Aficionados-R-Us

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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

Wine & Biophilia

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Brian Britigan

Biophilia is a frequent topic here; wine, only a fraction as much. An article touching on both is a rare treat:

From Good Wine, a Direct Path to the Wonders of Nature

For this city dweller, wine provided the opening to a greater understanding of food and agriculture, and their precarious balance.

Last year a friend asked me a question I had never considered before: Over the many years I had been writing about wine, what was the greatest thing this job had given me?

I answered almost reflexively. As a New Yorker who has spent most of my life living in Manhattan, wine had provided me a connection to nature that I most likely would never have experienced otherwise. Continue reading

Ethiopian Vegan

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The vegan sampler at Ras Plant Based features an assortment of dishes traditionally eaten by Ethiopian Orthodox Christians during periods of religious fasting, when they abstain from animal products.Photograph by Bubi Canal for The New Yorker

Always ready to learn more about Ethiopia’s contributions to the world. And the move to animal-free food is an evergreen topic around here. So the story below is perfect for today. The photography is unusual, in the world of food, but the text by Hannah Goldfield is convincing:

Ethiopian Tradition for the Vegan-Curious, at Ras Plant Based

At Romeo and Milka Regalli’s Crown Heights restaurant, vegan proteins stand in for meats, and tangy, fermented injera soaks up sauces spiked with traditional berbere spice or puckery lime.

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Romeo and Milka Regalli, who describe themselves as passionate about vegetables, wanted to both showcase their favorite fasting dishes and offer vegan iterations of common meat preparations.Photograph by Bubi Canal for The New Yorker

Many of the recipes that the chef Romeo Regalli uses in the kitchen at Ras Plant Based—the restaurant that he and his wife, Milka, opened in Crown Heights in March—have been passed down through generations. A number of them came from Romeo’s grandmother, a passionate home cook who died last year, in Ethiopia, at the age of a hundred and four. Yet the dish that seems most likely to have a long, storied history, Mama’s Tofu, traces its origins only as far back as May, when Romeo’s mother texted, from Addis Ababa, a photo of what she had made for dinner.

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An avocado salad with diced tomato, onion, and jalapeño, in a lime vinaigrette.Photograph by Bubi Canal for The New Yorker

“I was, like, ‘Oh, my God, that looks so good!’ ” Romeo recalled the other day. She rattled off the ingredients: tofu, tomatoes, onions, and jalapeños. After she mailed him a batch of her homemade spice mix (the exact contents of which he keeps tight to his chest), Romeo made an approximation, and promptly added it to the menu. Continue reading

Wordists & Their Discontents

One of the earliest series of posts on this platform, wordsmithing was a way for us to say something about words we like, words we avoid, and important words almost lost to history. A fun, useful, if shortlived series. On August 12, 2011 we started the Bird of the Day series, where photos tell colorful stories with no words other than species name and photo location. Yesterday’s BOTD marks the 3,251st entry in that series, whereas the wordsmithing ended after the 26th entry. Parsimony of words combined with excellent photography wins the series longevity contest. But I find I still care enough about words to post on the topic. I cringed when I heard this news below, but was glad to read more about the decision to include a nonsensical word creation in the dictionary (I am 100% with the teacher who will still mark it as incorrect):

Regardless Of What You Think, ‘Irregardless’ Is A Word

Merriam-Webster raised the hackles of stodgy grammarians last week when it affirmed the lexical veracity of “irregardless.”

The word’s definition, when reading it, would seem to be: without without regard.

“Irregardless is included in our dictionary because it has been in widespread and near-constant use since 1795,” the dictionary’s staff wrote in a “Words of the Week” roundup on Friday. “We do not make the English language, we merely record it.”

Merriam-Webster defines irregardless as “nonstandard” but meaning the same as “regardless.” “Many people find irregardless to be a nonsensical word, as the ir– prefix usually functions to indicates negation; however, in this case it appears to function as an intensifier,” the dictionary writes. Continue reading

If You Eat Beef & Live In The USA

Here is some food for thought, thanks to HighCountry News:

Navajo ranchers are raising premium beef

Is their success sustainable?

The land on the Padres Mesa Demonstration Ranch, in northeastern Arizona, stretched so vast and wild that it could be perspective-skewing, easy to get lost in. But Bill Inman effortlessly navigated his truck through a sea of blue grama grass, broom weed and sage. When he spotted a herd of cows, he hit the brakes.

“She’s a box of chocolates,” Kimberly Yazzie said as she pointed at a stately heifer.

About a dozen cows with week-old calves were bedded down in late winter forage, all muted greens and gold. Continue reading

Sensory Heritage Is The New Green

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For some time now green has been the new thing and we live in one of its showcases, with access to all kinds of tropical nature within easy driving distance. But it has been where we live that, for the last few months, has had us greening our own living patterns. There will be a fuller post on that soon, but for now I just smile at my friends across the Atlantic, on a day when our rooster woke me as usual well before the sunrise. And opening the gallinero (chicken coop) on my way to the lower land we are planting, I was sensitive to the smell that I had otherwise stopped noticing until I read this short piece. I appreciate the imaginative approach, probably unique to France, to protecting heritage that some at best take for granted and others find a nuisance:

Townies v tractors

French urbanites fuss about rustic noises and smells

Some second-home owners have sued over loud livestock and church bells

France’s sense of itself has long been rooted in the land, even though three-quarters of French people live in towns. Now, however, having locked down in small airless spaces, many city-dwellers feel the call of the wild. Estate agents report an uptick in searches for homes with gardens. Diehard urbanites talk wistfully of a bucolic existence in la France profonde. In a poll, 61% of the French think confinement will encourage people to move to the country or buy a second home. But do today’s townsfolk know what rural life really entails?

The question arose late last year, when Pierre Morel-À-L’Huissier, a deputy from the Lozère, a remote rural area, introduced a bill to protect France’s “sensory heritage”. By this, he meant “the crowing of the cockerel, the noise of cicadas, the odour of manure”, and other rural sounds and smells. Continue reading

And Now, A Word From The King, On Chocolate

Are chocolates forever?

For World Environment Day, a story of biodiversity and globalization in the ancient Asante Kingdom of Ghana

AsanteChocThe man on the throne in the place where growing cocoa is more important than just about anywhere in the world–the king of the Asante in Ghana–knows well the challenges ahead for this agricultural wonder. If you care about chocolate, read on:

AsanteBy His Royal Majesty Otumfuo Osei Tutu II, King of the Asante Kingdom, Ghana and Dr. Musonda Mumba, Chair, Global Partnership on Forest and Landscape Restoration (GPFLR) and Chief, Terrestrial Ecosystems Unit, UN Environment, Kenya. 

With the easing of COVID-19 lockdowns across the globe, people shall again begin visiting shops to purchase gifts for loved ones. No doubt chocolate delicacies will be part of the presents. Although they can hardly be considered an essential good for consumers, the production of cocoa and chocolate is vital to the livelihoods of millions of people in West Africa. It is at the center of a global multi-billion-dollar industry, and much of the cocoa that feeds this industry originates from trees growing in the Ancient Kingdom of Asante in Ghana. But this source of wealth is under threat. Continue reading

Threads

The threads of handloom speak to me every time I enter my closet, despite the fact that it’s a rare occurrence for me to wear a sari now that we no longer live in India. Even without that particular garment, half of my wardrobe is comprised of beautiful pieces of extraordinary workmanship, in handloom, shibori dying, and embroidery; designed in Kerala by Sreejith Jeevan for Rouka, and crafted in collaboration with numerous weaving and dying clusters.

Anoodha Kunnath and the Curiouser team once again bring this craft to life in inspiring ways. The excerpt above is from a longer film shot for Sahapedia, an online interactive encyclopedia on the arts, cultures and histories of India (and broadly South Asia). It aims to highlight the interdisciplinary and interconnected nature of cultural expression that cut across various domains.

The threads have to be strung across an open field before 8 am at least, so that they are dried by the morning breeze and warmed just enough by the tender sunlight found only at those hours. Street warping, just like everything that is done with great love and care, is painstaking; so much so that the author Sethu compares it to caring for a child. Continue reading

From Brooklyn to Beyond

The Brooklyn Film Society has been organizing the Brooklyn Film Festival for decades, providing a public forum for the local community to view an extraordinarily wide range of national and international films. Scheduled from May 29 – June 7th, the 23rd edition of the festival features 6 categories of films: Narrative Feature, Narrative Short, Documentary Feature, Documentary Short, Animation, and Experimental.

The primary difference from past editions is the venue… all the films will be available on line, free of charge. So sign up following this link – and enjoy!

THEME: Turning Point

Just a few months ago, nobody, not even the most daring sci-fi screenwriter, could have predicted the current situation and/or the extent of the COVID-19 takeover. Besides the fact that we are all still dealing with the basics and a resolutive approach feels still far away, one thing seems certain: we won’t be able to go back to the pre-virus thinking and lifestyle anytime soon. The fear of the “invisible danger” that threatens our life is radically modifying our own life routine and the way we deal with our neighbors. It is a “Turning Point” in history. It is a moment that will ultimately reveal who we are as human beings. The Brooklyn Film Festival, with its 2020 event, plans to highlight and dissect people’s character and problem solving attitude as it shifts from one time zone to the next. The international role BFF has always played on the world’s stage, will now come truly handy while with our film lineup we travel from one corner of the planet to another. “Turning Point” is about refreshing our own point of view. It’s about rethinking our old assumptions and learning from the people who share our screen whether they live in a different continent or across the street. “Turning Point” is about reinventing our planet and our life.

 

Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread

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The Saône river in Lyon (Herbert Frank from Wien (Vienna), AT – Lyon, an der Saône, Eglise Saint Georges / Wikimedia Commons)

When you have 20 minutes it is worth hearing Bill Buford speak about the same experience he has written about. If you have already read about his Lyon baking experience, and enjoyed it, all the more so; this conversation brings more to the table as he discusses his new book, Dirt: Adventures in Lyon as a Chef in Training, Father, and Sleuth Looking for the Secret of French Cooking. Click the image of the book below to go to an independent bookseller that offers it.

9780307271013Likewise, even if you have already read plenty on the importance of bread and bakeries in French culture you might enjoy one more take, from the present circumstances, in James McAuley’s article about flocking back to bakeries for comfort: …“The power of bread is particularly emotional now. It’s no longer caloric; a vital necessity,” Kaplan said. “Bread still is the conveyor of this extraordinary, important feeling we have that the state cares about us. It’s a reaffirmation of solidarity. Solidarity is really represented by sharing bread.” (Baguettes were price-controlled in France until 1986)…

Support Chefs Who Support Immigrant Workers

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Los Angeles’s participating chefs Photo: Courtesy of Ask Chefs Anything

Devorah Lev-Tov, a writer who covers food, among other things, surprisingly has not shown up in our pages before. I am happy to link to this particular story as a first. Food and agriculture have been central to this platform since we started it in 2011. Also, immigrants-r-us, so I appreciate the effort on their behalf as much as I appreciate the visibility it is receiving in a location surprising to me. Vogue is an unlikely publication for me to source from, but credit where due, a great story:

Ask Chefs Anything: Famous Foodies Are Auctioning Their Time in Support of Immigrant Workers

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to ravage the country and force businesses to shut down, among the hardest hit are immigrant workers—many of whom worked in the restaurant or other service industries. Now, they are left with no jobs and no unemployment benefits, struggling to put food on their plates and send money home to their families, while fearing getting sick without any support from the government.

In an effort to help them, dozens of famous chefs—including Alison Roman, Nancy Silverton, Tom Colicchio, Eric Ripert, Suzanne Goin, and Dominique Ansel—are auctioning off 30-minute virtual discussions where they will share recipes and cooking tips via a new initiative called Ask Chefs AnythingNew York City’s ended last week, Los Angeles’s auction is going on now through May 11, and Philadelphia’s takes place May 13 to 17, with more cities to follow. Continue reading

Crunch, Buzz, Twist & Shout

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Asian giant hornets from Japan in a display case at the Washington State Department of Agriculture. Ted S. Warren/Associated Press

For every invasion there is an appropriate response, and sometimes it is culinary. Thanks to Ben Dooley for this set of ideas:

In Japan, the ‘Murder Hornet’ Is Both a Lethal Threat and a Tasty Treat

Long before the insects found their way to American shores, some Japanese prized them for their numbing crunch and the venomous buzz they add to liquor.

D-Tp6RhUwAAGMYtTOKYO — Long before the Asian giant hornet began terrorizing the honeybees of Washington State, the ferocious insects posed a sometimes lethal threat to hikers and farmers in the mountains of rural Japan.

But in the central Chubu region, these insects — sometimes called “murder hornets” — are known for more than their aggression and excruciating sting. They are seen as a pleasant snack and an invigorating ingredient in drinks.

The giant hornet, along with other varieties of wasps, has traditionally been considered a delicacy in this rugged part of the country. The grubs are often preserved in jars, pan-fried or steamed with rice to make a savory dish called hebo-gohan. The adults, which can be two inches long, are fried on skewers, stinger and all, until the carapace becomes light and crunchy. They leave a warming, tingling sensation when eaten. Continue reading

Pep Shot Is The New Bee’s Knees

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For those who can afford it, culinary experimentation could become a practical hobby.HERITAGE / BETTMANN / GEORGE MARKS / AFP / GETTY / PROZHIVINA ELENE / SHUTTERSTOCK / KATIE MARTIN / THE ATLANTIC

$_35Dalgona is a name I did not know until five minutes ago. But I intimately knew the thing itself ages ago. For the 1981-82 academic year I worked with a tutor in Athens to learn my mother’s first language.  Her aunt, who I lived with, had only one way to prepare coffee, using this device to the left. Greek coffee, aka Turkish coffee, was fine.

m-6D-MUyWNCFYE0NFBe6z9wBut I did not love it. My cousin showed me an alternative, cautioning me that our great-aunt did not allow this foreign product in her home. So, I bought the contraband and each morning before she awoke I mixed the instant coffee with the milk and sugar and shook it in a jar and gulped it. It was a brief love affair. Instant coffee is not in our cupboard these days, but I have a fond memory of that fling. I appreciate Shirley Li’s article for reminding me of it.

Current circumstances are pushing us all in new directions of food and beverage production and consumption and for me, for now, the Pep Shot is the new bee’s knees:

In 1950, Americans Had Aspic. Now We Have Dalgona Coffee.

Unlike food innovations from crises past, coronavirus-inspired recipes are more about stress relief than survival.

Allison Ward used to grab coffee during her commute to work. The 34-year-old, a project manager for the McMaster Institute in Hamilton, Ontario, told me she needs caffeine every day, and that ever since the coronavirus pandemic put the city on lockdown, she’s been missing her Starbucks fix.

Then she learned about dalgona coffee. Continue reading

Immunity Boost Pep Shot

5084bce2c484b_170546bWhen Amie and I visited the Greek island of Ikaria in the autumn of 2013, it was years after we had first read about Blue Zones. We were there for work reasons, looking to identify a new location for Xandari. We learned plenty, though Xandari Ikaria never happened. Hortopita, for one. Not only spinach, but all kinds of greens, both cultivated and wild, can make a dish both healthier and more interesting than the spanakopita I had grown up with. For several weeks now, while investigating ways in which the ferias of Costa Rica might adapt to the new health protocols, and whether we might assist family farms in any way, we took a hiatus from attending the one in our town. I am happy to report that our municipality has made adjustments, and so we attended a new, smaller gathering of family farms this last week. Now that the feria is twice a week, the number of people shopping at either one is effectively halved.

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b6cbd244-7cad-4258-bd6a-7293eb55a5b4I bought beets and broccoli and various greens from the stall above a few days ago with no other shopper in close proximity. Good start. And plenty of other distancing measures in place, plus an abundance of soap and sinks and disinfectant sprays at every place where you can enter or exit the feria. Also good. But we remain convinced that a new social enterprise might help these farmers, and shoppers, more. And for that, our kitchen has been a laboratory for generating ideas, with various reading materials to assist. The Blue Zones Kitchen has been especially helpful.

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While the “it” social enterprise is elusive, the meals have been nutritious and tasty. This experimentation has converged with my coffee tests, and my 3-year near-obsession with how to bring Maya nut to a wider audience, so this is what I will report on today.

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I have been combining a couple Blue Zones products with slow brew coffee, thinking of a drink that can add pep to the day and at the same time add other value, nutritional and otherwise. Honey is part of the recipe for its antioxidant properties as much as its sweetness. And the ojoche (aka Maya nut) to the left in the image above is there for its own nutritional reasons, which will require a post of its own.

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But to get this drink just right, sweetly combining pep + immunity, the ingredient that comes from our feria is the magic touch.

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Turmeric became an important part of our diet while living in India. And so it came to be again last month when, just prior to the closure of Costa Rica’s borders, a friend from India visited us. He is a medical doctor, not prone to folk remedies, but under the circumstances we all found ourselves suddenly in, looking for ways to boost our bodies’ immunities–he recommended something simple to us: have some turmeric every day. He specifically recommended combining it with milk, honey and freshly ground black peppercorn. Which we started doing, immediately. And day after day, one thing led to another. So now we have a slow brew coffee with these ingredients, plus some ojoche for good measure.

A Corrective History Of Coffee

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The literature of coffee has produced a new genre: corrective history. Illustration by Ilya Milstein

An essayist’s review on one of our favorite topics is a nice surprise for a start to a new week:

The War on Coffee

The history of caffeine and capitalism can get surprisingly heated.

What would life be without coffee?” King Louis XV of France is said to have asked. “But, then, what is life even with coffee?” he added. Truer, or more apt, words for the present moment were never spoken, now usable as a kind of daily catechism. At a time when coffee remains one of the few things that the anxious sleeper can look forward to in the morning (What is life without it?), giving as it does at least an illusion of recharge and a fresh start, the charge has invariably slipped away by the time the latest grim briefing comes (What is life even with it?). Imagining life without coffee right now is, for many of us, almost impossible, even though the culture of the café that arose in America over the past couple of decades has, for some indefinite period, been shut down.

The growth of coffee as a culture, not just as a drink, can be measured in a unit that might be called the Larry, for the peerless comedy writer Larry David. In “Seinfeld,” which he co-created in 1989, coffee came as a normal beverage in a coffee shop—bad, indistinct stuff that might as well have been tea. (Paul Reiser had a nice bit about the codependency of coffee and tea, with tea as coffee’s pathetic friend.) Then, on “Friends,” the characters gathered in a coffee-specific location, Central Perk, but the very invocation of a percolator, the worst way to brew, suggested that they were there more for the company than for the coffee. Six or so Larrys later, by 2020, the plotline of an entire season of David’s own “Curb Your Enthusiasm” turned on a competition between Mocha Joe’s and Latte Larry’s—the “spite store” that Larry opens just to avenge an insult over scones, with many details about a specific kind of Mexican coffee bean he means to steal. The audience was expected to accept as an obvious premise the idea that coffee was a culture of devotion and discrimination, not just a passable caffeinated drink.

This change is real, and is reflected in the numbers. As Jonathan Morris documents in his recent book, “Coffee: A Global History” (Reaktion), epicurean coffeehouses in the United States numbered in the hundreds in 1989, and in the tens of thousands by 2013. Continue reading

Searching For Bread

000064298Yesterday’s post got me thinking more about bread, which reminded me of Cherchez le pain. This guide to the best bakeries in Paris was published when we lived there, and its author had been my professor at Cornell. As soon as I saw the publicity for the book I sent him an email congratulating him. To my surprise, he was on sabbatical leave, living just a few blocks from where we were living, so I invited him to join us for dinner.

I had sat through enough of his lectures on the history of food to anticipate an interesting dinner, but I was not prepared for what might sound now like a parlor trick. As soon as we sat for the meal, he picked up the bread in front of him, our favorite from a bakery we had chosen from dozens during our first few months living in that city. He held it to his nose, then brought it to his ear and tapped it with a spoon. He broke it in two and pressed his face into it. Maybe there was more to the show that I have forgotten now. What I do remember is that he named the bakery it was from.

I was impressed. And I was gratified after that when he said we had chosen well. But then he mentioned that if we were willing to walk just two blocks further we would find a bakery that ranked in the top five out of six hundred bakeries he had sampled in Paris. Next morning, of course, we went to that bakery and bought what might be the best bread of our lives. As we walked home with our bread, our entire family halted as we approached the bakery that had been our regular bakery for the past several months. We decided to walk an entire city block out of our way so that the baker would not see us having bought our bread elsewhere.

This Headline Catches My Attention

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Organic cabernet sauvignon grown near the town of Cowaramup in the Margaret River region of Australia. Frances Andrijich for The New York Times

During 2003 and 2004, life in Paris was full of wonders for our family. Bread was really art, we learned. And tarte tatin, which Amie had modified for years using mangos in Costa Rica, is best of all modified by using various French heritage plums available in a nearby marché in late August. And cheese! Plus plenty more, but for now I am reminded of the occasional wine expositions–cavernous spaces filled with hundreds of kiosks of artisanal wine makers–we would attend. At one of those I first tasted natural wine. So today, this headline shouts down all the others. Just the fact that Eric Asimov is still on this particular beat is enough to make me think things are okay, or will be okay, or at least could someday be okay:

France Defines Natural Wine, but Is That Enough?

The wine industry and many consumers have long sought a definition, but the adoption of a voluntary charter may not clarify anything.

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Marie Carroget

Natural wine is healthy and pure; natural wine is wretched and horrible. It’s the future of wine; it’s the death of wine.

For 15 years, natural wine has been a contentious time bomb that has divided many in the wine community, creating conflicts fought with the sort of anger that stems only from extreme defensiveness.

Since 2003, when I first encountered what has come to be called natural wine at the seminal restaurant 360 in Red Hook, Brooklyn, I have been a fan, though a cleareyed one, I hope.

I believe in the promise and beauty of natural wines, while acknowledging that many examples are not good, as is true with all genres of wine. The truth is that natural wines have made all of wine better. Continue reading

The Youthful Insights Behind ‘Black Histories, Black Futures’

Jadon Smith is one of six teen curators for “Black Histories, Black Futures,” the first exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, curated entirely by high school students. photo credit: Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff

Although the exhibit highlighted here began in January (notably directly following the holiday honoring MLK), we have the CS Monitor to thank for bringing it to our attention.  The museum is currently closed due to the coronavirus outbreaks, but the making of video on the MFA website shows some highlights, and we can only hope that there will be opportunity to visit it in person before the end date of June 20th.

“The teen curators—fellows from youth empowerment organizations Becoming a Man (BAM), The BASE, and the Bloomberg Arts Internship Boston program managed by EdVestors—used skills they developed as paid interns in a pilot internship program at the MFA to research, interpret, and design the exhibition. Their work highlights areas of excellence within the Museum’s collection and lays foundations for the future.”

What if curators were teens? Museums try it.

Jadon Smith steps closer to his favorite painting by Archibald Motley, carefully examining the details he’s looked at many times before, a smile from ear to ear. At the center of the piece, five elegant women dressed in their Sunday best sit in a restaurant. One woman, hidden in the background, catches his attention.

The John Axelrod Collection/Frank B. Bemis Fund, Charles H. Bayley Fund, and the Heritage Fund for a Diverse Collection/Courtesy of The MFA “Cocktails” by Archibald Motley is an oil on canvas painting from about 1926. Motley was known for depicting the blossoming of black social life.

“Women are the centerpiece of the whole entire painting,” says Jadon, a junior at John D. O’Bryant School of Mathematics and Science, during a visit to Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts in early March. “They’re supposed to be there to be seen. Don’t ignore them. Notice that they’re there, appreciate the fact that they’re there.”

Jadon is one of six local teens selected to craft “Black Histories, Black Futures” – the museum’s first exhibition curated entirely by high school students. The MFA’s exhibition, the culmination of a partnership with local youth empowerment organizations, reflects a growing trend, one that has museums working to engage and represent a more diverse population within the field of fine art. Including young people in the curation process not only trains the next generation of curators, say museum staffers, but it also helps aging institutions display refreshing and inclusive exhibitions inspired by the young curators’ own experiences.

“This institution is 150 years old. And so what does that mean for young people? Where do young people belong in such an old institution?” says Layla Bermeo, an associate curator at the MFA. “This project really tried to argue that young people belong in the center.”.. Continue reading

Librarians Of Bread

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Karl De Smedt in the Puratos Center for Bread Flavor, the world’s most extensive collection of sourdough starters, in St. Vith, Belgium. Puratos Center for Bread Flavor

Bread is a frequent flier of a topic on this platform, including sourdough specifically. Ditto for libraries and their librarians and the creative things they do. Franz Lidz is not a writer we have featured in our pages before, but with a story like this one we will be watching for more.

At the Sourdough Library, With Some Very Old Mothers

Some starters never die, they just get filed away here.

In these housebound times, Americans have gone stark baking mad. Shut-ins are channeling their anxieties into pandemic pastries and quarantine cookies, some with icing piped in the shape of surgical masks, others frosted with the face of Dr. Anthony Fauci. Baking essentials such as yeast and flour are in short supply, and Google searches for bread recipes are on the rise, so to speak.

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Puratos Center for Bread Flavour

Curiously, during this apocalyptic spring, the best thing since sliced bread turns out not to be sliced bread. The most coveted isolation loaves seem to be sourdough, a knobbly, rugged variety that requires patience, handmade fermentations and something like affection. “Working with sourdough is part art, part science,” said Karl De Smedt. “You don’t tell the dough when it’s time to be shaped. The dough tells you.”

Mr. De Smedt is the curator of the world’s only sourdough library. Located in the flyspeck village of St. Vith, 87 miles southeast of Brussels, the library houses the world’s most extensive collection of sourdough starters, those bubbling beige globs of bacteria and wild yeast — known as “mothers” — that bakers mix into dough to produce flavorful loaves with interestingly shaped holes. If a mother isn’t regularly divided and kneaded and fed with flour and water, she will eventually go dormant or die. “A starter has its own heart, almost its own will,” Mr. De Smedt said. “Treat a starter nice and it will reward you tremendously, like a good friend.” Continue reading