Of Mussels And A Madman - Lightly Toasted: Chronicles of the Friday Night Cocktail Club Blog at Allrecipes.com - 175615

Lightly Toasted: Chronicles of the Friday Night Cocktail Club

of mussels and a madman 
May 18, 2010 7:53 am 
Updated: May 22, 2010 9:53 am
I came this close to telling him I was allergic to shellfish. A lie, of course, but it seemed the only way out.

One peek inside his secluded wine-tasting room, hidden behind a stand of golden wildflowers at the bottom of a narrow and winding homemade asphalt road, and it was clear: Mr. M was no stickler for hygiene. The dust, the flies, the smell of wet cardboard mixing with grease and vinegar. On one workbench, a small box half-full of fingerling potatoes, shriveled and sprouting, sat askew atop a heap of computer components.

Everywhere evidence of projects started and abandoned. Random bits of machinery at varying stages of repair strewn all about the place; an industrial dishwashing system and numerous wine-making contraptions of unknown purpose.

A dog-eared, wine-stained copy of Jacques Pépin's Complete Techniques collected dust on a bench beside an unopened box of Calphalon knives. No space was left uncluttered.

An old schoolhouse chalkboard leaned against a wall; the various scratchings, calculations, and diagrams chalked across it turned out to be Mr. M's idea for a new, game-changing hull design for an America's Cup-caliber catamaran.

As we would learn, Mr. M was also designing hydrogen-filled pull-kites to help cargo ships save fuel on ocean crossings; and all of this as he was preparing to corner the farmed-trout market by developing a process that would slowly reduce the water temperature in trout tanks until the fish went dormant, at which point he would scoop them out and ship them in refrigerated containers to restaurants and other markets--because it doesn't get any fresher than still alive.

Mr. M also has property in Santa Barbara, with plans for an outdoor music venue and a wine cave to be carved deep into the limestone mountainside with a batman-style elevator up to the house.

The dream is the thing, of course. The doing, it seems, mostly remains to be done.

I should point out that this is a man who kept his pants up with a miscellaneous stretch of rope. The rope, though, was not getting the job done, so he was constantly hitching them up in between pouring wine and pontificating.

He wore a scraggly white beard with a wild Mark-Twain mustache (to filter out the sediment in wine) and looked out beneath a grimy old baseball cap that he would habitually lift to run a hand through his unwashed hair. I won't mention his fingernails or, worse yet, the condition of his toes, which poked out of floppy sandals.

But weren't we talking about shellfish?

Besides being a winemaker and a mad scientist, Mr. M is also an accomplished amateur chef. And among his many thoughts on the subject of food and wine was this nugget: you can't really taste wine apart from food.

And so, SLS and I, we set about tasting the 17 wines that he'd laid out on a plank, paired with various foods that he would suddenly produce: an old yogurt container appeared full of leftover mashed potatoes flavored with morels, for example, which paired nicely with his old-school, burgundy-style chardonnay. Bratwurst materialized for the Gewurtztraminer. Then pastas emerged, then the goat cheese that a friend of his had made, and some salsa wrapped in the bok choy leaves he'd plucked from his garden that morning...and then, the mussels.

I'm not squeamish, typically. But if I was already having second thoughts about digging a spoon into Mr. M's mashed potatoes, I was momentarily panic stricken at the idea of shoving a leftover mussel into my mouth.

It occurred to me then that I could easily fake an allergy to shellfish. Why not? Who would judge me? Glamping is no time or place to be experimenting with mussels of unknown origin.

By now, SLS had already dug in with gusto, which added a sense of urgency. Shouldn't someone in the tent be the designated non-barfing person?

But I avoid my better judgment religiously. Anticipating a night of misery on Destiny Ridge, I ate the mussels anyway. If nothing else, it seemed like a fun story.

And you know what? I never felt a twinge. The mussels were too good to have gone bad. They came in a cream sauce with orange zest and assorted mild vegetables like celery, carrots, and fennel. Who knows, maybe the mad scientist's wines saved me, but the mussels sure didn't hurt me. They were delicious, and the old-school chardonnay he paired with them made them even better, took the flavors and extended them out like pulling on a rubber band.

And I'll say this, although not all of the 17 wines we sampled seemed, uh, quite right--one or two seemed off to the point of near vinegar--there were some that were astonishing. And even with the most peculiar tasting of his wines, his food pairings always turned the wines around somehow. Unusual on their own, the food somehow made them work. He was on to something. He was a man with a vision. Visions, really.

And when he finally does open up his dream bistro on his secluded property above Benton City, and he serves that chicken-fried rabbit with jalapeno grits and a side vegetable yet to be determined (hint: it's not asparagus), I'll be dropping everything and racing over the Cascades for a spot at the table. It should be a pretty weird time.

It's like SLS said on the way back to our tent in the Horse Heaven Hills, "Nothing like eating suspect shellfish with a madman." Nothing like it at all.

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it's a long twisty road
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past the wine barrel graveyard
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May 18, 2010 8:15 am
Awesome blog. Sounds like a great adventure, one that me and my husband would truly appreciate!
May 18, 2010 9:01 am
LOL-good read-fine line between genius and insanity, we all flirt around that line somtime in our life.
May 18, 2010 1:50 pm
Very interesting! One of our favorite things to do when traveling, is head off in search of "different" wineries! Never met up with one like this, though!
May 18, 2010 9:56 pm
I lived in Walla Walla for 10 years and the last two blogs of yours have made me very nostalgic for that country again. Once again, you are a very gifted writer and the visual picture you paint of this guy and his homestead are captivating. Loved it.
May 19, 2010 3:00 pm
You are a man of courage! I am happy it turned out well for you. Sounds like you found a real mad scientist. And you were correct, it makes a great story.
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About Me
My wife and I and our two devilish kittens live on Capitol Hill in Seattle. A few years ago, I got a masters in gastronomy. I'm a food/wine writer. I’m also blogging about cocktails.
My favorite things to cook
We cook fairly simple dishes using fresh local ingredients that we pick up at the Seattle farmers market. My favorite thing is making a nice slow-braised or long-roasted something on a lazy Sunday afternoon. I like cooking with wine (in the dish and in the glass...and in the cook).
My favorite family cooking traditions
My mom never liked to cook, but she did well despite herself. Her mother, my omi, was from Munich and made delicious rouladen, sauerbraten and other traditional German and American dishes. Always bins and bins of home-baked cookies at Christmas. Wonderful rye bread. And beer. Opa would say, "Brotzeit ist die beste zeit."
My cooking triumphs
We’ve made the signature timpano dish from The Big Night a couple times. And for Thanksgiving 2007, we made Turducken. My wife and I are always volunteering to cook the big holiday meals with the family. We mix a signature cocktail, and get down to it.
My cooking tragedies
I made Thanksgiving Dinner for myself once when I was snowed-in in Denver. I nearly burned down the neighborhood.
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