Archive for September 2012

NGW: Luzon Crianza 2008   4 comments

Ah, Miss Piggie, alas, I knew her well!

Many people do not like to see where their food comes from.  But I am not one of those.

I suppose that their perspective is somewhat understandable in this freeze-dried, shrink wrapped, time stamped, hormone injected, antibiotic infused, chemically preserved, no fat, reduced fat, low sodium, Reduced Guilt Age of Ours.

I especially love a good Pig Roast.  The primal urge to cook an entire animal is ever-present.  It is not for everyone.  But, it is within all of us.  Having grown up with it, I have no aversion to it.  In fact, I like knowing where my food comes from. 

This is not an everyday occurrence.  Yet, when presented with the carcass of a nearly entire animal (butchers are usually kind enough to clean the inside and remove and keep all the parts that chefs refer to as “the good stuff” for use in making sausage and other goodies) I feel a sense of responsibility.  Theoretically speaking this is no different from picking up a package of pork chops at the supermarket.  And yet it is.  Here before you are the remnants of a sentient being whose life was ended to the purpose of feeding a ravenous horde.  Here the tail.  There the head, eyes frozen in confusion and horror.  Here is the beast, fed and cared for, unwitting to its fate, sacrificed to the Gods of Barbeque.  It’s muscle and skin devoured in a celebration.  It’s bones sucked dry and picked clean.  Larger bones left for the hounds of the household.  I am not religious, but I quietly give thanks for the ultimate sacrifice another being has made.  Yet, I feel no remorse.  This is the way of the world– the culmination of the life or death struggle that goes on everyday throughout the world. 

These little piggies consumed, digested, and converted into nothingness within hours.  And yet, I feel no remorse.   It is what must be.

But I feel a sense of Obligation.  When you carve up an entire pig as I have done two times now, you learn to have respect for the life that was ended to provide sustenance. 

So for today, a recollection of Three “Little” Piggies that I have known.  My Personal Porcine Pantheon.


Over the weekend, a friend was having a backyard pig roast.  He had invited 100 people– friends, acquaintances and business relations– as well as a special guest, a 50 lb. sow, to a summer’s end celebration at his house in suburban Connecticut.  As the house is located on a quiet, conservative, New England street, the approach to the roasting of the beast needed to be carefully considered.  He opted for the use of a 48 inch wide Weber propane gas grill with a rotisserie attachment.  I was a little skeptical– 50 pounds is a lot of weight to put on an electric rotisserie for 6 hours.  Add to that uncertainty the logistical question of whether such a large pig would fit into the grill.  Combine these complications with the fact that this friend had never attempted this and I began to think it might not be such a good idea.  I figured I had better lend a hand.    

Earlier last week, he sent me an email asking for advice on seasoning the beast.  When it comes to pork, I am a traditionalist– generous helpings of salt, pepper, cilantro and fresh garlic rubbed on the inside and out and inserted into slits into the skin. 

Yes, the kitchen smelled like garlic heaven.  You can see the bowl of seasoning we used. 

And in case you’re wondering, no Advil was added to the recipe.  This little piggie was way beyond headaches…

After we seasoned it, but before we dropped the marinade on it, we inserted the rotisserie rod, proctologically speaking, from stern to bow, if you know what I mean.  Incredibly, we had about two inches of clearance on each end of the rod.  So the pig would fit horizontally.  Next came the question of the legs.  Hanging freely would not do since the vertical clearance in the grill was only about 15 inches and pig, were it to be standing would be over 20 inches.  We solved that problem by tieing the legs to the body.  While not a classical way to roast a pig, short of cutting off the legs, this was the only practical solution.  Result– 12 to 13 inches at the widest point.  Naturally, we did a “cold run” on the grill to ensure we had clearance. 

Into some large plastic bags went our porcine guest, along with a bitter orange marinade: bitter orange juice (Goya makes a good one) infused with more garlic, S&P, cilantro and oregano.  

Fini!  And feeling good about ourselves, we sat around the fire pit drinking ourselves silly till past 1 a.m.  as we sucked down some nice reds.  While today’s NGW was not among them, it would have been right at home if only we had some. 

Luzon Crianza 2008 ($10.50).  The aromas promise so much– bramble and ripe fruit.  The Monastrell that we get from Jumilla, I sometimes find a bit cloying.  But not this one even though it is a blend that is dominated by Monastrell (AKA Mouvedre or Mataro) and has that gaminess that we often find with that varietal.  But wait, there’s more!  There is Tempranillo and Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot and these lend ripe blackberry, sage and plum skin flavors with mouth coating tannins on the finish.  Still, it may not be for everyone because Monastrell can present some challenges with that slight gamey finish. But the Tempranillo brings welcome acidity, the others tannins, amicable fruit and softness.  As a total package  this presents a very nice value and should be relatively easy to find.  Rated **1/2

When next I saw her, Miss Piggie looked a lot like this…


She was magnificent.


Back in 2009, we borrowed a Caja China, from a good friend.  The Caja China (translated as Chinese Box) is a Cuban-American invention.  It signficantly cuts down on the cooking time for roasting a pig by virtue of two major features .  First, the pig is spatch-cocked, that is to say split in half and cooked flat.  Second, the pig is placed in the Caja China and hot coals are placed in a metal tray that acts as the lid for the box that sealing the dinner to be within the confines of a hot box as the meat is cooked from above.  Doesn’t sound like it would work, but boy does it ever.  Here’s a couple of photos from our Day with the Caja China.

Did I mention it was good?  Friends still mention the day I spatch-cocked a pig.


My first experience with an entire pig came when I was a wee lad of 12 or so.  And I have to say, it was my greatest pig experience.  It is the yardstick, the paradigm, the sine qua non, the most ut.  Dad got a big ass pig.  Which the men put on a spit.  Just like in the movies, it was tied to a long rod.  We didn’t have electric rotisseries back then, so we hired a guy.  Yes, a guy who sat in the hot sun by the spit slowly rotating the pig by hand for many hours.  We kept him motivated with cold beers, the occasional bathroom break, and the promise of a few pounds of the stuff.  It was such a large pig there was plenty to go around. 

If any pictures were taken, they are lost to time.  But it looked a little like this:

I do remember the smell of the roasting flesh and the bread that was warmed on the hot coals as pig fat dripped on it from above.  That’s some large living, my friends.  The skin was dense and crunchy, salty and magnificent.  I have never eaten anything that good in my life.  Well at least that’s how I remember it.

And because we were given the entire pig including all the innards, there was some fantastic blood sausage that was made as well.  You can read about that by clicking on this link.

The little guy in the photo at the top of this page doesn’t have a guilty bone in his body.  Neither should you.  No-Guilt Wednesday (NGW) is not about compromising on quality.  It’s all about drinking good wine that does not break the bank ($15 or less), eating good food and of course, it’s about sharing with the ones you love.

Posted September 19, 2012 by Sybarite Sauvage in No-Guilt Wednesday

A Remembrance On the Eve of Rosh Hashana   4 comments

Years before I met and then worked for him, I had been told that Len was a genius.

But I have come to learn that Genius is the obverse side of a coin.  What is on the reverse side of that coin is not so readily apparent– at first.  

An enduring image I have of Len is feet up on his desk, cigarette smoldering between his tobacco stained fingers, staring into the space outside his window, no doubt resolving a sticky technical problem.  Tall, yet he never used his height to intimidate.  Gentle eyes, he would sit and listen and then clearly discuss technical matters as if he had been born with the knowledge pre-packaged, pre-loaded in his brain.  He was a mental giant but he did not intimidate with that either.  Len was a Jew and as a Jew he would have appreciated being referred to as a Mensch.  A Yiddish word used to describe a Real Human Being, A Good Person.  Many of us admired him, but we also knew that he could be a bit of a loner.  He lived in his head and reminded me of Mr. Spock.

Yet there was a side of him that said, “Look here, I can have fun too!”.  He purchased a cherry red Mazda Miata.  But it was a queer choice.  As a partner in the firm, he could afford a better car.  He wanted to have fun.  But it was Fun within limits.  Then there were the sheer mechanics of folding his Ichabod-esque frame into the confines of a Miata.  I remember passing him on the highway once and looking over he had cigarette perched in left hand, hunched over the wheel, staring forward, lost in thought at 60 miles per hour.

I was thrilled the day that I was asked to support Len with respect to one of the more high-profile clients in the office– a company with coal mining interests in West Virginia.  The vice president we were dealing with was a short fellow with a major Napoleon complex.  Standing about five feet five inches, he surrounded himself with a team of six-foot tall men that he bullied for sport.  For some reason, he never focused on me– perhaps because I am a mere five feet eight inches on a good day.  Len, on the other hand was just about 6 feet tall.  And theirs was always a tenuous relationship.

During one of the recessions in the early nineties, the a Firm made a decision to lay off the lower performing employees for economic reasons.  These were people who were not superstars.  They were average but they were effective and good at what they did.  However, rather than admitting that the cutbacks were being made for economic reasons,  the leaders of the firm, in their infinite wisdom, decided to base the cutbacks on performance evaluations that were unnecessarily and intentionally negative.  No mention was to be made of the economic motivations for the lay offs.

I rankled at this notion.  My feeling was– that you could give someone a decent and honest evaluation and then tell them that good as they were, they were not at the top of the class and business being business, they had to leave with company’s blessing and some outplacement assistance and a letter of recommendation.  The company’s approach was more draconian– tell them they are sub-par, sub-standard, sub-human chattel and fire them.  Eat what you kill.  Corporate Darwinism. 

As Senior Managers, they charged me and others with drafting and delivering these negative performance evaluations.  I, along with a few others,  bridled at this and refused to write an evaluation that I thought was a lie and unduly cruel. 

Len and another leader in our group, George called me into their offices.  I calmly explained my position– fire them if you must, but don’t kick them when they are down.  I expected them to calmly explain why I should do their bidding (aside from the fact that they were my bosses).  Len’s face filled with rage and he exploded into an emotional tirade directed at yours truly.  I was stunned that this mild-mannered man that I had admired had turned on me with such ferocity that I thought there was a fair chance that he was going to strike me.  I still see his sanguine face contorted by anger, his voice rising, ordering me to write the evaluation. 

Standing over me, he demanded, “So are you going to write the evaluations or not?!”  George, leaning back on his desk in the background, was perhaps more stunned than me, I do not know.  I could not take my eyes off of Len in case he decided to take a swing at me.

I sat motionless.  The next words out of my mouth were going to have an impact on my immediate future.  And perhaps my physical well-being.  Growing up, I was taught never leave a job unless another is lined up.  My daughter was just a year old then.  My wife was making a few bucks doing free-lance journalism.  No real savings to speak of.  And we were in a difficult economy where firms, like ours, were letting people go. 

Why not ask me– “So, do you want to provide for your family or not?!”  The message was that clear. 

I took a deep breath and prepared to respond.  In a soft and even tone I looked Len in the eye: “I will draft the evaluation and put in it whatever YOU want.  But I will not sign it and I will not deliver it to the individuals.”  This was unusual– because as the direct supervisor of the two people in my group who were going to be affected, it would normally have been my responsibility to deliver performance evaluations.  I was disavowing responsibility for these evaluations which I felt were filled with lies. 

I think it fair to say that my career with the Firm ended (at least unofficially) that day. 

There were two individuals in my group who were let go as a result of this action.  I liked them both very much, though I realized they would never be superstars.  

You might say that I woosed out that day.  I guess I did.  Practicality beat out idealism.  The world can be a heartless place.

Shortly after the Tirade, Len approached me and gave me what I felt was a sincere apology for his rant.  While that must have been difficult for him, and while I accepted his apology, I could not forget.  He and I both knew that the damage to our relationship was done and it was permanent.  I could never look at him in the same way again.  Within a few months, I left the firm, on my own terms.  But I do not doubt that they would have pushed me out eventually in any event.  It was that kind of a place and they knew that I was not going to go along with “the program”.

A couple of years after the Rant, I received bad news.  They say that the Coal Napoleon had been disgruntled with Len.  Len was about to lose the account.  At a place, like the Firm, where there was little tolerance for failure, this may have been the catalyst for what happened.

Len was a thinker and a planner.  September 16, 1993 was an important day in his life.  As I mentioned, Len was Jewish and he chose Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year) as the day to put a bullet into his brilliant brain.  The choice of day.  The choice of method.  Even the place.  These were not last-minute decisions.  Even in death he was delivering a message.  The symbolism embedded in choosing to attack his own brain continues to resonate.  He destroyed his greatest asset.  The car, he stained the inside of a thing that brought him joy. 

Being a thinker, I am certain that Len was aware that this particular day,  September 16, 1993, is also referred to as “the day of judgement”.  He had thought about it.  He had ensured that his life insurance policy would pay out even if he did himself in.  He had calculated that he was worth more dead than alive– even to his family.  Alone, perhaps with tears in his eyes, but determined to do what he had logically concluded he had to do, he passed judgement on himself and then extinguished his life inside the red Miata.

It has been 19 years and I have long ago forgiven him for the Tirade.  But I have not forgotten his actions– the Tirade, but more importantly, the Kindnesses he showed me and the Life Lessons he left with all of us.  As I approach that anniversary, I pause to reflect on his greatness and am thankful that I experienced his Goodness.  


Posted September 14, 2012 by Sybarite Sauvage in Food-Wine-Love

NGW: Cavit Alta Luna Phases Dolomiti 2009   3 comments

Here’s where the snob in me starts to emerge.  I see the name Cavit and my instinct is to turn the other way.  I associate the name with cheap magnums of “party” wine.  But for parties at some else’s house.  Recently, a guest of ours brought a magnum of this stuff– the Cavit Pinot Grigio– for dinner.  I certainly did appreciate the thought though it was not to my personal taste.  And it probably cost him around $15, which for many people (myself included) is a lot of money for fermented grape juice.  And if you’re not a wine person, you’re not likely to take a chance on a label you’ve never seen or heard of before.  (That’s where this blog hopefully helps to fill in some blanks.)  But there it was, cheap white wine, sitting in the fridge, waiting for its moment. 

But first, an aside. 

A year ago we went to a Food Network event at Bally’s Casino in Atlantic City with friends of ours.  It was a lot of fun, we tasted a bunch of wines, had some decent food and then went to the casino after where Ms. R magically turned $50 into $150.  This paid for some of the stuff we bought– including a very cool, but dangerous five and a half-inch chef’s knife designed by the recently deceased F.A. Porsche.  (You can read his obit by clicking on this link to the New York Times on-line) Yes, THAT Porsche– the guy who designed the Porsche 911.  Like all things Porsche, it looks great, it feels great, but if you’re not careful during use, it will hurt you. 

The knife, known as the 301, fits beautifully in my hand. 

This knife rethinks how a kitchen knife should be held.  A typical knife’s handle rests at the intersection of the top part of the palm and the 4 fingers that wrap around the handle.  Go to your kitchen and try it.  See what I mean?  The 301 by marked contrast rests comfortably and diagonally along the lifeline of my palm and is held in place by the middle through the pinky digits.  The forefinger and thumb then rest against two rounded nubs that protrude from the sides, lending stability to the cutting action.  As a result, unlike any other knife I have ever used, it really does become an extension of my hand.  The connection is seamless. 

From a design perspective, the knife is made of one piece construction.  From the horizontally flat handle, the design narrows and swoops into a vertical blade.  Though not evident at first, that transition is broken by the two rounded nubs that communicate with the hand that it should not move further down the blade.  The package is design genius.  The blade effortlessly slices through anything.  Friends that I have let use the knife marvel at its inventiveness and efficiency.

Looks great and feels great.  But there is a down side– a design flaw which must be mentioned.  The knife is uniquely balanced with more of the weight in the handle and along the top seam of the blade.  This adds to the feeling of connectivity between skin and steel.  However, when placed on a counter top, the knife will have a tendency to roll, Weeble-like,  and come to rest with its blade facing upward.  Yes, take your eyes of the road and it would be easy to slam into something.  Take your eyes off this knife and you are likely to slice into your own skin as I have done.  After a couple of mishaps, I had decided that I did not like this knife.  I have other great choices including two fantastic Shun knives and my old reliable friends from Henckels.  And yet, this is the first knife that I usually reach for in my kitchen every day.  What does that tell me?  That I am now looking to purchase my next one– the larger chef’s knife.  I guess I like to live on the edge…

Back to the Cavit, however.  Another less useful thing we purchased at the Food and Wine Expo was a fruit flavored mix that could be combined with white wine and blended with ice to make what essentially amounts to a wine Slurpee.  Our crew, being a few sheets to the wind at that time, were drawn to the irresistible chemical fruitiness of this concoction like suburban johns to a 12th Avenue whore.  It was ugly.  But I went along and purchased a package of the “mix”.  And there it sat, in the bar, at home, for a year.  I finally gave it to these dear friends of ours as a memento of that trip.

Over the Labor Day weekend, these same friends of ours decided to throw a party and being among the invited, and also knowing what it takes to get a party organized, I volunteered to arrive early to help with the prep.  There it was: the peach-flavored mix.  It was peach colored, if you want to call it that.  Actually, no peach that I have ever seen has this color, but somehow, it is still refered to as “peach” in the crayon box.  We stirred the contents into a magnum of cheap white.  It was god-awful.  We needed more white wine.  “I know,” I thought, “we have this magnum of Cavit Pinot Grigio sitting back at the house and it would be ‘lovely’ with this.”  A quick phone call and it was in Ms. R’s bag en route to party central.  And there, it made its mark.  I was thrilled to make room in the fridge once we got this thing out of there.

So you can see that my expectations for Cavit wines are at a pretty low threshold. 

When I first saw today’s NGW, it was marketed as Alta Luna Phases, by my wine guys.  A good move on their part as I would likely have taken a pass had I seen the Cavit name.  Once I got it home, I just about groaned when I spotted the brand moniker at the bottom of the label.  But don’t be so hasty, Bubba Louie, rating wine is not as easy as spotting good guys from bad guys.  You have to open the bottle first.

From the shadows of the Dolomites in the Italian Alps, this is a winner worth seeking out.   This comes close to a *** rating: **3/4 as Ms. R was saying.  But we don’t give quarter stars.  No matter, at this price, it is now the reigning house wine in the SS household.  That is our highest praise.  I like Cavit, I really do.  Who knew?

Alta Luna Phases 2009Cavit Alta Luna Phases Dolomiti 2009 ($9).  A terrific blend of Teroldego, Lagrein and Merlot, this reveals a sense of place with hints of fecund and dusty earth, touches of cinnamon, sweet spices and bright red cherries.  Yet this might have faltered without what comes then.  Pear tomato emerges setting up a structural acidity tempered  by the merlot tannins.  Are those tannins velvety or silky?  Who cares, try this and make up your own mind.  Rated **1/2

The little guy in the photo at the top of this page doesn’t have a guilty bone in his body.  Neither should you.  No-Guilt Wednesday (NGW) is not about compromising on quality.  It’s all about drinking good wine that does not break the bank ($15 or less), eating good food and of course, it’s about sharing with the ones you love.

Posted September 12, 2012 by Sybarite Sauvage in No-Guilt Wednesday

NGW: Buil & Gine 17-XI Montsant 2008   Leave a comment

(Click Here Before Reading)

Did you ever feel that events affecting your life are being orchestrated behind closed doors?  Your fate decided for you.   No, this is not about some corporate or government conspiracy.  Though there are parallels.

Saturday morning on this past long weekend.  We were feeling lazy.  Kicking back we switched on the telly.  What’s on?  The 1934 horror film, The Black Cat, starring Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff.  Old school horror with our morning tea and toast.


Hjalmar Poelzig (played by Karloff) is the quintessence of Evil.  And yet, he brings a humanity to his role so that when he gets his predictable comeuppance at the climax of the film, you still feel a twinge of pity for him.  But just a twinge. 

Before that moment, he takes pleasure in the cat and mouse game he is playing with his guests as they try to make arrangements to leave the Art Deco cage he has built. 

Hey, BK, can I use your phone to call for a ride?

Suuuuuure!  It’s in my office.  Help yourself.

Returning and disgusted, his guest informs him that the phone line has gone dead.  As he stalks off to fetch his wife for a hasty departure, Poelzig, in a giddy schoolboy tone of voice, turns to Vitus (played by Lugosi) and concludes,

The phone is dead.  Do you hear that, Vitus?  Even the phone is dead.”  

(Translation: “I’m gonna f*** them up!”

Did I mention there is a Satanic Ritual in this film?  Drenched in the demonic symbolism — pentagrams, queer crosses, and jewelry in a shape that is a weird intersection between ram’s head and uterus.  And then there is a soundtrack which includes Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor BWV 565– now a horror genre cliché.

I confess.  This is the first time I have seen this film.  How can that have happened?   

If you’re a Black Cat virgin,  as I used to be, click here to watch the entire film.  If you’ve seen it before, click anyway– you know it’s good.  Go ahead, take the 65 minutes out of your evening and sip on today’s NGW while you’re at it.

Buil & Gine 17-XI Montsant 2008 ($13.50).  Slight red berry tartness. Lighter in body than other Montsant wines.  With a hint of minerality on the finish.  Not overly complex, but still tasty.  Rated **

This is a food friendly wine that was elevated by some braised chicken leg quarters over a vegetable cous cous.  The kind of comfort food you need after a long day dealing with the Hjalmar Poelzigs of the world. 

Black Cat Chicken


  • 4 Chicken leg quarters–thigh and drumstick (See Note Below)
  • 2 Tbsps EVOO
  • 1 large white onion chopped
  • 1 red bell pepper chopped
  • 1 sprig rosemary
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 3 cups chicken stock
  • 8 oz. can tomato sauce
  • small pinch of Saffron


  1. In a large frying pan, add EVOO and brown the chicken over high heat (do not crowd the pan).
  2. Remove the chicken and set aside.
  3. Reduce heat to medium and saute the onion and peppers in the pan juices.
  4. Once the onion has softened, add white wine and deglaze the pan scraping up the crusty bits.
  5. Add chicken stock, rosemary and saffron.
  6. Return Chick to the pan and bring to boil.  Reduce heat to simmer, cover and cook for over low heat for 35  minutes.
  7. Place 1 chicken quarter leg per person on a bed of cous cous in a wide bowl and spoon sauce over top.

Serves 4

Note: We prefer the more expensive free range kosher chicken as it is more flavorful than the mass produced antibiotic and hormone infused birds we find in the market these days.

The little guy in the photo at the top of this page doesn’t have a guilty bone in his body.  Neither should you.  No-Guilt Wednesday (NGW) is not about compromising on quality.  It’s all about drinking good wine that does not break the bank ($15 or less), eating good food and of course, it’s about sharing with the ones you love.

Posted September 5, 2012 by Sybarite Sauvage in No-Guilt Wednesday