[Travelling in my kitchen] to… Japan with matcha & white chocolate biscuits recipe

From my trip in Japan in Spring last year, I brought back quite a few things; and no, I’m not only referring to the cotton Hello Kitty emergency underwear I bought to make-do while waiting for the temporary lost suitcase. I also came back with 2 packs of matcha.

What the h*ll is matcha? It’s basically green tea powder. Instead of infusing tea leaves, just dissolve the very bright green powder into hot water. According to the legends, it has been drunk in Japan as part of the tea ceremony for almost 900 years, and is used by Buddhist monks to keep them alert, awake and focused during long days of meditation.

matcha powder

Reality is that, I was very curious but I never used it. It’s been decorating my “exotic product” kitchen shelf for months… With an expiry date approaching soon, I really needed to find a good use to this green gold, and I was pretty unlikely to hydrate myself the way bodybuilding.com recommends!!! (sight).

Granted that the butter and chocolate in those cookies probably outweigh the weight loss alleged benefit, however the “mind improving” power was clearly quite strong – or maybe it was just the amazing night with the girls in Paris… Perhaps. But try them, you’ll tell me.

I initially tried the Americano-Japanese soft backed cookies and while they were good, I found them a little bit “too much”. Also I could never quite reconcile in my head the quiet Japanese tea-room atmosphere with those gooey white choc naughty things!! I love the green tea / white chocolate combination though, and I thought I would come up with something a little bit more Japanese-lady like.

Ingredients:

  • 250gr all-purpose flour
  • 50gr almond powder
  • 50gr demeara sugar
  • 50gr caster sugar
  • 100gr soft butter
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 1 ts baking powder
  • 1 egg
  • couple of spoonfuls of milk
  • 2 teaspoon matcha powder
  • sprinkle sugar or / crushed almonds or/ 75gr white chocolate

matcha cookies

*Instructions

Start mixing the dry ingredients: flour, salt, baking powder, sugar, and almond powder; throw a spoon of matcha powder and watch the mix becoming weirdly green.

Dig a little whole in the middle and break the egg in, and add the softened butter. Stir well. You will probably need to add about 3 spoonful of milk to get soft dough (depends on the size of your egg).

Shape the dough as a big sausage, wrap in plastic film and rest in the fridge for 20min.

Pre-heat the oven, 180 degrees.

Roll the dough on a flat surface and cut the shapes with a cookie cutter or a round glass. If you prefer the almond or sugar sprinkle version then roll the edges each biscuit into crushed almonds / sugar ahead of baking. Otherwise bake first and cover in white chocolate later.

Bake for ~15min at 180 degrees.

Cool on a rack while softening the white chocolate in a water bath. Once melted throughout, poor into a piping bag (or a freezer bag where you will cut a tiny corner) and start drawing on the biscuits. Let cool and dry. Enjoy!!

Next stop…red bean paste? Not sure if I can manage that!

Afternoon tea in Tokyo
afternoon tea at Kyohayashiya, Mid Town Toyo

my fix of matcha sweet in London at Yauatcha, Soho

I’m reading The Popol Vuh, the Sacred book of the Quiché Maya people… Guatemala 3 weeks to go!

yes!! 3 weeks before leaving to Guatemala and I’m really excited!!

So while I’m counting days, I’m reading Mayan legends, browsing through travel blogs (I have been studying what the chaps at Eat Drink Culture did for example), trying to find hiking boots (well I have to admit, I desperately want the boots that Cheryl Strayed wears in the film Wild, but that’s for another topic), watching documentaries, in particular I watched the excellent When the Mountains tremble and Granito by Pamela Yates, and I’m getting my photo gear in order…

I’m also trying to work on a trip planning that works for just a week, following a weekend in Guate City, for a long overdue catch up with friends. Guatemala looks like a small country but I am having a hard time fitting it all in one week so please feel free to comment and advise if you think I’m making any major mistake there!

* Sunday:
06:30 Flight to Flores
Arrive in Flores and transport to Tikal
Sunset tour in Tikal
Overnight in Tikal

* Monday:
Sunrise tour in Tikal
Shuttle back to Flores
18:30 Flight back to Guatemala city
Overnight in Antigua

* Tuesday:
Walking and discovering Antigua
Overnight in Antigua

* Wednesday:
Pacaya volcanoe hike
In the afternoon transport to Antigua
Overnight in Antigua

* Thursday
shuttle from Antigua to Chichicastenango Market
Overnight in Pana or maybe Antigua, not sure yet?!

* Friday
Boat tour around Lake Atitlan
Back to Guatemala City and to London on the Saturday morning!

Is it too much to cram in 1 week?
I was dying to go trekking to but just could not resolve myself to miss Tikal…

any good guides recomendation? hotels? food I shouldn’t miss? precautions to take?

Map out your favourite films

OMG, I just got really excited. I love clever mapping, and I can’t remember what the world was like before Google maps!? I also love linking places to popular culture, and sitting in a cinema watching James Bond driving accross the Istanbul Gran Bazaar and thinking “oh I was there a month ago”, is almost as good as the trip itself (almost). So I got really excited when I found this post: those guys created a map including over 300 Oscar winners from the 1950s to the present day, the best actor/actress as well as 5 top box office hits from the last 30 years.

Check it out:

map your favourite films

Map out your favourite films.

Travelling in my kitchen to…the Italian Alps with a fennel flavoured rye bread “la Puccia”

Just back from the Italian Dolomites Alps where snow was pretty scarce, but nevertheless 4 days of sun, good company and gorgeous food made up for it! Cortina D’Ampezzo is located in the Trentino-Alto Adige region, about a couple hours away from Venice and about 4h from Milan making it a resort of choice for Northern Italians looking to parade a fluffy fur. The village has that atmospheric old-fashioned chic to it, but it’s actually their fennel flavoured bread that I will dedicate this post to.

cortina_italy_dolomiti

The “Puccia” bread is a brown, fennel and cumin seeds flavoured bread from Trentino Alto Adige (it seems there are also other versions of it in the south). In local dialect, “puccia” means that it “came badly”, i.e., it didn’t raise much, describing that flattish shape.

 

puccia bread out of the oven

Ingredients for 2 loafs of 500gr each:

– 500gr rye flour
– 200gr refreshed white manitoba 50:50 leaven
– 300gr tepid water
– 2 spoons of malt sugar
– 8gr of salt
– 1-3 tbs of fennel seeds
– 1 tbs of cumin seeds

Instructions: 

Take 200gr of refreshed starter leaven and stir it lightly with 100gr of tepid water. Put the rye flour in a large bowl, in a “volcano” shape and pour the diluted leaven, water and malt sugar little by little, while mixing at hand (or at slow speed in the bread mixer). Rest for 15min.

Add the salt and seeds and knead for another 5-10min and until well mixed. Let it rest in its covered bowl for another hour or couple of hours (depending on how active your leaven is, and the temperature of your room).

At this stage I actually retarded mine overnight in the fridge.

Shape in 2 round flat loafs and let rest another little bit while pre-heating the oven at maximum temperature; and when ready, turn down the temperature to 220 and bake for 25min, then turn it down again to 200 degrees and bake for another 25min.

puccia bread wild yeast

 

It’s delicious with a soup, I tried the earthy mountain version of the Zuppa d’orzo (barley soup), yum!

A well deserved grappa with wild berries after a heavy mountain meal...
A well deserved grappa with wild berries after a heavy mountain meal…cheers!

 

other recipes in Italian, but I couldn’t find any using wild yeast:

http://laforchettarossa.blogspot.co.uk/2014/02/pane-di-segale-con-semi-di-finocchio-e.html

http://terradeltipico.blogspot.it/2013/01/veneto-puccia-di-cortina.html

What are you looking forward to in 2015?!

I tend to be pretty sceptical about New Year “good” resolutions, you know, stuff that we say we do, and know we won’t. And hell, there’s enough of the “annual objectives” that Boss will announce at the morning meeting on the 5th…this blog is about the good stuff, so here are the top #5 things I’m looking forward to in 2015: namely travels, sporty challenges, baking and knitting home time, soaking up London’s cultural scene and last but not least, making time to attend dear one’s life events, weddings, births, birthdays and anniversaries…

What are you looking forward to in 2015?

1. Discovering two new countries per year (at least) is my aim…2014 most notable ones were an amazing wedding in Tokyo, Japan and an inspiring trip to Myanmar. 2015 will start with a romantic wedding in Guatemala…and let’s see where the wind takes us next but it could be a pretty frosted trip (hint!)…

scratch map

Note to self: best photo apps discovered this year were Pro HDR to replicate long exposure shot with a phone camera, and Hyperlapse, the fun, fast forward, lapse-like video app. 

2. Carry on running Europe…2014 was an honest running year, with a very scenic Venice marathon. My heart is more or less set on Vienna for 2015, and I’m hoping for (well errrr soon starting training for) a better time, maybe even a PB!

Note to self: remember to sign up for The Marathon du Medoc in February…looks like so much fun

3. Enjoying London. It’s all well to travel and be out and about all the time, but I feel like I should be spending more time at home. And hell there’s so much going on!!

BB Bakery RouteMap

In 2014 I became a proud V&A member and an Art Fund member so I have quite a few cultural items on the agenda, in particular but not only:

– Rubens and His Legacy: Van Dyck to Cézanne at the Royal Academy of Arts (Jan 15)

Alexander Mc Queen: Savage beauty at the V&A (March 15) – Ok I almost got my V&A membership for this one. I’m not going to hide it, I’m excited. Plus is coincides with the London Fashion weekend

Inventing impressionism at the National Gallery (May 15)

Audrey Hepburn: portrait of an icon at the National Portrait Gallery

The world goes pop at the Tate Modern (Sept 15). They had a pop culture oriented one last year at the Barbican last year, but this looks interesting too

Ai Weiwei at the Royal Academy of Arts (Sept 15)

Note to self: beloved 40 winks people are organising talks in 2015 – must absolutely go

3. I was reading this article the other day, about how easy to embed a little fitness in your everyday life; while for someone who’s already quite fit, the marginal cost of getting fitter gets higher and higher.

Fair point, but I disagree with the way thtey go about it: there should be no need for boot camps and other weight loss gimmicks. It’s being active and having fun that really matters for me.

So for 2015, more activities, but above all more fun please!! A few months ago we started practising acro-rock and roll with Steve and it’s the best use of my Monday night – ever. It’s tough but real fun, cardio, fitness, couple bonding (and some awkwardness) it’s all there.

Note to self: try and go to Pole Dancing more regularly

4. Enjoy home, time together, friends, laughs with loved one. My gran taught me how to knit this Christmas and I can totally see this becoming my winter-warmer (keeps your knees toasty)

Note to self: travel like a Wooly Gangsta

knitting for christmas....

So I wish for 2015 to bring its lot of friendly dinners, weekends with my family and lovely time. In that respect, Christmas was the best reset break to start to 2015 on the right note!! Plus, on the planner we have 6 weddings to attend to in 4 different countries, a couple of big birthday parties, of which, my gran’s 90’s, and a big gathering 10yr anniversary, it’s going to be big (!!) ….

Note to self: hire dresses, since Christiana posted this review, it got me intrigued

Bring it on 2015, I’m ready!!

Mingalabar, “a warm welcome to Myanmar”

map asia myanmar inley lake An absolutely wonderful country, we had a fantastic time discovering a diverse and rich culture. Myanmar is attractive in many aspects and tourism is starting to develop. I felt like before posting photos and also to avoid novel-long posts, I should maybe start with a little introduction.

One thing is sure, you will be welcome, the government has actually sprinkled large signs displaying a “warmly welcome and take care of tourists” message all across the country. But Myanmar is not Thailand, if it’s amazing resort, beaches and nightlife that you are after, the quality for money may be better in the neighbouring country. For us at least, it was a cultural, quite active trip where we mostly rose up early and went to bed a couple of hours after sunset. Depending on your city / country balance it may change but even on the beach side, night life is down to a chilled cocktail and a good book.

Some of our friends organised their trip with a specialised travel agency that booked plane tickets, hotel and visas for them, it’s an option that I decided to skip. One because most of local travel agencies belong to the government, as well as airlines though, but also because planning is half the fun and I thoroughly enjoyed reading books, blogs, articles, asking expats and friends about their experiences.

Here are the bits and pieces of fact-finding and recommendations I collected, hope it can be useful.

Take-care-tourists
Warmly welcome and Take care of Tourists

How to travel responsibly?

“We want people to come to Burma, not to help the junta, but to help the people by understanding the situation: political, economic, moral – everything.”  U Win Tin , NLD leader, 2010

In a country that was opened to tourism only a couple of years ago, and where democracy is still a challenge, it’s a tough question to tourists. It’s almost impossible to know if and how to choose and agency, which hotel to book, and if to buy jade earrings or not. I am no expert and I probably did some things wrong, but that doesn’t mean there is no point trying. On top of that, it is difficult to turn a blind eye to sustainability issues: how to accommodate thousands of foreigners flocking a country that has (extremely) limited rubbish collection system, dubious water sewage etc…how to find a hotel that doesn’t recycle the chlore’d water from their swimming pool directly into the Inle lake?

When to go?

It is generally held that in Burma we do not have four seasons, we have only three, the hot season, the rainy season and the cold season. Spring is largely unknown although in the cooler border regions there is a stretch of pleasant, spring-like weather that we refer to as summer. (Letters from Burma – Aung San Suu Kyi)

A friend of us could only take time off work in August and still says that it was well worth the trip, adding a few light weight waterproof layers and heavier footwear. From what the locals told us, it seems that the rain season isn’t as heavy as in, say India for example, and especially in the north. Yet some attractions such as ballooning may not be available.
Proper summer starts in January until March and the touristy season starts before that. November was a great choice, not overly hot yet, the nature was really lush while we enjoyed a clear blue sky everywhere we went.

Administrative & other concerns

Visa: the embassy now offers an online service for $50 where one has to send their passport and gets their visas back by the post. I didn’t like the idea of mailing my passport and made a quick trip to the embassy, chit chatted with other travellers in the waiting room for 25min where we exchanged useful travelling info and only paid £14. It’s takes about a week to get the visa and they will keep your passport for that time. In theory you will need to have your flight booked already when requesting for a visa, but mine weren’t and I just left it blank…worked either way.

Money: I have seen a couple of ATMs, one of which at the Shwedagon pagoda in Yangon actually, but by far the easiest is to bring brand new $100 notes with you and change them at the Yangon airport (we tried a few others downtown but this is where we got the best rate). Most change agents will only take crisp new notes and you will get a better change rate with $100 notes.
How much do you need? We have been counting at large to make sure we wouldn’t end up blocked, roughly airport transfers are the equivalent of $5 to 10, even treating ourselves we ate really well for less (sometimes way less) than $50 a day for 2 including a couple of local beers. I had pre-booked some of the hotels before leaving, you can get a good idea of how much you should budget for hotel spending using the Lonely Planet as a guide, and same for the main activities (hot air balloon needs to be pre-booked and paid online, things like trekking can go up to $50 a day for 2, renting bikes is normally only a couple of $. And we spent really little more than that, a few souvenirs, bike rentals (no more than a couple of $ if not free in some hotels), horse carts ride in Bagan ($7) or the odd boat rental in Inle ($15-20), and a few taxis especially in cities like Yangon or Mandalay.

Packing essentials

* I opted for a 55L front opening zipper bagpack with a 10L extension that proved a great companion. I followed other bloggers recommendations and loaded it with around 12kg, and left space for souvenirs and other little Christmas presents.
Also having a rucksack fitting in the overhead locker was hugely helpful for the local flights. Never mind the liquid limitations, there just isn’t any.
We have been recommended the packing cubes method as well for the ones who take a longer break especially, and I still am in love with the vacuum bag method.

IMG_0219
The reason why we kept our luggage in the cabin…
IMG_2826
flights or buses?

* A large scarf, mine is a very large silk scarf. Silk is magic, keeps warm in the cold but is breathing in the heat. Take it long enough that is can turn to a skirt / cover your legs.
* A pair of flip flops is absolutely necessary to visit temples (and there are many, many of them), some light shoes (trainers, sandals) and a pair of heavier duty trainers or walking shoes especially if you want to trek but I will come back to this later (see Kalaw to Inle).
* A couple of jumpers, the forecast may tell you it’s 33 degrees in Yangon, but the planes and buses are freezing, and nights get chilli.
* And one for girls, try and keep the hemline relatively low, light trousers may be more useful than shorts, comfortable and modest wear will be the choice. Most locals wear a longy, a sort of ankle long skirt that is held by a knot at the wait, in colourful fabrics for women and brick or bottle green checks patterns for men. We found it easier to adopt for women clearly :-)
* A little torch lamp. I was a bit sceptical about that one but listen to friends recommendations and appreciated it. Most roads don’t have any lighting and for those who want to go trekking it will prove even more important.
* And the usual basic essentials: mosquito repellent and calming spray, sun cream, wet wipes, dry wash, a basic emergency kit (plasters, disinfectant, etc)…

Before leaving …to read and watch

Myanmar is a country with a complex history, and I feel like going without any research would be a real waste.

Once there I also felt my knowledge about Buddhism was not good enough to appreciate and fully grasp the importance of some temple and traditions and bought the “Buddhism, A very short introduction” by Damien Keown. And by the way, if anyone has better recommendations, please share!

The glass palace – Amitav Ghosh
Starting in the 19th century in Mandalay, with the intertwined stories of the royal family send to exile in India and the one of Rajkumar, an Indian boy emigrated to Burma, it is a great way to understand history with an entertaining story.

Under the dragon – Rory Maclean
A BBC British journalist who travelled to Burma, in the early 90’s.
He goes around the country to seek a bamboo basket seen in a photo taken by a fellow traveler in the late 19th century and stored in the British museum archives. Many encounters with peculiar characters will result in an interesting collection of stories, each describing aspect of the country.

Letters from Burma and Freedom from fear – Aung San Suu Kyi

the-lady-luc-besson

The lady – Luc Besson
Filmed before Aung San Suu Kyi was released from imprisonment, the story is based on family, friends, colleagues, and international associations’ testimonials.

Un indovino mi disse – Tiziano Terzani (translated to English to A Fortune Teller Told Me)
The true story of a (superstitioous) Italian journalist who was told by a fortune teller that a great mortal danger would come “from the sky” in 1993. He took it seriously and subsequently carried on his travelling accross South East Asia solely using ground transportation that year…

Burmese Days – George Orwell

Chroniques Birmanes (translated to Burmese Chronicles) -Guy Delisle
comic book, in French, writen by Canadian Guy Delisle, father of a young boy and whose wife is an MSF doctor (Medecins Sans Frontiere) and therefore has a light and fun insight on a few countries like Myanmar. A refreshing, yet well informed view.

They call it Myanmar…lifting the curtain – Robert H. Lieberman

“I tried to make a movie that was not political,” said Mr. Lieberman, “but of course, that was impossible in the end.” Shot clandestinely over a 2-year period, this documentary provides a rare look at the second-most isolated country on the planet. It lifts the curtain to expose the everyday life in a country that has been held in the iron grip of a brutal military regime for 48 years.

or also try The Guardian selection

Sample Itineraries

** 7 days example (done by an agency): a super-packed itinerary, quite high-end

Day #1: arrive in Yangon. Kandawgyi Palace Hotel for check-in and overnight.

Day #2: transfer to Bagan and see the main temples. Overnight at Tharabar Gate Hotel.

Day #3: drive to Nyaung Oo.

Day #4: Morning flight to Mandalay, the city of the last Myanmar Kings. Upon arrival drive to Amarapura the “City of Immortals” and visit the 150 year old Mahagandayon monastery, and famous Buddhist learning centre.

Day #5: Morning flight to Heho in Shan State to see the Inle Lake. Overnight at Myanmar Treasure Inle Resort.

Day #6 and #7: transfer to Thandwe to spend the weekend on Ngapali beach. Overnight at the Sandoway

**11 days itinerary (also done by an agency) in the rainy season, August

Day #1 and #2: Arrival Yangon. Overnight at the Kandawgyi palace hotel

Day #3 and #4: transfer to Bagan  and sightseeing. Overnight at the Thiripyit Saya Sanctuary resort

Day #5: Bagan – visit Mount Popa

Day #6: transfer to Heho by flight and visit Pindaya cave

Day #7: Nyaung shwe and boat excursion in Inle Lake. Overnight at the May Guest House

Day #8: Inle lake – Inn Thein market boat excursion

Day #9: Heho  to Mandalay by flight and visit Sagaing – Ava- Amarapura. Overnight at the Mandalay Hill resort

Day #10: Mandalay – Mingun by boat and Mandalay city tour.

Day #11: Mandalay – Visit Pyin Oo Lwin

** Other interesting:

trekking around the Inle Lake, starting from Kalaw
– take a cruise from Mandalay to Bagan along the Ayeyarwady river
– with more time, go and explore the Myeik Islands

tea picking myanmar burma
Trekking from Kalaw to the Inle Lake… click on the image to access the article

The flying princess…because we’re worth it

Ok I’m about to write what is possibly the girliest, most shallow article ever written in those columns…doesn’t matter I take responsibility for it. This summer has been quite packed in long and short flights and I have tried to come to some sort of systematisation of my skin and healthcare while travelling. I am very much the “last call” traveller so if there isn’t an easy routine, it means it will probably fall through the cracks. All the necessary items must also fit into the usual plastic bag and be easy to find / replace.

Step 0 – prep and pack

Opting for a neutral shade mani (unless you have a shellac) is probably a good idea to avoid some unsightly chipping. I have to confess that waiting rooms and airport lounges normally make my own prime time for a home made mani but I don’t think I can recommend doing that, the dry-time is usually at risk…

packing the following items (I leave them constantly unpacked, ready to grab):

disinfectant wipes or gel (I prefer the wipes because it normally “cheats” the liquid policy)
– make up removal wipes
– blusher / bronza with a little hand mirror preferably
– a pair of sunglasses
– a shawl or scarf, neutral colour
– a mini hair brush, or a foldable one with a mirror (plenty of options at boots)

in the security plastic bag:

– extra hydrating moisturiser (some even use overnight masks)
– your usual moisturiser, mini format, I use the Clinique dramatically different but loads of other brand also have good travel size formats (Clarins is my second favourite)
– mini water mist / home made rose water spray
– mini deodorant or individual wipes
eye puff cream (again I use the all about eyes one from Clinique)
lip balm (neutrogena. occitane, chapstick…whatever your usual best-friend is)
– BB or CC cream (Nivea and Clinique have great ones)
mini mascara and mini lipgloss
hand cream or a “do it all” cream like the Nivea essential
– hydrating eye drops

1. Get some water before you board

This is the one thing that you can not bring from home as it won’t go through security; and I find that even amazing airlines just do not give access to enough water, on long flights I can drink up to 2L. So it doesn’t matter that water seems to be as good as gold in airports, I always get one or two big bottles. No moisturiser will ever be as good as water. Get plenty of it.

2. Cleanse & Moisturise

Either before boarding if you have time to spare, or once in the plane, I remove all make up with a wipe (they don’t count as liquids in most airports), dry and moisturise. If I am travelling with my boss / prince charming / a client (tick the ones you care wearing make up for) just wear a moisturiser and / or a BB cream.

3. Refresh through out the flight

To refresh while traveling, use a mister of mineral water and add a dab of moisturiser. In my future life I also want to have a little spray bottle refilled with rose water. It’s still on my to-do list but it’d be a great thing to have.

– apply lip balm

apply hand-cream after washing your hands and keep them off your face and hair as much as you can during the flight

Avoid:

wearing mascara, it smudges with the eye mask, but take a mini one with you, to refresh when you land

long lasting lipstick, it dries up in a not-so-sexy manner

4. Before arrival, wake up call ritual

Take eye drops uni-doses so that it doesn’t take up too much space and in in desperate cases, ask the waitress for an ice-cube that you will wrap up in a washcloth.

If you are off to a meeting or any social event before you get access to any proper bathroom then you may also need to use deodorant wipes. I wash my face, apply a bit of anti-puff magic cream (mine is All About Eyes from Clinique), a light moisturiser and / or CC cream (should be both as the skin is really quite dehydrated after a longfflight)

A bit of blush or bronza, and that is as good as it gets.

 5. Cover up

I find that a big scarf serves as a pillow, warmer and also somehow makes the whole disheveled hair look more chic. Sometimes you just have to go with it!And of course, a pair of oversized sunglasses so that others will think you’re Miranda Kerr, not just a fatigued fellow traveler.

Where should I go for a short winter-sun break?

You can hear the rain pounding on the window and if you’re anything like me, your next thought is: when do I get to see the sun again? I could tell you to jet-off to Hawaii for the weekend, it would spare me a post but eyyy… maybe next year.

So were to go for a winter-sun quick fix? Continue reading Where should I go for a short winter-sun break?

Stuff you should never take on a trip

Adult travelers and holiday-goers (i.e. not backpackers), and I’m sure just most female young or old travelers in the world just find it difficult to cut-down on packing.

Leif Pettersen at The Lonely Planet has just published this article and it did crack me up; at a time where I’m scratching my head and wondering how to pack for Myanmar (the very exciting countdown until November has started!!), I thought it was a good idea to bring up the topic. Continue reading Stuff you should never take on a trip

Sun, love and other delights, in Taormina, Sicily

Sicily is one of those places that just tick all the “romantic weekend” boxes in my book: the perfect weather, the abundant food, the powerful wines, the awe-inspiring views, the crystal clear water…

I’m just back from an otherworldly weekend to celebrate friends’ wedding, and as the excellent Italian blog Memorie di una Vagina puts it: “last weekend I went to a wedding in Sicily where I understood that Sicily is just like an excellent lover: as soon as you leave it, you want to go back and make love”

“Lo scorso weekend sono stata a un matrimonio in Sicilia e ho capito che la Sicilia è come un amante eccellente: appena se n’è andato hai voglia di rivederlo e di rifarci all’amore.” (translation is mine)

She’s absolutely right. When are we back again?

Sea side photos are mostly taken from the Capotaormina Atahotel where we had a fantastic relaxing time. Views are mixed, as a sea person, I just really enjoyed the view and multiple beach accesses, the sunset in the overflow swimming pool…that being said, some prefer being up the hills in the village to grasp more of the local atmosphere. (The Metropole was highly recommended by friends)

Views from the Greek theatre are spectacular, it can be either visited in the daylight, or rather, to see it alive, check performances organised in the evening during the summer season. From up there one has a wonderful view on the bay, the town and the volcano; a friend even managed to attend a performance where the opera music was “accessorizing” a stunning sunset and a lava eruption in the background…

With a car, it’s also possible to drive up to Castelmola and watch the bay from even higher up. The little village is smaller and less touristy but nevertheless fantastically picturesque.

Next time? (yes because there will be) other friends decided to cut the beach time short and go hiking up the Etna volcano, which sounds quite tough but worth it; although it would depend on the level of activity of the volcano as well I guess.

Now let’s get back to diet after the rather insane amount of food we just feast on if you please…

Chillin’ in Oslo, the place to be?

Oooh Norwegians… they’re lovely, blond, tall, spend their free-time running uphill and their holidays in wood cabins, they don’t drink, don’t smoke, they have the best-managed oil fund in the world, split kids nursing between father and mother in a more balanced way than anywhere else in the world, and to sum it all…they’re even one of the happiest people in the world…right, let’s stop, this is getting frustrating.

Continue reading Chillin’ in Oslo, the place to be?

[Souvenirs and tokens of Travels from…] Helsinki…in a global world

I love travelling of course, collecting experiences, memories, but also organising those memories in the form of this blog, photos, and other small tokens of travels.

Bringing back home small objects (and lots of food) is a way for me to extend the travel experience: last week we had fresh mozzarella for dinner, and it felt like we still had one little toe over there in Amalfi. And the rose water I use to soothe my eyes every morning is truly a piece of Morocco in a bottle.

I often forget though, that we live in a global world where (pretty much) anything can be bought in London. So last night when coming back home from Helsinki, Finland, after a fabulous sunny weekend, and proudly parading a lovely Marimekko wodden bangle, I felt pretty dumb to realise a Marimekko shop opened at the box park…literally a minute away from home!

ahhh cherished souvenirs, and shallow aspirations to have a unique collections of accessories…boooh silly me!!!

marimekko bangle helsinki phaidon city guide
Instagram photo taken from the Kiasma museum where the “Together” exhibition is currently taking place, organised jointly by Kiasma and Marimekko. Coffee in the sun, checking the Wallpaper and enjoying my colour-block bangle, one to add to the collection…

 

[Souvenirs and tokens of Travels from…] Guadeloupe

There’s always the stuff that you expect to bring back, that you almost go on a hunt for. And then there’s the small thing, the unexpected sweet, funny object, item of clothing that caught your attention…

From Guadeloupe of course we came back with some amazing degustation rum, traditionally made, 11yr of age…delicious
but it’s when buying it at the distillerie that I asked the lady what she was munching on, and she offered one of those amazing candied coconut…fragrance of coconut, dark cane sugar, local vanilla…mmm so naughty but so good.

rum reimonenq and candied coconut

candy coco coffee
coffee and digestive time pleasures…

In random order, I came back with, well, mostly food and drinks: Rhum, cane sugar that smells delicious, jams and preserves, graines a roussir to make chicken Colombo, very strong sunscreen and kite-surfing sunglasses….I would have looooooved to bring that baby frrrrrrrog in my suitcase but my other half stopped me, the horrible monster. Oh well, next time? ;-)

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Colombo spices, banana and passion preserve, 11 yr aged rum and the very strong cane sugar…watching the kite surfing videos and contemplating the pouring rain out of the window…
tandakayou grenouille
can I take you home pleaaaaase?

About accents…

Accent
Line breaks: ac¦cent
NOUN
Pronunciation: /ˈaks(ə)nt , -sɛnt/
A distinctive way of pronouncing a language, especially one associated with a particular country, area, or social class:
a strong American accent
she never mastered the French accent

 

Accents are an utterly strange phenomenon. One is labelled by his accent as much as by his skin colour, and sometimes even more so than by his passport origins.
It could be a deal breaker on a date, it could get you hired or not, it could be the kick-starter of a conversation (or not), it could double your taxi bill or grant you a helpful nudge…. Continue reading About accents…

Fêtes de Genève, fireworks and Gruyere cheese, Switzerland

Les Fêtes de Genève

For almost a month during the summer, the placid Geneva turns into a mix of public amusement fair and chic beach bars, becoming the scene to one of the world’s grandest fireworks display. This year’s cost chf 700,000 and was no exception (that’s £460k).. No wonder why Les Fetes de Geneve attracts up to 2m visitors each year.

A friend of ours threw a roof party on Saturday where the average guest could speak 4 languages and was holding 2 passports…I wondered if it was an extraordinary sample or …?

From the  Council of Europe website I learned that “Geneva is the second-most-populous city in Switzerland (after Zurich) and is the largest in the French-speaking part of Switzerland. Whilst the municipality itself (Ville de Genève) has a population of 191,415, the canton of Geneva (République et Canton de Genève, which includes the city) has 463,919 residents. (…)

The majority ethnic group, Swiss, makes up 60.83% of the canton’s inhabitants and 39.2% of Geneva’s population are non-nationals (and  up to 48% in 2013 according to the Office Cantonal de la Statistique). The most significant ethnic groups are: Portuguese-7.40%;
French-5.5%; Italians-4.85% and Spanish-2.95%. Of non-EU/EFTA migrants, the largest groups are, in this order, from the USA, Russia, Brazil, Kosovo,Turkey, former Yugoslavia, India and Morocco. 44.6% of the canton’s working age population are non-nationals and 54% hold at least one foreign passport. At the end of 2010, the unemployment rate was 6% in Geneva, or twice the Swiss level”

As a reference, London’s non-UK born population was around 37%  in 2011 according to the Oxford Observatory at the last census, and a large share of those actually hold a UK passport…

The pristine canton of Gruyere

And Switzerland would not be a human size chocolate-box without villages like this one: the medieval town of Gruyere, home if the infamous cheese, where we hopped by to reload the batteries.

Mont Saint Michel, an odd jewel in the Normand countryside, France

I was born in Normandy, and many years after having left the homeland for overseas pastures, it’s easy to forget how beautiful it all is. I enjoyed re-discovering the magical Mont St Michel, and sharing the experience.

Fun facts and history

The Mont is first and foremost known for its sacred and religious aspect, and the spectacular Abbey crowning it. As history puts it, in 709 the Archangel Michael appeared to a bishop and ordered him to build a sanctuary on the Mont.

With a thousand years of history, many legends, stories and poems have been writen about the Mont. Here is one, written by my absolute favourite Normand author, Guy de Maupassant; his legend of the quarrel between the devil and St Michel, is a delight:

Saint Michael watches over Lower Normandy, Saint Michael, the radiant and victorious angel, the sword-carrier, the hero of Heaven, the victorious, the conqueror of Satan.

But this is how the Lower Normandy peasant, cunning, deceitful and tricky, understands and tells of the struggle between the great saint and the devil.

(read the full legend in English here).

I saw a lot of journalist and blogs getting this wrong: the Mont St Michel is in Normandy, and it’s always been. When the Archangel alledgedly appeared in 709, under Charlemagne, the Mont was already belonging to the diocese of Avranche, Normandy. And more importantly, the Abbey was consequently built by Normand Benedictine monks in 966, at the request of the Duke of Normandy, and has been run by them ever since!

heula mont st michel

A couple more for the pub quiz:

– In 1067, the monastery of Mont-Saint-Michel gave its support to duke William of Normandy in his claim to the throne of England. It was rewarded with properties and grounds on the English side of the Channel, including a small island off the southwestern coast of Cornwall which was modeled after the Mount and became a Norman priory named St Michael’s Mount of Penzance.

– Repeatedly assaulted by the English during the Hundred Years’ War, the mount always resisted thanks to its state-of-the-art fortifications. The small island prospered as a pilgrimage destination until the 16th century.

– During the French revolution in 1792, when the church properties got seized, the Abbey was transformed into a prison.

– the Mont currently counts 43 inhabitants, mostly monks!

Do’s and don’ts
  • The best season to travel there is surely late spring or summer, but even then, the weather can be very variable throughout the day so do dress in layers and pack a trench or waterproof rain coat.
  • you’ll walk a lot and climb many stairs, that being said, it’s all on roads / path, so flats or light trainers are a safe choice
  • The car park is a bit of a tourist trap and I had been well advised to avoid it, that’s how we stayed in a modest and lovely b&b where we could park (for free) and walk over to the Mont in 10min. This one next door also looked just as good, maybe more suited for longer stays.
  • Remember that hotels on the Mont are expensive and don’t actually enjoy the view…
  • Nothing has changed much since Victor Hugo was there either: I would still recommend to go for a nice meal on the mainland for the island is rather touristy and you might find “rotten fish in the middle of the sea” as he described.
  • be aware that restaurants will close early in the evening (last order 9.30pm in most places). We stayed until sunset and pretty much had to skip dinner…
  • do cross the bay, walking or on horseback…it’s recommended to do it with a guide as it can get dangerous
  • do visit the Abbey, for the first time I had the chance to follow the evening path, lit for the summer…around 8/9pm is ideal as the sunset falls on the cloister…magical. Info here and there
For the foodies…

The Mont sits at the border between Brittany and Normandy and as a result you will find a lot of regional delicacies from both sides of the river.

I have previously confessed on this blog my love for cider (the sparkling alcoholic apple based beverage), and this time I even brought back home some Pommeau (aperitif based on cider and Calvados liquor). Enjoyed best with a caramel crêpe….yum

But the true local delicacy is the salt march lamb, called in French “agneau de pré-salés”. Because the area enjoys some of the strongest tides in the world, pastures sometimes get covered and soaked in sea water. The little lambs therefore graze in high salt content environment, giving the meat a distinctive (but not salty) flavour. It is a very refined dish that you may only find in high end restaurants, and normally only from end of June until Christmas.

 

 Victor Hugo to his daughter Adele:
“J’étais hier au Mont-Saint-Michel. Ici, il faudrait entasser les superlatifs d’admiration, comme les hommes ont entassé les édifices sur les rochers et comme la nature a entassé les rochers sur les édifices. Mais j’aime mieux commencer platement par te dire, mon Adèle, que j’y ai fait un affreux déjeuner. Une vieille aubergiste bistre a trouvé moyen de me faire manger du poisson pourri au milieu de la mer. Et puis, comme on est sur la lisière de la Bretagne et de la Normandie, la malpropreté y est horrible, composée qu’elle est de la crasse normande et de la saleté bretonne qui se superposent à ce précieux point d’intersection.”

Around and away

We came from London via the ferry boat and my friend drafted the following itinerary for us with her favourite beaches and areas on the coast. Feel free to use it:Lower Normandy road Map

Another way to do it would be to start from Caen (accessible by train from Paris or by ferry boat) and combine your visit with the D-Day beaches and the WW2 memorial museum. For convenience I do recommend to rent a car from Caen or Cherbourg onward.

Note that FlyBe has also opened a London Southend / Caen line a few months ago.

Other resources and useful links:

Normandy Tourism website - well done and in English

virtual tour

Video on the Unesco website

 

Mousse au Chocolat with an Amaretto twist

The traditional French dessert with a crunchy and nutty Italian twist.

To celebrate my new (amazing) hand mixer I cooked some pretty tasty mousses last week. The word “mousse” is a French word that literally means “froth” or “foam.” This applies to the dessert’s light, airy texture.

mixer

Fun fact: if mousses became an easier option sincethe 1930’s when hand mixers made their way into more and more of our grandmas’ kitchens so they could fluff their egg whites easily; the dessert was made famous by chef Michel Fitoussi, based in NY, who in 1977 had a huge success with his innovative White Chocolate mousse.

And what about the Amaretto liquor? I find the Almond flavoured liquor even more delicious now tha I know it’s a love potion!!!

Legends of the Lazzaroni family of Saronno, says that the liquor was created by a widow who posed for Renaissance painter Bernardino Luini in 1525. The widow fell in love with the painter and made her Amaretto potion for him. Her original recipe has purportedly been handed down from generation to generation without change and is currently marketed as Disaronno Originale Liqueur.

Recipe for 6 cups

Heads up!! it needs to be in the fridge for a good 3h before serving, but avoid making it the day before as it may lose its oomph!

Ingredients:Affiche_chocolat_Menier

– 250gr dark chocolate – I normally buy some French Meunier one, by habit and because it does not need any added sugar and has great quality cocoa
– (optional 20gr of caster sugar)
– 6 eggs, at room temperature
– a pinch of salt / a pinch of cream of tartar
– a spoonful of Amaretto liquor (or two)
– 6 to 12 Amaretti biscuits
– 10cl full fat cream

 

Directions:

– separate the egg whites from the egg yolks in 2 different bowls. You can either save 3 yolks or the full 6 ones, depends on how rich you like your mousse.

– melt your chocolate in a bain-marie; do not add water to the chocolate directly, if you need a spoonful of liquid to stir it, add orange juice or some milk.

– beat the egg yolks, optional sugar (depends on how bitter your chocolate is and how much you like the taste of chocolate, I personally don’t add anything), add a spoonful or 2 of Amaretto liquor and mix in well. Add to the melted chocolate, keeping the mixture quite liquid.

Amaretti biscuits and Amaretto liquor

– whisk your eggs whites in a small deep bowl, with an electric mixer and a pinch of either salt or cream of tartar (some also use a dash of lemon juice) until obtaining a very firm mousse.

– whip the 10cl cream into a light fluffy mixture.

– fold the whipped egg whites into the chocolate mixture with a very soft hand, little by little. Finally add the cream.

– crunch some Amaretti biscuits at the bottom of your individual ramekins or martini glasses, then gently add the chocolate mousse and let sit in the fridge for a good 2 to 3 hours.

– decorate with chocolate shavings, Amaretti biscuits, crushed almonds, whipped cream, strawberries…enjoy

IMG_7829

Puzzling Tokyo in the Sakura season

Even just a few days in Tokyo were enough to be dazzled

the 3 reasons why Tokyo is an easy city break destination and a quick wedding etiquette guide!

  • For the outstanding service: ease of transport, wifi freely accessible, clean and easily accessible convenience….The city seems designed for working busy people, it’s expensive but convenient.
  •  it’s exotic, or at least different for Westerners. As high-tech’ and developed as Japan can be, it’s still surprising and gives you that exciting feeling of adventure – even if it just means asking your way and manage to take the tube in that big underground jungle of theirs.
Tokyo loo flush
When going to the loo is an adventure!!!

 

  • it’s varied, and visually beautiful. Each neighbourhood is different, from the neon lit busiest in the world cross road of Shibuya, to the refreshing quiet of temples and the maze of narrow streets in the old neighbourhoods of Yanaka. There’s culture, fun and crazy things for all.

When to go?

April is probably the single best period to head of to Japan, we caught the beginning of the Sakura, and more than just a beautiful tourist attraction it really marks the change of season; it’s a time of renewal and Tokyoites visibly appreciate it. I loved how Ueno park was so busy with workers organising picnics after work.

Catching the coming of age ceremony in the winter (2nd Monday of January), and maybe coupling it with a trip to the mountain would probably be my next choice.

Avoid going in June / July as you would hit the rainy season.

And as Tokyo is not exactly cheap nor next door, a simple city short break doesn’t really make sense. I really wish I’d had more time to go to the Mt Fuji, to Kyoto, to the mountains…

The reason why I skipped quite a bit of the main tourist attractions is that we were mainly there to attend our friends’ wedding. Other friends who could stay longer and had time to tick more of the “to-do” boxes and voted the the sumo fighting as their main highlight…I guess I’ll just have to go back!

Japanese weddings

If you thought getting married, anywhere in the world, was a complicated matter – let alone finding the right partner in the first place – then try Japan. The hair-splitting etiquette steps this game by a few extra notches! The beautiful and emotional ceremony that ensues makes it all worth it though.

a few fun facts that seriously surprised us Europeans…

– I’m a guest, what present do I bring? fresh money, i.e. brand-new, crisp, unused bank notes in a nice envelope that you will hand out to the hostess when signing the register.

japanese wedding

– When is the wedding happening? on a lucky day of course. How is the lucky day determined I still haven’t fully grasped it but it seems to be a full time job description…

– I’m a non-Japanese guest, what do I wear?  locals and relatives will wear the traditional kimono but really most just wear classy European-style outfits.

– Am I going to share a table with the old aunties? unlikely, as the seating plan is a rather serious affair:

The bride and groom’s respective bosses should be seated at a prime table opposite the couple and be in charge of the opening speech…not the best man or the parents!? Or at least not in the first place: following the opening speech, everyone gets the opportunity to say a kind word.

The seating plan then continues in layers, the friends first and finally the family, placed in a sort of umbrella literally and figuratively stepping back and overlooking their (grown-up) little ones starting their new life from the distance…which is surprising at first, however, the more I think about it, the more I think this is a healthy approach to family relationship.

Sake casks - “Kagami-biraki” or Breaking-open the sake cask. In an utterly ethnocentric way, I compared this to the European cake-cutting tradition (yes, shame on me). The couple breaks open the lid of the Sake barrel and cheers with their guests, a way to bring good fortune and fertility we were told. And we got the most thoughtful tie-me-down present: our own name-engraved sake cups, in Japanese characters of course. Isn’t that the coolest Hikidemono ?

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To Read and Watch before you go

*1Q84 by  Haruki Murakami is the book I got recommended most and it was certainly a fair piece of advise! I had thus far postponed the reading of the best-seller by laziness and other petty excuses but didn’t regret plunging into the 3 volume heavy story.Japanese writer Murakami attends ceremony in Jerusalem

Not only Murakami hooks you in like no other Japanese author, but also it’s fantastic to travel in the city via the 2 main characters. A fan even created the corresponding map!! Thanks

*Lost in Translation

bill murray lost in translation 1536x960 wallpaper_www.wallpaperno.com_55

*Tokyobling’s Blog 
a well made journalistic blog I still keep reading since I came back, always full of very interesting, detailed and almost daily cultural snippets

Running to discover, travelling to run…

Running is allegedly an affordable sport to practise. Not much gear needed, no special equipment or conditions are required, making it a sport that can virtually be enjoyed anywhere and by anyone for very cheap – or almost.

Well that’s the theory. But judging by the growing number of running specialised shops in London, or the inflated price of international races, there is little doubt it is a money-making industry; and so it has been for a number of years now.

But an interesting sub-trend is the synergy between travel and running industries. Albatros Adventures for example is offering “running” and “marathons” theme in their package holidays (I’m still dying to participate in the Great Wall of China one).

Today, the Flying Blue newsletter caught my attention: the major airways miles programme offered me to subscribe to their “Flying Blue Running now” newsletter!! They actually came up with running-oriented travelling tips and review destinations from a running-ease angle! Ok the real reason I got hooked in is that they offer good deal packages on some marathons and even let you sign up using miles….ok it’s a commercial operation, but it’s still pretty cool.

So that’s another website on my list of favourite, adding to the cool “where people run” page that I became fond of already :-)

 

below, their packing tips, reblogged from this article

Check the weather

The weather is the most important thing to consider. Check the weather forecast of your destination so you can decide what running outfit you’ll need to keep yourself comfortable on your run. A capri-pants, half-zip top and light jacket works well in a wide variety of conditions.

Packing list

Use this handy list to make sure you’ve got everything in your travel bag for your exciting run to explore new areas:

  •  top / t-shirt
  •  shorts / tight
  •  light running jacket
  •  sports bra
  •  socks
  •  shoes
  •  watch plus charger
  •  sports armband for your smartphone
  •  gloves, hat and thermo underwear (when travelling to a cold climate)
  •  sunscreen, cap and sunglasses (when travelling to a warm climate)

For a long-term trip

Are you planning a big journey? To travel light limit yourself to two running outfits. Wash the sweaty outfit in the sink as soon as you’re done and hang it over the shower rod or balcony and they’ll be clean and dry to use the next day. Pack two short-sleeve shirts, one shorts or tight, socks and one pair of running shoes. A thin and lightweight windbreaker can double as a rain slicker on your trip and a protective layer for running.

What items are your running must-haves on your travels?

 

(happily) get a few more wrinkles in Ibiza

It may sound paradoxical, but a short stay in Ibiza is the surest way to get a few more wrinkles and feel 10 years younger.
For sure, it’s a guilty pleasure, a battery reset, it’s the “so bad it’s good” extravaganza. It’s the time to forget the diet, the good resolutions, and just enjoy.

F_Me_im_Famousopenig

There’s surely a million different ways to enjoy Ibiza, but one thing is certain, it needs to be a bit loco.

One way to enjoy it? I plan a short stay, 3/4days, and allocate it 1 week budget. Gather a big group of friends, rent a villa, pack your flashiest craziest outfits, and try roasting on the beach in the early afternoon, stay there until you get hungry or can’t take any more mojitos, go for dinner, try clubbing again until you drop, and repeat. A glance at the party planning before leaving should help, especially if you’re a large group.

Flights need to be booked well in advance, as they quickly sky-rocket, especially around bank holidays. You will also need to rent a car, try and get a convertible, and apply more sun-cream than I did. I quite like the end of May / beginning of June as it’s tine for the crazy opening parties, this year Ushuaia was pretty awesome I have to say. The  infamous(insane) hotel just off Platja D’em Bossa hosts traditionally some of the most amazing open-air pool parties.

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It’s Spain, so arriving and leaving late isn’t a problem, you’ll still have time for dinner and clubbing even if you land past midnight. Rent a car, especially if your villa is outside the centre. And unless you’re over 12 Brits stags, avoid Platja San Antoni.

Some friends tell me they go for “relaxing” holidays, just to chill on the beach and enjoy the beautiful island. I wouldn’t advise that. It’s true the island is beautiful, but missing the party aspect of it would be too much of a shame. For a cheaper price, I would favour the Canarias, Spanish but on the Atlantic side; or the Italian Isola D’Elba for great Mediterranean food, or even Sicily…
Last weekend I’ve even seen pregnant women…got me wonder: why on earth would you do that? must be so tempting. I mean the greatest thing about Ibiza is to slurp mojito in a tiny bikini, and shake your booty on the the absolute best sound…but then who knows, maybe if I was in that case and all my friends were going, I would follow nevertheless? maybe, who knows after all.

Blue Marlin Sundays

British have traditionally represented a large share of the flow into Ibiza, with a slight drop in numbers in 2009. I know the tourism official in Spain would like Brits to come and visit Ibiza for its “churches and birdwatching”….unlikely. Not that I’m giving my stamp of approval to the type of excesses often coming together with rowdy clubbers (the drop in inflow of tourism from the UK in 2009 is also correlated to a drop in sexual crimes for example…no comment) but I still think that Spanish clubbing and in particular Ibiza partying experience is really quite fab and unique….

That being said, next time I promise I’ll go upper north roast on the beach, they do look quite fab.

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