Vino and veg

Okay. Confession time. I like wine – a lot. Not only is wine delicious, but each bottle has a story. Like many things, some stories are more interesting than others, but each bottle comes from somewhere, is made by someone and contains some kind of grape. I like those kind of stories, just like I like stories about food. I like reading about food, looking at it, talking about it, cooking it and eating it. For most of you, my dear friends and family, this is probably old news. For those of you who may not already know it, as a family, we eat predominantly vegetables, but are known to have fish occasionally and even meat, though very rarely. While our vegetarian lifestyle is relevant to my story, the reasons for our choices are not and so we’ll leave those aside.

What I do want to share with you is how these two loves of mine – wine and vegetarian food – play together. If you’re like me, when you visit a wine shop or read about wine, first you read the description of the wine followed by the recommendations for food pairings. The suggested pairings are often simple at best – meat, poultry, fish or vegetarian. I don’t know about you, but that’s just not enough information for me. Vegetarian (and vegan) dishes offer a very wide variety of flavors and textures and thus wine pairing opportunities.

What I’ve discovered during my food and wine journey is that I don’t always find it very easy to pair vegetarian dishes with wine. I have a lot of respect for those sommeliers in fancy restaurants who can pair a beautiful and mouth-watering vegetarian dish perfectly with a wine so artistically and masterfully that both the food and the wine, each lovely on their own, are elevated to another level entirely. Oh my! To an amateur like myself, that can be both inspiring and pretty intimidating. However, after a conversation with some of the staff during a recent visit to the lovely vegetarian restaurant in Cork, Cafe Paradiso, I decided that I would not be deterred. Wine appreciation is a subjective thing, so why shouldn’t I give it a try? On my quest to enjoy this experience at home, I started keeping a little journal about my experiences/experiments (both positive and negative) and thought it might be fun to share them with you here since I suspect that I may not be alone in my desire to make a nice pairing.


wine-pair_27848438000_oSo, for my first pairing, I’d like to show a pairing that was pretty tasty. The dish is one that we eat pretty often with slight variations based on the vegetables in the fridge. The dish is served on a bed of red and white quinoa topped with beet blocks, caramelized red onion and fennel slices, sliced portobello mushrooms, and cavolo nero (also known as black kale or Tuscan kale) and topped with feta cheese made from goat’s milk. I paired it with one of my favorite Pinot Noirs: Snow Mountain, The Mistress 2015 vintage from the winemaker at Nabygelegen. While writing this post, I read a press release on their website that the 2009 vintage of this particular wine was served during the 60th Jubilee lunch of the Queen of England. Now that is a pretty neat story! Although I wasn’t able to find much about the wine itself on their site, I did read some interesting articles about their 2013 and 2014 vintages written by Michael Olivier if you’d like to read more about it.

wine-pair_28026145072_oIt is from the Bovlei Valley in Wellington, South Africa and although it is a fruit-driven Pinot Noir, it is subtle, complex and elegant with typical earthy and mushroom-like flavors as well as spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg, pepper and a bit of vanilla. The earthiness tasted great with the nutty quinoa and the earthy mushrooms, which I cooked separately on a fairly high heat so that they had a nice smoky flavor, and the red fruits, think raspberry, strawberry and some cherry, paired well with the sweet and earthy beets and also gave a lovely contrast to the creamy and salty goat feta cheese. Overall, a successful pairing!

A story about birth

Yesterday was my birthday. It was a good day. My long-abandoned annual birthday run was replaced with an equally pleasant walk in the park with my daughter and a lovely hour-long yoga session in my studio. My family and I met a friend in a café for some cake (or cocktails – depending on whose account of the afternoon you hear) and the babysitter came, leaving my husband and me to go on a date which included dinner and some jazz, and in typical Amsterdam-style ended with a 35-minute bike ride through a very stiff and slightly wet head wind. This may sound quite challenging and unwelcome at such a late hour, but over the past few decades, I’ve discovered that it provides a beneficial service: that of clearing cocktail-induced clouds from one’s head. A splendid birthday on all accounts!

Happy Birthday Mommy

For as long as I can remember, each birthday, my mother told me the story of how I was born. It was early in the morning that cold February day and she wasn’t due for another five days. She woke up early that morning because she couldn’t sleep. Labor wasn’t the first thing that crossed her mind, but she felt uncomfortable in the bed, maybe a bit restless. Despite the early hour, my father had already left for work, so she rang her mother, looking for some comfort and advice. My grandmother, having given birth to six babes, was an expert in the matter. My grandmother told her not to fret, got in her car and drove the 10 minutes to pick my mother up, bringing her back home. My mother showered, washed her hair, and felt a slight rise in the pressure of the situation – nothing she would really call labor, but still, something was afoot. They decided that a trip to the hospital would be a good idea as it did seem she was heading in that direction. It was mid-morning at this point, so she called my father who would have a break at work around that time and told him that she thought she might be in labor and asked him to bring her to the hospital. My father, being the ever practical man that he is, suggested that his mid-morning break was not very long and perhaps she might wait until he had his lunch break a few hours later, when he would have a longer window of opportunity to bring her as it was a 30-minute drive to the nearest hospital. Mom must not have been in the throes of labor because apparently she agreed to this. Eventually my father showed up and picked her up, making the drive and arriving at the hospital early in the afternoon. Once she reached the hospital, her wait for my arrival was very short as I arrived at a quarter past two. Happy day!

More than three decades later, it was my turn. Now, having heard this story so often and for most of my life, I had a much romanticized idea of how giving birth would be. In Holland, giving birth at home is quite common and encouraged. I even planned to have my daughter naturally in a birthing pool at home and though we did fill it once and have a little splash in it that hot July, unfortunately, she had other ideas. My experience, which was in the hospital, was less than romantic, being significantly longer and far more painful than the story my mother had shared with me through all those years – my story – a story which I’d unknowingly adopted as a preview of my upcoming birthing experience, projecting ideas of a swift, natural and yet reasonably painless delivery. The lesson learned? Even if your mother tells you how it is, one woman’s experience of giving birth is not another’s. Ouch.

This year’s birthday was special to me in a way. It occurred to me that my very first birthday spent in Europe was my 21st. I lived in Strasbourg, France at the time where I was studying during a year abroad and life was an adventure, ripe with possibilities. One of those possibilities eventually led me to stay in Europe and spend my next 21 birthdays in Amsterdam. Now I used to be fairly good at math and so I according to my calculations, I have officially (or non-officially, since I’m not a certified mathematician unless being on the Mathletics team in high school counts as a certification and I’m pretty sure it does not) lived half of my life abroad. Not a big deal, really, and yet I find myself wondering where this adventure I am on will lead in another half a lifetime. A lot of people see the start of the New Year as a time to reflect and evaluate the direction their life is taking, making course corrections as they feel the need, but I feel this more deeply on my birthday since it’s my own personal New Year. My life, like many, has been filled with plenty of ups and downs. The past decade has held some pretty great things and some pretty dark things. I don’t want to discredit the bright points of these years for they were certainly present and important, but the larger picture has in truth held much darkness. Fortunately, I feel that I am slowly emerging from the darkness, reclaiming a sense of the person I once was, embracing the magic of life again and hoping that I can continue on my adventure with a renewed sense of purpose. This year could be pivotal…and, in fact, it will be. Inevitable decisions and change lay ahead for me personally and for us as a family. These are both stressful and scary and yet, for the first time in a long time, I feel drawn to make them. I take some comfort in the fact that my journey has brought a sense richness to my life, whether it felt like an adventure at that particular moment or more like the ultimate defeat, and I know that my next step will bring another life experience to the table. With a new year ahead of me and a course that is as of yet unknown, all I want to do is approach it like I once did, with both determination and an open mind, a sense of curiosity and wonder and a belief that it will bring me to where I’m meant to be.

Thanks for reading.