France Reclaims Title as World’s Largest Wine Maker

France has reclaimed its crown as world’s biggest wine producer after a poor 2014 harvest saw Italy’s wine production plunge 15%.

French vignerons will produce around 46.2 million hectoliters of wine — about 6.16 billion bottles — this year, up 10% from a year earlier. Italy, whose winemakers have out-produced France’s for the last two years, will produce 44.4 million hectoliters of wine in 2014, according to figures released Thursday by the Paris-based International Organization of Vine and Wine.

Total world wine production is set to fall 6 % this year to 271 million hectoliters. Spain, which leapfrogged France into second place in 2013, will see its wine production fall 19% this year to 37 million hectoliters, the organization said. (AP)

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For 25th Anniversary, Beard Awards Move to Chicago

Chicago is adding another jewel to its culinary crown. After 24 years in New York City, the James Beard Foundation awards ceremony is moving to Chicago next year.

It’s more proof that Chicago is home to one of the country’s hottest restaurant scenes.

The James Beard Foundation is based in New York and honors the nation’s best chefs and restaurants.

Several cities had sought to host the awards, but the foundation said Chicago’s offer of marketing and sponsorship support was too good to turn down.

The James Beard awards have always been held in New York since the event began in 1990. Beard, considered the dean of American cooking, died in 1985.

The next awards ceremony will be held at the Lyric Opera of Chicago on May 4, 2015. (AP)

NYC’s Tavern on the Green Reopening April 24

The landmark Tavern on the Green in New York City’s Central Park, shuttered since 2010, is reopening later this month.

The glitzy restaurant has undergone a major rehabilitation and will reopen April 24 for dinner.

Lunch and brunch menus will be launched in May for the Mother’s Day weekend.

New owners Philadelphia restaurateurs Jim Caiola and David Salama had planned to open last November. But construction and other problems delayed the opening.

Reservations can be made on OpenTable or by telephone. (AP)

Heavy Rain May Mean Soggy Harvest of Oregon Grapes

Heavy rains may make for a soggy harvest in Oregon’s wine country.

In the southern Willamette Valley, for instance, the Eugene Register-Guard reports (http://bit.ly/1bV9Yuh ) that with heavy precipitation the past two weeks, September rainfall is more than four times the local average.

That threatens grapes with mildew, rot, dilution and splitting.

Cold days and nights shut some vines down for the winter, causing leaves to turn orange and vines to begin leaching sugars from the grapes.

The conditions are especially tough on Oregon’s prize but finicky pinot noir grapes.

It may be weeks or months, though, before winemakers can assess the impact of the rain on this year’s wines.

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Information from: The Register-Guard, http://www.registerguard.com (AP)

A la Burning Man

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It’s a little known secret I attend Burning Man. For the past 5 of 6 years, I have endured dust and heat for my personal enjoyment of art, counterculture and drinking.

This year was no different. Did I mention the heat?

While I whined to my boyfriend beforehand I wanted to try some gourmet food, he steered me back to my senses and we ended up eating normal or canned food. But we also experimented with some other treats. Like for instance, did you know that caramel and salted rice cakes are sooooo yummy? Myabe it’s the heat talking, but that was a pleasant surprise.

I even got him to try Frangelico with coffee! While that’s not a shocker to coffee enthusiasts, he looked like he never thought of combining the two. Mornings were also spent slaved over a hot Coleman grill frying up bacon to neighboring…apparent….vegetarians. Every year he makes a point of going up with seven pounds of bacon (1 for each day), but this year, he actually came back with some. Much to the delight of surrounding vegetarians.

Our goal was really simple: try to minimize actual cooking. Yes, all the gourmet food dreams I had were basically dismissed by way of brown sugar pop tarts, mini bagel sandwiches, freeze-dried ice cream, bananans and apple slices with caramel dip. Granted it worked, but I’d also would have liked a steak, just sayin’. In reality though – you know how long that would have taken to cook on a Coleman stove? I don’t even have that much patience when I’m *not at Burning Man!

Cocktails were also reduced to smaller portions. Not as cool when you’re guzzling cotton candy vodka out of a disguised shampoo bottle! Luckily, my Frangelico was already a small bottle, so we just kept that and shared it between the both of us.

It’s not even been two weeks since we left the playa – and already we’re planning for next year – and now one of our co-workers will apparently be joining us. Oh boy! Lucky for me, he wants to ‘camp’ in a RV! Hells yeah! Been bitching to get one for the past five years – maybe next year I’ll finally get my wish. And if I do – that opens up a whole new world of food for us.

I just like the idea of Burning Man cooking. It’s something special – and not real camping gourmet. Weather conditions are different, environments are different…..

I know bacon will remain a staple. And that’s fine. I just want to experiment; we already have a somewhat captive audience. And we’re all hungry for real food. Why not play? Plus, those hipster foodie photos will look even cooler with a playa background.

What do you think?

What cooking techniques do you use when you go camping? Do you change and adapt to forest or desert surroundings?

Harvest Season Begins in Napa Valley

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Napa Valley vintners are starting to harvest grapes for wine.

Thursday’s kick-off includes grapes for sparkling wine, which are always the first to be picked in order to capture the bright acidity the drink is famous for.

In the weeks ahead, harvesters will move onto white wine grapes, then those for lighter red wines for pinot noir. The final harvest of the cabernet sauvignon grapes can last into early November.

One winemaker says this year’s harvest already looks healthy, with yields slightly above average and predicts an excellent vintage for 2013.

(photo courtesy of napavintners.com)

This One Time in Washington, D.C….

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A few months back when I went to Washington, D.C. I was invited to attend a State Department function. The Association of Food Journalists, of which I belong, was lucky enough to help launch the Diplomatic Culinary Partnership, a collaborative initiative between the U.S. and the James Beard Foundation in early September.

Chefs like Art Smith, Duff Goldman, Jose Andres and White House Executive Chef Cristeta Crawford, Executive Pastry Chef Bill Yosses and assistant chef Sam Kass all attended. I personally had no idea who was there until I spied Mary Sue Milliken at a wooden table serving tiny fish-covered bread pigs. And then I turned around and saw Mary Alice Yeskey and Geof Manthrone from Ace of Cakes.

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About an hour in, a speech was made by Chief of Protocol Capricia Penanic Marshall, and by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton via video. The place was packed with tons of people I didn’t know, except for who I’d see on the Food Network.

In a nutshell, the initiative helps use food as a public diplomacy tool.

The program’s mission statement says, “The Diplomatic Culinary Partnerships initiative builds on Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s vision of ‘smart power’ diplomacy, which embraces the use of a full range of diplomatic tools, by utilizing food, hospitality and the dining experience as ways to enhance how formal diplomacy is conducted, cultivating cultural understanding and strengthening bilateral relationships through the shared experience of food.”

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Which brings me to Rick Bayless. After speaking with Crawford, I took my chance and walked up to him and said…

“I don’t mean to bother you, but I just wanted to say my mother loves you.”

“You mean not you,” he replied jokingly.

I smiled.

“I promised her I’d tell you that if I ever met you….” and then I started to tear up…..”but she died six months ago….”

“Awww, I’m sorry…”

And then he pulled me in closer and hugged me, which was so gracious. I didn’t expect that at all. He really didn’t have to do that.

I don’t remember much after that, I know I said something like ‘thank you,’ and then went back to my little corner of the room, where a mini tequila was waiting for me.

And an even more spectacular view of our nation’s capital. And then to add food?! Whoa!

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It was a great night – Duff Goldman even baked a massive earth-shaped cake for guests made out of chocolate chips! It was awesome.

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I do wish my mother was with me. She would have loved it every moment of it – except for the heat. I don’t do humidity – and neither did she. Like mother like daughter!

I know she’s proud of me wherever she is; I just wish I could hear her say it.

But I do know wherever she is, she’s proudly retelling my story to everyone she sees!

And did I mention, just for attending this important culinary event, the State Department gave each of us a parting gift!

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It contains an olive oil, cranberry oat bar, customized M&Ms, lemon syrup, some sort of chocolate box with the Dept. seal and a recipe for an all American apple pie. I have yet to break open the plastic seal. I know, I know, but it’s just so cool. Not like I’m getting anything else from the State Department again anytime soon!

Maybe one day I’ll get desperate enough to do it, but for now, it’s sits on a shelf in one piece. Which by the way, was nerve-racking to transport on a cross-country flight – and inside luggage!