Sunday, March 25, 2012


I've always had a love-hate relationship with salt. I don't cook with it because too much is supposed to be bad for you. Plus, there is enough salt added to all New York restaurant dishes to corrode everyone's arteries. I throw salt over my shoulder if I spill it because mum scared me once when I was little, by sharing the old wives tale about bad luck following me. And of course, every day in the news is a segment about how our kids are getting obese and diabetic and everything else because of the absurd amounts of salt and sugar added to all processed food.

But then think of all the wonderful things in our lives with salt. There's nothing better than the feel of salt water on your skin. And how many hair products have tried to replicate what salt water does to your hair! It's brilliant for sinuses when used in a neti pot. and the smell of salty sweat on the man you love is also pretty fabulous. Thrown directly on a red wine stain, it virtually eliminates it from your tablecloth. And we all take salt baths when our muscles are aching.

So it was with great interest that I stumbled upon a little store in the West Village that specializes in salt. Called The Meadow, it is the most gorgeous store, with shelves stacked with salt reaching up to the roof.

Who knew there were so many kinds of salt and in so many different colors! Here you can find granules, flakes and blocks of salt from places as far flung as Japan, Bolivia and the Himalayas.  There's sea salt, volcanic salt and Antarctic salt. Some are infused with truffles or saffron. The shade palette ranges from the whitest of white through pink, orange, grey and black. And they all differ in use: finishing salt, grinder salt, curing salt and cooking salt. It is really quite wondrous. For the beginner, you can buy salt sets; six gourmet salts packed in little tins to get you excited about the incredible versatility of this amazing mineral. They almost look too good to use!

The store also sells all manner of salt accoutrement's that help the serving of the salt look so much more beautiful. From salt bowls to cellars, teeny silver spoons and different types of grinders.

After browsing in the store for 15 minutes, I discovered a new-found love and admiration for salt. So much so, I bought this lovely book written by the 'selmelier' and owner of The Meadow, Mark Bitterman. It takes you through the history of salt before explaining 150 different salts, and is full of wonderful images of salt in its purest from around the world.

And for those who become passionate about this subject, don't forget Mark Kurlansky's book, simply called 'Salt'. It maintains that wars were fought over this precious mineral, trade routes established and empires secured. Riveting stuff. And all this interest in a much mal-aligned foodstuff! Perhaps we should all have another think.

images: all posters, (2-3) salt news, (4) NY racked, (5-7) at the meadow (8) amazon

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Happy Persian New Year

I celebrated "Nowruz" on the weekend. This is the name for the celebrations at Persian New Year - "Now" means new and "ruz" means day. These celebrations occur when the season changes from winter to spring on the "vernal equinox", usually around March 20th/ 21st.

The Anesthetist has a crazy Iranian friend who invited us. Crazy in a good way. She has just got back from Iran so was in a particularly Persian frame of mind this night, with her long skirts and scarves and rings and bells. She had organized a chef friend of hers to cook a delicious four course Iranian meal. Louisa Shafia has an Iranian background herself, but grew up in the US. She is beautiful - to look at and as a cook- and believes in healthy, wholesome cooking. The anesthetist bought me her book called Lucid Food which focuses on organic and seasonal cooking principles. The recipes are super simple and very tasty.

So we ate a yummy meal of persian fetta, baked eggs, stuffed fish and persian sorbet. And I learnt a little about what this festival entails.

Nowruz reflects the renewal of the Earth with the coming of spring. The celebrations are similar to other religious celebrations in different cultures. The difference is the Iranians always prepare a haft-seen table, which is a table containing seven things that begin with the letter 'S' with each item symbolizing something:

  • Sumac (spice): for the surprise and the spice of life
  • Senjed (sweet dry fruit of the lotus tree): for love and affection
  • Serkeh (vinegar): for patience and age
  • Seeb (apples): for health and beauty
  • Sir (garlic): for good health
  • Samanu (wheat pudding): for fertility and sweetness
  • Sabzeh (sprouted wheatgrass): for rebirth and renewal
Other items can also go on the haft-seen table, such as a bowl of goldfish for new life, eggs for fertility, coins for prosperity, hyacinths to celebrate spring, candles to radiate light and happiness and a book of poetry by Hafiz, a sufi poet from the 14th century.  Apparently the custom during Nowruz is to open the book of poetry randomly and read that poem. The subject of this poem then becomes the guide for your new year.

Our friend created a beautiful table, but of course somehow those photos were deleted off my camera. So you can kind of see it behind Lousia telling us about our feast.

The political tensions between Iran and this country are running high at the moment. But the President still made time to address the Iranians and wish them well in their new year celebrations. For my part, I am so glad I learnt something about a culture so different to ours, and was able to celebrate it peacefully with food, friends and a sense of warmth. It's inspired me to finally read a much loved bestseller, Reading Lolita in Tehran.

images: absolute astronomy, the daily green, 

Sunday, March 18, 2012

French Invasion

Good Golly Miss Molly. I'm back in New York to find that the Frogs have followed me! According to the NY Times and Vanity Fair, Parisian nightlife is not enough for the fickle French youth. So they have crossed the pond to infiltrate our nightlife scene!

Now I'm no longer a night owl, preferring a book in bed to dancing on the bar. So I have to rely on the anesthetist's hip 20-something friends (don't ask how that works given he is old enough to be their father) to fill me in on what's hot. According to one very lovely and very talented young Austrian photographer, New York's nightlife is one of the most boring in the world and Paris is the best! Mickey Boardman, editorial director of the offbeat Paper Magazine seems inclined to agree. "Night-life in New York is so sanitized these days. We long for French things." Who would have thought? So perhaps that is why the Frogs are here. To show us how it's done?

Whatever the reason, the uber cool and French-inclined are somehow getting past the notoriously difficult velvet rope scenario to be as dirty and French as you like in super exclusive Parisian-style hot spots around town. There's Le Bain on the roof of the Standard Hotel in Meatpacking, which has to - ironically - have one of the best views of Manhattan. They run an aptly named Sunday party called 'Nouveau York.' And nightclub impresario Andre Saraiva, has just opened the NY outpost of his incredibly elite and successful Le Baron franchise. Saraiva chose the grungy area of Chinatown for his location because of its mix of bohemians and immigrants. And that really sums up the crowds at these places. If you're not an artist, muso or rebel, you better make damn sure you look and sound like Jane Birkin or are  hanging off the arm of a Serge Gainsbourg lookalike. Because a business suit and formidable bank account just won't cut it here. It's all about the smokey eye, the casually held gitane and a large dose of french insouciance. In the words of Monsieur Saraiva, "Let's smoke cigarettes and get naked."

image: vanity fair, last fm

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Scenes from Brittany: Interior

When you move away from the coast of South Brittany, you find stones everywhere. Stone buildings, stone villages, stone walls and stone configurations. The town of Carnac is famous for its 6000 year old stone alignments. And after all this time, still no-one really knows why they are there or what they represent. There have been theories ranging from the stones really being Roman legionaries, to magical stones to Celtic temples and some form of weather or time predictor. But what is known is they were placed here during the Neolithic era, between the fifth and third millenia, B.C.  There are thousands of them, forming soldierly lines throughout the landscape. Some of the stones are as high as 6 metres. And most of them seem to be sculpted into tall oval shapes. Today, the sheep and cattle graze in between them, as scientists still work on their theories.

The landscape around Carnac is lovely and rural, with wonderful old villages suddenly popping up, or an old abbey or little place of worship in the middle of nowhere. It's definitely worth hiring a car to drive around.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Scenes from Brittany: Coastline

Before I return to all things New York, I wanted to share some photos from my 2 day sojourn in South Brittany.
I stayed at this charming hotel found on Mr and Mrs Smith and highly recommend it to anyone wanting to explore this part of Bretagne. This area is of course known for its beautiful beaches and wild coastline, picturesque ports and oyster farms. But it is also historically very important because of the thousands of mysterious stones that were lined up perpendicular to the sea. I will show you those in a later post. For now, enjoy the coastline and the architecture.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Le 10e

Before we leave my beloved Paris, I want to share with you a fabulous concept I stumbled upon in the 10th.

"Le 10e" is a very happening area, situated along the Canal St Martin. It is full of interesting stores, wonderful little wine bars and offbeat restaurants and also home to "Le Comptoir General".

Hidden behind a stone wall and down a long ashpalt pathway, lies the entrance to an amazing space for rest, refuelling and long discussions over brunch or late into the evening.

It is hard to describe the space. It feels like a cross between a destitute mansion in Cuba and an outdoor cafe in Central Africa, filled with crazy vintage posters, live trees, curiosity cabinets and hints of witchcraft. You can rummage through a book swap, delve for some antique lace, listen to an LP of Papa Kourand, chow down on a delicious lentil dahl, or hang out at the bar talking politics whilst sipping mojitos.

The actual philosophy of the space is to bring together like-minded eco-conscious individuals who care for the planet and the well-being of their fellow homo sapiens. There is a definite African theme running through the place as the owners try and make people aware of the "francification" of Africa and the social, economic and political ramifications of this. When I was there, the hallway was a timeline of all the African dictators and their dirty wars.

But don't let this stop you from visiting. If you just want to find a place in Paris that is less uptight then Rue St Honore and has a queue less deterring than the Louvre, I encourage you to visit and look and watch. It's fun!