Ten Days in Provence Chapter 2

Aperitif tapenade from St Quentin

Aperitif

Local olives

Local olives

Tomato souffle tart

A cheesy souffle style tart

Tomato, mozzarella basil salad

Tomato, mozzarella and pesto salad

Delicous aperitif

Aperitif of tomato paste, black olive paste and an unusual curried melon paste

Wine with eau de vie

Wine fortified with eau de vie

Delicious peach tart

A peach tart from the boulangerie

Fig

Protecting the figs

Protecting the figs from birds; occasionally they got to one. Whilst picking figs you’d find a plump luscious one and go to pluck it only to find that the other side had a big chunk removed showing its pinky purple juicy flesh.

Rogue hand going for a fig

I love figs. I am a fig pig!

In August I spent another fabulous 10 days in Provence relaxing, eating and drinking extremely well, visiting markets and going to the city wide photography festival in Arles. Last year I blogged about my stay here. This is quite a retro blog post as I was in Provence in August and it is now December! Looking at these photos again is certainly warming me up during this crisp and chilly month.

We went to St Quentin la Poterie which is a beautiful small town famous for the potters whose studios are dotted about the winding streets. It also has a wonderful market. The market isn’t postcard pretty as it is set up in a car park but the produce is fantastic. We went there to pick up bread, cheese, pastes for aperitif, fresh vegetables and fruit and even handmade peppermint, geranium and verbena soaps. The potters’ studios are great and varied, with some allowing you to see the potters at work, so we started a little collection of crockery – to put the bread, cheese, fresh veg, etc on of course!

Every morning at the house we collected figs from the tree. One morning we collected an astonishing 41 figs! The ones that weren’t reserved for jam making only lasted until the next day’s breakfast. They were temptingly delicious!

I loved the routine during the holiday. It went something like this: wake-up, breakfast on the terrace, relax in a hammock, have aperitif by the pool then lunch in the garden, relax again, have aperitif then supper and then relax. Such a strenuous time! Eating outdoors was one of the things I loved so much. Working indoors (as most people do) means that the simple act of being outside is such a novelty (sadly) even though it is so normal. Everything is better when done outdoors in beautiful weather: drinking a glass of wine, cutting into a fresh baguette, eating a fig. It isn’t even necessary to follow any recipes there as the local produce is so good that all you need to do is eat it in different combinations. I think the photos say it all.

Always room for cheese

There is always room for cheese!

Salmon on the barbecue with red onion and lemon

Salmon, lemon and red onion cooked on the barbecue

St Quentin la Poterie

St Quentin la Poterie with the beautiful tiled detail running down the centre of the lanes.

 

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Vegan for Lent – I loved it!

Preparing crumble and plantain patties

Above: preparing plantain patties and crumbles.

Prior to this Lent, I had never given anything up assuming that I would shame myself by breaking the rules and giving into a magnetic piece of chocolate or whatever else I might have attempted to give up. Otherwise, I would tell my excuse making self “What’s the point, life is short, imagine if you were hit by a bus on Good Friday and you had just abstained from eating chocolate/cake/macarons for 40 days!” amidst other such internal dialogues and woolly rationales as to why not to make the attempt.

So, this year my boyfriend and I decided to give something up. I have a mainly vegetarian diet (“Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” by Michael Pollan was my natural motto even before I read his) but my boyfriend enjoys meat every now and then – being French, and having lived in Mexico City and Barcelona, meat featured in a lot of dishes. But why vegan? To backtrack a little, at the beginning of the year we had met up with some friends and their friends, an Italian couple, who had decided to go vegetarian and told us about all the benefits they felt health wise, energy wise, etc and they were sticking with it. This sparked a little curiosity in my Frenchie and he was keen to try vegetarianism. “Why not do it for Lent?” I asked. But as I am practically a veggie anyway that wouldn’t be forfeiting much for me. So, I took it one step further: “Let’s be vegan for Lent!”

We went for it. I realised that for someone who had always thought she wouldn’t be able to give anything up substantial to the pleasure of eating (see above, cakes, etc) I had now given up about four dozen things! Wow! This was a self back patting moment – if I got through it.

Lent is now over, the long Easter weekend already in the past (sigh) and we made it with “vegan Lent”! Not only did we make it, we loved it! When we told friends about our “vegan Lent” we heard some pretty hilarious comments such as “So, you’re just eating beans really?”, “Well, now you’ll know what punishment feels like”, “But you can eat dairy, right?” and simply “Why?”. Mother Nature provides a bountiful selection of fruit, vegetables and grains for us to enjoy in endless combinations so why the surprise and complaints? Are we still three year olds pounding our clenched fists on tables and turning puce at the sight of a carrot, wailing at the green and daunting broccoli? I hope not and with all the trade in exotic fruit and veg in and out of season we have an even wider range of ingredients to play with. I bet that the people who are flummoxed by veganism and vegetarianism actually eat a pretty limited diet themselves albeit with meat, always going for the steak option at a restaurant for example.

My boyfriend and I love cooking and experimenting with new dishes and limiting the choice of ingredients forced us to be more imaginative. Often for brunch at home we would eat toasted muffins with smoked salmon, a poached egg and spinach. Instead we had a brunch of green lentil dal, rice and plantain patties. It was absolutely delicious and I declared I could eat it every day for a month! We experimented wildly with recipes and by limiting our ingredients (only a bit of course, remember nature’s feast of vegetables!) we forced ourselves to deviate from our “go-to” recipes and vary our meals a lot. We started varying the oils we cooked with such as using coconut oil instead of the obvious olive oil. Just the smell of the coconut oil heating up was enough to make me go doolally! We tried restaurants with vegan options which we really enjoyed such as MildredsWild Food Cafe and Sagar. We ate a lot of Indian inspired food as there are so many scrumptious Indian vegetable dishes to try. I had made vegan meals before for my vegan friends, so was familiar with alternatives to dairy ingredients, and once made biscuits with olive oil spread instead of butter. An Italian friend remarked on how delicious the biscuits were and that he could really taste the butter! I was surprised and so was he to find out that there was no butter in the biscuits! I had thought that his Italian body would have a inbuilt mechanism to recognise which region the olive oil in the spread was from, but no, he was fooled!

Other than enjoying the food during our vegan 40 days, we noticed some great health benefits. My stomach used to gurgle a lot no matter what time of day. I had read that this was just one’s stomach digesting but really, did it need to digest so loudly?!! All my colleagues could hear it! Two weeks into vegan Lent I suddenly realised: the symphony orchestra in my stomach is on sabbatical! I shot up from my desk and declared to my colleagues “My stomach doesn’t rumble anymore!!!”. “You’re right!” they chimed in with joy (and relief). But why? I don’t know. Was the previous rumbling a combination of gluten and dairy, certain grains with certain types of vegetables and fish? I need to look into it and I smile to myself at this silent benefit. Another health improvement was no heartburn for my boyfriend. He used to get heartburn several times a week, and as anyone who has had it knows it is not nice, but during the vegan period the heartburn disappeared. Maybe it eloped with my orchestra! Another difference I noticed was how awake I felt in the morning when my alarm sounded. I used to feel sluggish and press the snooze button several times but the vegan me felt wide awake instantly. Occasionally I felt tired in the morning when my alarm went off and needed to sleep a little longer but I could always directly relate it to a busy extra long working day the day before. I also did not feel hungry between meals – was this because I was eating whole foods and nothing laced with quickly absorbed sugars? When vegan you automatically cannot eat a lot of the manufactured fake food products that are out there which are made with refined industrialised ingredients. As if these benefits weren’t enough, friends even commented that we look younger!

So, will I stay vegan? No, not because it is boring or limiting, as some claim, but because I love food. I love food as a whole. I love eggs in pastry, buttery pain au chocolats and macarons and quiches and so on and so on. I love cheese and a good coffee with whole creamy cow’s milk. I am curious about food and different cuisines and I want to try them. However, I will make most of my meals plant based and eat animal products minimally because I believe it is healthier. I have always had a very healthy diet but I noticed new benefits to my health during my vegan period and I would be silly to ignore them. I am also suspicious of the modern production of food. I can’t grow my own vegetables or milk my own cows but I can at least go to the local farmers’ market and buy organic when possible and only proper food (not food products). I really recommend Michael Pollan’s books if you are interested in eating in the modern world. Furthermore, if you are interested in having more energy, losing a bit of weight and perhaps looking younger, go vegan! At least for a stint.

Here is a selection of the meals we prepared. Recipes on their way!

Curly kale, date, walnut, mushroom salad

Curly kale, date, hazelnut and mushroom salad.

Spaghetti, tomato, quorn and more

Faux spaghetti bolognese with minced quorn and red cabbage.

Putting rhubarb and berry crumble together

Rhubarb, forest fruits and apple ready to be topped with crumble.

Indian dishes and plantain patties

Dal, plantain and apricot patties and a variation on Aloo Gobi.

Crumble

Forrest fruit and apple crumble with pumpkin seeds.

Soup with mushrooms, ginger, kale, spring onion

Mushroom, sweetcorn, spinach and spring onion soup with grated fresh ginger.

Barley risotto with asparagus and purple sprouting broccoli

Pearl barley risotto with purple sprouting broccoli, asparagus and dry toasted pumpkin seeds.

Dry toasting pumpkin seeds

Dry toasting pumpkin seeds.

Fusili with celeriac and apple sauce

It may look like fusilli with mashed potato but it’s fusilli with celeriac and apple sauce topped with parsley and dry toasted pumpkin seeds.

Delicious and wonderful rhubarb

Rhubarb season. Glorious rhubarb!

Purple chard salad

A purple chard salad with lightly fried mushrooms, radishes, walnuts, toasted seeds and basil.

1940s Vintage Scent Session: Perfume and Cake with Odette Toilette

Red Velvet cakes

Cola Chocolate Cake

Ration Bakewell Tart

Red Velvet Cake, Odette Toilette 1940s  Perfume event

M.O.F. Carrot Cake

Chocolate Cola Cake

I recently went to another perfume and cake afternoon put on by Odette Toilette and Leonie Sooke at Les Senteurs in Marylebone. This session focussed on the perfume scene in the 1940s with the effects of WWII on the perfume industry with limits to importing/exporting, ingredients, materials, and employees within the industry, the Americanisation of perfume names and the very idea of the luxury of perfume at such a time. The interesting talk was complemented with Leonie’s fabulous cakes taking inspiration from the issues of the time. Vegetables were used in baking during the rationed times of WWII and sugar was one of the most rationed items so the carrot cake was made according to a Ministry of Food (M.O.F.) recipe. Carrot is naturally high in sugar so added to the sweetness and texture of the cake. There was a chocolate and cola cake as a nod to the perfume industry of the US becoming more popular with some European professionals seeking refuge in the US. The cake batter actually had cola in it which made it extra moist and fluffy as it reacted with the baking powder.

The event was peppered with interesting anecdotes, clips from films at the time, and, of course, wonderful cakes and scents! I’d recommend any of Odette’s events for an unusual couple of hours of history, olfactory delights and delicious cakes! Find out about her upcoming events here.

You can read my posts on Odette’s 1920s Vintage Scent Session here and her Rebel Cake and Perfume Club here.

Odette Toilette 1940s Perfume event

Strawberry Jam Recipe and Seal Spotting in Norfolk

Strawberry Jam recipe

Strawberry Jam recipe

I recently went to Norfolk for a weekend escape from London. It was so refreshing! Long walks on the beach, a boat trip to spot seals at Blakeney Point and homemade strawberry jam made for a very good weekend indeed! We stayed in Brancaster which you can drive to in about 2 and a half hours from London. It’s a little village with its own bay and a very good pub, The Ship, which serves local seafood. I made jam the day before for the first time to take on the trip. The reason for finally making jam was that I had bought two punnets of strawberries at Borough Market and they were, sadly, tasteless!

I had always thought that jam making would be a difficult affair with thermometers, pectin, sieves and muslin but it wasn’t! All I did was halve the strawberries and boil them with sugar and water until the mixture was fizzing and almost cascading down the outside of the pan. It was a little looser than bought jarred jam but none the less delicious!

I had been given a book called ‘Let’s Preserve It’ by Beryl Wood (Square Peg) which is full of recipes for jams, jellies and chutneys. It was first published in 1970 and it is full of beautiful little illustrations of the ingredients. It is organised alphabetically by ingredient. The start of the book has several pages explaining the general rules of making jams, jellies and chutneys but the actual recipes have the bare bones of instructions. For example it didn’t say whether to leave the strawberries whole or to cut them. So, I decided to halve them which seemed to be an on the fence compromise! I thought that this would also make them more manageable in the jam if they didn’t reduce much.

What you need:

900g strawberries
600g sugar
A touch of water

Lemon juice (from one lemon) is one of the ingredients but I didn’t have any and the jam was yummy without but do add some if you feel like it. The type of sugar wasn’t specified so I used caster.

What you need to do:

1. Wash and hull the strawberries, then halve them.

2. Put the sugar in a heavy bottomed large pan with a splash of water.

3. Put the pan on the hob and turn the heat to medium. Let the sugar melt and form a syrup with the water.

4. Once the sugar has dissolved and you have a syrup, add the strawberry halves and simmer.

5. Keep simmering. The mixture may boil and fizz which is fine! It did alarm me a little though!

6. When the strawberries have reduced and it is starting to look like a jam scoop a little out on a teaspoon a put it on a plate. If it is quite runny it needs to be cooked more. If it is quite dense and sticky it should be ready. You can tell for sure if it is ready by seeing if the surface of the jam wrinkles as it cools.

7. When it is ready let it cool a bit then pour it into a jar or tupperware.

Enjoy with some delicious bread!

Wells-next-the-Sea

Wells-next-the-Sea

Seals at Blakeney Point

Seal spotting at Blakeney Point.

Seals at Blakeney Point, Norfolk

Seals enjoying the sun.

Cantering in the sea, Norfolk

Riding on the beach – how nice indeed!

Lightning struck tree, Wells

We found this twisted and torched tree in the wood next to the beach at Wells-next-the-Sea and wondered if it had been struck by lightning.

Norfolk Llamas

Llamas being taken for a walk!

Lets Preserve It

‘Let’s Preserve It’ by Beryl Wood full of jam, jelly and chutney recipes.

Odette Toilette’s Vintage Scent Sessions: 1920s

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The other weekend I was delighted to go to another of Odette Toilette’s Vintage Scent Sessions at Les Senteurs in Marylebone. I blogged about The Rebel Cake and Perfume Club in February which was  a journey through 20th century history in perfumes and cookery, focussing on cakes. What a great concept! I love going to talks and gallery tours, cookery classes and baking so these afternoons are the perfect combination for me and were so for a very enthusiastic thirty or so others.

This scent session focussed on the 20s and our noses sampled perfumes only from France as French perfume houses were very en vogue at the time. Perfume was also taking on a more varied approach as brands started producing scents for every occasion so not just day and night perfumes but sport perfumes, the perfect meeting your mother for lunch perfume, bridge party playing perfumes and any occasion you can think of from the frivolous to the formal. The post WWI 20s was a decade experimenting with new things and beginning to indulge again after years of rationing and upheaval.

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The perfumes we sampled included Tabac Blond by Caron, 1919, which we smelled whilst eating the French Almond Macaron. I have a healthy obsession with les macarons, as featured in Macaron Monster in Paris, and I have to say that this macaron was really dang good! The chocolate centre induced slightly rude noises it was so good! Tabac Blond had a musky talc scent mixed with vanilla and tonka bean. There was also a touch of the tobacco flower. An interesting and utterly bizarre fact that Odette imparted was that in the 20s in the US and UK a woman could be arrested for smoking in public! Needless to say this was ridiculous, yet by the end of the decade Amelia Earhart was endorsing cigarettes by starring in Luck Strikes’ print ads. So smoking went from a crime to the habit of a heroine in the space of a few years.

This brings me to another perfume we tried: En Avion, again by Caron and from 1929. Flying was one of the most exciting things at the time and was becoming within reach of people other than pilots. If you had the means you could take a flight from San Francisco to Hawaii in only…20 hours!! The scent of flying was a combination of orange blossom, aniseed and I sensed violet sweeties. It’s all so personal, just like trying wine, although I find with wine that as soon as someone suggests a scent of whatever, from toffee yoghurt to wet pencil sharpenings, everyone agrees!

P1110033Another Caron was Nuit de Noel with scents of moss, clove and carnation. The bottle was inspired by the flapper style with a gold band around the top like typical flapper headbands. We then moved on to Le Dandy! What a great name! This had boozy and fruity tones as though le dandy had just rolled out of a summer pudding swigging a rum. We learnt about perfume nips which were samples that were available in bars and restaurants often in vending machines. The perfumes came in a glass vial which you had to snap each end off to let out the one application that it held. I think this could make a great come back.

Another rage of the 20s was exoticism making Josephine Baker and particularly her banana dance one of the most famous dances of the time. She inspired the perfume Black Tulip by E. Coudray which has been reissued as Nohiba. This perfume capitalized on the current trend of exoticism with its name and peppery bold notes. There was even another perfume by E. Coudray released as a suite called Perfume Set to Music which had tones of honey, menthol and eucalyptus.

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The cakes we ate were Mint Julep Chocolate Cake, Rose and Pistachio Shortbread, Almond and Chocolate Macaron and Bauhaus Gingerbread. Since the Bauhaus was all about the beauty of an object’s form being dictated by its function the gingerbread biscuits exemplified this at they had no decoration and were simple shapes. These delights by Leonie Sooke were just as scrumptious as last time. You can sign up on her website, The Gossip Bowl, to receive recipes.

To find out more about Odette’s sessions click here.

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Issey Miyake Clever and Beautiful Pleated Food Shoot

PP wine

PP Ice Cream Cone

PP Spoon

PP Pancakes

PP Chocolate Spread

PP dumpling

Pleats Please Happy Anniversary art direction by Taku Satoh and design by Shingo Noma

for a long time so when I saw his Pleats Please line folded and gathered mimicking food and drink for this shoot my heart fluttered and I think I went weak at the knees! Aren’t these photos beautiful?

The Pleats Please range is so clever and endless. From the simple idea of pleating fabric the range encompasses designs that involve gun powder being lit on the fabric to create an image of exploded residue to the image of an astronaut walking on the Moon, maps, Lichtenstein style cartoons, whacky shapes, additions of fringes and faux fur…it goes on and on. But these food images…*swoon*…what I find so clever is that they are yummy! I know they are pieces of material but I want to eat them! Issey Miyake is such a great brand as it is full of surprises – the latest clothes from the mainline are being made from paper threads and recycled plastic bottles – an exciting meeting of technology and fashion.

I have a couple of Pleats scarves and one of the staff once showed me how to roll them up into “apples” which is how the scarves are often displayed in the stores. I should have seen this food shoot coming! See my “apples” below!

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Issey Miyake Pleats Please scarf

Issey Miyake Pleats Please scarf

I have been lucky enough to go to a Miyake show during Paris Fashion Week and last month I went to the press launch of the new Miyake perfume: Pleats Please. The food at this launch was wonderful! Look at these salmon and spinach roulade lollipops on a sumptuous bed of watercress below! A waiter wrote the name of the catering company on a flappy bit of paper and it seems to have fluttered off like a butterfly but as soon as I find it I will update this post with the name and link as the food was so good that everyone [that reads this blog!] must know about it!!

Salmon roulade "lollipops" at the Pleats Please perfume launch

The Rebel Cake and Perfume Club at Les Senteurs

Salame al cioccolato

Salame al cioccolato

Golden pretzel peanut squares

Peanut pretzel squares

Marmalade Bakewell

Marmalade Bakewell

Umami

Umami cups of white chocolate, green tea and vanilla with dried strawberries

Lemon olive oil cake

Lemon and rosemary olive oil cake

Odette Toilette

On Saturday I spent my afternoon at a fabulously quirky cake tasting and perfume smelling session beautifully put on by Odette Toilette and Leonie Sooke.

It is part of the Vintage Scent Sessions which the wonderfully named Odette Toilette runs at Les Senteurs, a scent salon in Marylebone. Originally Odette was hosting a scent sniffing session with bubbly and cakes merely as the refreshments until she met Leonie, a food historian and cook  of The Gossip Bowl, who suggested matching cakes to the perfumes in a timeline from 1900 to the present day. The rebel part kicks in with the selected cakes and perfumes having been made by people who were avant-garde. Needless to say, it was a great afternoon. Just going to smell perfumes and eat cakes would be a brilliantly decadent combination itself but to have a talk on the cakes and perfumes as well was great sustenance for the brain.

We learnt about how Elizabeth David managed to move the olive oil bottle from the pharmacy to the kitchen cupboard whilst eating a zingy piece of lemon and rosemary olive oil cake. It was interesting that this cropped up as whilst watching “Call the Midwife” a few days before I was interested to see that a midwife bought avocado pears from the market and served them to the other midwives and nuns with olive oil. Several of the nuns and midwives seemed surprised because they were used to seeing it in the pharmacy and found the different context a bit unnerving. I had wondered what medicinal purpose it had been used for and a quick search has informed me that it was used to cure ear ache and rid lousy heads of head lice amongst other things. The wonderful Elizabeth David also steered British kitchens away from the stuffy and meticulously arranged platters of food that were served at family meals towards a more relaxed Mediterranean style with a medley of fresh flavours.

Another chapter concentrated on Trash and the smartening up of street food as has been seen recently with restaurants such as Bubbledogs which has a menu of hot dogs and champagne only, gourmet doughnuts such as those by St John, and indulgent burgers at the likes of Meat Liquor. The perfume that went with this was “Encens et Bubblegum” by Antoine Maisondieu. Smelling it reminded me of chewing Hubba Bubba as a teen wearing a pair of Converse on the rare occasions that I could chew any gum since it was not something I was really allowed (quite right too!). Perhaps wearing a perfume that smells of it is a way of satisfying the urge to have gum without encountering sticky wodges of pink squidge stuck to pavements, hair and the underside of desks.

The cakes were all delicious and being a peanut butter, peanut anything fan I had my eyes on the peanut pretzel (sprayed golden!) square from the moment I walked in. You can sign up to receive Leonie’s recipes on her website here.

I don’t want to give too many spoilers as I really recommend that you go to see, smell, hear and taste this event! Buy your ticket immediately here!

Les Senteurs

Les Senteurs exterior