Quick – how many abbeys are there in the U.S.?
The answer is “way more than you’d think!”
Abbeys – their contemporary ways of life, histories, and (most importantly) culinary delights – are the subject of Madeline Scherb’s first book, A Taste of Heaven: A Guide to Food and Drink Made by Monks and Nuns.
Part travel guide, part history lesson, part valentine to all things Catholic, and part cookbook, A Taste of Heaven makes for interesting reading and is structured around a gourmand’s fantasy meal (the book’s sections, in order cover Spirits, Cheese, Sweets, and Other). Those who love beer and cheese will especially appreciate the substantial portions of the book devoted to Belgian Trappist abbey brews (such as Orval) and the abbeys of France (such as the walnut-liquor-enhanced fromage of Echourgnac), respectively.
Now, I’m not religious and this is not a beer and cheese blog (though I love beer just as much as I adore wine), and while I love my foodie friends I don’t share their keen ability to translate culinary thought-experiment (recipes) successfully into visceral reality (food that actually tastes good), and I struggled with whether or not I should cover A Taste of Heaven (which Madeline kindly sent to me as a sample copy). But, I did in fact find a wine angle in this book, albeit a small one.
Citeaux Abbey, situated just outside of Dijon in the Cote-D’or in France, is covered in A Taste of Heaven and the abbey’s history is fascinating. Citeaux was founded in 1098 and initially struggled to find recruits for monks in an area of France that was already known as a lap of luxury. At one point, the Abbey owned 10,000 acres of land in Burgundy, including… Clos Romanee. That would probably be worth enough to buy a space shuttle nowadays. Apparently, the cheese there is… well… heavenly to this day.
Those who get the travel bug to check out the famous Abbeys of Europe (or the not-quite-as-famous Abbeys of the U.S.) would do well to first check out A Taste of Heaven. But be warned, by the looks of the butter, egg, and lard content of the recipes found in Scherb’s book, eating abbey food isn’t exactly for the (literally) faint of heart.
Oh, yeah – and whatever you do, don’t sing or chant along loudly with the monks (apparently that’s bad abbey-visiting form)!
Well… does it?
I ask myself this question whenever I receive a review copy of a wine book, which has been… a lot lately, it seems.
So here comes four-time James Beard award-winner Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl, and her new book Drink This: Wine Made Simple. Another entry in a (very) crowded field. It also happens to be excellent, so I suppose the world could use another wine intro book. Drink This is excellent primarily because Grumdahl’s prose is lucid and entertaining. Her writing is also down-to-earth.
But excellent writing chops wouldn’t matter a hill of pomace if Grumdahl didn’t know what she was talking about, or if her method for learning about wine proved too rudimentary, too complex, or hindered by some wine-related prejudice. Thankfully, none of that proves to be the case. In fact, Drink This is so good that its overall quality makes up for the fact that Grumdahl uses the word ‘varietal’ as a synonym for grape variety (which it’s not). In fact, she does this so often that I nearly threw the book across the room (I say ‘nearly’ because my sample copy is a hardcover book, and I didn’t want to damage my living room drywall).
The thing that makes Drink This so compelling is that Grumdahl knew writing long before she knew wine. As a result, her method for learning wine (more on that in moment) is likely to work, because it’s the method that she used herself.
The method? Well, it’s a variation on simplification…
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I was recently contacted by Doug Pike, the cartoonist whose wine-related humor has been published on the subscription-only portion of eRobertParker.com for about four years now. Doug has released a collection titled Gone With The Wine, which pulls together about 100 of the cartoons that appeared on Parker’s website (Parker supplies the book’s foreword).
Doug came across 1WineDude.com via my recent contribution to CNBC’s Wines for the Holidays, and has become a fan “mostly because of your non-elitist approach to wine, which I share.” Amen to that, brother!
Doug was kind enough to send a review copy of Gone With The Wine and also give permission for me to post some of the cartoons from the book. While some of the cartoons are clearly geared towards the fine-wine-loving crowd that have made Parker a household name, I found myself chuckling more often than not at the fun being poked at wine geeks (myself included among those ranks) throughout Gone With The Wine.
The cold hard truth is that we really are that goofy – and long may we remain that goofy, so long as we take the wine – but not ourselves – seriously.
A few samples of Doug’s work appear below, with his permission – enjoy!…
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