Posts from February 2010

Wild Wild West, Pointe du Grouin near Cancale, Brittany

After posting a lengthy Grow Great Grub interview with Gayla Trail, I thought nature served not on a plate but via Flickr would be a nice contrast.


Wild wild west, rugged landscape, hiding places, fresh air, the Pointe du Grouin (pictured above) near Cancale 'points out and protects the entrance into the bay of Mont St Michel' (Wikipedia quote).

A hiking trail passes through.

After a good walk, head back to Cancale for a feast of oysters, the town is famous for them.

Like it, want more check the Haute-Bretagne Flickr stream...

Want to know more (in French) about the region, check the Haute-Bretagne Tourist Board site.

Hours Left to Get Your Hands on Pair Tickets for Sword Fighting Men Japanese Film, NY Show, Feb 19

Don't pretend we kept you in the dark.

OK, we got this pair of tickets thanks to the Film Program at the Japan Society only Tuesday.

It left not much time to spread the word.

The Sword Fighting Men Japanese Film showing on Friday, February 19, 2010 at 7:30 PM in New York is Kenji Misumi's Destiny's Son (Kiru).

No winner so far for this Chambara Film.


To make things happen, I will ask a new and super easy question:

What band was one of the composers of the soundtrack for Last Emperor a member of prior to going solo?

I don't mean the ex-Talking Heads, I mean the other composer.

You have until Midnight on Thursday, February 18 to win the challenge.

First come, first serve.

Use the comments to give your answer (with e-mail so we can contact you).

Bonne Chance!

Freebies for Tokyo Thursdays # 127

Previously: Steaming Hot Pot, Nabe, Japanese Food Family Style

How to Grow Great Grub? Green Thumb Advice from Gayla Trail, The Wednesday Interview

As soon as I noticed Grow Great Grub: Organic Food from Small Spaces (yes you can) by Gayla Trail, I knew I had to interview the young lady.


Why?  Because her book (published in February 2010 by Clarkson Potter) shows that anyone can do it even with limited space, she describes 'Grow Great Grub' as an 'essential encouraging guide'.

Why too? The book combines various threads that I've been following from edible gardens to eating local to cooking with fresh ingredients with the shear pleasure of picking and eating the fruit of your labor...

Here's what we talked about.

Q: Gayla, Do you see yourself as part of the 'edible garden' wave?

A: I don’t know how to answer this question. I don’t see this as a fad and it certainly isn’t for me.

Q: Are you keeping a family tradition of growing things?

A: Sort-of. My roots are West Indian and specifically from Dominica where historically people have a long, close, and complicated relationship with the earth and growing food. In that sense I believe that a certain amount of my deep, intense need to grow things is genetic.

My grandmother grew plants but never spoke of it so when I began it wasn’t because I was taught or encouraged by my elders. Yet I do see her as my inspiration and example. She grew potatoes in a bucket on her balcony and I think it planted the seed in my brain that I could have a garden and grow my own food without the benefit of a yard, lots of space, or other traditional trappings.

Q: Was your colder location (Canada) instrumental in deciding to pay attention to growing small things indoors?

A: Canada is a massive landmass—there are parts that are warmer than many parts of the US and other parts that are much colder.  It depends on where you are situated on that massive landmass. I complain a lot through the winter because I am a wimp and we do have a fairly cold winter here in Toronto, but it is only slightly colder than New York City.  We’ve experienced a few anomalies recently, but our summers are actually very hot and humid.  We can grow an awful lot here – the climate isn’t that limiting. We’re not riding around on dog sleds.

I actually grow far less indoors than I do outside simply because I have less indoor space with good light. During the coldest parts of the winter I put my outdoor gardens to bed and focus my attention to the indoors. 

Q: Favorite thing to grow on a window sill?

A: Micro-greens. I have a batch going right now. Although I also like my new scented geraniums. One is already flowering.

Q: Favorite thing to grow in a small plot?

A: Lettuce. There are so many different varieties and a large number of them are absolutely stunning in their own right. They also grow quickly and don’t take up much space.

Q: If you had to pick one thing to plant and harvest for each season which would they be?

A; This is tricky because some things are planted in spring for a fall harvest. That said: Spring: peas. Summer: tomatoes. Fall: mâche.


Q: Does the pleasure you derive from micro=farming comes from smell, taste, proximity, sense of achievement, self reliance?

A: It comes from all of those things and more. I’m not sure I could reduce it down to one. There is also the wonder of new discoveries, and the healing that comes from working my muscles, looking at beautiful plants, and putting my hands in the soil.

Q: Besides what you grow, favorite spots to go food shopping in your hometown?

A: Hands down the farmers markets. I go to the Dufferin Grove Farmers’ Market most Thursdays year-round, but during the summer I ride around on my bike and try to hit as many on my side of town as possible. During the really productive times of the year I get really excited to find out what the different farmers will bring and am inspired to find new ways to use the produce or try growing it myself. I go a bit nuts canning.

Q: Any restaurant you patronize?

A: Primarily places that are in my neighborhood because I am inherently lazy and tend to stay within what I call “My Rectangle.”  I like The Beaver because it is close by and they have some excellent staples on the menu that never get boring. I often have lunch at Café Bernate because the owners are friendly and have been in this neighborhood since forever.  I keep hoping they’ll bring back the spinach soup that was so good I couldn’t resist buying more to take home for later.  That was about 2 years ago. I still dream about that soup.

Q: I see you like basil (making basil puree) and baking bread. Is there a dish you cook at home that you would call your best or your greatest hit? 

A: I make a really killer chawanmushi, a Japanese savory custard that is steamed in a tea cup.

Q: From your writing, you sound thrifty, is it by choice or necessity?

A: Both.

Q: Do you make a lot of preserves?

A; Too many. Storage space is hard to come by.

Q: Mostly vegetables or fruits? 

A: It’s probably pretty balanced overall. The spring is more about fruit besides the pickled asparagus that I’m planning to make a yearly tradition. I do a lot of vegetables in the late summer and fall. 


Q: How do you grow great grub? Do you need good soil, light, water, good seeds, good plants or is it all about patience and paying attention?

A: Soil: All gardens begin with the soil. It is first and foremost. 

Light: The amount of direct sunlight your spot receives will determine what you can grow. 

Water: When it comes to water it’s about knowing your plants and giving them the amount they need. It is also about how you apply the water. I always suggest to beginners that they train themselves to water the soil, not the leaves as a way to avoid diseases.  

Good Seeds: Diseases and problems can be passed through seed so it certainly matters. It helps to get your seed from quality growers who have a passion for it and who put a lot of care and attention into the seed they produce.  It also depends on how one defines “good” since there are political and environmental ramifications to where your seeds come from.

Good Plants: You definitely want to avoid buying plants that are sick to begin with.

Paying Attention: The act of gardening develops good observational skills. Paying attention to our plants and watching for changes offers the chance to catch some problems before they get out of hand as well as note what works and do more of it.

Q: Would you say that growing your own is like learning a foreign language or how to play an instrument? Does it take time until you have your Eureka moment when you feel that you know what you are doing?

A: I think it can be in the sense that becoming a good gardener is about discipline and forming habit as well as just doing it. You become a better gardener through the experience of gardening.  In the gardening world there are protégés; we call them “green thumbs.” I don’t believe in black thumbs and I think that the intuitiveness that makes someone a green thumb can be developed through experience since it primarily about cultivating good observational skills and being willing to take risks and experiment.

One can never know everything there is to know about gardening – it’s a lifelong learning process comprised of thousands of Eureka moments, successes, and massive failures.  Gardeners don’t have any control over nature or the weather so they’ve got to adapt to and just go with the flow of whatever happens every year.  There’s no chance to suddenly reach a pinnacle where everything is perfect and there is nothing left to learn.  It’s both freeing and humbling and the reason why gardening never gets old or boring.


Want to dig deeper before getting your hands dirty, Gayla (above) shares more gardening advice on You Grow Girl, her 10 year old child.

My apologies to our Canadian friends for my silly misconceptions on the weather up North. Gayla was kind enough to enlighten me.

Thanks to Gayla for her time and to Allison Malec at Clarkson Potter for making this interview possible.

200 Port Wines under one roof, Vinologia in Porto

What is a French guy doing in Portugal championing Port Wines, I wondered first when I discovered Vinologia or 'La Maison du Porto' in French.

The idea of finding 200 Port Wines under one roof, you just have to make the trip to Porto, sounds appealing.

Best of all if I am not mistaken you can taste them all.

The site seems to be available only in French and German and could use some updating.

It looks Vintage 1999 but as they say you can't judge a book by its cover.


The Vinologia site says that besides 200 Ports available by the glass, they offer guided tastings to flights of ports including 3 to 8 selections.

They can also suggest food pairings for your wine picks.

Vinologia opened its doors in 2000 in Ribeira the historic center of Porto which was declared a World Heritage Site by Unesco.

Hopefully they are still around.

Revenge, Redemption, Win Pair of Tickets for Kenji Misumi's Destiny's Son Film Screening, February 19, New York

You might have read Sword Fighting Men, Will Chambara Movies be Hip in 2010, Japan Society Thinks So (December 09).

Well if you like classic Japanese Movies, here's an offer you can't refuse.

The Film Program at the Japan Society was generous enough to share a couple of tickets with us for the screening of Kenji Misumi's Destiny's Son (Kiru) on Friday, February 19, 2010 at 7:30 PM in New York.

Destiny's son

"In Kenji Misumi’s breakthrough film, Ichikawa seeks revenge and redemption after his family is murdered by a rival clan. An astonishing, dreamlike samurai film written by Kaneto Shindo, Destiny’s Son is a demonic masterpiece: designed with quasi-expressionist artistry, awash with surreal landscapes, and subsumed in an otherworldly beauty that fuses Zen and sword."

How can you win this contest?

Easy, answer one of the two following questions:

-What connection is there between this Chambara Movie Series and the original California Punk Rock scene?

-Which country's animated movies did I mention recently while writing about a Festival down under?

In case, there is a tie between two winners, here's a bonus question to separate you:

-List 5 stories from 5 different months on 5 different topics which I wrote for my weekly Tokyo Thursdays in 2009.

We must get all answers by 11AM (Eastern Time) on Thursday, February 18.

Send your answers to info@njconcierges with your name, e-mail, phone number.

Let us know if you want a single ticket or a pair.

Winners will be contacted Thursday afternoon.

Let the best swordsman or woman win!

Natural Wine Week is Coming to Town, New York, March 6-March 11, 2010

The news landed in my mailbox.

French, Italian and California winemakers of the bio dynamic and natural type are descending upon the big apple for a series of in store tastings, dinners and all around evangelism.


I don't believe they are bringing the horses along.

Here's the opening salvo before you make week-end plans:


Are you ready to go Natural?

Wine plans for Green Day # 115

Previously: In 2010, A Flood of Green Valentine Day Gifts Ideas

Donkeys in the Vineyard, Father, Sons and Daughters at Gelso della Valchetta

On the second day of Vino 2010, 'Meet & Greet' lunch break was a roomful of wines, some food and not much space to move.

It is hard under these circumstances to juggle a glass, the guide to exhibitors and a notepad.

My method was no method.

I let inspiration, hazard and visual cues guide me.

All three happened as I was standing in front of the Gelso della Valchetta table hosted by Mapi and Marco Caldani, the proud owners.


It was graced by the picture of this donkey (l'ane) being part of the harvest.

Mapi was glad I noticed it and excitedly told me the story of her bambinis (the donkeys). Each one has a name.

The winery located a short drive from Rome was established in 1997.

It's a family affair with the help of oenologist Graziana Grassini.

Small production with 2 wines, Il Lilium (100% Chardonnay, 5000 Bottles) and Il Gelso (75% Merlot, 25% Cabernet, 32000 Bottles), first vintage in 2003.


They harvest by hand, take their time and try to do it right by nature and by us.

How Dolce is la Vita at Gelso della Valchetta?

Forget about Overnight Success, Nice Guys Finish First writes Barrie Bergman

I had heard about the book Nice Guys Finish First (the one below *) here and there but let's be honest, I have not read it nor did I know much about Barrie Bergman, its author.


We do share roots in the record business except I was never more than a small fish.

What brought Barrie to my attention was his manifesto The Myth of Overnight Success (February 10) for ChangeThis.

With my European background, I think in America we sometimes want instant results where perseverance would be advisable.

Addressing The Myth, Barrie writes:

"Personally, I’ve never met an overnight success. I’ve met people who’ve done something well for a long time and were suddenly discovered."

It takes time to learn your craft whether you're a musician, writer, designer, architect, entrepreneur, winemaker you name it.

Attending recent wine tastings with European producers who can trace their roots going back generations if not centuries gave me that sense of perspective. They are not stuck in their ways. They benefit from past knowledge while eager to tweak things.

Barrie's closing lines for The Myth of Overnight Success summarize it all:

"Our society is fascinated by get-rich-quick schemes, miracle weight-loss programs, the idea of instant results, instant wealth—the overnight success. Too often, integrity is sacrificed to those efforts and, even if there are temporary riches, there is no real success. In the end, successful companies and people are those that recognize that success is built with integrity, one day at a time, and they put in the time to prove it."

Take the time to Read the rest of his manifesto.

In the course of looking at theme of Nice Guys Finish First, I read This Piece (December 09) by Tracy Staedter for Discovery. She starts with the words:

"Survival of the fittest is so two centuries ago. These days it's all about survival of the kindest. So all of you cut-throat, road-raging, self-absorbed, Wall Street, pirating, war-mongering, greedy jerks out there, take note: Your "every man for himself" philosophy will have you finishing last.

Scientists at the University of California, Berkeley, have compiled a ton of evidence to suggest that survival of the kindest is responsible for the continuity of our species."

Fond of BBC Documentaries, check this Video where Richard Dawkins talks at selfishness versus cooperation.

(* I wrote 'the one below' regarding the 'Nice Guys Finish First' book as it seems to be a popular title from baseball to dating to innovation, a crowded field)

Steadfast for Monday Work Etiquette # 129

Previously: The Art of Napping at Work, a Touch of Zen for Monday

C B S News: Butter once was a Luxury in Brittany, Kouign Amann means Butter Cake

C B S as in Caramel & Beurre Sale (Caramel made with Salty Butter), a specialty of Henri Le Roux.

Olivier Magny in Le Caramel au Beurre Sale (February 3) writes:

"When a Parisian reads “Caramel au beurre salé” on a dessert menu, he usually bursts with an irrepressible “Oh, caramel au beurre salé…’”. At this point, the odds for the Parisian to give in reach a peak. Salt miraculously washed sugar away, brushed off decadence. The Parisian is freed."

Funny how much history you can learn from a little book like Caramel & Beurre Sale (Cherche Midi, French only) by Henri Le Roux in collaboration with Benedict Beauge.


I never heard about many of the facts and traditions he shares with us even though I was born in Brittany and grew up there.

Since I never learned or spoke Breton, I did not know that a favorite, Kouign Amann means butter cake.

Amann is the Breton word for butter if I'm not mistaken.

For most of us, it is hard to imagine a time when butter was a luxury.

I will share more of Henri Le Roux secrets and knowledge of local history in an interview with the C B S man within the next few weeks.

Champagne and Heart Flutters Gelato, Valentine's Day Treats in Maine

They say you should drink something hot when it's hot so should you eat something cold when in Maine on Valentine's Day?

If you like Italian style sweet treats, I just found that The Gelato Fiasco in Brunswick pulled out all the stops and is offering Valentine's Day only flavors like Champagne and Heart Flutters.

They' re opened until 11 PM so no need to rush.

When in Maine...