Just in case you were feeling insecure about your wine preferences in the face of overwhelming wine snobbery, and the now-ubiquitous $13 glass of restaurant Malbec, here’s a little evidence that even the Italians, who for all practical purposes invented wine, occasionally take a walk in the gutter.
I snapped this photo in a Rome grocery store back in March, and no, I didn’t buy any Mateus Rosé. I was in the market for a little Prosecco to accompany, well nothing really. Mr. Slattern and I were just in the mood for a glass or three of bubbly, but were too tired to go out to the local wine bar. We found exactly what we were looking for below the boxed wine and Mateus.
Interesting that this stuff is kept on the top shelf. Presumably it gives the reprobates who buy it a yoga-like stretch as they reach up. Now that’s a workout I can get behind!
What’s the takeaway? Drink what you like, folks. Screw top or box be damned. Va bene.
Put away the whiskey, cellar the heavy reds and prepare to lighten up the portable bar. Spring is here, and I have it on good authority that summer is bound to be close behind. As such, I’ve been thinking about warm weather cocktails of late. Well actually I’ve been thinking about them since I hoisted my first Singapore Sling in a dark bar in Shanghai all those years ago, but that’s a story for another day.
As I may have mentioned, I recently returned from a life enhancing two weeks on the Continent, specifically the usual highlights tour of Italy: Venice, Florence and Rome. Lest you think it was all Barolo to go, let me tell you that Mr. Slattern and I discovered some new and exciting ways to refresh the palate and calm the nerves at the end of a long day of sightseeing, culture-sucking and trying to make ourselves understood in pidgin Italian mixed with a random assortment of French and high school Spanish. For example:
Mi scusi Signore, mais est-ce que lei sa dove el mercado qui vend el vino, por favor?
Yes, we raised a few eyebrows, but as I have said, the Italians are uniformly among the loveliest, most welcoming people on the planet, and somehow or other we usually got where we needed to go. One thing we got very good at doing, however, was placing our order for a couple of Aperol spritzes at day’s end, and if I’m being honest, at lunchtime, too.
Not familiar with Aperol? Well neither were we, but I went right out and found a source the day we got back, and it’s been all orange slices and prosecco nirvana ever since. Just so you know, Aperol is a bitter orange aperitif, along the lines of Campari, but milder. In the classic Aperol spritz (pronounced shpritz), three parts of prosecco (sweet rather than dry is really best) is poured over ice and topped with one to two parts Aperol (depending on how bitter you like it) and a splash of seltzer water or club soda, whichever you have on hand. This last ingredient is not, strictly speaking necessary, but it does lend a certain bubbly lightness to the drink. I like to garnish with a slice of blood orange for the drama, but if all you’ve got is tangellos or navels in the fridge, they’ll do just fine. If you have nothing but an old bottle of maraschino cherries, that works, too.
The flavor is a delightful mix of sweet and sharp, and is perfect for a warm weather gathering when accompanied by little nibbly things of the sort Martha would probably have her slaves whip up in an afternoon. Because I enjoy a spritz or three before the party starts, I just put out a tray of olives, baguettes and cheeses (Ozzie) and let the spritz work it’s Venetian magic on even the stuffiest of gatherings.
The Slattern is out. To lunch.
Like my childhood idol Lucy Van Pelt, I have built a spectacularly un-lucrative business around giving out practical, yet almost entirely useless, advice on a variety of topics. In my case, much of what I’ve written this past year has had a culinary rather than psychiatric focus, though I reckon the frequent side trips through the cesspit of my psyche could also serve as a cautionary tale for the observant reader or licensed mental health professional. In any case, a stroll through the archives will show you how to make a pie, roast a chicken, whip up a tasty vinaigrette, bake a killer brownie and shake an authentic Sazerac. These are just the highlights, of course, but I think I can say that I have assembled a fair, if bare bones, primer on how to provide reasonably high quality sustenance for both family and friends without losing your mind, which was, after all, the goal I set during the initial planning meeting for Kitchen Slattern, aka one extremely drunken dinner party in the summer of 2011 during which the capable and persuasive Jen bought the name on my behalf and the enthusiastic and persuasive Robin egged us both on. Good times.
So as I say, over the past year I think I’ve made a reasonable contribution to gastronomy, much as Roseanne Barr did for unique musical performances a couple of decades past. As previously noted, a cautionary tale, but a memorable one nonetheless. And though I like writing about food in many ways, I find I may have “shot my wad,” if you’ll pardon the vulgarity, as far as cooking goes. I just don’t have that much more to offer on the subject. In addition, the little Slattern is off at college, Mr. Slattern long ago disavowed mammal consumption and lately is off sugar, salt and cheese, and I have placed my diet and health, for better or hellaciously worse, in the hands of Dr. Feelbad in an effort to lose the “sampling weight” I accumulated while overseeing quality control for such delightful treats as chocolate crinkles, lemon ginger pie and easy clafouti. I miss them all, I won’t lie.
Bottom line here: If I can’t sample, I can’t offer recipes. And though I could set this up as an improve-your-life-through-healthy-eating concern, who would want to read that? More importantly, how would I ever stop drinking if I had to write it? As such, I’m closing the kitchen and making it official. Going forward, I may offer up the odd culinary tidbit, and might even recycle some of the older chestnuts for the holidays, but in general, I’m going to confine my comments to the vast, weird territory that lies well beyond the limits of my cluttery, now under-provisioned, pantry.
Stay with me folks. It could get interesting.
And every snack in between if you’re peckish
Though as a rule I prefer to take the path of least resistance when it comes to cooking, I am in no way an advocate of processed foods, TV dinners, boxed meals and the like. With the possible exception of pie crust from a box, I avoid prepared foods like the plague. And anyway, since I’ve handed over my eating plan to the fat police, there’s very little chance of dessert reappearing on my table. Ever.
Of course, it was not always so. Otherwise how would I have ended up in the offices of Dr. Feelbad, MD, nutritionist to the stars and scourge of the chubby? I’ll tell you how. A lifetime of very poor eating fueled by a serious sugar addiction and a bad case of denial. As a child of the Sixties, I started life on formula, which the pediatrician told my mother was better for babies than breast milk. More scientific, you know. I was not the only one. From there is was a short trip to a diet built on the miracle foods of the era — canned vegetables, processed meats, fruits in heavy syrup, “fortified” breakfast cereal and bread that never went stale to name but a few.
Now, my mother is a pretty fair cook and was even then, but convenience foods were supposed to be healthier. No bacteria, no spoilage, no risk. Of course, the news that smoking was actually harmful to your health had only just broken — after years of government statements that there was no evidence it was in any way bad for you. Inhaling lung bucketfuls of smoke all day instead of air? How could that be a problem?
So anyhow, I was well into my thirties and still eating Pillsbury crescent rolls, rice and salt mixes from a box and Hostess Zingers (a bedazzled Twinkie for those of you with more evolved palates). I was also taken in by the no fat diet craze of the 90s, wherein you could eat as many carbs as you wanted as long as there was no fat. Remember Snackwell cookies (are they still available)? Oh no, those are no problem, I told myself as I stuffed the entire box into my gob and chased them with a big glass of skim milk. It’s like a health food!
I operated under these delusions for some time, like until a couple of years ago when Mr. Slattern discovered that it was sodium rather than heredity behind his high blood pressure and cholesterol. Since then we have eliminated salt and processed foods almost entirely from the family diet, and as as a result, Mr. S has safely eliminated all prescription medications from his diet. This was not so hard, but let me tell you getting the sugar monkey off my back has been.
Here’s what did it for me.
OK, not this exact article, but others on the same subject and in the same vein. In any case, may I strongly recommend you read it over? And if you’re looking for suggestions on how to cook without processed foods, here are a few posts from the archives. It’s not that hard, you know. I mean, I do it, for pity’s sake.