The Inside Story from Italian Wine Merchants

All Things Great and Glowing

a video of USQ Greenmarket

Market Walk from maya borenstein on Vimeo.

One of the things I like most about working at IWM (other than the obvious perks) is our proximity to the Union Square Greenmarket. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, no matter the season, I get to walk around and see, smell, touch, and occasionally buy and taste locally grown or produced food. It’s really swell. This Wednesday was rainy, but the stalls were still open, and the gray light made all the gorgeous fall produce glow like embers. I took my camera and snapped a bunch of pictures (which I then set to Broken Social Scene’s “Superconnected”). You’ll see my IWM colleagues Jenny and Brian if you look close. No gourds were harmed in the filming of this video.

Bittersweet Chocolate Cake

a treat for chocolate (and rum) lovers

My roommate’s birthday was in April.  She doesn’t love her birthday, which is understandable. In hopes of cheering her up about her birthday, I told her I would bake any cake she wanted. Her eyes lit up as she yelled, “Rum cake!” I laughed and said, “Ok, rum cake it is.”

I don’t like rum and had never made rum cake, so I immediately started searching cookbooks and various websites. While at work later that week, I was looking through Scott Conant’s book New Italian Cooking and came upon his Bittersweet Chocolate Truffle Cake.  I stared at the picture thinking, yum, that looks good! While reading the recipe, I saw that it called for ¼ cup of rum, and I thought, well, it has rum in it; it’s rum cake!

I copied the page, and when I got home that night, I baked what would become the most delicious chocolate cake I’d ever had. When my roommate got home, I presented her with the cake and made her blow out a candle. We sat down on the couch and proceeded to eat the cake and sip glasses of a 2009 Brachetto d’Acqui Donne Dei Boschi. It was so delicious that we took almost two weeks to finish that cake.

I have since made Conant’s cake twice and have tried different toppings such as hazelnuts or puréed raspberries. It has always been a knockout.  Whether you’re looking for something to make for a special occasion dessert or you’re just craving chocolate, this cake will not let you down.

My Summer Pasta Love

Eating well whatever the weather

This summer has been brutal—there have been waves of heat and rain and occasional weird drops in temperature. This past summer’s weather means days when I don’t know what to eat, whether I should eat something light or something heavy, whether I should eat something cold or something hot. My body doesn’t seem to know exactly what it wants, so this summer I took it upon myself to create the perfect summer pasta. It can be served either hot or cold; thus no matter the weather, it’s a perfect dish.


1 box of pasta (I prefer farfalle)

1 bunch of asparagus

1 lemon, zested

A few basil leaves, about 4 big ones

2 tablespoons of olive oil

Red pepper flakes (choose amount based on how spicy you like your pasta)

1 pint container of crumbled feta cheese

¼ cup of pine nuts


Cook pasta according to the package—I like it al dente. Once the pasta is cooked, I rinse it and then put it back in the pot. I drizzle the pasta with olive oil, and let it sit. As the pasta sits, I steam the asparagus and then chop the stalks into pieces about 1 inch long.  I coarsely chop the basil and zest my lemon. I toss the asparagus in with the pasta, and then add the basil, lemon zest, red pepper flakes and mix it all up.  Then if I’m serving the dish cold, I refrigerate it.  When I am ready to serve the pasta either as a cold pasta salad or a hot pasta dish, I add in pine nuts and feta cheese.

Rare is the dish that is equally excellent hot or cold, no matter the weather. I’m proud of myself for coming up with this one, and I hope you enjoy it as much as I do—rain, shine, or days in between.

Charity, Hair and Wine

S`mall steps with big impact

Maya, before the cut!

A few years ago I was in Israel, and I went shopping with my cousin to look for a wig. She had been diagnosed with cancer, and she wanted to find a realistic looking wig. She had, and still has, thick, beautiful, curly, black hair—hair any woman would be envious of. The idea of losing all of her hair to chemotherapy wasn’t what bothered her; it was the idea of looking sick. After trying on numerous wigs, she decided she would just have to wear luxurious scarves until her hair grew back, which wasn’t a big deal because she’s gorgeous with or without hair.

While shopping, a wig maker told us about how people can donate or sell their hair to various organizations or wig makers so that people could wear a wig of real hair, rather than synthetic hair. He convinced me that my hair is ideal for wig making. I have a lot of hair that’s neither too thin nor too heavy. Having so much hair, I found the idea of cutting it all off incredibly tempting, and when I was 22, I did just that. I grew my hair as long as I could and cut off 10 inches.  Three years later (this past Saturday), I did it again, and I cut off almost 11 inches of hair and sent it all to Locks of Love, an organization that makes wigs from human hair for people with cancer and other diseases.

... and after

I try to help out as much as I can, whether it’s donating my hair, wearing Toms (which gives a pair of shoes to a child in need for everyone pair that is sold), recycling or purchasing specific things whose proceeds go to a good cause. For example, I like to support the Friuli estate, Fantinel, who donates one dollar to IIMSAM, the Initiatives of the Intergovernmental Institution for the Use of Micro-Algae Spirulina Against Malnutrition, for each bottle of their Celebrate Life Merlot sold. It’s incredible what people can do for the world by taking small steps, cutting hair, buying a bottle of wine, separating paper from plastic. It’s these small steps that make such a huge impact on the lives of people who live all over the world.

A Seasonal Delight

Artichokes and Gli Orti

Coming from Florida, I haven’t really experienced seasons, though I’ve heard someone call our seasons as “Hurricane season, and not hurricane season.”  This lack of seasonality explains why I didn’t truly understand what a seasonal fruit or vegetable was; I’m used to being able to eat berries and artichokes all year long. Now that it’s finally artichoke season I couldn’t be more excited, for artichokes are my favorite vegetable.

On Monday I went straight to the store and bought three GIGANTIC artichokes—they were literally the size of my head, which is actually small for a head but big for a vegetable.  I had plans to make dinner with a friend and I couldn’t wait to tell him about these artichokes. When I did, he suggested we also make fish with them, and I agreed it was a great idea. Since this was my first artichoke of the season, I decided to make this dinner special and purchased a bottle of Frecciarossa Riesling Gli Orti 2008, which I‘d had once last summer and loved.

I knew this Riesling would be perfect for this dinner because of its sweetness. My favorite way to prepare an artichoke is to steam it and serve it with either a butter-and-lemon-juice dip or a balsamic vinaigrette dip. Knowing I would be having fish, I went with the butter and lemon juice. I simply breaded the fish, added some lemon juice and baked it in the oven while the artichokes were steaming.  Artichokes take almost an hour to steam, depending on the size, and I had to time the fish so everything would be done at the same time. When we finally sat down to eat, my friends were so impressed by our little dinner. I must admit that it was absolutely lovely. The wine complemented our meal perfectly, just as I had hoped.

It was a seasonal success!

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