Friday, 2 December 2016

Brett: the taste spectrum of farm

I guess I was around 13 when I got my first taste of farm. We were in Austria walking and we had apples and cheese and dried sausage for lunch and it was the first time I drank Apfelmost and it went !*p f c h %$ when you opened it and it was golden like low winter sun ‘round 3, maybe 4, o’clock-golden and with that sparkly-sparky taste of something alive and rotting and in a rush>>> A borderline case flit-flirting between sour, sweet, yeast and your brain’s yes OK and no: definitely throw away. Smell of fresh wet hay and grass-damp horse blanket. Of apple skeletons and toast.

We drank it on a bench and it was delicious and I think my aunt was there too and the cows were soft and chestnut and 15 years later I know now that the word to describe that particular smell slash taste-state of life and death, boot room, sweaty saddle and organic mass that makes me think of Most is, when it comes to wine*, called ‘brett' and, officially, Dekkera bruxellensis or Brettanomyces by those who know what they're talking about, and 'FUNK' and 'barn' by them too plus by all the others, and the Internet is full of discussion on whether or not this naturally occurring strain of yeast is, when it comes to wine, a fault that compromises terroir or is, in fact, itself terroir — course there is — and you can care or not care but the smell still reminds me of the first time I drank Most which is why I’m telling the story and as it happens I happen to like it.

*beer too.


Friday, 11 November 2016

If you like the idea of drinking rubies drink Sébastian Riffault

I like drinking wine out of plastic cups more than probably most anybodies. I like my wine cloudy, unstable and fizzling and if it’s a really good day it’ll be all three plus red and cold. Give me rough and unsettled or watered down with spritzy water to drink during the harvest time, wine. But I also like wines that make you 


cus they're so clean.

Wines as crisp as the sound of you biting into an Autumn apple straight from the tree crap-bit-of-juice-got-in-your-eye can be; precise as we think the Germans to be. Patrick Bateman ebony handled razor blade sharp and also just normal sharp. 

Last week I drank Sébastian Riffault’s "Raudonas". I say my god but here I’ll say my gosh because this was definitely something made on earth and I don’t think the earth gets enough credit. You could taste it. The earth I mean. Earth and flint (Sancerre, Loire), spice, cranberries and rubies. Like Thanksgiving but better or at least easier. Singing almost singeing — sides of your tongue gettin’ all juicy — acidity, a long finish and whistling arrow straight purity. In a word, for the sake of adding one more word: 


And no, I don’t drink everything out of plastic cups.


What: 100% Pinot Noir
When: 2011
Where: Loire
How: 0.5 hectare plot — 40 year old vines — 35% slope — horse power —  25 hl/ha yields — Fermentation and 18 month elevage in 8-15 year old barrels — Ages if you can manage to wait

From: La Officina


Thursday, 16 June 2016

Beijing Bao, Rotterdam

If I said what I wanted to say, namely that what I ate at Beijing Bao didn’t taste like Chinese food, then you’d probably take me for an idiot. You’d say China is big, China is far away, and as the only Chinese food you’ve probably eaten was eaten in Chinese restaurants, the restaurants not being in China, then you don’t know what Chinese food tastes like.

That would be fair enough.

So perhaps it would be better for me to say that the food at Beijing Bao is not what one would expect to eat at a Chinese restaurant. I mean, not unless you expect cumin in your food and thickets of fresh coriander strewn on top. Not unless it’s no big deal to you that the beef you just put in your mouth has melted before you had time to close it, let alone chew; and not unless you’re the kind of person that would find someone’s asking you to pass the soy sauce some sort of joke. Everyone knows you don’t get soy sauce when you’re eating Beijing Bao’s Chinese.

And you don’t; at least, it doesn’t come standard at the table. Standard there is a small pot of vinegar, Korean style, and a sauce with a chilli-kick. Standard there are green beans barely cooked and heaped in fried, minced pork that will make you think twice about the virtues of eating pop corn because heck, popcorn is greasier than this and this is much more satisfying anyway. Those sauces (you know the ones) that render every dish essentially the same but for their different hues of red? That goopy, black, they-call-it-fish-sauce, I-call-it-MSG stuff that, no matter how hard you try not to, reminds you of the effects of an oil spill? Instead of that stuff, you get vegetables that are still identifiable as, and have the original texture of, vegetables; and if you order right they’ll come with nothing more than chunks of fried garlic that you’ll be able to chopstick-out blindfolded for their size.

No, this kitchen is not afraid of garlic and nor should you be. Not even when you order the beef ribs in garlic which, when we did, turned out to be (or at least seemed to be) pork ribs in a dry-as-dust pancake-batter crust that had been infused with garlic. ‘Dry as dust’ in the case of batter is a compliment, unless you like the not-enough-napkins greasy kind, in which case this is not your sort of Chinese. 

You’ll probably want to order second plate of the Chinese cabbage with pork (kimchi with really tasty, not at all dry pork), but don’t let this put you off ordering another, different cabbage dish. The Chinese cabbage with soy and vinegar was bright and tangy and imparted a joy akin to that you might feel in taking a bite of a well-placed pickle in your sandwich for balance, i.e.: much joy. Order it. Order it and put a little on your plate with a little of everything else (the dishes are large and to be shared), but especially the melt in your mouth beef with cumin (I’m still surprised), shredded onion, coriander and… garlic. With the beef shaven, succulent but dry and spiced with cumin, I suppose this is what Greek gyros would taste like if it were excellent. And this was excellent.

When the ‘Beijing pizza’ arrives (for the restaurant operates strict serve-yourself drinks and it-comes-when-it-comes policies), essentially a larger, absolutely not greasy, dumpling rolled over well-spiced minced lamb and braised leeks, it’s likely you’ll also want to comment on how Middle Eastern the tastes are. Ditto with the steamed eggs - theirs is the same creamy, nuttiness that you’ll find in the 10-hour boiled eggs that perch atop hummus bowls in Israel. From these last two dishes and the beef, it would seem that the two kitchens share similar recipes for soul food. 

And it’s the food that carries the place. With no real decor to speak of, a TV screen in the back loudly slide-showing the dishes, no alcohol licence and staff that aren’t really interested in talking to you, Beijing Bao is the type of place you probably only dared to enter because of the number of Chinese sitting inside, or because a local friend you trust enough to take you to a Chinese restaurant in Rotterdam even though you don’t like ‘Chinese’ and you have to travel from Amsterdam, takes you. However you got there, go there. After dinner you’ll probably want to go again for breakfast.

Photographs by Sophia van den Hoek. Also published on Unfolded.


Tuesday, 24 May 2016

“Come quickly, I am drinking the stars but nowadays they call it pét-nat"

At the risk of encouraging you to start drinking at breakfast (or at least at every breakfast), I’m going to tell you about Pétillant Naturel wines: funky, unfiltered sparklers low in alcohol and high in drinkability, making them, it can’t not be said: perfect for breakfast.

Pétillant Naturel (or pét-nat for people, who, like me, are still being reminded of the way — 4 years later mind you — they tried to order lentils in French and sound French about it) means naturally sparkling, and is best understood, if that’s what you feel you need, as a contemporary sub-category of the méthode ancestrale (contemporary because it’s always been made but not named as such) that’s seeped out from the Loire Valley as recently as the 90s. This was the (again, contemporary — natural wine is the way we’ve always been making wine, just that for thousands of years it was just ‘wine’) dawn of the natural wine movement; one that started out as a handful of progressive winemakers, disillusioned by the increasing industrialisation of winemaking, taking a step away from the too-prevalent props, tricks and chemical tweaks available and applying the organic principles they already (often) adhered to in the vineyards, to their grapes in the cellar.

They had no rules, no plan, no leader. They worked not so much as an organised movement but as individuals experimenting; individuals whose ideals and results eventually attracted a following and with that, a sort of consensus. A shared philosophy: one that its proponents believed was about making wine of organically grown grapes with minimum manipulation. Nothing to be added*, nothing taken away. Stuff the makers wanted to drink themselves (they were, after all, buddies and probably did a lot of drinking together, being winemakers).

Simple as that.

There’s a lot of hoo-ha being made over the idea that pét-nat is the orignal-original way of making sparkling wine, but without spoiling its neatly packaged story (people love the ‘whimsical, almost subversive way it re-casts an ancient style as the quintessential party wine’) or stepping on the toes of other producers actually following other méthode ancestrale (those who do follow specific traditions very seriously); perhaps the best way to describe it is the result of experimentation and the product of serious wine makers having fun (whilst still rejecting the standardisation of conventional sparkling wines).

Anyway, there’s your contextual understanding. Drinking wise, the whole pét-nat idea is a lot simpler: grape juice goes straight from tank to bottle, plug it (usually with a crown cap, not a cork) and let it finish its first fermentation in the bottle, resulting in a naturally efferent wine (when yeast eats sugar, they release alcohol and carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide makes bubbles when trapped). The wines are unfiltered (i.e. bottled with all the dead yeasts, also known as lees), unpredictable and unadulterated, and also great around lunch time.

*The only additive used by some natural wine growers is SO2. Under EU law, maximum total sulphite levels permitted in a bottle of wine are 150mg/litre, 200mg/l and 400mg/l for red, dry white and sweet wines respectively.

Organic and biodynamic certifying bodies are a little more stringent than this, but natural wine is the strictest of all, with most producers averaging under 30mg/l for reds, 40mg/l for whites and 80mg/l for sweet wines. Some growers use none at all.


Monday, 23 May 2016

A garden in pictures

When I say my mom’s a gardener what I mean is that we eat late in the summer months. It means there's a good chance my hand luggage has a plant or two stuffed down the side wrapped in damp newspaper and that I get seed heads sent to me in the mail. It means I don't cut flowers probably because my mom doesn't cut flowers, and that I like making sticks into infrastructure most certainly because mom makes stick infrastructure.

When I planted my first garden I was a little nervous and spaced everything out like the mysterious runes and diagrams on the seed packets said to. Mom’s advice: ‘Everything just wants to live’.

When I say ‘my first garden’ what I mean is that time, three years ago, when I grew mainly greens and 3.5 sunflowers in a 1x1 box in a field that, for the longest time, was looked over by city planners and left to a group of alcoholics that would (mostly) leave you alone as well as a modern day mystic and follower of the ayahuasca church (possibly — no, probably — also an alcoholic) who once accused me of stealing his watering can (I didn’t). This field is now a construction site like it’s been for the last two years, destined for a new try at life as a carpark. 

My next garden isn't so much mine as it's ours and this isn't just because it's squatted, which it is. These pictures are of her garden, not of ours.

Sunflowers, incidentally, seem to do very well in Amsterdam.


Monday, 2 May 2016

Movia Wines + Restaurant De Jong + Lux = magic * natural wine

It started at 6 so we figured we’d probably be out early. And anyway, or so I thought, it was a wine tasting (small sips, spit spit) and it would all be natural (wine that has been farmed according to organic or biodynamic principles plus minimum intervention thereafter… including, according to some diehards, no sulphite at bottling; a practice that has the effect of stabilising the otherwise very much still alive wine by stunning microbial reproduction, fermentation and all-round interaction as well as sanitising bottling equipment: sulphite’s antioxidant properties shield the wine from oxygen.) — so we’d be fine

— or at least, more fine than how we might feel after drinking, sorry tasting, the equivalent amount of conventional wine; wine that will almost invariably have had chemicals and sulphites added, noxious nasties that would have to be processed by our livers the next day as well as the alcohol. The lack of crap* in natural wine should make it, both theoretically and in many of my own experiences though certainly not all, less likely to leave you feeling bad the next day, precisely because there’s less crap to have to filter out. Obviously alcohol percentage, sugars, dehydration, levels of histamine (high in red wine), how much and how fast you drink are also influencing factors; and there are a lot of offhand soundbites being thrown around about the evils of sulphites as the major causer of hangovers, but for now, that’s what they are: unscientific soundbites

And that’s where we’ll leave them. Hangover prevention is a bad reason to start drinking natural wine and if it’s yours, please don’t: it’s already getting difficult this time of year to get a hold of certain bottles because there are so few made. Better reasons are (in no order): caring about the environment, supporting the farmers that care, additives in your food and if you think you’d be interested in trying something that’s alive, tastes it, and is therefore unlike anything else, certainly anything we label ‘wine’. 

But the night itself? 

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

The natural choice is to drink natural wine

“It would spoil people’s perception of wine” is, both inevitably and ironically, what got me first thinking about ‘it’. Before I heard that, all I thought about when I thought about wine was taste. That and whether or not this should be my last glass.

These were the (subtitled) words of a (French) grower in a documentary about how we manipulate wine and, armed with the terms ‘extract of pig pancreas and dried swim bladders of fish’ and a word I have since learned how to spell (Polyvinylpolyryrrolidone), I set off to tell my wine drinking friends. Not that anyone seemed to care. Most people seemed to think that even if this was true, that it probably wasn’t for the sort of wine that they drink. In fact, there seemed to be a direct correlation between the people who profess to enjoy wine the most and a confidence that this didn’t apply to them. And because all I’d seen was a documentary, for all I knew, they were right.

And so I bought a book.

I figured that if it was difficult to learn about what was being added to conventional wine, then I should start with natural wines and learn about all the stuff that’s categorically not in them. This, to cut a long list of additives short, is everything except (in some cases) a little sulphite at bottling. There’s no added water, no sugar, no tannins, no gelatine, no phosphates, no added yeasts. No (surprise!) dimethyl dicarbonate, acetaldehyde and not even any hydrogen peroxide. There are no animal derivatives, no iyoszyme (from eggs) or casein (from milk). And there have been no pesticides, fungicides, herbicides, insecticides or fertilisers used to treat the vines. There is, incidentally, also no legal definition as to what counts as natural, nor is the addition of any of the above to wine, illegal. 

Awkward on both fronts then. 

Legal definition, even recognition, aside; the point is that at one end of the make-wine continuum there are those that manipulate wine via heavy processing, additives or aids, and those at the other end that produce wine without adding or removing anything.

And so, armed with this new information, I return to my friends who, grateful for my concern as ever (not), ask, How do you even know that stuff’s in this wine? 

I don’t. And that’s the whole thing (ok, one of the things): we don’t know what’s in our wine.

Thursday, 7 April 2016

A collection of observations on mostly mould

I grew up scraping mould off stuff. Not actively or anything: it’s not like I was handed a pot of something fuzzy and told to go play; but if, for instance, we wanted jam, we’d probably have to scrape off the mould first. That’s just how it was (is, actually) and we were fine with it. What made it funny was when guests wanted jam. What made it funniest was this one time we were playing a board game called Association or something where you have to give your teammates prompts via association, and an old friend of the family prompted ‘mould’ to her son (and teammate) who answered ‘PANTRY’.

See? Funny.

Where the US customs office would consider me a young-verging-on-old offender, I’d probably just call myself a mostly short-haired girl with a devil-may-care nonchalance when it comes to ticking the ‘nothing to declare’ box and a healthy disrespect for the FDA’s health concerns. Big men with big guns are not enough to stop us from rolling by with our bags full of whatever we’d emptied from the fridge packed in newspapers, and you can bet your $3,000 fine there’ll always be numerous newspapers wrapped around numerous cheeses (you can only import raw milk cheese into the U.S. if it’s been aged for more than 60 days. This makes the presence of a Mont d’Or or Tomme de Savoie in your suitcase both illegal and, more importantly, perfectly room temperature).


Another cheese memory is the time we ate a cheese my parents had been given when I was born. I was born in ’88 and we probably ate it four years ago. It was the best cheese I’ve ever eaten. I eat a lot of cheese. 


It was my mom that introduced me to the idea of eating raw egg with raw meat at a pretty young age. Now I’m of age, if I’m also hungover, I want Japanese. Always sukiyaki, a dish where you dip raw slices of wagyu beef into a broth and then raw egg yolk. The otherwise stern waitress smiles approvingly when we ask to have it with egg. Japanese customers get it standard.   


Raw milk is another ‘issue’ as I understand it, but not if the animals are healthy and allowed to roam and graze. It will also leave you spoiled for taste and unsatisfied when all you have to  wash down your cardboard cereal is pasteurised milk. I recently made yoghurt from milk that we tapped raw from a tank and have the best intentions not to ever buy yoghurt again. However we all know that this is the same material they used to pave the way to hell and at the very least I will be introducing my water kefir babies to their milk cousins. Read: probably replacing (even if only until its summer sun cocktail time) because at one point one gets worried about the amount of sugar one is drinking when one is drinking water kefir


The other day I got into an argument with someone because they were looking at the due date on a bag of carrots. This is not the way to live your life. 


Monday, 4 April 2016

Fraud, food and natural wine

The article coincided with the week I happened to spend 100% more time on a farm than I usually do so it got me thinking. The reason I was on farms was to source (sounds better, really just buying) ingredients for our latest sit-down supper, the menu for which we’d promised would be entirely noord-centred and — (that word again) — sourced. No small feat during the dregs of winter but we did it and it was great. What exactly we did/made I’ll save for another story; but for now, it was all about kraut.

When I read it, the first thing I thought about was how impatient I’d been when required to wait 40 minutes while a lady on one of these farms counted out and calculated the cost of as many cheeses. She was operating at the speed of slow that makes you appreciate that little-spoken alternative use of the countryside: the pace of city life is just not for everyone (and mind you, we’re talking Amsterdam here). I don’t feel ashamed saying it: I had better things to do in that time, but the article made me laugh at the thought. Turns out this was a small price to pay for the (incidentally, excellent) cheeses we bought. At least they were what we thought they were.

Not so, it turns out, for many many more things than I thought (if I’ve ever really thought), says the article. So much not so, that in early 2015 the UK set up the National Food Crime Unit to fight food fraud; one, policy makers hope, that will one day be as good as the Dutch equivalent. 

Via a process that uses rapid evaporative ionisation mass spectrometry, scientists can test if what the food in front of them says it is, it really is. Be it a piece of cod or flakes of dried oregano (last year a UK institute found that 25 per cent of the samples supplied from supermarkets and online retailers contained substances other than oregano), the bottom line is that where there’s money, there’s crime, and where there’s big money, there’s big crime. Financial consulting firm PwC estimates that global trade in food fraud is worth around $40 billion a year.

But more on the things the authorities are finding another time. For now, what I’d like to write about is what we’re putting in wine

Fraud you say? Well, ish even though, technically, no. What wine makers put in to wine is legal. Not listing what they’ve put in on the label is also legal. And yet, people would probably be shocked to see the ingredients in a bottle of wine. Wine growers know that they would be shocked. Does’t this smack a teeny weeny bit, even if not exactly then something quite like, fraud?


Tuesday, 29 March 2016

We're making an entirely noord-sourced kraut and it's not entirely a gimmick

The idea was in equal parts meant to make things simple and to shut me up. Not to use the broken record saying but I sounded like a broken record — nowhere to eat once you’re out of Amsterdam, your best bet of eating something honest is to have a herring, why are we eating tomatoes that don’t taste anything like tomatoes, and how is it that the further from Amsterdam you go (sorry, it’s my point of reference), the plates transform from being round to rectangular? I suppose that this might be considered a peculiarity worth laughing about in a less grave situation but as it’s to do with dinner, the situation is very grave indeed. 

How come there’s been no PR whizz whizzy enough to market stampot as a, if not national dish, then at least a very important one, present at all occasions you'd invite your family to instead of all of us just sort of knowing it is in private? Why, after 4 winters of stampot weather, do I know of only two places that make an excellent one (any tips?); one of which is the furthest north you can get even hellbent, in Groningen? Same goes for sauerkraut: where’s that at? If I want to eat kraut outside the dark cave in which I store my frustration I have to go to a surinamese restaurant where the tradeoff is that the staff think I’m a heathen for ordering the menu-permanent (thank all my gods) dish of zoutvlees and kraut with a roti. I’d say it was embarrassing but I can’t grasp the magnitude of my mistake I'm that much part heathen. I just know that while I’m defending my actions they’re rolling their eyeballs.

So why, suggests Alex, don’t we make a kraut sourced entirely from things grown in Amsterdam Noord? More, I believe, for the fact he’s the sort of person who likes to make everything into a game rather than the type to seize the (PR) opportunity to elevate sauerkraut into some locally-sourced half god hovering in the space between the farm and your table. Not that I’d put it past him.

Uh because people probably don’t really like kraut?

Friday, 11 March 2016

Worst is the best

I, like the rest of the Boeing 787, was salivating. You know how it goes: you’ve been staring at nothing for 4 hours, maybe less, probably much less, when ‘nothing’ all of a sudden becomes some horrendous film like Mad Max which the (by the looks of it) newly engaged couple sitting in 23 A and B are watching in the seats in front of you, and which you therefore can’t help but also watch. Through the gap.

Ok, so the movies I end up watching through The Gap aren’t generally the ones I’d watch at home, and Mad Max is actually a very bad example because it’s not something I’d watch anywhere; but every once and a while something ok comes along, which, even if not good, is at least something which awakens enough of desire in me to press eject on your controller-cum-telephone thing (has anyone ever seen anyone telephone from an airplane?) and tune in to the beginning.

Which is how I started watching Chef. And how I, probably like all the rest of the people that have watched Chef, became mildly obsessed — ok, no, ‘obsessed’ is too strong a word; let’s say ‘personally involved’ — in the eating of Cuban sandwiches.

And with all good eating comes appreciation. In this case, a staunch appreciation for all the Cuban sandwiches this side of Miami done right. ‘Right’ requiring the frying of both sides of each piece of bread so they’re golden brown, soon to be brown-brown (a commonly known secret is mayonnaise). ‘Right’ requiring the correct amount of hours to have passed the pork shoulder by, first as it’s brined (a full 12 according to some recipes), then as it soaks in marinade (2 should be enough), and the last 3 as it’s slowly roasted. Then there are, of course, the pickles you need to get it right, and to which I dedicate a next-level appreciation all their own; the cheese (‘Swiss Cheese’ — as in the stuff with holes in, not from Switzerland — I know what you’re thinking but just this once, ok? because this is an American thing, not a continental thing, but if it were up to me, I’d use Cheddar), that nuclear-yellow mustard (absolutely no real mustard allowed) and let us not forget the napkins. Obviously a good Cuban sandwich requires many napkins.

So it was a good sign that we had to go through a lot of napkins when we shared our Cuban at Worst. And as bad as it sounds — and, ok, it does sound bad, no one really likes to share — it was, in fact, a good thing that we were sharing. Because then we still had room to for the weissworst with a cauliflower puree and coleslaw (something I rarely trust anyone but my mom to get right but now that group’s been bumped up to two, the second being Worst), and three fully loaded (buckwheat) crepes stretched around chunks of sweet, roasted squash, spinach and cheese. All done, I can tell you, exactly right. 

Photo by Sophia van den Hoek. Also published on Unfolded.


Monday, 7 March 2016

I don't put on dinners to make speeches

I don’t put on dinners because I want to make speeches. I hate making speeches. Even talking. Publicly that is, I don’t mind talking to the person next to me, though I find I’m a better talker (i.e., I talk) when the number of people next to me isn’t much more than three.

I know, I know, people just assume you’re going to do a good job. They want you to do a good job. In fact they’ve probably got their fingers, toes and eyes crossed hoping that you’re gonna do a good job, that you won’t fuck up. No one likes a fuck up, especially if the one fucking up is doing the talk. That’s just awkward.

Once I was given a book called How to bluff your way through public speaking. And I’ve been told that being on stage talking is one of the few moments in your life where you control everything. Plus there’s always what Steven Spielberg said, namely that people will sit through 20 minutes of anything. But this is a) next level advice and b) assumes you like control. It also assumes you’ve passed the bluffing stage and have 19 more minutes to go. It assumes you’ve read the book. And I haven’t. 

You’d think you’d be able to talk about something you made up. You’d think you’d be able to talk about something you want to do. Well, maybe you can. Certainly everyone speaking at TED can. But I can’t. I can hardly squeak out that tonight’s menu will be and say toe-curlingly excruciating things like ‘We cooked you some nice food’. Nice food?!

Yes, I said that.
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