Last year Oddur and I had great fun with a little post we did sometime in January, looking back at the year behind us, remembering some of the things that stuck in our memory. Not necessarily the most important things or the highlights but the things we thought might be amusing or useful for you or at the very least not too boring to read about. The curious format we used was modeled after a favorite album of my mother’s – Double Fantasy with John and Yoko, where they take turns submitting their songs rather than collaborate on the same songs. I was John, he was Yoko and while he’s protesting this year – since it’s my blog he’s still Yoko. True to form all his entries seem to focus on dogs, or pasta or Italy but I kept mine a little more local.
As I’m writing this I’m feeling a wave of optimism. After a cold winter we’ve been having glorious weather, the kids are on holiday and we’ve been preparing the vegetable garden for spring, pruning the olive trees in front of the house and we have even lounged on the rooftop terrace at least a month early. Everybody’s got a little color on their previously pale faces, we’ve replanted the rose bushes that the dogs ate (actually we re- re planted them as the dogs also got the ones we planted first) and we’re looking so forward to everything that’s coming our way – not least our new website that we hope to have ready this spring.
Before we get on with the double “album” I wanted to say thank you to all of you who have taken the time to respond to my call to arms. In my last post I mentioned we were looking for help and we’ve received letters in the hundreds. So many good prospects and while I won’t be able to answer you all I wanted to say that no decisions have been made but I’m on it this week and next.
Secondly I have a Manger Workshop announcement: Last summer we announced the 2017 workshops and immediately got incredible response. The most popular workshop this year (and most popular from the beginning) is the “antiques workshop” this April. I think I had to turn away close to 50 people, even after I squeezed in a few extra people to the very full workshop. I completely understand as I love antique hunting myself and there is nothing better than mixing it up with some good food and wine. So while we initially planned to host no workshops after October we’ve decided to add an extra workshop next November 29 – December 1st. These dates coincide with he Quinconces Brocantes in Bordeaux, just like the April dates.
On top of that Oddur, who finally decided to do a photography workshop in May has decided to add another one in September 13-15 but this one will be held in Italy and not here in Médoc. There will be wine tastings as well and good food but no cooking unlike the one in May. He will be revisiting the setting for the story he wrote for CN Traveler this February. As he says himself “this one will be all action – not for the faint hearted, but for those who love an adventure”. ps there will be wine and dogs.
If you are interested please write to [email protected] and we will send you more information.
That’s all for now, I give you … Yoko
Tajarin – Inspired by Torino
I am fortunate enough to love my work (if it is work at all) and while I prefer above all else to stay at home with my wife and kids and dogs … and wine cellar, I do love a short trip to Italy. Last year I traveled to Torino for CN Traveler (you can read about that here) and fell in love with the city. I’ve always traveled a lot to Italy but Torino had escaped me until last fall. While it would feel repetitive to recount all the reasons why I fell for the city, let me just tell you about this particular pasta dish:
Sometimes magazines like to ask people about souvenirs they’ve brought home from trips etc. But I’ve always thought the most important souvenirs are not objects or even photographs. They are memories, of course, but if you can say after a trip that it has changed you in some way (for the better let’s hope) or that you learnt something, then you have really taken something worthwhile back home with you. And that something will always stay with you and will forever connect you to the place to which you traveled.
I have always loved tomato pasta. I have made a version thousands of times – I guess everybody has. I’m actually quite good at it (and you won’t hear me praise my own cooking very often). But this one is a little different. It has to do with two things: Olive Oil and the type of pasta, the Tagliarini or Tajarin as they call it in Piemonte.
It’s a little warped that I associate this pasta with Torino, tomato sauces aren’t really what the region is famous for. The restaurant where I had it, while old and by now quite Piedmontese is originally Tuscan. It’s called Al Gatto Nero and I spent a morning there taking pictures. It was a fine experience and while the kitchen was not in full swing they offered to make me a pasta dish so I could get some shots. They had tomato sauce ready so they just threw it together with some Tajarin and when we were done the pasta sat there in a bowl, getting cold. I guess Andrea, the proprietor, saw me glancing a the bowl so he kindly asked if I wanted to taste. I did. The rest is … an eternal quest to recreate it. Andrea saw I liked it and gently said, “it’s the best sauce in the world”. Not only was this true but when he said it, is sounded like a humble understatement.
I never asked for the recipe, and I guess it’s more of a technique anyway. I’ve tried to recreate it many times and so far the results are encouraging.
Let’s be clear about one thing – don’t try this at home unless you have Tajarin, dried or fresh.
This is my version of “the best sauce in the world”.
(My wife offered to assist me in writing this recipe. I was proud, I declined. The loss is yours).
Slice one small carrot finely. Slice one small red onion finely. Pour a lot (hell of a lot) of good (but not great) olive oil into a large pan. Sauté the vegetables until golden or translucent or whatever words they use in recipes – about 10 minutes (sometimes I add chili flakes at this point – sometimes I also add a bit of white wine, neither is necessary and frankly the same goes for the carrots). Add one can of the best tomatoes you can find. When the tomatoes start to disintegrate (with the help of your wooden spoon) add about half a bottle of good Passata (you could of course use either just passata or canned tomatoes but this works for me and I’m superstitious). Let this simmer while you get the salty pasta water to boil and make sure the sauce doesn’t get too thick. When you have the right consistency add a good deal of fresh, coarsely chopped basil to the sauce and plunk the pasta into the boiling pot. Set the timer for 2 minutes (even if it takes 3 minutes to cook). Transfer the almost cooked pasta to the sauce (chefs would cook it in a strainer to make it easy) and add as much cooking water as you deem necessary. Once on the plate add some grated parmesan, a very generous drizzle of great olive oil to finish and serve. Hope your guests will like it.
The result should be a pasta that has a noodle like quality, with an oily (but not too oily) delicious tomato sauce, that generously (but not too generously) covers all the pasta.
If all this sounds to vague it’s because it is.
This Tajarin is an idea, a challenge, there is no right or wrong, only results … and they better be good.
The Como Cover
Wow, Yoko can really write a long text about a tomato pasta. But I give her this: it’s very tasty 🙂
While I said my “songs” would be local I can’t start this album with anything other than the most important thing that happened to me last year. The birth of my baby boy, Lucian. He is a mother’s dream, an extension of me still. Motherhood can be demanding but no sooner is he out of my sight than I want him back in my arms. If practice makes perfect then let’s just say I’m mastering motherhood, sort of. Or maybe a better way to describe it would be saying, I enjoy it even more now. I know how tough it can be, but I’ve gotten used to it. I also know it won’t last forever and I want to savor every single moment. He’s my last one. I love him so.
Speaking of moments, this particular one was as charming, improvised and organic as any I can remember. We had taken half the kids to Milan and decided to spend two days in Como. On our first night we had a lavish dinner at our hotel, the wonderful Grand Hotel Tremezzo, and I had dolled myself up for a big night. To make sure Lucian would stay out of trouble I decided to give him a little “drink” before heading down. Oddur came in and immediately went for his phone. “This is too beautiful he said”. At first I protested, I don’t usually allow picture of myself breastfeeding – I guess it’s my Asian private side. But it was a tender moment and I even decided, upon reflection, to post it – after all I think encouraging breastfeeding is a good thing.
Strangely enough, that dimly lit photograph, shot with an iPhone, ended up on Vogue Living as a cover. They had seen it on my feed and while I warned them it was a rather low-res image they still decided to go ahead with it and I’m glad they did.
There are moments of pure, unfiltered happiness. This was one of them.
Back to Turin. I was coming back to Torino after a day spent driving and drinking in the Barolo wine region, about an hour’s drive from Torino. I had set up a dinner date with Mimi at a restaurant called Tre Galli, on my list to shoot and I was racing to catch the last light of the day. As I arrived outside the restaurant I could see it wasn’t yet open, the cooks were all seated together at a long table and at the head of it, a very imposing, well dressed, ruggedly handsome man. I approached from outside and instinctively “drew my camera”. As I entered, without asking for permission, I starting shooting the table, focusing on the man at the end. Finally I did what many photographers do, asked forgiveness rather than permission. I had caught the moment now I had to face the music. The music in this case was a sweet melody, Raimond, as the well dressed man is called, was very kind and even invited me to take more photos. It turned out that he’s just a guy from the neighborhood, friendly with the local restaurateurs and sometimes dines with them. I was keen to take more photos of him, in better light so we made plans for the following day. This time he showed up almost in costume and sat for a few more portraits. When we parted, he wrote down his name and details and even made me a little sketch of a naked woman on the backside of the paper. Raimond is an artist and a philosopher in addition to his refined sense of dressing. There is something very noble and quirky about him, they call him the king of his neighborhood. Less noble was the fact that I lost the drawing and details but I promise to make up for it when I return to Torino. I will bring a framed photo and copies of the CN Traveler issue. Raimond, if you are reading – outside my wife and children you were my favorite subject of 2016.
Last year so many of the people who have joined us for the workshops practically begged me to assemble a playlist with samples of the music we play during our workshops. I finally relented and while that playlist, now over a year old, goes in and out of fashion in this house, I think it’s a good tradition. So here it is, the Manger workshop playlist 2017, I hope you will enjoy it. Some of the songs we’ve been listening to for years, others have been suggested by our friends or workshop attendees. These are the songs that get us in the mood when the Champagne is flowing freely and the night is young.
Yves Montand – C’est si bon
Dusty Springfield – Take another piece of my heart
Raspberries – Go all the way
Gerry Rafferty – Right down the line
Dalida – Paroles Paroles
Charles Aznavour – Les Comédiens
Chet Baker – I fall in love too easily
Frank Sinatra – Days of wine and roses
Gilbert Bécaud – Je reviens te chercher
Peter Sarstedt – Where do you go to my lovely
Lucienne Boyer – Parlez moi d’amour
George Michael – Kissing a fool
Dusty Springfield – Windmills of my mind
John Lennon – (Just like) Starting over
Frank Sinatra – Watch what happens
Click here to get the playlist on Spotify.
Armagnac – A fling in the spring
I keep raving on about Italy but it should be noted that France is my first love but Italy a close second. If we lived in Italy we’d spend our holidays in France and vice versa.
It’s been rather well documented on this blog and in Mimi’s book, how much I like wine. Particularly Bordeaux wine. Particularly old Bordeaux reds from the finest vintages. I also love Champagne (that love is equally well documented). The liqueurs and digestifs and all that stuff is all wonderful but I’ve never really fallen in love with it and for that my liver will be eternally grateful. Having said that I did have a little fling last spring with Armagnac. We were spending easter in Gascony shooting a story on the region, in the company of a bunch of wonderful people. And those wonderful people were all drinking Armagnac. Not all the time, but in the evenings when dinner was over and we had all assembled in front of the fire in the grand red salon. I became very fond of my Armagnac those evenings in Luxeube and enjoyed nothing better than to nurture a glass or two while the more ambitious guests argued over the rules of parlour games they had created.
Armagnac is a type of brandy that comes from Armagnac and it has to come from Armagnac. If you are sentimental about such things, and not too old, you can probably find a bottle from your birth year. Some people make a great fuss about such things (often the same people who are ambitious at parlour games) but the truth is that the best Armagnac often comes from assembling vintages.
I haven’t had a lot of Armagnac since then (remember my pact with my liver) but once or twice for Christmas I broke my rule and that distinctive flavor, quite different from other brandy, is very beautiful and brings me back to that red salon in Luxeube.
It was a pleasant surprise to be asked to be the face and ambassador for the French cosmetic brand L’Occitane en Provence. I didn’t have to think twice, it’s a company with a good reputation and excellent products that I have always used throughout my life. L’Occitane comes from Provence in the south and the DNA and soul of the company is very linked to its birthplace. In spring I was invited to come and see their origins, the fields where they grow the various herbs and flowers, their aromatherapy insitute and their amazing spa.
Everybody likes Provence but it’s so well-known, much more so than our beloved Médoc, that it’s easy to take it for granted. I hadn’t been down there for quite a few years but an added bonus to my work for L’Occitane was rediscovering this jewel of France, guided by the people who know it best. Walking through the blossoming fields of thousands of almond trees, heavily pregnant and flanked by my daughter Louise was one of the most remarkable experiences of last year. Lucian, who was in my womb at the time, actually went twice. A few weeks after his birth we were back on the road, this time just me and the boys for a whirlwind trip. We had a lovely night at the L’Occitane spa at the ‘Couvent des Minimes’, I walked in the lavender fields with Humfri and then we had a quick stopover in the magical town of Arles, so infused by artistic charm and history.
It’s a reminder to not take things for granted, to rekindle old flames.
(Breaking the rule, still Mimi here – It seems I have more songs than my husband)
It’s very rare, if it ever happens at all, that we don’t have some sort of apéro in this house. Come rain or shine, hell or high water, sometime before dinner we’ll be pouring something into a glass, enjoying something delicious spread out on the kitchen table, the garden table or even, on a clear day, on the roof. Often these moments include sausages and cold cuts, the debatable “grenier Médocain”, the very salty but irresistible smoked duck breast. Radishes with butter, carrot and celery sticks, crunchy duck skin with hazelnut dip, oysters, foie gras. In summer we’ll often have rosé or Champagne or rosé Champagne. In winter we’ll have Champagne or Reds. When Matt and Yolanda are here we’ll have cocktails, then Champagne. Sometimes we go alternative. Deep fried things like sage or pumpkin flowers. Or popcorn. Everybody loves popcorn.
In the morning we love to have boiled eggs and soldiers and sometimes, when we have time, we drench the soldiers in a mixture of salt and rosemary and parmesan. That mixture is equally good when drizzled over popcorn and the kids love it. Oddur loves to make virgin Mary’s with the kids and they adore it.
Something about a virgin Mary with a crunchy celery stick and even crunchier popcorn perfumed by rosemary.
French Country Cooking
Last year I wrote about the two impending births in 2016. That, in part, inspired the title “Double fantasy”. Lucian, of course, was born in June but my other “baby” – French Country Cooking only came out last October.
I have written much on this blog about my second cookbook, which is partly devoted to the pop up family-restaurant we opened here in Médoc in the summer of 2015. In many ways the book wrote itself and now that I have had time to reflect I can say that I am immensely proud of it, happy that we made it all work but mostly happy that the recipes work. I always knew it would be a nice looking book but it’s only after the book is out there that the recipes start to get tried and tested, that the reviews come in. Almost every day I get a comment, an email or even a kind word on the street.
It seems those of you have bought the book like the recipes and for that I am eternally thankful.
ps: Observant readers will notice that this is not the actual cover but a similar one that was almost in the running. When Oddur was shooting John Ray for the cover (which was partly an accident) then Helmut (now Gustave) was also crawling about and got a shot at the limelight. In the end, though, we chose John Ray but here’s to Helmut nevertheless.
The Insta Puppies
Oddur here (enough with this Yoko business).
Last year saw the birth of two litters of Smooth Fox Terrier puppies. We don’t really breed professionally and certainly not for financial gain (it’s a money losing operation if there ever was one). We do, however, have excellent dogs and would happily have many more if
A. Space allowed B. Fox terriers were actually pack dogs and could get along with each other (the males get very territorial). The two litters we had were carefully planned and we meant to keep at least one or even two from last year’s batch. In the end it wasn’t to be. We decided against keeping a male (John Ray who is on the cover of the book and was our choice ultimately left us) as we have three others and while they liked him as a puppy things were bound to get messy. Then we planned to keep a female but fate threw us a surprise in the form of a bitch (the correct term) called Moneypenny who will be perfect down the line for Humfri, our finest dog. Adding two females was sensitive and now they are all gone. But what fun we had, they gave us good memories those puppies of summer. They also messed up the garden but that’s another matter.
The silver lining in all of this is that they are all in great homes. Each of them found a great family, many in NY funnily enough, but we now have agents in London, Geneva, Paris, NY and Bordeaux. And many of them have their own IG accounts.
Here are a few:
Others share their accounts with their adoptive parents.
Our next litter will be in 2018 and by then I hope the balance will allow us to keep one. Preferably one that’s the spitting image of Humfri which is the big idea.
The Chicken Suprême
Last year I wrote that while this was not a traditional post I felt it needed at least one recipe. Oddur already took care of that with his Tajarin but I also have something up my sleeve. I have always loved simply fried chicken breast with sligthly crunchy skin and lately my butcher has started offering “suprême de poulet”, technically a suprême is a breast with the wing bone still attached, I just cut off at the tip. It’s even tastier and juicier than just frying the breast. Lately I have cooked this dish or a version of it for lunch, perfect and healthy for the colder months with nourishing, delicous beans and a crispy spinach salad on the side.
6 chicken breast (with the skin), or in French suprême de poulet
8 garlic cloves, slightly crushed and unpeeled
450g/ 1 pound cannellini or other cooked white beans, rinsed and drained
160 ml/ 2/3 cup white wine
A bouquet of fresh rosemary
Fleur de sel and freshly ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 180°C/ 350°F
Drizzle the olive oil over the chicken and season with salt and pepper. Heat a large heavy sauté pan, add more olive oil, about 2 tablespoons. Add the chicken, skin side down. Once the skin is golden, turn the chicken and brown on the other side, about 2 minutes.
Place the beans in the baking pan, drizzle the juice from the pan all over and season with salt and pepper. Transfer the chicken on top of the beans, scatter the rosemary and garlic all over. Drizzle a little more olive oil and the white wine. Place the baking dish to the pre-heated oven for about 8 to 10 minutes, or until cooked through. Be careful not to overcook the chicken or it will be too dry.
Serve the chicken with the beans and garlic, drizzle a little olive oil and season if needed.
The Count of Monte Cristo
This time we have no baby to announce (thank god) although I have had great fun with the hasthtag #babyno9 which sends all our friends and especially my parents into a frenzy.
There will, however, be an addition to this family in early summer.
I have wanted a Bracco Italiano for years and almost got one last summer. Having done much research and many more observations on my own dogs I am convinced that such a dog will go nicely with what we have already. The theory being that a gentle dog like the Bracco won’t mess with the Terriers and that the Terriers, while all action, will be smart enough not to mess with a much bigger dog. My own experience and the experience of others has taught me this.
Once again it will be the year of the dog in Médoc. The land of wine and roses.