Edibles rarely go to waste in my mother’s house. She’ll sauté stem greens with fenugreek and chilies, cook fish heads in broth, fry giblets for gajak, and any leftover repast not fit for more human consumption goes to the cats. Lemon and lime rinds are never thrown in the bin, my mum swipes them to place into a suspect jar kept in a cupboard beneath the sink where they are left to slowly ferment in vinegar, before my mum cooks the skins in her own made curry paste, then jars the lot and tops the citrus with a generous amount of oil. The result is a flavor that is distinctly Mauritian with a heady and flavorful dose of umami. My Western ex would jokingly refer to the mix as a jar of botulism. Luckily my mum doesn’t know what botulism means, and no Mauritian fridge is without a jar of “achard” or “zasar” (pickle). I haven’t attempted to make an achard yet but when recently faced with two large bags of apples I decided to try and make a less daunting Mauritian condiment called kutcha – a sort of spicy chutney. A lovely Facebook friend just informed me that kutcha means “raw” in Hindi, which makes sense because you want the fruit to have a crisp bite. Mauritians usually make kutcha from green mangoes but tart apples work just as well. Here is ma’s recipe. It lends itself well to a simple meal of dhal and rice. As my dad used to say: “a nous manzer” (let us eat). No risk of botulism involved.
2 tbsp of mustard powder
1 tbsp of turmeric powder
1 tbsp of fenugreek powder
1-2 tsp of chili powder
2-3 cloves of crushed garlic
8 tbsp of vegetable oil
2 tbsp of sugar
2 large tart apples
Grate the apples. Using your hands squeeze all the juice out, douse grated apple in lemon juice and save the juice. Make a paste with a little of the saved apple juice, mustard powder, turmeric, fenugreek, chili and garlic, season with salt. Heat oil in a pan, add the paste and let cook on a low heat for about 3 minutes, add a little more apple juice if the mixture starts to burn. Add grated apples and sugar, continue cooking and stirring for 2-3 minutes. Remove from heat. Let cool. Store the kutcha in a glass jar, top with oil.
Mere days after my return to the freelance hustle, I took a trip three hundred and eighty miles north to Montreal. The occasion was to celebrate the upcoming nuptials of my friend Chantal Martineau – a Quebecois writer living in New York City. Chantal put together a gut-busting 3-day itinerary centered on eating and drinking.
A few hours after four hungry women pulled up to her mother’s house in Pointe-St-Charles, we took in our first meal. It was at Joe Beef. I know, I know, everyone is talking about Joe Beef these days. Trust me, it’s worth the hype. I had purchased the Joe Beef cookbook as a Christmas gift for my boyfriend after leafing through it’s pages at Chantal’s place. Filled with humor, local background, and crazy gimmicks that seem born out of stoner creativity, Joe Beef had me salivating. The restaurant’s menu is seafood and meat-heavy, the kitchen doesn’t shy away from pure unabashed fat, and the wine list has some gems. We ended up drinking a fairly powerful, super-focused old-vines (planted in 1929) Aligote 2010 produced by Francois Mikulski that was somewhat reminiscent of De Moor’s Aligote.
We finished with the Pepiere Cuvee Granit, a nervy and structured red that was perfect with our meaty main dishes. The joy of drinking Marc Olivier in Montreal can only be described as a little like spying a long lost relative in a room full of strangers. Comforting.
Le Trois Petite Bochons is possibly the best bar a vin naturel I’ve experienced outside of Paris. Perusing the list is a natural wine fanatic’s fantasy and the food was pretty exceptional. We started off with a champagne-method sparkling wine from the Loire – La Tour Grise 2001 Saumur Brut Non-Dose.
Left on the lees for a long time, the wine offered tons of yeast autolysis, and while dry, it was round and fairly rich. After the rich bubbly, a high-acid white was in order. We followed with a wine that was one of the most memorable of the week: a Boxler 2010 Sylvaner.
Man, Boxler wines are good. These wines show such pronounced acidity, mineral and complexity. There was too much to get excited about on that list. It simply means I have to go back again…
If you want a better overview of wine bars in the city, here is Ms. Martineau’s piece recently published in Food Republic.
I’m in Mauritius learning all the Mauritian recipes I can. Here’s a recipe for some typical Creole Mauritian repast; it’s a dry curried octopus dish (there’s no gravy here just a slightly pickled/sour glaze). We call it Vindaye.
Wash and cut two pounds of octopus.
Chop half a pound of shallots, mince an entire small bulb of garlic, split 2 thai chilis in half (lengthways). Have on hand: 1 tablespoon of whole black mustard seeds, one heaped teaspoon of turmeric, 2-3 tablespoons of white wine vinegar.
Put octopus into a deep pot and cover with cold water, bring to a boil. Cover and let cook for about 30 minutes.
In a frying pan heat about 6 tablespoons of canola oil, add mustard seeds, once they start spitting, add garlic, chili, shallots, turmeric and vinegar.
Using a slotted spoon, remove octopus from the pot of water and add into the frying pan. Don’t throw any remaining octopus broth away. Add salt and stir for about 2 minutes then add the octopus broth and let the dish continue cooking on medium heat until the water dries up and the oil rises.
The shallots should be crisp and the overall dish should be both bitter and sour. Serve with a baguette and green salad.
There is a lot to love about London but trying to find a good bottle of wine at retail is enough to make you throw your hands in the air with despair and yell “bloody hell” to the gloomy skies. Purchasing wine in the UK usually means one of three things: the mass-appeal supermarket, the generic Off License, or an independent merchant that focuses on classic yet generally boring or pricey wines. If you’re trying to find a range of small-production, minimally-messed with vino, good luck. From here you’re better off taking the Chunnel, or you can go to the recently opened 259 Hackney Road.
On a recent drizzly and blustering day I clocked up miles on my Oyster card in search of something good to drink for the occasion of dinner with some of my best and oldest friends in London. Alex White, from Brawn, had tipped me off. I’d met the delightfully enthusiastic Alex when he came into Chambers Street Wines last month to check out our selection. I handed him a bottle of Ducroux 2011 Prologue – a CSW import, and arguably the best bargain natural wine I’ve had. After he raved about Ducroux on Twitter I knew I could trust him to steer me in the right direction.
The natural wine world is shrinking. Florian Tonello, part-owner of 259 Hackney Road, used to work at Terroir in San Francisco, plus he’s mates with Guilhaume Gerard and Jose Pastor. The shop sells a small selection of French wines, enough to make you drool. There were wines I knew from NYC (Laherte Frères, Puffeney, Chamonard, the P.U.R. wines brought in by Selection Massale) and many that I was unfamiliar with. Florian, along with his partner Milena, introduced me to the range of La Franche beers from a miniscule brewery in the village of La Ferte in the Jura, the Raphaël Monnier (Ratapoil) wines also from the Jura, and J. Quastana from the Touraine. I also decided to pick up a bottle of Chammonard 2010 Morgon simply because it is a deeply satisfying and classy wine. The lager from Jura (La Franche makes a range of different beers, read this piece here) delivered a light froth and bright, yet ever so slightly bitter taste, the Ratapoil Poulsard was pure vin de soif, while the J. Quastana L’insurgé (Gamay) was earthy and light, though it’s au naturel spritz would have benefitted from decanting.
259 has a stylish aesthetic that is representative of its owners (Milena studied at art school) but it is the content and Florian and Milena’s bad-ass attitude that gives this wine shop substance. For the intrepid real-wine geek, when in London, journey to 259 Hackney Road and while you’re there please pick up the Lenoir ’89 Chinon for me!
There’s another wine importer in town, and they’ll cut a dash in your wine fridge. Joining companies like LDM, Jose Pastor Selections, Jenny & Francois, and Mosel Wine Merchants – just a few of the tireless importers in search of real wine – comes Selection Massale, run by Cory Cartright and Guilhaume Gerard. Cartright is known for his natural wine slanted blog, Saignee and for 31 and 32 Days of Natural Wine (a guest-appearance blog featuring contributions from heavyweights such as Joe Dressner and Eric Texier). Gerard used to work at Terroir in San Francisco; he’s got good taste in music and he causes havoc on social media.
German Riesling guru, Lyle Fass, had purchased a bunch of their wines last fall and in Lyle’s generous fashion, he invited the CSW crew to taste. The most memorable moments of the evening had to be the taste of a certain southern Burgundy (more on that later), and as the night progressed to the sounds of Diplo’s remixes of Baile Funk, Lyle ridiculed long skin contact white wines coming out of Italy, “Italian white wine is so bad they had to make that shit orange.” Classic Lyle.
A few weeks later, on a chilly afternoon in December, Guilhaume Gerard came into Chambers Street and littered our sales desk with opened bottles of wine. We gathered around to taste. The Macon wines of Céline and Laurent Tripoz popped up again, and my initial feelings were echoed. Their wines were incredible, some of the best (next to Julien Guillot) I’ve tasted. The 2009 Macon-Loché was crazy mineral (think more red soil minerals than chalky) and the acidity was razor sharp.
Most folks buy Macon or Pouilly-Fuisse Chardonnays because they want something fairly simple, innocuous even, but why not give them a wine that’ll blow their mind? Must a wine always speak of “typicity?” This wine seems to tell us more about plot, Tripoz’ biodynamic farming and laissez-faire winemaking, but if you want a wine that won’t stump you at a blind tasting Cyril Alonso’s P-U-R wines from Beaujolais (also available from SM) make beautiful wines that taste like Gamay all the way. Thanks Guilhaume and Cory.
Here’s a piece on Céline and Laurent Tripoz from Selection Massale’s website.
…so I painted a wall in my sitting room in the color of metallic gold.
Each coat (three in all) was painted at night, after work in three consecutive nights. It looks absolutely fabulous. I look at it and I think of Egypt and Cleopatra, I get nostalgic for the gold borders on my mother’s saris and I think of all the hours my mother tortured me during shopping adventures for gold jewelry in the town of Flacq in Mauritius where bling-bling is cheap.
There are wines that are connected to certain eras. In the early days (the late nineties) of my time at Astor Wines, the bottles that captured attention were the Dagueneaus, Tempiers, CVNEs, Beaucastels, Rayas’ and the DRCs (when it was actually affordable).
It was a time that preceded the natural-wine wave when sound wine drinkers looked to tradition, terroir and typicity. To this day I try to recall the way I related to wine then. It was before blogs, Wine Therapy, Wine Disorder, Twitter and Ten Bells. It’s like trying to imagine life before the internet.
Jim and I worked at Astor together in 1998. It was where we met. We consumed champagne almost every weekend and constantly purchased wines from Burgundy (his love) and the Rhône (my then love). A lot of these bottles have sat collecting dust in his basement studio on Tenth Street in the East Village.
The small and odd collection of wine we’d amassed has grown to have significance for me – pointing to the life I had with Jim for twelve years. The last year was full or turmoil and change but we’re making it through as good friends. Division of goods has been easy and our little cellar was no question. We will still drink our beloved bottles together, and share them with the willing, but we wondered, had the wines been destroyed in temperatures that were not ideal?
We decided to find out by opening two Rhônes on Monday night: Ch. Rayas’ second label Pignan 1996 Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Ch. Fonsalette ’95 Côtes-du-Rhône. Jim hosted dinner, cooked his special burgers (freshly ground beef rump from Ottomanelli) and we shared the bottles with Jon Wallace and John Rankin from Chambers Street Wines.
Both wines showed beautifully and surprised us a little. The ’96 Pignan seemed more evolved than the Fonsalette. 1996 was Jacques Raynaud’s final vintage, before his death in 1997. (He had no offspring and the estate has since been taken over by his nephew. I’ve no idea what the wines are like these days, though I am curious). The fruit was still fairly ripe, the tannins were almost sweet, the wine smelled of violets and old wood (I hear Rayas CdP was typically fermented in tank and raised in foudres but not sure about the élevage for the second label).
What also made Rayas stand apart from other CdP producers was his focus on Grenache. Out of all the varieties permitted by the appellation, his choice was all Grenache, a grape that can produce wines that are cloying in their youth but this was a stunning wine.
The Fonsalette ‘95 was all blood and Marmite (sort of like a beef bouillon cube), tar and iodine, darker and deeper. It reminded me of why I loved the Rhône (North and South) so much and that I shouldn’t have defected entirely (Eric Texier aside) to the Loire of late. For today’s sign o the times, maybe I’ll snag a bottle of Gonon St. Joseph from CSW, and open it in fifteen years.
I am the proud caretaker of a wee thing called Marmite, formerly known as Miles. I adopted my furry friend on Labour Day weekend from the dear owners of Thirst Wine Merchants and Thirst Bar A Vin, Michael and Emilia. Turns out the duo aren’t just passionate about honest wine and food – they care about homeless, troubled felines too.
Marmite was rescued during Hurricane Irene (remember the “apocalyptic” weekend?) along with his brother (Michael and Emilia kept Booker). Michael posted a photo of the two siblings on Facebook, and revealed they were looking for a home. I immediately shot him an email, found myself perched at their bar the following day for some lentils, gamay and kitten viewing. I was introduced to an all black, tiny and terrified thing, with bewildered eyes and a single white paw.
Two days later Marmite was hiding behind the loo in my bathroom and I’d have to gently take him by the scruff of his neck and hold him close. His little heart would beat like mad but it was a matter of mere days before I won his trust. Three months later, Marmite runs the length of my apartment, causes havoc (like climbing up my net curtain), greets me at the door, begs for attention whenever I’m working/browsing from my laptop, and he loves to cuddle in bed.
I am now the cat lady.
To mark the final day of my vacation in the city, the rains are falling. I am just returned from a soggy trip to Cortelyou Road with my Lefferts Gardens neighbor and CSW colleague, let’s call him JMW since we all go by our initials at the shop. This particular Sunday farmer’s market is surprisingly sizable. Knoll Krest Farm eggs, the ubiquitous Di Paolo’s (the “spoofulated” farm stand as JMW put it), Bardwell’s cheeses, and a couple of enticing seafood, grass-fed beef and usual Mexican specialty all-veg stands were there. It is not far from the breakfast serving Farm on Adderley – a restaurant I intend to hit in the next four weeks.
On a grander scale, I took my first journey north through Prospect Park to visit the Greenmarket at Grand Army Plaza yesterday. It is the second biggest greenmarket after Union Square but considerably more chill with a great many good stands for seasonal produce. I could have spent a bomb, had I had a bomb in my pocket, instead I made out with garlic scapes (so fucking earthy), and a small honeydew melon (that’s currently stinking out my apartment), along with sweet heirloom tomatoes, among other goodies.
Perhaps my favorite market journey of all was Borough Hall on Tuesday. It was simply sweet, sweet, sweet and heaving with peaches. The major score for me is that it’s situated a short walk away from Sahadi. Oh how I love Sahadi.
Departing from my greenmarket vacation forays, I also visited the new DeKalb Market with my good mate Chantal. It was hot and the sun was intense; it had that gritty urban feel that reminded me of a swap meet (the first time I heard this term I thought everyone was saying “swamp mead”) in a city like L.A.
DeKalb Market is sheltered in an abandoned lot surrounded by food stands (our choice that afternoon was unfortunately disappointing) and filled with tables and benches to nosh at while listening to the slightly too-loud music, spun live by one of the resident DJs. Being a Wednesday afternoon it wasn’t busy but the cross section of Brooklyn-ites was eclectic to say the least, consisting of the lunching local elderly, stroller mummies, cool afro-punk chicks and the occasional skinny hipster. Customized shipping containers house small boutiques. My favorites were the Pratt pop-up shop and Harriet’s By Hekima. The latter caused me to fish for my credit card to procure a playful navy tank top dress, flared at the bottom with a crazy ruffle of West African cotton print in loud yellow and red. I’ll be wearing it until Labor Day.
Lefferts Gardens isn’t a food destination. Manhattanites (or other Brooklyn kin) aren’t trekking here for off-the-beaten-path grub featured in influential publications, but for anyone that lives here, De Hot Pot is a sweet Trinidadian curry and roti café .
Vee cooks the food. She’s a moody lady and she’ll give you the cold shoulder if she feels like it, for no apparent reason. I like her despite the hot and cold temperature, or perhaps I like her for it. The first time I introduced myself as a newcomer to the neighborhood I was met with frosty skepticism. Until, that is, I told her Fritz (my neighbor and a long time Lefferts resident and Trini ex-pat) sent me. The ice melted. My intimate knowledge of achar (spicy Indian pickle) didn’t hurt either.
The third encounter had us bonding over curry recipes. I bemoaned the distance I had to travel for curry leaves. She looked at me oddly, tilted her head, and questioned, “girl, ya mean kari poulay?” The common language for curry leaves got me way excited. Vee gets her ingredients from Queens, where there is a large desi community. She travels to work everyday, from one borough to another.
On this visit I felt bold enough to approach the subject of roti. I told her I’d never seen roti so big – “it’s the size of a table cloth” exclaimed my friend Chantal — to which Vee explained that in Guyana the rotis are small like India but Trinidadians make them big for the practical purpose of feeding guests at large weddings and celebrations. It’s easier to roll out one big roti instead of three small ones when you’re feeding hundreds.
We’ve shared our love of bones with each other too. Here’s an excerpt (as much as I can recall) of another recent visit.
Me: Hi Vee, I’m here for goat curry. I like the bones, will you give me plenty of bones?
Vee: Ya like bone? Ya like me. I don need meat, jus bone.
And did she pile it on. I came home with a container overflowing with curry sauce and a roti the size of a tablecloth.
Here’s a picture, portioned out of course.