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Wine and Cheesy

Wine and Cheesy

VQA wine at Taco Bell

With the rolling restriction tightening that recent COVID surges have brought, I’m starting to think about hunkering down again for the winter as we did back in March. One tiny sliver of silver lining is that our food sources have had a bit of a summer breather to innovate for the dark days ahead. One such innovator is (believe it or not) Taco Bell, which, given my demographic (Canadian) and location (rural), I literally haven’t thought about in years.
 
But now I am intrigued with the Tex-Mex-esque chain, thanks to their brilliant recent marketing: developing and serving a wine at select Ontario locations paired specifically with their new Toasted Cheesy Chalupa. The punnily-named Jalapeño Noir was blended by Queenston Mile Vineyard near Niagara-on-the-Lake, and has “notes of wild strawberry, cherry and beetroot,” as well as “spice” and “leather.” The marriage of low- and high-brow is magnificently absurd — and now completely sold out in the two trial Taco Bell locations. From an op-ed in the Toronto Star (whose author managed to score the special):
 
“‘The Toasted Cheesy Chalupa promotion is exclusive to Canada, and so we wanted to partner with a local Canadian winery too,’ says Kat Garcia, director of brand marketing. ‘With Taco Bell unveiling its fanciest menu item yet, we wanted to celebrate with something equally fancy.’

Some will probably ask if it’s too fancy. I don’t think so. Somms love doing cheeky pairings with popcorn (sparkling), chicken nuggets (rosé) and fish filets (sauvignon blanc). There’s even a book coming out this fall called Big Macs and Burgundy: Wine Pairings for the Real World by sommelier and wine writer Vanessa Price, who even goes so far as to find a pairing for Cheetos (Sancerre).”
 
Unfortunately for me (or actually… maybe fortunately?) the Taco Bell locations where this special is on back-order are nowhere near me. Even the winery itself is out of the whole bottles of Jalapeño Noir they were offering! I’m just going to have to wait until supply meets demand, and the perfect storm of pandemic and hygge this winter. By then, ordering out the Bell and vino will seem like a very good idea indeed.

Veggies and Introversion: Chewing on a Connection?

In our sauce and condiment line, we make room for diets of all stripes. From vegans to vegetarians, to hardcore meat eaters, all are welcome at the DFC table! (YMMV with using our products for keto purposes; and, while roasted meat is the definition of paleo, our barbeque sauces regrettably aren’t.)
 
So I looked with interest at new research about the personalities of our plant-based friends, and how a decisive aspect of their natures might relate to their diets — specifically, a higher tendency towards introversion. The large-scale study has come out of the Max Planck Institute for Human and Cognitive Brain Sciences, in cooperation with the University Hospital of Leipzig, and investigated how vegetarianism affects both the body and the mind.

Interestingly, the leading tidbit coming out of the study seems to me the most obvious: That folks who eschew animal products in their diets tend to have a lower BMI, and therefore weight. (This could be for many reasons — for example, plant-based foods are higher in fibre than those made from animals, and fill you up quicker.) But it’s where diet meets personality that my interest was piqued. Here, the study was also broad, attempting to detect correlations between vegetarianism, and “Big Five” personality factors like extraversion and neuroticism (as well as a connection with depression that previous studies showed evidence for).
 
“It was shown that people eating a predominantly plant-based diet are more introverted than those mainly consuming animal products. ‘It is difficult to say what the reason for this is,’ says [study author] Veronica Witte. ‘It could be because more introverted people tend to have more restrictive eating habits or because they are more socially segregated because of their eating habits.’ […]

[The researchers] determined personal diets by means of questionnaires in which participants were asked to fill in how often they had eaten individual animal products in the last 12 months — ranging from “several times a day” to “never”. Personality traits such as extroversion and neuroticism were assessed by means of a so-called personality inventory (NEOFFI), while depression was assessed by using the CESD test, a questionnaire that records various symptoms of depression.”
 
All of this just begs for a multitude of follow-up studies, that the authors and the Max Planck Institute both acknowledge. But even these preliminary results are tantalizing: Does it mean that, like the lower-BMI connection, someone who wants to harness the powers of introversion should start piling on the veggies? Or should organizations looking for thoughtful leaders or good listeners hit the local vegan lunch joint to find their next CEO? I am very interested to see where this thread leads — and I can rest secure in the knowledge that no matter who is involved in the research, we can feed them all! 

Ancient Wine Windows Serve Glasses of Cheer During Coronavirus

wine window

by Maureen Gualtieri
 
When I visited Italy, what stuck with me most about its people was that they were very used to — and very good at — celebrating life in the face of hardship. My trip there took place well before COVID-19, but, for example, the geological threat to the vibrant Naples region, and impact of climate change on historic Venice have been happening for a long time, and the culture has pragmatically worked with it.
 
But the new pressures of the pandemic are reinvigorating a different old Italian good-times-preservation technique — wine windows! These tiny arched openings in restaurant walls are unique to Tuscany and are most numerous in the city of Florence. Originally built starting in the Middle Ages as a way for wine merchants to serve the lower classes, they were repurposed during the bubonic plague of 1630-33 for all customers — under conditions that sound startlingly similar to today’s.
 
“[W]ine producers who were selling their own wine through the small wine windows in their Florentine palaces, understood the problem of contagion. They passed the flask of wine through the window to the client but did not receive payment directly into their hands. Instead, they passed a metal pallet to the client, who placed the coins on it, and then the seller disinfected them with vinegar before collecting them.

Wine purveyors also attempted to avoid touching the wine flasks which were brought back to them by the client, in two different ways. Either the client purchased wine which was already bottled, or the client was allowed to fill his or her flask directly by using a metal tube which was passed through the wine window, and was connected to the demijohn on the inside of the palace. So, the wine merchant either filled new flasks for direct purchase or placed the demijohn in a slightly raised position so that the wine would flow down the small metal pipe into the client’s bottle.”
 
Many of Florence’s modern buchette del vino owners have diversified their businesses beyond wine, and today are serving gelato, coffee, cocktails, and takeout through the wee windows. With delicacies like that, served in a contagion-conscious way, getting through the depths of our own pandemic might be slightly easier. Thank you for your foresight, medieval Italian merchants!

Old Apple Tree Offers Glimpse of Genetic Past and Future

an old apple tree - before and now

With high summer behind us and fall on the horizon, I’m looking forward to the season of one of my favourite fruits: apples! And when I bite into my first hand-picked Ambrosia this year, I will say a mental “cheers” to a recently fallen relative — the Old Apple Tree of Vancouver, Washington.
 
CNN reports that the venerable community landmark died this summer, at a staggering age of 194. Planted by Hudson’s Bay traders in 1826, the Old Apple Tree not only formed the centre of a park and annual festival devoted to it but was regarded by the region’s apple specialists as the “matriarch” of the Pacific Northwest’s apple industry — in spirit, if not in genetic fact.
 
“A DNA analysis performed by experts at Washington State University’s Apple Genome Project revealed that the Old Apple Tree is genetically unique.

‘The Old Apple Tree is not identical to any other named variety in a worldwide collaborative data set of several thousand apple variety DNA profiles,’ Cameron Peace, a professor of tree fruit genetics at WSU told CNN.

‘The Old Apple Tree is therefore unique, one-of-a-kind. It will carry genetic factors not present in other heirloom or modern cultivars,’ Peace added.
 
Scientists were able to establish that the Old Apple Tree is almost certainly a grandchild of the French Reinette, a 500-year-old variety dubbed ‘the grandmother of all apple cultivars,’ Peace explained. The French Reinette is a close direct ancestor of most modern varieties and also a parent or grandparent to many heirloom varieties.”
 
Descendants of the tree dot the area — cuttings had been given to attendees of the Old Apple Tree festival to plant in their own gardens since 1984. Plus, as the original tree died, new saplings began growing out of the old root system. One of the saplings will stay on the site, becoming essentially the reincarnation of its mother!
 
Preserving apple diversity is a serious task, and it warms my heart that one of the founding trees of the North American gene pool has given her adoring apple fans one last gift — the continuation of her legacy! I’ll eat to that.

Saving Botswana’s Cattle — One Pair of Butt Eyes at a Time

cattle with eyes painted on their rear

As any dog owner knows, putting eyes on your pup’s rear and pretending their tail is a nose is a source of much hilarity. But in Botswana, cattle farmers are harnessing this gag for good, in order to protect their cattle — both family food source and livelihood — from predation by local lions.
 
A four-year-long international study of cow/lion coexistence in the southern African nation has shown that stenciling large feline eyes on the back ends of cattle spooks lions into thinking their stealthy cover is blown — thereby sparing the life of the cow! From Gastro Obscura:
 
“‘We chose herds that had previously reported higher depredation rates, so we knew lions were a problem for them already,’ says [field researcher Cameron] Radford. Of the group, roughly a third were given a pair of furrowed, acrylic-painted eye-spots (‘We were going for the intimidation factor,’ says Radford), another third were left unmarked, and the remaining third received simple cross-marks. While 15 unmarked cows and four cross-marked cows were killed by predators, not one of the cows with eye-spots over the four-year study became big-cat food.”
 
Initially skeptical, the cattle farmers who had “donated” their herds to the study were soon converted, and eagerly adopted the low-cost method of keeping their cows safe. (In addition to themselves, and the lions: Retaliatory killings of the vulnerable big cats after cattle attacks were common.) This also safeguards their economic niche — cattle farming is the most profitable agricultural activity in Botswana, and over 95% of their beef is exported to other markets.
 
So it seems cattle/lion/farmer interactions are much like those between any other creatures — one part managing expectations, one part sleight of hand! I love the simple elegance of the study’s solution. And, as a BBQ fan, I’m glad the beef is saved!