• One thing a new U.S. President never lacks is advice. While Barack Obama has received mostly positive marks for his cabinet hires so far, a grassroots campaign of foodies is trying to influence his pick for Secretary of Agriculture. This past week, a group sent Obama a letter calling for the next secretary to be focused on sustainable farming and healthy food. (Historically, the Department of Agriculture has tended to focus on industrial agriculture and big commodity crops such as corn, wheat and rice.) Signed by notables like author Michael Pollan, rancher Bill Niman and chefs Rick Bayless, Dan Barber and Alice Waters, the letter reads, "From rising childhood and adult obesity to issues of food safety, global warming and air and water pollution, we believe our next Secretary of Agriculture must have a vision that calls for: recreating regional food systems, supporting the growth of humane, natural and organic farms, and protecting the environment, biodiversity and the health of our children while implementing policies that place conservation, soil health, animal welfare and workers' rights as well as sustainable renewable energy near the top of their agenda." (Waters sent a separate letter to Obama, offering to help plant an organic, sustainable kitchen garden on the White House lawn.) Supporters of the campaign can sign the letter at fooddemocracynow.org.
|Pairs perfectly with a big bite of raw yellow bell pepper.|
• The Japanese-turned-American television series Iron Chef brings together two of America's favorite pastimes: overeating and reality television. Now the brand will add alcohol to the mix with the launch of Iron Chef Wines, a partnership between Fuji Television Inc., Mirrotek International and Italian Wine Growers Inc. The collection features four estate-bottled Italian wines, all 2007 vintage: Chianti, Merlot, Pinot Grigio and Chardonnay, each labeled in a way that reflects the show's flashy, kitschy style. While the wine's slogan evokes a sort of upscale elitism, run through a highfalutin' Japanese translator ("It takes a special culinary master to achieve the title of Iron Chef. Such is true with wine"), the producers say that the brand is meant for everyday drinking, and indeed falls under the $12 price point. Don't bother looking for endorsements from Iron Chefs Bobby Flay or Mario Batali, however, as the show's stars are contractually not allowed to endorse the product.
• There are people who would have you believe that the French have got the intersection of food and wine and health all figured out (We're looking at you, Mireille Guiliano). They tell tales of a land where the buttery croissants raining from the sky and the wine flowing like rivers in the street actually help the Gauls to maintain a healthy lifestyle, pinning the results of umpteen Mediterranean diet studies to their berets as a shield to protect them from saturated fats. Apparently, though, some French aren't getting the memo anymore. A recent study from the French government research center revealed that 51 percent of French people now think that wine is a health risk. This is up from 26 percent five years ago, a jump that the research center calls "spectacular." They attribute the perception shift to government efforts to crack down on alcohol advertising online (and even stamps), to stem drunk driving and drinking during pregnancy. What is the world coming to, we ask? Next, we'll hear that the French don't actually like Jerry Lewis …
• Some thieves in Rutherford, Calif., apparently unmoved by the holiday spirit, gave Honig Vineyard and Winery a big surprise the day after Thanksgiving when they absconded with 39 of the winery's 819 photovoltaic panels—no small feat considering each panel weighs about 35 pounds, measures 2' by 3' and was bolted into place. Photovoltaic panels transform sunlight into a direct current, which is then converted into an alternating current that can be used by the panels' host or rerouted to the existing power grid. Said Michael Honig, president of the Napa winery, "They didn't just walk in and grab them. They had to unbolt them, then haul them away, probably in a pickup truck." According to Honig, the panels are fragile and would have had to have been handled with care. Fencing the stolen goods would've also proven problematic for the thieves, given that each panel has a unique ID number. Honig said that Rutherford is one of the most "proactive solar areas" in the country. Unfiltered is saddened to learn that solar panel theft is on the rise in California, which surprised us, considering the stolen merchandise is only useful when left sitting out in broad daylight.
|Safe to eat unless you're named Hansel or Gretel.|
• We've noticed notes of gingerbread in our wines, but never notes of winery in our gingerbread, until now. During the month of December, 10 Sonoma wineries are participating in the Sonoma Valley Vintners & Growers Alliance's Third Annual Gingerbread Winery Contest. Visitors to the participating wineries, which include Matanzas Creek, Chateau St. Jean, Landmark, Kenwood and B.R. Cohn can view the edible creations, made by both professional and amateur cooks, and vote for their favorites. Last year's winner was Glen Ellen's Little Vineyards, and the 2006 victor was Landmark. Matanzas Creek showed Unfiltered a photo of their submission, made by pastry chef Ryan Pollnow over the course of five rigorous days. To recreate the winery's exterior bricks, Pollnow employed cocoa butter, dark chocolate, sandpaper and aerosol spray cans, which doesn't sound conventionally appetizing, though if it spells victory, we're sure the chef won't mind if you don't take a bite.
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