Restaurant 51, Xandari Harbour. Photo Credit: Architectural Digest India
The photo to the right shows an interior view of the restaurant we named 51, one of our favorite accomplishments of seven years working in Kerala, India. The painting on the wall shows a traditional onion keeper, and it came to mind when I read these lines in a recipe-essay by Gabrielle Hamilton:
Photograph by Heami Lee. Food stylist: Maggie Ruggiero. Prop stylist: Rebecca Bartoshesky.
…and, of course, the onion tarts. We were steeped in his cooking and his thinking, and it was an excellent exercise to prepare the dishes of a long-ago iconic restaurant, and to see whether they stood the test of time without becoming museum pieces. Every one, especially the onion tart, was still pitch perfect….
The notion of “not becoming museum pieces” is the evocative part of the essay. Envisioning what 51 should look like, as with the entire exercise of developing Xandari Harbour, we constantly repeated that our goal was to be respectful of history without being a slave to it. By which we meant we wanted the heritage to be clear while also showcasing the new directions of Kerala’s culinary culture. And with all due respect to museums, this was to be a lively eatery.
The recipe-essay stirred another memory, from 1988. We celebrated the second anniversary of our marriage by having dinner at Lutèce. Somewhere in our stored papers is the menu from that evening, signed by André Soltner. Having worked for a chef who inspired me to see a lifetime career in hospitality, this dinner was a perfect mark on the map moving in that direction.
In the 1960s, the Green Revolution placed a premium on high crop yields over factors such as crop diversity and soil preservation. Photograph: Rupak de Chowdhuri/Reuters
2010-2017, from our base in Kerala, India one of our primary activities was food heritage preservation. And it is a constant theme in these pages. Along the way it became clear that both foodstuffs, the tangible things that are used to make food, and foodways, the intangible knowhow for using foodstuffs to make food, are equally worthy of our attention. Thanks to the Guardian for sharing this:
A rich range of native crops and seeds is being nurtured in an effort to halt the country’s rapidly vanishing food diversity
Babita Bhatt left a career in software to launch her own business in natural products grown in the Himalayas. Photograph: Handout
A small army of botanical heritage enthusiasts is spearheading a movement in India for the revival and preservation of the country’s rapidly vanishing food biodiversity by bringing back the rich crop varieties that thrived in the past, but are now on the verge of extinction.
Babita Bhatt, a 43-year-old former software professional, is just one of these crusaders, who are eschewing established careers and fat pay packets to become farmers, activists and entrepreneurs.
Fear of feeding her young daughter foods covered in pesticides was the trigger for Bhatt to move to the hills of Uttarakhand. Trading a steady income for the financial insecurity of an entrepreneur, she launched Himalaya2Home, a self-funded venture, in 2018. Continue reading
Shoppers waited to enter the Strand on Sunday after the bookstore said its business “had become unsustainable.” Jeenah Moon for The New York Times
Books and the love of books have been a constant theme since early posts on this platform. Likewise, libraries are in these pages frequently due to their important and sometimes essential role to communities; and of course librarians can change lives. Bookstores, cultural institutions in their own right, show up plenty in our pages. The Strand has not, even though it has multigenerational resonance in our family. Today it is newsworthy for complex reasons. The title almost says it all. Book lovers respond, for reasons that all our other posts about books and book places hint at. For me the subheading has the word that caught my attention. While book lovers and bookstore lovers respond to this shop’s call for help, some of the shop’s resources were invested awkwardly (I have hinted at such awkwardness plenty of times). When an independent bookseller is an option, consider the value they represent. Meanwhile, thanks to Sean Piccoli and Elizabeth A. Harris for this:
“It’s awkward because the track record for the ownership here is not great,” one customer said. “But it’s also an institution. My parents shopped here.”
For months, the Strand bookstore in downtown Manhattan, from its fiction stacks to its cookbook section to its rare books, has been nearly deserted. But on Sunday, half an hour before the store was scheduled to open, about a dozen people lined up in the cool fall breeze, waiting to get inside. Continue reading
In these pages the impacts of the pandemic have not been a regular feature, but since early on it was clear we would be feeling the impact for a long time. Each passing week has given us reason to think about how we can adjust what we do. Click the image to the right for a conversation with an illustrator who captures that spirit of adjustment in his own context. At the end of the conversation you can see past cover illustrations that have themes related to bicycles. Not a bad way to start a new week:
As covid-19 infection rates have risen in New York, and the city braces for winter, it can be hard to see a reason for optimism. For his latest New Yorker cover, R. Kikuo Johnson finds one: the welcome surge of cycling across the boroughs. We recently talked to Johnson about biking, working from home, and one of his favorite views in the city.
This is such a lovely image amid dark times. Was there a moment when inspiration struck?
When I think of New York City, the first image that comes to mind is the view from the Williamsburg Bridge. From the top, you see the whole city at once: skyscrapers, graffiti, at least four bridges, the Statue of Liberty, sweating crowds in a rush. Continue reading
A buyer makes her way through the open market’s labyrinthine lanes.
Thanks to Trishna Mohanty for another transporting article in this well-conceived series:
THE WORLD THROUGH A LENS
Nupi Keithel, or Women’s Market, a 16th-century bazaar in which all of the vendors are women, is a fountainhead of social and political activism in the Indian state of Manipur.
The perimeter of each shop is marked by the seller’s wares and belongings.
Barely five feet tall and hunched over, Anjana Devi, who is in her 80s, bellows instructions at two men as they unload crates of fruits from a mini truck. All around her, hundreds of women — most of whom are over 60 — mirror her actions. Farm-fresh produce surrounds them. The air is full of heady aromas: incense and fermented fish, jasmine buds and pungent spices. Continue reading
A British Columbia clam garden. Photograph: Ian Reid
Indigenous peoples’ innovations are always a welcome topic here especially when it comes to conservation of foodways. Thank you, Adrienne Matei, for one more case study:
Photograph by Mari Maeda and Yuji Oboshi. Styled by Suzy Kim
I have not done a count, but I would guess the New York Times has been the source of as many stories we link to as any other publication. Mostly that would be due to the excellence, and relevance to our goals, of the Science section. The New York Times Style Magazine is not normally a source for us. I cannot find a single link to that publication on this platform in 9+ years and among 4,000+ posts. We feature plenty of shiny pretty things but only those that offer insight relevant to this platform. On occasion the trendy and/or the fashionable intersect well with the stories we favor, and we have no problem pointing those out.
A selection of herbal and mushroom powders from Apothékary. Sarah Gurrity
So it goes with fungi. There are many fungi-focused posts on this platform, few of which would be seen as glamorizing. Surely we are trying to validate the topic by shining an attractive light on it. But we favor knowledge over visual stimulation. Aesthetics are not lost on us, nor is the intent to get more people interested in a topic we care about, so:
Long thought to have medicinal benefits, fungi including reishi, lion’s mane and chaga are gaining popularity in the wellness world.
Even before the onset of the pandemic, which has increased the demand for all manner of so-called organic immunity elixirs, wellness-minded Americans were warming to mushrooms. To be clear, mushrooms don’t cure Covid-19, but they are thought to provide a host of other benefits, from serving as an aphrodisiac to bolstering one’s defenses to toxins…
Not one, but two articles in the same issue, both with fabulous photography. The first, by Arden Fanning Andrews, deals with the health benefits of fungi; the second, by Ligaya Mishan, focuses on the culinary:
A duo of royal trumpet mushrooms alongside ladybugs, lichen and wild ferns.Credit…Mari Maeda and Yuji Oboshi
Neither plant nor animal, mushrooms have confounded humans since ancient times. Now, they’re a reminder of our tenuous place in an uncertain world.
The mushrooms sit on high, behind glass, above bottles of Armagnac and mezcal in a bar at the Standard hotel in Manhattan’s East Village. They are barely recognizable at first, just eerie silhouettes resembling coral growths in an aquarium, blooming in laboratory-teal light: tightly branched clusters of oyster mushrooms in hot pink, yolk yellow and bruise blue, alongside lion’s mane mushrooms, shaggy white globes with spines like trailing hair…
Among the reasons we have stayed committed once we embarked on restoration of a parcel of a coffee farm buried two decades ago, it is a welcome distraction. Also, it is good exercise. Those side benefits add motivation to continue uncovering and then reviving a buried agricultural treasure. If you are not in a place where you can do such a thing, but are in need of a breath-slowing, jaw-unclenching respite, other options exist. Do gardens and/or stories of agricultural revival get you there? The video above, or the classic to the right might be options to consider. Thanks to Helen Rosner for bringing them to our attention in this essay:
“The Victorian Kitchen Garden,” a thirteen-part series on the particularities of Victorian horticulture, is a serene display of domestic competence.Photograph by Anne Gilbert / Alamy
Some time this past spring, I had my annual realization that if I wanted to plant a garden this year I should have got started weeks, maybe months, earlier. Then I set about my annual task of Googling how to make a garden happen. A few days later, clearing out my hundreds of open browser tabs of horticultural-advice forums, I paused over an open Web page that I hadn’t noticed: a grainy upload on the mysterious and vaguely European video-hosting Web site Dailymotion. “The Victorian Kitchen Garden – S01 – E01 – The Beginning,” it said. Curious, I pressed play, and a gentle wave of clarinet arpeggios sounded from my laptop speakers, and a mist-veiled greenhouse appeared on the screen. My breathing slowed, my jaw unclenched. Continue reading
When it comes to updating my knowledge about coffee I am omnivorous, and so Michael Pollan’s work is always welcome. He recently shared more about this work, and thankfully the Radcliffe Institute shared the zoom talk. If you are inclined to geek out on coffee, take an hour for that; or at least it is worthy of a few minutes if you only have time to read the summary:
Author Michael Pollan discusses his latest work on the world’s most-used psychoactive substance
Food and Beverage as conservation themes have been long time interests at this site, whether it be recreating ancient ales or maintaining the artisan ethos of ancient food ways.
I have to admit that the blend of cuisine and archaeology are equally fascinating; I would have been one of the first of the “curious passersby” at the feast described here. The article is behind a paywall, but worth the read.
How Fuchsia Dunlop sampled food from the tomb of a long dead king
The four sheep turned on their spits, wafting out rich aromas over the bleached Turkish landscape. Nearby, I stirred a vast potful of lentil stew over an open fire, lashed by smoke and sunlight. A long table in the yard was already laden with dishes: handmade hummus and fava bean paste, whole honeycombs, stacks of tandoor-baked bread and piles of pomegranates. Beyond it loomed the great burial mound of a ruler of the Phrygian kingdom who had died here in the eighth century BC — thought to be a historical King Midas or his father. Aided by a team of Turkish cooks and food experts, I was doing my best to recreate his funeral feast.
This wasn’t an idle exercise. In the 1950s, archaeologists from the Penn Museum at the University of Pennsylvania had excavated the tomb, near the old Phrygian capital at Gordion. Although this King Midas was not the mythical man with the golden touch, they still found a treasure trove of bronze cauldrons, drinking bowls and clay pots in his burial chamber, including the largest Iron Age drinking set ever discovered. The vessels contained the physical remnants of a banquet the mourners had shared, but it was about 40 years before advances in science permitted chemical analysis of the residues.
This was done in the late 1990s by experts from the Penn Museum, led by Patrick McGovern, scientific director of its Biomolecular Archaeology Project for Cuisine, Fermented Beverages and Health, and author of Ancient Brews: Rediscovered & Re-created.
Using modern techniques such as infrared spectroscopy, liquid and gas chromatography and mass spectrometry, McGovern and his team examined the vestiges of both food and drink found in the bronze vessels. The mourners, they concluded, had shared an unusual brew made from a mixture of honey, grapes and barley — a sort of cocktail of mead, wine and beer. And although the researchers couldn’t be sure, they suspected it had also contained saffron because of the intense yellow colour of the residue (and because some of the finest saffron of the ancient world was produced in what is now Turkey).
The chemical detective work on the brown clumps of food matter showed these were the leftovers of a great stew made from lamb or goat that had first been seared over fire to produce caramelisation, then simmered with some kind of pulse (probably lentils) along with ingredients such as honey, wine, olive oil, fennel or anise and other herbs and spices. Continue reading
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):
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
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.”
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.
Biophilia is a frequent topic here; wine, only a fraction as much. An article touching on both is a rare treat:
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
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:
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):
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
Here is some food for thought, thanks to HighCountry News:
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
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
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
For World Environment Day, a story of biodiversity and globalization in the ancient Asante Kingdom of Ghana
The 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:
By 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
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
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!
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.