The Classics: Apicius & Aglianico

I have always been a history buff.

Packed off to boarding school in England at the age of 7, my saving grace growing up were my history classes that started with Egyptian pharaohs and moved through classical Greece and Rome. Interestingly, my teacher, Kenneth Woodall, was a bit of a gourmand, and I remember quite a few of the classes focusing on the food and wine of the ancient world.

I clearly recall the story of a baker in A.D. 79 in Pompeii who had placed a few loaves of bread in his oven. While baking, Mount Vesuvius erupted, raining down ash and stone that would extinguish life from the town, but enshrine its final moments for us to discover thousands of years later. When he showed us photographs of the carbonized loaves from the oven that were discovered during an excavation, with their shape and texture intact, my jaw literally dropped. This was like a portal into the past.

Decades later, when I began to study wine seriously, it was the potency of its history that attracted me…perhaps far more than the wine itself. And as luck would have it, studying wine in Beaune, the very heart of Burgundy, I was surrounded by the stories of monks and cardinals and chevaliers and kings and their favourite wines.

A few years ago, whilst expanding my wine knowledge beyond France, I ended up quite taken by the wines of Campania, the Southern Italian region that encompasses the ruins of Pompeii and Paestum, the sybaritic Amalfi Coast’s towns of Positano and Ravello, Mt. Vesuvius, Capri, and the fascinating city of Naples.

Around the same time, someone presented me with a copy of a first century Roman cookbook called Apicius.

“Let’s try making some of these recipes,” I suggested to a good friend of mine.

“Are you mad?” she replied. “You want to make 2000 year-old recipes?”

“Why not?” I replied.

“But what about the ingredients? They probably don’t exist.”

“We’ll improvise,” I shrugged.

So we invited a few friends and threw a dinner party. On the menu were mussels, sea bream, duck in a red wine sauce, turnips, homemade bread and olive oil for dunking, and for dessert we made a cheesecake of goat cheese and figs, which the book said was used during a sacrificial ceremony….!

For wine, we tried to find wines that were made as close to Pompeii as possible. Back when Pompeii was thriving, the Pompeiians produced a red wine that was exported in abundance, but there wasn’t much information we were able to dig up on that.

So we focused on Campanian wines that are all made from unique, local varietals: the most prevalent reds are Aglianico , Piedirosso, Pallagrello Nero and Casavecchia. The dominant whites are Coda di Volpe, Greco di Tufo and Falanghina, all blended in Lacryma Christi (Tears of Christ), the region’s evocatively named and well-known wine.

The pairing of the food with these wines was outstanding, suggesting the very close relationship between the two starting thousands of years ago.

The dinner party was quite the success…for many reasons: it was truly different. It was a pairing of food and wine in modern times to what the Pompeiians would have done a couple of millennia ago as they reclined in their dining chairs and feasted, the same way we did, except of course we all sat upright at a table.

But much like the Romans, our tastes are still linked with what we see and hear around us: a memorable dinner is made up of food, wine…and the people we are with and finally the ambiance. To the Romans, eating and drinking was a celebration of life. In fact, the Latin word for dinner party is “convivium…” or living together. And with death being the inevitable outcome of life, they seized every day and enjoyed it.

We ought to take a page out of their book. Carpe Diem and mean it.






Left Behind…

“So. . .where are you from?”

A question I invariably get, whenever I meet someone new.

If I happen to be with a friend, who knows me, he or she inevitably rolls his or her eyes in consternation. “Do you have 20 minutes?” they ask the stranger. They know that’s how long it takes to tell the story.

If I’m alone, I pause for a moment because I don’t know what to say. I don’t want to bore or overwhelm them with what has been a complicated and rather byzantine 50 years for me; because after all, they are asking me what is a relatively innocuous, simple question for most people.

Usually, I say, “I’ve lived in New York for 33 years.”

And more often than not, that is a satisfactory answer, because, after all if you’ve lived somewhere for over three decades, then it certainly must be where you’re from.

But occasionally, I get someone who knits his/her eyebrows together because his/her curiosity gets the better of him/her.

“Yes. . .” they reply, “but where are you from?” They repeat the question, with a firm emphasis on ‘where.’

I suppose I can see their point.

They are staring at a tall brunette, who could be from anywhere between Rome and Delhi, but when she opens her mouth, out comes a rather highbrow English accent. Hmmm.

“Are you English?” they conclude.

“Well, I grew up there,” I affirm.

“But the accent?” they continue.

“I went to boarding school there,” I offer them.

They nod their head accepting. But still unsatisfied.

But then they might overhear me speak French. Double hmmm. Or Spanish. What on earth? Italian. . .Hindi. . .Arabic. Good God!

Complete confusion ensues and I find myself facing Torquemada and the Spanish Inquisition.

Before I sat down to write this article, I spoke to three friends, all of whom I have known since we were young and with whom I feel I have some similarity in background. All were asked the question I get asked and have so much difficulty answering.

“I’m Italian,” says Carla, an old college friend of mine without an ounce of hesitation. True, Carla was born in Rome. Her father was Italian and her mother was Scottish. She grew up in Rome, came to the States to go to college, went back and lived in London and Rome, before finally getting married to an Englishman. She now lives in Brussels and has lived there for 25 years. Carla speaks English, French and Italian.

“I’m French, of course,” says Veronique, a childhood friend whom I have known since we were nine years old. Veronique’s mother is Egyptian, her father was half French and half Egyptian. She was born in Paris, grew up there, married a Swiss 25 years ago and moved to Vandoeuvres at the outskirts of Geneva where she still lives and of which she is currently the vice mayor. Veronique speaks French and English.

“I’m Pakistani,” says Atiqa, another childhood friend with whom I went to school. Atiqa’s mother is Pakistani, her father was half English and half Pakistani. She was born in Karachi, grew up there, lived in England, lived in the States for 15 years before moving back to Karachi where she currently lives. She speaks English, Urdu and Hindi.

All three associate themselves with the city of their birth and the countries they spent their formative years in. So what’s my problem? Why isn’t it as straightforward or as simple for me?

Well. . .because it’s not.

Everyone has a story.

Here is mine.

I was born in Sydney, Australia. My mother, Zahra, was Lebanese and my father, Anwar, Pakistani. I didn’t stay in Australia for very long, leaving after a year to go to Karachi and then to Delhi where I lived until one fine day, it was decided that I was to go to boarding school in England. At the age of seven, under the pretext of going on a summer holiday to England to visit my aunt, Hafsah, Zahra’s sister, and her husband, my uncle Farhan, whom I had never met, I was unceremoniously dumped in the hands of a matronly English headmistress.

I don’t think I will ever forget that day.

We were staying with my aunt and uncle at their house on Eaton Square. A couple of days after we arrived, Zahra came to wake me up. “Come on, Sweety!” she drew the curtains open. The late English summer morning sunlight flooded the room. I groaned.

“Mama, It’s Sunday. Why do I have to get up early on a Sunday?”

“Come on darling. . .you have to get up,” Zahra caressed my head. “Your father wants to go for a drive in the country.

“But we’re on holiday, Mama.”

“Your father will be angry if we’re not ready on time.”

“I don’t want to get up,” I mumbled into the pillow.

“I’m going to give you 15 more minutes,” Zahra said, “and when I come back, you will have to get up.”

At 11 o’clock, Zahra and I were in the kitchen. I was finishing breakfast and Zahra was staring down into a cup of coffee.

“Mama, why do you look so sad?” I asked.

Startled, she looked at me. I thought I saw tears in her eyes. But before I could get a proper look, she quickly turned away from me and got up to get some fresh coffee from the stove.

“Where are we going with Father, Mama?”

“Damn!” Zahra cried. The coffee pot clattered noisily to the floor, spilling its contents everywhere while Zahra clutched her hand and ran to the sink.

“Mama!” I slipped out of the chair and ran to her. “What happened?”

“Nothing, child, just clumsy,” she winced as the cold water splashed on her skin.

“Zahra. . .Anwar is ready…” I heard Hafsah’s voice say outside the kitchen door.

“I’ll be a minute, Hafsah,” Zahra called out.

“Zahra. . .you’d better hurry. . .he’s just finishing his tea.”

Hafsah opened the kitchen door and came in.

“What happened here?” she came running to the sink. “Zahra! Let me take a look at that hand.”

“Be careful, there’s coffee all over the floor here.”

“Don’t worry about that,” Hafsah said to her. “Madame Yvonne will clean it up when she gets back from church.”

“Let me see the hand,” she said.

I moved out of the way and went back to finishing my toast.

“Come. . .let me put some burn ointment on this,” Hafsah said and took Zahra towards a corner of the kitchen. I saw Hafsah pull out a first aid kit and I could hear them murmuring, speaking in low, hushed whispers. But I didn’t know what they were saying. I saw Hafsah take Zahra’s hand in hers and rub some cream into it. I saw Zahra crying and I saw Hafsah take her into her arms. “It’ll be alright, Zahra. Don’t worry. It’s only a matter of time and getting used to it,” I heard Hafsah say. “You have to be strong, for your sake and hers.”

Outside in the hallway, I heard Anwar’s voice. Having finished my breakfast, I left Hafsah and Zahra in the kitchen and bounded outside.

“Where are we going, Father?” I asked, wide-eyed with curiosity.

“You will see,” he answered.

“Are you also coming Uncle Farhan?” I asked.

“No, child. . .but I will see you back here very soon.”

“Where is that woman?” Anwar grumbled. “I told her I wanted to leave at 11 sharp. I’ve made arrangements to be there at 1.”

“She’s only in the kitchen, Anwar. I’m sure Hafsah is preparing a picnic of some kind,” Farhan said reassuringly.

“A picnic!” I jumped in excitedly. I hadn’t been on many picnics. I only remembered one in Karachi, when we had all piled into a small Volkswagen Beetle and driven out to a lake just outside the city.

“There they are,” Farhan said when Hafsah and Zahra emerged from the kitchen.

“Come on, Mama! Let’s go. . .we’re going on a picnic,” I skipped over to where Zahra was standing.

“Coming Sweety,” Zahra quickly wiped her eyes.

“What happened to your hand, Zahra?” Farhan asked seeing her bandaged hand.

“Hot coffee,” Hafsah quickly piped in.

“Let’s go,” Anwar said authoritatively.

“Now you have everything,” Hafsah said as she leaned into the car while Anwar opened the trunk for a moment.

Zahra nodded.

“Bye Tante!” I waved to her, smiling. “Bye Uncle Farhan!”

“Bye bye, darling,” Hafsah put her hand in and caressed my cheek. “Be good now. And remember, this is your home.”

“Tante. . .my home is in Delhi. . .” I replied.

There was no time for anything else as Anwar got in the car, put the key in the ignition and we were off.

It started out quite a nice day. The sky kept alternating between blue and grey as the sun played hide and seek behind the big, puffy white clouds that covered the sky. Soon, we had left London behind and were headed out to the country.

The English countryside was very pretty. Everything was so green, I thought.

“Mama! Look! Cows!” I pointed to the healthy black and white cows, grazing idly in the fields on either side of the narrow road Anwar had turned onto. “Mama, they’re so fat,” I said, fascinated with the bovine creatures. “They don’t look like the cows near home.”

Zahra muffled what sounded like a cough in her handkerchief.

Suddenly, at the end of that road, we came upon a sprawling old red brick and stone building with turrets and towers and a pitched slate roof.

“Oh Mama! How beautiful! Is this a palace?” I asked.

No one answered.

“Father! Is this Buckingham Palace? Am I going to see the queen?” I bounced excitedly up and down on the back seat.

As we approached, a woman, wearing a dark navy suit and a white shirt came out of the wrought-iron gate. Anwar stopped and turned off the engine.

“Come on out!” he said.

I didn’t have to be told twice. I jumped out of the car, eager to explore.

“Is this where we’re going to have our picnic?” I asked, running excitedly to the edge of the field across the small lane from the red building, climbing on a fence to try and get a better look at the cows.

“Mama!” I cried, looking back towards the car. “Come Mama! Look!” I said. But the sun was in my eyes and I couldn’t quite see Zahra.

“Kimberly!” I heard someone call my name. When I looked back, the woman in the suit was gesturing me to come over.

“Hello Kimberly,” she put her hand out. “I’m Catherine Cooper.”

“Hello,” I said shyly and put my hand in hers.

“I’m very pleased to meet you,” she said. “You may call me Mrs. Cooper or headmistress.”

“But I already have a headmistress in Delhi,” I said, not understanding what was going on.

Anwar, in the meantime, went to open the trunk of the car and pulled out the brown suitcase Champa, my nanny, had packed with all my things from Delhi. I wondered what the suitcase was doing there. He walked back to where I was standing and put it down next to the Mrs. Cooper. Suddenly, my heart began to beat faster. Something was wrong.

“Mama!” I cried out. I tried to run. But Mrs. Cooper’s hands went around my shoulders and she held me to her.

“I hope all that she requires is in the suitcase,” Anwar said. “If not, you can call my sister-in-law in London and she will have it sent immediately.”

“Right then, Mr. Akhtar,” she shook his hand. “Thank you very much. And don’t worry, we’ll take good care of Kimberly here at Bedales.”

I looked from the one to the other not knowing, not understanding what was going on.

“Father,” I started, “what is happening?”

Anwar looked at me briefly but did not reply.

“Father, please,” I said as he began to walk back to the car without me. “Father!” I screamed. “Let me go!” I tried to get out of Mrs. Cooper’s grasp, but her grip was iron clad. “Mama!” I shouted just as the car’s engine roared into life. “Mama! Please! Please don’t leave me!”

I felt my heart pounding as I realized I was being left behind. Tears began to flow out of my eyes and I began sobbing and screaming at the same time.

“Mama, I’m sorry! I swear I’ll do better at Welham’s. . . I’ll give up my dance lessons. . .I’ll do anything. . .please Mama, don’t leave me!”

The car started to move and I did everything I could to get out of Mrs. Cooper’s clutches. “No! No! They can’t leave me here. . .I don’t want to stay here! Let me go! Please let me go!”

I managed to get one arm free, but Mrs. Cooper grabbed me by the waist and hoisted me up. “Mama!” I reached my arms out to the car. But Anwar was driving fast and the car’s red taillights soon disappeared when they reached the end of the lane and turned right back onto the main highway. It happened so fast. All of a sudden Zahra was gone. She’d left me there. But why? I couldn’t understand. What had I done that was so wrong? If only she’d told me, I would have apologized, I would’ve fixed it. I knew I’d made a fuss that morning about getting up. Could it have been because of that? Was it because of Anwar? Was it because of me that Anwar shouted at Zahra so much? Is that why they sent me away?

Finally, Mrs. Cooper put me back down on the ground and I collapsed in a heap sobbing and crying out for Zahra.

“Come Kimberly,” she said.

I lifted my head and looked up at her. She looked frightening. She was tall and quite large. She had short salt and pepper hair, a round-ish face, small dark eyes and wore glasses.

She held her hand out for me.

“Let’s get you inside and cleaned up,” she said. “Afterwards, I’ll get one of the prefects to show you around.”

“Why am I here?” I asked her.

“This is Bedales School, child,” she told me. “It’s a boarding school.”

“How long do I have to stay here?”

“For some time.”

“But why did my mother leave me here?” I asked.

“I’m sure it’s because she wants the best for you.”

Mrs. Cooper picked up my suitcase and forced me to my feet. But I refused and let myself go limp, unwilling to stand.

“Kimberly!” she said sternly and pulled me to my feet again. Again, I collapsed. Annoyed, she held my suitcase in one hand and physically dragged me over the cobblestones towards the main entrance door of the building. It hurt and I remember all the cuts and scrapes on my legs.

The door opened and an older girl wearing a long black robe over a dark skirt, white blouse and a tie, came out.

“This is Kimberly Akhtar,” Mrs. Cooper said, putting the suitcase down and leaving my arm for a minute while she adjusted her skirt and fixed the rather severe bow around the neck of her blouse.

The minute I felt her grip loosen, I turned and ran as fast as my little legs would carry me all the way to the gate. I managed to slip out and was running down the lane in the direction of Anwar’s disappearing car when I felt a hand grab my shoulder. I tripped and fell, scraping my knee quite badly on a rock. I lay there on the gravel and began to cry.

“Come on Kimberly, let’s get you to the infirmary,” someone said. It was the girl who had opened the door for Mrs. Cooper.

I never forgave my mother for having abandoned me. Over the next several years, I saw very little of Zahra. Eight years later, she and Anwar came to London to announce they had arranged a marriage for me to a Kuwaiti prince. I was only fifteen.



The Beginning of my Wine Journey… with Anne-Claude Leflaive

About fifteen years ago, my life in New York as I knew it, ended. I had been the chief of staff to Dan Rather at CBS News and I assumed, incorrectly, that it would be easy to find myself another job. It wasn’t.

Disheartened, I decided to go back to Paris, where I grew up, in the hopes that perhaps I could reinvent myself there.

Once I settled back into the Parisian lifestyle, my now aged uncle suggested that perhaps I study wine.

I’d always been around wine. It was a constant presence at lunches, dinners and copious amounts of it were drunk at Sunday lunch, which in my house, was a command performance for the entire family.

My aunt would spend Sunday mornings in the kitchen, usually yelling at the maid, twirling her wooden spoon like a weapon; and my poor uncle would hide downstairs in his cellar to keep out of her way. Mainly, though, he loved to walk up and down the old stone floors, looking at every bottle, doing a mental inventory of everything he had, whilst quietly indulging in a glass or two before lunch. “I had to taste the wine before serving it,” he would always say.

A big fan of Bordeaux, he’d been buying wine since the late ‘40s and as such, had some of the best vintages the region offered from the years after the Second World War and through the 70’s.

I still remember the lunch when I was allowed to have my first sip of wine. I don’t remember much apart from the sensation of red velvet going down my throat. Years later, when I understood and cared a bit more about wine, my uncle told that it was a 1959 Mouton Rothschild.

I took my uncle’s suggestion, but, much to his chagrin, decided to go to Burgundy. I signed up at the CFPPA, the main wine and agricultural institute in Beaune and found myself a small apartment.

Besides academia, my first practical assignment was at Domaine Leflaive. Before starting, I thought I would go over and walk around, take it all in, as it were.

There is a small restaurant on the property that offers flights of wines and I decided to treat myself. Sitting alone, I sipped the wines taking copious notes on my impressions.

Just then, the door opened and a woman walked in. She was dressed in a barbour jacket, muddy wellingtons, but had a gorgeous coral and white silk Hermes scarf billowing around her neck. She stopped in the bar area. “Bonjour,” she said to the staff.

She was the kind of woman whose presence was so magnetic that you couldn’t help but stare. My eyes widened as she walked over to me after one of the sommeliers whispered something in her ear, inclining his head towards the corner where I sat.

I immediately got to my feet, but she indicated I sit.

“Alors?” she said standing next to my table, her arms crossed. “What do you think of the wines?”

“Well…” I stuttered. “They’re…good, I mean, excellent.

“The nose on this Meursault…and the aromas of…” I continued falling all over myself.

I was in mid-sentence when she put her hand up, telling me to be quiet.


“Mademoiselle,” she interrupted. “Please don’t analyze the wines. Just tell me if you liked them or not.”

“Yes, Madame,” I muttered.

“You enjoyed them?”

“Of course!” I said enthusiastically.

“Then,” she smiled, her face relaxing, her arms at her side, “I am glad. If you enjoyed the wines, then I have done my job.”

I sighed with relief as she turned dramatically on her heel and walked away.

Half way across, she stopped. “By the way, I’m your new boss…Anne-Claude Leflaive.”

And that was the first time I met one of the most influential women in the winemaking world. I went on to work at Leflaive for several months, learning so much from all of them, never forgetting that ultimately, wine is meant to be enjoyed, not dissected.




Resiliency: A Single Word That Has Come To Mean A Lot

It’s just so easy to fall off the wagon, isn’t it?

Honestly, if I had a dollar for every time I decided to develop a healthy habit and stick to it, I would probably have a savings account, or a tidy little IRA.

But I don’t.

Like most people, I tend to make resolutions around new year’s…most of them revolving around my eating, drinking and physical fitness habits…

After a long and replete Thanksgiving and Christmas season, I always promise myself to eat healthier, not drink and spend hours researching crazy diets, all of which I try, fail and fall back into my usual habits.

I am also one of those who always falls prey to trainers in gyms who all play upon the New Year, New Me idea. I have spent thousands of dollars on gym memberships, personal trainers at the beginning of January, sticking resolutely to the routine until something happens and bam…just like that, I fall off the wagon…

Of course, working in a restaurant is not exactly conducive to forming healthy habits: long hours, eating late at night, after-work drinks with colleagues after a particularly trying service…you get the picture.

Interestingly, I am a very disciplined person. When I commit to something, I usually take it all the way.

For example:

In my 30’s, I decided to take up flamenco dancing. And I loved it…to the point that I took what began as a hobby all the way to becoming a pro, buying a house in Sevilla, living there and touring Europe with a couple of different companies based in Sevilla.

Around the same time, I decided I needed a solution for my lack of closet space in my New York City apartment. I turned the solution into a business and launched “Garde-Robe,” a luxury clothing storage company that still exists.

About a decade ago, I decided to write and learn more about wine. Today, I am a wine sommelier and a published author of 6 books.

So clearly, I don’t have commitment issues.

Perhaps a good habit for me isn’t necessarily all about self-image related to food, drink and exercise?

When life as we knew it ended in March and I found myself out of a job overnight when the city went into lockdown, I, like everyone in New York, sat in my apartment and took stock…of life and health, which had all of a sudden, become so important in light of the pandemic that has held the world captive for five months and counting.

As I stared at unemployment and instability straight in the face, I wondered what to do with all this free time.

I could have started baking sourdough bread to pass the time, but no.

I could have dug out my running tights and sports bra, but the thought of squeezing myself into them made me gag.

Besides, I couldn’t give up wine in the middle of a pandemic? Now that would be truly insane.

In any case, wine is an occupational hazard for any sommelier, especially, if you’re like me, studying for my diploma exam that I hope to take when the world normalizes a bit.

Over the weeks of solitary confinement on the Upper East Side of Manhattan and countless FaceTime drinks and dinners with friends, I noticed how different people were dealing with the instability that has come to define this year.

Almost everyone I know told me how they now had all this free time to eat healthier, work out, blah, blah, blah. But they were all still so stressed…understandably so.

So why was I so calm?

I took a long hard look in the mirror and realized that over the years, I thrive during times of adversity and uncertainty.


As I looked at decades past and what befell me in those years, somehow, I had managed to pivot and move into something else, creating a new avatar for myself if it was needed or simply slipping into the one that was presented.

How had I done that?

By refusing to give in to anxiety and by being able to change misfortune into something good…for me.

Magic? No.

Amidst all my bad habits and broken resolutions, I realized I had this one ability or habit I could rely on and that was resiliency. Every time something went wrong, I would just get back up and deal with it. And that is what I have needed to process and live through all this uncertainty.

Go with the flow and deal with the cards you’ve been dealt to the best of your ability. Get up in the morning, make your bed, have a coffee, put on your favourite music and smile when you face the day.

Believe me, it works.




To Err Is Human: But Can We Bounce Back? Absolutely!

Mistakes…I’ve made plenty.

But even after making so many, it annoys me to no end when I do.

Annoyance forces me into rumination which in turn leads to anger and anger turns into self-flagellation.

Now, it is a given that not everyone reacts as vehemently as I probably do, but by and large, people really hate making mistakes.

“You learn from your mistakes,” they say.

But who are ‘they?’ The ubiquitous ‘they’ to whom we tend to assign these beatific, angelic phrases that frankly make no sense to me.

No one ever told me that when I was growing up.

But then, I come from a background in which mistakes were not permitted. Every time I made one, it was cause for severe and instant harsh admonishment, reprimands that went on, and a running history of my mistakes that was brought up the next time something happened.

In my innocence, I dealt with mistakes with elaborate coverups: lies that I told, excuses I invented, pointing that awful rigid finger at anyone else, just away from me.

But then when I was found out, and the coverup exposed, the punishment was worse.

Sadly, it was all I knew. And so I stuck to it and lies became part of my self-defense and self-protection mechanism. And it became so ingrained that I didn’t think twice about lying. It became ‘normal.’

Of course, what that did was allow me to shed the responsibility of mistakes and stunt my growth, something I didn’t realize until I was handed an opportunity that I got because I talked a good game, not because I was necessarily the most qualified.

I was in my very early twenties and I became the Director of Publicity for EMI Records in New York after having spent a few years after college in Los Angeles.

There were five people on my team and I really had no idea how to run the department. I wanted perfection and I was demanding and brash. I did not lead…I trod on people. Everyone else was wrong and I was the only one who was right. I was perfect. Why couldn’t people see that? And because I was arrogant and foolish enough not to admit it and ask for help, I got fired.

I was devastated.

That was my wakeup call. That mistake was humiliating enough to begin to force me into rethinking how I dealt with mistakes, with people and with life.

But it did not happen overnight. It took a while. And by a while, I mean a couple of decades.

As my career took me from the music business to food and wine, journalism, entrepreneurship and flamenco dancing, of course I made mistakes, and with each mistake, I believe I subconsciously knew that my default mechanism was wrong…but I had a tendency to ignore that little voice that kept showing up.

And then one day, I could no longer ignore it.

Shortly after I decided to be a full time writer, I also realized I could not afford to live in New York City, so I came up with a plan that would help me pay my bills and keep writing.

My strategy was to get a job that didn’t make me think too much, one that was more mechanical, something that was 9 – 5 with weekends off, benefits, and the requisite 2 weeks holiday a year.

A PA, a personal assistant, ticked all those boxes. In my heart of hearts, I knew it wasn’t the right position/job for me, I didn’t relish the idea of being a PA, but…I did have bills to pay and I convinced myself that it would be fine.

I went out and interviewed and got a job immediately. And was fired 6 weeks later.

But I stuck at it…And over the course of the next seven years, I kept getting jobs and getting fired. I worked for real estate magnates, billionaires, sporting team owners, bored Park Avenue matrons, even a film director…but I kept hitting that brick wall. Nothing seemed to stick and the stress of not being able to hold one of these jobs was starting to get to me. I was unhappy, my confidence plummeted and I put on weight.

I actually calculated that over the course of 5 years, I’d had 10 different jobs. What the hell?

That’s when it came me: I’d made a mistake and I’d been lying…to myself. I couldn’t be a PA. I wasn’t cut out for that kind of service. But I couldn’t admit to myself that I was wrong.

The only person I was really hurting here was myself.

And the straw that broke the camel’s back was when the last person I worked for called me on a Sunday night at 11pm,

“Can you come in tomorrow and iron my yellow Prada first thing,” she said. “I want to wear it at lunch.”

The next day, I went in and quit. It was the first time I’d actually quit. And when I walked away, I was beaming with happiness. I’d finally admitted I wasn’t perfect. It had taken me some time, but I’d done it. But the main thing is I was happy.

Of course, I still had bills to pay…so I pivoted and went back into the world of wine: I worked my way up into becoming the wine director for a top New York City restaurant, which of course, closed in March.

But I’m no longer worried. I’m going to be fine.

I know now that I no longer have to hide behind stories and excuses. I am who I am, flaws and all and people can either like me or not. And the most important lesson is that I have to be truthful…to myself in order to move on.

Through all this, happiness with oneself is the best form of resilience.

My story is not uncommon. If you feel like you’re hitting a brick wall, take a step back. Don’t beat yourself up. Appreciate what and who you are. And that, my friends, is the first step towards acceptance of oneself and happiness. It’ll make living with yourself a delight.

And the added bonus is people will see it.

Follow your heart or your gut: it will never lead you astray.


How The Pandemic Taught Me About Happiness

Confined indoors over the past few months, I realized, like so many others, that I had all this extra time.

Besides binging on Netflix, cooking new dishes and drinking copious amount of wine I had the time to catch up with old friends…some of whom I hadn’t spoken to for a few months, some a few years and many college friends whom I hadn’t spoken to for thirty plus years.

Kind of scandalous, wouldn’t you agree?

So, I went on a binge of another kind: getting back in touch with old friends, all of whom had been an integral part of my life in some way, and now, since we are all roughly halfway through our lives, I was curious to know where they’d landed.

One phone call in particular with a friend who I had been particularly close to but lost touch with got me thinking. She’d married her college sweetheart; he was now a professor; they’d traveled from the East Coast to the West Coast, adopted a child along the way and were now settled in North Carolina where she managed a tony law firm. Her mother, now quite aged, lived with them and it had been a difficult time during the pandemic looking after her.

“She’s really milking this, you know” my friend said. “One more thing and I swear, I will commit matricide.”

“You sound happy,” I said to her.

“I am,” she replied. “I have my house with a white picket fence, my husband and my son…and of course, my mother,” she sighed.

And then,

“Are you happy?” she asked me.

Her question was so, so simple, but I didn’t know what to say.

When I didn’t, she answered for me: “Kim…you’d never have been happy with my kind of life. It would have been too boring, too mundane for you.”

Really? But I’ve always craved stability…or was she right?

After I hung up, her question and answer stayed with and I got to thinking: am I? Truly happy?

As I examined my life, as I look back, everything I’ve done has been an idea or a dream I’ve chased, a challenge I’ve set for myself. And I’ve done it with great gusto, no matter how great or how small. And that, unto itself, has given me a sense of satisfaction and…yes, happiness.

After college, despite my parents’ objections, I went into the world of rock ‘n roll as the assistant to a group called The Cure. That somehow led to a foray into the world of food and wine when I worked for Tim and Nina Zagat when they launched their restaurant guide. After that it was journalism and I became Dan Rather’s right hand and earned a front seat to the historical events of the end of the 20th century.

As if that was not enough, I became an entrepreneur and turned the idea of a luxury cyber closet into a business called Garde Robe that still exists and is a “must-have” for all those longing for more closet space. I was a professional flamenco dancer and toured Europe with some of the best companies from Seville; I went on to become a writer and indulged my passion for wine with studies in Burgundy and Bordeaux and am now in the WSET diploma program, and a wine director with award winning wine lists.

And there you have it:

Realizing your dreams is a huge achievement and actually not as hard as you think.

Let me share the following pointers that have helped me over the past half century to do just that.

Here are ten rules:

  • Stay focused. You are the architect of your life.
  • Work hard. Nothing happens overnight. There’s no instant gratification here.
  • Remain flexible . Don’t struggle so much. Go with the flow. Silly things, sometimes serious things can happen to make you switch gears . And that is fine.
  • Try and stay positive even when it looks as though it’s all going to hell.
  • Don’t force things , sometimes it’s not meant to be.
  • Don’t chase rainbows. If it’s not working, keep moving. Keep challenging yourself.
  • Follow your heart. It will not lead you astray.
  • Don’t forget to be humble. No one is beneath you.
  • Be grateful.
  • No regrets. Don’t beat yourself up over the choices you make. They were yours and you can’t blame anyone for making them. And no matter how bad the choice, learn from it.

Nothing I have ever done has paid me a ton of money. But the psychic income from a sense of achievement has been huge.  And that translates to happiness.

Follow your dream and your heart. Life is too short not to.






Is 2020 the new Unlucky 13? Or, the uncanny value of improvisation and the ability to adapt

Does luck really exist?

And if it does, is it necessarily good or bad?

Isn’t life more about what you make of it? Improvising, adapting to circumstances, knowing how to dance around misfortune, rising to the occasion or sitting still? After all, isn’t good or bad luck something viewed through a personal prism?

The number 13 has always been considered an unlucky number: some people say it began with the Code of Hammurabi, the world’s oldest legal document that omitted a 13th rule; others say the Sumerians believed that 12 was such a perfect number that 13 could be nothing other than completely imperfect.

In western lore, superstition around the number started in biblical times with Judas who was the 13th apostle to sit down at the Last Supper.

And then of course, there’s Friday, which, for hundreds of years has been considered an unlucky day, at least according to Chaucer, who, in his ‘Canterbury Tales,’ says “and on a Friday fell all this mischance.”

So, when you put Friday and the 13th together…well that’s a serious bout of bad luck, such as befell the Knights Templar who were burned at the stake on Friday the 13th in the year 1307.

Needless to say, even today, 13 is looked upon with narrowed eye. Some buildings don’t have a 13th floor; airlines don’t have a 13th row…etc etc.

Then of course, there’s 666…the number associated with the Beast of Revelation in Chapter 13, Verse 18 of the Book of Revelation, commonly known as the number of the Devil.

This whole preamble brings us to another number.


Frankly, I would like to propose that 2020 will always be remembered as one of the strangest years in living memory. But is it unlucky? It depends on how you view it.

The optimist in me says it marks the beginning of a new decade that will make ultimately prove to be the greatest in the 21st century and that what we are going through are teething pains before the emergence of a brand new world and a brand new order.

But after the recent, massive explosions in Beirut, I cannot help but think that it really is just an unlucky year…for everyone, all 6 billion of us.

The year began with the onset of a pandemic that no one could figure out, despite all the scientific advances and technologies we have at our fingertips; and whilst for us here in New York, the pandemic seems to have receded, it rages madly, roaring through other parts of the United States and the world.

But the pandemic is more than just a health crisis: the fallout from it in political, social and economic terms is incomprehensible.

It has brought America, the most powerful country in the world, to its knees in more ways than one: at the beginning of this crisis, we all watched as the Italians started burying people in unfathomable numbers…that would never happen in the US, we all said, very cockily. And then it came to New York and people dropped like flies. And all the world watched our response, hoping for some sense of leadership that never came.

Now…months later, America lies stripped of its prominence, harshly criticized worldwide for its’ laughable response, and Americans have been banned…yes, banned from Europe.

So, what does this all teach us?

Everyone will of course have their own take away…but here is mine:

As a wine director / sommelier in a prominent New York City restaurant, I suddenly found myself out of work from one day to the next when the city shut down on March 15th. Actually, the decision to do so was made on Friday the 13th. Hmmm.

Well, that was just great. Now what? I had no savings to speak of. Whilst on paper, I have a list of impressive accomplishments: Journalist, flamenco dancer, entrepreneur, a writer with six books under my belt, and an intimate knowledge of Burgundy, it doesn’t necessarily translate into dollars in the bank.

First things first, was to get myself on the unemployment line so as to at least pay some bills, and at least put food on the table. Well, that wasn’t as easy as it sounds. Overnight, as millions lost their jobs, the system crashed.

It was weeks of investigating how to get on, calling incessantly…until finally one day, I got up at the crack of down and was at my laptop at 7:30, when the site opened and I slipped into the system.

Next, of course, what to do? I’ve always been a worker, a doer, not a sit-arounder waiting for things to happen.

What could I possibly do with my writing and / or my wine knowledge?

The best I could have done was to literally “go with the flow.”

And when I stopped trying to control the uncontrollable, things started to change.

A book of mine, a caper/whodunnit that I had let lie because I’d been too busy to pay it much thought, was published. And my wine knowledge could be put to use at a wine shop,  considered an essential business and therefore allowed to stay open.

My life is no longer what it was, but there is a new one . Who knows where the new one will take me, but I can use the tools I have to try and make it work.

All this to say that life ebbs and flows and takes us down all kinds of meandering paths. Often, if you’re stuck, you’ve got to improvise instead of just standing there looking around you. But always keep going, moving, forward, sometimes backward to go forward again.

It really is like the waves on a beach. The water rolls in and rolls back and comes back renewed, refreshed.

Improvisation and the ability to adapt are probably the two best qualities one can have to navigate life’s crises, no matter how big or small.

As a final example: I was in Madrid, promoting a book and a friend of mine really wanted to eat Lebanese food, myLebanese food! It was a Sunday and most gourmet shops were closed and none of the ingredients were available. Well, never mind, I thought…I’ll replace this with this and that with that and we ended up with one of the most memorable meals we have ever had together…and that is what it’s all about.






Inspiration Required

As a writer, I am often asked about inspiration, especially upon the publication of a book.

What inspires me? Where do I find it? How does it manifest?

I always try and give an honest answer, and one, that as Doctor Henry Kissinger said of a selling argument, has the added advantage of being true.

The fact is I don’t know what inspires me. There is no formula, no secret fount, no Holy Grail hidden away in a cave across the canyons and mountains of the Levantine desert, one that requires an Indiana Jones-style quest.

Inspiration is elusive, ephemeral and quite naughty, a menace almost when it teases you and suddenly disappears. Sadly, it can’t be bottled or bought. It comes and goes as it pleases and takes many different forms. It could show up in a painting, a phrase, a face, an expression, a person, an image, a word, it can be anything that means something to you, allowing your imagination to soar.

And when it does show up, it can be magical. For a writer, there is nothing quite like letting your creative juices flow, your fingers playing a beautiful melody on the screen in front of you filling it with words that make perfect sense.

With inspiration driving it, carrying it along on a tidal wave, the creative process is exhilarating.

I have just published a new book, a caper, a whodunnit titled, “A Suitable Necklace,” based in Delhi. Why a whodunnit? I don’t actually know. I didn’t decide to write a whodunnit, it just happened.

What inspired it? One was jewels…the great big, blingy jewels worn by the Indian Maharajahs that take the art of self-adornment to a stratospheric level. And the second was Mrs. Emma Peel.


Mrs. Emma Peel was part pussycat and part tigress. She was beautiful, smart, chic, fashionable and everything in between. She had big innocent, cat eyes, a mischievious smile and a mane of thick dark hair that billowed around her like a curtain of silk and she wore leather, a combination of shiny patent and soft matte, from top to bottom that made her one helluva hot cat-burglar. And her karate and fighting skills were beyond impressive.

She was strong, tough, independent, spoke her mind and didn’t play second fiddle to anyone. She and her partner, Mr. John Steed, were just that: partners. She smoked, she drank, did as she pleased and lived life on her terms, answering to no one, justifying her actions to no one.

So? Who was this woman? Well…she was an ideal, a character in a television show in the 60’s called The Avengers, and she was played by none other than the great Diana Rigg.

And as I looked at all these jewels, I wondered if any of them had ever been stolen…and of course they had. In fact, the great ceremonial necklace of the Maharajah of Patiala disappeared in 1947, never to be seen again for 50 years when part of the necklace was found in a second-hand jewelry shop in London by a Cartier sleuth named Eric Nussbaum, who had made it his life’s work to find the necklace.

As I began to imagine the theft of the necklace, I saw a woman much like Mrs. Emma Peel and I saw her in Delhi.

And that is how the character of Sabine Kumar came about.

Sabine is all woman: she is beautiful, exotic, sexy, intelligent and knows who she is. There is a vulnerable side to her though and that comes from having been hurt by love, betrayed by a man, something I think everyone can relate to.

I thought about whether a woman like Sabine would exist in modern-day India and the answer is a resounding yes. India today strives to strike a balance between the modern and the traditional and Indian women have come a very long way from their perceived subservience.

And there you have it.

Don’t give up on inspiration…it always shows up.




A Virtual Dinner: Viva Cuba!

I have always wanted to go to Cuba: the music, the food, the art, not to mention the very mysterious tradition of Santeria that involves spirits and gods that were brought to the island by the Africans on their way to being slaves on the grand plantations of the American south.

I always thought it would have been very interesting to go when Fidel Castro was still alive. But unfortunately, I couldn’t.

Although, I met Fidel once: it was at CBS News in the early 2000’s. It was September and he was in town to give a speech at the UN General Assembly. So, he popped in, as one does, to say hello to Dan Rather who had interviewed him on many an occasion.

The whole building was on tenterhooks.

Dan went down to the lobby to meet him and took him for a little tour around the building at 524 West 57th Street that used to be a dairy a very long time ago.

I stood in a corner at the Evening News Desk and waited for him to appear: a man who had been such a major player in the history of the 20th century.

And then he came through the doors. Fidel Castro, who I had imagined would come in his camouflage guerilla fatigues, his combat boots and cap, chewing a cigar, walked onto the anchor desk, dressed in a grey, bespoke double-breasted suit, white shirt and a dark red tie. His beard was perfectly combed and his grey hair slicked back. I later found out the suit, shirt and tie were all Valentino.

I smiled politely when I was introduced, and it was a moment I won’t soon forget. Think what you may of Fidel and his history in Cuba, the man was charming and charismatic, one felt his presence even when he had left.

My other favourite Cuban is a musician: not Tito Puente or Celia Cruz or even Gloria Estefan. It’s Bebo Valdés, a superb pianist who was a major influence on the Cuban music scene all the way until 2013 when he died at the age of 94. A founder of Latin jazz and one who pioneered the incorporation of Afro-Cuban rhythms into dance music, Bebo was a genius.

Living in New York, I’ve always kept an eye out for real Cuban food. Victor’s on 52nd Street came close, but it wasn’t like some of the dishes I sampled during a brief stint in Miami in 2010.

I recently talked to a colleague of mine in the wine world, a Cuban, and we began talking about Cuban food and what wines would be interesting to pair with it.

At the end of the chat, he had handed over his mother’s receipe for pork chops, rice and beans and the girls and I made it for our virtual dinner party on Friday.

Mint, lime, cumin and garlic were the predominant flavours: a perfect mix of all the cultures that have come through the island in the past 500 years: Spanish, French, English, Asian, African…

Wine-wise, I decided on an all-natural cabernet franc from the Loire, K had a rose from the Provence and L a sauvignon blanc from South Africa.

Here’s the recipe:

Serves 2:


Olive oil

4 thinly sliced pork chops

4 limes

2 teaspoons ginger powder

2 teaspoons garlic powder

1 teaspoon paprika

2 teaspoons cumin powder

Salt & pepper to taste

1 cup flour

14 cloves chopped garlic

1 cup rice (Basmati is a good option)

2 cups cupped red onion

2 red or green Serrano chillies

2 cans Goya red or black beans

0.5 cup chopped fresh mint or cilantro

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

1 teaspoon honey


  • Pork chops:

Marinate chops in marinade of lime juice, salt and spices and set aside.

  • Beans:
    Heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil, enough to coat the pot. When hot, 1 cup of the red onion. Stir. When soft, add about 8 cloves of garlic. Stir. When soft, add chopped chilies. Stir. Add beans. Cover and cook on a slow fire
  • Rice:

Heat a couple of tablespoons of olive oil. Brown 6 cloves of garlic. Add 1 cup of rice, stirring frequently, coating the rice with the oil and garlic. When the grains start to look toasty, add salt to taste. Cover, lower the fire and let cook. When the rice is al dente, drain the excess water in a colander. (You’ll be getting rid of the excess carbs this way). Return to the pot. Cover and let the rice finish cooking in its own steam
Whilst the rice is cooking, put the cup of flour in a shallow bowl. Season with salt and half a teaspoon of cumin.

Heat a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in a saute pan. Whilst oil is heating, take chops out of marinade and coat in flour. When oil is hot, add chops. Cook 3 – 4 minutes per side. Drizzle with honey and keep aside.

In the same pan, add remaining chopped red onion and 2 cloves garlic. When soft, add 2 tablespoons good balsamic vinegar and some fresh mint. If too dry, add water. Let cook a few minutes. Top off the chops with the mixture.

Serve with rice and beans.



This is NOT America…

Not unlike many others, all I do these days is eat, drink, read, write, sleep, repeat. Oh…and worry, I do a lot of that, the existential angst of what I will do when the world reopens and what sort of a world it will be?

I read an article in the Washington Post this morning about a video that had ‘gone viral,’ and I admit, the phrase made me squirm…

In everything I do, shopping for groceries or just walking the dog, I cannot stop imagining those invisible globs covered with thorn-like tubes lurking at every corner like some post-apocalyptic zombies, waiting to attach themselves to our lungs.

Paranoid? Yes.

But then, how can one not be?

To date, over half a million people in the United States are infected and over 22,000 people have died. New York alone has over 100,000 infected and we are closing in on 10,000 dead.

New York City has completely shut down, stores, restaurants boarded up.

People talk about the return to normalcy, but what does that really mean?

Will normalcy in the post-Corona world be the same? Will we be able to shake hands with people, hug or kiss friends, jump on the subway without feeling a twinge of fear about infection?

People are finding solace in all kinds of quack theories: the virus disintegrates in warm weather; heavy rainfall washes it away… then perhaps we should all move to India, hot summers and the monsoon.

These days, just taking the dog for a walk is a blinking palaver: not only do I have to remember jacket, scarf and hat, but now there’s gloves and a mask to add.

Often the poor dog, who is standing at the door, desperate for his morning constitutional, has to cross his legs to hold it.

And of course, when we come back, it’s a complicated feat of coordination between taking off my shoes at the door, getting into the apartment, washing my hands for the requisite 20 seconds, wiping down the dogs’ paws with dog-wipes, and my own shoes with anti-bacterial wipes…you get the picture.

It is frightening how this virus proliferated. As we began to catch wind of it back in late February, it was clear that it was coming. It was no longer a question of “if it was coming,” but “when it would be here.”

And when it arrived in New York City, it was a tsunami.

And yes, we were woefully unprepared…

Had this been a war, literally, who would have been better prepared than America?

Soldiers on the frontline would have had every state-of-the-art weapon imaginable at their disposal to show off the might of this, the most powerful nation in the world.

Except, in this case, the soldiers on the frontline didn’t need guns or bombs, they needed masks, gloves and we couldn’t even give them that.

As the virus devoured New York, turning it almost overnight into ground zero, the world watched Governor Andrew Cuomo’s desperation as he bid against other governors for ventilators, hounding the White House for help; we saw the news reports of hospitals being overwhelmed with the sick and dying, saw pictures of nurses making their own masks, using garbage bags to help protect them from the enemy, read accounts of doctors who had to choose which patient was going to live and which one was going to die.

Wait…wait just one floofing moment!


“This sort of stuff doesn’t happen here.”

But it does.

“How can it be that in 2020, in the richest country in the world, people are dropping like flies? How did we not see this coming?”

The healthcare system in this country was a runaway train heading at breakneck speed to edge of a cliff and this pandemic pushed it over the edge.

Health insurance was the first thing you were asked when you walked into the emergency room of a hospital. How many people died because they didn’t have a card to show the admissions desk?

No one cared.

Until now.

Because this virus has affected the health of this wealthy society, a true equalizer if there ever was one in the recent past.

Our ill-preparedness has its roots in the astounding stupidity and thoroughly incompetent behaviour of Mr. Trump who has in effect turned the Oval Office into a family office.

According to the New York Times, in January, top White House aides, experts in his cabinet and top muckety-mucks in the intelligence apparatus identified the threat of this epidemic, sounded the alarm and repeatedly told Trump to aggressively get out in front of it. American lives were at stake.

But, there was no personal gain involved for Mr. Trump. There was no money involved to line his coffers…so a few people would die…so what?

Where are you taking all this money, Mr. Trump? It’s not going to be of any help to you when you’re six-feet under and rotting.

Had it not been for the governors taking matters into their own hands on a state level, this pandemic would have been much, much worse.

This is not America….so sang David Bowie in 1985. The song was recorded with Pat Metheny for a movie called “The Falcon & the Snowman,” a spy drama starring Timothy Hutton and Sean Penn about two young, privileged American men who sold CIA secrets to the Soviets, destroying their lives and ruining their families.

The song got its’ title from a scene in the movie in which Sean Penn’s character is arrested and beaten by the police in Mexico City. “I am an American citizen,” Penn shouts, implying his entitled rights, to which the policeman replies, “but this is not America.”

At no other time in all the years I have lived in New York, has this phrase had a such a shocking ring of truth.

I came here as a young woman to go to college and never left, bewitched by what this country promised, giving me the opportunity to something of myself without the shackles of class, society or name.

Why has this happened to us is a question so many are asking themselves?

It’s a virus. It does not come with a moral playbook. It’s not part of a bigger Chinese plan to rule the world, nor is it God punishing us in the biblical sense.

All we know is that it has brought the mighty to their knees and shut down the world, creating a discombobulating chasm between our past and our future. As human beings, we want to cross the chasm, close that gap, heal the wound and keep going. But no matter what, the scar will remain.

The global shut down, hunkering-down of whole populaces has gone a long way in helping close that gap. But is it personal fear or a real sense of a shared purpose and destiny?

As we navigate these un-chartered waters, and cross over, perhaps we need to take stock of what doesn’t work, let go of our baggage and move lithely into a bright new world?