Slowing Things Down

Above all, do not lose your desire to walk. Every day I walk myself into a state of well-being and walk away from every illness. I have walked myself into my best thoughts, and I know of no thought so burdensome that one cannot walk away from it.

— Soren Kierkegaard

It’s 8am. The alarm goes off. Immediately, your hand reaches for the little machine beside you. The screen lights up. Messages. How many likes on that recent post? It feels like an onslaught, an attack on the senses, yet somehow it’s addicting, you cannot resist.

There isn’t much of an escape from technology; it pervades our existence and even in the most remote locations — an island, the woods, airplanes, the ashram you escaped to for the weekend — there’s WIFI, beckoning us to connect, to display our lives.

It’s been almost three months since I’ve been living in the hills of South Australia. Every morning, I awake to the birds — the magpies cawing, the wrens chirping, the cockatoos . . . screaming, for lack of a more polite term (cockatoos are extremely loud birds, in the family of parrots). The sun rises over the valley, slowly warming up the day.

Now that the frenzy of harvest is over, and Issue 2 of the magazine is ready to go out into the world, I’m enjoying a slower pace of life. There’s so much beauty around, and just walking for an hour with the dogs helps me think clearly. Making wine has been only one instance of working with my hands; there’s a huge veggie garden here on the farm and I’ve taken to pickling and fermenting everything I can. (A long-time passion for me, which I can finally realize in full!) 

For a while, I was making sourdough bread but I’ve come to the point where I have to admit: I’m not that talented at baking. I may pick it up again in the future, but meanwhile, there are olives to pick and cure, chilis to be hung to dry, tomato sauce to preserve, tree barks and wild fennel and fig and lemon leaves down by the creek to collect and soak in our Chardonnay grappa, to become vermouth.

For years, my life was about consumption, about getting into the latest restaurant — and now it’s gone to the other side. I welcome the change. And while there’s certainly enough of the New Yorker left in me that I’m quick to jump on my phone and computer in the morning, I am also taking time to read, sketch in a journal, and work on fiction — something I used to do regularly, but set aside when I decided to focus more on wine writing. finally got around to George Saunders’ first novel, Lincoln in the Bardo. I can’t really think of any reason you should not go out right this minute and locate a copy; it’s a beautifully written meditation on loss and the afterlife and American history, and such a pleasure to read. 

This blog has been many things over the years; I’ve used it to promote my published magazine articles, to defend natural wines against its critics, to share details of my visits to some of the world’s most interesting natural & artisanal winemakers. Recently, a number of people subscribed to this blog, and I’m curious who all of you are, and wanted to introduce myself anew. So: hello, there. I’m a writer who left New York after living there for almost nine years, moved to France with two suitcases, and followed my heart and the good weather to Australia, someplace I’d never been and hadn’t considered visiting. I’m discovering a lot here.

Mostly this moment in my life is about grounding, creating a new home, and getting to know Australia. But partly because I was nomadic for so many months, I really don’t take the notion of “home” for granted — I feel incredibly lucky to have a place where I can just be. I’m reflecting on the idea of “homeness,” what it means to connect to a place and make it our own, and what happens when that connection is denied or confiscated. Recently, I had the chance to see an amazing, small collection of new paintings at the South Australian Museum in Adelaide. The artist, Jacob Stengle, is an aboriginal from the Ngarrindjeri community who was taken from his family at the age of three and placed in a government run home. His story represents the legacy of Australia’s “stolen generation”: throughout the Twentieth century up until the 70s, children were systematically and forcibly removed from their homes as a way of promoting “assimilation” into the white settler culture.

Stengle’s paintings have the chilling effect of sharing his experience from a child’s perspective, as well as looking in from the outside, showing his mother’s heartbreak when he’d been taken. His grandfather, we learn through the narrative of the paintings, was one of the men who helped the South Australian Museum build their collection of aboriginal artifacts. The exhibit is about to close after this weekend, but any visitors to Australia interested in this theme must not miss the Art Gallery of NSW in Sydney, which has a stunning and well-curated collection of contemporary aboriginal art.

Coming from the U.S, of course, much of this narrative is familiar, although here in Australia the oppression of aboriginal communities happened in different sequences and more recently. In Australia’s wine and food circle, thoughtful leaders like Adelaide chef Jock Zonfrillo of Orana are working to highlight native ingredients and channel research funds back into the communities they come from; winemaker Momento Mori in the state of Victoria has written on their back labels: “We acknowledge and respect the traditional owners of this land.” These are the sentiments I want to see more of, write about and share with others, and get involved in myself.

As this Indian summer turns into the cooler days of fall, I am gearing up to travel to Europe, where I’ll be tasting wines, celebrating the release of Terre Issue 2 (if you didn’t pre-order, hopefully there’s a stockist near you!), and researching articles for a few magazines. Speaking of, if anyone can get ahold of the latest issue of Imbibe Magazine, I’m in there writing about amazing examples of winemakers collaborating around the world. It’s a feature I really enjoyed writing, highlighting some producers I really admire.

Aaaaaaaand . . . I have a new self-publishing book project on the horizon. It’s just a bit too early to say more, but I will let you know this: it’s not about wine. Stay tuned, I’ll be ready soon to share details and will be asking for your support.

I hope that, wherever you are, you’re finding ways to slow down, tune out the noise — there’s so, so much of it — and perhaps, use your hands to make something beautiful and nourishing. At the very least, take a walk — it does so much for the soul.

 

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Meet The #LadyChef Who Cooks For Marc Jacobs (And Throws Secret Dance Parties)

Squid course Heatonist popupWhy is Marc Jacobs’ personal chef throwing secret dance parties in Chinatown? How did she come up with that insanely beautiful activated charcoal-dusted squid dish, served at a pop-up dinner in a hot sauce boutique? Who is Lauren Gerrie, anyway, and why is she so damn talented?

Answers in my profile of this dynamic, self-made chef, on Taste Talks. If you haven’t yet checked out Taste Talks, it’s a fairly new media endeavor from Northside Media (same folks running Brooklyn Magazine and L Magazine, plus the annual Taste Talks event in Brooklyn, which is this year expanding to L.A. and Chicago). Read my story here

The Best Neighborhood For Eating And Drinking Is Bushwick, Plus Other Latest Stories

The Scotch-egg rib-eye burger at Maite
The Scotch-egg rib-eye burger at Maite

Today, Food Republic published my story on the neighborhood of Bushwick, which has in recent months become a destination dining neighborhood thanks to new, cutting-edge restaurants with next-level food and drink.

Read it hereAll of the restaurants discussed are excellent and highly-recommended! I especially suggest cocktails at Syndicated, and the ridiculously good burger at Maite, shown at left.

Earlier this week, my story about improving your palate came out on Vogue.com; I learned a lot in the process of writing it and hope you will find some gems to help you become a better taster! Read here.

On my regular column at Vine Pair, I wrote about some interesting new wine tourism destinations–read here–and shared some expert secrets and hacks for pairing wine with food; read here.

Thanks, as always, for following my work!

 

Cassoulet Weather In Full Effect, Plus Where To Have A Great Lunch

IMG_7314It’s finally cold in NYC! In addition to writing about the City’s best hot chocolate (there are some seriously above-and-beyond cups of cocoa out there–article here), I recently spent a glorious day testing a recipe for Cassoulet, the iconic Southern French dish, which I wrote about for Vine Pair along with some reviews of wines from the Languedoc, one of France’s lesser-known (but very important and wonderful) wine regions. Check it out here(P.S. if any cookware brands would like to sponsor my future articles, I am officially accepting Dutch ovens, skillets, and, well, whatever else because I have basically nothing in my humble freelance writer slash single woman’s kitchen.)

Also, I’ve been working on a series about where to have lunch in New York City, for Gothamist. It’s specifically aimed at people who work full-time jobs, so it encompasses all kinds of lunch, from grab-and-go to sit-down to the infamous “power lunch.” Writing these round-ups has involved a lot of footwork, a few tasty meals, and many afternoons spent reading Yelp.

Measure_RachelSignerIf you want a laugh, please check out how the grumpy and indignant owner of Park Italian responds to bad Yelp reviews from his customers. Here are the latest few: Midtown West, Midtown East, and the Financial District (which I refuse to call “FiDi” of my own accord). If you know of great lunch spots in other neighborhoods, please send tips my way!

And if you missed it, my send-off to 2015 included a round-up of somms and beverage directors around the country sharing their best wine experiences of the year. Some pretty amazing stories came my way; check out the article here. Cheers to a fresh start for 2016.

Adventures In Fermented Bread-Making

About a week ago, I decided to make my own sourdough starter. I grabbed some high-quality house milled rye from The Brooklyn Kitchen, and used this guide. I followed the feeding schedule loosely, adjusting based on the fact that the fermentation was going very slowly; I finally let it be for three days and it looked ready.

I let it sit in the fridge for a day or two, then made a few loaves of bread using a recipe for “beginner bakers” from The Kitchn. It’s so freaking delicious! Sour and spongy with an amazing crust! One tip: just before you put the bread into the oven, spray some water so it steams, it makes the crust all nice and crispy. Also, if you make rolls like I did, they can be baked at about 20 degrees lower and for a shorter time. I actually left the risen loaf dough in the fridge for three days before baking it, and I was skeptical but it’s literally some of the best bread I’ve ever had. So chewy, amazing texture, perfect level of sourness.

I feel like I’ve given birth! I had this starter baby, and I fed it and nurtured it, sang it lullabies… then it grew up, became real bread! I’m so proud of my baby.

Here’s what it looks like to make a fermented starter and then bake it into lovely bread:

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How Do You Say “Power Lunch” In French?

imgresEarlier this week, 147 leaders from around the world arrived in Paris for the long-anticipated climate talks, also known as COP21, a series of meetings in which these powerful men and women will discuss carbon emissions, fossil fuels, solar power and some way to actually move forward. The event is nothing short of historic and seminal, and the world’s attention is turned to Paris to see what will come of all this talk.

Meanwhile, the summit participants have been working up an appetite with all their debating. Will the food on their table be reflective of their stated goal, to steer the world away from rising temperatures, flooding and fossil fuel depletion? The French news website Le Point reported on the welcome lunch that was served to the heads of state in attendance at COP21. Check out my write-up of Le Point’s findings, and find out what the world leaders are eating (hint: it’s a lot of molecular gastronomy with regional French ingredients), on Food Republic.

A Baker/Blogger/Butcher-Turned-Author, Plus Cocktail Craziness At NYC’s Betony

Last week, I wrote on Eater Drinks about the cocktail program at Betony, in NYC. It really goes above and beyond most restaurant bar programs, partly because general manager Eamon Rockey devotes so much time and energy to crafting each ingredient in every cocktail — but also because he personalizes every drink, to an incredible extent. There is so much emotion, whimsy, and storytelling in each cocktail at Betony — including the delicious non-alcoholic versions.

Betony is certainly taking the lead on this kind of approach to cocktails, but I am also seeing this personalized, hyper-artisanal style popping up at other restaurants, certainly at the fine dining establishment Restaurant Latour, in New Jersey, where I dined this weekend and met mixologist Stephen Thomas.

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Much like Eamon, Stephen makes cocktails out of his wild imagination, using hints of classic recipes but taking them in very contemporary directions. Stephen’s drinks program also features an incredible array of locally distilled spirits. Plus, he’s a talented sommelier, who poured for us many beautiful and unique wines from Restaurant Latour’s cellar — one of the country’s largest and most impressive collections. At dinner, we did not get to drink the Romanée-Conti, but we did have a 1947 Napa Valley wine and a 1914 Madeira.

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At lunch in the Tavern, the more casual restaurant at Crystal Springs, the resort where Restaurant Latour is located, I had a Riesling from Alba, a New Jersey winery — pas mal!

Freshly posted on Food Republic is my profile of butcher-baker-blogger-author Cara Nicoletti, who is a real inspiration for me both on the page, where she elegantly weaves between memoir, essay, and food writing, and in the kitchen, where her recipes challenge me to try new techniques.

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I’ve been making Cara’s Breakfast Sausage since I received the advanced copy of the book, and honestly I don’t know why every single person out there does not make their own breakfast sausage from scratch because it is so easy and delicious. Get her book, Voracious — it comes out tomorrow and is a great read.