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Who Decides Style?
Looking back at the Napa Valley. Pesto time! A truly great sandwich.
Of all the articles I’ve written, this one, about the Trefethens and their winery, taught me most about the way media works.
I was not then - or now - a wine writer, but in 1980, when Metropolitan Home asked my friend Colman Andrews (who knows a LOT about wine), to find some young winemakers who epitomized the “Napa lifestyle” he was too busy. “Get Ruth to write it,” he said.
I was, of course, thrilled by the opportunity to spend a few weeks in the Napa Valley. And the money was good. The problem was that I didn’t have a clue how to find the perfect winemakers for that magazine. But I’d met the Trefethens a couple of times, and I thought they might be right. When I floated their name my editors perused pictures of the attractive couple, asked for pictures of their place, and gave me the nod.
An editor came out to “produce” the piece, and she and the photographer prowled about with gimlet eyes. I remember them rearranging the shelves in the Oakville Grocery for one shot. Or maybe that was another photographer for another piece? Not positive about that.
What I am positive about is that the editor asked the Trefethens to throw a cocktail party for the final shot, and Janet asked the local caterer - the one everybody in Napa used - to make hors d’oeuvres. On the day of the party the editor took one horrified look at the spread and the most extraordinary expression crossed her face. She stared, down at the delicate carved mushrooms and tiny tea sandwiches, grabbed her purse and rushed out to her car. She returned, her arms filled with rustic baskets, loaves of bread, fresh fruit and hunks of cheese, swept the caterers food off the table and created the spread you see below.
I stood by, mortified and embarrassed. And in the end an article about the Napa Valley lifestyle depicted a New Yorker editor’s vision of what that style should be.
About ten years later Metropolitan Home did a photo shoot at my Los Angeles home. They, of course, replaced my sad furniture with beautiful pieces I could not afford. But that’s another story….
Incidentally, I saw the Trefethens last year for the first time in ages. Janet has barely changed in 45 years; she’s still beautiful. And they are still making great wines.
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The basil is starting to leap from the ground; it’s almost pesto season. Which means. you’re going to want some pine nuts. Would you be shocked to learn that the pine nuts you’re most likely using in your pesto come from China or Siberia?
I was. On a recent trip to Italy I couldn’t help noticing that the pinoli in the markets were much larger than the ones I buy at home.
Back in my own kitchen, I scrutinized the pine nuts in my freezer. (Pine nuts are filled with oil, which means that left in the cupboard they quickly go bad.) Sure enough, the label said something about the various countries the pine nuts might have come from, and not one of them was Italy or the United States.
I took out a handful and laid them next to the ones I’d bought in Italy. Half the size! Then I tasted them: half the flavor too.
If you’re looking for a thoughtful gift for a cook, you could hardly do better than Gustiamo Pinoli which are organically grown and harvested by hand.
It’s been a couple weeks since I had this jambon beurre sandwich at L’Ami Pierre, but every day when lunch rolls around I find myself wishing I had one. It was all crackle and crunch: cold butter, salty ham, crisp, just-baked bread. In a word, heaven.