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I’ve never understood margarine. I do know what it is, I just don’t understand how it came to be accepted as food you would feed to yourself or someone else. Friends of mine remember when it came as a lumpy white mass with a red capsule in the center. The idea was to mash the red dye into the fatty stuff, massaging it so that the result was an orange-ish color something like real butter.

By the time I started doing most of the grocery shopping, they had solved the yellowing problem and there was little else advertised or on the market shelf. Just various variations on fake butter, butter-like sticks made with milk-like derivatives, spreads with lovely names like “I can’t believe it’s not butter,” (I can’t believe it’s not lard, said my former business partner, a witty man).  The real stuff was relegated to a small shelf corner, if available at all.

I understand the economic rationale. Margarine is cheap to make, doesn’t easily spoil, can be made with a variety of oils and processes, can sit on shelves longer, and is a great profit generator for factories that produce food and ad agencies that make happy-kitchen commercials. I just don’t understand why someone would prefer something fake when the real thing it’s trying to imitate is sitting right next to it.

Though I have vague memories of butter that my grandmother made from cows she milked herself, on Guernsey this past summer I had a taste of absolutely transcendent butter. Guernsey butter is a deep, yellowish orange (and not from red dye out of a New Jersey chemical plant but from the diet of the cows). It is rich, deeply flavored, extraordinarily itself, and it makes everything it touches taste better. Like a fresh egg from a local hen, or the crust for a fruit tart, or just spread on a piece of good bread.

Good butter has been part of diets for thousands of years. Exchanging it for a chemical facsimile makes no sense.

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Transforming – and Transformational Food

Transformational Food – Carrots

I’ve always been fascinated with how food can be transformed from something common to something magical.

Here’s a carrot. And here’s an almost unlimited number of things you can do with it.

-Wash it and eat it raw.

-Peel it and eat it raw with some kind of dip.

-Peel it, cut it up, boil it, stir in some butter and salt and serve it as a somewhat innocuous side dish.

-Peel it, cut it up, boil it. season it with a vinaigrette and serve it as a more interesting side dish.

-Peel it, cut it up, boil it. season with a vinaigrette and roast it in a hot oven until slightly charred, serving it as a dish that may get a smile from your guests.

-Or get lots of carrots (10 – 20 lbs), juice them, boil the juice slowly with star anise until a gallon plus of juice is reduced to foam in the bottom of the pot. Remove the anise and puree, adding spices and grape seed or canola oil to make a sauce that is so rich, so intense, and so good with scallops and shrimp that you want to squeal with delight.

That’s a transformation.

I urge you to try it, and offer a little blessing for Ming Tsai, who thought it up, or who passed along the formula from someone who did.

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Memorable Meals – A Wine Experience

Most wine lovers remember the time when they really understood just how outstanding a great wine can be. Here’s mine. I was living a poor graduate student’s life in Chapel Hill, working in Durham for a stereo store. Our most expensive audio equipment was made by Macintosh, a venerable component manufacturer in New York that was famous for their quality and prices. A Macintosh sales rep visited and invited us all to a meal after work at the Angus Barn in Durham, a famous steak house still noted for its Chateaubriand and its wine list.

Understand that at the time, I was a casual wine drinker who thought Gallo’s Hearty Burgundy (about $4.50 the half gallon) was pretty good stuff.

Our host, who wouldn’t have poured Gallo for his worst enemy, ordered several bottles of a 1959 Chateau Lafite Rothschild. Knowing he was dealing with very young men with no palette or experience, he explained that we should smell the wine first, drink it carefully and let it remain in the mouth while we savored its multiple flavors, and then drink. We, of course, just threw it down.

I’ll never forget the experience. When the wine passed my throat, a great warmth spread out from my shoulders and down my chest, following the Lafite to my stomach. I could feel my heart enlarging, a great affection spreading out from me to my table mates, to the host, to the waiter and, indeed, to all mankind. I had no idea, no inkling that such nectar could exist and could taste that good, make me feel that fine. We drank more, and in fact, drank it till drunk since our host, on a generous expense account, kept ordering bottle after bottle.

I’ve had Lafite Rothschild a few times since and enjoyed it every time. But I understand that that first experience can never be repeated. Just remembered and treasured.