Tag Archives: food

“The longest marathon in the world”, wait, the what?!

Well ok marathon distance is 42.195km or 26.2miles, BUT this particular one will probably feel like the longest in the world as is goes through 59 of the world’s most famous Chateaux and private vineyards around Bordeaux, France, 19 wine stops…and oysters stops…and entrecotes stops (what really?)…yes and all that in 6.5 hours!!

ah did I mention that fancy dress is mandatory?

I can’t wait – It’s gonna be a blast!!!

If anyone has done it I would take tips and tricks on how to get to the finish line in 6h and 29 minutes!!! I promise I’m taking the Go-Pro for this one 🙂

For anyone interested, incriptions just opened. Sign up on this page (click on the image below), first in first served basis, and don’t forget to let me know of course!

marathon-medoc1

Now off to the gym… (or wine tasting maybe?)

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Milan, Italy, a love and hate story

The first time I travelled to Milan, I was in for a huge disappointment, and it was partly my fault: no, going mid-August is not a good idea, as for ferragosto the Milanese just shoot off to the lakes or the sea, leaving a drained, hot and dusty city behind them. Also I had in mind a great romantic impressive city….if that’s what you want go to Rome, to Florence, to Venice…you name it. But not to Milan.

So this year I decided I was going to start our relationship from scratch again, and spend a full week there, with the right kind of expectations.

Milan is a social, fashionable city.

With a total GDP of €114,784m, Milan produces 7.3% of the whole country wealth. Easily the wealthiest city in the country (€36,000 per capita), but far behind on tourists go-to lists. I think it is a great city to experience when one has “something to do” there. It is also a city that’s better appreciated with a few friends; it’s a busy social place.

Some of the MUST do things, pick and choose to make your dream combination:

Sightseeing: it doesn’t take that long but you will at least want to see the magnificent Duomo and get to the rooftop if you can. Don’t forget there’s a strict no bare knee or shoulder policy in place.
Culture, museums and exhibitions: plenty of choice there, the Museo del NovecentoPinacoteca Brera (website is only in Italian: closed Mondays, open 8.30 to 19.15, longer on Fridays) and the Triennale, focused on Italian design. Booking to see the Last Supper, Leonardo Da Vinci, is a bit of an achievement in itself. It takes lots of advance planning, but I eventually made it, and it’s worth it.
* Take on some activitylearn Italian, take a cooking course, a fashion design course….they’re good way to meet people and experience the city rather than visit it.
Shopping and wandering around: this seem to be the most praised activity in Milan. I was hugely frustrated as I went a week before the sales period would start and missed all the bargains!! For your records, Winter Sales Season in Milan usually starts the first Saturday of January until mid-February; and Summer Sales Season usually starts the first Saturday of July until August. In term of good neighbourhoods, try Brera and Porta Ticcinese, both lovely areas with lots of cafés and a good mix of chains and independent shops. For a more thorough list, check Alexi’s blog there
* have an Aperol Spritz aperitivo on the navigli and panzerotti (deep fried mozzarella) at Luinni’s (via Santa Radegonda).
* Indulge on a bigger-than-life ice-cream at Cioccolati Italiani. Their cones are outright impossible to eat without smudging your make up, but who cares?  eat like no one’s looking. The other delicious alternative is Grom.
* going to the Scalla Opera to enjoy an opera or a ballet
* going out clubbing al fresco: Just Cavalli (Saturday night recommended) or the Byblos are good options. Or party like Bob Sinclar and Andy Warhol, wear your most glamorous outfit, be ready to wait and go to Plastic.
* having pizza for breakfast at Princi on your way back when the sun rises, and in clubbing outfit.

However I would avoid…:
* going in August, it’s empty, suffocating and full of mosquitoes
* I’m a huge fan of going jogging to discover an area but really Milan isn’t the greatest place. I took part in the Milan half marathon this year and…disappointing, it doesn’t go through the centre as much as I would have liked it (starts from the Castillo and ends in the arena, via the peripheral ring road; nothing to fret about). And the jogging track is a mere 3.5k in the Parco Sempione, dogging tourists and old ladies’ dogs, not ideal.
– taking the overground tramway if you don’t have a “Man vs. Wild” type of sense of direction. It’s pretty and looks vintage, but you’ll need a local to get around – or at least I did. On the other hand, the tube is AC’ed and the easiest thing in the world!!

A Rich history and present

IMG_7437IMG_7438

A recently sprayed graffiti depicting Milan’s rich history caught my attention. Not only because it’s a beautiful way to illustrate it, but also it was made on request of the parish of the very central Basilica St Lorenzo Maggiore. How unusual!? The piece is also highly interesting because the symbols it represents, understanding those few figures pretty much already gives the main keys to understand the city. The open-air story board starts at the time of the Romans, when Milan was called Mediolanum, for it was located in the middle of the plains. If the Roman heritage is great all over Italy, Milan has few obvious visible traces. I carries on with Sant’Ambrogio who worked for the city to become an episcopate; followed by the Attila the Hun and the barbarian invasions in the 5th century, the fall of the Black King in the  15th century, Ludovico Sforza or The Moor, youngest son of Francesco Sforza, Duke of Milan; Napoleon, Verdi, Alessandro Manzoni, Visconti and Sforza with the Snake and the Eagle….and many more, keep the history book at hand!

To read in the plane:

Milan is great scene of crime it seems, or at least that is what the litterary scene suggests!? Mani gialli or “yellow books” (crime novels) are set in Milan, I was particularly recommended this one:

Un delitto molto milanese giallo

Un Delitto Molto Milanese by Antonio Steffenoni. Beyond the criminal story, what I was really after was the description of the city, and the atmosphere … a catching thriller but not exactly a kind & warm description of the working environment in Milan!!

Other resources to prepare your trip:

I was given for my birthday a really handy guide: 101 things to do in Milan (101 cose da fare a Milano). It’s full of charming places and urban legends  and describes another way to approach a city that doesnt have a fame for being especially welcoming. Marco translated most of them on his blog.

cose-da-fare-a-milano-almeno-una-volta-nella-vita

Select Italy blog and website

Vivi Milano on the Corriere

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…] 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? 😉

IMG_8353
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?

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

 

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 

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 :

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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

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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Cheese refueling in Cantal, France

How can anyone govern a nation that has two hundred and forty-six different kinds of cheese?

Charles de Gaulle

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France’s landscape is truly diverse. Not all glamorous but it sometimes feels nice as well to just immerse oneself into the deep countryside, enjoy hiking  volcanoes, canoeing in stunning rivers and …. eating a lot of cheese!

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Mi sono innamorata…

Mi sono innamorata...

Those dry biscuits are a torture: Cantuccini; they’re so delicious I could wake up at night to have one…Tuscans also have a version with chocolate chips to die for; then add Chianti Vin Santo (sweet desert wine) to the equation…mamma mia!

The photo was taken at the Ristorante il Chiasso on the Elba Island (Capoliveri)… definitely the best dinner / atmosphere of my last trip with  full on pasta al nero di sepia, pesce al forno and desert…yum

Se qualcuno ha la ricetta dei cantuccini al cioccolate…farmi sapere!

Snowed under in NYC

magnoliacarrie The weekend schedule has been a bit reviewed due to the Nemo-snow storm; but it does make some room for a girly nail painting afternoon, sipping coffee and eating magnolia bakery peanut butter cookies indoor and lamenting on Carrie B’s conundrum (dateable men in NYC are either taken or gay for those who’re not familiar).

On Friday, no cab were running, except for the snow ploughs, shame as I really wanted to go to Brooklyn and check out on the surf bar…but it will be for next time!

spotted-pig-outside1 The alternative plan wasn’t actually bad at all as we sought comfort at the Spotted Pig, the most adorable snow shelter one can think of, and chatted around a cocktail and a burger. I know it’s not a hidden gem, it’s #24 on the zagat, but yet, I loved the gastro-pub ambiance, the snowed christmas trees outside and the decorative little pig-lamps!

Two other gems worth mentioning, still in the same area as we stayed in the West village most of the time:

please don’t look at the website of the Piccola cuccina restaurant before you go as it’s kindda ruining it all: it’s great authentic food (very rare in NYC), and above all the owner has a cracking Sicilian accent; don’t expect a stylish place, go with Italian friends who talk loudly, it’s more fun.

in a typical NY style, café Cluny is a nice little place, but French by name only. That being said the “French” toast with maple syrup makes a great brunch!

until next time,
XoXo

I love new york, even though it isn’t mine, the way something has to be, a tree or a street or a house, something, anyway, that belongs to me because i belong to it.- Holly in Breakfast at Tiffany’s – Truman Capote

 

so what’s your perfect weekend in NY like?

I’d like to launch a series of posts in the format of an “email from a friend”: collecting feedback  from everyone, great little places, tricks and tips… and actually test

and I’m off to the big Apple with my best friend for a long weekend early Feb. I can’t wait!!! great occasion to launch that series.

So what are your best reco’s?

Burma – recipe for a great night out in Yangon?

Burma has been hitting the headlines in the last few months as it starts opening up to the world –  for the traveller who passes by for a couple of weeks like me though, it is pretty clear that there is still a long way to go before it becomes a more “normal” country, with more freedom and more prosperity for everyone, not just the few at the top.

That being said, in addition to the real treasures this country has to offer and that are very well documented in various guides, Burma, or more precisely its former capital Yangon is also, surprisingly, a place where you can party!

We are far from places like Thailand or HK but that is precisely what makes the place pretty fun! Here is the recipe for a great night out in Yangon:

The first ingredient is to find yourself a local friend – if you are lucky enough the person seating next to you in the plane can turn out to be a cool Burmese chap who 1) makes your life much easier when you land at 6am and that you need to go to the black market to change your USD into Kyats  / find a cab 2) knows where to go out! This ingredient is not compulsory but it clearly spices up your night!

The second ingredient is a yummy diner: best is to go simple and just eat in on the many eateries where for USD5-10 you’ll have a real feast! Burmese food is influenced by the neighbouring countries so Chinese, Thai and Indian/Bangladesh are among the standards fares but Burma also has some yummy and flavourful dishes to offer for the curious minds. If you are brave enough you can also try out the local spirits such as Grand Royal Whisky. If you care about your stomach, stick to beer though…

The third ingredient is the club. Not so easy to find, especially since the place we went does not have a name. That is where the local friend comes really handy! If you don’t have one ,it seems like you will simply have to tell the taxi driver to go to the 9th floor night club, and hopefully he should take you to an entertainment complex with several clubs. In the lobby of the building there are several elevators, take the one on the right as the one on the left takes you to another club. Our guide literally called the elevator by manually opening the doors and shouting something – the elevator comes down and then take you to the9th floor.

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The last ingredient is some Burmese disco / rock / R&B; Still a burgeoning scene but some potential!

if you are a girl, one of the great benefits of partying there is that the security guys will make sure no one comes too close to you! Not sure if it was because we were the only white people in the club or it is a standard procedure.

Surfing on a volcano in Lanzarote

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On stressful days like this, I dream of being able to take a coffee break on Famara beach, Canarias.

It’s the end of the world. Don’t go to party, not point. We were alone, watching the sun rise and falling asleep right after the sun had set (and the bottle of local vino), exhausted and ocean-washed. Alone to the point when we wondered : where are the locals gone!?

We asked the (many) Brits we found, why they had decided to live in Canarias: the answer was invariably, “because it’s sunny, and we benefit from steady surf conditions all year round”. It would be a good enough reason; but the volcano-island in the Atlantic ocean, has much more to offer; great wine, cheese, sun, and above all : peace.

Go get your surf board, it’s one of the best spot in the world

The first things that surprised us was that the island is small, but you’ll definitely need a car, no public transport there. Also, that the weather is ever changing. The land is swept by the wind, for the greatest pleasure of surfers, but making the shining sun turn into a bone soaking shower in 3min.

Famara is an amazing beach for surfing beginners, it’s a safe and high quality beaches, with consistent swell. We went in October and could use a short wetsuit
check the weather, tides and other info here

or here
but for more experienced surfers (or for those who, like us, will enjoy watching some serious action live), go to La Santa. It’s 10min driving from Famara, and the most famous surf spot of the island.

 

Do’s and Don’ts

helpful map

go rent a car cauz you’ll need it. They’re lovely people, and you’ll get an audio guide

get spoilt in a cosy B&B

do take your car and cross the island from one side to another, stopping in bodegas to test the wine.

please don’t think it’s a good idea to go for an ice-cream in Puerto del Carmen. It’s not, you’ll be disappointed.

Cultural Corner

Once back at home, watch Pedro Almodovar’s Abrasos Rotos (broken embraces). In Spanish please.

Pedro Almodovar seldom gets it wrong

Turkish Coffee (in a silver cup)

The world divides in 2 categories: coffee addicts and tea maniacs. Turkey ticks both (and many other addictions)

I first discovered Turkish coffee when I was a student in Madrid, my friend would brew some at the beginning of revision session; the little ceremonial was a good way to get us started.  Boil it in the little cooper pot, with sugar, repeat 3 times – his grandma’s tip. It’s and acquired taste; as the coffee powder isn’t filtered, it can be rather dusty if one drinks hastily.

Turkish coffee requires a bit of time, some friends to share it with, and preferably a nice view on the Bosphorus (fancy option).

When a Turkish man go to his in-laws-to-be, asking for permission to marry the beloved one, she should prepare some coffee and serve it to her dad when he approves the union. Now I don’t know if I have particularly cheeky friends, or if everyone else does this, but she purposely put salt instead of sugar before serving, for the father has no other option but to drink the cup at that moment!!

Oh well, they did get married (I will have to write a post on that absolutely fantastic wedding indeed), and as far as I know they’re still in good terms with they in-law, thanks for asking!

ps: check the  rumeli hisari area for brunches overlooking the bosphorus, we were recommended Nar or Lokma Cafe but there’s really quite a few options. I think it would make a fantastic jogging area but didn’t have the leisure to try (for this time!)

(and if you order burritos to then post poor reviews on tripadvisor, please make your way out of this blog)

Turkish coffee

Moroccan wedding reinvented

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Like the King’s wife, Salma of Morocco, my friend is from Fes. Unlike her, she is a full time executive worker in Paris and married a French guy from the Caribbean  The common point to all Moroccan weddings isn’t the rum-punch; it’s that the bride is always a princess. Like in little girls dreams, she’s pampered, fed delicious delights, being introduced to the party on a sedan chair….

Moroccan weddings are a major institution, and 3 days of festivities could feel quite intense; however, life goes by at a different pace there, and the seamlessly  organised step by step process is also very patronising, securing. First because they’ve invented the wedding planner concept with their tradition keepers (the neggafates), so no schedule slip and no worries – at least for the guests.

I flew there 2 days prior to the wedding and we steamed and scrubbed in the hammam at the sound of women’s songs and chants…marvellous way to relax and gather amongst girls. Unsure if it’s the pampering or the carb and sugar load but the whole pre-wedding experience feels pretty childish, in a good way. more info on Morrocan weddings

dates, symbol of fertility

And the actual wedding ceremony is a spectacular ballet of  – extremely sweet – food, from the pastilla to the Cornes-de-Gazelles and other honey&almond-heavy deliciousnesses. And if you thought European weddings were colourful and Kaftans were a austere dress ? mmm not quite there; guest are rivalling with not so traditional kaftan of all colours, shapes, fabrics, folding it up the knee and dancing till late.

The diversity and refinement of kaftans is fascinating from a fashionista point of view as it gives a canvas that can be declined in to so many versions! I went to the wedding wearing a long gown but instantly wished I had rented one! I had never realised it could be so sophisticated and also figure flattering with the large belt that can be adjusted. To get a better idea, check last year’s fashion shows, and my favourites

Do’s and Dont’s

  • do stay in a Riad in the medinah, avoid the Hilton (Sofitel) unless you’re on a business trip. I stayed in Ali’s Riad Zyo, an oasis of hospitality. I could eat his home-made beghrir everyday for breakfast…yum
  • do bargain argan oil, rose water and orange blossom water: each time I open the bottle, my bedroom travels back to the souk
  • don’t go for just a weekend if yuo’re travelling from London – with no direct flight to Rabat you will have to fly to Casa and take a train. It’s cheap and rather easy, people are friendly enough they will show you the way in French or broken English, but plan at least 5 days

Readers Corner

for those who can read in French: Partir – Tahar Ben Jelloun

my next trip there?

Morocco is an enticing country, with lovely, welcoming people and Rabat combines the wealth, the Mediterranean sea-side and diet. When tourist guides all focus on Marrakesh and Essaouira, I felt pretty privileged to have been invited to Rabat and shared delicious home made Couscous al-fresco.

From there, where next?

surfing in Imessouane, Dakla or Sidi ifni which I have been recommended recently. And given how welcoming people are, how good the food and how consistent the weather is, it’s on the “get back” list

or maybe who knows, one day I put my guts together and sign up for the Marathon des Sables