Archive for April 2012


Georgia: The Wine

April 16th, 2012 — 8:06am

You’re scared, aren’t you? I can tell. You’re scared because you’ve read the title of this post and you know I’m going to have another bash at writing about wine. What’s the worst that could happen? Well, I’ve spent some time thinking about the answer to that question and I’ve come up with several possibilities:

1. I will look like a total idiot.

2. You’re not interested because you come here for the food stuff and you don’t know that much about wine.

3. I will look like a total idiot.

Putting options 1 and 3 aside for a moment, let’s deal with number 2. You’re into food, so you’re probably into drinking wine. If you’re anything like me, you drink the stuff like a fish but you find the world of wine frankly terrifying. Why so scary, wine world? Hmm? There are lots of reasons why I personally find it scary, which include but are not limited to: the fact that there is so much to know and I know so little of it but, mainly, the fact that many people I have met in the wine world are terribly pompous, condescending snobs who use their chosen subject area as a passport to twatsville. Apparently, not knowing everything there is to know about wine makes you a total LOSER. Who knew? These people are the equivalent of school bullies; they use their advantage (be it strength, popularity or in this case, wine knowledge) to make other people feel stupid because they are ultimately insecure about their own self-worth. Deep breaths, deeeep breaths.

Anyway my point is that it is coming into contact with those sorts of people that destroyed my confidence from the very beginning and I therefore just gave up. There’s too much to learn! I can’t possibly taste anything properly! What if I say the wrong thing? FOR GOODNESS’ SAKE WHICH WORD ON THIS BOTTLE IS THE NAME OF THE GRAPE?!

I’ve since taken 3 ‘school of wine’ courses at my local (amazing) wine shop, Green and Blue in East Dulwich which, quite honestly, brought me back from the brink. Kate Thal (the joint owner) runs them and she is the most down to Earth, non-snobby wine person one could hope to meet. She saved me, man. So, I know a lot more about wine than I did before. I’m still scared, though. Nothing puts the shivers up my spine like the thud of an enormous list on white linen. That’s the point where I start frantically looking for the sommelier then beg him/her not to rob me blind.

So, as I wrote before, I got invited on a wine trip to Georgia recently. They invited two food bloggers amongst the (very lovely and brilliant and the opposite of those above) wine people, I imagine because they understand the divide too and they want to bridge it. I actually know quite a lot of wine people nowadays and they are the complete polar opposite of those crusty old men (I’m sorry, but it always seems to be men); the people I know now just tell me things like, ‘it’s all down to personal taste’, ‘you can’t get it wrong’ (slight lie, that one, trust me), and ‘just because someone else gets fear and insecurity on the nose, it doesn’t mean you have to’.

Anyway, the wine. So the wine in Georgia is natural, right. Do you know what that means? Natural wine sends the wine world a bit loopy, basically. They get well wound up about it. The idea with natural wine is to intervene as little as possible during the wine making process, with the ultimate aim of producing something that is much more representative of the place in which it was grown (there’s a word for that last bit which escapes me…cheeky grin). It’s supposed to be more, um, expressive.

Apparently, Georgia was the first country to start making wine; they’ve been doing it for 8000 years. The way they do it is really interesting, though. No barrels for them. They get these massive clay pots called qvevri, and they bury them in the ground. Then they whack everything (juice, skins, stems) in there, seal it up with clay and let it all separate out. The wine is then drawn off the top very carefully using a special jug on a stick. They use a really old grape variety called Rkatsiteli which comes out freakin’ orange! Then there’s another one, which is red and called Saperavi. They’re both native to Georgia. The first time I tasted the orange wine, I was quite taken aback; that stuff is just totally unlike any wine I’ve ever tasted; kinda funky but, you know what? I got into it. By the end of that trip I think we were all a bit Georgian.

Georgia is a post-Soviet state and its people are trying to re-build their country. Part of this means re-discovering traditional methods of producing wine. I found it fascinating, even despite my insecurity telling me I couldn’t possibly be as interested in the wine as I was in the food. I urge you to seek out some Georgian wine, because that stuff will make you have a good old think about natural wine and wine making, if you’re at all interested. The RAW natural wine fair is happening on May 20th and 21st in London (buy tickets here). I’m going to be there. If you see me, come and say hi. Just don’t ask me anything too technical…

 

35 comments » | Georgia, Travel, Wine

The Search for London’s Best Sandwich at The Ship

April 13th, 2012 — 10:13am

It is common knowledge that I am serious about sandwiches. I am sandwich loving lady. It is with much excitement in my belly then that I announce a forthcoming competition, which aims to discover the very best sandwich to be found in London town.

I will be teaming up with legendary Wandsworth pub, The Ship, and together we’re throwing down the gauntlet to the capital’s pubs, restaurants, cafes and street food stalls, inviting them to submit their best work, the pinnacle of their sandwich-making careers, their bready magnum opi.

The competition will take place on Tuesday 23rd October and will be open to, well, not just anyone actually. See the rules for entry below:

1. The sandwich must be on the current menu of a pub, restaurant, cafe or street food stall in London.

2. The sandwich should be entered exactly as it appears on the menu.

3. Only ‘traditional’ sandwiches will be accepted. That means no burgers, no wraps, no open sandwiches, no stretching the concept. It’s filling between two slices of bread or a roll (we have to limit entries somehow).

4. A maximum of 18 different sandwiches will be selected to take part because, well, that’s a manageable number for a Tuesday evening.

5. Entrants must submit one sandwich to the judges, but 10 additional, identical sandwiches will be required on the night.

5. The final 18 will be judged on the evening according to the following criteria: appearance, taste and price.

6. Entries should be sent to [drink@theship.co.uk] Please describe the bread and filling of your sandwich and state the price. Photo = optional.

Them’s the rules! The sandwiches will be judged by a panel of sandwich fanatics including me, Jonathan Brown of the marvellous Sandwichist and a celebrity judge to be confirmed nearer the time.

It’s going to be an amazing evening; there will be drinks, there will be laughs and there will be some of the best damn sandwiches in London on the table. It’s an open invite so come on down and chow on down as we bestow the title of London’s Best Sandwich upon one deserving creation. Let the battle commence!

15 comments » | Competitions, Cooking Competitions, Sandwiches

Georgian Food Part 1: Markets

April 9th, 2012 — 2:21pm

Have you ever considered visiting Georgia? I’m talking the country in the Caucasus region of Eurasia here, not the American state.

Nope, I hadn’t either. I barely had any idea where to stab my finger on a map, let alone any knowledge of the food, the people, the wine; all of which, I found out last week, are very loveable indeed.

The Georgians are remarkable characters, famous for their hospitality; warm, open and generous, their eyes sparkle and their laughter flows. My first real encounter with the locals was in the food market we visited in Tbilisi, Georgia’s capital. The Georgians are not yet so used to tourists that they have become jaded; they welcome you to their stalls to taste food, without any expectations that you will buy. In fact when we did want to buy something, we occasionally had a hard time getting them to take our money. They willingly pose for photographs, tapping their friends on the shoulders to turn around and join in with cheesy grins. Can you imagine that happening in Borough Market?

The market in Tbilisi made me tingle with excitement. You can really feel the distance from Western Europe. I stumbled through each ramshackle pathway, ducking through doorways and underneath swinging bulbs, eager as a kid in a sweetshop to see what new discoveries lurked in every nook and cranny. There were many:

The Georgians are into pickles, which of course endeared me to their cuisine immediately. My favourite and fortuitously the most ubiquitous was this tall tangle of what seemed to be pickled flower stems; the comparison with capers (being pickled flower buds) was a natural one and the flavour was quite similar.

Walnuts are grown in Georgia and therefore appear frequently in sauces, soups, salads and most famously, in churchkhela (above); strings of walnuts (and sometimes hazelnuts) are dipped repeatedly in grape must, which is thickened with flour so that it coats the nuts in a slightly sweet, chewy casing.

We stumble across a ‘cheese room’ in the market, stacked with sheep’s and goat’s cheeses, both similar in flavour with an additional, heavily smoked variety. The texture is crumbly like feta, and the flavour, incredibly salty – more so even than halloumi. It is addictive, just as anything very salty always is.

We later visit a cheese maker who tells us that the saltiness is for preservation purposes. We have some fun trying to translate the technicalities of cheese production from Georgian to English but the gist is that they use rennet from the stomachs of their 500 sheep, mixed with milk and nettles, the latter helping to clean the mixture by catching impurities. The cheese was once stored in shaved sheep skins but is now kept in plastic bags (for obvious practical reasons), where it spends a year before reaching maturity.

In typical Georgian fashion we are greeted with refreshments – a plate of the cheese, plus bread and plenty of wine to wash it down. The wine is most definitely what one would describe as rustic, the kind of wine that a teenager would love; very sweet indeed but somehow absolutely perfect in that time and place, the sweetness perfectly balancing the super salty cheese. We glug down several glasses.

Back in the market, carrier bags bulge with heady spices and seeds. Cumin and coriander seem prevalent and I spot nigella seeds, too; unmistakeable black studs nestled amongst the fiery reds of a dozen different chilli powders. The chilli flakes look Turkish so I buy some of those – they come wrapped in a small newspaper cone like fish and chips – plus I take some of the Georgian spice blend which graces the table as a seasoning and tastes like a turbo charged celery salt.

Chickens are bright yellow and clearly corn-fed. The other meat we see hangs in a remote market; every stall holder equipped with the kind of axe one would expect to see furnishing the arm of Gimli in Lord of The Rings. The Georgians seem rather partial to offal, too; brains, tripe, snouts, the lot. In my delicate state (read: disgracefully hungover having spent 8 hours the previous day necking wine and grappa-like spirits), I find my usual ox-like constitution compromised and scurry away.

Honey is scooped from buckets in huge amber globs, then smeared into old jam jars. Pots of honeycomb are also available, which marked the first but not the last time I cursed my decision to bring a tiny suitcase.

Empty soft drink bottles are filled with Georgian table sauce, made from mirabelle plums. The green sauce is sour, while the red sauce, made from riper plums, is more sweet. Both are made by boiling then pureeing the fruit, before adding garlic, coriander, dill and chilli amongst other ingredients. Both are quite delicious, appearing at several meals we enjoy over the course of our stay; the flavour is unique and I’m rather excited at the prospect of attempting to re-create it.

Everywhere we look there are buckets, platters and boxes of ingredients:

Baby leek-like strands of wild garlic…

Platters of tiny fish are metallic flashes in the corner of the eye…

Sugar dusted dried fruits yield squidgy and soft within; dates, figs and persimmons (sharon fruit)

This is a picture of a Georgian cat because it is very pretty. No other reason. Not for eating.

We later visit the flea market in Tbilisi, which proves just as exciting for the cook; silver cutlery, crystal glasses, china and all manner of curious kitchenalia are laid out on the pavements. I once again curse the suitcase, passing up many opportunities to feed my obsession with plates and cutlery. At almost 3 lari to the pound, there were some bargains to be had.

I fell in love with the markets of Georgia. Well, I fell in love with a lot of things about Georgia. I’ll write next about the Georgian supra (feast), how the market ingredients are used in the kitchen and how the hospitality of the Georgian people is legendary. I’m even going to have a go at writing about the wine. Brace yourselves…

 

My visit to Georgia was led by ‘that crazy French woman’, Isabelle Legeron who organises the RAW artisan wine fair in May. Tickets available here.

 

38 comments » | Georgia, Markets, Travel

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