Bananas are apparently under attack again. I say again because back in the 1950s the Gros Michel banana supply was devastated by Panama disease and so the world switched to the Cavendish cultivar. The Cavendish is now under threat from a new strain of Panama disease called TR4 as well as something called Black Sigatoka. Don’t panic banana lovers! Scientists are making a GMO plan and besides, there are over 2000 banana cultivars out there. Some are very tasty but they may have spots on. I’m sure we can live with that.
Ok, so what do bananas have to do with my favourite herbs? Well, the crisis made me think about what I would do if my favourite herbs suddenly disappeared because of a fungus or nuclear war. If it was because of nuclear war I’d have to put both my heads together and think really hard about it. But for today this is my list, in no particular order, because I tend to cook with clusters of my favourite herbs.
First up is coriander; also known as cilantro in some parts of the world and dhania in others. It’s all very confusing but here’s the simple explanation. The Latin name for the herb is Coriandrum sativum, hence it being called coriander in the UK and many other countries. Cilantro is the Spanish translation of coriander and this is what it’s called in the US. I bet Donald is already tweeting how he loves coriander but hates cilantro even though he doesn’t eat it and that cilantro farmers must “send it back”.
In India and South Africa (except in the supermarkets) it’s called Dhania and tastes just wonderful. To me. I add it to everything. I steam my curries with fresh coriander and add it to salads and rice dishes and omelettes and… It’s not for everyone though. I thought my friend was just being weird and picky when she said she hates coriander. Turns out that some people have taste buds which make coriander taste like soap. We all know what soap tastes like. Fu@!&#ing hate the taste of soap! So it’s sad for my friend, but she wouldn’t care if coriander was wiped out. I have a secret stash of seeds just in case. Well, they’re not really coriander seeds but we’ll need those seeds in the event of nuclear war.
My next herb is garlic. I cook pretty much everything with garlic as well. As a natural antibiotic, garlic is a handy herb to keep illness at bay, and apparently vampires too. For the same reason. Russian folklore has it that vampires are created by a blood infection, which garlic would obviously kill. A shortage of garlic could therefore open us up to a vampire invasion. If this is something that worries you, here’s a kit that might help:
Vampire Repellent Kit
- 1 wooden stake (sharpened)
- Holy water (enough to sprinkle) Tip – store this in something hard (not plastic) so that you can throw it at the vampire if you run out of the water.
- 2 silver crosses
- 15 garlic cloves (peeled but not chopped)
Right, on to my 3rd herb – Thyme. Now, some of you may claim that Thyme is a man-made construct and that it bends around itself so that yesterday is today and tomorrow all at once. Firstly, I think you are confusing Thyme with one of my other favourite foods – shrooms. And secondly, maybe you planted it in the wrong spot in the garden? Perhaps it’s just following the sun? And now you’re going to tell me that the sun doesn’t move around us and that the earth rotates around the sun. Which brings me back to my first point and another simple recipe.
- 1 shroom (not finely chopped)
- 1 corner (rondavels won’t do)
- Pop shroom into mouth
- Go sit in the corner
- Contemplate the true meaning of being (do not look at navel)
I’m not a huge fan of rosemary, but can you say the words rosemary and thyme without starting to sing about the unlikely possibility of going to a Scarborough fair? Which brings me to Parsley. Not a fan of that either. Sage? Meh….Mint! I do love mint. I chop fresh mint into baked beans and add a teaspoon of mayonnaise… I’m weirdly English about baked beans. Oh and mint on ice-cream and of course in a jug of sangria. I love mint! Can you say mojitos?
Mega Mojitos Recipe
- 1 bucket of lime juice
- 1 jug of sugar
- 4 buckets of white rum
- 4 bushes of mint leaves
- 1 bucket of club soda
- 1 small Alaskan iceberg (roughly chopped)
- Throw lime juice, mint leaves and sugar into a tin tub
- Stomp around in the tub until you start giggling with joy
- Add rum while giggling with joy
- Get out of tub and add ice and club soda
- Drink with friends while confirming the thyme theory
Finally. My last favourite herb. No, not the newly legalised dooby herb. It’s fennel. I love liquorice and fennel has a similar taste. One can’t add too much to a dish. It’s a trick to get the subtleness. My favourite fennel dish is the fennel and leek pasta with smoky cheese sauce and caramelised walnuts that Analize and I created. I won’t joke about fennel. It’s a seriously important herb that I would struggle to live without. Fennel and the big four.
And that’s my list. Which 5 herbs would you not want to live without, and can you tell us why?
As a vegetarian, making gravy for a traditional roast with only veg can be tricky. Usually I’d use Ina Perlman’s gravy powder, but this week I decided to try a red wine reduction instead. I googled to find a recipe, but straight away hit a huge, insurmountable problem! The recipe called for leftover wine. So, I googled Leftover Wine, thinking it was the brand name of some special red wine reduction ingredient. Turns out it’s the wine that people don’t drink the night before. Obviously, I had to give up on my plan to make a red wine reduction right there!
But then Analize explained to me that I could also use the horrible box wine that’s been in my cupboard forever. A while back someone told me that Woolies dry red box wine is the best kept secret in town, and so I decided to try it and see for myself. It’s not a secret. Nobody’s talking about it because it’s not true. That particular box wine was undrinkable. At least for me. But it would do for a reduction.
So…what is a red wine reduction anyway? It’s basically red wine that’s been heated until the volume of the liquid has been reduced by approximately half. It’s tasty because it keeps the red wine flavours without tasting overwhelmingly alcoholic.
The science behind it is interesting and a tad confusing. We know that wine contains both ethyl alcohol and water molecules. Alcohol evaporates at a lower temperature than water (78 degrees Celsius for alcohol vs 100 degrees Celsius for water), so strictly speaking, when the wine is heated, all the alcohol should evaporate long before the water starts to boil and evaporate. Because of this, we would expect that once reduced to half its volume, the wine reduction would contain no alcohol at all. But it does! The good news is that it retains up to 10% of the alcohol.
But why is this? Apparently, this happy phenomenon is due to something called hydrogen bonding, which involves weak electrostatic forces. In the world of molecular bonding this can be compared to the vague attraction you may have to a fling as opposed to the lifelong connection to your soulmate. Nobody would waste a good Shiraz getting dronk verdriet over the breakup of two hydrogen bonded molecules. I’ve just finished watching season 6 of Sex and the City. Can you tell? So…these forces form weak bonds between the molecules of the two liquids in the wine, to create a uniform mixture known as an azeotropic mixture. When the mixture is heated, the hydrogen bonding ensures that some water molecules evaporate along with the alcohol, while equally ensuring that some of the alcohol molecules remain bonded to unevaporated water molecules. Remember that red wine on average contains not more than 14% alcohol to begin with, so the final reduction percentage makes sense. Does it? Or is it just that handy wine maths thing again?
The recipe is not rocket science, once you get around the leftover wine conundrum. You fry onions in olive oil or butter then add the wine, rosemary and vegetable stock. Simmer until the volume is reduced by about half. If you want less alcohol in your reduction, reduce the wine to half its volume first, before adding the vegetable stock and reducing it further.
I just love being a vegetarian!! So many reasons and ways to “drink” wine. Anyone for lunch?
I started watching Sex and the City this week. Not for the series itself but because I wanted to watch New York. I have a love affair with New York. My heart was broken in New York. I have a need to return to New York to heal this brokenness, but until I make it there… I watch Sex and the City.
So as you probably know, the series is about four New York women struggling with all things to do with sex and relationships and occasionally friendships. It’s a bit retro. There are scenes with the twin towers and all four of them are straight. If it was more contemporary, at least one of them would be a gay woman. Ironically, one of the actresses is a gay woman. Why am I going on and on about this? Oh yes…
I have a mixed bunch of friends here in Cape Town, a city where you’re not supposed to be able to make friends at all. I have tons. So do my friends. And just like the four women from Sex in the City, when life gets tough I reach for my besties, and when I do they always carry me across those stormy waters. And that journey is always accompanied by a particular wine. It’s a ritual. A different ritual with every friend.
My oldest friend in Cape Town is a school friend who I met when I was about 13 years old. We were hooligans as teenagers and nothing has changed. Except now she knows that I’m gay and I know she doesn’t give a damn that I am. That closet door has been in splinters for a long, long time now. So once a week we get together at the Wild Fig near Observatory for girl talk. We always order their house Shiraz and chilli poppers. The house Shiraz apparently is from an estate in Paarl which is one of the black owned wine farms in the area. Why does that matter? It doesn’t. Except perhaps to break the stereotypical notion that wine making is exclusively in the white domain. It’s not. And who cares anyway. The point is – this wine has become the centre point for hours of sharing about family, lovers, work and growing as well as dying dreams. There is a certain comfort that I feel when I think of the Wild Fig house Shiraz. It has become part of our friendship ritual. Without it, my life would be less. (Cue the violins please). I’m labouring the point here, but the wine… and the chilli poppers… they represent part of the glue of my life that keeps me sane.
And just up the road from the Wild Fig and my home is another group of crazy friends. They live in this huge house in Rosebank owned by the most generous person I’ve ever met. Pretty much once a week we get together for a dinner party, which inevitably ends up being an evening of fierce debates and wild dancing. The first time I was invited for dinner and ended up dancing on her dining room table, I felt the need the next day to message the host and apologise for being such a hooligan. What a laugh. I didn’t realise that that is just an average Friday night for them. Now this friend has good taste in everything…friends especially! But also, in food and wine. She can whip up a gourmet meal for twenty people without breaking a sweat. I often find myself staring at the spread and saying, “I’ll never invite anyone to my place for dinner, ever!”
She only drinks one wine though. She has settled on the Haute Cabriere pinot noir and nothing else will do. It’s a truly awesome wine, described as reflecting the feel of a forest floor and with hints of tobacco and truffle. I enjoy a pinot noir in summer, but it’s not for everyone. One party goer bluntly said she didn’t care for it, and when I asked her what wines she preferred, she very confidently said “I don’t have a favourite wine. I either like the wine when I taste it, or I don’t”. We will be good friends! Because, with at least 5000 wines in the Western Cape alone, it seems a shame to limit oneself to just one. How did I come to that figure? Well, upwards of four-hundred and fifty wine farms with possibly more than five wines per farm and then the different vintages. It’s a lot of different wines! Five thousand adventures just waiting to be experienced.
Occasionally someone will bring another wine, but it sits in the cupboard forever. I play around with the Haute Cabriere when I’m there. I’m irreverent like that. She has one of those aerators that are all the rage now. I just love the sound the wine makes as it pours through the aerator. I tend to pour more than I should because of that sound. Uber makes money off me because of that sound. It’s a wonderful gurgling of promise. I love it! And when new people come to dinner I pour them Haute Cabriere through the aerator. They all have the same confused expression when I do and they all ask why I’m doing it. I explain about the aerating of the wine to soften the tannins and how it foregoes the need to let the wine breathe, but actually for me it’s just to hear that gurgling, ssshhhhlurping sound as it swirls through the vortex and into the glass. Evil I know. Especially since one is not supposed to aerate a pinot noir. But wine is an adventure and we make the adventure up as we go along. The joy of wine is not always just in the tasting.
Analize is a different wine friend. With her anything goes! We have tasted wine that she used for cooking and I simply threw down the drain. That’s rare though. Even the dodgiest of wines have something about them that is interesting. And that’s the fun of our wine blog adventure. For us we’re always looking for that wine that will make us go “oh my God!”. And on those days when the wine isn’t all that, we make sure that we’re having fun in some outlandish, and often slightly illegal way.
My friend Sue is in Cape Town on holiday and, as we always do, we planned a day of adventure and catch up chats. I decided to share with her some of the cool spots that Analize and I have discovered on our wine tasting PQs (we still haven’t shared with you what that means yet) and it turned up some huge surprises. Mostly good. But one very surprisingly bad.
The day started out rainy (happiness and consternation all rolled up in one) so we headed for the mountains rather than the sea. And there – right there – is the beauty of living in Cape Town. How many people can wake up and choose mountain or sea and know that either way it will be a wonderful day out? So, mountain it was. I googled wine farms with fireplaces, because in the Cape it’s still freezing in late September, while the folks up north are sitting in a sweltering heat wave. As it turns out – pretty much all the wine farms have fireplaces.
The theme of the day was wine farms with a difference. First stop was Vergenoegd, to watch the duck run. The farm has over 1000 ducks and geese, which are used to control the snails and pests in the vineyards. We got there a few minutes late, because someone (not me) overslept and someone (of course me) got a teeny bit lost along the way. The ducks are fascinating, with so very many different breeds. The Bali, Runner, Call and Crested ducks are amongst the award-winning ducks bred on the farm. It was so sweet to watch the toddlers trying to catch the ducks, then run squealing into mommy arms when they almost did. And the ducks must be used to it all, because they made such a game of teasing the tiny tots.
Although the sky was dark and dramatic, with a fine drizzle falling, there was a young couple sitting on a blanket on the grass, feeding each other, instead of the ducks. They’d obviously planned a romantic picnic for the day and refused to give up on their future perfect memory. That made me all warm and fuzzy to see. By then we needed coffee and food ourselves and the fabulously stocked deli and wonderfully helpful staff at Vergenoegd came to the rescue. After a few bites of an almond croissant (and a long conversation about how the French possibly pronounce kwaasaant) I charged off to take photos of the dark clouds and then ran back with arms swinging like a windmill, calling to Sue “let’s go have fun!”. Apparently, my sugar rush had arrived like a hurricane! So off we went to have fun.
On the way out we passed these small vines, and Sue asked if they were “new vines”, but I heard her say “are they Gluhweins?”. A very confusing conversation followed… but wouldn’t it be great to grow Gluhweins? How about vegan eggnogs?
Next stop was de Morgenzon. Why? Because of the classical music that’s played into the vineyards 24hrs a day to encourage the vines to produce spectacular grapes. Sue was blown away by that. And the guard very kindly agreed to let us walk up the private road to have a look at the flowers planted alongside the vineyards. It’s absolutely breathtaking… the number and variety of beautiful plants. There were squirrels as well. I love squirrels. Some people say they are just rats with cute tails, but I love squirrels. We saw one chase a nut along the road then race up a tree and fly from branch to branch like an avatar. What would life be without classical music, squirrels and wine. De Morgenzon naturally is one of my favourite wine farms.
There was a rather serious group of people doing a wine tasting when we arrived, so we decided to head off to Jordan (the wine farm, not the country) for a quick lunch. The guard was so upset! “Where are you going?” he asked us, in a very “this was not the agreement” tone. He reluctantly let us go (with a big smile) when we told him we would be back. Jordan proved to be the perfect lunch spot. The restaurant was warm and cosy and we were greeted with equal warmth by the waitrons. We ordered the Vegetarian Flammkuchen, which Charity patiently pronounced over and over, until we could pronounce it too. Flammkookken I think is how it’s pronounced. It was delicious!! Basically it’s a pizza base with crème fraiche instead of cheese and with butternut, feta and some kind of smoked onions as the topping. Delicious!! Oh.. and they made a plan to serve us the freshly squeezed breakfast juice of orange, apple, ginger and carrot, even though it was lunchtime. Delicious food, fantastic staff and a spectacular view… I recommend Jordan if you’re looking for a day out and a great lunch.
We didn’t do a wine tasting at Jordan because we’d promised the guard at de Morgenzon that we’d be back. I know that I will be going back to Jordan for a lunch and wine tasting sometime soon though. Our guard was surprised, but very happy, to see us back. Inside we were introduced to Benjy the cat, who was sleeping in front of the fire so soundly and at such an impossibly squashed up angle that I had to check to see if he was alive. A young man came rushing over to say how pleased he was to see us back and how concerned he’d been to see us disappear earlier. de Morgenzon’s wines have won multiple awards and have some very interesting characteristics. The wine maker remains true to the traditional methods while introducing a South African aspect to the Spanish and French influenced wines. I heard about petit syrah for the first time. I’m going to investigate this further.
Sue is getting married soon and thought the beauty and elegance of de Morgenzon would be perfect as a wedding venue. The wine farm is owned by Wendy Applebaum, who is currently the richest woman in Africa. I can see why she is such a phenomenal success…. If her staff are anything to go by. She clearly understands the value of connecting to the customer. And, of course, anyone who believes that playing classical music to vines will bring out the best in the wine is absolutely someone that I can relate to. Getting back to the wedding venue… apparently only friends get to have their wedding at de Morgenzon. So, because Sue is such a special friend, I plan to become a great friend of Wendy Applebaum, because I can’t imagine a more beautiful or elegant setting for a wedding. “Good luck with that” I hear you say. “Challenge accepted”, I reply.
On to the Canettevallei lavender shop we went. “Wow” is all I can say. They have lavender soaps and lavender jams, honeys, candles… you name it. Sue bought me candles, soap and strawberry and lavender jam for my birthday, which is coming up. I haven’t had jam in my home for 4 years now because I’ve weirdly been waiting for the perfect jam. I think this is it! I’m excited!
Now… this is where the day takes a rather dark and unhappy turn. Bear in mind that we were in the general area of Stellenbosch at de Morgenzon and Jordan, which is faaaar away from Somerset West. I decided to show Sue a wine farm that in the past has been a favourite, and one that I have always taken my visiting friends to: Waterkloof. We arrived at 16:40, which granted was very close to their advertised closing time of 17:00, but I’ve never been turned away from a tasting by any wine farm, ever. Until today. We were told that the wines were “locked away” at 16:30. Even though they advertise that their wine tastings are open till 17:00. I asked if they could accommodate us in anyway, because I’d especially brought my Joburg friend to experience their wines. No, sorry. After some persuasion they agreed to let us buy a glass of wine. At R90 a glass. I’ve tasted wines at over 100 wine farms and I can assure you that no Waterkloof wine is worth R90 per glass. “Could we sit on the deck and enjoy the view?” we asked. No, the deck was closed. Why? Nobody knows. And so we left. The restaurant had one table of diners. It would have been no trouble to accommodate us. They just couldn’t be bothered. I won’t be taking any more of my friends to Waterkloof. Why would I, when I can take them to Vergenoegd, de Morgenzon or Jordan?
I was grumpy, but Sue is a wise soul, and on the way back from what we did next, she pointed out that what we had experienced in the day was exactly what we needed to experience, for whatever reason. And by then it all made sense.
After the Waterkloof disaster Sue said she was hungry (I’m a terrible host sometimes) so we headed off to a tried and tested favourite spot… Peregrine Farmstall. Aaaah their pies are awesome! They have vegetarian pies to die for, unlike the Houw Hoek pie spot, which has a million pies but not one vegetarian pie. There’s nothing like a pie and coffee at Peregrine. It’s one of those Cape traditions that I love. And while we were enjoying our feast, Sue explained the fun and amazingly simple concept of pure distilled emotions. She’s a relationship counsellor guru so she has a cool way of looking at things in a way that makes it all ok. We feel 5 basic emotions: mad, bad, sad, glad and fear. I said to her that I was feeling disappointed that I’d been unable to share what I’d anticipated would be an amazing experience at Waterkloof, and she said perhaps I was mostly feeling sad. And I was. But not for long.
Because… on the way back, we stopped at the lookout point which overlooks Gordon’s Bay and Strand. The same dramatic clouds from earlier were now swirling, lifting and falling above the mountains like one living, breathing entity, but this time glowing with the pinks of a drama queen Cape sunset; yellow wild flowers everywhere; the sea far below shining silver with the bits of breakthrough sunlight. Sue and I both share a Pantheistic type belief, so we were both very aware of the energy of the beauty we were experiencing. All the while, I was eyeing the crosses on the hillside with fantasies of a late night chainsaw and ridding my friend Analize of a huge irritation. Wicked grins all round. And so… the day panned out exactly as it was meant to. I felt glad.
I’m an activist of sorts… I won’t elaborate because I don’t want to end up in jail. Well, I’ll elaborate a bit. I’ve marched in the Gay Pride long before it was Gay-Friendly Pride. On those marches we were literally spat at by certain of the soon to be previously disadvantaged masses. On one occasion a few bible toting parents arrived with their tiny tots and a megaphone, to politely explain to us why we were being frowned upon from above…. Actually, it was more about burning in hell and a lot of judgments backed up by misquoted Leviticus (yaaaawwwnnnn) BS. Sorry – but a lifetime of bigotry will make one grumpy. Long story short – the Megaphone Mouth assumed that the gay folk were vulnerable and passive and did not expect a group of gay skinheads to beat the crap out of them. I don’t support violence but, on that day, I was rooting for team skinheads. I’ve been teargassed for being gay and there was the scary day when I was given 24 hours to vacate my flat as a student because my partner was not the correct shade of “I’m the boss of you” beige. So yes, there are signs of activist anarchist in me.
I’m also a bit of a feminist. I’ll stand up for women’s rights. If needed. I’m not sure if I’m needed now in the world of wine tasting, but I’ve noticed a strange new way of describing Shiraz that’s suddenly appeared on the scene. I mean suddenly! Analize and I have been regularly wine tasting for over a year now and I have never heard a Shiraz being described as a “Ladies” shiraz before. Suddenly I’ve heard it twice in one week. On both occasions I’ve been shocked and asked “what do you mean, ladies shiraz?”. They can’t explain what they mean. One person described it as having less “oomph”. Another said “ladies” like their wine to be less spicy, implying easy drinking I guess.
I can’t find the top of my head. It’s blown off with WTFness!! So… I suspect that some idiot in the industry has decided to market the more subtle Shiraz wines to women, with the selling point of it being not terribly challenging to the taste buds and not very complex, for us little ladies. At last! Thank goodness! A complex spicy wine that us women can finally enjoy, because it’s not complex and spicy. Where the fuck is the top of my head?? Ok… I’m calming down… trying to calm down.
I decided to research /Google if women and men experience taste differently, to see if this was scientifically based BS or just an idiot’s idea to sell more wine. Once I got past the google results about the taste of vagina… (I kid you not… You type in the words “men” and “women” and “taste” and google assumes you’re referring to vagina) I discovered some interesting views on this subject. (BTW – I know I’m being way more crass and “in your face” rude today but I will explain why later) Ok, where was I? Oh yes – so it turns out that women are better at tasting than men (food and wine that is), supposedly because they need to be, for the survival of the species… Something to do with poisonous berries and vrot food. There is some debate though that it’s because women are more able to focus on the task of tasting than men. Given time, men will catch up, apparently. Women are more likely to be supertasters than men, which could explain the assumption that women would prefer a more subtle shiraz, since supertasters avoid spicy foods.
I’m not buying it though – the “subtle shiraz for ladies” story. I’ve been told that I’m quite male in my makeup – not my actual makeup – I’m not a drag queen… but I admit I have many male characteristics. For instance – I get better looking the older I get (not) and I get a beer paunch in October. If I enjoy a shiraz, is it because of this? Probably not! Analize loves a complex, spicy shiraz, and she is definitely not a male. My mother, who is 78 years old and puts actual face makeup on every day, loves a complex, spicy shiraz. Also, not a male. So, I reject this notion that women are “weak” and lacking “oomph” as opposed to those strong, shiraz-tasting males of our society. Anyone located the top of my head yet?
I’m watching this shiraz space now. The next person who describes a shiraz as a “ladies shiraz” is going to have to explain the concept, outside of the context of our South African patriarchal society. Explain it to us please in wine speak – in a way that doesn’t insult me – a woman who enjoys complex and spicy, nuanced and intriguing wines.
And – the reason I’m rude and crude and in your face today is because this is what unapologetic women writers do and should do. Women traditionally censor their writing to appease others – instead of just writing all of their words. So, this is what I sound like when I’m hacked off! Did I say “hacked”? I meant f…..
I’m not a foodie like Analize. Apparently some people are supertasters, and I always thought Analize was one, but I think I may be wrong. Supertasters taste foods with greater intensity, according to research, and (shock! horror!) tend to avoid alcohol or salty, fatty foods. That pretty much disqualifies Analize, because she is a food adventurer who will go where no other person will willingly go, as far as food is concerned. And life, come to think of it. I think she simply has such a vast knowledge of food and tastes and the talent to make taste associations that many of us lack. Perhaps she is both. I am definitely not a supertaster. I gravitate towards the heavier, structured tannic wines, such as cabernet sauvignon and syrah, which supertasters will avoid like the plaque, because of the strongly astringent taste of these reds. One can do a supertaster test which involves staining your tongue with wine (actually, it’s blue dye, but wine will do) then counting the pink papillae taste buds on your tongue. Taste buds don’t stain as much, so will be the pink ones. Supertasters will have more than 30 pink papillae visible. Analize – you need to do the test! We need to know if you are over 30!
And so, because I’m not a supertaster, I’m on a mission now to create the perfect Devil Wears Prada Jarlsberg Toasted Cheese Sandwich (DWPJTCS). I had a long discussion with Analize about this at a braai once, in front of a friend who tried so hard to engage in the conversation. Eventually she just said “you two are completely nuts!”, before moving off to join a raucous rugby debate instead. She has no idea! She should have been there the day we debated for ages about the best wine to pair with a nutpuff.
I find it very disconcerting though that nobody remembers that scene in The Devil Wears Prada, when Nate makes Andrea a Jarlsberg cheese toasty, and she doesn’t want it, which flags the beginning of the end for them. It’s a sad moment that nobody notices, but for some reason I did. Maybe because for me, how I experience love is very bound up in food. If someone cooks a meal for me with care and love, it means everything to me. If someone experiments with food recipes and shares the meal with me, I interpret that as trust. If someone takes me to an unusual vege restaurant (like Raw and Roxy) and takes photos of my happy reaction to the crazy original tastes, I experience that as tribe-love. I think because I have such trust issues, I will push my metaphorical plate away at the first hint of “something being rotten in Denmark”.
So, in the mix of the rejection I saw in that Devil Wears Prada scene, the word “Jarlsberg” became imprinted in my memory, and triggered some weird healing necessity in me, which has manifested in my quest for the best DWPJTCS. It was not a total surprise then, years later, to find myself in a gallery in the MOMA museum in New York, standing next to Stanley Tucci, who plays Nigel in the movie. We were both staring engrossed at a Kandinsky. He didn’t recognise me from that time I watched him in the movie, and I didn’t want to embarrass him by saying “Hi, it’s me”, so I just quietly enjoyed the synchronicity of the DWPJTCS moment.
Jarlsberg is not a Danish cheese, which means Shakespeare’s warning of rottenness does not apply, however it does originate from the Scandinavian country of Norway. It’s semi-hard (but mostly soft) with a nuttiness and big gaping holes. It melts easily and its initial sweetness grows into a basket of complex flavours, which some people may not enjoy after a few bites. My very distant ancestors originate from Norway. I wonder if maybe I’m a Jarlsberg cheese trapped in a human body?
Jarlsberg cheese is not readily available in South Africa, so it was a long journey of searching before I finally had a chance to create the best DWPJTCS. The woman at the cheese factory was a bit worried when I started dancing and whooping in front of the imported cheese fridge, the day I stumbled upon my “worth gold” cheese… such happiness. There’s no way a supertaster would ever be that happy over cheese.
My first attempt was a flop. White sweet dough bread. Epic fail. I had this idea that Jarlsberg is a salty cheese and easy to pair up with a simple bread, but it’s so much more layered in flavour than that. It needs a particular type of bread, with a unique complexity…. a bread with holes of its own to allow the melted cheese the freedom to flow wherever it must. Analize had suggested a ciabatta. I chose an olive ciabatta. It turned out to be the perfect match. I sprinkled Hot English Mustard onto the cheese and added a half a twist of coarse salt. The real secret though is to spread a ton of salty butter on the outside of the bread, so that when the melted cheese oozes out between the holes in the olive ciabatta, it mixes with the butter, to form golden brown, crispy pockets of popping flavours to the toasty. Nate would have known this.
According to the wise foodies, because Jarlsberg is a semi-hard, medium aged cheese, it should pair nicely with a medium-bodied, slightly fruity wine – a chardonnay or merlot perhaps. I decided to try pairing my DWPJTCS with a wine that I recently discovered and love – The Old Man’s Blend from Groote Post. It’s a red blend of 60% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Shiraz, 3% Cabernet Franc and is aged in 300 litre 3rd fill French oak barrels for 12 months. This wine is a little gem in my opinion. Restaurants will offer it as their cheaper option red blend, ahead of what I consider to be not so great wines. I was out and about over the weekend, with a friend from Jozi, who insisted on paying and asked me to choose the wine. Normally, if someone else is paying, I’d choose the cheaper wine and be not exactly happy with the choice, but when I saw The Old Man’s Blend on the menu, I was all smiles… big grins actually.
As it turned out though, The Old Man’s Blend wasn’t the best wine to pair with my DWPJTCS. Obviously the flavours contributed by the salty butter and olive ciabatta, along with the mustard, added more complexity to the toasty, and somehow the fruitiness of the wine became enhanced, which did not compliment the DWPJTCS. I’ll try to pair it next time with a subtle Waterkloof syrah or maybe a Paul Cluver pinot noir. Perhaps it would go spectacularly well with the Morgenster 2005 merlot, which has a hint of spiciness. And so the journey continues…
I can’t say that my current DWPJTCS is the best and final version, but it did fill me with happiness to savour the taste combinations, so I assume I’m on the right track. Let me know if you create your own DWPJTCS, how it turned out and what wine you paired it with. First challenge though… finding that Jarlsberg! Second challenge… convincing Anne Hathaway to share it with me.
We went wine tasting at Waterkloof (again) this weekend and again it was fascinating to hear about the sustainability initiative of the farm and the particular style of the winemaker. Waterkloof has full biodynamic and organic certification, making use of horses, compost teas and homemade microbial fertilizers to ensure that the farming principles are aligned and in harmony with nature. Their commitment is to allow 50% of the farm to be reserved for the rare and indigenous plants which grow naturally on the Schapenberg. I like that. Usually I drink wine with all sorts of self-imposed guilt (my doctor said I don’t have to worry…) so this was great! I just focused on the environment and my teeny, tiny carbon wine tasting footprint and I was in a wonderful self-congratulatory bubble of happiness.
So, what did my doctor say about red wine? A lot of positive things, actually. It’s good for your back if you end up lying on the floor. Better if you’re under the table – in the event of an earthquake or random school shooting. That’s probably more the American wine varietals though. They could do with more Zen-wine over there. What else? Oh yes… antioxidants. We know about the benefits of that. You live longer apparently. It may all be wine fables though, but I’m willing to be a part of the non-placebo control group until it’s scientifically proven to be harmful. There is however the migraine side-effect, blamed on the tannins in the wine. Tannins are a big buzzword in wine tasting, but what are they and why do we care about tannin levels in wine?
The word “tannins” relates back to the process which uses plant extracts to harden soft leather, known as “tanning”. Tannins react chemically with the proteins in the animal hide to change the molecular structure and cause the hardening of the hides. Tanning of course is also the process of using plant extracts to darken the skin under sunlight, which eventually leads to the skin being referred to as leather. English is so cool! When I was a very young child, my Dad owned a leather shop. I would hide in the rolls of leather in his workshop – inside the rolled up leather, is what I’m trying to say – I have no idea why. Maybe I was shy? Probably because I was just weird. Did I mention before that I was a very, very strange child? I was. Still am. And the weird thing for me now, as an adult, is that I love the smell of leather, even though I’m a vegetarian. Complex people, us weirdos.
So how do tannins relate then to wine and red wine in particular? Tannins are found in the oak barrels used to ferment the grapes, as well as in the stems, seeds and skins of grapes used in the winemaking process. The tannins are thought to act as part of the plant’s defence system, allowing the grape to ripen without being eaten by the not-so-early bird who missed that first worm. With grapes in particular, nature has been very sneaky. Since the main function of the grape is to act as a carrier for seeds (I would argue that to be its second main function – the first being to act as a carrier of wine juice), it’s important that the grape stays on the down low until the seeds are mature. So, the grapes begin life small and green and nicely camouflaged in amongst the vines and leaves. These grapes are also extremely acidic, with aggressively harsh tannins, making them bitter and astringent to said lazy birds. At the right time, the berries become an attractive and noticeable red or purple colour, which coincides with the acidity diminishing, the sugar content increasing and the tannins softening. Enter the hungry birds.
What is it about tannins though that make the grapes unpleasant for birds to eat and the wine problematic for us humans to drink, when the levels are high and harsh? Well, tannins are said to bind to the proteins found in the mouth and saliva and cause precipitation of the protein molecules, which results in an astringent taste in the mouth. This also leads to a feeling of dryness in the mouth. The term “mouthfeel” is popularly used to describe the feel of the wine in the mouth. Very dry mouthfeel could indicate high tannin levels, apparently. I think dry mouthfeel just means no wine in the mouth!
And this is where food and wine pairing comes in. For wines with higher tannins, it’s better to pair these with fatty foods or foods high in protein. We’ve all heard that red wines, like cabernet sauvignon, should be paired with red meats. Generally, a cabernet sauvignon wine will have higher tannins than a merlot, and a pinot noir will generally have lower tannins than other reds. When you drink a wine higher in tannins and pair it with a protein like red meat, the tannins will react chemically with the alternative protein in your mouth, softening the effects of the tannins on your mouthfeel. When Analize and I do theoretical food and wine pairing, I of course try to think of vegetarian options to pair with the wine. I get so frustrated, because most of the time, all I can think of is a creamy pasta. Oh, speaking of which… I will be posting my recipe for smoky cream fennel, mushroom and leek pasta soon. I recommend pairing it with a the incredible Waterkloof Syrah. Yum!
And speaking of yum… there is this term I stumbled upon called “umami”. I thought it was pronounced “ummm yummmeeee”. Apparently not. It’s one of the five basic tastes, along with saltiness, bitterness, sourness and sweetness, and describes a kind of “meaty” savoury taste. This is the taste one should aim for to pair with higher tannin wines. For vegetarians, high yumyumee foods include the following: chocolate, cheese, cream, asparagus, peas, sweet corn, beans, carrots, sweet potatoes, soybeans, cabbage, avocados, spinach, winter squash, pan-roasted root vegetables, mushrooms, black olives, balsamic vinegar, garlic, egg yolks and cooked celery, onions and potatoes. For non-vegetarians… I guess it would be meat? And of course chocolate.
Ok – so I’ve been going on about the basics of tannins and wines, but I haven’t shared too much about Waterkloof’s wines. Waterkloof is really an entire experience. Firstly, the tasting room and restaurant are situated in a beautifully modern building perched on the side of the hill. The views of the mountains and ocean are spectacular, whether you are sitting inside or outside on the deck. The award-winning restaurant produces dishes so intriguing that Analize sat like a drooling tennis spectator, watching the edible artworks leaving the kitchen. The wines… well, I recommend you go and taste them for yourself. You won’t be disappointed. And if you’re lucky, as we were, you will get Zandri van Breda, the tasting room manager, to talk to you about the wines and the farm. Her knowledge and passion is so off the charts, it made us want to drink more… and so we did.
Sometimes my mind meanders all over the place, picking up the strangest of thoughts and ideas along the way; usually while I’m meditating (sometimes I meditate with wine). One of those thoughts was about words which have the power to expand or contract one’s world, and the critical words and phrases which precede those potentially life-changing words. I did say strange thoughts.
Intense emotions can concertina into the smallest time frame when certain words are spoken. We speak these words linearly, which may allow time, as well as emotion, to expand and contract to accommodate expected words. One can live an entire lifetime between the words “I’m in love with…” and “…you” or “…someone else” – the words “I’m moving…” and “…in”, “…out” or “…on”. One’s heart could burst with happiness or break irreparably depending on the context. The moment before my first love said to me “I love you”, I knew that my world was about to expand in a way that would fill the entire universe. I was a teenager at the time so I was, of course, my own entire universe – and then it became her. Two years later the second between her “I love you…” and “…but I’m leaving” threw up a hurricane warning that my world was about to contract – and it did.
Many years ago my Dad phoned me late in the afternoon of Christmas eve. I immediately knew something was wrong, because my Mom was always the designated phoner and deliverer of all news, so hearing my Dad’s voice on the other end of the line meant only one thing – my Mom was in trouble, or worse. He confirmed my fears with the soften-the-blow phrase “I have some bad news…”. I stopped breathing and my heart stopped beating for that one second before he delivered said bad news. I started speed-bargaining with a God I’m not sure even exists, making outrageous promises and trying to turn back time to a point before I’d picked up the phone. Freezing time right there was one option suggested in exchange for a lifetime of prayer and subjugation. The last time my Dad preceded bad news with this critical phrase, he followed it with “…Jenny is dead”. My sister died over thirty years ago, but my world remains contracted in many ways since that phrase. On that day I was unprepared for “Jenny is dead”, in spite of the spoken warning of bad news, and I literally collapsed in a heap. When I heard the warning this time, I was more prepared, and immediately started erecting my emergency emotion scaffolding, to hold onto when the force of the impending contracting words hit me.
The feared words “Your Mother is dead” did not follow the warning. My Mom did however have a brain aneurysm and was having an emergency operation within the hour. I flew down on that Christmas day to be with my parents, not knowing if I would have the sequel to the bad news delivered on landing, and of course, being closer to where God is commonly thought to reside, I took the opportunity to pop in and discuss the whole affair. I took metaphorical cake as a friendly negotiating gesture – which is more than I got from the airline that day. I’m not sure why, but it still annoys me that we weren’t given cake on that Christmas day flight. My Mom survived and thrived, which is a reason to give thanks. I asked my Dad to change his soften-the-blow to “Your Mother is alive, however…”, but there is still that eternity that would appear before the expanding “…alive”.
What feels like yesterday, but was 8 years ago now, my Mom made the call that would leave yet another irreparable tear in my heart. I was expecting that call because my Dad had been ill for some months, and yet still, I found myself bargaining just one last time, appealing to both God and the laws of science, to cover all bases. My Mom and I had an agreement that if that call came and I was driving I was to pull over before she delivered the bad news. Of course, that made no sense whatsoever, but because we understood the phenomenon of expanding and contracting, we both knew there would be a window of opportunity to batten down the emotional hatches before the hurricane hit. As it turned out, I was safely tucked away in bed when the call came after midnight. I like to think my Dad planned it that way.
If I look back now, I can distill my emotional life down to just a few unrelated seconds, when the realisation of an imminent life-changing expression has brought home to me what I value. Not what I value most. Just what I value. Because in those seconds between critical words spoken, what I truly value is so simple it’s not enough to even make a list.
I commented to Analize the other day about how happy I’d been when we went wine tasting at Morgenster and how I seem to have slipped into a sad fog lately. She reminded me that I’d just reunited with my ex the day before Morgenster and that since then my ex has become a re-ex. Actually a re-re-ex. It’s always complicated isn’t it?
I think people come into relationships with different weapons of choice, which they hide in their emotional basement until the day after you fall in love with them. For some it’s just a very small stick that they use to prod and poke you over years until finally they draw blood. Others have those sharp knives and the skill to get it in between the ribs and into the heart with one thrust. I like that. But my most current ex. Re-ex… re-re… She is what I imagine Mr Bean would look like if he stumbled upon a semi-automatic gun. Gleefully tossing it around and playing with it in odd amusing ways – until it accidentally goes off and hits you in the leg. Not a mortal wound but incapacitating for a while. Bean seems concerned and tries to patch up the wound. But while trying to figure out the bandage the gun gets dropped and a shot goes off, hitting you in the chest but just missing the heart. Before you have time to look down Bean has tripped and trodden on the gun which fires a round straight through your eye and into your brain. Even if you wanted to… you can’t at this stage see a way to forgiveness or think of a single reason to go back. And Bean… realising what has just happened… drops the gun and runs away, legs and arms flailing about in a way that would make you laugh if you hadn’t just been riddled with their guilt. (It’s the V in SLVND- btw and FYI)
I still have a soft spot for her though. But I am sad. And that is what wine and friends are for. To help one to forget and to create the space for new people and experiences to come into one’s life. Festivals are the best tonic. Hundreds of friendly strangers on the same mission – to get through as many wine farms in one weekend as possible. Remembering them is optional. The wine farms that is. The people – well the interesting ones stick in one’s memory. The circumstances – not always. I have a very clear memory of solemnly pinky-swearing something with an American woman at the Franschhoek festival. I just cannot remember what. It may have been related to throwing tennis balls into a tyre in the lake to win a bottle of brandy, that’s where we were at the time, or it may have been something very important. It worries me – because for me a pinky swear is my word and my bond. And then there was Frank. From Tanzania. Or Nigeria… Zambia maybe? Somewhere north of Cape Town. He comes to South Africa every 3 months to look for “wine”. He wants to setup a “wine” collection and have private “wine” parties with his friends. We swopped numbers so that I could be his contact in South Africa for sourcing “wine”. He did say wine. I don’t know why I’m using the quotation marks. But you never know. I can’t really remember. (Could be the S… could be the D.. in SLVND)
We said we could only logistically do 7 wine farms in one day at the Franschhoek Festival, but we aimed to do 16 out of the 17. We made it to 10. Frank we met at farm number 6 and pinky swearing happened at farm 9. By the time we got to the last farm they were already packing up, but after we explained our epic mission to visit 10 farms (ok so we stretched our truth there) they poured us a whole glass of cab sav to celebrate. We weren’t at all sad that day.
And it’s not always about wine. We went to the olive festival in Riebeek Kasteel. There we got to sample every kind of olive and olive related anything, dipped in so much bread it’s a good thing I’m a carb nut. They had these tractors pulling trailers of hay bails which one could hop onto and ride to the wine farms in the area. We made it to one farm. We sat drinking our wine in amongst the vines until eventually someone came and told us they were closing and we had to leave. We thought ok, we’ll just catch the next tractor uber back to the town and our car. Not to be. The tractors had stopped running and we had to walk back. It’s the first time I’ve ever used walking maps on my iPhone. It’s scary when they say “in 1.5km turn left” when you’re walking and the sun is setting and you’ve had a day of drinking lovely wine. Scary that is until you realise that you are just one of many, many walkers with maps, giggling as the person mispronounces “Raybeek Kustell”. (It’s the L part of SLVND)
And then there’s the Wacky Wine festival in Robertson. Three days of non-stop wine farming. No time to be sad there. I was baptised in the wine tradition my first year in the Cape. Normally I wouldn’t dream of diving into a pool of any description in the middle of June in the Cape, yet somehow diving into a pool of red wine seemed like a good idea at the time. The idea was to dive for treasure at the bottom of the pool to win a prize. I didn’t win a prize. Firstly, you can’t see anything in red wine. Duh. And secondly it was cold! If it wasn’t a wine festival and everything that goes with it, I would have been like a cat when it hits water. You’ve seen that haven’t you? They twist themselves into pretzel shapes while their legs run so fast that somehow they jump out before they get wet. I reeked of red wine all of that day. Nobody noticed. (It was almost the N of SLNVD)
And this is why the Western Cape is the best place in the world to be sad. Because you just won’t be. You can’t be – not for long. Every week there is some or other festival. And on those wine festival-free weekends when you’re wallowing in sad self-pity, you get to do so with spectacular views and a beer in your hand. Because it’s October… and this is the Western Cape.
I’m studying for a degree in comparative religious studies. Comparative religious studies – not Christian theology. People ask me why and I always say “for fun”, but sometimes it’s really not fun. It wasn’t much fun the week that I had to write a research report on Atheism, because people can be so hateful when it comes to religious beliefs and non-beliefs and I was just grumpy about being lumped into the category of human being with this intolerance going on in the world. So I suggested to Analize that week that we find a wine estate with a religious connotation in the name. Just for fun.
We set off that Sunday with no plan at all. We did want to see flowers since it was the season and we’d heard they were out so we decided on the general direction of the Overberg. We stopped for a quick pic of the flowers and Analize commented that the word for “very quick” in Hawaiian is “wiki”, so we called it a wikipicstop. For some reason, perhaps we were chatting a lot, we drove past wine farm after wine farm without stopping. Eventually I said to Analize “I need wine. I really need wine now!”. Remember, I was grumpy. So I pulled into the very next farm we came to. I couldn’t see the name of the farm because the sign was facing in the opposite direction, but I saw that wine barrel sign that we love so much and that was reason enough. The wine farm was Creation. Creation is next to a wine farm called Mount Babylon and yet another farm called Jacob’s Vineyard. Who needs GPS when you have serendipity… some might say synchronicity? Certainly a barrel load of irony.
We drove in and this fellow winer..wino? winee? drove up right behind me and wanted me to stop taking photos and laughing and move my car, because he needed wine right now, apparently. I stopped laughing and let him pass, and then I saw a sign… an actual sign… that said “beware of the tractor”. For some reason that infuriated me. It seemed so prescriptive. And so I went on this tirade about nobody telling me what to do and if I want to lie in the road in the path of a tractor it’s my choice. Very grumpy. A little crazy. Clearly I needed wine. Analize was bemused at her usually calm friend having a road rage meltdown in the middle of a vineyard over her right to “death by slow moving agricultural equipment”, but afterwards we thought what a crazy irony it would be if I won the Darwin award for most idiotic demise on a wine farm called Creation.
Creation is a beautiful estate with gorgeous vistas from the tasting area. As we were seated two waitrons swooped with water and crispy rolls with a goats cheese dip, which to be honest made me feel really special. We were offered a choice of tastings. We could taste any four of the pleb range for R40 and then we could taste their premium wines for R20 each. Or taste the premium wines for so much and add this and that and the other. It was wonderful to be given the choice but it felt like a lot of calculating to be done. We were on a budget after all. Our wine tasting guide assured us that he would do “wine maths” for us and we were happy.
Because the Overberg wine farms are within 10 to 15 kms from the sea this region is known for its excellent pinot noir wines. Pinot noir grapes thrive in warmer pockets of cooler areas so the cool sea air flowing through the mountainous Overberg area creates an ideal climate for these thin-skinned grapes. Creation’s flagship “The Art of Pinot Noir” at R875 was certainly special and their 2015 Reserve Pinot Noir provided the lighter bodied wine experience we expect and love from the pinot noir wines in the Overberg. It was the 2015 Sumac Grenache however which proved to be the winner on the day for me. This spicy Grenache wine with hints of sumac, pepper and fruitiness took us by surprise. I actually have sumac in my spice rack, which my mother brought back for me from New Zealand, but I never knew what to make with it before. Now I know. Wine!
After our Creation tasting we stopped for a wikipicinic, because it was too freezing cold to sit and enjoy the view, and headed off to our next farm, which turned out to be Spookfontein. Wine tasting is free, they told us, however their licence allows for only 3 tastings. We said we’d each have two of those, hoping for six tastings. They were not amused. I forget which wines we tasted. They only had three available so there was no choice. We left wikily.
On to Newton Johnson, a family run estate with beautiful views and good wines. I was seduced by their 2014 L’illa with it’s burnt honey taste and bought a bottle of this desert wine for pairing. I’m not a foodie like Analize and can sometimes pair in outrageous ways which makes her pull a face of utter confusion. I could say this sweet wine would go well with a salty cheese such as Danish Kefalotyri and toasted, caramelised walnuts, but I would probably get that face. I’m going to try it and post the face for you to see.