 'night and day,' if there is no one present to share them - to enjoy them - how much fun can they be alone?  When you add companions, the joy arrives.

Mark and I celebrated our fifth anniversary of moving to Tucson this past week.  In these five years, we have enjoyed many dinner parties in our home.  To be exact, 350 dinners as of this week.  You may be asking, "What kind of person (nutcase) keeps track?"  Well, the tracking of the number of dinners is a byproduct of the software we use to log the dinners made - Microsoft Excel automatically numbers each entry you make.  We keep a detailed account of each meal we serve, and to whom it was served.  It includes day and date, appetizers, first courses, main courses, side dishes, salads, desserts, wine pairings and a column for allergies, likes and dislikes.  We don't like to serve the same thing twice (unless it has been requested - see last week's posting for Shoofly Pie), and we like to make sure we don't offer something that will kill our guests or send them screaming from the table.  (Neither of those two things has yet to occur... well, expect once, and Barbara has long since forgiven me...)

While keeping the log may be obsessive, impersonal-sounding and an exercise in practicality, it has, in the end, become one of the sweetest walks down memory lane I could ever take.  Sometimes, when seeking to find what we made for a particular friend, who is brave enough to come to dinner again, I will trip across a particular meal that brings a broad smile to my face, or perhaps a tear.  It all comes back in a flood of images, sounds and smells.  Welcome dinners.  Good-bye dinners.  Celebratory dinners.  Memorial dinners.  'Just because' dinners, too.  I think if I still lived in a cold climate, I might take out the log and look at it on snowy nights to warm my heart.  Good times at the table with friends and loved ones.


"The Frost is on the Pumpkin!"

That is what my father would say on chilly autumn mornings when I was young.  From the bedroom upstairs, these words were always preceded by the smell of the heat coming through the vents and perhaps a whiff of bacon being cooked.  We came down the stairs Dad, with a twinkle in his eye, greeted us at the bottom saying, "The frost is on the pumpkin."  Sometimes he said it with a tinge of his lost Boston accent.  But we knew it had bigger implications.  It was time for the final harvest.  The end of fresh vegetables as we knew them, at least until spring.

Each year in our garden, we grew asparagus, corn, peas, strawberries, green beans, wax beans, cucumbers, zucchini and tomatoes.  The beans, cucumbers and tomatoes were most prolific.  Not bad for "gentle-family farmers."  We never tried to "live off the land" but we did enjoy having our success at gardening.  Tomatoes - a major family favorite - were the first thing considered each year.  And, as Guy Clark's song goes, there is nothing like homegrown tomatoes;
Homegrown tomatoes!  Homegrown tomatoes!
What'd life be without homegrown tomatoes?
There's only two things that money can't buy,
and that's true love and homegrown tomatoes!

After the first frost, Mom went out to our small 10-foot by 20-foot garden patch and cut down the one row of corn we grew (corn, to Americans, means maize).  If we were lucky, that row had produced enough ears of corn for one meal.  She tied the cornstalks together with twine and we leaned them against the house near the front door for a seasonal decoration.  Our own corn shock.  That, with some Indian corn hanging on the door and a pumpkin at the base of the corn shock, signaled it was really autumn and that Halloween was nigh!

Here in the desert we won't see frost until sometime around Thanksgiving.  Our farmer's market still offers wonderful produce - heirloom tomatoes, pink-fleshed melons, green beans and all variety of squash.  But, even here in the desert, we know the season for luscious summer produce is winding down.  Corn season has already slipped away, and we mourn the end of a crop that was so sweet and juicy this year.

But fret not.  We have cornmeal!  Prior to refrigeration, jet-propelled world trade and hydroponic gardening under glass, people ensured food in their larders for the winter by other means.  To have corn all year long, it was dried and ground for use in a variety of ways from baking it in breads, biscuits and muffins, to thickening soups and stews, or as homey, stand-alone corn mush dishes like grits, Indian pudding, and polenta.


Greek Penicillin

Flu season has begun and if the coughing and sneezing at work is any indication - it's going to be a doozy.  One must jump into action the moment early symptoms appear, so along with your vitamins and echinacea tea, I offer you my grandmother's recipe for avgolemono soup.  From Greek "avgo - lemono" translates to "egg - lemon", and is used as both a soup and as part of stew-type dishes.

Traditionally the soup is made with chicken broth in which rice or orzo pasta has been cooked, along with pieces of meat (usually chicken), before a mixture of eggs and lemon juice is added.  The consistency varies from broth to thick, and most important is that the broth be removed from the heat before the eggs / lemon juice are added.  My favorite recipe is my mother's, which she has refined so that it can be made quickly.  It's a broth version with just the right amount of lemon juice to make it - well - lemony.

So with this, I'm going to bid you a healthy winter season as I take a few months off from blogging.  See you in the new year and stay well.

- Doreen