Just about this week seven years ago, Dare and I started sending a weekly e-mail that morphed into a blog in July 2009. After 72 e-mails and 224 blog posts, it seems like a good time to look back on what we’ve thrown out into the world. I hope you won’t mind if I write a couple of posts taking a look at what has interested you, our readers.
It’s fascinating to look at the posts and pages that receive the most views and how that has changed over time. Since we still send e-mails that point to the blog posts, whatever post is up top generally gets the most hits in a given week. But the picture is different for the ones found via search engines. Our most popular search-engine item continues to be the February 26, 2009 e-mail I wrote about sulfites in wine. (When we switched to blogging five months later, we folded some of the e-mails into the blog as content and this was one of them.)
Back in 2009, most people ended up clicking on that post by typing something like “I can drink white wine but not red.” But over the years I’ve noticed that terms like “sulfites in wine” or “wine without sulfites” come up just as often.
We also get hits on the post from some truly bizarre searches, like a recent one that asked “Does Botox have sulfites?” I’m not sure why someone having a known toxin injected into his or her body would be concerned about the presence of a little bit of sulfites, but it made me laugh when I saw it. Having a frozen forehead is OK, but heaven forbid there are any sulfites in there!
Sulfites are used as a preservative in wine and they also occur naturally as part of the fermentation process. I suspect that interest in sulfites as an additive developed as we became more aware of additives in our food in general. While there are definitely wines with any number of additives (the list of approved wine additives is pretty long), the only one that’s required to be posted on the wine labels is sulfites. So that’s the one that people focused on.
I’ll be an optimist and assume that the evolution in search terms signals that the word is getting out there about sulfites and sensitivity. If red wines give you headaches but white wines don’t, it’s not because of sulfites, since white wines nearly always have more of them. This isn’t to say that some people don’t have sensitivity to sulfites, especially if they have asthma. But since there are thousands of compounds in wine that we know virtually nothing about, it’s likely that some other compound (or combination of compounds) is causing the headaches. You can read more details here.
The increase in specific searches for sulfite-free wines is interesting to me. I don’t know if it’s due to a greater interest in wine without any additives or because of sulfites specifically. I haven’t written about sulfite-free wines since all of First Vine’s producers add sulfites to their wines to some degree. They wouldn’t sell wines without added sulfites. Even those who otherwise use what you could call minimal intervention in making their wines. (Many of them make wine without added sulfites in small quantities to drink themselves, generally within a few months of bottling it.) I’ve only tried one commercially-sold wine without added sulfites — and that wine was still labeled “Contains Sulfites” because it has more than 10 ppm (parts per million) concentration of sulfites, even though they’re naturally-occurring. So I don’t have strong opinions on sulfites as an additive because I haven’t had the experience to go one way or the other.
There are people with very definite opinions on sulfites, however, and you should try various wines and make up your own mind. Bottles labeled “Organic Wine” sold in the U.S. have no added sulfites by law, although they will be labeled “Contains Sulfites” if the concentration exceeds 10 ppm. European organics laws allow added sulfites in wine, although they’re not required, and most European-made organic wines will be labeled “Made with organic grapes” because they contain added sulfites. As our producers tell me, the aim of using sulfites is to preserve the best things about their wines and allow them to age in the bottle without spoiling. They try to calibrate the amount of sulfites needed for each individual wine. You can certainly be sloppy about winemaking and use too much sulfites. We’ve all had bottles that smelled like sulfur when opened. Likewise, we’ve probably all had bottles of fairly young wine that smelled a little oxidized (smelling like sherry) on opening, even if the wine tasted fine. Perhaps a bit more sulfites would eliminate the oxidized odor and make them fresher-tasting as well.
It has been a lot of fun rereading old blog entries, and I’ll be bringing you a few more of them based on our stats. More and more people are using encrypted searches, so I can’t always tell what might have brought them to this blog, but we still get a real doozy every couple of weeks. I’m looking forward to sharing them with you.
Looking back over the recipes we’ve put in the blog, I have to admit mine are pretty detailed. When I write them, I never know how much of those details are really needed. Most cooking magazines and cookbooks today seem to assume that we need basic instructions for everything short of boiling water. And that might be true. But one thing that always nags me is that most of the detail is provided in the hopes that people will make the recipes — but I don’t know that the additional detail actually serves that purpose. Are people who don’t cook more than just occasionally even going to try these recipes? If you didn’t grow up watching someone cook and helping with it, even very detailed instructions don’t necessarily help. Watching cooking shows could be more instructive, and if you’ve seen someone make a recipe on TV the print version will certainly be easier. But that might not translate to learned skills that will help you make other recipes unless you do it often enough.
I was reminded of this by two articles in the food section of yesterday’s Washington Post on Gabrielle Hamilton’s new cookbook, Prune. If you’ve read her memoir Blood, Bones and Butter, you know she holds nothing back. She decided to write Prune without the kind of hand-holding that you find in most cookbooks today. Or the homey stories often found with the recipes. The results are somewhat controversial, as the two different Post articles show. I’ve used any number of cookbooks by restaurant chefs where the recipes don’t necessarily work in home kitchens (e-mail me if you want my list of favorites in this category), but I hadn’t yet seen a new book that was determined to eliminate most of what we see in contemporary cookbooks. As Jane Black writes in her article:
“Hamilton wrote the book as if she were speaking to her own [restaurant] line cooks. It has no inspirational or scene-setting headnotes. Its annotations, which are written in Hamilton’s own neat hand, are a mixture of warnings, advice and encouragement for those cooks. The conceit is sometimes discomfiting but stunningly original. In the blizzard of aspirational, look-alike cookbooks, “Prune,” like its namesake [restaurant], stands apart.”
It reminded me that many of the recipes I took away to college with me were basically one paragraph. This one is a recipe for salmon pie that came from my aunt Jilda who lives in Alaska:
“Make a 9-inch pie crust. Saute celery, onion, and mushrooms in butter (1/2 cup of each) until soft. Add one can cream of mushroom soup. Add two 7-1/2 ounce cans of salmon and two cups of cooked rice. Pour into the crust, bake 30 minutes at 350 degrees F.”
No separate ingredient list, no details. It assumes you know where to look to find a pie crust recipe and how to saute vegetables. It’s really tasty, even with the canned soup. Of course, I’ve tinkered with it over the years, and my version is below. But I’m keeping it in the spirit of the original, minimalist directions.
Salmon pairs well with white wines, rosés, and light- to medium-bodied reds. Since it’s still not cold here in DC, I recommend the Notes Frivoles Rosé from Domaine Sainte-Cécile du Parc in the Languedoc ($14). Although it has a lovely pale color, it’s a substantial rosé, made from Grenache, Cabernet Franc, and Carignan. And by now we’re all old hands at opening the bottle, even without a recipe.
1 unbaked 9-inch pie crust
2 tablespoons butter
1 stalk celery, finely diced
1 small onion, finely diced
6 mushrooms, sliced
1 teaspoon fresh thyme, or 1/2 teaspoon dried
1 can condensed cream of mushroom soup, or the homemade version, below
2 7.5-ounce cans Alaskan salmon, drained, any bones removed; or 1 pound of cooked salmon fillet, flaked into small pieces
2 cups cooked rice (white or brown)
Salt and freshly-ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Saute the onion and celery in the butter in a large skillet until they’re just getting soft. Then add the mushrooms and thyme and continue to cook until the mushrooms are done. Stir in the soup, salmon, and rice, and add a little ground pepper. Heat it through and taste the mixture for salt. Pour the salmon mixture into the pie crust. Bake for 40 minutes. Check the pie after 30 minutes and if it looks too brown, lightly tent it with aluminum foil and continue baking the additional 10 minutes. If it’s not brown after 40 minutes, bake another 5 minutes or so until it’s done.
Not Canned Cream of Mushroom Soup
4 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons flour
1-1/2 cups concentrated mushroom liquid, heated (made with 2-1/4 teaspoons Better than Bouillon mushroom base OR 2 small or 1 large Knorr Porcini mushroom bouillon cubes dissolved in 1-1/2 cups hot water)
3 tablespoons heavy cream
1 tablespoon dry sherry
Make a cooked roux from the flour and butter. Whisk in the hot mushroom liquid until smooth, then stir in the cream and sherry.