Thursday, January 16, 2014

Oysters, Sherlock Holmes, an early spring

At the time, we were enjoying an early spring. This is still January, and we are still uploading posts from our defunct blog, At First Glass.  The winter wind is howling outside.

We are enjoying a wildly early spring. Warm temperatures have arrived and trees and flowers have bloomed six weeks ahead of schedule. Nature, it seems, takes advantage of all opportunities to live and grow, never mind how risky the opportunities seem. To wit., here is a slice of the view from my back porch, the photo taken about two weeks ago. All this sun-filled exuberance properly ought not to be seen until the end of April:


And these -- well, these are simply pretty flowers. They were a birthday treat.


And guess what came in the mail? -- Supplies for the next Wines of Chile live blogger tasting, to be held April 12th. This will be my fourth time participating (I am honored). The theme is "Coast to Toast: Coastal Whites and Seafood."

Pairing white wines and seafood may be a challenge for me, not because the two don't go together but because I am not a confident cook of seafood. For a long time in my case, most fruits de mer were not kosher, especially those little morsels that either look like insects or fill one with trepidation because one has heard bad things about them -- about shrimps, scallops, oysters. One has heard the words bacteria, bottom-feeders, highly perishable, etc. Have you read M.F.K. Fisher's description of death by oyster poisoning in Consider the Oyster? No? She says death takes about six hours, and she invents (I think) the horridly affecting word "whuddering" to describe the chills and nausea that accompany the vomiting, and usher in the final moments. Something about the sensation of invisible cold fingers "whuddering" one's clammy skin ... horrid. But, for a long time, I did not need to worry about preparing any such eatables because they were all treif. Supposing now I should want to try them, for the sake of the whole food-and-wine pairing thing?

M.F.K. Fisher would undoubtedly encourage me. She explains, and my seafood-loving friends explain, that most oysters and other ocean treats are fine and safe to eat. And if you happen to come across a "bad 'un" -- says M.F.K. -- the danger will be obvious in plenty of time for you to "get rid of it." We won't go into details as to how that is done, but we can be sure if any one of us really thought we might be six hours from a preventable death by food poisoning, we would forget a few delicate inhibitions.

Speaking of a bad 'un. I took the liberty, after the drive home admiring the bursting spring trees tossing and waving in all their lurid shades of magenta and fuschia, pink and white, one handsome specimen's pale new lime-green leaves frothing for days atop delicate creamy blossoms -- with the yellow forsythia and purple lilacs studding the landscape and the brown woods hazy with new growth in shades of brick and olive -- and the sky all blue and yes, the sun shining, -- after that, I took the liberty of opening a wine, early, from the Wines of Chile blogger tasting kit. Only, dear me. I think it might have been a bad 'un. It's a chardonnay from Chile's Leyda Valley, number 6 of the roster for April 12th. Any further identification seems painful and unnecessary. It has a strange, sour smell and taste, like sour oil or sour cabbage. If this taste represents a varietal correct-ness new to me, I'm sorry to say I don't care for it.

And by sheer luck, what should I be reading at the moment but The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes. And what should Holmes be talking of, but oysters. The story is "The Adventure of the Dying Detective," first published in The Strand in December 1913. Holmes himself is -- so far -- the dying detective. In the grip of a tropical fever, but alert enough to instruct Watson about summoning a particular doctor, he raves,
"You will tell him exactly how you have left me. You will convey the very impression which is in your own mind -- a dying man -- a dying and delirious man. Indeed, I cannot think why the whole bed of the ocean is not one solid mass of oysters, so prolific the creatures seem. Ah, I am wandering! Strange how the brain controls the brain! ...You and I, Watson, we have done our part. Shall the world, then, be overrun by oysters? No, no; horrible!"  

What happens next? I must keep reading. Perhaps he ate a bad 'un.

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