Monthly Archives: January 2009

an extended weekend

On Saturday I attended the Lark Lane farmers market:

It was the first time I went and wasn’t sure how extensive it would be. There are stalls along the quarter of the lane nearest Aigburth Road. There was a reasonably good assortment of vendors: butchers, fruit and veg stalls, brewers, and one or two with handmade soaps and the like. What pleased me most were the stalls with baked goods. One appeared to be from Sale, near Manchester and the bread looked like it was commercially manufactured judging from the signage. There were quite a few flour treatment agents (E numbers and such), which I’m not sure about the necessity of. The other stall had a French bloke behind the table and a variety of French and continental breads. I chatted with him for a bit, and it turns out the bread was made in Aintree, north Liverpool. They supply a lot of restaurants around the city, as well as Liverpool Football Club :^). They do the farmers markets around south Liverpool as well, but they’re not wanting to open a retail bakery. I want to chat with him again and see if they ever take on apprentices or work experience.

The other nice discovery was an Italian stand with freshly-made pasta and a variety of sauces. The pesto wasn’t cheap, but I froze most of it, so at least it will last for awhile. I also got some roasted vegetable ravioli, which we had Sunday evening.

Sunday night I made Kona Inn Banana Bread. It’s in one of Marion Cunningham’s cookbooks that my mother often turned to during the holidays. I don’t usually put nuts in, so if I do want a bit of texture and crunch I’ll substitute Grape Nuts instead of the walnuts.

I was off today as well, so I went back to Lark Lane to check out some empty storefronts for rent. I couldn’t afford this one even if it was available, but it’s one of the amazing buildings on a street with such a lovely and quirky atmosphere.

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Happy New Year and a slight re-invention

Greetings! After a very lengthy period of, well, nothing, I’ve decided to come back to this blog with a new approach. Food and travel are two of the things I enjoy most in life, and I want to write about them in greater detail here. I’ve reposted a detailed entry of our trip to Paris last September, in all its gastronomic glory, as a slightly easy way of getting back into this. Links will be added and I will probably continue to tinker with the appearance and format over the coming weeks.

I want to bake more regularly this year, and will try to record what I make, when I make it, and how successfully it turned out.

Last week I made James Beard’s Homestyle Bread, a basic white loaf which is made a bit more special by the addition of milk and sugar. It was very tasty and had a dense crumb. It was probably denser than it should have been, which is I think the case with most of the breads I do at home where hand-kneading is a necessity. My technique is well out of practice and I found my hands aching at times during the 10-15 minutes I spent on this loaf. The yeast could be another culprit, it didn’t ferment as much in the proving stage as it maybe could have. But still, we both enjoyed it for sandwiches and snacks, and that’s the most important part.

Last night I made Chocolate Peanut Butter Chip cookies, my second most-frequent childhood recipe after the classic Toll House Chocolate Chip cookie. These turned out very strangely; I’m seriously wondering if I forgot the baking soda (bicarb to UK readers). They hardly rose at all, and I had them in the oven twice as long as the recipe called for. I do find that when using butter in certain cookie recipes that they’re always flatter than when I use vegetable shortening, and I think this may be one of those recipes. The Toll House cookies certainly are. Ah for a cheap source of Crisco in this country, but oh well.

Someday I think I would like to open a bakery. There, I’ve said it. If I do make that a reality, I will do my best to chart that journey here as well.

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Paris, September 2008

We arrived on Sunday morning (this would be Sept 27) and it was sunny and reasonably warm. We’d agreed to meet my dad and his wife at the Centre Pompidou, which is the main museum of modern and contemporary art, and it is *massive*. We had a coffee, then put our bags in the cloakroom before heading to the top floor for lunch in the rooftop restaurant. It was a bit hazy, but there were some excellent views of Paris to be had. The food was good, expensive for what it was, but you’re paying more for the view than anything else. Stepmother behaved herself fairly well, and only made a few obnoxious comments (one about modern/contemporary art being ‘weird’).

After lunch we split up and A. and I had a wonder around the permanent collection. There were some familiar friends, such as the Matisses and Picassos. I think they change the displays fairly regularly, as there are 60,000 items in the permanent collection. I can’t imagine how challenging it must be to display a representative sample of them all the time.

A new feature since my last visit (which would have been at least 6 years ago) was Andre Breton’s studio reassembled along a gallery wall. I remembered reading about it going up for auction in 2003, and I’m glad it was kept all together for the public to see. It’s a pretty crazy collection of stuff, but there are so many key pieces of Surrealism, including several Marcel Duchamp items, it was really fascinating to see them all in one place.

After a stroll outside to see the Fontaine Stravinsky, one of my favourite works of contemporary art, we all took the metro back to the hotel, which was a tidy little one in the 7th arrondissement, relatively near Les Invalides and the Eiffel Tower. Dad and stepmother were at odds about organising the luggage and taking it to the restaurant and departing from there for Orly airport. Dad thought they should come back to the hotel to collect it, she thought it should go with them so they’d have enough time to eat. For once she was right, but I had to sort of shut them both out while they were debating this in the most awkward way possible. Eventually the luggage was retrieved and the taxi phoned while A. and I got changed.

Dinner was truly a sublime affair. She had picked the restaurant out of an old Fodor’s guide, and it was one of the best meals I have ever had. Yes, that includes Claridge’s in June. Le Bamboche is small, with maybe a dozen tables in two rooms. The owner, Serge (I later learned his name), looked after us incredibly well, explaining the dishes with just enough detail to convey the care taken with the food, but not in a patronising way at all. I was a bit uncertain as to what to order when there was no chicken main course, forget vegetarian, so I went with the sole. My food scruples are lax enough that I chose the assortment of foie gras, which included a foie gras ice cream. It was delicious, and the fact that we’re getting into Heston Blumenthal levels of experimentation gives you some clue as to the price tag.

The sole arrived wrapped around a dried cranberry and was glazed with a cranberry relish alongside dollops of sweet potato puree topped with caramelised fennel. It was so good, I made A. try some. He who does not eat fish said it was pretty good and not fishy tasting, which is high praise from him.

Dad and stepmother had to leave after their main course. They were supposed to ask for a taxi to be called for 8pm, but neither of them said anything to the owner (her: ‘Blair, why don’t you ask him to phone a taxi?’ my thoughts: ‘If you’re so bothered, do it yourself.’) Finally at 7.40 I said something to Serge, who was understandably a bit peeved, but phoned for it and brought their main courses first. Dad very kindly paid before he left, so we were free to enjoy the rest of our meal at leisure, which we did.

Dessert was a tough decision, but I went for the cheese board, which consisted of 4 different goats cheeses. They’re all made by one family, who actually produce ten varieties, but four seemed like a good number to introduce the range of ages and flavours. The first one was a creamy young cheese, and they got progressively more mature. The second one was perfect in terms of flavour and texture. Simply the best chevre I’ve ever had. I asked afterwards if they were available from any fromageries. Serge’s reply: ‘Non. They only sell to restaurants and certain customers. What you just ate, that is Sarkozy’s goat’s cheese. But if you give me warning next time you are here, I can order it for you.’ I tremble to think how much it costs, but it was amazing.

A. chose the ‘sweet dainties’, looking forward to the surprise of not knowing what he was going to get. It turned out to be three small chocolate gateaux and tortes. I can’t remember the first, the second was an Opera torte of six layers, and the third was like a miniature chocolate sponge with chocolate sauce in the centre. For those in the UK who have seen the M&S advert with that type of cake oozing the chocolate sauce in the money shot, *that’s* what this cake was. He was kind enough to share with me and all three were just divine.

Serge looked after us so well and the food was so good that we would definitely go back. A. had been skeptical of Paris and Parisians, but Serge was genuinely friendly and chatted with us about England and food and wine that I think A. was won over. We’re going to have to save up (we ordered a second bottle of wine that ended up costing 48 euros, by far the most expensive thing we bought in Paris, but it was quality) but it’s worth every penny. We strolled back to the hotel absolutely stuffed, passing Les Invalides and watching the ever changing light display on the Eiffel Tower.

Monday morning we began our walking tour of Paris, not by design, but because we discovered that virtually every museum we would have considered visiting was closed. Except the Centre Pompidou. So we walked towards the Louvre by way of the Tuileries. A. was gobsmacked to see how big it really was. It might have been open, but I didn’t want to see it this time around. You need most of a day to see a fraction of it in reasonable time, so it will wait for another trip. Across a bridge and carrying on along the Seine, we headed for Ile de la Cite as A. had wanted to see Notre Dame. It had probably been twelve years since I was last there, and the scaffolding had come off that I recalled. It was definitely cleaner too. The rose windows are still stunning, but A. ended up not being terribly impressed in the end. We had arrived during Mass as well, so we tried to keep out of the way of the service. I had thought about going to Sainte-Chapelle, as I love the stained glass in that so much, but it was €7.50 and we were trying not to spend too much. Next time hopefully.

Back across the river towards Beauborg, we stopped to pick up lunch at a boulangerie and walked through the Marais. I decided I wanted to see Place des Vosges again and it was a nice enough day to eat outside, though a bit chilly in the shade. A. fed the birds crumbs from his sandwich and was impressed by how close they came to us, cheeky buggers. 😉 We walked all the way back to Centre Pompidou, desperate for a loo, then had a coffee while we figured out our next move. A. had mentioned going to Montmartre, and as I’d had leftover metro tickets from yesterday, this seemed like a good plan. I’d never really spent any time there, and we figured we could go into Sacre Coeur and make a little Amelie tour of sorts.

We made our way up the hill from the metro stop. It was a bit of climb, but not as strenous as climbing the dome at Sacre Coeur. We had very little company once we reached the top, a few people were there but left soon after we arrived. We sat on a narrow bench against the stone wall, looking out over the city. A pair of buskers started playing, familiar guitar chords, and I said ‘that sounds like Oasis.’ And it was…so we sang Wonderwall to each other high above the heads of those watching the performance below.

We made our way down and went through the crypt, which was kind of creepy in places. Descending along the winding paths at a much slower pace than Nino trying to get to his motorbike, we paused at the carousel so I could take a picture, though maybe next time I’ll actually ride it. 😉 Walking through Montmartre, it’s got really lovely bits and really tacky touristy bits. We picked up a baguette for dinner later and then stopped at a restaurant that had crepes for me. The waiter made fun of A’s flustered attempts to speak French but that was our only, very minor, incident of anglophobia. 😛 We got some goat’s cheese to go with the baguette and biscuits to take into work the next day. We’d discovered on the map that there was an Avenue Rachel nearby, so we walked past and saw the Moulin Rouge as well. I think I prefer the film version to what it is now.

Our flight wasn’t until late, so we had plenty of time to get to CDG airport. Which was good, because it felt like it took forever, between an extended metro ride and a long queue to get tickets at Gare du Nord, which is the largest and possibly most confusing train station I’ve ever been through. We got there in the end, very tired, but having enjoyed ourselves.

If you are still reading, I give you a round of applause and a cookie. :^)

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