Sunday, December 18, 2016

Ikarian French Fusion – A Vegetable Casserole

It was the end of summer and fresh vegetables were in season. Zucchini, yellow squash, eggplants, tomatoes, etc., and all the necessary herbs were freely available from the garden or the greengrocer, and at good prices too. So if you have it all, and more, in the pantry or fridge what better way to celebrate that magical culinary explosion of tastes with a French Provencal classic, a ratatouille?

But wait! The French are not the only ones that have learned to lift a simple vegetable stew to extraordinary culinary heights. More than 2,800 kilometers southeast of Provence there is a small island where people forget to die.

Ikaria, also spelled Icaria, is a small Greek island in the northeastern Aegean Sea, about 30 miles from the coast of Turkey and about 2 hours by ferry east of Mykonos. Ikaria is one of the identified “Blue Zones” in the world, a demographic and/or geographic area where people live, on average, to a very old age due to the food they eat, the lifestyle they live, the amount of physical activity they are involved in and their engaging relationships with family and lifelong friends. The Blue Zones also have other characteristics: the people rarely move out of the area and they exhibit a rigid pattern of similar activities in their community. In Blue Zones it is not unusual for people in their late 80s or 90s to still attend to their vegetable gardens, be beekeepers, or walk several miles a day. On Ikaria between 35%-40% of the islanders live to enjoy life into their 90s. In America, only 4.7% of the current population reaches their 90s. That's why they call Ikaria the island where people forget to die.

A pan of roasted vegetables

I love veggies in general, roasted or as a stew. Whether it is a South African green beans, onions, tomatoes and potatoes stew, a Southwestern corn and black beans stew, Grecian Spanakopita (Spinach and feta cheese pies), or a simple pan of roasted mixed vegetables with fresh Italian herbs and olive oil. In the past ratatouille, that classic French vegetable stew has been my go to dish. It goes well with any kind of protein or grain dish. It gives contrasting flavor and texture to fish dishes, stands up perfectly to grilled steaks or lamb chops and compliments any chicken or pork roast. Of course, ratatouille is very similar in ingredients and in method of preparation as the Grecian Briami, another classic vegetable stew.

A few months ago I watched an international food program on television about Ikaria and one of the dishes featured was the famous “longevity” Ikarian vegetable stew. Where the French prepare the individual vegetables for a ratatouille separately and then combine it all into a single pot and stew it on the stove until it forms a rich sauce, the Ikarians prepare the long cooking vegetables like beans or peas in advance of the other vegetables and then combine it all into a casserole to be baked in the oven. The fact that more or less the same ingredients and herbs can be taken, and produce two totally different flavor sensations and textures, simply because of a slight variance in preparation methods, makes cooking such an interesting hobby. Since then I have had a healthy interest in Greek and Ikarian food. Especially the way they prepare their vegetables.

A Sunday afternoon. A month or so ago. It rained nearly constantly for 24 hours and the clouds have cleared up nicely by the afternoon, but left behind a wet and humid world. By early evening the humidity disappeared and I was going to barbeque a rib-eye steak, some chicken drumsticks and grill a few slices of wheat and oat bread using the vegetables as a bruschetta. Accompanied the food and in keeping it all Mediterranean, a bottle of Marqués de Cáceres Rioja Crianza 2011 from Spain.

In the past I have made Ikarian vegetable stews using black eyed peas or butter beans as a base for the casserole and then followed with traditional veggies like carrots, onions and tomatoes. In an effort to be innovative I decided to create an Ikarian French fusion. I used the basic ingredients for a ratatouille, but followed the Ikarian method of preparation. It is very similar to the Greek Soufica dish that uses eggplant as a base.

The result: A hot vegetable salad. Yes, this was not a stew at all. It was summer goodness at its best. An explosion of bright, summer colors, fused sweetness from the various ingredients and melded textures, but one could still taste every ingredient individually. It was so unlike the richness and sauciness of a ratatouille, which is more robust and leans itself more to winter comfort food.

A forkful of summer delight
And it’s really simple, rustic and as Jamie Oliver would say, naked.


·         Skin one eggplant, cut in ¼ inch slices, salt on both sides and let it sweat in a colander for at least an hour
·         In the meantime slice 1 zucchini and 1 yellow squash into ¼ inch thickness (same as the eggplant for even cooking)
·         Slice 1 Spanish or yellow onion into thin slices, put in a bowl and pour about a ¼ cup of olive oil over the onions and massage the oil into the onions with your fingers. (Yeah, get those fingers greasy.)
·         1 Green bell pepper, remove seeds and roughly chop into 1 inch pieces
·         4 cloves of garlic, peeled and mashed.
·         3-4 Roma tomatoes, chopped
·         Fresh Rosemary, oregano, basil and lots of thyme. Any combination will do.
·         Salt and pepper
·         Olive oil for grilling and frying


·         Prepare a grill. Must be between 400 ºF and 450 ºF. You can also do this in the oven, but I prefer the grill.
·         Rinse the eggplant under water and dry with kitchen towels
·         Brush eggplant pieces lightly with olive oil (do not add any salt) and grill the eggplant for about 4 minutes on each side. You must get nice grill marks and the eggplant must feel soft to the touch, but still firm. Set aside
·         Heat the oven to 375 ºF
·         Heat a little oil in a skillet on the stove
·         Flavor the zucchini and the yellow squash lightly with salt and pepper and fry them until they get a golden color on both sides
·         Now layer the casserole
·         Put the eggplant at the bottom of a casserole dish and then add the zucchini, the squash, the green bell peppers, the onions and lastly the tomatoes
·         Add the herbs on top. No need to chop them.
·         Cover and bake for about 45 minutes. Remove cover and continue to bake for another 15 minutes.

Savor and enjoy!!!


Monday, November 14, 2016

Last Week Bob Dylan Was In My Back Yard

Last week Bob Dylan was in my backyard.

He came to Louisville, Kentucky and then traveled on to Knoxville and Chattanooga, Tennessee. All within reasonable driving distance from me. After googling some reviews I selected not to go and see him based on the setlist of his current Never Ending Tour, which mostly feature songs from his last two American Songbook albums, Shadows In The Night and Fallen Angels and a few songs from his post year 2000 albums. Although a forever reinventing artist, one of my favorite artists and a major influence on my life, I prefer the earlier Bob Dylan music.


I was first introduced to Bob Dylan, I remember well, when I was about 12 or 13 years old. It was in the converted front-porch-to-bedroom of John Henry Jordaan. A ship engineer or something like that, I never really knew, but I used to hang around at his house like a rock star groupie wherever he was in town. Well, I use to hang around more often than not because I was a friend of his younger brother and he had cool sisters too. I loved the stories he use to tell about the Scots dancing over swords, the English countryside, how he was robbed of a full month’s salary within 5 minutes of setting foot on French soil in Marseille’s harbor, and many other travelogues. But mostly I hung around because he had a state of the art turntable with a mean set of speakers, and an awe-inspiring vinyl collection that impressed the bejesus out of my young mind. Apart from a folky Dylan, I was also exposed to Woody Guthrie, Leonard Cohen, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Gordon Lightfoot, Johnny Cash, John Denver, and too many others to remember, mostly folk and country artists. I can’t credit John Henry for my lifelong wanderlust, I think that is my mom’s doing with her geography and history lessons, but I can most definitely credit him for teaching me how to play the guitar and a lifelong love for the instrument and music in general. Initially I practiced on John’s guitar while I nagged my mother for months to buy me a guitar.  

 Bob Dylan at Gordon Lightfoot's House in Toronto in 1975

Many years later I stayed for six or so months through a bitter cold Highveld winter in the “Chelsea Hotel”, a battered old caravan/camper in the front yard or back yard or whatever side that was, of Andrew Donaldson, the acclaimed South African journalist of the Rand Daily Mail and London Sunday Times fame, and band member of The Hip Replacements and lately of the Porchlights; in his own words: “Writer, journalist, sloppy guitarist, mostly happy, sometimes bewildered, occasionally angry”. There in Randburg I got to know another side of Dylan, profounder, more philosophical. It was there where I heard The Basement Tapes, Hard Rain, Desire, Street Legal and especially Blood On The Tracks for the first time.

Come in, she said
I'll give ya shelter from the storm

My sheltered musical upbringing at home on Cliff Richard, The Shadows, Creedence Clearwater Revival, traditional South African boeremusiek, Afrikaans gospel and 60s and 70s light pop music was shattered by Bruce Springsteen, The Clash, Johnny Rotten and the Sex Pistols, The Stranglers, Roger Lucy, The Rolling Stones, Patti Smith, Punk in general, and any form of alternative music. During that period of my life I also saw Dylan trading Joan Baez to Harry Dean Stanton for a chestnut mare in Renaldo and Clara, got to know most of the bars in Rocky Street, rocked at two-tone parties in Houghton communes and was barely aware of seeing forgettable performances of unknown rock and punk bands with limited talents at the Wits Campus. Those were the days of hazy dreams, little money but no worries, drinking and driving and not going anywhere in any hurry.

It was a hot August night, the 31st, 1997. A Sunday. The traditional heat of Kansas City at that time of the year was enforced by clammy humidity, which pushed the heat index into the high 90s. We arrived late afternoon, family in towed (we waited for some of the heat to dissipate) at the Liberty Memorial Park on the Missouri side of the city. The whole weekend was a musical orgy, not quite like Woodstock, more controlled, but the city’s Spirit Festival was nonetheless footloose and fancy free. Friday night the house was rocked by Cher and INXS. Saturday was bluesy and headlined by the Robert Cray Band and B.B. King. But it was the Sunday night that made my years of dreams and strumming his tunes and belching out his poetry came true. After a visit to the jazz stage to watch Alex Bugnon and Peter White we found ourselves an advantageous position, just to the right of the main stage on a slight slope. Those days Liberty Park was still undeveloped, grassy and standing room only, unlike today’s seated arena. Anticipation was building; the natural bowl of the park was filling up and the buzz got louder. Today, all I can remember of the band that preceded the main event and they impressed me somewhat then, was their sound, rockabilly-folky and a twang of country with an attitude.


When Bob Dylan walked out that night in his black embroidered suit, Boss of the Plains cowboy hat and Apache scarf, and an electric guitar under his arm…you can’t fabricate the kind of stuff that went on in my head at that moment. For the next ninety minutes or so I didn’t take much note of anything going on around me. My focus was solely on that little big man on stage. I was…“It’s alright Ma, I am breathing”, sporadically and only in short shallow gulps, but nevertheless breathing. Most of the time I was singing along too.

Those days there weren’t things like bucket lists. You only had dreams and they were called DREAMS. They weren’t called planned achievements, or wish lists items that you can add to on the top right hand corner of your computer screen. They were called dreams. Surreal or not, I honestly never thought I would ever see Dylan live. Come on! A poor kid from one of the poorest suburbs of Cape Town whose mother could only afford a $10 deposit and then pay off the rest of the $30 guitar over the next six months! Seeing Dylan…ever…live? Those were unrealistic dreams. Those were the stuff you lived for.

I still have that old guitar. It is still my favorite. No matter that I added others over time. I don’t play it much anymore. But it has gone around the world with me the past 40 years. Beaten up, battered and bruised, but load it up with a new set of brass strings and it will zing the grey matter upstairs, reverberate through the folds of my brain and create waves of memories that will come flooding out like a tsunami striking a lonely island in the Pacific.

 Joni Mitchell Roger McGuinn and Bob Dylan

Either my dreams have changed, I know I still have many left, or the “new sounding” Bob Dylan is not part of my remaining dreams anymore. I guess the latter must be the case because I said no to see him, possibly for the last time, in action again.            

However, my decision to not go does not in any way diminish Bob Dylan’s greatness as the greatest poet of the Rock and Roll era for me. As the lately departed Leonard Cohen observed about Dylan’s Nobel Prize: “It is like pinning a medal on Everest.” That is how I still and forever will feel about Bob Dylan. Nor does my decision mimic some Dylan fans’ reaction at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival when he was booed because he plugged in and went electric. 

In crystal clear clarity I am reminded of Paul McCartney’s lyrics from The Song We Were Singing from his album Flaming Pie:

For a while, we could sit, smoke a pipe
And discuss all the vast intricacies of life
We could jaw through the night
Talk about a range of subjects, anything you like

Oh yeah

But we always came back to the song we were singing
At any particular time
Yeah we always came back to the song we were singing
At any particular time

Take a sip, see the world through a glass
And speculate about the cosmic solution
To the sound, blue guitars
Caught up in a philosophical discussion

Oh yeah

But we always came back to the song we were singing
At any particular time
Yeah we always came back to the song we were singing
At any particular time


Saturday, September 17, 2016

Madrid & The Pickpockets

My Madrid experience felt at most haphazard.  A classic hit-or-miss, unfortunate-or-lucky kind of experience. It may be because we were in and out of the city on daytrips and no continuous stay. It sometimes happens on these “we are on a vacation, but there is no rest for the weary” vacations. I am usually fairly relaxed and thoroughly enjoy what I am seeing, hearing, and experiencing on these overseas outings, but unfortunately Madrid denied me that important element of relaxation.  Hence, my mixed bag of memories of Madrid.  

Usually one of the first things we do in an unknown city, after we completed the business of finding our apartment, meeting with the owner, and taking possession, are to take a ride on a red City Sightseeing bus. They are in most world cities these days. Tickets are relatively expensive, but I consider it value for money because I feel it is the quickest way to learn the lay of the land, so to speak, or discover areas of a city I did not previously considered, and to get a general “vibe” for the new city.

We found one of the bus’s stops near our apartment and as M was ready to board the bus, a girl bumped into her, cleverly threw a scarf over M’s backpack and tried to unzip the back flap. M immediately felt it and recognized what was happening and quickly pulled away and turned around. The girl seeing her pickpocket plan is not going to come to any fruition, quickly disappeared into the pedestrian traffic at a busy street corner.

About 30 minutes into our ride we got off the bus at The Temple of Debod, an Egyptian temple near the royal palace complex. From there we would walk to the palace’s garden and other plazas around the palace to consume the many statues and building facades of the area. But while casually strolling near the gardens, two girls, I would guess 18 – 20 year olds, in a wide open area with many benches on the edge of the wide walkway, crashed into M from both sides, sandwiching her, while one tried to get to her backpack. This time M violently got out of the sandwich by twisting her body away and the two girls ran away.

The site of the second pickpocket attempt near the royal palace. I think the audacity of the second attempt in an open space in broad daylight while other people actually sat on benches and watched the whole ordeal unfold and did nothing surprised me most about the incident.

The first and the second attempted pickpocketing happened in a blink of an eye, not more than 2 seconds I would guess from contact to escape. Twice targeted in the first hour of being on Madrid’s streets? Not the best introduction to a new city. Coincidence? Or was there a message?  From then onwards M swapped her backpack for a small on-the-belt pouch. Luckily there were no further pickpocket attempts during our trip. But these attempts had negative consequences on the rest our vacation in that I was never really relaxed thereafter, looking over my shoulder all the time.

We hopped back onto the bus and a few stops later we found ourselves in the heart of Madrid, the Puerta del Sol Plaza, where we hopped off again. The plaza was packed with people and a quick look around confirmed that it really is a nondescript place devoid of any real beauty or interest. Very much like New York’s Time Square; nothing more than a traditional place to get together, a hub. Still jittery after our pickpocket experiences, I however, wanted to get out of there and directed M in the direction of the nearby Plaza Mayor, Madrid’s other famous square.              

 Scenes of Plaza Mayor

By now it was late afternoon, tapas time, and we found the perfect place for it at the Mercado de San Miguel adjacent to the Plaza Mayor. Oh My! I have never seen so many delicate, appetizing, mouth-watering dishes together under one roof. Pure food porn! I have been to many food markets on my travels, I love to go to them. I have drooled in Florence’s iconic Mercato di San Lorenzo and in the irresistible Les Halles D’Avignon. I have bought vegetables for a made-from-scratch Bolognaise sauce at the massive street market in La Spezia, Italy, and sharp cheese and black olive bread on the Tuesday morning market in the tiny hilltop village of Gordes, France, and ate strange fried balls and other unknown delicacies on Kuala Lampur’s Jalan Petaling, but Mercado de San Miguel was a culinary feast beyond them all, both on the eye and the palate. Obviously we changed tapas into dinner and unbeknown did the right thing.

 Mercado de San Miguel

Upon exiting the mercado we rested for a few minutes on some concrete balls just outside the entrance and contemplated our next move. We were a bit tired from the travels from Barcelona that morning, but I had plans to join thousands of other Medrileans to watch a Semana Sante.  Suddenly several policemen on motorbikes stopped right next to us and started to cordon off the road and the entrance to Plaza Mayor in front of us. We were aware of the terrorists attack on Brussels airport 2 days earlier, and although not terribly alarmed I asked one of the policeman what is going on.

“Procession” he said.

“Alright!” I said to M and immediate got my phone out and googled which procession was to walk through Plaza Mayor.

 A picturesque little square near Plaza Mayor

It turned out to be a case of being at the right place at the right time for one of the highlights of our Spanish expedition. What a fortuity it was to see a traditional Spanish Semana Sante, a Holy Week tradition.  These processions, a nearly 500-year old tradition, through hilltop villages, coastal towns and the riverside cities of Spain, by highly committed Catholics, some wearing tunics and robes with conical shaped hooded hats and their faces masked, others playing in the band or carry the religious floats, are still revered and going strong among modern-day Spaniards.

More about that in a next post. Click here of The Holy Week Procession in Madrid.

 Plaza Mayor

Fruit Pies in Mercado de San Miguel

Friday, September 9, 2016

The Animals That Visit Lily Rose Ranch

There are very few things more enjoyable than watching the animals that visit Lily Rose Ranch. It is a joy and a privilege to share the land with them.

Top to bottom, left to right:
a Starling, an American Robin,
a Heron, a Blue Jay,
a Common Grackle, a White-throated Sparrow
a Yellow Finch, a Red Bellied Woodpecker

Top to bottom, left to right:
a Red Wing Black bird, a Northern Cardinal
a Mourning Dove, an Eastern Screech Owl
Canadian Geese, Buzzards
a Barn Owl, a Carolina Chickadee

Top to bottom, left to right:
An Opossum, a Gray Squirrel
A Whitetail deer, a Red Fox
A Raccoon, a Rabbit

[This year during spring a red fox had a den near the pond and gave birth to 3 little foxes. We use to sit on the back porch and watch them play. Luckily they showed no interest in the sheep who was in the pasture right next to the pond.] 

Top to bottom, left to right:
a Mocking Bird, a Carolina Wren
an Eastern Blue bird, a White-crowned Sparrow
a pair of Wood ducks (female & male), a Bay-breasted Warbler
a Green Violet-ear Hummingbird, a Brown-headed Cow bird

[The Carolina Wrens love to make a nest in our hanging baskets on the back porch. I suppose their nest gets wet quite often because we have to water the plants in the baskets.

Every night as sunset arrives the wood ducks come and invade the pond. One can see the silver streaks as they come the land on the water.]

Top to bottom, left to right:
an Eastern Box Turtle, a Snapping Turtle
a Copperhead snake, a Brown snake or cow-sucker
a Coyote, Wild Turkeys

[I have not actually seen a coyote yet, and I hope I never will because they will only be interested in the sheep, but I have heard them at night.]

Of course, millions of insects, bees, frogs, cicadas, butterflies, spiders also invade the farm during summer.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Sielskos en Theuns Jordaan in 'n Perdeskuur

Daar het dié week so ‘n klein stormpie in die Afrikaanse musiekbedryf se koppie boeretroos uit gebreek. Gert Vlok Nel, skrywer, digter, sanger, en ‘n diep seun van die Afrikaanse taal, het die sanger Theuns Jordaan daarvan beskuldig dat laasgenoemde glo sy liedjie Beautiful in Beaufort-Wes, 18 jaar gelede gesteel het en slegs skamelike tantieme van ongeveer R8,000 aan Vlok oor betaal het. Ai toggie! En dit terwyl Nel gekrepeer het van armoede in die Karoo en Jordaan meer as 500,000 eksemplare van die liedjie verkoop het.

Ek persoonlik het natuurlik geen haan in dié geveg nie. Tewens, ek het nog nooit voor vandag na die liedjie Beautiful in Beaufort-Wes geluister nie. Na ek die storie gelees het het ek na albie se weergawe van die liedjie gaan luister op Youtube en ek kan eerlik nie verstaan waaroor die bohaai gaan nie. Nog minder kon ek verstaan hoe op dees aarde Jordaan 500,000 eksemplare kon verkoop gekry het, each to its own I guess. Maar volgens my kennis van die musiekbedryf is dit nie die sanger wat ‘n ander sanger se musiek opneem se plig om tantieme oor te betaal nie, maar die oorsponklike musiek uitgewer se plig. Dit werk so wêreld wyd. En hoekom die musiek bedryf anders werk as die boek bedryf waar skriftelike toestemming verkry moet word van die skrywer om sy or haar werk te gebruik, dit kan ek ook nie verduidelik nie. So Gert Vlok Nel sal maar aan ‘n ander deur moet gaan aanklop om sy tantieme te herwin. Good Luck! Onthou wat gebeur het met Sixto Rodriguez.

Vanoggend, terwyl rëenbui na rëenbui oor Kentucky uitgesak het, ek die storie op Maroela Media raakgelees het en ek ‘n ongewone Saterdag “vry” het op die plaas, het die geskarrel in die Afrikaanse musiekskuur my laat heriner aan ‘n Saterdagaand so amper ‘n jaar gelede toe ek en M en ‘n klomp ander Suid-Afrikaners opgetrek het Shelbyville toe om na ‘n konsert van Theuns Jordaan te gaan kyk in ‘n perdeskuur. Hy was deur ‘n Suid-Afrikaner wat nou hier in Kentucky boer uitgenooi om te kom op tree op ‘n perdeplaas met die gepaste naam van Singing Hills Farm, natuurlik sonder enige bedoelde woord speling. Voor die konsert het ek geen idee gehad wie Theuns Jordaan is nie en ek en M moes eers na van sy musiek gaan luister het. Ons was nou nie juis bowled over nie maar ‘n saamtrek is ‘n saamtrek. Hy kon wel daardie aand Beautiful in Beaufort-Wes gesing het, ek het geen idee nie.


Ek sê “’n vry Saterdag” want die afgelope twee maande met elke vrye oomblik is ek, M en my seun al besig om die plaashuis se sederhout huisbedekking te “power wash’, af te skuur, te sandpapier en te verf  terwyl dit die warmste, natste, bedompigste en mees insekte-besmette somer is die afgelope 18 jaar in Kentucky. En enige iemand wat al hul huis buite om geverf het sal weet wat se enorme taak dit is. So ‘n reëntjie op ‘n Saterdag is eintlik ‘n verwelkoming. Ongelukkig was daar ander werk wat ek toe gaan gedoen het in die werkswinkel. Daar is nooit regtig iets soos ‘n vry Saterdag nie.

En die ongure weersomstandighede gedurende die somer het ook veroorsaak dat die groentetuin maar ‘n skrale oes voort gebring het. Vorige jare het ons altyd ‘n oorvloed van groenboontjies en tamaties gehad wat ingelê kon word vir kerrieboontjies en pastasous, maar vanjaar is daar te min. Dit wat geoes kon word moes dadelik gebruik word in ‘n dis. So terwyl ek op die agterstoep sit en ‘n koppie boeretroos drink en die rëen beloer met droewige oë, dink ek wat ek sal maak met die emmertjie tamaties wat ek twee dae gelede geoes het. Daar is eitlik maar net een oplossing. Iets wat ek al weke voor lus is. Tamatiebredie! Wat is dan nou lekkerder as skaapskenkel en tamatiebredie. Ek besef skaapnek is seker ‘n beter snit maar om skaapnek in ons geweste by ‘n kruidenierwinkel te kry is soos om vir kudobiltong in Amerika te soek. En die skaap wat ek laas geslag het, net soos alle ander skape, het ongelukkig net een nek gehad en dit is al lank gelede in ‘n Franse bredie verorber. 

Ek weet dit is nie winter in Kentucky nie, maar die bewolkte, renerige weer het my laat voel ek is genoop om ‘n bredie te maak. En wie het die reël neer gelê om te sê bredies is net winterkos? Sielskos bly sielskos, winter of somer.  Tamatiebredie is een van die egte tradisies wat Suid-Afrikaners van die Hollanders geerf het. Dit is so tradisioneel Suid-Afrikaans soos braaivleis, biltong, malva pudding en Hertzog koekies. By sommige mense is daar die persepsie dat die Maleiers bredies na Suid-Afrika gebring het, maar dit is eintlik ‘n dis wat seker in die Midde Ooste by die oer-oue mense ontstaan het en toe weswaarts na Europa gereis het. Ek is seker die Franse Hugenote het ook hulle stempel op sekere Suid-Afrikaanse bredies geplaas, maar die Hollanders en later die trekboere en hul swart driebeenpotjies het die grondslag gelê om bredies ‘n lekkerbekkig en ‘n kulturele erfstuk van te maak. Dis seker hoekom swaarboompotte, swart gegote yster vir die vuur of gekleurde Chasseur vir die stoof of oond vandag nog bekend staan as “Dutch ovens”.

En om bygaande impak te voeg by die gemoedstoestand van tradisionele Suid-Afrikaanse kookkuns het ek my kelder besoek en ‘n bottel Groot Constantia 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon gaan uitkies. Wat kan nou meer tradisioneel wees as voggies van die oudste wynplaas in Suid-Afrika, die een wat die grondslag gelê het vir wynbou in die land. Ek het die bottel gekoop tydens ons laaste besoek aan Suid-Afrika in 2010 en dit gehou vir ‘n spesiale geleentheid en sienende dat my swaer Godfrey vandag sy 50ste verjaarsdag daar in die Suidelike Halfrond vier, is dit ‘n ideale geleentheid om dié bottel Groot Constantia van sy opgekurkte aromas en smake te verlig.

Kaapse Tamatiebredie saam met Kaapse rooiwyn! Altyd ‘n uitstekende kombinasie!

Nou sit ek hier na aandete en in die woorde van daardie Worcester boytjie met die rooi veldskoene, David Kramer, “stoksiel alleen op ‘n Saterdagaand” maar gelukkig saam met M, op die agterstoep en sip aan my eie tuisgemaakte koppie Italiaanse cappuccino. Die tamatiebredie het fantasties uitgekom en die wyn was topgehalte. Definitief die hoë prys werd. Die storm in die Afrikaans musiekbedryf is vergete. Dit reen nog steeds en meer word voorspel vir die res van die nag. Maar die oomblik om te waardeer is nou. Die lewe is eenvoudig te kort vir margarine, geproseseerde kaas, TV dinners, Budweiser Light en goedkoop rooiwyn. 

PS: Ek sien nog 'n Afrikaanse troebadoer, Valiant Swart, is ook aan die kla oor booking agents en venue-eienaars wat maar traag is om te betaal wanneer hulle moet. Ek skat daar is ietsie wat stink en vrot is in die Afrikaanse musiekbedryf. 

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Provence, France Revisited

It is already quite something to find a bottle of Châteauneuf-du-Pape in a Kentucky liquor store, but then to find one of the vintage from the same year that I actually walked through that specific Château’s vineyard is really magic. Pure nostalgic value! What a coincidence! Of course, if you live in a wine region then this kind of thing can happen quite often, but not when you live a continent away and a visit to France is a rare occurrence.

The Discovery

But that is exactly what happened a few weeks ago when I wandered through a local liquor store’s aisles and stumbled upon three lone bottles of 2012 Château Mont-Redon. They were standing on the edge of the French section, alone by themselves with no indication of price. I thought I had to relieve them from their loneliness. I saw the store manager nearby and asked him to check the price, expecting to hear something close to or above $40, the usual price for an average Châteauneuf-du-Pape. After a few minutes of trying to find the wine in their computer system, he said that the wine was supposed to be sold out and there is no price in the system. So I gave him the eyes and said “Well, obviously it’s not.” He then asked me where I found it and I said “It was standing near other bottles priced at $16.” I did notice that they were in the process of reorganizing the store.

Then he gave me the eyes. He was deep in thought for a few seconds, looked at the bottle again and then smiled wryly, and said, “Ok, you found it. $16.” I thanked him, took the bottle, quickly walked away before he could have second thoughts and then went to collect the other 2 bottles too. Returning home I search the internet and saw that is selling it for $42 a bottle. What a bargain!

What’s for Dinner?

So come Sunday, M took out a frozen packet of ribs for barbequing, thinking it was pork ribs, but instead it was beef short ribs. Which, off course, can also be grilled successfully if you like your beef tender and still half bloody on the inside, but my family does not like their steaks that way. In any case, that Sunday by 1:00 pm it was 95 degrees Fahrenheit in the shade, the humidity in the 90s, meaning the heat index could have been well over a 100 degrees, and we fled inside to the cool of the air-conditioned house. There was no way I was going to stand in front of a hot grill in that heat. So it became another experimental Sunday afternoon in the kitchen.

I was not in the mood for a boeuf bourguignon; I made that a few weeks ago to accompany a bottle of Allesverloren Shiraz that M bought me some time ago. So I stuck my nose into Jacques Pépin’s near 700 page culinary bible, Essential Pepin, to see if I can find a Provençal classic to bring the best out of its Châteauneuf-du-Pape neighbor. And on page 323 I found something that looked interesting and which I could adapt to put my own stamp on, a Boeuf Daube Arlésienne, a beef stew that comes from the Provençal town of Arles.


Starry Starry Night

Arles, located on the banks of the Rhone River, and the surrounding area have been populated for the past 2,800 years by various civilizations, among other the Ligurians from northern Italy, the Celts, the Phoenicians, the Romans, the Moors from Spain, and eventually in 1378 it became part of the kingdom of France. During the late Roman era, the 4th and 5th Century AD, the town was very popular with Roman Emperors that used it as their headquarters during military campaigns in the region. The town still boasts several Roman ruins and buildings, including the magnificent colosseum-like amphitheater. But the town is probably more famous today for the 200-odd paintings that Vincent Van Gogh painted here during his 14 month stay in 1888 and 1889. The Night Cafe, the Yellow Room, Starry Night over the Rhone, L'Arlésienne and of course, Café Terrace at Night, is among the famous paintings Van Gogh painted here.

Vincent van Gogh's Café Terrace at Night in Arles

Another connection and point of nostalgia; During our 2012 visit to Provence we did not ventured as far south as Arles. Our furthest point south was Les Baux-de-Provence and Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, where we visited the Saint-Paul Asylum. Van Gogh came to Saint-Rémy after his Arles period and spent a year in the asylum from May 1889 to May 1890. During his Saint-Rémy stay he painted many canvasses of the hospital’s garden, the surrounding fields and the famous The Starry Night and Irises. Two months after Van Gogh left Saint-Remy he shot himself and died in the town of Auvers-sur-Oise, north of Paris.  

Starry Night.
Painted by Van Gogh while staying in Saint-Paul Asylum in Saint-Remy-de-Provence

Of course, we also visited the tiny enclave of Châteauneuf-du-Pape (see my blogs here and here about our visit.) Although we never went for a tasting at Château Mont-Redon, we had lunch just up the hill from the estate, but after lunch our guide stopped at the domaine to give us a short history about the area and to tell us about the importance of the river stones that are the “secret” to the wonderful wines made in this valley. And we went for a walk through the vineyards.

Taking a walk through the vineyard of Château Mont-Redon

Perusing the recipe I realized I had all the ingredients required for a Boeuf Daube Arlésienne, but I decided to replace the white wine the recipe asked for with red wine, making it a little heavier dish than the original. A few days earlier I opened a local Kentucky merlot, but after a few sips I destined it to be more suited for the pot than for my palate.  The merlot now came in handy. In order not to change the recipe into a bourguignon one has to have a light hand with the red wine. I was maybe a little too heavy handed because I marinated the short ribs in the merlot, some garlic and dried Herbes de Provence for about two hours. That in itself made it lean towards a bourguignon. Nevertheless, I am not going to publish my recipe because I am sure my daube did not taste at all like that of Pepin’s and the method I used was also much different than his. So it will be a gross injustice to Mr. Pepin to publish my adaptation or his recipe, because mine, I am in no doubt, was a far flung deviation from his.

I tested a piece of the short rib after browning it in the pot and it was melt-in-the-mouth tender.

It’s All About The Terroir

I have to admit I was in two minds about opening a bottle of Mont-Redon. It was only 4 years old, relatively young for a Châteauneuf-du-Pape red, but I was also charmed by its possibilities and by what it could offer at this tender age. I have learned over the years that modern wines could be surprising good at a young age and sometimes terrible at an older age. In the end my inquisitiveness and sentiment got the upper hand.  

The Château Mont-Redon.
In the family picture of the current owners, top left: Didier Fabre (front left), Yan Abeille, Jerome Abeille, Pierre Fabre and Jean Abeille (front right)

Wine has been produced on the Mont-Redon estate since the age of the Avignon Popes and the estate was first mentioned in historic documents from 1344 as “Mourredon’. Between then and the 1700s not much is known about the property until Joseph d’Astier, a lawyer from Avignon, obtained the property. His descendants, the Mathieu family owned the estate until about 1856 when, at the death of Clara Mathieu, the property was divided between her children. Shortly thereafter the phylloxera epidemic of the 1880s devastated wine-making at the estate and in most of the winemaking regions of the world. In 1923 when Henri Plantin obtained the property, Mont-Redon consisted of only 2.5 hectares of scattered vineyards. Plantin and his descendants actively worked to enlarge the estate, buying up adjacent land when it became available and today it consists of 186 hectares with 100 hectares under vineyard,  making it the largest single-vineyard estate in the Châteauneuf-du-Pape valley and one of the most well-known and respected producers of crus in the appellation.  The current owners, Jean Abeille and Didier Fabre, the 3rd generation descendants from Plantin, have also expanded their operations beyond the valley and now also produce Côtes-du-Rhône wines from 35 hectares they own across the Rhône River. 

In the glass the wine was a deep ruby red and still very purple at the rim. On the nose it was fruity with faint hints of chocolate and characteristically from a Châteauneuf-du-Pape wine, strong hints of licorice. But the proof is always in the pudding, and on the palate the initial taste had surprisingly strong tannins, with cherries and blackberries and the licorice was now shining through as if to confirm its terroir. The ending was rather abrupt and mildly spicy.

I thought I made a big mistake to open the bottle so soon with the tannins still grossly underdeveloped. So I let the wine rest while I continued with the Boeuf Daube Arlésienne, which by this time looked more like a bourguignon. In hindsight the Burgundian version was better suited for the wine in any case and I am sure there is a Provençal dish out there with red wine very similar to its northern cousin.

Finishing off a Mediterranean ensemble

An hour later to finish off the dish and to give it a more distinctive Mediterranean twist I added some Greek capers, Spanish Manzanilla olives, but to counter the vinegary taste of the olives and saltiness of the capers I added a teaspoon of “treasure” from our pantry to add sweetness, Confit d’Olive, all the way from Blaauwklippen Road in Stellenbosch, South Africa. The confit or mountain marmalade has a very unique flavor, and until I found it in a store in Lexington, KY, of all places, I would not have thought one could make jam from black olives. BTW, it goes very well with camembert or brie cheese on crackers.

The rest and the air did the wine a world of good. Although the tannins were still distinct, clinging to the tongue, it has mellowed a bit. The middle became soft and rounder and the aftertaste longer and a little spicier with a stronger hint of chocolate. (Oops! That sounds like I am describing a maturing woman. But don’t they always say a woman is like a good wine that gets better with time?)

The wine, made mainly from the Grenache, Shiraz, and Mourvèdre cultivars and topped up with Cinsault, Cournoise, Muscardin, and Varrarèse, was, to use a Kentucky term, a thoroughbred Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Overall the wine was a very good, fully bodied, well-balanced wine, a true grand cru that can only get better with age. It went very well with the food, which in the end turned out to be a classic I-like-to-cook-with-wine-and-sometimes-even-put-it-in-the-food experiment. How long the other two bottles will last time will tell.

What a bargain for $16?

My apologies Mr. Pépin, but in my hands your boeuf daube Arlésienne, turned out to be more of a Mediterranean-influenced boeuf bourguignon.

 The chef at work in the kitchen.