My very favorite new condiment flavor for the past several months has to be Joy Peppers, the "sweet with a kick" bread-and-butter-style jalapeño peppers bottled locally by Joy Smith. The peppers won first-place awards in the snack pickles category at the 2003 Fiery Food Challenge and are available locally at GrapeVine Market (7938 Great Northern Blvd., 323-5900) in the deli, as well as on the Web at www.joypeppers.com. I've been putting them in all kinds of things for a while now, but they were the best in pimento cheese (grated cheddar, mayo, Joy Peppers, Peppadew peppers) and an avocado mayo (mayo, avocado, Dijon mustard, lime juice, Joy Peppers, salt) we made to dress a cold salad of Rio Star grapefruit sections, avocado slices, and poached shrimp. I'm telling you, if you like bread-and-butter pickles, when you try these jalapeños, you'll become addicted! Oh, and while we're on the subject of my favorite flavors, my sweet tooth has been hungry for a good peanut brittle for some time, with no success. If anyone knows of a good local (or area) example of peanut brittle, please turn me on to it now!
Wouldn't you know it? No sooner did we put the summer reading issue to bed than I got two more good books in the mail. One is a new novel from expat British author Peter Mayle, he who writes so winningly of Provence. In Mayle's new novel, A Good Year (Knopf, $24), British stockbroker Max Skinner loses his job in dreary London and returns to his apartment to find he has inherited a long-neglected vineyard in the south of France, all on the same day. With the encouragement of (and a loan from) his rich wine-geek friend Charlie, Max goes to France to check out his inheritance, and all manner of hijinks ensue. It's a light and enjoyable summer read for wine and food lovers. The second arrival is from acclaimed food writer James Villas, an unreconstructed Southern gentlemen who has been living in New York and writing authoritatively about food and wine for the past 35 years. Villas' newest is Stalking the Green Fairy and Other Fantastic Adventures in Food and Drink (John Wiley & Sons, $26.95). The Green Fairy of the title is, of course, absinthe, the potent spirit made with wormwood that was outlawed in the early 20th century. In his essay on the subject, Villas waxes poetic about his "perverse passion" for all things "illegal, dangerous, moderately addictive, or covertly mysterious" and debunks the myth of the dangers of absinthe in a way that is as delightful as it is informative. There is a section of essays on Southern foods (grits, pimento cheese, Brunswick stew); comfort foods (meat loaf, canned tuna, Club sandwiches); and that worldly gastronomic trollop, onion soup. Each of these short pieces is followed by good recipes, and Mr. Villas is a worthy companion in the kitchen, in addition to being a wickedly funny writer. I found the book so engaging that his piece about the joys of good vodka prompted me to see to it he gets a sample of Tito's, and I'm sending him some Joy Peppers with which to make pimento cheese. I hope he likes them as much as I liked this book.
Travis Peak Wine and Music Festival, Saturday, June 12, 11am-6pm on the grounds of Flat Creek Estates Winery (6 miles west of Lago Vista off FM 1431): This first annual party will feature tastings from 16 of Texas' finest wineries, food samples from an interesting variety of vendors, as well as great live music from Pauline Reese, Alvin Crow & the Pleasant Valley Boys, Los Jazz Vatos, Wendy Daniels Band, and the Cow Camp Review. The event is sponsored by the Lago Vista Lions Club and benefits its chosen charities. Tickets are $35 for adults, and children under 12 get in free. For more information, to purchase tickets, or to get directions, call 293-6329 or go to www.travispeakwineandmusic.com.
La Marseillaise Roving Supper Club, 7pm on the first, third, and fourth Saturdays (for our purposes, June 19 and 26) of the month at varying locations: Eric and Martine Pellegrin are former chefs from Chez Nous and pâté makers par excellence. Their pâtés and terrines are so popular at the Westlake Farmers Market that they've decided to expand and are now offering a traditional six-course French meal three Saturday evenings each month. The menus change monthly and feature as much local produce and as many local food products as possible. Guests are encouraged to bring their own wine. Seating is limited to 20 people, at a cost of $50 per person. The whole event is still fairly low-tech at this point: Everything is done via telephone and snail mail, so call 462-1915 to get on the menu mailing list and/or make reservations, or pick up a flier at their booth at the Westlake Market (4100 Westbank Dr.) on Saturday mornings.
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