Saturday, November 3, 2012

The Price of P-Funk



If you’ve been reading Gourmet Squatter, you know I love my wines, funky. By funky, I mean I like my dry reds Virginia Woolf-deep, wines that provoke the androgynous mind, compelling you to take a second glance at the color, wines that make you stick your nose in the glass over and over again like a child at the beach, digging through the wet sand in search of treasure. You know you have arrived when you smell the earth at her most vulnerable. Some folks use words like wet cellar or wet leaves. But in my experience, these wines can smell like everything from stinky cheese and wet soil to armpit, sweaty socks and lovemaking. These wines possess Sly Stone-swag, your descriptors getting more and more creative as they unravel in the glass. When I think of the essence of grape funk, I think, Pinot Noir, and like all the things worth having, this grape is called the heartbreak grape as it is difficult to grow. It’s also difficult to find a really well-made bottle for under $25. Last year, when my budget took a boost, I bought several bottles between $20 and $35 mainly from Oregon and was really bored. The aromas were flat, vacant and uninspiring. Today I got off work ready for that good P-funk, so I told the wine dondadda at one of my favorite wine stores, that my budget was $30. He recommended the 2009 Soléna Grand Cuvée Oregon Pinot Noir as a supremely aromatic wine, but the bottle I had was aromatically dead. I tried and tried to smell something, but there was nothing there. A couple weeks ago I bought a bottle of 2009 Sonoma Cuvée Russian River Valley Pinot Noir for just over $20. P-funk jumped out of my glass along with aromas of braised short ribs and marionberries. On the palate, there were dark plum, stewed fig, clove and anise flavors that glided through the lush, cashmere body. I bought the ’08 vintage this evening which wasn’t as interesting, but sometimes, you have to hunt the P-funk.



 

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Sipping the Winemaker





So I have a confession. I love wine. You know that. But more than I love sipping wine, I love sipping the winemakers. I love reading about the adventures of those who dare trade their nine-to-five gigs for the long shot, the jagged dream of making money as grape juice hustlers. These aren’t descendants of centuries-old wine families. They are everyday people who stumbled into a bottle that inspired them in the same way that music inspired Aretha and poetry inspired Plath. Helen Turley is the winemaker behind labels like Marcassin, Bryant, Colgin and Peter Michael. Wine Spectator Senior Editor—James Laube wrote in a 2010 article that Turley is a native of Augusta, Ga., where she grew up Southern Baptist raised on a diet of fried chicken and meatloaf. Not exactly a foie gras-Sauternes background, is it? In 1968, Turley and her man drove a VW bus cross-country, hippie-style, ending in California. It was a 1980 Sea Ridge Pinot Noir that changed her life. Mac McDonald came from a family of Texas moonshine makers. Laube wrote in a 2004 Wine Spectator article that MacDonald’s mother, Elbessie, along with her brother and sister, made sweet wine from apples and cherries. But that didn't pique Mac's interest. It was a 1952 red Burgundy that changed his life. When he was a teen, a group of doctors hired his father to take them hunting, and one guest left Mac with that '52 Burgundy. About eight years ago I met the Michael Duncan look-alike in downtown Brooklyn where he rose from the Lafayette Avenue subway stop wearing overalls and a straw hat. I got goosebumps when he explained that he aged his Pinot in Hungarian oak. Are your dreams aging? I know sometimes it feels like mine are. Afraid to take that long shot? Maybe it’s not that long. But are we willing to do the work, pick the grapes and see what ends up in the bottle?
 

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Shiraz Sexy

Wow. What a week, right? Yesterday I had a bizarre encounter with two sad women who reminded me that while things aren’t perfect, at least day-old whiskey isn’t oozing from my pores. It’s not that bad, Guys. You’re not waking up to streets ravaged by torn limbs and smoky eyeballs. And if you are, I’m praying for you. Aaaaah. It’s nice to be snuggling up against a breezy, sun-rich Saturday, the week’s events fading into a yummy glass of Malbec. What I love most about South American wine is that many labels offer so much fierce complexity for your dollar. But this post isn’t about the Malbec I’m sipping. It’s about my wine pimp—Michel, who gave me a swig of a single vineyard, Aussie Shiraz that truly widened my perception of the ubiquitous grape. When I think of everyday, Australian shiraz, I think pop music on your palate. But this was Maria Callas or Beyoncé when she’s Aretha’s age. It was an ’05 vintage, grapes picked from one vineyard and the bottle had been decanted five hours before it touched my tongue. The 2005 Elderton Command Single Vineyard Shiraz Cellar Release had aromas and flavors of braised figs, prunes and raisins, and these characteristics were synchronized by seductive tannins. It was amazing to me how firm the tannins were despite the age. So if you think Aussie Shiraz can’t be deep, you’re wrong. On that note, the wine is $80, so I'll be sticking to my humble Malbec lol

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Gruet: Pink on the Inside


Pink was never my color. It’s not that I’m not a girly-girl. I just never connected to its implications—female conformity, tears and babies. But today I had a pink-moment. I had a student who arrived in my class today in a wheelchair. He was in his mid-20s, and there was a bloody box around his foot. It’s not that I’ve never had wheelchair-bound students in my class before, but this young man moved me for some reason. My classroom set-up isn’t ADA-compliant, yet this man navigated through the tight space like he had wings. He was so determined to learn--raising his hands and answering questions despite the eyes that were crawling up and down his leg. I later learned that he had kidney failure, and each time I looked in his eyes I became soft like the Gruet Brut Rosé. It’s rusty pink color reminds me of how I feel sometimes—weary, hard and longing. Its strawberry, raspberry aromas and Shirley Temple-esque flavors remind me of that girly-girl who wants so desperately to run through tight spaces then fly. P.S. I spent $10 for the half-bottle.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Cab Slow


So it’s a brilliantly dull Saturday evening. I was supposed to work overtime today, but I declined. It wasn’t easy to pass up the time and a half-money, but when one starts looking like a Chia Pet, it’s time to, as my colleague, Adrienne, would say, “Tighten up.” Right now I’ve got the Zen music channel on while I sip the 2009 Les Piliers Cabernet Sauvignon I picked up last night. I have to work hard at being still these days. There’s always something to do and somewhere to be. What is intimacy if you cannot be intimate with yourself? Lately, I’ve been craving sweet spice aromas from my wine experiences. I think it’s a reaction to being indoors most of the time. I spent the last week immersed in cubicle culture—a land of jarringly big screens, hard, square shaped-booty chairs and the smell of spirits that would rather be elsewhere. This cab is an escape. On the label is an image of the Les Piliers vineyard. I imagine being there picking Cabernet Sauvignon, songs like Fragile State’s “Every Day a Story,” and Bob Marley’s “Natural Mystic,” blowing through my iPod. It’s velvety, full-body tricks my palate into thinking it’s bathing in a warm vanilla spring.   There are aromas and flavors of black cherry, Madagascar vanilla, milk chocolate and in the back drop, there’s a rare filet mignon-funk. You know how much I love that funk. And guess what Gourmet Squatters? It's just $16-something with tax.







Saturday, August 11, 2012

Roots, Rock, Red Label Wine

Jamaica is an island of rhythm and rhyme. From the moment I land in Kingston, my hips begin to move. There’s music bursting from every jagged road. And it’s not always Bob Marley or Vybz Kartel. It may be a group of countrymen slamming dominoes on rickety tables while they testify about unruly women, waning hustles and lives already lived. Hot Guinness drizzles down their cracked faces into spirits fortified by mamas’ prayers and Olympic wins. I go to my brother’s bar in a lingering Kingston enclave and soak it all in. I laugh until I cry, the sweetness of the Red Label wine wining through my veins like a dancehall queen mashing up the bashment. A single-toothed, rude bwoy offers me some Wincarnis—a respected, herb-driven tonic wine that allegedly heals impotence and stimulates libido. I graciously accept. With a glass filled with ice and a belly tight from grinning, it tastes like a yummy ruby Port.

Note: Biggups to Usain Bolt and all of the Jamaican Olympic athletes that represented our little island with such style and grace this year.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

When Grapes Dance


Ola Fellow Gourmet Squatters. I owe you another apology for being absent. I want to blame it on my new rat race-gig, but the truth is I suck at time management. And if I didn’t have this rat race gig, I’d be sippin' OE (Well, maybe not lol). There are single mothers out there working two jobs, going to school and flipping pancakes. All I have to do is be loyal to my Gourmet Squatter-bredren. So in between rat racing and freelancing, I've been sipping some delicious wine, ya’ll—the kind of wine that makes your palate dance. Among them was the 2007 Kestrel Falcon Series Cabernet Sauvignon. The nose beckons mixed berry tarts. But the palate channels a Moroccan spice festival. Anise, cloves and licorice bellydance around flavors of Madagascar vanilla and Jamaican drops—a traditional coconut dessert that includes candied ginger. It’s always a treat when one bottle can take you all over the world, especially when the bottle hails from Yakima Valley, Washington state.  So what have you be been sippin’ and where has it taken you?   

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Freedom in Bubbles

First I apologize to my Gourmet Squatter readers for being absent all this time. I just took on a rat race-gig that has consumed much of my miscellaneous energy. Still, it’s no excuse. But I’m back and grateful to be frolicking on the page. What have you been up to lately? What have you been eating and sipping? On this great day when we celebrate freedom, I’m sipping Graham Beck Brut Pinot Noir Chardonnay. I started sipping it yesterday, immediately picking up a funky, morbier cheese aroma at the frothy rim. Then the aromas evolved into freshly mown grass, apple crisp and cantaloupe. On the palate there’s Gala apple crisp and lemon drop with a burst of minerality at the finish. For $17, it was pretty good. I have one of those fancy wine stoppers specifically for sparkling wines, so today while the wine maintains its carbonation, it tastes more like an upscale Cava. It’s perfect for fish fry picnics, poolside gossip and lazy days away from the rat race.    

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Straight Jacket Wine


When I began my wine journey in 2001, I knew that this was an art not unlike many other aesthetics. You have the mainstream wine and the small, indie wines. You have the silly, but effective politics—if you like White Zinfandel, you’re a ding bat incapable of understanding the abstract subtleties of Old world wine. If you like Barolo, you’re a wine sophisticate. While I was in sommelier school, it amazed me how everything associated with American wine culture was considered big, audacious, and in some cases, sloppy and unrefined. Who were these crass red, white and blue people stomping unto our turf with their brazen ideas of making wine their way? The other day a colleague and dear friend passed me a bottle of 2010 Macchia Amorous Sangiovese from Lodi, California. When I think of Sangiovese, I think of an entry-level Chianti that’s insipid, like someone is tightening a straight jacket on your palate. I had an amazing Chianti experience at Cioppino Restaurant with Jorge Mendoza—the sommelier. And if someone didn’t thief my hand bag with my wine diary, I’d tell you about it, but as of today, Sangiovese isn’t something I’d go out of my way to find. But what do I always say? Stay open. I already knew that this wasn’t a straight jacket wine with all that lush Lodi sunshine. But I wasn’t expecting blueberry heavy cream. This wine reminded me more of Zinfandel. Blueberry and black currant jam aromas burst through a gorgeous, purple violet color. On the palate, it’s more of the same—black cherry jam and black pepper spice fold into the heavy cream body. And there are medium-high tannins. I didn’t love it. It was too big. And I guess the contradictor in me wanted even a bite of straight jacket-austerity. However, when I chilled it and served it with spicy Jamaican curry chicken, it was a perfect match. All that dark fruit sweetness and jammi-ness was made for West Indian grilled and roasted meats that have hints or hot pepper spice. So what’s my point? Lol I love that American winemakers are experimenting in the grape lab, taking us out of our comfort zone and exploring the endless possibilities. Where would we be if Hendrix didn’t put those electric guitar strings in his mouth and show us what that instrument really could do?  We’d be in straight jackets lol

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Rosé: Pink Cookies in a Plastic Bag Getting Crushed by Buildings

My first rosé epiphany happened in Cognac, France, in 2007. I was gazing out into the fertile, green earth from Chateau De L’Yeuse overwhelmed by the sheer majestic beauty of the environment, grateful to God to be there. I was sipping the 1995 Veuve Clicquot La Grande Dame Rosé with a man who spoke the language of wine so fluently, I was jealous. Before this moment, rosé was Beringer white Zinfandel—flat, motionless and uninspired. But I was wrong. A rosé can be just as interesting as a Champagne. The Veuve Du Vernay Brut Rosé recalls the pleasures of summer—strawberries salads and blood orange mimosas, summer sprinkles and duck pâté in foreign countries with lovers who smell of Parisian pastry shops. Its color is redolent of a fall Miami sunset. It’s refreshingly delicious and viciously romantic. And guess what else? It’s been on sale at Whole Foods for $10, but the regular price is only $11, so I say, go get some and download some old school LL Cool J while you're at it :).     

Saturday, May 12, 2012

A Funky Mother’s Day Sandwich





I inherited my insatiable passion for food and wine from my mama. My childhood was a dissonant melody of pots clanging at 6 a.m., the morning, a salty mist of codfish creeping into my room. But unlike many stalwart, Old World Jamaican cooks, my mother had an adventurous palate. My elementary school lunch box was a gourmet playground of Italian ham, Sicilian salami and sweet sopressata sandwiches. And my fromages choices ranged from Sweet Munchee to Cracker Barrel Vermont Cheddar. These weren’t viable stock options in the World of Lunch Box Trades as my classmates’ palates were narcotized by generic peanut butter and jelly. But even then I knew what a good sandwich felt like—the exquisite balance of texture and flavors, the expert weaving of salty, sweet, savory accents. A well-made sandwich can heal wounds, and my mother, the ultimate sandwich-sage, has made many sandwiches. These days, I try to dazzle her with my amateur skills over a chilly glass of Manischewitz Concord Grape wine, her fave.  I’ve tried to bring her over to my side—a decadent Sauternes or a yummy trockenbeerenauslese  and while she smiles politely at my attempt, she loves Mani.  Yesterday I made mama a pre-Mother’s Day sandwich and served it with  a deliciously funky French wine. Hey. At least, I tried, right? lol

A Funky Mother’s Day Sandwich

Ingredients:

French bread loaf

3 thin slices of Prosciutto di Parma

2 thin slices of Jarlsberg

I scallion stalk, chopped

1 tablespoon of julienned sundried tomatoes immersed in olive oil

1 egg, over medium

1 teaspoon of Mayonnaise

Pinch of salt

Pinch of pepper

Preparation:

Fry eggs over medium

Season with salt, pepper and scallion

Place egg on side plate

Tear a piece of French loaf (4 inches recommended)

Cut or tear open bread

Rub inside of bread inside pan where you just fried egg

Spread mayonnaise on bread

Layer with prosciutto and Jarlsberg

Top with egg and sundried tomatoes

Serve open faced  

Yield: 1

Wine Recommendation: 2009 Domaine De La Janasse Terre d’Argile Côtes du Rhone Villages
Okay, you’re thinking sparkling wine, an off-dry Riesling or even a yummy Rosé, BUT I friggin’ love this wine. The purple violet color explodes with aromas of black cherry and spice bun followed by duck pâté and wet leaves. On the palate, the body of the wine is reminiscent of foie gras and the flavors of black cherry, black plums and black pepper are a seamless journey into the southern Rhone.   

    

    

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Heaven-Bound Oxtails


On January 2, 2002, the greatest Jamaican oxtail stew cook to ever walk this earth died. Her name was Coralee Ivadney Vaughn, and she was my grandmother. That same year I wrote a poem called “Heaven-Bound Oxtails,” and the poem would go on to win $500 in some bootleg poetry competition. But Moms (my grandmother) would have been so proud. I often think of her preparing Jamaican oxtail stew for God and all the angels. I imagine everyone from Bob Marley to John F. Kennedy, Jr. chewing bones and laughing, those sin-tender oxtails taking their palates to places way beyond the firmament. I know there are many Jamaican take-out spots serving mediocre oxtail. Shame on you! When oxtails are made with love and care, the dish becomes foie-gras- delicate. This isn’t Moms’ recipe as she died before I got a chance to get hers, but this is pretty damn good, too. Enjoy!

                                         In loving memory of Coralee Ivandney Vaughn
                                                        Sunrise: August 4, 1916
                                                       Sunset: January 2, 2002
Ingredients:
3 pounds of oxtails

Nature’s Seasoning or your favorite meat seasoning (dry jerk seasoning works too)
Season to taste (2 tablespoons recommended)

2 chopped large onions

8 chopped cloves of garlic

12 thyme sprigs

4 ounces Gravy Master  

15.5 ounces of canned butter beans

1 tiny piece of chopped scotch bonnet peper

Preparation:

Season oxtails with Nature’s seasoning, half the chopped onions, half the chopped garlic, 6 thyme sprigs, and 2 ounces of Gravy Master. The longer the meat marinates, the better. Try to marinate overnight.

Put oxtails in pressure cooker.

Put enough water in the pressure cooker to cover the oxtails.

Place pressure cooker on stove top over high heat.

Pressure meat for at least 45 minutes or until tender.

Transfer meat from pressure cooker into Dutch pot or large deep pot meant for stews.

Place all the remaining chopped onions, garlic, scotch bonnet pepper and thyme in pot. Taste oxtails to see if they need more meat seasoning.

Cook over medium-high heat for half hour or until the gravy has reduced.


Drain canned butter beans of all juice then add to stew.

Remove meat from stove stop.

Serve with Busha Browne banana chutney.

Serves 3 people





Tuesday, April 24, 2012

My Beloved Strawberry


I was completely disenchanted with the strawberry. I was tired of buying a container of them then dousing them with sugar because they tasted so blah. I had dismissed the strawberry as a lame fruit that was better enjoyed when articulated through the aromas of a French rosé or a morning jam. After all, if one cannot afford to drive to Homestead or Kendall to pick strawberries from a patch, he is doomed to the dismal, watery flavors of strawberries that have breathed their last breaths in some warehouse truck. What if you don’t have an artisan strawberry jam farmer-friend who rocks a gnarly beard? But today my faith has been restored in my beloved strawberry. Not only does Walmart have affordable strawberries, but their locavore-perfect, their aromas filling the air like Victoria’s Secret Pure Seduction bath splash lol Their juices oozed unto my fingers from the container like a lovely jam. The strawberry is God’s most perfect work (Well almost lol)

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Those Lovely Legs


So, I decided to take on the daunting task of impressing a squadron of saved, sanctified, Holy Ghost-filled, water-baptized meat masters. I invited my aunts for my mother’s birthday dinner and decided to rebel a little and prepare something besides jerk chicken. These women have walked for miles and miles, pots on their heads, life swaying from their hips. They’ve sashayed through bushes, rivers and mountains. They’ve made meals for the apostles and kissed the bitter lips of time when dreams washed away. But through it all, they’ve maintained their swagger, especially in the kitchen. And so I humbly accept my inheritance, washing my chicken legs with vinegar, massaging them with poultry seasoning, onion, garlic, and obscene amounts of scallion, thyme and rosemary. I drizzle my lovely legs with extra virgin olive oil, the same one used to anoint my head for protection, place them in a plastic container and set them in the fridge. The result: standing ovation, cheers, love and my aunt who asked, “Where’s the gravy?”

Hallelujah Rosemary-Thyme Baked Chicken

Ingredients:

6 pounds of all natural or organic chicken legs

Vinegar (To clean chicken)

Poultry seasoning (I used Nature’s Seasoning)

1 Large chopped onion

6 cloves of chopped garlic

3 stalks of chopped scallion

8 sprigs of fresh thyme

5 sprigs of rosemary

½ cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil

4 tablespoons of butter

Prep Work:

Clean the chicken with about three tablespoons of vinegar.

Cut off any extraneous chicken fat.

Rinse thoroughly.

Pat dry with good paper towel (I used Bounty).

Massage chicken with poultry seasoning, onion, garlic, scallion, and extra virgin olive oil. Add fresh thyme and rosemary sprigs throughout the chicken.  

Place chicken in sealed container overnight or for at least 12 hours.

Directions:

Preheat oven at 475 degrees for at least 15 minutes.

Line a deep baking pan with foil.

Coat pan with olive oil and butter.

Place chicken legs in baking pan.

Turn down oven to 375 degrees.

Place chicken in baking pan uncovered for 15 minutes or until chicken starts to cook.

Cover chicken with foil and turn down oven to 350 degrees.

After 20 minutes, check on the chicken.

Flip the legs around, so both sides get more of the gravy.

Check on the chicken in 25 minutes to coat chicken with gravy that’s in the pan

(I used a big spoon).

Chicken should be ready in an hour, but if they’re not fully cooked, leave in the oven longer, but make sure to keep coating chicken with gravy to keep it from dying out.

When chicken is ready, they should be gorgeously brown.

Let it sit outside of oven for about 10 minutes before serving.

Beer Suggestion: Ice-cold Red Stripe (Classic Jamaican food pairing) or Monk in the Trunk (An almost sweet, yummy, organic amber ale)

Wine Suggestion: Veuve du Vernay Brut or Veuve du Bernay Brut Rosé (Cheap and delicious French bargains)

Saturday, April 14, 2012

The Unworthy American’s Jamaican Smorgasbord


Okay, so I have taken on the daunting task of preparing my mother’s birthday dinner. I, the unworthy American, dare to dazzle a squadron of Jamaican cooks who can jerk chicken blindfolded and transform white rice into a cauldron of coconut-perfumed ecstasy. What’s on the menu—jerk and barbecue chicken, smoked ham in maple sugar and ginger glaze, rice and red peas with coconut milk, Iceberg salad, and a faux-sangria. I’m cheating on the rice. My neighbor, Claudette, is making the rice as I’m just not mature enough to pressure cook dry kidney beans, but I am doing everything else. “No curry goat,” my mother exclaimed from her kitchen-pulpit upon hearing about the surprise dinner. Um, please pray for me. Lol This is my last moment of calmness before judgment.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Pasta Purgatory

I’m the queen of making the same damn mistakes. I always forget to salt the water while it’s boiling before I add the pasta. I’m very impatient while waiting for the onions to caramelize in the olive oil-butter bath before adding the protein. And so usually my pasta is, well, okay. It has good flavor and worse case scenario, I will douse the angel hair or penne with Parmigiano-Reggiano and all will be right in the world. But I want to get it right. Know what I mean? I want the pasta to be perfectly al dente like Rachael Ray’s. I want the garlic and onion to be perfectly caramelized. I want perfection. Perfection is accessible and yet, we settle on the lap of mediocrity, surrendering to that lesser existence, that lesser pasta.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Fasting

I come from generations of fasters. Fasting is a ritual where one gives up a meal or meals in order to draw closer to God. Whenever I have this conversation with people who view fasting as some strange, Eastern, Ghandi-esque tradition, they always ask this very valid question: How does not eating draw you closer to God? It’s not about the food; it’s about the sacrifice attached to it. It’s about pushing through the desire to consume with your physical being in order to feed your spiritual being with the strength it needs to overcome those unbearable obstacles and release blessings into your life. I belong to a prayer circle of women between the ages of 30-something to 84, and we fast on Wednesdays. I usually start off by reading scripture, thanking God for all the prayers that have been answered in and out of the circle and stating my petitions. The more specific the petition, the more effective the result. It’s not enough to ask God for a job. What kind of job do you want? Where? How much do you want to make? I have observed amazing breakthroughs in this circle—from healing from brain cancer to deliverance from a huge financial burden. I cherish the old school fasters, who have transformed fasting into a sacred, prayerful art. As I reflect on Trayvon Martin and the Trayvon Martins-to-come, I’m fasting for the divine covering of our young men who dare wander the streets uncovered.    

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Carvel Consummated

It’s a beautiful, breezy night in Miami, the kind of weather that leads to lonely hearts tripping and falling into each other. My neighborhood sky bursts with salsa and reggae as young people wander down these sidewalk-less streets.  I spent the evening with Carrie Bradshaw, enviously watching her Russian “lovah” make her pancakes. Then I got the itch. Lately, I’ve been going to Carvel more than usual. I grew up on Carvel ice cream cakes and still go to the same spot for my fix. I’m addicted to those chocolate crunchies. And what used to be a once-in-a-while treat has evolved into a habit. And it’s getting worse. Now, I dress up for the occasion. Tonight I wore a pink leopard print pencil skirt, raggedy, gray tank and paisley print-pashmina with black, Gucci pumps. The guys at the counter know me very well. “The usual,” they asked coquettishly. “Yes, filler up.” The young, black guy with bifocals rushed to the back and emerged with the 12 ounce cup of chocolate crunchies. “Why don’t you get ice cream?,” he asked.        

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Curry Chameleon (Cricket Player, Not Included)

If my soul had a smell, it would be curry. I grew up in a curry kitchen—evenings scented with the bright Jamaican curry powder that bathed everything from kosher chicken to fresh goat meat. As I got older, I realized that curry had many attitudes. In Madras, India, it’s an earthy, sweet opus of coriander, turmeric, cumin, cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, and other spices. Trinidad’s interpretation of curry is very similar to India’s. However, cooking curry takes patience and skill. The more complex and authentic the curry powder, the more you literally have to cook the powder. If not, the flavor is insipid. The Jamaican curry powders that are on most grocery shelves are easy to work with it and don’t require much cooking, but they also lack that depth of complexity you find in Indian curry. Pairing up wine with curry is an adventurous feat. The 2009 Macchia Bodacious Petite Sirah is perfect for Indian-style curry. Chilled it in the fridge for about fifteen minutes and a tall, dark and handsome cricket player emerged from the bottle with its brawny, blueberry jam aromas. There also flavors of blackberry chutney, anise and cloves that are ideal for curry goat (Jamaica) and lamb curry (India). Unfortunately, the cricket player was not included lol   

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Song Picker’s Barbecue

Today someone asked me how I came to write about food. I always struggle with this question and so my answers are usually silly and unsubstantial. I love food is usually my go-to response. But the question I ask myself on those frustrated, ink-constipated nights is: Why am I still writing about food?  Aren’t there more important stories to tell?  Is this what God called me to do—to chat about foie gras and Pinot Noir? Then I walk through Carol City, The Song of Solomon chapter of Miami barbecue. I watch  those fiery rhythms wind up to the sky as slabs of old southern recipes straddle pits the way they always have and always will. And I get to tell those old stories that begin with some great, great grandmother who can recall history’s history—the song pickers who made damn good barbecue with trees on their backs. Then I’m relieved for a moment.    

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Jamaican Fried Chicken: The Remix

The last time I was in Jamaica, I was surprised to see how prominent fried chicken had become on local menus. From Kingston to Christiana, people were eating fried chicken legs the way they once ate jerk chicken. Even my cousins had fried chicken on my grandmother’s birthday party menu. But I wasn’t disappointed. The flavors came together like some Jamaican remake of an American song. The chicken was grown on a nearby farm. After the slaughter, legs, thighs, breasts and wings sat in a seasoning bath of garlic, onion, scallion, scotch bonnet pepper, and thyme. They were then dipped in flour and thrown in the deep, bubbly Dutch pot. The village feast called hungry bellies near and far to partake of the Jah-merican throwdown. It seemed bodies were emerging from graves, the fried fragrance like the hearkening of Jesus’ second coming. My mother, a spongy cook, who can recall the ingredients and technique of most dishes, made some this evening, the same fried fragrance calling me from my hustle-and-bustle-make-that-money trance.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Tomatoes are So Secretive

Tomatoes are so secretive. We often see them in supermarkets in heaping piles, uninspired by their ubiquity. But a beautifully cultivated tomato is like a clandestine lover that seduces torn baguettes, French country and hard dough breads. Add a twinkle of coarse salt and simplicity becomes an unexpected trip to La Rochelle. Drizzle your tomato with anchovy oil, and your palate becomes a boudoir of flavor ecstasy. A neighbor gave my mother a Ziploc bag of baby tomatoes and we ate them like tangerines. They were so sweet and juicy, and I’ve been eating them with everything. I ate them with Wheat Thins and Jamaican crackers. I mashed them in boiled Idaho potatoes with chopped scallion. I wrapped them with sliced chorizo. I left them on the table while I went to church and now they’re gone—sneaky, little devils.      

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Requiem Rosé: Miss You, Sistah Whitney

Yesterday as I pumped gas in my car, I watched a chorus of women sing “I have nothing if I don’t have you,” at the top of their lungs. As our sister, Whitney, strained through speakers beaten down by years of Miami bass, these bent-headed women sang with eyes closed and voices coiled around Sistah Whitney’s spirit. I joined them from the near distance, encouraging them to sing on in a call-response sort of way. It was church. We were singing Whitney through. It’s been interesting listening to different people’s reactions to Whitney’s transition. Some women weep. They sympathize. Other women dismiss Whitney as a crack head who had it coming. That pisses me off. Who are we to judge? If cameras snuck into our homes, what ugly rituals might they see? How quickly we forget how Whitney sang us through those passionate love affairs (“You Give Good Love”) and their endings (“I Will Always Love You”). Whitney helped me find my rhythm as one of the only little, black girls in my Catholic school. Her song would come on the radio and I would dance and feel free in my black girlness—Give me one moment in time when I’m racing with destiny. Then in that one moment in time, I will be free…The race is over, Sis. Be still. A drop of rosé for you, dear Rose of Zion.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Holy Ghost Chocolate

My grandmother is 103 years old. And she’s amazing. In the mornings, we sit on an elderly porch—her last living sibling and watch the morning fog as it encamps around us like ghosts joining us for a cup of Jamaican chocolate tea. Her fingers are more like rickety wands now, grasping that large mug with the words #1 Grandma fading like the words on my grandfather’s tomb which is just beneath us.  You haven’t had real hot chocolate until you’ve had this tea. The cacao is beaten in a mortar and heated with water, condensed milk, vanilla, nutmeg and allspice. The result is a creamy river of dark chocolate and sweet spice twirling around your palate. You can buy the knock-off cacao from local Caribbean markets. They usually come prepackaged with a dry cinnamon leaf and while they’re tastier than generic chocolate powder, it’s not the same. My cousin brought me some from Manchester last week and I could immediately smell the terroir—the deep, dark, red soil that surrounds the pimento and cacao trees. I can smell my granny sipping time like a true OG.


Saturday, January 28, 2012

In the Land of No Ice Cream Cones

I was having one of those days. You know what I’m talking about—avalanching bill collectors, late checks, forgotten invoices, and nothing but everything in the fridge. A day when you find out that the harvest will be late and that the road is even longer than you knew it was.  I was feeling weary and the last thing I wanted to do is post anything on my little blog, but then I ran into this photo I took during a Christmas mission trip to Manchester, Jamaica. I remember this little man—dusty with poverty, rich with charm, oozing the swagger of a true Wailer. He and a bunch of his comrades joined me for popsicles at the local bar. They didn’t serve ice cream cones, just Red Label wine, Red Stripe and popsicles.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Longing for Greens

                               


Today was the end of a chapter. You know how it is. You hold hands. You gaze longingly. You sip Champagne. You frolic through that yummy lie like a wine gypsy wandering through this beautiful, French vineyard I once visited. Everything is green and glossy until the last chapter when the longing gaze looks more like a tired eyeball hoping you’ll stop talking. lol

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Anonymous Affairs in Sunday Gravy



I’ve watched “Under the Tuscan Sun” about 1000 times. I’m not kidding. I know. It’s sad. But when I’m craving anonymity (It’s hard to be anonymous when you have a multisyllabic name most people never heard of), I retreat into this world of olives, wine, broken hearts, and mended mojos. Since I was in Tuscany, I decided to make some cellentani I found in the pantry. I was going for a Pasta e Fagioli, but it turned into something much heartier. The spirit was speaking to me—“Add carrots, green peppers, thyme, and scallion. Don’t grate too much Parmigiano-Reggiano.” Someone gave my mother a Walmart gift card for the holidays, which she passed on to me, so I grabbed a jar of the DelGrosso Sunday Marinara. I’m a sucker for those rustic labels, and this bottle was exactly what I expected—wonderfully savory and light unlike the usual sugary marinara sauces most of us, faux-Italians, are accustomed to. I cheated on my vegan non-boyfriend and sautéed a quarter pound of organic ground beef. In the end, it was like an unplanned affair under the anonymous moon.   

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Veggie Hex

I’m tired. I’ve been up since 6 a.m. trying hard not to be late for my 7:30 a.m. gig. And for the past couple weeks, Miami’s weather has been like a PMS-ing woman whose hormones are like the wind, so I have a yucky cold. Why am I putting myself through such torture? Why else? Love. Not just any love, but the kind of love that makes you abandon your carnivorous yearnings to suffer in the land of turnips and leaf juice.      

Saturday, January 14, 2012

The Proverbial Pumpkin Soup


When I lived in Brooklyn, I tried to make my mother’s pumpkin soup. I used both canned and real pumpkin and added Polish kielbasa for flavor, but it just didn’t taste as good. This Miami chill beckons the real thing—a spicy soup-stew made of fresh pumpkin, cho-cho (Jamaican word for green squash), turnip, handmade, white dumplings and beef, the perfume of thyme, garlic and onion filling the space like music. Normally I eat the soup with a couple slabs of hard dough bread, but I haven’t recovered from the hard-dough-bread-ferrero-rocher smorgasbord I endured during the holidays. Feel me?   

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Scent of A Sipper

This past week has been littered with bodies. It’s like the earth is regurgitating, and people are just falling into the next life. Did you hear about the Jamaican family—mother, father, baby and grandmother who were fatally injured in a car recent car accident? So sad. To these stories, my father often replies, “What is man?” The bible likens man’s life to that of a blade of grass. How quickly we forget.  How quickly we become guest stars in our own lives. How quickly we become dreams deferred. And so I choose to live. No matter how difficult the artist road may be, I live for the chase, for the next meal, the next gathering of friends, the next bundle of laughter, and the aromas bursting from vineyards I’ve yet to visit. I remember when I used to lock myself in my room and just dance and dance for hours—New Edition, Cherelle, Michael Jackson, Def Leopard, and Pat Benatar blaring from my speakers. I held all the secrets of an earthly paradise right there in my Toshiba boombox. Today, I summon that girl, that sweet, dream-juicy girl to keep dancing, sipping, living.  

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Circumcising the Grape

When I was 16, I was madly in love with a graffiti-artist slash rapper from Queens. With Hip-Hop making its way to the mainstream, I snubbed my Luke Skywalker-Me-So-Horney roots for Tribe Called Quest’s “Midnight Marauders” as I was obsessed with all things New York. My mother and I recently discussed that whimsical season over a couple glasses of Manischewitz Grape Concord wine, the season when her daughter added hundreds of gray hairs to her precious, Pentecostal head. Queens and I broke up during my spring break visit from Howard University. It was a dramatic ending complete with a bonfire of all the artistic pieces he had given me. “He circumcised me from his life,” I cried to my mother, weeping and wailing, Jamaican-style, my singed, teenage heart leaning on the biblical words I wanted so much to abandon. I remember my mother, who was dually mortified and impressed, sitting with me as I waded through the miry clay of my first heartbreak. She pulled out her holy oil (Pompeian olive oil) from her nightstand drawer, poured a little on her fingers and made the sign of the cross on my forehead. I had de-Pentecostalized myself after I left home, but I still loved when my mother prayed for me. With my forehead cupped in her slick hand, she prayed that the pain would subside and that I would I finish college. Both prayers were answered (eventually lol).

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Château Dreaming

Breath is a loan. Just like that, the universe’s breath can change. Ask the Miamians who frantically search closets for warm coats as winter’s breath burrows itself underneath hot shorts, new implants and men who roam the boulevard with signs that read: Hungry. Broke. Cold. But, this balanced imbalance works somehow. I remember when I first set eyes on Château Margaux. I had less than $50 in my pocket and was recovering from a peculiar night in a neighboring Bordeaux chateau where I was told ghosts lurked in the vineyards. It was so grand, so old, and yet so new. I was also told that slaves once lived in Bordeaux and I imagined them stealing away to glory in a bottle of Château Guiraud. To think otherwise would be too painful. But here I was sipping the Grand Crus de Bordeaux. I had spent five whole days in the same outfit as L’Avion lost my luggage, but I didn’t care. I knew how to hand wash my clothes like my mother once did in her small, Jamaican village. I was just happy to be there at the center of a dream I’m not sure I really dreamed—this broke, black girl who loves wine—the history, the agriculture, the haunted cellars and vineyards, and the untold stories. I was present in every breath. Please be present in yours.