This week we’re in upstate New York sampling Hudson’s best bits and in the kitchen with Ralph Schelling making barley risotto with roasted pumpkin. Plus: plenty of bottle in our weekly wines to try, a Florentine bookshop that’s turning the page and a weekend trip to a Catalonian city on the up. To begin, Tyler Brûlé brings glad tidings from the week that was.
The Christmas season is in high gear – in part because Monocle’s Zürich Weihnachtsmarkt is in full swing as I type but also because everything has started to become a blur of planning, toasting, greeting and hosting. Are you feeling the same? Let’s jump back to the start of the week.
Geneva, Tuesday, midday. Do you ever find the time to enjoy a proper, somewhat spontaneous morning to yourself? Do you manage to seize such windows of pure luxury with any degree of frequency? I spotted such an opportunity early Tuesday while prepping a speech for one of Geneva’s private banks and thought about what I might do with four free hours in a city I visit often but don’t know all that well. Up first was a visit to the fine menswear shop Monsieur Alain (they also have a tiny branch in Lausanne) for a spot of shopping. Then it was a walk across town to Galerie 123 to secure a set of vintage General Dynamics posters designed by Erik Nitsche in the 1950s. This was followed by 30 minutes with Fabio at Gaetano Coiffure for the best shave in Europe and then lunch at Roberto. Absolument parfait! I highly recommend carving out at least two such moments for yourself over the coming three weeks. Essential.
Swiss-German frontier, Thursday, too early. If you thought that most of the modern world was free from absurd coronavirus measures, you only need to ride the rails between Switzerland and Germany. Board the train in Zürich and regulations are long gone. Forty minutes later, in the very same carriage, the threat of the virus is back and you must don a mask immediately because you’re much more likely to get whacked by a fine or booted off the train than catch the latest seasonal strain. The poor Swiss conductor is clearly not a fan of this particular route and gave me a friendly nod when he noticed that I was using my scarf as an improvised face covering as I had forgotten to travel with a mask.
Zürich, Thursday evening. The first company party of the season (for Swiss and German clients) kicked off at 18.15 sharp (this being Zürich, people love showing up at least a quarter of an hour before the published time). By 18.32 it was roaring. The plan was to wrap things up by 20.30 but it wasn’t until close to midnight when – having cranked up the lights, lowered the music and shut down the bar – my COO told me that she needed to boot people out. Thankfully I managed to sneak off to dinner with Mats, Hugo and Nina for a Wienerschnitzel at Kronenhalle, which was also in full Christmas mode with jolly, boisterous tables and a super-cheery spirit in its rooms.
Zürich, Saturday, 12.10. Our market is lively. Every other visitor seems to have shown up with a dog and there’s an array of new vendors selling all kinds of wares, ranging from Raïna’s small stools and building blocks made from Swiss moon pine to Hermansen’s compact e-bikes from Denmark and very good locally produced pre-mixed cocktails from Zürich-based The Cocktail. The market runs until the end of tomorrow, so if you’re in the vicinity of Zürich, swing by for some raclette, Glühwein and perhaps even a bit of spontaneous singing – and, of course, to say hello to Raffi, Linda, Pepe and Rochdi. The London version is up next (on Saturday 10 and Sunday 11 December). Before that I’m off to Brussels, Dakar and Paris, but I will hopefully see you at Midori House bright and early next Saturday morning. Till then, have a lovely week and remember that giving the gift of good journalism (in the form of a Monocle subscription) allows us to deliver this newsletter, broadcast Monocle 24 radio and print magazines, so why not ensure that your family is the most informed bunch on the block by signing up right here. Cheers and thank you for your support.
Walking into The Quiet Botanist, in Hudson in upstate New York, is like ambling into a rural nursery. Wild and dried flowers are arranged in every corner of the room in vases set on sturdy wooden cabinets and dangling from the ceiling. Founder Rebecca O’Donnell, a New York-based Australian creative director, is inspired to create seasonal bouquets by sources as diverse as the Australian countryside and European cottage gardens. Shoppers can also pick up a selection of homewares, from candlesticks to incense holders.
“Everyone called us crazy but Buenos Aires gave us the vision of pairing books and wine,” says Pietro Torrigiani, who co-founded Florence’s Todo Modo bookshop with partner Maddalena Fossombroni. Their popular café – named Uqbar after part of the title of a story by Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges – gathers book lovers for lunch and aperitivo. Readers can linger all day at desks installed along large, blocky wooden stairs, which double up as theatre seating during events.
Writers such as Margaret Atwood, Colm Tóibín and Rachel Cusk have passed through the shop’s doors. But Torrigiani and Fossombroni have always worked to support up-and-coming authors too: Todo Modo showcases small publishing houses, organising some shelves by publisher rather than in alphabetic order. It’s a choice that encourages slow searching and serendipitous browsing. “There’s research, curatorship and knowledge of the local community in our choices,” says Fossombroni. On Todo Modo’s shelves you’ll find niche publishers including Adelphi, L’Orma, Edizioni SUR and Fitzcarraldo – and not just the latest best-sellers.
Torrigiani and Fossombroni have even launched an annual independent book fair and opened a second location dedicated to children’s books, Todo Modo Dilà, as well as another tiny outpost inside an unused elevator at mixed-use development Manifattura Tabacchi. As if that’s not enough, the pair also write a monthly newspaper column of book recommendations for Italian daily La Repubblica. “The pandemic was so hard that we invented new ideas,” says Fossombroni. “Luckily, we have a lot of ideas – and a community that’s very dedicated to Todo Modo.”
Yassmin Abdel-Magied is a Sudanese-Australian writer and former mechanical engineer (writes Claudia Jacob). The author of four books, including essay collection Talking About a Revolution and award-winning novel Listen, Layla, also writes for the stage and screen. A trustee of the London Library and regular columnist with The New Arab, Abdel-Magied’s writing can be found in the Times Literary Supplement, Vogue and the forthcoming The Monocle Companion. Here she tells us about horse riding, London’s bustling markets and her worst ever Christmas present.
Where do we find you this weekend?
This weekend I will be in bed.
Ideal start to a Sunday? Gentle start or a jolt?
The only time I’m out of bed before noon on a Sunday is if I’ve booked in for a hack [horse ride] around London’s Richmond Park. On those mornings I feel like a 19th-century lady of leisure. Otherwise, I’m a 21st-century broad of the bedroom; a sister of the sleep-in.
Lunch in or out?
Definitely out. Markets are often crowded but rewarding.
Walk the dog or downward dog?
More “dog-eared” paperbacks at our place.
A Sunday soundtrack?
We currently only have three LPs for our record player, so it’s The Beatles, Dire Straits or Ali Farka Touré.
Sunday culture must?
I adore East London markets on a Sunday. Columbia Road flower market, Victoria Park, Broadway Market – nothing beats a day of walking, grazing and bumping into old friends saying, “I need to reply to your message.”
Do you lay out an outfit for Monday?
I much prefer to be inspired by what Monday morning has to offer.
Three books you’ll be buying for others this Christmas.
Many copies of my own book Talking About A Revolution, along with Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan and Afterlives by Abdulrazak Gurnah, the 2021 Nobel laureate.
Favourite thing to do in the festive season?
Walk around Christmas markets sipping hot chocolate and people-watching.
Best and worst presents you’ve received?
The best is a surprise trip to Morocco. The worst, a bottle of wine for my 18th birthday – as a Muslim who has never drunk a drop, I found it sweet but mildly confusing.
“I like to use wild quince with this dish as they taste fantastic and can be used whole,” says chef Ralph Schelling. “The seeds smell like marzipan and are sour, which gives the dish a fresh kick.” Barley needs a bit more cooking than risotto rice. “I usually use a wholegrain barley from Grison,” adds the Swiss chef, who’s also partial to topping the dish with white Alba truffle when it’s to hand.
1 whole head of garlic
1 bunch of sage
6 tbsps olive oil
1 handful of wild quinces (optional)
Black pepper, to taste
10ml white wine (or sherry) 1.5 litres stock, warm
1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp grated hard cheese (Swiss mountain varieties are Ralph’s favourite)
Preheat oven to 220C.
Peel the pumpkin, remove the seeds and chop roughly. Cut the head of garlic in half. Massage the pumpkin pieces with the sage and three tablespoons of the olive oil. Place the pumpkin, alongside the garlic and quince, on a baking sheet in the oven for about 50 minutes.
Finely chop and sauté the shallots. Add the barley and sauté for 30 seconds, stirring. Season with pepper, deglaze with wine and add the stock.
Simmer on a low heat, stirring occasionally, for 20 minutes (or according to packet instructions). If it gets a little thick, add more stock or a few drops of water.
Remove the pumpkin from the oven and add it to the barley mix. Simmer for another five minutes.
Remove from heat and add the butter and cheese, and stir. Serve warm.
The lifestyle in Girona is decidedly relaxed. When Monocle visits on a weekday morning, three women are chatting over coffee in the Old Town, while others flick through newspapers at a kiosk. Near the cathedral, passers-by pause to watch a team of archaeologists digging for Roman ruins. Colombia-born café owner Andrea Gaitan lived here with her parents when she was younger but spent many years in Buenos Aires. It was the Catalonian city’s slower pace of life that brought her back. “Everything I hated about Girona when I was a teenager is what I like about it now,” she says. “It’s peaceful, it’s clean, it feels safe and you never spend hours commuting.” She isn’t the only one to have made such a move.
For those seeking to put down roots in a sunny European city, Girona is an increasingly enticing alternative to Barcelona. Known for its cycling routes through the Pyrenees and proximity to Costa Brava, the city of about 100,000 has long been attractive to visitors. But recently more people have chosen to stay. In the past three years the proportion of migrants here has grown from 12 per cent to 16 per cent. The city is experiencing an influx of foreign entrepreneurs and hospitality operations, such as the Estudio Além-designed Hotel in Girona, are launching to meet the demand.
Meanwhile, the city’s textile, paper and food industries continue to thrive and storied businesses such as restaurant El Celler de Can Roca are building on their legacies. Menswear shop Pujadas has been selling high-quality Italian brands since the 19th century. “I’m the fifth generation of my family to run it,” says owner Xavier Pujadas. While he believes that respecting tradition is crucial, he also embraces change, recently overseeing a refit of his shop. Girona as a whole isn’t afraid of progress: city hall is sponsoring new cycling schemes and freshly opened sourdough bakeries and wine bars are becoming a common sight. It strikes the ideal balance between the old and new. When friends Júlia Bamala and Marta Pujol decided to set up ceramics shop Cucut Oliva, they knew that Girona would be the right place to start. “It’s a city,” says Bamala. “But it has the heart of a small town.”
For more about the smaller cities with pull and pluck, pick up a copy of ‘The Forecast’ to read Monocle’s annual Small Cities Survey. It’s available on newsstands and the Monocle website now.
Monocle’s resident wine expert Chandra Kurt selects a few choice tipples – these are bottles with which to toast the festive season and bring in the new year. Here she recommends a rosé with punch, a port with personality and an organic riesling. Does anyone need a top-up?
Rosé À Table 2021
Fabien Jouve, Mas del Périé
A biodynamic malbec rosé from the Sud-Ouest: what more could you want? It has a slightly harsh aroma with sweet, fruity notes that offer a kick. The upshot is an electrifying wine that is ideal for thirsty moments and warmer climes; a wild rosé that celebrates an artistic tradition of eschewing subtlety for impact. One to be enjoyed, even on the rocks.
Wisselbrunnen Riesling 2020
Every palate – or occasion – can benefit from the refreshment that can only be achieved with a German riesling. Swiss-born Urban Kaufmann and German Eva Raps started making this white only a few years ago and have quickly gained a stellar reputation. A naturally made riesling, this is a celebration of the aromatic purity of this fruity and fair grape.
Old Tawny Porto 30 Years
Quinta do Vallado
This is a time machine in a bottle that makes the case for how good an aged port wine can be. The Quinta do Vallado vineyard is a gem worth visiting amid the stepped terraces of Portugal’s historic Douro valley. Now run by the sixth generation of the Ferreira family, this fortified wine has notes of candied almonds, honey, hazelnuts and figs.
For the full rundown of our top cellars for 2023, pick up a copy of ‘The Forecast’ today. And have a super Sunday.