Hunger And Thirst: Roxane Gay x Oriol Artigas

Welcome to my first edition of #aperohourweekly in many months!

Recently, I’ve been reading a lot of memoir and marvelling at the way that a well-written account of someone’s life, despite being entirely personal, can have universal ramifications. American writer Roxane Gay’s 2017 Hunger is testament to how the so-called “obesity epidemic” in the U.S. (and elsewhere) requires a broad, cultural shift in order to address its roots. It’s also a book about trauma and sexual assault. Anyone who has experienced either will strongly identify with Gay’s quest to overcome their impact on her life. But the book has lessons for those who have not been subject to such difficulties — because chances are, someone you know has.

Disordered eating was extremely prevalent when I was growing up. Teen women’s magazines were enjoying popularity, and they all promoted weight-loss and idolized thin models and celebrities. Fiona Apple’s anorexic body writhed like a snake in her music video, Criminal. On the TV show Friends, Jennifer Aniston went from probably a size 10 to a 6 over the course of a few seasons, and her colleague Courtney Cox was presumably anorexic for years. I loved the show Ally McBeal, whose shockingly thin protagonist seemed to live off air and occasional pints of ice cream.

In high school, I had a close friend who began working out both before and after school. At lunch she was seen eating grapes. Within months, she was a skeleton, with fuzzy hair all over her arms. Everyone complimented her. Other friends talked constantly about how imperfect their bodies were. At sixteen, we were often on diets. I had my own struggles with disordered eating.

Roxane Gay was not propelled into disordered eating merely because of cultural influences. She experienced an absolutely shattering sexual assault at the age of 12. Her life was altered forever, and she turned to food as her outlet. At her heaviest, she weighed 577 pounds.

Hunger is a brutally honest portrayal of Gay’s trauma, ongoing suffering, overeating, and attempts to heal herself. It also shares perspective on being “fat” in a society that worships thinness and fitness. The book is not a weight-loss success story; Gay is still “a woman of size,” as she puts it, and continues to struggle with her initial trauma.

Gay attends “fat camps” as a teenager, runs away from her Ivy League education to work as a phone-sex operator while exploring her queerness, considers gastric bypass surgery, and continues overeating and dating people who mistreat her, believing she deserves such abuse. Over time, Gay recounts in the book, she begins to find some joy in cooking. As I read about her suffering, I was waiting for this sliver of hope. I still remember, in university, when I lived with four amazing fellow students (all women) who loved to cook — and I don’t mean just throwing pasta into water. We made lasagna, shepherd’s pie, and roast chicken, all from scratch. We drank wine as we prepared our meal. We cooked for ourselves, not for boyfriends, because we wanted to eat well. We deserved it.

It was still some years before I completely embraced the pleasure of eating well, partly because for most of my twenties, I struggled to pay rent and tuition, and food seemed like an excessive luxury. But over time, I began visiting the Union Square farmer’s market, in New York. I stopped feeling guilty whenever I ate a proper, balanced dinner at a cafe, rather than shoving 2-dollar falafel or 1-dollar pizza into my mouth on the way to the library for a night of studying.

When I discovered natural wine, I found a new level of deliciousness, and an extreme form of pleasure that became a point-of-no-return for me. Once I understood the bottom line of these wines — organic farming, ethical production, minimal additions — my entire lifestyle was transformed. Understanding natural wine as a product of environmentally-conscious artisanship carried over into what I ate: I began to deeply consider the origins of the food I bought, prepared, and ate, every day.

As my friendships formed around natural wine, I found a community with which to share my newfound love for gastronomic enjoyment. I remember the first time I splurged on a dining experience: my friends and I went to Contra, the Lower East Side tasting menu restaurant where only natural wine is served. We each paid $200 and it was the most enthralling experience I’d had in recent years. Yes, I had student loans to pay, and it was harder to make rent that month — but I felt that the meal had enriched me as much as seeing a great work of theater or months of psychotherapy might.

I chose a wine from Oriol Artigas to pair alongside Roxane Gay’s book — but honestly, it was chosen at random. It could have been any great natural wine. The point I wanted to make is that reading Hunger helped me relive my own struggles to love myself, to feed and nurture myself healthfully, and to believe that I deserve pleasure, just because I am human.

In some moments, it was hard for me to read Gay’s words — because as much as she says she hates being hugged by strangers, hates cooking for herself, and feels reluctant about eating healthy and working out, I wanted to assure her that all of these things can actually bring true joy on a daily basis, and that they can make life worth living, or at least more bearable.

Oriol Artigas makes natural wine in an area called Alella, north of Barcelona. His wines are undoubtedly full of joy. He holds down a job teaching at an oenology school in order to pursue his passion for natural winemaking. He isn’t living a life of luxury. But that’s largely what natural wine is — people who have really found joy in these lighthearted, quirky wines, and devoted themselves to them in pursuit of the utmost pleasure. It’s a pleasure that also revolves around an ethically and socially minded community, rather than pure hedonism.

I happened to have Oriol’s wine handy because it’s featured in Pipette Magazine Issue 4, which has printed and is shipping now — you can order your copy online, or find it at a stockist in your town.

We all have to deny ourselves pleasure, sometimes. But my experiences have taught me that the joy of eating and drinking well can carry over into every other aspect of our lives. We can learn self-care by changing how we eat and drink. And we can support each other in these goals. I am grateful to every roommate or colleague I had who cooked with me or went halves with me to splurge on a bottle of wine.

I wish more young people could be exposed to gastronomic pleasures. I really suffered during my adolescent years of disordered eating. If they had gone on longer, they could have had lasting or even permanent detriments to my physical health. “Thinness” is bullshit. Enjoying real food, sharing great wine, and finding joy in self-care are true beacons in this world.

Roxane Gay has written several books of fiction as well as the highly-acclaimed 2014 essay collection Bad Feminist, which I look forward to reading sometime. I think Hunger does justice to the reality that so many of us have experienced at one point, to a certain degree: that American society has a really unhealthy and contradictory approach to eating and body image. Although that may be changing in certain subcultures, broader society is still hung-up on weight-loss TV shows and Jenny Craig plans, stuck in a cycle of self-punishment and longing for an unattainable body.

Thanks for reading this #aperohourweekly post! I hope I’ll be sharing these write-ups more regularly now. You can follow the tag below to find previous editions. Also see the “Natural Wine Producer Profiles” section to find in-depth stories about winemakers. And subscribe to Pipette (print-only) if you want to learn more about the natural wine movement!

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.

 

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.