Friday, 22 June 2012

My love/hate relationship with France

I often complain about France. I find the people rude, grumpy, close-minded, macho and definitely anti-vegetarian. I lived there only 4 years when I was a university student, and although life was good in the whole, and, more importantly, besides the fact that some of the people I met then will stay life-long friends, I don't miss it.

However, I do feel French, pretty strongly even. I have only praise for its patisseries and bread (though, since I am increasingly striving for veganism, I have to admit it is putting me off more and more), and I love its beautiful cities, diverse landscapes, great architecture, rich history, decent weather, good wine, and colourful markets full of fresh fruits and veg. I love spending my holidays in France, seriously! I realised not too long ago, that's the best way for me to appreciate my country. I often tell Edvin that I can't wait for us to get our driving licences and travel around France. I have an endless list of places I want to show him, in particular the glut of medieval towns scattered around the country: I am never more in awe and never feel more happy to be in France than when I walk around the cobblestoned streets of Carcassone, Saint-Émilion or Guérande!

Our last discovery was La Rochelle, a small but very pretty town. What a pleasure to be there!

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Oups, I did it again...

So... It's been over six month since my last post... What a shame. Well, the one thing good about this blog is that it's mostly (only?) read by my close friends, so no one probably missed it (actually I know someone who did!). So what happened in the span of these 6 months? I actually realised that I never mentioned I had moved to London (!!!), but most people already know that.  Which explains why I had so little time to write here.

So I moved back to my favourite city, after a summer in Italy and France, to start a course in translation. And because it was a one-year master, it's been a pretty intense year. I actually just had my last exam yesterday! And unfortunately now is no holiday: I have yet to write my thesis. Only two  months to go before it's time to hand it in!

Other than that, I have been enjoying the city, as you can imagine. It feels home more than ever. The only downside, with all that the town has to offer, is that I have very little time left for what I like most: cooking! Which is kind of ironic, since I can find any ingredient I would need here...

Instead I focus on other things, like enjoying one of the parks the city has to offer - as many as 1700 in an area of 70 square miles! London has the reputation to be the city of its size with most green and open spaces in the world, my favourite being St James Park, one of the eight Royal Parks of London (which include Green Park, Hyde Park, Kensington Gardens, Regent's Park, Greenwich Park, with only two left for me to go: Bushy Park and Richmond Park). I love St James mostly because of its animals, especially squirrels! I always bring a bag of nuts when I go there, and it's not often that I don't get to feed at least one.

Food! Having less time to cook doesn't mean having less time to eat :) there are so many amazing vegetarian restaurants here! And shops! And cafés! Banofee pies, scones, carrot cakes...Oh my! I could live in England just for its cuisine <3

Pistachio and rose water cake, how could I resist?

Markets! Probably the nicest and the best way to shop in London: whether I want to buy organic veggies and fruits at the Islington Farmers' Market, grab a plate of Lebanese, Russian or Ethiopian  food (Sunday Up Market), nibble on a vegan cupcake (Ruby Tuesday of London at Greenwich Market), or simply admire the colourful and sweet-scented stalls of Columbia Road Flower Market

The greatest discovery this year is Broadway Market, my favourite place to hang out and eat with friends. The story goes that in 1900, Fred Cooke started selling jellied eels on Broadway Market, his restaurant serving shepherds driving their flocks to the City of London (!), and the street market was born. But by the eighties, it had died because of the Thatcher recession. After successive failed attempts to revive the market, finally, in 2004, the community renewed itself with the help of volunteers and residents association. What a great initiative!
 Ruby Tuesday Bakery

 Islington Farmer's Market

 Broadway Market

 Columbia Road Market

I've gone to the Opera more in one year than I had in my whole life. La Traviata swept me off my feet, and I discovered that I had quite a thing for Mozart and for Dvorak (can anyone not be moved by his Aria to the moon?). I was disappointed by La Bohème though, which came as a surprise since Puccini did win me over with Madame Butterfly! I've seen a few ballets as well, but I honestly can't say it's my cup of tea, though I can't wait to see Swan Lake this summer!

I've also recently started to knit again: it feels great! I am making a baby blanket for a friend who is expecting (and no, it's not a boy, or at least we don't know it yet; it's just that her favourite colour happens to be blue). I've learnt a new stitch (which isn't hard, I only know the stocking and the garter stitches), and I love the result!

Lastly, I've been hanging around in our new neighbourhood. We moved here about 4 months ago, and we're really close to the Thames. It really is a dream location.

Well, I guess anyone can now easily understand my 6 months absence, right?

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

A post long over due

I've been pretty busy recently. I know, it's a lame excuse, it's been 4, no 5 months (!), since I last posted… What a shame. Well, the good things is that it means I had time to do plenty of things and thus I'll have plenty of things to tell :) Actually I travelled a lot. Quite a lot indeed. I have been visiting my relatives (in Geneva, Lisbon, Berlin…), and I also have done some proper travelling! You know, like going to a place you've never been before, where you don't know anyone and where you're a real tourist!

Italy is a destination that only started to attract me recently. While many of my friends are Italians, I have always thought that they were better, further, more exotic places to go first… But this year I felt like I had to go. It was my New Year's wish (one of mine and my husband's traditions) and we actually made it come true. And my, what a trip! I fell so in love with Italy, what a beautiful beautiful country! I never imagined I would like it that much, but everything went beyond my expectations. The landscape, the towns, and the cooking! Ah the cooking... Well, I knew Italian food was supposed to be good, sure. But really, it IS good. I had the best pizza of my life, in a restaurant a few streets away from Stazione Termini in Rome, with the thinnest crust, and gelato everyday (and when I say every day I mean it).

And even better, I tasted for the first time farinata or cecina (the former being used in Liguria and the latter in Tuscany) a kind of chickpea bread, soft like polenta and crusty like pizza.
I love it because the flavour and the texture are wonderful (not to mention that you only need 4 ingredients: chickpea flour, water, oil and salt), but also because it is one of the simplest thing to do… And something that taste great without being too much fuss is a winning combination for me.

One thing though is that you're supposed to leave the batter rest for at least 4 hours, but to be honest I always skip this part because I am completely unable to plan my life, even for 4 hours. But I am determined to try one of these days, because I am sure, as they say, that "il gioco vale la candela" :)

Adapted from this Italian recipe
Serve 3-4 people as a side

200g chickpea flour
1/2 litre lukewarm water
olive oil

1. Pour the flour in a bowl and mix in, little by little, the water. Mix well so that no pieces remain. It should be fairly liquid, a bit like crêpe batter. Let it rest from 4 to 10 hours, covered and at room temperature, mixing from time to time.

2. If foam has formed on the surface, remove it. Add about 2 tsp of salt and half a cup of oil.

Poor enough oil to cover the bottom of a pan (square or round it doesn't matter) and add the mixture slowly. It should not be thicker than half a centimetre.

4. Bake in a preheated oven (220°) for about one hour. Careful here, if you don't let the farinata rest like it should, it will probably only take about half and hour. When there is 15 minutes left, turn off the oven and switch on the grill so that the farinata get a nice golden-brown colour.

5. Take out of the oven and add some pepper if you wish, cut it in long squares and serve immediately! In Tuscany, it is enjoyed just the way it is, while in Liguria, people spread it hot with fresh pesto or top it with rosemary.

Now for the story: farinata is said to have been discovered after the battle of Meloria, between Pisa and Genova, when the victorious Genoese fleet was hit by a storm so violent barrels of chickpea flour broken open and mixed with seawater. When the waters calmed, the sailors couldn't resolve to throw away the flour because it was all they had; they spread it on the decks to dry. It was so good that when they got home they began baking it, calling it l'oro di Pisa, or the gold of Pisa.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Beer Bread

This is the simplest bread recipe ever! It takes about 5 minutes of work to mix the ingredients together and then, it's only your oven working...

Beer Bread
Adapted from a recipe on

2 cups wholegrain wheat flour
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 33 dl beer, room temperature
1 tablespoons cumin seeds
1 tablespoon thyme
2 tablespoons butter, melted and a bit more to coat the pan

1. Heat oven to 175°C.

2. Coat a loaf pan with butter.

3. Mix flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt in a large bowl.

4. Make a well in the centre and add beer and spices.

5. Scrape into and place in the oven. After 50 minutes, take out and brush the top with half of the melted butter.

6. Bake for 10 minutes more. Remove the loaf on a rack and brush on remaining butter.

The best thing with this recipe, apart from being the easiest in the world, is that there is an unlimited number of possibilities to make this bread. I recently tried it with sun-dried tomatoes, black olives, thyme and rosemary, and it was succulent!

Saturday, 4 June 2011

Salt and vinegar potatoes

Edvin and I have a certain thing for vinegar potato chips. So much that not only the first thing I do immediately after landing in London is to buy a bag of Kettle chips, but also we usually eat one bag a day when we're back in the city. When I stumbled upon that recipe, I immediately knew it would be a great success in our home...

Salt and vinegar potatoes :
Adapted from Martha Steward
Serve 4 as a side. Takes about 45 minutes

2 cups / 475 ml vinegar (any type, I mixed what I had in the kitchen: apple-cider and malt vinegar, it worked fine!)
1/2 kilogram waxy potatoes, cut into 1 cm slices
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon flaky sea salt, plus more for seasoning
freshly ground pepper
coarse salt
1. Bring the potatoes and vinegar to a boil in a saucepan. Reduce the heat and simmer for about 5 minutes. Not too long, you want them to hold their shape, so they don't fall apart on the grill later. Let the potatoes cool in the vinegar for 30 minutes.

2. Drain well, then very gently toss with olive oil, salt, and pepper.

3. Heat the grill to medium high. Grill potatoes, covered if possible, until golden on one side, then flip and grill the other side - roughly 3 - 5 minutes per side.

That's it!
I have had this recipe for at least a year in my bookmark but never made it because I expected this recipe to take too long to prepare but in fact the only time-consuming thing was cutting the potatoes. The rest went quite fast. Mmm, the strong flavour of vinegar was amazing, almost making me completely forget about Kettle's sea salt and balsamic vinegar chips... until my next trip to London!

Monday, 30 May 2011

My favourite of the season...

Every year, at approximately the same time, I crave for chouquettes. Unfortunately I haven't come accross a vegan recipe yet...

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Ôde au voyage

Quand j'arrive dans une nouvelle ville, je m'interdis les moyens de transports et je la parcours à pied, autant que je peux. J'aime m'imprégner de son odeur, des ses habitants, de son architecture, de sa gastronomie (si tant est que j'y trouve de quoi me nourrir, mais ce n'est jamais trop dur), de ses histoires, de ses secrets. Et entre deux monuments, j'ai souvent fait des trouvailles qui valaient le détour. Je visite rarement les musées, et seulement lorsque je reste sur place au moins 3 jours. La plupart du temps, je considère cela comme une perte de temps*. Il faut dire que les seuls qui m’intéressent un tempsa soit peu sont les musées d'art, et honnêtement, je n'ai pas la sensibilité nécessaire pour m'extasier devant une toile, une bonne reproduction me suffit. Un tableau ne me parle que du moment où je connais un temps soit peu son peintre et sa vie, où je peux imaginer sa visée, son regard... Je préfère de loin les trivialités de la vie quotidienne aux musées et tous leurs objets morts qui ne me parlent pas. Ah! le croustillants des churros de la Calle San Gines, le bruit tonitruant des klaxons de Taksim, la douce amertume des bières d'Osnabrück, la moiteur des hammams, la chaleur sèche du Niger, les odeurs alléchantes de chocolat et de gaufres à Bruxelles, les cris insistants des vendeurs du Grand Bazaar, les effluves de fleur d'oranger du midi, l'ombre accueillante du Retiro, l'uniformité curieuse des maisons victoriennes de Kensignton, les couleurs éclatantes du marché de la Boquería, le charnu des abricots roussillonnais, le vermillon des briques de Sloane Square... Je n'ai même pas honte en avouant que j'ai préféré passé mon temps dans les fumoirs d'Istanbul, à savourer des çai brûlants et trop sucrés, à flâner dans les rues et de Galata, plutôt que de visiter l’impressionnant Palais de Topkapı. Ah Istanbul la Magnifique (nouveau pincement au cœur), où j'ai vécu trois petits mois, où Evin m'a fait sa demande en mariage. Trois mois c'est peu, mais assez pour me sentir Stambouillote! On se moque souvent de ma façon de voyager, de mes visites éclairs, mais pour être honnête, c'est intensément que je préfère le faire, en me gorgeant de toutes ses nouveautés, de tout cet exotisme jusqu'à plus soif.

J'ai cette angoisse du voyage**, comme si ça n'allait jamais assez vite, comme si je n'aurais jamais le temps de voir tout ce dont je rêve, comme si à deux pas d'ici se cachait un trésor d'architecture, un passage secret que je pourrais rater, cette sensation presque identique à celle que j'éprouve lorsque je pénètre dans une librairie et que je me rends compte que je mourrai bien avant d'en avoir lu la fin. Voyager pour moi c’est un peu comme plonger dans un lac, y aller tout entière et en ressortir aussi tôt pour ne pas laisser le froid m’engourdir, trouver un équilibre entre le familier et l’étranger, et c'est peut-être pour ça qu'il est bon de ne pas s'arrêter trop longtemps, de ne pas laisser le mystérieux devenir trop commun?

Paradoxalement, malgré mes courts séjours, il y a très peu d'endroits que j'ai visité et où je ne me suis pas sentie presque immédiatement chez moi... Quand je suis à Paris, ma ville natale, je ressens toujours un pincement au cœur: une ville connue-inconnue, où j'ai très peu vécu et où j'ai souvent été. C'est également avec nostalgie que je me souviens de la route entre Glasgow et Fort William, bordée de vertes collines, de bruyère et des lochs glacés. De la folie qui règne à New York et de son côté singulièrement décontracté. Des montagnes du Péloponnèse et de ses eaux émeraudes. Des forêts denses du Småland suédois parsemées de milliers de lacs. Je me rappelle avoir pensé de Madrid, Stockholm, Paris, Hambourg, Amsterdam, Oslo, Prague, Athènes etc. que j'y passerais bien un petit morceau de ma vie. Petit seulement, car je suis une vraie girouette, dans la vie comme dans mes voyages. Et si je me sens chez moi, au bout de quelques temps, je ressens toujours l’appel de la route.

En fait, je me sens partout chez moi, et à fois de nulle part. Ou peut-être pas, il y a bien une ville où j'appartiens***, et je rentre bientôt à la maison…

En attendant je vais faire trempette dans la capitale Allemande :)

* J'exclus de la liste le British Museum, dont les objets exposés sont toujours accompagnés d'explications écrites, et où l'on peut prendre des photos!! et le Grand Palais à Paris, que je ne visite rien que pour lui-même. Et l'Institut du Monde Arabe pendant que j'y suis.
** En anglais, on dirait "an urge", un mot qui n'existe pas en français et se traduit lamentablement par "forte envie". En fait, ce mot évoque quelque chose de plus instinctif, de viscéral.
*** "Where I belong"