5 cool things from the summer sale at ABC Carpet & Home

If you call yourself the global grocery, at some point, you’ve got to talk about ABC Carpet & Home, the one-of-a-kind shop that brings the world and it’s extraordinary designs together.  Do I believe them when they tell me that this shawl I’m holding has been handmade by women in Malawi?  I do.  Do I believe them when they say the the wood for these trays was scavenged?  I do.  Do I think they see themselves as a global citizen, imperfect as that may be?  I do.  Apparently, lots of other folks do, too.

Stuff that is hand-hewn and not mass-produced in factories is going to be expensive.  In truth, I spend much more time drifting around the flagship, 6-story store of ABC in the Flatiron District than I do actually spending money there – for someone like me, it’s inspiring.  And I think they’re okay with that.

Anyway, here are five cool tems that are currently on sale – in the store and online – that are great for the table and kitchen.

Made to splash you off after a rigorous scrubbing in a Turkish bath, or hamam, so many other uses are possible for these bowls.  Each is slightly different, in copper or silver tones.  $39.

Handwoven in Ethiopia: hand towels, hatch napkins and striped napkins, starting at $22.50.

A zani & zani 6-cup teakettle designed by Nencioni Moleri, stainless steel with melamine handle, $360.

Pretty and organic, pink tableware from Pawtucket, RI. $39

Unique and charming Cutting boards from wood salvaged in Montemorano, Italy.  $85.50

Happy hunting . . . Anne

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Crunchy sweet goodness

A visit to Kabir’s Bakery, a thriving enterprise with its own sizable commissary and stores in Queens, Long Island, the Bronx and Brooklyn, NYC, provides one-stop shopping, since you can pick up both standard, American fare – muffins, scones, pound cake and the like – as well as wonderful, traditional treats from South Asia and its environs – halwa, burfee, golla.

I recently purchased at Kabir’s two items I’d never tried before: lascha shemai ($3.50 per box) and khurma goza ($3.00 per container), both of which are dough-based, sweet, fried dessert food, although completely different in texture, personality and presentation.

lascha semai

Lascha shemai originates from Bangladesh, and is a very fine fried noodle – you’ll see it translated as ‘sweet vermicelli’ or even ‘instant vermicelli’ because it does not really require cooking to consume.  The recipe for making the dessert is simple.  Melt butter over low heat, break up the desired amount of noodles and add them to the butter.  Cook until the ingredients turn golden brown, then add milk and stir gently until the liquid reaches a boil.  Add raisins, almond slivers, sugar and cinnamon and cook over low heat for 10 minutes.  Transfer to the refrigerator and chill for two hours.  Served cool, the experience is a lot like refreshing rice pudding.

Khurma goza

Khurma goza is a fried and very sweet snack.  It’s got the consistency of a chow mein noodle with the kick of a Krispy Kreme doughnut.  Very easy to take to.

Happy hunting . . . Anne

Ghee, Indian clarified butter

I read somewhere that a yogi’s diet should consist of the most sattvic of items, that is, those foods that contribute to the purity of the body, since a healthy body is the best support for an enlightened mind and spirit.  These esteemed foods are almonds, honey, milk and ghee.

Ghee (pronounced with a hard ‘g’ like ‘girl’) is simply clarified butter – what you get when you melt butter, skim off the foam or milk sediment, and retain the clear liquid by pouring it off.  Ghee is the word for ‘fat’ in Hindi and clarified butter is the pure butterfat.  The point of making and using ghee is two-fold.  Firstly, clarified butter has a much lower burning point than regular butter, which lends it well to, say, sautéeing fish or cooking omelets.  Secondly, it stores much longer than butter, up to a month in refrigeration.

Amul Pure Ghee at Indiablend.com

I’ve never seen an Indian chicken curry or paneer (Indian cottage cheese) recipe without ghee, although they will often give a substitute ingredient, and this is just the tip of the iceberg – most of your favorite Indian recipes use it.  You can really highlight the flavor of ghee by making something simple like ghee rice from Southern India.

I typically find it in 8-ounce jars or cans for around $6.  A recipe will usually call for four tablespoons, so you’re getting three or four dishes per jar.  I am lucky that I live in the Borough of Queens in NYC and can pretty much find ghee in any large supermarket.  But if you cannot where you live, I recommend Indiablend.com, where you can find a good variety of ghees plus a nifty stainless steel ghee pot for storage.

I’m going to go cook up some eggs using ghee right now.

Happy hunting . . . Anne

Plastic Woven Mats from Africa

Dear reader, I am thrilled with the ongoing popularity of this post.  Clearly there is a demand for plastic woven mats, which are both practical and beautiful – I hope you’re finding what you need! 

For two years in the early nineties I lived in a town called Koumra in the Republic of Chad, a land-locked country in Central Africa that has unfortunately been in the news because of the terrible unrest in neighboring Sudan.  I’m pleased George Clooney has been to Chad, but wish it was just to experience this unique country.

I had a wonderful time there and chief among my main pleasures during those years was the hours upon hours I spent sitting around chatting with my Chadian friends.  We talked about the skills of Jackie Chan, braided hair, pounded millet, gossiped ruthlessly and ate boule.  You can be sure all of this took place in the shade and doubly sure it was on a plastic woven mat.

Woven mats, as you find them in Africa, come in two basic sizes:  3X5′ and 6X10′.  They’re lightweight – you can roll them up and carry them easily on your head with the rest of your load, they’re easy to clean, often colorful, and provide just a tad of cushion.  In Africa, mats are used on concrete, on sand, on red dirt, sometimes as roofs, you see them on camels and donkeys, and are thatched end-to-end creating room-wide floor coverings in mosques in the region.  Imagine the possibilities for the complexity of our American habitats – patios and porches, pool side slabs, pitched tents, sandy or pebbly beaches, picnics – truly endless.

Here are some great woven plastic mats I’ve found.

Selling a variety West African products, and based in Senegal, Malika has a wonderful selection of mats in all sorts of energetic colors and patterns.

The holistic lifestyle site Gaiam offers a Turkish reversible mat, which comes in rose and blue tones in a sophisticated, oriental design.

Home Infatuation takes the concept in a modern direction:

And here’s a company in New Zealand, Recycled Mats that uses motifs of its native peoples in big, cheery designs.

Indiamart is also an excellent source for plastic woven mats – a huge selection.

Happy hunting . . . Anne

Flatware Sets from Thailand

I have in my apartment a grand set of flatware from Thailand — 80 pieces in total — from the mid-20th-century period made for the western market.  I know you’ve seen these around in flea markets and antique stores, a dessert serving set here, a handful of ice tea spoons there, from manufactures such as Star of Siam or James Quality Jewelers.  They’re almost always made of brass with some kind of wood attached to the handle.  Down at the bottom of the pieces there will be a little relief of a sitting buddha, I’ve also seen elephants, and sometimes they’ll name the source: ‘S. Thailand.’

My set rests within a three-tiered case with an abalone-inlaid monogram of ‘M’ or perhaps ‘W’ on the lid.  It might have been made to order and custom-designed for a particular client.

I love owning this set because it features so many different kinds of utensils and, I’ll be honest, I have no idea what half of them were intended for.  When I first saw it I thought it was some kind of product of colonial insanity, ideas of dining formality cooked up by the Victorians and perpetuated by expatriots living in, let’s just say, extremely comfortable circumstances.  But then I realized Siam, or Thailand, was never conquered.  They were just smartly serving a market they themselves created.

tallest piece is under 6″

So, when I use ‘S. Thailand’ on my table, I just play.  I make up uses for the odd pieces. They look fantastic with white china.  They’re fun to use and even more fun to discuss.

Naturally, I found a few good Thai flatware sets on ETSY at shops NETGEMS and poppycbrilliant – here’s a modern-styled set from nuvegriz (see image below) – you’ll find sets of all sizes and at all price points.

Happy hunting . . . Anne

The Hallowed Shelves of Despaña

Spain is, and has been for a while, a beacon for innovation in cooking, a phenomenon lead by the former El Bulli, which closed last year.  That explosion of excellence is built on beautiful, time-honored building blocks from the Spanish culinary traditions, paired with globally educated chefs, excellent, locally sourced ingredients and that Latin passion for food – along with all the other pleasures of life.

The basics for the Spanish pantry – and for yours – can be had right here at Despaña Fine Foods & Tapas Café, a carefully sourced and beautifully presented grocery+deli+café+dry goods store in SoHo, NYC.  (There’s also a wholesale site in Jackson Heights, Queens.)  They don’t have any and everything – they have the best, most iconic products that are either imported from Spain or produced fresh in their kitchens – olive oils and vinegar; chorizo, Serrano ham (watch it drying in the window), and other cured meats; pickled seafood and vegetables; beans and rice; cheese; delectable spreads; chocolate, candy and almonds; and a broad but timely selection of Spanish wines.  Stop in, taste of the abundantly generous array of free samples – you might even fill up on these –  have a bocadillo (sandwich) or torta wedge for lunch, and stock up.

I got a hot tip from Dana Perri, Project Manager at Despaña, who suggested the perfect use for a lovely package of boquerónes (anchovies) from Anfele (under $8), which are marinated in vinegar and oil and are thus palatable to those who may regularly eschew the little fishes.  Pair them with fine slices of cucumber and rellenas de limón, lemon-soaked green olives ($3), on a stick, and you’ve got a light and unexpected starter with equal shades of savory, tart and sweet (see image below).

408 Broome Street, 212.219.5050, catering and private parties, too

Happy hunting . . . Anne

photo courtesy of Casas Photography

Bento Box from Plastica

It’s lunchtime at the office.  You’re sitting across from your Japanese colleague who makes your American speed-dining ritual look like a project of the Tasmanian Devil with all the wolfing down and crumpled up napkins and leaking condiments.  First, she’s brought her own lunch from home, having presumably sourced, planned and packed it.  Second, you notice that appropriately sized portions, which have all been tucked neatly away into stacking boxes – or boxes that are wrapped in fabric – are emerging logically as a whole meal.  You can’t help but slow down and chew your bites a good 10 times.

It’s safe to say that an elegant Japanese culture has engendered the practical and tidy design of the traditional bento box, but we Americans may need good design to inspire us to slow down our eating and back off the super sizes.

Offered by the Los Angeles store, Plastica, here’s a charming and colorful line of bento boxes made of dishwasher safe melamine that allows you to take it all with you to work, to a picnic, to the softball game, or to store small items like sewing  or crafting supplies.  They come in different shapes and sizes, priced from $24 to $40.  If you’re uncertain as to exactly how they work, Plastica provides a helpful video.

Happy hunting . . . Anne