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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Ten Days in Provence with Truffle Wine, Coffee in a Bowl, and Dinner at L’Artemise

Desserts in Provence

I recently spent a very relaxing ten days in Provence, near the Camargue, where I was treated to the most delicious food and wine. Food and wine featured heavily during my stay as three hours after breakfast (where coffee was drunk from a bowl with fresh croissants and fruit) aperitivo was served by the pool, straight after aperitivo and a swim was lunch, followed by relaxing in the hammock and then about three hours after that there was more aperitivo followed by dinner. It was wonderful! I love aperitivo. It varied from drinking pastis, the typically French aniseed liquor (a less lethal cousin of absinthe) served with water which turns it cloudy,  to wine flavoured with truffle to champagne with a hint of liquor from mandarin to plum. The drinks were served with slices of baguette or fougasse with tapenade, a tomato and garlic paste and the most delicious spread which was a blend of melon, mint and a touch of curry powder. These were from a stall at the market at St Quentin La Poterie which has a fantastic Friday market with local produce such as honeys and olives.

Desserts in Provence

Desserts in Provence

Delicious desserts from the local patisserie in Uzès.

Deleuze-Rochetin Vineyard, Arpaillargues, Provence

Vineyard Deleuze-Rochetin where we sampled wines and saw exhibitions in the art space.

One morning we went to one of the local vineyards, Deleuze-Rochetin, to sample wines and stock up for meals and, needless to say, aperitivo. It was such a pleasure going there and sampling wines that are straight from the region and not exported. One of my favourites was Zéphyr, 2011, with a fresh, slightly floral nose but, unfortunately I can’t remember its blend of grapes. The vineyard even has a stark art space upstairs so after sampling everything we could get our paws on we discovered the art of Denis Pondruel, Martine Lafon and Cecile Andrieu.

Thirsty Road

Thirsty Road!

Mushrooms, Provence

A beautiful array of mushrooms cooking in cream.

Tapenade and tomato and garlic spread

Aperitivo by the pool – tapenade and the most delicious tomato and garlic paste. I could eat it every day forever!

Barbecuing prawns

Barbecuing whisky soaked prawns – a Provence speciality! No, not really.

Dried fruit

Dried fruit from the market at Saint Quentin la Poterie.

Figs

Figs in the garden. I had my eye on them every day but only two ripened whilst we were there. Sigh. I could have eaten the whole tree!

Pastis and olives

Pastis and olives for aperitivo.

Howkapow scarf

My Karen Mabon swimmers scarf looked great by the pool. Find it here on Howkapow.

L'Artemise, Pont-du-Gard, Provence

A delicious cocktail to start our dinner at L’Artemise near Pont-du-Gard. It was a concoction of whisky, ginger and cubes of mashed basil.

Olive breadsticks at L'Artemise, Pont-du-Gard

Delicate olive breadsticks.

Mozzarella cream with sun dried tomato

Amuse bouche – mozzarella cream with sun-dried tomato.

Puree au petit pois.

Amuse bouche – petit pois purée.

Dessert at L'Artemise, Provence

Dessert at L’Artemise – poached apricots, meringue sticks, creme patissier and brioche.

L'Artemise, Pont-du-Gard, Provence

L’Artemise at Pont-du-Gard, Provence.

On our final night we went to a fantastic restaurant: L’Artemise. It is situated on a hill near the Roman aqueduct Pont-du-Gard with sweeping views of the stunningly green countryside with occasional yellow patches of sunflowers. The restaurant is set in a beautiful old house with tables in the garden next to the tomato patches with lights suspended between them and from trees. There isn’t a menu to speak of, you specify whether you would like meat or fish, then the evening of many courses begins. We started with a green cocktail of whisky, ginger and mashed basil cubes, followed by two amuses bouches, a starter, then the main of fish or meat. I don’t have photos of every course as night set in making it too dark but you get a good idea from the photos above. After the main was local cheese served with pickled courgette, goat’s cheese ice-cream which tasted of yoghurt and was surprisingly delicious, a dessert of poached apricots, meringue sticks, creme patissier and brioche, then plates of chocolate pots and madeleines were presented. It was all utterly delicious and the dishes change frequently so you are very much encouraged to go back. Even if the dishes remained the same I would be back in a flash many times!

Pont-du-Gard, Provence

Pont-du-Gard, Provence

Places I would recommend to visit when in Provence are:

L’Artemise

Deleuze-Rochetin

The Friday market in Saint Quentin la Poterie

The Saturday market in Uzes

La Maison de la Truffe in Uzes for truffle wine

Pont-du-Gard Roman Aqueduct 

Rencontres Arles – an enormous photography exhibition set all over Arles

A walk along the medieval fortifications at Aigues-Mortes

Relaxation

Vietnamese Papaya Salad/ Goi Bo Hoi An

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I spent New Year’s Eve enjoying an Asian themed pot luck dinner with a great group of friends. I love pot luck dinners as you get to try many dishes at once thus satisfying that urge when faced with a menu packed with many scrumptious sounding dishes to order it all! We started with a papaya salad that a friend had learnt at a cookery school on a trip to Vietnam last year. It was so delicious that I could have eaten it all night! But of course the other dishes were great too: peanut, chilli and lime thick sauce; chicken and lemongrass curry and chicken, coriander and coconut curry.

In the papaya salad the ingredients are all raw and the combination of flavours and textures is fresh, fruity, juicy, crunchy, sharp and zingy all at once! What could beat that? Answers in the comments section please!

The original recipe from the cookery school my friend went to calls for beef, onions and shallots but she omitted these at New Year and it was scrumptious as is so I have written the school’s recipe here but without the above mentioned ingredients. However she included carrots so I have added these.

Serves 6 // Takes 30 mins

What you need:

For the salad –

150g lettuce

150g green/ yellow papaya (grated)

150g tomatoes – seeds removed and cut into thin strips

150g carrot – cut into thin strips

75g cucumber – seeds removed and cut into thin strips

4 fresh red chillies – finely sliced with seeds removed

For the dressing –

Juice of 1 lime

1 tbsp fish sauce

3 tsp brown sugar

1 clove of crushed garlic

For the topping –

2 tbsp peanuts – crushed

75g fresh mint leaves

75g fresh coriander leaves

40g Asian basil

What you need to do:

Like most Asian dishes there are a lot of ingredients that need a lot of laborious slicing but it is well worth it.

All you need to do is prepare the salad ingredients as listed above, mix the dressing ingredients, toss the salad in it in a bowl and sprinkle the topping over it.

You can find information on the cookery school here. Thanks for the delicious dish and recipe Isa!

      

      

Find more Asian recipes on Conker and Indigo here and here.

Amsterdam and Sprinkles Sandwiches

I first encountered schprinkles sandwiches in Indonesia in ’99. They were on a tray outside my hotel room for breakfast. I took the cover off and beheld before me ….. white slices of bread with colourful sprinkles dotted about on the butter! Sweet, I thought, what a funny thing. It turns out that this is a funny Dutch thing. I do believe that Holland has gained more culinary wise from Indonesia than Indonesia from Holland (cue plug for the Bumbu Pecel recipe). However, I do not knock sprinkles. They are not just for children -hurrah! (Why does all the cool stuff happen for children when you are no longer one? Such as going around a gallery with a special guide for children on a Nintendo! Although I suppose I was pretty happy with my sketch book.) They are known as hailstones or sprinkles “hagelslag” (which sounds like an insult in English, yoooo hagelslag yoooo!), and mice “muisjes” which usually refers to a blue or pink non-chocolate version often offered to guests after a child is born. They come in several forms: plain chocolate strand sprinkles, mini chocolate curl sprinkles, and colourful sugar strand sprinkles.

I recently went to Holland to visit the Dutch side of my family so had sprinkles for breakfast. I recommend heating a croissant, splitting it open, slathering a modest amount of butter in it and shaking sprinkles inside, then devouring. Mmmm! Back home I just use cake decoration sprinkles, they aren’t as good quality though as proper sandwich sprinkles. I love Holland. It is such a neat small country with so many great things in it: stroopwafels (caramel waffle biscuits), runways for bicycles (not half a metre’s width on a busy road full of vehicles as in London), Moooi (I think my favourite product/ furniture design company. I have now learnt the correct pronunciation. It is not “moo-ey” but “moy”), Droog (close behind Moooi for design. I have also learnt the correct pronunciation for this, not “Drooog” but “Drog” – so Amsterdam!),  furry seat covers for bicycles, beautiful bicycles, everyone speaks perfect English in really great accents too, bridges, canals, Rembrandt, blue and white ceramics, rabbits in parks, windmills, you get the picture. To give you an idea of just how small and neat it is, I flew there in 45 minutes, met a cousin at Schiphol airport, got on a train to Alkmaar (45 minutes), then grabbed two bicycles there and cycled to the beach in Bergen (40 mins mainly because of my pitstops for photos) to meet the other cousins and all before 3pm. Wonderful!!

I have a new favourite thing to add to my list of favourite things: my cousins’ uncle’s raft. He is not my uncle in case you think I’m being thick like hot chocolate. He is the brother of my aunt who is related to me through marriage (they are two of fourteen siblings, all the same mother, no twins, triplets or quads. Impressive!) So, during the trip my cousins had been saying that we should go on Uncle Adri’s raft one day. I thought “the raft” was a nickname for a boat. The day of the raft came and I went to the edge of one of the central canals, peered over to see a row of floating planks with a motor at one end. A raft! It really was a raft! It turns out that being on a raft is a lot more exciting than being in a boat. A boat with sides and seats and a steering wheel, how boring! So we spent the whole day motoring down the waterways, Uncle Adri kicking a football over the bridges and collecting it in the water on the other side, then kicking it to people on the banks and having them kick it back. Now I see what the fuss is about football, it really is fun! We collected friends, were told off for mooring at the sculling club (we did not ask in advance!), floated to the widest part of the Amstel and dived in. The water was brown and dull but quite warm and lovely. I also managed to master the art of changing twice on a raft with no one seeing anything to compromise my modesty at all. We made a pit stop to go to the supermarket for food and found a sofa on the street (in good condition, I hasten to add!) so that came with us and was plonked on the raft. We carried on until it became dark and we were stopped by the water police because we had no lights on. We had no lights at all so everyone who had an iPhone downloaded the flashlight app and held it up high. Neat! To finish we found a restaurant with a terrace by the water, moored, ordered hot chocolates and sat on the sofa drinking them. It really was a fabulous day and shall have to become a summer staple.

You can read about some of the Dutch design I saw and loved on my design blog here

The raft.

Heatherwick Studio’s East Beach Cafe, Littlehampton

       

       

       

      

     

At the weekend I finally went to Littlehampton. I have been wanting to go for a long time as I think the name is great, it’s by the sea and it has a cafe designed by Heatherwick Studio (of the Olympic cauldron if you aren’t familiar). My pal and I beelined straight for the cafe with fish and chips on our minds with a pit stop at a bicycle shop, Dutch Bike Shop, which was most apt since I had just returned from visiting family in Amsterdam where I enjoyed the pleasure of cycling around the city without having palpitations induced by crazy traffic such as enormous trucks, busses or drivers who open their doors without looking first or, for that matter, parents who push their baby’s buggy into the road before checking whether anything is coming. I cannot stress how blood pressure raising that is! Anyway, rant over, I ogled the Dutch bikes in the Dutch bike shop, then we passed the dodgems and other garish rides to arrive at East Beach Cafe. It was smaller than I had imagined, having seen many photos of the design which is part cocoon, part overlapping shells with a copper looking exterior and a white staggered ceiling interior- perhaps how being inside a conch if one were a small crab would be.

We hadn’t booked a table and it hadn’t crossed my mind to even do that but fortunately there was a spot for us. The staff were really friendly, the atmosphere relaxed and the fish and chips really very nice indeed. They arrived with pureed peas (which I love to put in lots of things such as risotto and sandwiches)  and the best tartare sauce I have had and the batter was light and so crispy but with those wonderful bits of crunchy excess batter around the edges. We finished off with an affogato which is doubly satisfying as it satisfies the coffee urge and the ice-cream urge.

I couldn’t tell you much more about Littlehampton as we then went to West Beach (which is stoney) and absorbed the sea air for the rest of the afternoon. We had taken the ferry to the beach which went from East Beach to West Beach and took…..about 30 seconds! It was so funny! West Beach has West Beach Cafe which is a great little sister to East Beach Cafe designed by Asif Khan. The whole of one wall opens at the middle like two enormous doors with windows on them.  What I did see of Littlehampton was very nice and I would recommend a day trip there – it takes just under 2 hours from London Victoria.

Secret Vegetable and Herb Garden

Someone who wasn’t invited for dinner stopped by for a clandestine snack.

Perhaps I still have Olympics on the brain but I think these plants look like they are raising their arms in victory after winning a race!

I live in the Islington area of London which is a pretty affluent area full of great restaurants, some of the best furniture shops in town, Camden Passage which is a hot spot for antiques, and Regents Canal. It has its fair share of yummy mummies but hasn’t quite reached Nappy Valley status. I love it. However, it used to have a bit of a rough reputation. There was an estate very close to my home which caused a lot of problems for the local community, so much so that a cab driver dropping me home recently asked if I had problems with this specific estate as he certainly had heard about its rough reputation. I hadn’t really been aware. During this shady patch a community association was formed to clean up the area and rid the reputation it had unfortunately obtained. The local square which used to have the debris of boozy and probably druggy activities was cleaned up, new flowers were planted, borders were tended to and a herb and vegetable garden was planted. This garden is for anyone who is a resident to help themselves to – such a great idea. Of course I’m not going to tell you where it is though. I want the chives all for myself!! Miaow!

Also, I love (said with a lot of oomph) taking photos of plants hence the multiple photos of cavolo nero – its bubbly yet strong surface is a structure to admire, don’t you think?! I once made a vegetable arrangement from them which I posted several years ago here.

Cookery Class With A Foodie’s Guide Through Asia

 

 

Recently my friend Guilaine and I did a cookery class for a small group of friends. I have blogged some of Guilaine’s recipes before from her year long trip to South America, Australia, New Zealand and South East Asia. She took cookery classes in Asia and kept a great blog posting each recipe she learnt.  So, naturally, the theme for the cookery class was Asian and the menu was:

Vietnamese Spring Rolls with a Chilli Garlic Dipping Sauce

Sayur Lodeh with Coconut Rice and Sambal

Cardamom Cakes with Sticky Chocolate Icing

We started by making the cardamom cakes and while they were baking we chopped chillies and shallots creating a very fiery eye-watering atmosphere. If you wear contacts wear them at this point to avoid weeping! Guilaine had great tips on each dish we cooked (such as wearing contacts to avoid shallot induced weeping!) which she learnt at her authentic cookery classes. Vietnamese spring rolls are one of my favourite dishes to eat when I go to Kingsland Road for good Asian food. My favourite restaurant there is Loong Kee Cafe where the food is consistently great and the service friendly unlike at Song Que where the staff try to boot you out even if you have half a bottle of wine left to drink. Make sure you get square rice paper for the spring rolls as it is much easier to make a secure rolled parcel with them than with circular rice paper. Sayur Lodeh is an Indonesian curry which you can make as mild or as hot as you like – just reduce or increase the amount of chillies you include. Click on the links to see the recipes.

 

 

Guilaine says: “The great thing about taking all those cooking classes was that it demystified the difficulty of Asian cooking. It’s actually quite simple. In fact, most dishes can be simplified as following what I call the ‘Principle of the Four S’s’: sweet, sour, salty and spicy. It’s all about proportion and of course you can amend quantities to suit your own taste. Once you’ve mastered those elements, the rest is all rather easy, if time consuming. There’s no way around it, Asian cooking involves quite a lot of preparation and lots of chopping. Don’t hesitate to cheat and use a blender if you’re short for time – although there’s nothing like using a pestle and mortar to get the full explosion of flavours – not to mention build up your arm muscles!”