Roses In The Cloister

Roses in the cloister.   SIMON WATSON

Yesterday’s post linked to earlier ones with rose references, and one of those led me to a small correction. The photo above shows a slightly different angle on the roses in the garden of the restored convent. I had assumed those roses were very old. A bit of sleuthing led me to the fact that they were planted during the restoration, and they are “indeed quite perfumed.” For that and other reasons it is worth taking another look at that project, this time told by Olinda Adeane and with excellent photos by Simon Watson:

A mother & daughter’s restoration of a 16th-century Tuscan convent

A mother-and-daughter design duo has taken an unconventional approach to the conversion of a sixteenth-century convent in Tuscany, filling the rooms with objects and artworks of their own making.

In the library, hand-coloured prints stand out against the white walls. SIMON WATSON

Henry James once described his friend Edith Wharton as a ‘great and glorious pendulum’ swinging back and forth across the Atlantic. In a similar fashion, Holly Lueders, a designer from New York, has returned to Greece every year since she first visited the country as an 18-year-old student. Holly grew up in a sleepy town in Missouri with little in the way of culture or local craft, but her family was artistic and good with their hands. ‘Anything we wanted, we made for ourselves,’ remembers Holly. She studied art history and archaeology at Columbia University and completed her studies in Athens. Continue reading

Smithsonian Craft Show

Some of the crafts we carry seem museum quality to us, but we offer them in the context of commerce.

We would love to attend this show at the Smithsonian, primarily to see the work of Jessica Beels, whose work is showing in the Mixed Media and Paper section of the Show. Her website is full of reasons to see more of her work.

Nowhere on that site do  we see works like these three bird figures. We favor birds in art, wherever it may be, and when the medium stretches boundaries as these do, all the more interesting.

Auténtica @ Authentica

We have just placed these books on display in the two Authentica shops in Costa Rica, one at Marriott Los Suenos and the other at Marriott Hacienda Belen. The author, Isabel Campabadal, has been an author and chef for nearly five decades, and is a perfect fit with one of our aims as merchants: respect traditions and respectfully update them with all that the modern world offers.

Nathan Myhrvold On The Splendid Table

When we posted on his book a few weeks ago the title of our post suggested that it was a frivolous offering. Not so. Surprisingly we have not posted about Nathan Myhrvold before, but the best profile on him was written before this platform launched. Then his dinosaur obsession and invention workshop were his primary talking points. In recent years those have made room for food.

And in case you do not have time for his book, you can get a sense of those talking points on this episode of The Splendid Table podcast:

Episode 741: Pizza: Origin, Culture and Making It with Nathan Myhrvold

This week, we take a deep dive into pizza with the co-author of the voluminous Modernist Pizza, Nathan Myhrvold. We get into the history, culture, and techniques behind great pizza. We hear stories from his worldwide travels and deep dives into pizza cultures and traditions. Plus, we hear about the culinary lab research devoted to making the best pizza ever, and he sticks around to answer your pizza-making questions. He is the founder of the Modernist Cuisine Lab…

The Taste of a Place

It’s a feeling we come back to again and again, especially when talking about foods we love. Coffee, cheese, wine, tea…the  significance of each one resonates with both a sense of culture and place to where quite a few of the contributors to this site have called home.

In the case of the image above, we peer into the poro trees we have mentioned numerous times. This particular poro, whose thick diagonally oriented trunk is situated at the uppermost point on the land where our coffee grows, is home to several orchids, both wild and cultivated. And in the foreground of the image a young cecropia tree is making its way upward, with a reddish top.

Next to the cecropia, out of the frame, is a mature coffee tree. Next to that is a young lime tree, and surrounding are various flowers and mano de tigre, aka monstera deliciosa. Just downhill from the trees and flowers in this image are bananas, plantain and sugar cane. The best coffees enjoy diverse company as they grow.

Perfume & Museum

General view of the International Perfume Museum’s gardens in Grasse. “The same rose or the same jasmine grown in Egypt or Morocco, it will be different from the rose grown in Grasse,” head gardener Christophe Meze says. “It’s like wine, you can have the same type of grape, but you won’t have the same wine because of the sun, because of the soil, because of the terroir.” Bénédicte Desrus for NPR

Perfume appeared early in our pages mostly due to their botanical intrigue–but has only been an occasional topic since then. This story of how the perfume trade developed (if the topic is of greater interest see Chandler Burr’s The Emperor of Scent) in Grasse is a fine fit with our interest in unusual museums and the intersection of farming and innovation:

In France’s Perfume Capital Of The World, There’s A World Of Beautiful Fragrance

Perfume flower grower Pierre Chiarla picks jasmine flowers in his field in Grasse, France. Bénédicte Desrus for NPR

GRASSE, France — The town of Grasse sits in the hills above the more famous French Riviera city of Cannes, and it doesn’t have the Mediterranean Sea at its doorstep. What it does have is fields of flowers — jasmine, May rose, tuberose, lavender. It is known as the perfume capital of the world.

It wasn’t always this way. Back in the 18th and 19th centuries, the industry took off in Grasse in part because this was an absolutely putrid-smelling town. Continue reading

It’s Monday, So Pizza

A pizza in a wood-fired oven. All photographs by Nathan Myhrvold / The Cooking Lab, LLC.

Phaidon‘s books frequently allow us to offer a fun alternative to our heavier fare. Today is one of those days to go for the fun:

The surprising history of pizza

Modernist Pizza might apply the latest science to the pizzaiolos’ role, but it also dishes up deep history too

Pizza Margherita.

Modernist Pizza certainly applies a little science to the task of making a great slice. In this huge, comprehensive, three-volume publication, authors Nathan Myhrvold and Francisco Migoya share innumerable practical tips and innovative techniques to create great pizzas. Myhrvold is Microsoft’s former Chief Technology Officer and studied under Stephen Hawking at the University of Cambridge, and so almost all of those tips and techniques aren’t simple repetitions of old hunches and dogma, but the product of numerous test-kitchen experiments. Want to know the precise effects of ageing on mozzarella? Or which parts of your oven really cook your pie? Then get this set of books. Continue reading

A Taste Of Matthew Raiford’s Heritage

The last food book we featured was not a cookbook, but had plenty of food for thought. Thanks to the Kim Severson (again, after a couple years of our not seeing her work) for bringing Matthew Raiford, his family heritage, his farm and his cookbook to our attention in her article: A High-Summer Feast to Forge Connections in the Deep South. And if time is short, click through just for the exceptional photography:

Rinne Allen for The New York Times

Matthew Raiford swore he’d never return to his family farm in coastal Georgia. But in breaking that vow, he found a sense of community worth celebrating with a lavish spread.

BRUNSWICK, Ga. — It’s not a stretch to say there may have never been a party for a cookbook like the one Matthew Raiford threw on his family farm a few weeks ago.

Rinne Allen for The New York Times

The book’s title is “Bress ‘n’ Nyam” — “bless and eat” in the English-based Creole spoken by the Gullah Geechee people who live along the coasts of the Carolinas, Georgia and northern Florida. Their ancestors were captured in West Africa and enslaved. Nowhere else in America has the cultural line from Africa been better preserved. (Mr. Raiford’s people call themselves freshwater Geechee, which means they are from the mainland of coastal Georgia. Saltwater Geechees are from the barrier islands.) Continue reading

Adaptation In The Vineyard

Jacquez vines at Michel Arnaud’s farm in the village of Saint-Mélany in the Ardèche region of France. The American hybrid variety has been banned in France since 1934. Andrea Mantovani for The New York Times

We admire many French traditions, except for those, especially, having to do with birds. When it comes to wine, the French are often but not always right:

For France, American Vines Still Mean Sour Grapes

French authorities have tried to outlaw hardy American hybrids for 87 years. But climate change and the natural wine movement are giving renegade winemakers a lift.

A tasting of forbidden wines at Hervé Garnier’s “Memory of the Vine” association in the village of Beaumont. Mr. Garnier, standing third from right, is one of the last stragglers in a long-running struggle against the French wine establishment and its allies in Paris. Andrea Mantovani for The New York Times

BEAUMONT, France — The vines were once demonized for causing madness and blindness, and had been banned decades ago. The French authorities, brandishing money and sanctions, nearly wiped them out.

But there they were. On a hillside off a winding mountain road in a lost corner of southern France, the forbidden crop was thriving. Early one recent evening, Hervé Garnier inspected his field with relief.

In a year when an April frost and disease have decimated France’s overall wine production, Mr. Garnier’s grapes — an American hybrid variety named jacquez, banned by the French government since 1934 — were already turning red. Barring an early-autumn cold snap, all was on track for a new vintage. Continue reading

Beauty Of The Wild

Library of American Landscape History has published this book, which came to our attention thanks to this excellent article (again) by Margaret Roach:

Three large islands at Storm King Art Center are planted with a mix of prairie grasses, including little bluestem, big bluestem, Indiangrass and switchgrass. Jerry L. Thompson

Your Garden May Be Pretty, but Is It Ecologically Sound?

Darrel Morrison, the elder statesman of the ecological landscaping movement, offers some advice for gardening in a changing world.

Mr. Morrison’s mesic prairie design for the University of Wisconsin Arboretum Native Plant Garden, with the larger Curtis Prairie restoration in the distance. Robert Jaeger

Some gardeners react to any mention of ecological landscaping — the merging of environmental science and art — as if it were a compromise or concession meant to limit their creativity. Darrel Morrison, a landscape architect who has been practicing and teaching this philosophy for some five decades, begs to differ.

“There is the implication that you are suggesting a vegan diet,” said Mr. Morrison, the creator of influential designs at Storm King Art Center, in Orange County, N.Y., the Brooklyn Botanic Garden and the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin, Texas. “A lot of people, when they hear a phrase like ‘ecologically sound landscaping,’ they think they are giving up something. But they are not — it only enhances the experience.” Continue reading

The Human Touch

The Economist offers this brief thinkpiece on what to make of the recent uptick in interest in craft-made products (unless you are a subscriber to the magazine you will need to sign up for free limited access to the magazine’s website):

Can human creativity prevent mass unemployment?

The market for artisan goods is likely to grow. But organised craft could lose its charm

In “THE REPAIR SHOP”, a British television series, carpenters, textile workers and mechanics mend family heirlooms that viewers have brought to their workshop. The fascination comes from watching them apply their craft to restore these keepsakes and the emotional appeal from the tears that follow when the owner is presented with the beautifully rendered result. Continue reading

Tasting Costa Rica In Chocolate

Four samples of Nahua chocolate: 100%; 90%; 70%; and one with an additional ingredient to be identified during the tasting session

Our first taste of place experience was a small gathering, but a lively one, and fulfilled our objective. Today we continue with our second event, focused on the ingredient-sourcing, production, and sustainability aspects of bean-to-bar chocolate. We will also taste four different chocolates, each with a different level of chocolate and one with an added mystery ingredient. Our supplier, Nahua, is a pioneer in Costa Rica’s sustainable cacao farming, as well as in gourmet chocolate production. Guests at this event will learn about the history of cacao in Costa Rica, much less well known that the history of coffee here but rapidly gaining a global following.

Tasting Costa Rica In Mead

Today we start a “taste of place” series with Costa Rica Meadery as our first artisanal showcase. And the first beverage we will be tasting is this best-selling mead that celebrates Costa Rica’s Atlantic coast. A fusion of a mead, a “chicha”, and a local drink called “agua de sapo.” Made with multifloral honey, ginger, native corn malt, and spices from the north. Very refreshing, light-bodied with a strong aroma and taste of ginger and citrus.”

The idea is to taste all that with a small portion and a brief discussion, and then onward to four other mead products. Come taste the place!

Taste Of Place Experiences In Costa Rica

While bee populations have waned throughout rural America, urban hives are thriving in cities such as Detroit, producing honey that’s reminiscent of mint, clover or goldenrod. Photo by Patricia Heal. Prop styling by Martin Bourne

Terroir is a word that has appeared often in these pages. Taste of place, a phrase with related meaning, likewise has appeared plenty of times. This phrase is a tag line used frequently in our work, based on an experience I had in Paraguay in 2005. We will begin weekly “taste of place experiences” for guests in both Authentica shops tomorrow; starting with mead, followed by chocolate, then honey, coffee and so on. Every week an artisan will present how they source ingredients, how they make their product, and how the taste of it reflects the particular location in Costa Rica where sourcing is done. So, great to see this about urban taste of place movement in our neighbor to the north:

The Growers, Bakers and Beekeepers Embracing the Terroir of American Cities

THE GRAPEVINES RISE at the corner of East 66th Street and Hough Avenue in Cleveland, 14 trim green rows claiming over half a city block — a little less than an acre — beside an abandoned building with boarded-up windows, whose rolling lawn on a summer morning is as lush as Versailles’s. The sky is brilliant and wide above stoplights and swoops of telephone wire. Across the tar-patched street stand storefronts behind scissor gates and a former grocery whose facade half collapsed last May, raining brick on the sidewalk. Down the avenue, the walls of another boarded-up building have been commandeered as an outdoor art gallery, papered over in posters with messages: “I survived the Hough riots”; “Growing your own food is like printing your own money.”

Long celebrated in France, the concept of place-specific tastes is spurring the revitalization of neighborhoods and communities.

THE GRAPEVINES RISE at the corner of East 66th Street and Hough Avenue in Cleveland, 14 trim green rows claiming over half a city block — a little less than an acre — beside an abandoned building with boarded-up windows, whose rolling lawn on a summer morning is as lush as Versailles’s. The sky is brilliant and wide above stoplights and swoops of telephone wire. Across the tar-patched street stand storefronts behind scissor gates and a former grocery whose facade half collapsed last May, raining brick on the sidewalk. Down the avenue, the walls of another boarded-up building have been commandeered as an outdoor art gallery, papered over in posters with messages: “I survived the Hough riots”; “Growing your own food is like printing your own money.”

For centuries, the French have used the word “terroir” to describe the environment in which a wine is produced. Going back to the Latin “terra,” “earth,” it’s rooted in a traditional vision of the countryside and has become more fervently embraced as our agrarian past recedes. Continue reading

Authentica & Sense Of Place

After completing our work in India and transitioning home to Costa Rica in late 2018, two properties came back to the forefront of my attention. The property above is set on a coffee estate in the Central Valley and the one below is set on a Pacific beachfront property that is 90 minutes from the Central Valley property. I knew both properties during their original construction and opening phases and ever since then believed that these were among the most special Marriott properties in the world.

They were going through renovations that started in 2018 and were to be completed in late 2019. My attention was drawn by a creative new focus on sustainability, the tiniest of examples being this one. Another example was that they invited proposals for how the gift shops in both hotels might be managed differently going forward. We submitted a proposal–with a focus on locally produced and design-forward products–and it was chosen for implementation. The rest is history that I have written about plenty in the last year.

Authentica has started its second year of operation, and Costa Rica has just re-opened its borders to receive international visitors again. These two Marriott properties have transformed operations to ensure maximum safety in response to the global health concerns. Our shops have transformed accordingly, and yet our original intent is as strong as ever: come in and sense the place.

Organikos coffee, our best-selling “taste of place” product, was joined in both shops last week by another way to sense the terrain of Costa Rica’s various regions. Pollen Keepers is a small family business whose bee colonies are placed to capture unique characteristics of a location. One of those is a coffee farm, and the honey produced there is unlike any I have had before. I am still learning the vocabulary for tasting notes for honey, which we have been sampling in recent weeks at home, so will keep it simple: Cafetal is my favorite, so far.

Brewing, Tradition & Innovation

Trucks loaded with hops (Photo: Spencer Lowell)

Outside Magazine offers this primer on the ascendence of one of the key ingredients in one of the oldest fermented beverages:

How Hops Became the Star of American Brewing

The craft beer revolution turned the tall cousin of cannabis into a breakout ingredient, infusing your brew with flavors and aromas that range from stone fruit to barrel oak. Christopher Solomon hits the road to understand why hop madness isn’t over yet—and why brewers and plant breeders are always on the prowl for the next big thing.

Hop harvesting in Washington State’s Yakima Valley (Photo: Spencer Lowell)

The 2019 American Hop Convention, held in January in Monterey, California, was part agriculture conference and part old-home week. Almost all of the nation’s beer hops—and roughly 40 percent of all hops in the world—are grown by about 75 farms in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, many of them owned by families who have farmed hops for four or five generations. At the convention, everybody seemed to know everybody. This gave a loose feel to the proceedings, which recognize and celebrate the fact that only one thing can be done with the crop the conventioneers produce: mix it with malt and water, ferment the liquid, and drink the beer you’ll get after a few weeks. During afternoon coffee breaks, everybody cracked a cold one.

That wasn’t the only reason for the festive mood. The past 15 years have witnessed a spectacular surge in craft brewing in the United States; more than 85 percent of Americans now live within ten miles of a brewery. U.S. beer culture, once a punchline, has become the most vibrant on earth.

Hop bines being loaded into a machine that shakes out the aromatic cones (Photo: Spencer Lowell)

The hop industry has been a beneficiary and driver of this renaissance. Hops once were considered a drab ingredient, tossed in mainly to preserve the beer, thanks to antibacterial properties of the resins found in hop flowers, which are also called cones. Today, hops are the star of American brewing. Continue reading

Transporting Via Words & Photos

On the Madison River in Ennis, Mont.

Thanks to the author and her publisher for taking us there:

In Montana, the Art of Crafting Fly-Fishing Rods

“One thing about Montana,” says Matt Barber, an owner of Tom Morgan Rodsmiths, a custom fly rod shop in Bozeman, “is if there’s a moving body of water, there is probably a trout in it.”

Photographs and Text by

Shiny agate stripping guides — through which the fishing line will run — are wrapped (attached to the rod) using garnet thread and brass wire.

I live only a few miles away from Tom Morgan Rodsmiths, a custom fly rod shop in Bozeman, Mont. But entering the workshop feels a little like stepping off a plane in a foreign country.

A row of rods ready for handle-shaping.

The language that circulates around the shop catches my attention. Continue reading

Aficionados-R-Us

Tandoh-cheese

When you talk with aficionados, it usually doesn’t take long for the conversation to veer away from curds, whey, and mold, and toward matters of life and death. Photograph from Alamy

Ruby Tandoh, a food writer and the author of “Eat Up!,” has written an essay that fits perfectly on our platform. It happens to focus on the culture of cheese, which has not featured much here because for the first six years we were in India and since then we have been back in Costa Rica, and there is not much of a culture of cheese in either of those locations. But aficionado should be a category with which to tag most of our posts, whether the topic is coffee, authentic artisan handicrafts, sustainable travel, etc. So thanks to Ruby for emphasizing the aficionados in her essay (I will save for another day the surprise of feta cheese, which a farmer in Costa Rica is now making at Greek quality level):

How a Cheese Goes Extinct

The late Mary Holbrook, a white-haired maestro in the British cheesemaking world, was known for her soft cheeses and her sharp temper. Once a week, she made the trip from Sleight Farm, her home in the southwest of England, to London to check on her wares as they ripened in the maturation rooms of an upscale cheese shop. Holbrook’s apprentices, hardened to her singular style of mentorship, knew to brace themselves for reprimands when she returned. Occasionally, though, Holbrook would come back with bags of treats—yogurt, mangoes, sweets—which she spilled across the kitchen table of her cold mid-nineteenth-century farmhouse on the crest of a hill, and they knew that the cheese must be tasting good, and that Mary’s little world was in order. Continue reading

Hats, History, Heritage

Mr. Espinal, 52, is widely regarded as the greatest living Panama hat weaver. All photographs by Roff Smith

Having lived and worked in Central America and South India, weaving with palms for shelter and adornment has been part of cultural norms. But in most cases, the craftsmanship has been simplified versions that lacked permanence – for the sake of festivals, traditional artesania , or with the knowledge that the woven shelter would last several seasons of rain before requiring replacement.

The artisan ethos described here mirrors both the fine work and collaborative efforts of Kerala sari weaving communities like Chendamangalam. In all cases, the “stuff of royalty.”

A Glimpse Inside the Workshops of the World’s Finest Panama Hat Makers

Creamy as silk and costlier than gold, a Montecristi superfino Panama hat is as much a work of art as it is of fashion.

Creamy as silk, costlier by weight than gold, the color of fine old ivory, a Montecristi superfino Panama hat is as much a work of art as it is of fashion. The finest specimens have more than 4,000 weaves per square inch, a weave so fine it takes a jeweler’s loupe to count the rows. And every single one of those weaves is done by hand. No loom is used — only dexterous fingers, sharp eyes and Zen-like concentration.

“You cannot allow your mind to wander even for a second,” says Simón Espinal, a modest, soft-spoken man who is regarded by his peers as the greatest living weaver of Panama hats, possibly the greatest ever. “When you are weaving it is just you and the straw.”

Mr. Espinal’s hats average around 3,000 weaves per square inch — a fineness few weavers have ever even approached. His best has just over 4,200 weaves per square inch and took him five months to weave.

The 52-year-old Ecuadorean is one of a dwindling number of elite Panama hat weavers, nearly all of whom live in Pile, an obscure village tucked away in the foothills behind Montecristi, a low-slung town about 100 miles up the coast from Guayaquil.

Continue reading