…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.
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.
Just how much can change in a year? A lot. This long time East Villager took herself to Brooklyn and got a job at Chambers Street Wines. Pinch me. I’m not dreaming.
My one-bedroom apartment has a hallway. A. Hallway. There are no tall buildings blocking my view to the spread of sky viewed from my sitting room window. I find myself overlooking the train tracks of Prospect Park station each morning and night. It doesn’t look like New York City as I’ve come to know it in the last 13 years; this image, before me, looks a lot like Europe. The first time a friend saw the view he joked that I had Rome outside my window. Apart from the trains (a sound I love) it’s dead quiet here.
My dad worked for the British Rail for years, before ticket machines replaced humans. He wore his uniform, shined his shoes and blew his whistle for as long as I can remember at Streatham Hill station. I grew up in Balham, an area that was serviced by both the underground and overground trains – the sound of locomotive engines don’t bother me one bit, if anything it is a comfort.
I’ve been dwelling at my new apartment for two months now. Each day gets a little sweeter. My floors are laid with bamboo parquet, the walls stand pristine white and the minimal surroundings provide a good backdrop for coffee & reading rituals, wine & dinner indulgences. I’m a block away from Prospect Park and a two blocks from the Botanical Gardens.
As a neighborhood, Lefferts Gardens is incredibly cool. And I don’t mean in a trendy way. The residents are mostly Caribbean and African American. There is a large Rastafarian culture here. It really reminds me of Brixton. Lefferts feels more real than Williamburg, less out of the way than Sunset Park and more working class than Park Slope. I watched Crooklyn one night and was completely charmed by this early Spike Lee sleeper. It was based on Bed-Stuy but it sure resembles my new hood. And how can you not fall in love with Troy?
My blog has been neglected, sorely neglected. I returned from Mauritius 3 weeks ago. My heart was broken many times over as my father experienced one complication after another. Somehow he made it through. And he’s getting better.
One evening in Mauritius while my mother and I sat for our nightly ritual of a campari and soda on the patio after dad had taken his medication and fallen asleep, she shared many recipes with me. We spoke softly and the nights were not filled with music or social chatter, we always had an ear out for dad who would often call for us from his broken body (which thankfully mends as I write this). Food was our main communication when we wanted to talk about something else, get our minds off our fears.
I won’t lie, I missed New York during my six week journey to my dad’s heart (and brain) and back again so it seemed right that I should gather my best friends, feed them, drink good wine and revel in celebration. On Dec 30th I requested guests don their glad rags (most of them did) and bring a bottle. It was possibly one the best parties we’ve had. I made an industrial sized pot of haleem, which was devoured down to the last bit. I was impressed, I was proud.
Haleem is a hearty Persian and Pakistani stew made with lamb or mutton and lentils, dal and barley. It is rich and festive, and a typical Muslim dish in Mauritius. Here is my mother’s recipe for haleem (known in Mauritius as halim).
(Serves 2-4 people)
1 heaped tablespoon Shaan Haleem Mix
1lb Lamb shoulder, cut on the bone into stew size pieces
1/3 cup dal
1/3 cup black lentils
2 tablespoons of barley
cilantro (fresh coriander)
1 cinnamon stick
Sauté meat in a little olive oil together with cinnamon, cardamom and salt until browned. Cover with water (just enough water to cover the meat) and let simmer for 20 mins.
Wash dal, lentils and barley and add to meat. Add more water (about 4-5 cups) and bring to a boil. Turn heat down and leave to simmer for 30 mins with lid partially covered.
Meanwhile take a pan and sautee onions. After a few mins add 2-3 tomatoes, Halim mix, a pinch of turmeric and stir to a paste by adding a little water.
When pulses and barley are almost cooked and meat is tender, add salt, halim and tomato mix and let simmer for another 15 mins. If too thick, add water, if too thin let it cook down more.
In a bowl whisk together chopped fresh chili, spring onions, vinegar, lemon juice, olive oil and drizzle on top of the soup when serving. garnish with chopped cilantro (fresh coriander).
Here’s a load of the delicious wines contributed by my friends of good taste.
I’m back in New York City, nursing a cold and trying to get over the worst bout of jet lag I’ve ever had. I’m also inundated with work. Assignments were coming through just before I left Mauritius and a few news ones were offered as soon as I got back. I’m finding it hard to get back into the swing of work and that’s why I’m writing my blog – because I am essentially a very good procrastinator.
My last week in Mauritius was lovely. Again, my cousin Anwar, a very serious police officer and family man, took us out for more sightseeing. Our next visit was Mahebourg, which was the original port of Mauritius, during the Dutch settlement. It’s a lovely tranquil area that is surrounded by a cluster of villages, mostly inhabited by poor folk. Along the coast, you can still see a brightly colored corrugated iron shacks where families live. That’s Mauritius at its poorest. We drove up to Belle Mare, an unbelievably stunning beach. I’d say it’s the best stretch on the island. I’m not alone in my opinion because all the super exclusive hotels, like One and Only Le St. Geran (which is where we stayed for two blissful days) are situated here. The sand is as fine as flour and the sea is clear for miles. The coral reef is supposedly fantastic and JR loved snorkeling around there.
Before we headed for Belle Mare we stopped off at Flacq Market to stock up on vegetables and fruits. It’s a pretty large farmer’s market that only sells local produce but it was enclosed and heaving with shoppers so we quickly exited feeling hot and sticky. On the way to our car we came across a guy selling take away chicken biriyani out of a massive pot from the back of his van. At 50 rupees (about 2 bucks) for a healthy serving – it was the best bargain beach picnic I’d ever experienced.
The rest of the time I spent bonding with ma. I’ve been missing her terribly since I left. We spent our days walking, at the beach, cooking and chatting and in the evenings we sat on the small balcony upstairs at the beach house and sipped on dry vermouth with 7UP and talked some more before I gorged on her meat curries, ladaubes (tomato based stew), rougailles (spicy tomato salsa) and pickles. Ma — I miss you and you scrumptious food!
I’ve been soaking up the sun in Mauritius. I’m a couple of shades darker and covered in mosquito bites. I don’t know what’s worse the odd massive cockroach, the gargantuan spiders or all the mosquitoes. Paradise comes with consequences.
Jim left Mauritius for London at the crack of dawn on Thursday morning after gallantly flattening a cockroach in the bathroom for me. I’ve stayed on for another week. We’d arrived together three weeks ago, following a time in London. The British capital graced us with sunny skies, brisk but bearable weather and we were given two extra days courtesy of British Airways, whose check-in baggage computer system went caput. Anyone reading this should know that Heathrow Terminal 4 is like the third world. After driving all the way from South London to the airport we were told that we could travel but our baggage could not. Can you imagine? Me? Without all my creams, potions and many pairs of shoes for a month? I think not. So we turned around and went right back to where we started. Only this time JR and I threw caution to the wind and thought, “To hell with the weak dollar. This is a sign that we must make the most of London and spend, spend, spend.” And so we did.
Back to Mauritius. After our twelve hour journey here, excluding an extra two hours of sitting on the tarmac because of an, ahem, oil leak, we emerged the plane at Plaisance Airport to the waft of deep fried street food and sweet exotic flowers. That’s what Mauritius smells like wherever you go. Known in creole as gajak, Mauritian snacks are cooked up on practically every street corner, at all bus stations, bazaars, at the beach, outside schools and offices, in short – everywhere. Samosas, battered and fried bread, dholl puri (my favorite), deep fried aubergines, gateaux piment (a bit like a falafel but made with hot peppers) puris, roti and so much more. Eating this way is delicious and more satisfying then the slew of fancy restaurants opening up all over the island. Plus it costs next to nothing. If I didn’t give a hoot about trans fat, I could eat in Mauritius for fifty rupees a day (about 2 bucks).
Dholl puri — a very thin, flaky flat bread made with wheat and crushed dhal – are the best. This delectable savory pancake is always served with a little vegetarian curry, usually potatoes and butter beans, and a little spicy salsa sauce known locally as rougaille. They are sold in pairs and if I were bold enough I could eat five in a row.
Here’s a pic of dholl puri in the making:
We’ve been gorging on as much local chow as possible. Best meals yet have been my mother’s. It’s such a cliché to say so that but it’s true. Memorable dishes to date have been an unbelievably rich goat curry, chicken curry, octopus ladaube (a tomato based stew) and chicken biriyani. It isn’t the best season for fruits but we’re still spoiled with the likes of these cute petite pineapples, lusciously sweet papaya from my mother’s garden in Quatre-Bornes, short plump bananas, juicy ripe mangoes, fresh coconuts and fleshy avocado. How I’ll miss eating this way when I leave.
Today, we loaded into my cousin’s car and took a trip to Port Louis, the capital of Mauritius. We meandered through the old market and took a trip back in time, where musty old stalls sold dried spices, medicinal herbs, vanilla pods, straw baskets and fruits and veggies. I did the quintessential Mauritian thing and took in a glass of alooda, a cold, sugary milk drink filled with gelatinous beads of agar. The new thing here is to serve up a glass of alooda with a scoop of ice cream. I prefer mine old school.
After a dip in the ocean at the beach by my parent’s house, I watched the sunset and returned home to another amazing dish of chicken curry and roti, cooked courtesy of my Aunty Laila. I’ve quizzed all the Mauritian housewives on the curry powder here. What makes it so good? I’m talking umami here. At first I was suspect that MSG is in the mix but now I’m not so sure. Ma tells me that rumor has it that a little ground pulse and rice makes the concoction so good. In any case I’m taking a bag home!