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 ?

IMG_7120

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

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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.

Postcard English countryside, Bath, Oxford and the Costwolds villages

Less than 2h away from London, this itinerary is the promise of a romantic countryside weekend, in SO British fashion; Prince Charles’ secluded lifestyle, glorious British architecture and scenic bike rides, on your doorstep. “Visit England ” is an advertisement you’re likely to have encountered if you commute in London; a serious push has recently been given to tourism in England and I can only emphasise their message after a picturesque weekend on the road navigating between Alice in Wonderland’s manor house, tea with Mr Darcy and magic tricks in New College cloister – I’ll break the suspense, I have not succeeded in changing my friends into a ferret – yet.

The May Day bank holiday weekend provided us with the perfect occasion, 3 / 4 days is ideal for a relaxing weekend away from the city. Be ready to step into a tale, you may find yourself taking notes or sketching houses!
It’s not one to plan on a shoestring though, England remains expensive and the cosy feeling of those places calls for boutique hotels and nice B&B. I would recommend renting a convertible car, packing fluffy jumpers and fine lingerie and heading out for a romantic escape.

Bath

If Bath has that strangely familiar feeling to it, it must be due to the amount of costume movies filmed there!  Actually it’s quite fun to follow the tourism office’s movie map around town. 

Bath Film-The Duchess-RoyalCrescent
Keira Knightley is Georgianna Cavendish, in the Duchess

 

The city was built by the Romans around three natural hot mineral springs, that were the basis for the infamous therms. Bath’s status as a World Heritage Site was bestowed in recognition of its magnificent Georgian architecture.

The spa is a new built but the rooftop swimming pool nicely overlooks the old town and its green surrounding. The water springs out at 44 degrees and is then cooled down to 33, for comfort. We happily bubbled in for a good part of the  afternoon until twilight. They accept no booking on Saturdays and I was told the queue can get a bit long (although we only waited for 15min), also last thing, take your flip flops. 

bath spa rooftop
The Spa rooftop pool, naturally warm

I was longing for the high Tea in Jane Austen’s tea room but how disappointed  was I when I got declined access for I had not booked…grrr. Next time.

We followed the Lonely Planet recommendation and went for dinner to The Circus and were not disappointed – book in advance, it’s busy.

Cotswolds Villages

Whether you want to walk, cycle or ride across this string of charming villages, it’s an ideal countryside postcard-perfect day amongst lambs, strolling from one charming pub to the next inviting inn.downtown abbey bampton village

Downton Abbey fans can hop by Bampton, I hear the Manor is even available for visit on certain days of the year but that should be planned well in advance.

Or followers of the Royals can move towards Tetbury, pay respect to Charles & Camilla‘s cottage in Highgrove.

My favourite village of all was probably Upper and Lower Slaughter with its mellow-stone manor houses from another time, undulating woods, formal gardens and parkland overlooking lake and sheep-grazed fields by a peaceful and unspoilt village, away from main roads…fab. 

Sone gem hotels can be found along the way such as the Lord of the Manor with its Michelin-star restaurant…to celebrate an occasion or just stop for a beer.

 

for bicycle-riders, the Guardian published this useful little map, inspired by the escape route book: ” My favourite bike ride – the Cotswolds

Blenheim Palace

By now you must be sick of me saying “it’s such a fantastic place”, reminding me of films, books and oozing of royalty and history figures but really..but look at that. Churchill wasn’t born there for no reason.

sunny-blenheim-palace-1024x682

Our visit was short and the enchanting gardens are huge! The good news is that day passes are convertible into annual passes for free so I’ll probably be back on sunny weekends this summer.

Oxford

I don’t think I need to introduce Oxford. It actually seem I was the only Londoner left to visit the student-packed city. With over 22 thousands students from over a hundred different countries, split over 38 colleges….a quarter of its population are students!

We stayed at the Four Pillars and although I have nothing bad to say about it at all, but there’s such a large choice of nice and quirky accommodations in Oxford … way too enticing:

the refurbished cells of the Malmaison prison, ok the gardens are beautiful but  personally I didn’t quite get the attraction though.

during the holidays, one can rent a dorm room and pretend they’re Harry Potter for the night (careful some can actually get expensive!)

but probably the gem boutique hotel is the Old parsonage, I realised how cute it was when dining at the Gee’s, their bar & restaurant

alice-in-wonderland-on-a-stained-glass-window-in-christ-church-colleges-great-hall

 

Ok I won’t go on and on about fantastic secluded college courtyards, but if it was to do again, I’d go for the Mad Hatter high tea in Christ Church College, sitting in the Great Hall next to the dedicated stained glass window must be just unbelievable…and yum. (only available on certain Tuesdays….)

Films & books 

The Duchess – or Keira Knighley in the role of the 18th Century socialite, Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire, partly filmed in Bath and the surroundings. Sadly still modern.

Northanger Abbey – Jane Austin’s first book.  I got my hand on a nice and free audiobook version but really I was after a version read by local actors, that would screams Oxfordshire, let me know!!  (like this version of Alice in Wonderland for example)

 

I used a the new version of google map to plan my trip that I then amended once back; click on the  thumbnail below to use it.

map

 

and now tell me, is it just me who feels like the Countess of Dowager is going to come out of one of those little churches anytime?

Easter Colomba, baking adventures, part 2

ok by now your friends have started worrying for you: last night you went out for drinks, and after 2hours 45min precisely you asked for the  bill, promptly paid and mumbled something about urgently going home to take care of Pasquale. “Hun, you have a new boyfriend, how do I NOT know that?”…”nanah, he’s not my bf, Pasquale’s more like family”…”I see, so your relatives are visiting for Easter? but you told me you were going away…?” …. drop it…they’ll never understand you are bringing up an Italian leaven “a WHAT??”….right let’s go back to the kitchen…

[continued from Day 1]

Day 2 – What do we need for today?

make sure you have everything at hand before we start the day and avoid a million trip down to Tesco:

– about 500gr of Manitoba flour
– 180gr soft butter (not melted or hot)
– about 250gr suger
– 6 eggs
– clean dish towels
– a vanilla pod and / or vanilla fragrance
– 15gr honey
– couple of pinches of salt
– 200 to 300gr candied orange peels
– orange zest
– 30 gr hazelnuts (can be replaced by more almonds)
– 75gr almonds
– unpeeled almonds for decoration
– sugar nibs
– icing sugar
– 2 clean linen cloths
– your dove shaped paper tin, 750gr or 1kg

First dough…in the thick of it!!

some people are morning people, especially bakers. So if you can wake up presto and start the process with a bang, it’d be ideal honestly. If like me you start the morning at noon with a headache, you’ll have to adjust later (read the little compromises below)

levain natural yeast
After a super boot-camp, Pasquale is strong as ever

 

First dough – what we need

– 135 gr sourdough
– 150 gr warm water
– 105 gr sugar
– 390 gr manitoba, strong Canadian flour
– 3 yolks (make sure you keep at least 2 of the egg whites in your fridge for later)
– 155 gr very soft butter

Get started

Melt the 105gr sugar in 150gr water and bathe 135gr of Pasquale into the solution. Dream of a lifetime, tepid water and sugar ….yummmmm

colomba baking first step

Throw the 3 egg yolks into the mix, one at a time and stir well; then add the flour a tablespoon at a time. And knead, knead a lot …. your shoulders are screaming, your elbows are aching but it doesn’t matter:
you’re a hard core baker and stubbornly refusing to use a kitchen aid, officially to combine baking and upper body work out, but secretly because it’s a socially acceptable way to stick your hands in food for a good 20min at a time, so go on.

colomba baking first step butter

Finally rub the butter in little by little, when the previous bit is well amalgamated.

colomba baking whisking

Leave to rise 8 to 12 hours covered with a plastic bag on top in a warm place (on heating tubes, in warmed oven), the dough should triple.

colomba baking dough raising

colomba baking dough raised
9 hours later…..

 

Round 2 – we’re not done until we get there

After about 8-12h, Pasquale should be a strong teenager, well grown up now.

Second dough – what we need

– initial mix (close to 1kg)
– 30 gr warm water
– 30 gr sugar
– 3 yolks
– 85gr Manitoba, strong Canadian flour
– 15 gr honey
– 30 gr very soft butter
– 4gr salt
– vanilla flavour and / or a vanilla pod

Get started

Take our well swollen dough and add 30gr of water diluted with 30gr of sugar; slowly and one by one, add the 3 egg yolks, 85gr of Manitoba flour, 15 gr of honey and knead. Knead again. Knead more. Yes, until your shoulders are screaming, yes, again.

Rest for 20min (finally!!!) and let the mix autolyse in its pot.

Knead again and when the dough is a tough ball with well developed gluten, add the butter. It should be very soft but not melted or hot. Incorporate it in little by little, and finally add 4 gr. of salt and the vanilla fragrance or the seeds of a vanilla pod.

colomba baking sourdough candied orange

Then when is all mixed add candied oranges in 10 to 20gr of water (they just need to be moist to be sticky enough), little handfuls after another like on the photo. KNEAD more until you get a smooth mix  (do I still need to say it?).

colomba sourdough orange peel
make sure the candied peel are evenly incorporated

Let it rest in warm place covered for an hour.  Use that time to massage your shoulders and cheer up….impatient, hungry and slightly frustrated, at this stage I normally start taking short-cuts, DO NOT. It’s a patience game, it’s the slow food by excellence.

So let’s get back to our dough and split tit in 2 pieces, one will be the body, and one for the wings (use your imagination!!). Arrange it in the tin and leave to rise just quite to the edges. 

colomba paper tin

Little compromises: if like me you end up starting round 2 after the evening film at round midnight, you’ll have to find a little compromise with Pasquale and maybe leave him alone overnight, in a cooler place (up to 6/7hours).

If however you’ve started early in the morning, then you’ll want to accelerate round 2, by now you should know how Pasquale has been behaving and how fast he’s been growing. Leave the tin in a warm place, or a slightly heated oven (30 degrees) for a couple of hours until it reaches circa 1cm to the edge.

Round 3 – The pretty step

We’re almost there, this is the easiest step, don’t give up and watch out  the cooking.

Sugar coating – what we need

– 1/2 egg whites + salt or cream of tartar if needed to beat them
– 120 gr sugar
– 30 gr. hazelnuts 
– 55 gr. blanched almonds
– 20gr. unpeeled almods
– 2 spoonfuls of bitter almond taste or amaretto
– some sugar nibs and for sprinkling

Pre-heat your oven to 200 degrees and during that time, beat your egg white to a smooth cream, ad the sugar in, still beating. Then I use my hand soup blender to roughly crunch the almonds / hazelnuts and gently incorporate them in the cream.

With a spoon, gently spread the white stuff onto our beautifully risen Pasquale, starting with the edges and avoiding to put too much weight in the middle. 

colomba sourdough sugar coating colomba baking sugar coating colomba baking frosting

colomba sourdough final step decoration
let’s not putting too much in the middle, it would prevent Paquale from flying lightly

colomba sourdough pre-baking

Once ready, set your oven at 190 and put the Colomba in at half height. If your oven’s got more hot flashes than Samantha Jones, you may need to manually move it around once at mid-cooking.

I cooked mine close to 1 hour but tested it several times with a knife as the crust colour can be misleading and not reflect the state of the dough. 
easter sourdough colomba post-baking

In theory you’re supposed to wait for a day to eat it as it gets stronger in taste but here we’ve had trouble waiting….

Now just enjoy, be proud, and disregard weird looks and comments such as “daaaaarling, you spent 3 days baking a brioche? but I can cook one for you in only a couple of hours, you should have asked!?”

Right, let them eat baking soda, you and Pasquale know it’s not worth arguing….

sourdough colomba texture

 

What was all that about already?

If some say that a sweet bread has been eaten in Lombardia for Easter since the VIth century; reality is that the Colomba as we know it today was invented by Motta in the 1930’s to make use of the Panettone facilities outside of the Christmas period as the technique is similar. However, there’s still a number of legends around the origins of the cake and I always find those rather entertaining.

One of the legend I read about is the one of San Colombanus.

The Irish missionary arrived in Milan in 612, during the fasting period preceding Easter. He was warmly greeted by King Agilulf and Queen Theodelinda of the Lombards to the city and offered a heavy meal of meat and other too rich dishes, that he could only decline in that period of the year. Queen Theodolina, did not understand his refusal and asked him in audience, slightly outraged and dumbfounded to be turned down. San Colombanus to ease the upset Queen, offered to have the supper, but only after having blessed the food. This is when the miracle happened and a whole table worth of food turned into a simple white bread Colomba, or Dove, symbol of modesty and peace.

Happy Easter & Happy baking!!

colomba motta

Easter Colomba baking adventures: sending Pasquale the Italian leaven to a 3 days boot-camp [1st Steps]

Last year the Italian Cultural Institute of London organised a conference on Milanese Christmas traditions, and in particular, the delicious Panettone, this extremely rich and yummy brioch-ey cake. Rita Monastero did a passionate speech about the importance of a naturally leavened dough…picked my curiosity and subsequently got most of my December free time VERY busy!! Panettone isn’t quite a simple brioche: It’s a full-on 4 days adventure. And when I say 4 days I assume you already have an active natural leaven, and all the necessary ingredients available in your pantry…. I was indeed way too eager with my initial version and got a flat rich cake, not quite the fabulous fluffy and sweet thing I was expecting. But a few more tries and I was almost there, but after Christmas, my Italian testers all went on (much needed) detox, when I voiced the idea of baking one last one for Epiphany, my boyfriend just frowned and gave me the warning look. Ok my cases will go back to the cupboard. But I couldn’t let Easter go without a tasty and fluffy Colomba.

The Colomba is that – allegedly- dove-shaped little sister of the Panettone. Traditional Easter dessert if any, it’s overall slightly easier than the Chrsitmas version so I’d probably recommend starting there. If you want your Colomba ready for next weekend, I would recommend starting refreshing your leaven this weekend, maybe take the opportunity to bake some bread to use up the quantities. Give your baby a name, mine’s usually called Robert, and he’s Franco-British, but for the Colomba, you’ll need to create his much stronger Italian cousin, we called him Pasquale and sent him to this 2/3 days boot camp first. I’ve adapted the timings for working home-bakers as most of what I found on the internet or the guide I got  from Rita Monastero, are just not realistic. So I started creating Pasquale on a Thursday night and plan on baking the final product on the Saturday, if you’re doing it on the bank holiday weekend, even easier as it does take some time.

Fun facts: ALL Italian recipes call for the sacred “Manitoba flour from Molino”, and I jumped through a number of hoops to import / store 10kg of the d@mned thing in my kitchen…when I realised sheepishly that Manitoba was a Canadian province and all it actually was, is a strong  flour (i.e. very high protein rates, in and around 15gr protein per 100gr of flour) coming from Canada. In other word, what our supermarkets here call “strong Canadian flour” easily found at Tesco, Waitrose and the likes! yay, one problem sorted.

Before we start:

you will need a leaven starter, Manitoba or strong Canadian flour, 00 or all purpose flour. In term of equipment I would recommend a set of glass transparent dishes (to monitor the leaven) , a simple soft scrapper, a couple of of proofing linen cloths.

Step 1 : Thursday evening – toughen up IMG_7224 take 50gr of your usual leaven, steer it with 50gr tepid water and add 100gr of manitoba flour. Robert has left place to Pasquale, it’s starting to take an Italian accent, and it should feel much tougher, thicker, to the point where you can knead it a little bit. Do so for a minute or so.

Cover your pot with a linen, and go out for dinner, or indulge with a spritz and watch La Grande Belleza. You have 3/4 hours ahead of you (depends on the temperature, I personally leave it 3h in the very warm boiler room). In the end it should look smoother, and be 1.5x to twice bigger.

Step 2 : Thursday night– Pasquale rolls with the punches

take 100gr of your now tough Italian leaven and take it to the next stage: shred it in little pieces, add 50gr of lukewarm water and stir. Add 100gr of Manitoba flour and knead for one or 2 min. At this stage I also add a little drop of honey or liquid malt. If we’re sending Pasquale to a boot camp, he’s taking a sweet in his pocket!

now roll it very tight in a sturdy dry and clean cloth, slightly floured and tie it very tight for the night. I used a shoes lace but a present wrap that can be cut off may be a better option.  Place it in a small pan or pot for the night, in a warm place. Good night Pasquale! you’re back to the boiler room for 8 hours in your pyjamas. IMG_7226 Personally I didn’t understand the point of this step the first time, but then realised it was important as it strengthen the leaven and also is a good visual test. In the morning, Pasquale is well grown and trying to escape the bowl…

IMG_7228 Step 3 – a touch of softness in a tough world

After such a night, Pasquale is rather tired, let’s give him a bit of love. Discard any dried bit and use the middle soft part to carry on. IMG_7234To 50gr of the sourdough, again shredded in small pieces add in 50gr tepid water and soak it for a few seconds. Then knead it with 100gr of 00 flour (i.e. all purpose flour).

IMG_7236  Step 4 & 5 : flex your muscle!!

repeat step 3 twice, at at least 3h interval, either on Friday afternoon if you’re using Good Friday to nurse Pasquale, or on Friday evening for those who have a life!! Get a good night rest, there’s a day of kneading coming up!!

IMG_7237
step 3 / 4 / 5 : knead 50gr of leaven with 50gr of water and 100gr of 00 flour for a couple of minutes.
IMG_7242
after 3/4hours (or up to 8hours if needed), it should have doubled in size.

While you’re  nursing Pasquale like a hen hatching her eggs, you can also make sure that you have all the required equipment for the next stage. I got most of what I was missing at Bakery Bits, in particular the cases, the pearl sugar and the candied orange, the delivery should take up to 3 days so plan it ahead.

for the next steps you will need:

– 475 gr. Manitoba flour (i.e. Canadian strong flour)
– 185 gr. soft butter
– 135 gr. cast sugar
– 200 gr. tepid water
– 6 egg yolk
– 15gr honey
– 4gr salt
– 1 vanilla pod
– 1 orange peel
– 300gr of candied orange peel

columba pasquale paper tin 1kg
Bakery bits Colomba tins

 

End of the adventure now published there 

Speaking Japanese without hardly saying a word…

Just landed in Tokyo and as my friends predicted, people do not speak so much English, but seem to understand basic indications and overall are unbelievably helpful.

There is a tangible sense of modesty, and people who don’t master English well enough and feel confident with it just wouldn’t dare speaking. At the difference of Paris where this translate into “I don’t understand therefore I couldn’t care less”, people seem to give it a try here!!

I mean, last night after a long trip, a lost suitcase, and surviving the underground maze, I wandered around the Shibuya neighbourhood trying to find the apartment when I found a policeman who walked around with me for a full 15min until I was safe at home. I just couldn’t believe it….where else in the whole world?

I’ll keep you updated on how it goes, but just wanted to post this hilarious video by a Japanese / American comic artist who was educated in Japan and made a mock Japanese 101 video. Magic. (For those who want more, his blog: http://kentanakalovesyou.blogspot.jp/)

Photos will come later, I’m busy fua-kin for now 🙂

How to spot an Italian ski resort?

How to recognise an Italian ski resort and differentiate it from its neighbours from France or Switzerland at first glance?

First things first, look at women’s blow-dry. If ladies look like they’re coming straight out of the hairdresser no matter how much snow and wind there is through out the day: no doubt, you’re in Italy.

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Last summer when coming back from 2 weeks in Tuscany I was stunned by how pretty, and above all stylish, Italian grand mothers were (see the article “fashion lessons learnt from Italian grannies“). Guess what? it applies on the slopes more than ever.

Second clue? are people throwing their skis and poles on the floor nonchalantly, creating an ocean of eclectic boards, Prada shoes, Gucci goggles, gloves and so forth outside of bars and restaurants? if yes, you’re in Italy. (note: if they’re meticulously organised, you’re in Switzerland)

Extra clue: if people around you can telephone while skiing AND gesticulating….where else? Italian skills will never cease to amaze travellers….

Continue reading How to spot an Italian ski resort?

A Weekend in London, UK [wintertime]

 

London's sometimes a little bit hidden, go and look out for it
London’s sometimes a little bit hidden, go and look out for it. Photo taken by the Metropolitan Police on a foggy day.

hurrah we passed Valentines’s time and its lot of heart-shape Krispy creme and 50-stomething bearded men holding balloons (dear please please no), but fact is, London is rather romantic, ALL YEAR ROUND!! a couple of ideas for a long weekend

this article is a follow up on the summer version of this post

# 1 : Brunch, Afternoon High-Tea and GastroPub dinner – indulge with comfort food

When the weather goes chilly a cosy warm up is de rigueur, my favourite afternoon tea award goes to the Sketch : a very stylish, Michelin-star place, with a large collection of flavoured teas and lovely finger food….what else do you need?

Alternative options: recover from any hangover after a long and boozy night out with The breakfast club brunch, that now counts 5 locations, the Smith of Smithfield (and their Spitalfield sister that will reopen in March) , or the Hawksmoor full English breakfast where you can easily feed a young elephant .

There’s quite a few fabulous chimney warmed cosy gastro-pubs in London where you can watch the snowfall (or the rain poor but it sounds less glam), Time Out is always there to help.

Afternoon tea at the Sketch

#2: Culture, Music and other things to do
For guaranteed brownie points with a girl, you could check out what’s on at the Royal Albert hall or the  the Royal Opera; with a little bit of organisation and advance-booking you could bag a  top quality performance at relatively affordable prices. Tip: for best value, pick any of the amphitheatre seats, they all have quality views.

Alternative options: Jazz night & dinner at Rooney Scotts in Soho, ballet at the English National Opera, modern dance at the Sadler’s Well in Angel

Ice-skating in a  magical location is slightly cliché but still, a rather cool date, you’ll fall, laugh, and warm up with a hot-chocolate after-wile. From November to January, pre-book at the styli Sommerset house (central) , the classic Tower of London (East) or the west-based Natural History Museum, and avoid the crowds of the Winter Wonderland fair. 

London is simply beautiful by itself and in the winter, when sunset comes early you could take advantage of a dry day if any, to go walking around. From Sloane square to South Bank for example, watching the sunset on Embankment bridge.

#3 : No romantic weekend without some cuddling

My favourite cinema in the whole world goes to the Aubin, THE Shoreditch based maxi-hipster cuddly place. Faaaaaaaa-bulous Sundays.

Alternative options:  The Electric cinema  – get the front row double beds. Or for a different kind of cinema experience, pretty unique to London, you could check what’s on at the Future Cinema, even though I think they’re recently become way too steep.

 #4: Do things together will bring you closer

Fine, Sauna and Spa are a little bit cheesy as a romantic time for two, but yet it’s a marvellous. Always check out what’s on offers before you book. I recently tried those 2 and it was fantastic. at the Chelsea Club, ask for a  Japanese bath.  The St Pancras hotel spa has luxurious”journeys to …”, I don’t know if I came out of there “firm, purified, enlivened, from the nape of the neck to the tips of my toes” but  definitely came out of there with  numb  legs.

Why not learn something new? like how to make a cocktail, a.k.a. a socially acceptable way to have cocktails on a Saturday mid-afternoon. I have no problem with that. The London Cocktail club have a good beginner overview course, but that lacks a little bit of hand-on practise. Someone’s whispering to my ear that Harvey Nicholls’ bar actually has great master-classes.

#5: the WOW factor

London Royal Observatory

how could would it be to go Start gazing at the Royal Observatory, on the  meridian zero? get on their mailing list or keep checking the website for new event

For other good views of the city you can try the National Portrait gallery Restaurant with a view after, you could plan it following an exhibition, after the Thursdays / Fridays late opening.

and the 2nd part of the evening? I would favour a speakeasy type of place over a club. You two can chat over a delicious Manhattan (sorry! meant London dry gin!). The Savoy’s Beaufort Bar has basically invented London cocktails, with their signature over-the-top impeccable service; however my favourite remains the Calloh Callay at the heart of Shoreditch for their unbeatable friendly atmosphere (booking essential Thursday-Saturday).

Fresh winter run along regents canal with a friend!!!

Where People run?!

tokyo running map

When visiting a city, I always try and include a long run in my planning. It’s a great way to have a good overview of an area, mingle with the locals, and capture the atmosphere: nothing like running in Manhattan along the Hudson river to capture the empowering NY vibe…

Planning a run in a new city may take a little bit of prep, and one doesn’t always have a local friend to guide them. Where do people run? how cool would it be to use the tracking apps at an aggregated level to actually visualise the answer to that question?

Those 2 blogs have done it for us, using data from Edmondo – I’m all excited and planning my next run in Tokyo now 🙂 happy geeking and running!!

http://barsukov.net/endomondo.html

http://flowingdata.com/2014/02/05/where-people-run/

Winter surf in Tanghazout, Morocco

As a touristy destination, Morocco almost has it all: sun pretty much all year round, surf, mountains, cultural cities, fantastic food, stable political background, cheap access from Europe  and no jet lag, no need for a visa…..la douceur de vivre in a bloody disorganised Mediterranean atmosphere. Oh well…we love it.

Taghazout is a fishermen village nested on the Atlantic coast near Agadir, a good couple of hours by car from Marrakech where one can get easier flight connections. The drive from Agadir foretells a wide upcoming change in the area. Currently, it is touristy, but still at human scale, for how much longer? Mohammed VI & the government put in place a development plan in 2010 and decided to boost the country’s tourism capacity and infrastructures by 2020. The industry currently represents over 7% of the country’s GDP and is the 2nd biggest sector for job creations. Tourist flows are mostly coming from France and the rest of Europe. The little village of Taghazout, can only get busier.

The village is a large main dusty street fitted with small grocery shops and restaurants, vagabond cats, and goats eating off the rubbish. My hosts recommend going eating outside of town, driving to Agadir as we’ll find “nothing suitable  here”. Well that wasn’t quite right. We we able to find welcoming quirky little places with fresh quality products, and in particular, Dar Josephine, on the main street, close the the pharmacy.

** And how about the surfing?

the winter swell is (really) big, it’s cheap and convenient to come from Europe and makes Anchor Point one of the most attractive winter spot in the region; together with its Spanish neighbour, 170km offshore, the Canaries Islands, roughly oriented the same way, exposed to the N-NW swells that churn the North Atlantic from October to March. But if the quality of surfing instruction in Lanzarote (when I say that I mean Surf School Lanzarote) was outstanding, however the standards are not quite the same in Morocco, and not better value either.

We had been warned, it’s big waves, for big independent guys, not improvers. We did find nice little schools run by Brits, but we struggled to find a real ISA recognised school. And indeed, the safety talk is mostly reduced to “Inch’Allah”, there are obviously no life guards in sight, and the coaching is rather limited to showing you a few pop-up on the sand….not exactly my definition of coaching!!

If you are just looking to have a blast and meet people, any of Surf Maroc or Surf Berbere camps will probably be exactly that; everyone is really chilled and laid back, in a very backpacking-y sort of atmosphere reminiscent of the hippy days of Tanghazout. Most schools will also offer day trips and after-surf yoga classes during the sunset hours (amazing….).

** A good book for the plane….

I asked quite a few friends, what should I be reading in the plane? I love exchanging good books recommendations with friends, it’s normally a great way to scratch a little bit beyond the surface; as invariably, people start with food recommendations when they talk about their country). Those 2 are standing out:

Partir (Leaving Tangier) –  by Tahar Ben Jelloun, written in French

For Bread alone – Mohamed Choukri, written in Arabic and translated to American English by Paul Bowles, and to French by Tahar Ben Jelloun.

** Travelling in my kitchen

berber tajine spice
ok I admit my tajine hasn’t bathed in water overnight yet….but the spices are sitting really pretty in my kitchen 🙂

2 dishes that I stole from Josephine, who’s been kind enough to show me her wonderful sauce and chit chat about flavours and smells. Lots of garlic, cumin and the  fabulous local aromatic oil are some of their secret ingredients.

Sweet’n healthy starter: carrots & beetroot salad: 

Ingredients:

– 2 ts orange blossom water
– 2 ts orange juice
– press half a lemon (2ts)- 1/2 ts paprika
– 1/2 ts cumin seeds or ground
– 1/2 ts cinnamon
– a pinch of salt

Instructions:

dice the beetroot (after cooking and peeling if required) and peel and grate the carrots, macerate with the vinaigrette and serve fresh, maybe with a mint leaf or a couple of pomegranate seeds as a decoration.

The 2nd one will be the Kefta & egg tajine; but I have to confess here, I have been rather lazy. The dish itself should be soaked in water overnight before use and I keep procrastinating this bit.

** and in my bathroom…

(following the earlier “moroccan pampering” article)

I came back with an over-packed suitcase in which I managed to cram non only a berber tajine but also some of the missing items in my pamper-pantry, and in particular, some argan- enriched black soap and ghassoul.

Black soap comes in a sort of jelly mushy dark brown paste. This one is enriched with Argan oil so a little bit lighter. Ideally in a hot steam room (or in my case, after an essential oil enriched bath) spread it on your body, warning, the smell isn’t exactly pleasant but be reassured, it doesnt stay as after a few minute you’ll scrub

** Other Inspirations:

djellabar marrakech
the Djellabar amazing decoration, I was about to steal a cushion!

– Films: Laïla Marrakhi’s first and controversial film “Marok” is a fresh high school romance but not only. I can’t wait to watch her most recent one “Rock the Casbah” (I’m waiting until the dvd as I doubt we’ll get to see it at the cinema in London…)

– music: and the the playlist I keep listening to Claude Challe – Djellabar

– 2 other point of views from a beginner surfer and his girlfriend: http://moreintelligentlife.com/story/moroccos-freezing-waves

and a more experienced surfer: http://www.surfermag.com/features/morocco-surf-expedition-dispatch-2/

– Organise your trip and check your visa etc:

http://taghazout.org/

http://www.moroccolondon.co.uk/index.php

tips from a Moroccan travelling magazine, in English: http://www.feetupmagazine.com/64-321

other bloggers went there: http://www.flickr.com/photos/heatheronhertravels/sets/72157633095942122

– other surf schools I was recommended (but have not tested though):

Yassine Ramdani: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Yassine-Ramdani-Surf-Rider-Camp/111130802254861?hc_location=timeline

and Denny Tolley from http://www.morocsurf.com/

my next time in Morocco? The more I read about it, the more I’m burning to discover Fes, the desert; I’d also like to spend a little bit more time in Marrakech and get to see Yves St Laurent’s gardens….and last but not least I”ll DEFINITELY carry more hand sanitiser in my hand bag.

Happy New Year

Our "galette des rois" French traditionally eat on Epiphany day

Happy New Year!!! 

What do you wish, hope and work toward in 2014? I just googled “top 10 2014 resolution” …erg, pretty appalling stuff: ranking at the top, the utterly depressing “loosing weight and living healthier” according to the great women you should know website, oh boy!

No. It’s rainy and cold out there, so let’s start 2014 with enjoyable perspectives at least. Here are a few notes and ideas I jotted down in my (random) preparation for this new cycle.

1. the UK travel hot list by the Guardian: going around Britain more is definitely on my to-do list for 2014 – even if I confess I may wait for a little bit more sunshine.

the mortorcycle diiary
2. the 20 best travel book of all time, selected by the Telegraph. Reading is the cheapest way to travel, escape, learn. I set myself a soft-objective of 25 books this year; starting with “For Bread Alone”, the first part of Moroccan author Mohamed Choukri’s autobiography, translated to american by Paul Bowes. A tough journey.

3. the top 10 surf schools, by the National Geographic. Just back from Morocco for a short surfing break, I’m studying this religiously and hunting forums: the quality of surf coaching is clearly not the same all around the world, surfing and sport trips in general are the ones that require most preparation….

4. Clean up your Instagram! I was looking for some refreshed list of travel instagrams to follow, but didn’t find anything truly mind boggling so here is my own top 10:JR

  • JR: artist until he finds a real job. We hope he doesn’t.
  • José Lourenco  [@joselourenco]: Portuguese photographer and “visual artist” and has a very  witty original approach to instagram
  • Marygribouille: Normand graphic artist and illustrator, she posts daily lovely pieces or her life and fun illustrations
  • Nicole Warne’s blog feed, GaryPepperGirl: following models can sometimes be slightly over the top but she stays away from the main pitfalls of fashion bloggers and does travel a lot. Her boyfriend is also conveniently a fashion photographer, so thank lord we don’t get selfies in a mirror but beautiful coloured outfit in stunning locations.
  • Scott Schuman, the Sartorialist: Because he’s the reference street fashion photographer (ok, I can say that safely so long as Bill Cunningham doesn’t have an instagram account!)
  • Vogue International: the fashion forward reference
  • The National Geographic: for outstanding quality photos and comments
  • and-during-a-trip-to-london-for-an-nbc-interview-they-took-a-picture-with-the-famous-platform-9-at-kings-cross-station-kings-cross-installed-an-actual-9-sign-and-a-half-Murad Osmann globe trotting with his girlfriend and the model, Nataly Zakharova, in a very original “follow me” photography series
  • The Royal Opera House: A touch of beauty in a ruthless world. Not only this is one of the best operas in the world, but they do put some effort into their instagram feed and social media visibility in general, trying to make it appealing and endearing to the general public. It works, thanks!
  • The Russian ballet dancer, Maria Kochetkova. Her instagram feed is fun and sober, plus she does travel a lot with that cute hipster cool look

5. what’s the world like in 2014? The economist publishes their annual guide covering economy & politics, but not only. Check out the app or the paper magazine format. Well worth it. My n#1 source of information has also started releasing a “traveller’s briefing” app that I’m really excited about. Available only for a few countries for now (Brazil, Britain), but I’m sure they’ll keep adding to it.

6. The Time Out London cultural calendar is always a useful tool to keep at hand, in addition, the Art Fund has done  a little selection of great exhibitions coming up. But what to look forward to in 2014? Vogue asks us. My choice goes to a selection of fashion oriented exhibitions :

Kate-Moss-by-David-Bailey-for-Vogue-Paris-August-2013-18Dec13-David-Bailey-NPG_b_592x888

Hello, My name is Paul Smith is currently at the Design Museum; Isabella Blow’s Fashion Galore at the Sommerset House; from February, the National Portrait Gallery will focus on the work of photographer David Bailey in Stardust, featuring more than 250 images; The Glamour of Italian Fashion will open at the V&A in April; and The fashion world of Jean-Paul Gaultier will be the first major retrospective his past 35 year of creation at the Barbican starting in April amongst others.

I wish you a fantastic 2014, whether travelling around the world or in your kitchen but learning, discovering, talking, experiencing, venturing and adventuring, always.

Bake your way through the festive season

Coming from a bakers family, the only food I was truly missing in London was great bread, available daily and conveniently.
During the course of 2013, I started baking my own sourdough bread at home and I’m pretty proud of my regular no-knead loaf, super easy and hassle-free. (thanks loads to the guys from the E5 bakery for having set me up on the right direction!)

About a month ago I hosted my parents for a weekend at home and had baked Dan Lepard’s raisin and rye crown bread for breakfast; they liked it so much that mom set me on a mission to bake a good fruit loaf to toast her home made foie-gras on Christmas eve. I wanted something spicy and fruity that would keep a real sourdough bread texture and taste. Our foie gras being already layered with candied cranberry, I didn’t want to bake something overly sweet. Also, most recipes call in for the addition of nuts but mom though it would add a “crunchy” distraction and preferred a fruit-only loaf.

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After having tested a few options at home, I crossed the channel with my (4kg) Dutch oven and 2 types of sourdough starters; and off I was, in for a good backing lesson on the field. For a start, I just could NOT find the same flour as in London easily available. Bread is made of almost only flour and water, and ingredients are absolutely essential to the taste and texture. If the internet is global and gives is the impression we can follow any recipe from any and all blogs across the planet, reality sometimes makes a humble check-in. Products are not only different, but also, the water tastes different, the bacteria present in the air is different, the humidity is different, and my parents’ big countryside house is much cooler than our central London apartment, messing up all proofing times.

I ended up abandoning the idea of a rye bread for I couldn’t find the right supply on time for Christmas; and remixed several inspirations I took from my go-to baking blogs. I started with a test-run and made the raisin loaf from you can do it at home blog. Tasty enough! (under the dog’s surveillance) so I braced myself up, and started scratching my head in search for a fig adaptation.

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Ingredients:

– Starter 135gr (100% hydration)
– White flour 85% – 216gr – the white flour I found at the supermarket did not contain enough gluten so I had to increase the whole wheat % to avoid ending up with an unmanageably wet dough. Any unbleached white flour should do, ideally with as close as you can get to 12-13% proteins.
– Whole wheat flour 15% – 38gr plus dusting
– Water 67% – 171gr
– Salt – 7gr
– Cinnamon – a teaspoon
– Mixed spices (cinnamon, ginger, cloves and nutmeg mix)
–  Chopped dried figs 33% – 85gr

Directions:

Add the lukewarm water to the starter and dilute for a few seconds
Add both flours, mix well and knead until the gluten develops. you should now be handling a relatively wet ball of dough.
Let it autolyse for 15/30min.

Add the salt + figs and spices, and again knead until the fruit is well incorporated.

Let it rest for 1/2h in a greased bowl (adapt the timing depending on your temperature)
fold gently and let proof in the banetton overnight.

In the morning, slash it the way you like and pre-heat the oven at 225C or maximum temperature. Bake it for 40 minutes in a Dutch oven, take off the lid and bake it for another 10min at 200C.

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Christmas in Normandy

Merry Christmas one and y’all! 🎅🎄

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I come from a French Normans family and this is where I traditionally spend Christmas. The whole period is a culinary feast and each family has their own tradition (or should I say obsessions?), mostly revolving around food; mine this year was a perfect fruit loaf quest that I will describe in another post.

I have been eagerly looking forward to the holiday for several weeks as usual, the bubbly Champagne, the roasted chestnuts, the smell of the decorated tree and the glitter in my grand-parents eyes. And I got just that, wonderful family-time 🌟💝

Continue reading Christmas in Normandy

Moroccan pampering

when we decided to book a trip to Morocco for New Year holidays, my first thought was “great, I’m getting an argan oil refill!”  Last time I went there it was to Rabat for my friend’s wedding and we spent quite  a lot of time taking care of ourselves, as good brides & bridesmaid should do ;)!! Local production of henna, lemon, olive & argan oil, avocado, rose water, cloves….and a secular tradition of  hammams and sea salt scrubs make of Morocco a great destination for pampering.

I wanted to share here a couple of great natural tricks; I guess the products can be found almost anywhere, albeit at rather steeper prices!!!

my 2 absolute essentialsRose water is my absolute favourite, sprayed on a hot day or just in the morning applied on a cotton on my eyes…. it beats the smell of any beauty shop product and it’s naturally allergy-free. It’s said to naturally prevent against wrinkles – not sure if it does but it’s definitely pleasant to use.

Argan Oil. When I used it the first time, I wondered why I had ever been buying such expensive moisturising serum and hair masks. The trick is to use a very small amount on the tips of your hair overnight, tie it in a plait to avoid greasing everything and wash it with a gentle shampoo in the morning…silky and fabulous especially for long and dry hair or sun-damaged.

Another great use is to massage your feet with argan oil and sleep with cotton socks on….scrub them in the shower with a loofah mitt the next morning…and tadahhh, you’re party-heels ready! it’s also said to be good for your face skin but I find it doesn’t feel very nice, it’s oil after all.

Last trick a friend gave me recently is to use a 50/50 mix of lemon juice and argan oil on brittle nails, apparently it does marvels following too many shellac applications.

417771_88630318_ghassoul_H131214_LRhassoul clay is another traditional and typically Moroccan natural remedy. It’s especially great for oily hair as it’s really quite hard to find a cure that cleanses without striping.

– rhassoul clay

– rose water

– 2 egg yolkes

mix until you get a not-too-liquid-not-too-thick mixture and apply on your hair roots. Once a month, apply more warm water and massage the paste on your scalp. Then rinse completely.

20130101-235649.jpgand last but not least: green tea! packed with anti-oxydant, preventing halzeimer, “flushing” excess calories…I read just about anything on green tea; only one thing is sure, in Morocco it’s THE social drink, any occasion is good enough, any time of the day. Sit back and enjoy.

I could carry on endlessly with black soap, other oils and clays, henna, honey & honey combs, vanilla, clove, eucalyptus etc etc…but I guess at this point, better just pay a visit to your local hammam, or a weekend in Marrakech

want to read more?  sorry the good sources I found are mostly in French sorry

http://www.artetsaveurdumaroc.com

http://www.bladi.net/secrets-de-beaute-des-femmes-du-maroc-la-feminite-dans-tous-ses.html

http://www.letangerois.com/secrets-de-beaute-marocaine

Season’s greetings!!

Tonight mulled wine is spreading a spiced scent around the house, raisin bread is baking in the oven and I’m wondering what size of tree to choose… Christmas approaching, marking the end of that depressing post summer autumn season very rightly named “fall” (mostly rain fall in London actually…). It’s the search for the perfect wooly hat, the guilt-free hot chocolate with marshmallows, the ginger-man baking and the feeling of excitement….love all of that!!!

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My all-purpose packing check-list

at school they used to call me little miss scatterbrain … for a reason! (as well as little miss chatterbox…) So after numerous last minute panics, and a few missed planes and trains I acquired many different plug adaptors and developed a little fool-proof check list that works pretty much for all types of trips.

  • Must have

– passport / ID / driving license – personally I memorized my passport number, ok it doesnt help crossing the border but it’s good to check-in online the day before for example
– credit card + minimum cash in euro or usd
– boarding pass or train ticket + ticket of the connexion train if needed (express train)
– phone number of taxi company city of departure and arrival
– paper written address of landing – or at least a made up one, for border control; also think about getting it in the calligraphy of your destination country if different from English (Japanese, Russian…)
– bank assistance + health insurance phone number
– phone charger(s) and whatever other chargers your need (camera, ebook reader etc)
– international adaptor or relevant ones (requires to have a few but normally they do work better)
– topped up and charged phone

  • Handbag: my travelling handbag is always ready to go, it’s the only one in my wardrobe that has a proper zip + button closing and can fold into another bag (yes, it’s a Longchamp pliage); it has to be small enough to avoid back pain but big enough to carry my SLR and “handbag kit”

– Refreshing gel
– Wipes /disinfectant gel
– Moleskine notebook
– Phone charger(s) + adapter
– Sunglasses – wherever I go
– Sleep mask / fly stocking / earplugs
– Pill and other medicines
– Mini mascara / mini gloss / toothbrush + mini toothpaste / moisturising cream / make up wipes
– A book (or call it an iPad, a kindle)
– a scarf that can do pillow and blancket
– Business cards
– my house keys – back to basics

my photo gear normally also makes it to the  hand luggage too as I don’t feel it would be handled securely enough.

Also carrying a small padlock can be a good idea (cloak rooms and other luggage drop places aren’t safe everywhere)

Inevitably when travelling, your luggage will be lost one day or another, your flight will be delayed overnight etc…I tend to have at least one change of underwear in my handbag and a toothpaste and the minimum make up kit in addition to money and documents.

  • Suitcase: I try to have a “minimum survival kit” in term of clothing, stuff that I can wear in any circumstances and match easily, such as a black cardigans and a pair of black repetto flats

– Different colour underwear
– Shoes polish / sewing set
– A pair of jeans
– A pair of black flats
– A black cardigan
– 2 pairs of black and transparent tights
– Night dress
– Mini towel
– neutral colour heels / flip flops
– A bikini – it doesn’t take much space and you never know

  • Beauty case : this kit is always ready as well, I never unpack it, it’s made of “large samples” (such as the Clarins or Clinique ones, boots also has a large shelf)

– Nail polish / remover wipes
– Make up wipes and Toothbrush (unless it’s already in your hand bag)
– Make up
– Moisturiser
– Shampoo / shower gel
– Sample perfume or refill spray with your own

The US government has a rather helpful page full of common sense travelling tips, and I can’t recommend highly enough glancing at the country-specific recommendation page.

 

Where’s the next race?

Two half-marathons and a full one a year has been my diet for the past few years.

Royal-Parks-half-marathon-2012I ran the Royal Park half every year in the past 3 years and very much appreciated the friendly atmosphere, and the world class sight seeing. It’s a fantastic race to enjoy with friends, but it’s not one for a good time! This year was very warm and sunny, perfect London autumn day really

I didn’t make it into the NY or London ballot this year and was looking for a flat European marathon to sign in or spring 2013.

My friends recommended the Rome marathon in March 2014, even though I’m  afraid it cold be a bit hilly, or the Vienna marathon in April 2014; but I’m increasingly tempted by several less conventional races:

– the  Marathon du Medoc in France in September. It sounds like  a very fun run, lots of food, good wine and landscape

Medoc-marathon-001

– the Marathon du Mont Blanc in Spring in the French Alps: the other end of the  spectrum in term of sport performance; it seems to be an extremely demanding race, saying it’s hilly is an understatement and even the most seasoned  of my friends struggled, but the challenge is appealing….

otherwise it’s little sister in Aletsch claims to be the “most beautiful half-marathon”, running along the Aletsch glacier: tip-top !?!

– the Great Wall of China Marathon: I promised to do it before my 30th birthday. It is a commercial organisation but it does give a unique opportunity to run on parts of the Great Wall..up and down stairs which I would rather do before my knees start hurting!!

any recommendations?

a useful calendar:

http://www.marathonrunnersdiary.com/races/europe-marathons-list.php

Surfing on a volcano in Lanzarote, Canarias (2!)

For me, Lanzarote was
the most beautiful place on earth …
… then I made it a point to
show Lanzarote to the world .

Cesare Manrique

I discovered Lanzarote last year and fell in love with the serenity and splendour of the place. I went back to Famara in October, for a week, with a camera this time. It hasn’t changed a bit.

 

Edit : I strongly recommend having dinner or at least a drink at Jameos del Agua, a volcano cave redesigned by Cesar Manrique, the Lanzarote-lover. They organise concerts some nights of the  week, the sound echoing in this magical place makes it a must-check!

 

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