search icon

Category: travel

The Very Best of Paris

I spent my birthday doing what I love to do most: travelling, eating delicious food, discovering interesting places, and learning new things.

I learned that travelling solo is actually quite fun and liberating – you get to do what you want to do, when you want, and how you want. And eating alone in restaurants is delightfully entertaining and not scary at all, especially in little French bistros, where the tiny tables are perfect for one and their close proximity allows for spontaneous conversations with strangers. A facet that I uncovered about myself is that I am not as timid as I thought I was; maybe it has something to do with aging and losing a bit of vergüenza along the way. My grandmother used to say that as we grow older, we divest ourselves of our shyness… and I’ll admit I’m thoroughly enjoying embracing a more brazen and bolder me.

[Read more…] »

(Re)Discovering Rota, Spain & Costa Ballena {Arranque Roteño}

If someone would’ve told me years ago that Rota was worthy of being considered an international tourist destination, I probably would’ve looked at them with incredulity. It never occurred to me during all those years going to school on the Rota Naval Base that Rota was anything more than a little, sleepy agricultural and fishing town, situated in a strategic location for the Spanish and American military and the neighbour of my little Chipiona. Of course, I knew there was some sort of history there seeped in the stones of the old castle, in the walls of the main church, and in the rocks of the corrales. But from kindergarten through high school, I never really gave it much thought.

Rota for me, like for many other kids who grew up with me, was a beach playground and a place to go bar-hopping and disco dancing with friends. (Yes, I actually said disco.) And Costa Ballena, now a golf and residential resort, was where I used to hang out on a farm that belonged to family friends. A large portion of the land used for the golf course and the resort belonged to a cousin of the former King of Spain from the House of Orleans-Borbón. The rest of the land belonged to this family, who are our friends. On these grounds, I used to go horse-back riding, play in the hay stacks, and catch erizos de mar (sea urchins), which we would cut up right there on the beach and eat raw with a squirt of lemon juice.

[Read more…] »

The Rekindled Friendship of A Dreamer in Paris {And Blanquette de Poulet à l’Ancienne}

Foreword, from La La Land

My aunt used to live in Paris
 
I remember, she used to come home and tell us these stories about being abroad

And I remember she told us that she jumped into the river once, barefoot

She smiled
Leapt, without looking
And tumbled into the Seine

The water was freezing
She spent a month sneezing

But said she would do it again
Here’s to the ones who dream

Foolish as they may seem
A bit of madness is key
To give us new colors to see

Prologue, A Visit 13-Years in the Making 

Sometime in 2016…

“We’ve had twelve years of foreplay; it’s about time we see each other, don’t you think?”

Months later …

“Happy new year to you too. I wish you a happier 2017 than 2016. I also wish you the opportunity to travel to Paris!”

Some days later …

“Are you free on the weekend of …. ?”

“I am no longer free because you are coming?” (Isn’t that just the most perfect line for a story?…)

[Read more…] »

Once Upon A Table {Two Calamari Recipes – Papas con Chocos & Habas con Chocos}

I’ve not posted anything since last year November, so first things first: Happy New Year 2016 & Happy Chinese New Year! May it bring us all good health, happiness, and prosperity.

Yesterday the air was crisp, and the sky was so blue it seemed as if someone had taken a brush to paint it just perfectly so. There was not a cloud in sight. And the sunshine was so warm that it encouraged me to take off my jacket and walk about in short sleeves, something that normally at 14C I wouldn’t be doing. As Kiko (our mini schnauzer) and I got closer to the forrest we go through every day, we were greeted by yellow and blue butterflies bouncing around us and a couple of tiny little birds, whose feathers were iridescent in the rays of the sun, and who startled by our steps flew quickly away, chirping. I had the fleeting sensation of being in a Disney fairytale …

[Read more…] »

Lust for Life Reclaimed & Honey-Roasted Rosemary Pork Chops

A few months ago, I started reading Paradise Reclaimed, an Icelandic novel by Halldór Laxness.  I have yet to finish it…but today, made me think of the moral behind the tale in Laxness’ novel.

I was thinking about how sometimes we must take a long journey to get us where we want or should be and to give us that depth of palette, that we would not have achieved otherwise and with which we paint our canvas of life.  At times for some of us, the road can be tumultuous, full of bumps, twists and turns, and paths that maybe we wished we had not taken but from which we cannot turn around. And then other routes appear that we are afraid or unable to take; and yet, when we actually take the leap and grab the proverbial “bull by the horns”, we are lead down a path to magical places…places we have longed for…places that provide wings for our souls to soar…

[Read more…] »

Basic Paleo Almond Flour Pancakes With Plums and a Quick Euro Trip

Last week Tuesday, I was wandering around the streets of Frankfurt, our former home, while my husband was at work nearby. That evening we drove to Austria for a workshop of his. I tagged along for this trip, as I do on others, especially when he travels by car.

I simply love a road trip particularly anywhere in Europe, where it’s easy to see a few countries within a week. Plus, it’s a great way for us to spend some quality time together and talk. Our road trips may sound a little crazy, as we pack in a lot of events, essentially work for my husband and meetings in different cities, and sometimes countries, and we also try to include some fun time. For me the journeys always mean some sightseeing on my own and lots of local food!

On this trip, we drove from London, crossing the Channel via train, and sleeping the first night in Gent, Belgium. Over the weekend, we were in the Netherlands visiting family and friends, and I even had the opportunity to write a post and share a recipe. I usually don’t take my laptop with me, but I knew I would have some free time and wanted to make sure I would get the recipe to you before returning home. I also picked up the Allerhande form “Apie Heijn” from which I plan to make a few dishes. The supermarket, really named Albert Heijn, is probably my favourite in Europe, and has the prettiest produce, meats and dairy products. They also have a lot of bio (organic) products; and it’s always a delight to shop at them in the Netherlands.

On Monday, we were near Groningen, where my husband had a dentist appointment and we later drove to Frankfurt that evening. It feels like coming home in many ways when we are in Germany, at least it does for me. And this time of year is even more special, as the Christmas markets are starting to pop up everywhere. So while my husband worked, I wandered around the city, visiting my favourite shops, enjoyed a delicious Paleo breakfast at the Hauptwache Cafe and later a Thai lunch at Coa in the Zeil Shopping Center. If you’ve been to Frankfurt, you know this building is incredibly cool. The façade is made of glass plaques, as is the ceiling and parts of the interior.

The architecture in the center of Frankfurt is an interesting mixture of renovated old buildings and very modern structures, such as this one, and the Jumeirah Hotel behind it. The city is known as “Mainhattan” as it’s probably the closest thing to Manhattan in Europe, being a financial business center with many skyscrapers. (Main is for the River Main.) By the way, when we lived here and visited the city museum, we learned that over 60% of Frankfurt was bombed and destroyed during World War II. So many of those old buildings that look like they were built in centuries past are actually rather new.

From the center of Germany, we drove to Seewalchen, in Austria, where my husband had a meeting the following day. We had been to the Salzkammergut area before, visiting Gmunden on the Traunsee, so I knew that we were headed to beautiful scenery and landscapes. And I wasn’t disappointed. Seewalchen is right on the northern tip of Attersee, a beautiful lake surrounded by the Austrian Alpes. The water is crystal clear and drinkable!

So, on Wednesday, I enjoyed a day to myself and explored the neighbouring villages and a visit to the Gustav Klimt Center in Schörfling am Attersee.

Klimt is one of my favourite artists. When I worked in NYC at a private bank, my team and I processed the loan for the famous Adele Bloch-Bauer painting, which now hangs at the Neue Gallerie in NYC. Since seeing that painting in person, I was hooked on anything Klimt. Yet visiting the Center on Attersee helped me learn a lot more about the artist himself and his lifestyle. He was a very interesting and bohemian person, designing women’s clothing and even wearing many of the gowns himself (oftentimes without undergarments!). Many of these gowns, designed by Klimt and created by Emilie Flöge, his lifetime partner of sorts,  “show up” in his illustrations and portraits of women.

Gustav Klimt, along with number of Austrian artists such as Egon Schiele, was one of the most important spokespersons and artists of the Jugendstil art movement in Austria. He spent many summers at Attersee, where he mostly painted landscapes, including the Schloss Kammer.

Walking in Klimt’s footsteps in the towns of Attersee am Attersee, Schörfling and Weyregg and bringing to life many of his paintings was an incredible experience for me. Unfortunately the Center doesn’t have any original works on display; due to conservations reasons, the illustrations are all lithographs. To see the fascinating originals and especially the works of his “golden phase”, one must visit museums or be lucky enough to see a special exhibit or have the money to purchase pieces of his oeuvre…

The day after my excursion through the summers of Klimt, we drove off early in the morning to squeeze in a little bit of skiing at Obertauern in the Austrian Alps. There was fresh snow with some ice patches and chilling temperatures of -12C, but we managed to go down the slopes a few times. Well, my husband did. I went up and down once, as it was a bit too cold for me and the “bunny slope”, where I like to start off only offered a T-bar lift, which I hate.

We spent the evening and night in Nürnberg, where we walked around the Christmas market, had some Nürnberger sausages, a glass of Glühwein, and dinner at the Barfüßer Bräuhaus. We ate a very typical German fare of Schweinehaxe (pork knuckle) and suckling pig accompanied by Kloß (called Knödel in other parts of Germany) and red cabbage. Needless to say, we were satiated after dinner. 😉

Friday morning we took off early in the morning again, so that my husband and a colleague could be in time for a meeting near Mannheim. And I strolled around along the Planken, the main shopping street, and the Christmas market. It had been around 20 years since I was last in Mannheim, back then for work with Elizabeth Arden. I didn’t recognise a thing…

On Saturday, we once again were in the Netherlands, where we visited family in Arnhem and ate the best and most fresh, raw herrings at Gamba, a beautiful fishmonger, which is quickly becoming our favourite and a ritual. I indulged in two harings, one right after the other, whilst my husband also enjoyed some kibbling, deep fried cod. Dinner was very traditional Dutch for this time of year: some hutspot (boiled potatoes, carrots and onions with bacon bits of course) and boerenkool met worst (boiled potatoes and kale with Dutch sausage), which my husband’s cousin made for us. It was delicious. We used to make it often at home, and both are the first Dutch dishes that I learned to make after meeting my husband. They are hearty and perfect for a cold winter evening. I promise to make them at home soon and share the recipes with you.

We returned to the island on Sunday, with a short detour on our way to London via the Cliffs of Dover. When we were relocated to the UK in January of 2012, our first trip over with our car was onboard a ferry from Calais to Dover. I was very apprehensive of the Chunnel back then and figured that a boat crossing would be much safer than going inside a train that’s inside a tunnel that is below the earth that is below the water…since then, we’ve used only the Chunnel for making the road trip back to Continental Europe, and I must say that I love it. Well, love may be too strong of a description… more like I tolerate it with more pleasure than originally thought since it’s a very quick journey of about 35 minutes in that train that is inside a tunnel under the earth that’s under the water… (it’s best not to think about all that).

The Chunnel takes off from Folkestone; so, we had not been back to Dover since our first crossing. And after this excursion, we have promised ourselves to return as there is so much more to see than we thought. I hope to make a weekend out of it and see the surrounding area as well.

On our detour, we had time to walk on top of the cliffs, where there are a number of paths through beautiful fields filled with rabbit holes, some sheep in the distance, and the gorgeous and grey North Sea just below the White Cliffs. The scenery is magnificent; and although one walks almost on the edge of the cliffs at times, it’s actually not even scary, but rather peaceful and energising. If you do go, remember to wear proper footwear, as it can be muddy. I was wearing clogs (not the right footwear) and slipped on our way back to the parking lot and ended up with muddy pants, shoes and hands. 😉

Coincidently, we ate lunch at the same hotel where we spent the first night in the UK, the Dover Marina. They were serving a Sunday roast carvery lunch and were all primped up for Christmas… just the perfect ending to a perfect trip just before the holidays.

On Monday, it was back to reality of an almost empty fridge and longing for someone else to prepare my breakfast. Fortunately, we still had eggs left (I checked them in water before using them) and plenty of almond flour. So, I invented these pancakes on the spot. I guess you could call them a basic recipe, since you can add more ingredients to them and experiment with different toppings.

Hope you enjoy!

BASIC PALEO ALMOND FLOUR PANCAKES, WITH PLUMS

Ingredients, makes 8 medium-sized pancakes:

  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup ground almonds (almond flour)
  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • pinch of sea salt
  • 4 plums, peeled and cut into slices or chunks (optional)
  • butter, coconut oil or fat of choice for frying

Method:

Heat a skillet over low heat. Lightly beat the eggs with a hand whisk or fork.  Add the remaining ingredients and mix well. Add the butter to the skillet and melt. Pour the pancake mixture by spoonfuls onto the skillet. Cook until the pancakes start to bubble, then flip over and cook all the way through, about a few minutes on each side. Serve with maple syrup, if desired.

*****

TORTITAS AMERICANAS, TIPO PALEO CON ALMENDRAS MOLIDAS Y CIRUELAS FRESCAS

Ingredientes, para como 8 tortitas americanas:

  • 4 huevos
  • 1 taza (250ml) almendras molidas (muy finamente molidas, lo que se llama harina de almendras)
  • 2 cucharaditas de zumo de limón
  • 1/2 cuchardita de bicarbonato de soda
  • una pizca de sal marina
  • 4 ciruelas, peladas y cortadas a lascas o pedacitos (opcional)
  • mantequilla, aceite de coco o la grasa que prefieras, para hacer las tortitas

Como hacer las tortitas americanas:

Calienta una sartén sobre fuego lento.  Bate un poco los huevos con un tenedor o una batidora de mano. Añade los demás ingredientes y mezcla todo bien. Pon un poco de mantequilla o aceite de coco sobre la sartén hasta que se derrita. Pon una cucharada y media (de las grandes) de masa por cada tortita. Deja que la masa empiece a hacer burbujas y entonces dale la vuelta. Se fríe o cuece unos minutos por cada lado. Se sirve con sirope de arce, si se desea.

Stratford-upon-Avon and Some English Lessons, The Cotswolds Part I

It’s been a while since I’ve written an entry in my Travel Logs. And although we travel frequently, I generally don’t have the time to indulge in doing a proper write-up about many of our trips, which was one of my original intentions with this blog. But a few weekends ago, we made an excursion that deserves a break in my routine so I may share with you a little bit about what we saw, experienced, and most importantly discovered.

For me, one of the most interesting facets about travelling is what I learn, things that I probably would never retain otherwise or would not affect me in the same manner, had I not experienced them first-hand and in person. And since we are living in England, it would be a crime to not visit the Cotswolds or the birthplace of who is considered the most influential and important writer in the history of the English language, Shakespeare.

IMG_0621

William Shakespeare

The weekend had a few highlights for us, aside from the trip and landscape themselves. One, we had a fantastic, well-informed guide at the Anne Hathaway cottage in Straford-upon-Avon, from whom we learned where a few ordinary English language terms originated; two, driving through this beautiful part of the countryside made us experience what is simply quintessentially English – the thatched roofed cottages, the lovely country roads large enough only for one car, the pretty English gardens filled with roses, and tearoom after tearoom; and last, we were once again educated by an extremely entertaining and well-informed guide, Tabitha, at the Roman Baths in the city of Bath.

IMG_0735

Speaking of those narrow English country roads, I kept imagining myself in a vintage British convertible, with a scarf wrapped around my head flowing in the wind, and some romantic music playing in the background, while we slowly but steadily made our way from village to village….sometimes, I could also imagine myself riding in an old Land Rover, my most favourite car, driving up to my Georgian manor surrounded by acres of farm land scattered with sheep, and my adorable Rufus waiting to greet me…

It’s so easy to create dreams when visiting the Cotswolds.

IMG_0799

Rufus was our Saint Bernard, when I was growing up in Spain. He and Fritzy, our crazy German Shepherd, loved to jump into the back of my father’s Land Rover and head to the beach. Rufus was such a big, loving dog (and I was such a little girl), that sometimes I rode him like a horse. The Cotswolds brought back a longing for living on a farm and having animals around me that I had thought was not possible anymore. I’ll have to work on that dream becoming real!

Anyway, back to the reality of the trip…

IMG_0625

Shakespeare’s Birthplace, as seen from the Gardens

The Cotswolds can be done in two days, as we did; however, I would suggest either more days to really linger, or going back frequently, as we intend to do.

We started off our journey in Stratford-upon-Avon, Shakespeare’s birthplace, home to his family, and later where he died. There are five houses connected to his life and death and they all belong to the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, which has renovated and preserved them for all of us to be able to experience this exciting part of English (and world) history.

IMG_0627

IMG_0630

Views of Shakespeare’s Birthplace

William Shakespeare is widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language; he was a poet, playwright and dramatist; and stepping into the past and walking “in his footsteps” is somewhat magical.

IMG_0635

The first house we visited was Shakespeare’s birthplace, which is located in the center of town, on Henley Street. His father, John, was a successful businessman and glover, who also served as town mayor. His mother, Mary Arden, was the daughter of an affluent landowning farmer, and her house is part of the Shakespeare’s Houses & Gardens, which we however did not visit and plan to return to see. The tickets allow for re-entry within a year, like many of the National Trust properties do as well. So, if you’re a local or live close enough like us, it’s a great deal of which to take advantage.

IMG_0639

IMG_0641

John’s business afforded the family an affluent upbringing and William had a “good life” and later through his line of work, met and befriended very influential people, and expanded his fortune enough to finance several properties, including the second largest house in Stratford during his time, New Place. The birthplace is somewhat of a higgledy-piggledy set of rooms, which shows how the house was expanded upon throughout the life of its occupants into what is visible today and is an attractive timbered house from the outside. On the inside, you can visit the ground and first floors, the kitchen and gardens. It’s a must-see to understand how life was during the Middle Ages in England. It must have been quite dark with only candles creating some light and the windows being so small. Outside in the garden, costumed actors were performing excerpts from Shakespeare’s plays. It’s definitely worth taking a seat on one of the benches, enjoying their art and being transported into another era…and maybe start dreaming again.

IMG_0649

Nash’s House

The next house on our tour was Nash’s House & New Place. Shakespeare bought New Place in 1597 and this was the second largest home in Stratford during his time. He lived in it with his family when he was not in London, and this is where he died in 1616. New Place is no longer standing; only the foundations are visible on the grounds, which is now the garden part of   Nash’s House. Nash’s House was named after Thomas Nash, the first husband of Shakespeare’s granddaughter, and a wealthy landowner. It’s a well-preserved Tudor building with a beautiful, traditional knot garden in the back. Don’t miss out on visiting the garden and the green expanse behind it, as it’s actually quite impressive to see how large it is for a property in the center of town. Apple trees line part of the knot garden, which must be even lovelier to see during the summer when the flowers are in bloom.

IMG_0661

IMG_0664

IMG_0669

From Nash’s House, we walked down Church Street towards Hall’s Croft, the home of Shakespeare’s daughter Susanna and her husband, Dr. John Hall, the town’s wealthy doctor. The house has features, which show off their wealth, such as stone flooring, large stone fireplaces, and beautiful exposed timber beams facing the street (so people walking by could be witness to their economic status). It’s a grand house by 16th century (and even today’s) standards. The gardens are very pretty and include a variety of herbs that were most likely used by Susanna’s husband in his medicinal potions. (Personally, I would love a garden like this for my culinary needs, as I keep killing off my herbs on the windowsill.)

IMG_0671

IMG_0673

IMG_0677

IMG_0679

IMG_0680

Hall’s Croft, house, interior, and gardens

A short walk from Hall’s Croft is Holy Trinity Church, which is where Shakespeare was baptised and later interred. At the feet of the high altar, you can see the graves of William, his wife, and his daughters as well as as that of John Hall, his son-in-law. Shakespeare and Anne had three children. Susanna was born only about six months after they were rapidly married, when Anne was 26 and William only 18! And then they had twins, Hamnet and Judith. Hamnet died at age 11 of unknown causes. Back then the cause of death was not recorded unless it was part of a coroner’s report. But as the plague was still rampant, it’s quite possible that could’ve been the cause… but we’ll never know for sure. Shakespeare himself survived the plague as an infant, but his death at the approximate age of 52 was also due to unknown causes, very possibly due to some infection or disease for which medicine back then had no cure. As Shakespeare did not want his body to be examined or exhumed, he supposedly placed a curse, which can be read on the epitaph of his gravestone, on anyone trying to remove his bones from this location. So we will probably never know for sure what caused his death; on the positive side and for tourism in Stratford-upon-Avon, this curse most likely saved us from seeing his grave site transferred to Westminster Abbey in London.

(By the way, we learned that there are no direct descendants of William and Anne alive today. However, Anne Hathaway’s family flourished and one of her brother’s descendants lived in her house until 1899.)

IMG_0685

IMG_0693

Trinity Church, Stratford-upon-Avon

A walk behind the church takes you to the banks of the River Avon, which is lined with beautifully trimmed weeping willows. A number of locations offer boat rides along the river…something we’ll try to enjoy on our next visit. Again, it was so easy to imagine sitting on a boat, with my husband wearing a stripped jacket and straw hat and rowing away, as I coquettishly hold my parasol to protect me against the rays of the afternoon sun…

IMG_0694

IMG_0698

River Avon

Our last stop in Stratford was Anne Hathaway’s cottage. The house and 90-some-acre property were first leased by Anne’s grandfather and later purchased and passed down to family members until the late 1800s, when the property was purchased by the Trust. The cottage started off as a two-room house with very high ceilings and a fireplace in the middle of the main room. It was later expanded by Anne’s eldest brother and is a lovely example of a thatched Tudor cottage, with somewhat messy, but enchanting English grass gardens, an apple orchard and a vegetable plot. It’s truly a romantic sight!

And it was here that we learned a few things about how some English words came into being and how life transpired during Tudor times. In the main room of the house, what today would be considered the sitting/dining room all together, there’s a fine example of a dining table, commissioned by Anne’s grandfather and used until the house was handed over to the Trust in 1899. The table may not seem like much to us today, but it’s a beautifully crafted piece of furniture, which has a table top or board that is “convertible” or which can be flipped around. The practical reason for this feature is that Tudor people were messy and dirty eaters, eating with their hands and allowing things to drop off of their “tranches” or plates, therefore not only getting the floors (and their clothes) dirty, but also scratching and getting the table top dirty and greasy. However, this same table would serve as a place to play card games with the family and guests, so by flipping it over to the “prettier” side for that purpose, it was always kept presentable. The man of the house sat at the head of the table in a chair with arms, whilst the women and children sat on armless chairs or stools. Since the man sat at the head of the table, then called board, he was considered the “chairman of the board”…and this is how this term originated! Isn’t that cool or what? And wait there’s more… when playing cards, it was considered foul play to place your hands below the board/table since that way one could cheat. Hence, the term “above the board” was coined meaning that everything, hands included, and especially morals, were to be kept above the board and visible to all.

IMG_0708

Anne’s cottage may not seem today like it was the home of a well-to-do family, but if you look closely, you will see signs of Anne’s family’s affluence and wealth, such as the stone floors, large stone fireplaces and the bedrooms, which included guest beds. Beds were reserved for the wealthier folk and for guests, and were made of straw “mattresses”, which were not often cleaned or replaced and included the ubiquitous little bed mites. The mattress lay upon a criss-cross stringed bed slate that had to be tightened every so often. So, therefore the other phrase: “sleep tight and don’t let the bed bugs bite” came into being.

We learned a few other intriguing pieces of historical information, which were of particular interest for me, since I obviously love to cook. Food was served on “tranches” or wooden plates. Tranche comes from the French word “piece”, as referred to a piece of wood or even further back in history, a piece of bread, upon which food was served. The tranches were being constantly carved out of wood by the family’s on-staff carpenter and when a tranche got particularly greasy and full of grime, it was simply tossed into the fire and replaced with a new, clean one. The tranche is square in shape, with a small little indentation in the upper corner, where salt was placed to condiment one’s food. The lady of the house was the keeper of the rock salt, as it was a very valuable condiment during those times. The eldest son was mostly likely the child in charge of grinding up some salt every day, which he later gave to his mother, and who in turn shared with the family and guests, allocating an amount of salt that fit in her pinched fingers, called a “pinch of salt,” to each diner.

The stove was literally kept running all day and night with a pot constantly cooking. This dish, if we can call it as such, was called potage, from the French word as well meaning stew, porridge or a thick soup. Remember back then, those who could read and write mostly spoke French, which was the language of the conquering Normans. These words dwindled down into the regular folk as well. The potage could include any type of meat and vegetables and as it was constantly cooking and not often cleaned out, another phrase “piss pot in, piss pot out” was coined meaning “garbage in, garbage out.”

Chicken, by the way, was considered a very special treat and quite expensive. The animals were kept primarily for laying eggs, and therefore eating a chicken was translated into the loss of a valuable source of eggs.

Nothing was wasted in those times, including the ashes from the oven and fireplaces, which was used to make toothpaste and soap. Of course, back then they didn’t clean their teeth, which they did with their fingers as no toothbrushes existed, on a daily basis as we do, nor did they bathe but about once a year. When bathing day came around, usually when Spring arrived and a new set of clothes was freshly put out, a big bathtub was filled with water and the man of the house went in first, followed by the lady of the house and the children, with the youngest one being last. By the time the youngest or the baby was put into the bath, the water was so full of grime from the rest of the family, that is was dark…so, “don’t throw the baby out with the bath water” takes on a real meaning. 😉

IMG_0717

It sounds kind of yucky if you really envision it! I prefer to keep it on the romantic level, rather than think about how this particular English phrase came about. The thing is Anne’s family was not poor and they did enjoy a number of luxuries, as well as were very well fed and healthy for their time. In fact, since Anne’s family was affluent, they would have given their food scraps to the poor, after scrapping it off their tranches with some bread. The bread and all went to these less lucky souls.

IMG_0718

They had a working farm, which supplied them with all their necessities and land for their sheep, making them successful in the wool trade through which most likely Anne’s father and William’s father met creating a family and business bond. Their farm was planted with all of the seasonal, local vegetables and fruits they required… but there’s one vegetable they would’ve not eaten, and that is the potato! When the potato was introduced into England in the 16th century, it took some time before it was considered an article of food. As it grows underground, it became associated with the Devil. In fact, young men would try to show their virility by wearing a potato on a string around their necks, thereby demonstrating to the world (and especially young women) that they were not afraid of the Devil. However, they rather became the laughing stock of people, and Shakespeare makes reference to this his play, “Merry Wives of Windsor”.

IMG_0711

As you see, our visit to Stratford-upon-Avon was quite fruitful in terms of English terminology, which seems quite fitting given this is the birthplace of Shakespeare, and learning a few things about living and eating during Tudor times.

IMG_0712

Our trip continued on to the lovely, honey-coloured villages of the Cotswolds and onto the Unesco World Heritage Site of the city of Bath… but I’ll leave all that for my next travel log.

Green Papaya Salad (Nom Xoai Xanh)

We visited Vietnam last year. I think it’s one of those places that does not leave you indifferent on many levels. The clash of modernisation with colonial vestiges from Chinese, French and even American influences and the native culture are sometimes perplexing. One example is that we were driven from the Hanoi airport to our hotel in a car that had wifi onboard, while on the side of the main highway, we drove past people with traditional clothing – and yes, the Vietnamese hat – working on the rice fields, had to avoid cattle crossing the road, and nearly missed a few accidents with mopeds carrying two, three people and sometimes even a whole dining room table! To see a glimpse of our time in this beautiful country, please view my travel log on Vietnam.

IMG_9620

This incredible experience, from which I learned a lot about human history and how things are perceived depending on whose perspective we are looking upon something (French and Americans are called invaders in northern Vietnam, and the Chinese are also considered such but on a different level) left me with a lasting impression and a need to return that I hope to fulfill one day.

IMG_9616

Part of the richness of our adventurous time in Vietnam was trying all the delicious food available and visiting the markets. Breakfast in the Asian countries I’ve visited consists mostly of a warm soup, such as Vietnamese Pho. Hanoi came to life each day we were there with everyone preparing and eating Pho or some other form of street food, while the shops slowly but energetically opened up, women balancing baskets on their shoulders headed to the market or were selling their wares on the street, and the silence of the night was thoroughly disrupted by an incessant noise that lasts until very late in the evening.

IMG_9595

(grating the green papaya with the kitchen utensil that the Hanoi Cooking Centre gave me)

(Vietnam, although a one-party Communist country, is one of Asia’s fastest growing economies. In fact, if you were unaware of the political regime, you would think you are in a Capitalist nation, since it seems that everyone owns their own shop. Stores occupy the bottom part of almost every building in Hanoi and even in many areas of the countryside.)

Pho is one thing I need to make at home, but haven’t yet because I need to find a butcher that will sell me really good quality, grass-fed beef and have it very thinly sliced. I plan a visit to the London Borough Market soon… so I’ll be shopping for my ingredients, making Pho and sharing the recipe with all of you.

IMG_9613

Ah.. the recipe! Well, while in Hanoi, I took a cookery course with the Hanoi Cooking Centre. I had just started my blog and had never done anything like this, while on vacation. So, the idea was exciting and intriguing. I took a taxi to the school from our hotel, thinking I couldn’t manage the streets… one must cross the street through traffic! It turns out it’s not as hard as it first seems, although a bit nerve-wracking for the newcomer, and I ended up walking back to my hotel after the course.

The course I took was called “Street Food”. And since taking it, I’ve had on my agenda making all of the recipes.. but haven’t gotten around to it until now. However, I’ve made great use of the grater the school so kindly gave me!

Some of the ingredients are not easy to find, such as good quality green papaya or banana blossom. I bought a banana blossom sometime last year at an Indian store, but was thoroughly disappointed when I cut into it and it was rotting. ;(

IMG_9630

(these are the dried, salted anchovies that I used)

But on our excursion to the Asian market this past week, we found green papaya and a whole plethora of other goodies! Therefore the first recipe I share with you from our Vietnamese adventure is Green Papaya Salad. I made a few alterations to keep it Paleo (no sugar and no peanuts) and added a couple of ingredients of my own, such as pomegranate seeds and created my own “fish sauce”.

I hope you enjoy!

Green Papaya Salad (Nom Xoai Xanh)
Recipe Type: Salad
Cuisine: Vietnamese
Author: The Saffron Girl
Prep time:
Cook time:
Total time:
Serves: 4
Ingredients
  • For Salad:
  • 1 green papaya (pawpaw), peeled and grated or spiralised
  • 2 green onions, finely sliced julienne style
  • 1 long Vietnamese chili, seeds removed and finely chopped (be careful they are very hot, so it’s wise to use some sort of gloves)
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced or cut julienne style
  • 1/2 cup cilantro leaves, roughly chopped
  • seeds of one pomegranate
  • 3 tablespoons cashews, roasted and crushed*
  • 1 small red onion, very finely sliced
  • 1 tablespoon arrowroot powder
  • olive oil or other fat for frying
  • Dressing:
  • 1 tablespoon coconut sugar
  • 1/4 cup fresh lime juice
  • 2 tablespoons dried, salted anchovies or dried shrimp, fried
Instructions
  1. Peel the green papaya and with a spiraliser or grater, grate all of it until you’re getting close to the seeds. Place in a large bowl.
  2. Add the sliced green onions, the minced garlic, the Vietnamese chili, cilantro leaves, and pomegranate seeds. Toss and set aside.
  3. In a pan, add about 1 tablespoon of coconut oil over low heat.
  4. Fry the cashews until golden brown. Scoop them out and place on a plate with paper towels to soak up any extra fat.
  5. In the same remaining oil, fry the dried anchovies or shrimp. Scoop them out and also place on a plate with paper towels to soak up the extra fat and stay crispy.
  6. Clean the pan, when slightly cooled, with a paper towel and add new coconut oil or olive oil, enough to “deep fry” the sliced onion. Heat over medium heat.
  7. In a medium bowl, coat the sliced onion pieces with the arrowroot powder. Dust off any extra arrowroot powder with your hands.
  8. Once the oil is hot, carefully place the floured onions into the pan. Make sure to separate them before putting them in, or they’ll clump up.
  9. Allow to fry on one side before stirring/flipping to fry on the other side. (If you have a deep fryer, it’s easier to use that than a pan.)
  10. Scoop out of the pan and place on another plate with paper towels. Set aside and turn the oil off.
  11. In a mortar, place the fried anchovies/shrimp and grind with the pestle.
  12. Add the lime juice and coconut sugar and mix well. Set aside.
  13. Place the cashews on a flat surface, such as your counter top, and with the back side of a bowl, press into them, breaking them up into pieces. Scoop them up and place into a bowl. Set aside.
  14. When you’re ready to serve the salad:
  15. Toss the papaya mixture with the dressing and cashew pieces.
  16. Serve in individual plates or a large bowl and top with the fried onion pieces.

 

Roasted Summer Vegetables, Red Mullet & The Borough Market

Here’s the dish for this post… but first a little bit about my visit to the Borough Market in London….(you can skip to the bottom for the recipe).

20130811-161144.jpg

A few days ago, I visited the Borough Market in London with a fellow Paleo blogger, Ceri, from Natural Kitchen Adventures. I had been wanting to go for quite some time, but for some reason it just seemed too far a trip. It turns out it’s not and it’s quite easy to get to. In fact, for those of you in London, it’s literally right above the London Bridge tube station and very close to the Shard. One word of caution though: take a few bags (and plenty of money!), as you’ll want to buy everything in sight! 😉

IMG_8298

Ceri and I met in person last year and had been wanting to do a market outing together for some time; and now we finally got around to it. She has been to the market many times before and acted as an impromptu guide, showing me around the vegetable, butcher, fish monger and specialty stands.

IMG_8297

If you haven’t been, it’s a must see, even if you’re just a tourist in London. It’s really a beautiful market with mostly organic produce, grass-fed meats and wild caught fish. I honestly can’t speak much about some of the specialty shops, as I didn’t visit them. But there are a load of places selling pastry, chocolate and sweets and even organic muesli and cereal mixes. There’s also a Spanish shop with a wide variety of cheese (many unpasteurised), jamon serrano, salted cod, and other traditional foods. And there are plenty of places to eat, although most of them are not Paleo-friendly.

IMG_8315 IMG_8314

IMG_8318

IMG_8323

On one of our turns around the stalls, we bumped into Hook & Son, a raw milk supplier and producer of raw cream, raw yoghourt, raw butter and raw buttermilk. I hadn’t had raw milk since I was a child in Spain, so it was quite a treat to sample it again. I must say, it’s so delicious and creamy! And it didn’t even bother my tummy. I’m lactose intolerant and regular, pasteurised milk sits like a bomb in my belly. Granted, I only had a little bit… but Ceri and I did share an apricot-flavoured, sugar-free yoghourt and loved it! What’s even cooler about Hook & Son is that there’s a British documentary that has been made called The Moo Man. Stephen Hook, the very friendly and informative farmer, who attended to all our queries, is the protagonist (along with his herd and family) of the film, which apparently was a surprise hit at the Sundance Film Festival 2013. I look forward to finding a screening near us, as it’s supposed to be a very interesting and heart-breaking love story of Mr. Hook’s journey to remain organic and preserve his herd and farm. I also look forward to finding the time to visit his farm. But in the meantime, the good thing about Hook & Son is that they deliver raw milk all over England and Wales! That’s quite exciting for me, as I want to make good quality kefir and pasteurised milk doesn’t cut it. (For more information on the film, please check: moomanmovie.com.)

IMG_8312

Anyway, at the market, we really had to struggle to control our shopping impulses. Everything is so beautiful. The fruits and vegetables look simply amazing and picture perfect. So much so, that I actually succumbed and bought a purple cauliflower, some yellow courgettes (zucchini), purple kale, and some figs, which were simply just too expensive, but I hope worth it!

As we were ready to leave, Ceri took me over to The Ginger Pig stand, a butcher, specialising in organic, grass-fed lamb, beef, pork and poultry. We kindly requested some beef bones for broth and the nice butcher gave us a bag full!

IMG_8332

It was not easy to leave the market, but at least we left happy and already brainstorming how to use our purchases…

20130811-160830.jpg

And here’s a recipe with the yellow courgettes that I bought. I used both the yellow and green ones I had previously on hand to add more colour to the dish. But you can make this with just the regular green ones, and also add in aubergines, if you like (I would’ve added them, but didn’t have any left).

20130811-161144.jpg

Roasted Vegetables with Red Mullet
Recipe Type: Main
Cuisine: Mediterranean
Author: The Saffron Girl
Prep time:
Cook time:
Total time:
Serves: 2
Serves 2.
Ingredients
  • 6-8 red mullet filets, depending on appetite and size of filets
  • 1 medium green zucchini (courgette), sliced diagonally to make larger “rounds”
  • 1/2 large yellow zucchini (courgette), sliced diagonally to make larger “rounds”
  • 2-3 medium tomatoes, sliced
  • 1 medium red onion, peeled and sliced
  • 3-4 cloves garlic, sliced lengthwise
  • Herbes de Provence
  • freshly ground rosemary
  • coarse sea salt
  • olive oil
  • balsamic vinegar
  • freshly chopped parsley
Instructions
  1. Rinse the fish filets and set on a paper towel over a plate. Sprinkle with some coarse sea salt and set aside.
  2. Prepare the vegetables.
  3. Preheat the oven at 180C (350F) while you set up the vegetables, as follows.
  4. In an ovenproof dish, alternate between the zucchini, tomato and onion pieces, layering until you have covered the dish and used up all the vegetables.
  5. Drizzle generously with olive oil and sprinkle some coarse sea salt over top.
  6. Sprinkle some Herbes de Provence (I used about 1-2 teaspoons) and some rosemary (I used about 1/2-1 teaspoon) over top.
  7. Place in the middle rack of the oven and cook for about 30-40 minutes until the zucchini are tender.
  8. Remove from the oven and drizzle with a little balsamic vinegar. Let sit a few minutes before serving to absorb the vinegar flavours.
  9. About 10 minutes before the vegetables are ready, you will need to cook the fish.
  10. Add some olive oil (about 2 tablespoons) in a pan and set the filets and garlic inside.
  11. Over low heat, cook the fish, turning over to cook each side, about 3-4 minutes on each side.
  12. (Red mullet filets shrink quite a bit and also may “shrivel” up. So, make sure to cook just long enough, but not overcook or it will be too dry.)
  13. Serve immediately with some freshly chopped parsley as garnish and the roasted vegetables as accompaniment.

 

Moules Marinieres (Mussels) & Happy New Year!

One of my favourite things to eat during the summer months when travelling through Belgium and France are “moules frites”. Moules are mussels and frites are french fries. Belgium is famous for their french fries, where there are shops dedicated to selling only frites with mayonnaise and spicey sauces and there’s even a museum dedicated to the french fry!

Ironically, I’ve never been a huge fan of french fries, unless they are homemade…but the moules I can’t get enough of! Since this past summer, I had been dreaming with making some moules marinieres at home, but haven’t been able to find the mussels in my local shopping area in London.

But now, on our holiday visit with my parents, we went to their local fish shop and bought some perfect mussels for our New Year’s Day lunch, which ended up being more of an early dinner with a delicious second plate of salmon with spaghetti squash… but that’s for another post! 😉

The following version is pretty basic, to which you can add things like roquefort cheese or other flavours should you wish to. My favourite is this basic sauce, however, and that is what we enjoyed today.

MOULES MARINIERES

Ingredients, for 4 (or about 2 kilos of moules)

  • 2 kilos fresh, medium to smaller sized mussels
  • 1/2 liter dry white wine
  • fresh parsely, 4-5 sprigs
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 large leaks, cleaned and finely sliced
  • fresh thyme, a large sprig
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 4 cloves garlic, sliced
  • 3 stalks celery with leaves
  • 50g butter (about 1/2 stick)

Process

Clean the mussels and rinse well to ensure they have no sand. Make sure to only use the ones that are closed, as the animal is thus alive. Set aside. (If storing overnight – before cleaning, as we did in the fridge, place a bowl filled with something heavy, such as potatoes, over top to ensure they do not open.)

Prepare all of the vegetables. Create a bouquet with the parsley, thyme, bay leaves and the part of the leaves of 2 celery stalks. I tied mine with a nylon string used for cooking. Set aside.

In a large pot, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the onions, leeks, garlic and saute until soft (but not long enough to change colour). Then add the bouquet and stir to mix.

Add the white wine. Immediately add the mussels and stir to mix well with the onion mixture. Add the remaining celery stalk, cut in 2-3 pieces. Cover and cook, stirring a couple of times, until all the mussels open up, about 8 minutes.

Remove from heat and allow to sit about 3 minutes, covered, before serving.

In France and Belgium, the moules are served in their own enamel-coated 1-kg cooking pots. However, as we do not have these pots, we served them in shallow bowls. Enjoy with some Spanish albarinho or favourite white wine!

Macau & African Chicken (Galinha a Africana)

On our recent trip to Vietnam, we had a day layover in Hong Kong on the way over and about a 12-hour layover on the way back. So, we took advantage of the time to visit with some friends who live in the area and to do a bit of sight-seeing. This is my second time in Asia and also my second time visiting both HK and Macau. The contrasts I observe I think will never cease to amaze me.

On the ferry from Kowloon to Mainland Macau

After landing in Hong Kong, we took the express train straight into Kowloon, where we had booked a hotel for the evening. We checked in, freshened up and headed for the ferry terminal. By the way on a side note, I still had my Octopus Card from about 6 years ago and it worked. The Octopus Card is like the Oyster Card in London, where you can top off as you go and use it for all the underground, busses and some ferries as well. However, one cannot use it for the ferry to Macau, or at least, we don’t think so.

Arriving in Macau

Arriving in Macau… first casinos are visible from the ferry

The journey over is about an hour from Kowloon to Macau. We learned, that since our last visit, there are new ferry lines now going to Taipa as well. Taipa is one of the two islands that along with the Mainland Macau make up this special administrative region. China took over Macau in 1999, after more than 400 years of Portuguese rule. One would think that after such a long time, more Macanese would speak Portuguese, after all it’s one of the official languages, it is still used in government buildings and all signs are in Portuguese, as well as Chinese. Yet, that’s not really the case. I had noticed this on my first visit here, and was again aware of this disparity when trying to communicate to the locals.

Our friend Mary, a Macanese, however speaks multiple languages, one of them being Portuguese. Mary picked us up at the Macau ferry terminal and we headed over one of the long bridges joining the region to Taipa to see the University of Macau, where my husband and she had studied about 12 years ago. The University, which will soon be transferred to mainland China, is located in a modern building on a hill. Most of Macau is made up of hills. And curiously one drives on the left here, just like in Hong Kong (in mainland China and Portugal, one drives on the right). From what we learned it seems that the reasons for this are purely economical rather than historical or cultural, since all cars are imported from Hong Kong.

Waterfront street near the Plaza of Sao Francisco Xavier

Same waterfront street

After a quick zip through the area, we headed over to Coloane, the second island, now joined to Taipa via a landfill. Coloane is also being colonized today, but in a new way. The region’s newest and largest casinos are prominently welcoming the visitor on what is the land-filled area, now called the Cotai Strip. In Coloane, one can still see vestiges of a Portuguese past in a laid back atmosphere, which is relaxing and inviting. It’s almost like stepping back in time. In fact, in the older areas of Macau, one feels like one is no longer in Asia (until the oppressive humidity and heat remind you otherwise) but somewhere on the streets of Lisbon or another part of Portugal. It’s truly a beautiful contrast.

Sao Francisco Xavier church and plaza

We parked along the water front, facing what is mainland China. Yet another contrast. It’s hard to imagine that across what seems like a little pond lies the big giant of the north and yet mainland Chinese are not allowed into Macau without special permission. Macau will remain a special administrative region until 2050, when it should be fully integrated into the rest of the country. And although that is not that far away, it is hard to fathom what type of changes could come about after integration, some maybe not so welcome.

Mary took us to the plaza of Sao Francisco Xavier, which is lined with Chinese restaurants on one side and Portuguese restaurants on the other. We chose a Portuguese one, facing the little church of Sao Francisco Xavier, where we enjoyed some traditional Macanese dishes, such as Bacalhau a Braz, Bok Choi in some special sauce (can’t recall) and African Chicken.  The three dishes are perhaps more symbolic than one would think at first. And they represent Macau’s history perfectly, which is a mixture of the Portuguese heritage, the Chinese roots and the influences of immigrants brought to China by the Portuguese, such as the African slaves.

Menu at the restaurant where we ate

Bacalhau a Braz and Bok Choi & Steamed Vegetables

African Chicken

Restaurant, where we ate

Part of the Plaza of Sao Francisco Xavier

After a delectable lunch, during which Mary had to rush off to get back to work, we strolled through the old parts of the village and then hopped on a bus to get back to Cotai, where we wanted to see what the Macanese version of the Venetian looks like (after all, one cannot come to Macau without visiting a casino, right?). The region’s economy is based on the gaming and tourism industries and it’s very quickly becoming the Las Vegas of Asia, with revenues tripling  those of its American counterpart.

Street in Coloane

Things we saw in Coloane

The Venetian and the other casinos on the Cotai Strip provide free shuttle busses to their sister casinos on Mainland Macau. So, we took advantage of this and went to the Sands casino, which is located across from the new shopping and recreation complex that is being built near the ferry terminal. The complex, when completed, will be amazing with stores, theaters, restaurants and attractions. Mary met us here again in the afternoon and whisked us away to tour the rest of the city. We went up Guia hill for a beautiful view of the city below.

Guia Lighthouse and Chapel – see the wedding couple being photographed?

View of Mainland Macau from the Guia Fortress

The Guia Fortress lighthouse and little chapel are a UNESCO World Heritage Site, as is the historical center of Macau. The fort and the chapel were built in the 1600s, with the lighthouse being constructed much later between 1864-65. It’s the first western style lighthouse to be built in east Asia. We were joined on our tour by couples taking their wedding pictures at the fort. It seems like it was the season for weddings on this trip, as I also witnessed many couples taking their wedding pictures, while in Ha Noi. 😉

One of the Portuguese colonial mansions in Mainland Macau

Garden in Mainland Macau

Commemorative plaque at the entrance of the gardens

The Macau Venetian casino, inside

Inside the Venetian

Chinese Pavilion & Koi Pond, part of the new shopping & entertainment complex

After our quick tour, as we needed to get back for dinner with other friends, we bid farewell to Mary and Macau, and boarded the ferry back to Hong Kong.

My African Chicken – Mi Galinha a Africana

AFRICAN CHICKEN (GALINHA A AFRICANA)

For the original recipe, click here.

Ingredients:

  • 1.5-2 kilos of chicken pieces or whole chicken, cut into pieces (I purchased drumsticks, as that’s all I found at Tesco’s)

For the Marinade:

  • 1 teaspoon chili powder (more or less according to how spicy you would like this; I for example didn’t use any)
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon pimenton (or paprika if you don’t have it)
  • 2 teaspoons Chinese 5-spice powder (a mixture of star anise, cinnamon, fennel, black pepper and cloves)
For the Sauce:
  • olive oil
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup garlic, minced (it’s about 1 head of garlic)
  • 1/4 cup sweet paprika
  • 1/4 cup pimenton
  • 3/4 cup grated coconut
  • 1/2 cup raw cashews (the original recipe calls for 2 tablespoons of peanut butter, as the peanuts are originally an African legume; feel free to substitute)
  • 1 1/2 cups water or chicken broth
  • 1/2 cup full fat coconut milk
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric

Chicken marinating

Process:
The night before, marinate the chicken pieces: mix all of the ingredients for the marinade together and rub into chicken. Place the chicken in a bowl or dish and cover with plastic wrap. Let the chicken marinate overnight. (The fridge will smell delicious every time you open it!)
Make the sauce:
1. Over medium heat, heat a few tablespoons of olive oil. When the oil is hot, add the raw cashews. Slightly brown and remove from heat. Scoop out the cashews with as little oil as possible and place in a mortar. With the pestle grind them finely. Set aside.

Ground cashew (pimenton from Spain in the background)

2. Heat about 1/4 cup olive oil in a saucepan or wok over medium to medium-low heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook until softened, about 5 minutes, stirring often so the garlic will not burn. Add the paprika, pimenton, coconut and turmeric and cook for another few minutes. Add the chicken broth or water, coconut milk, bay leaves and ground cashews. Simmer for 10 minutes over low heat. Remove the bay leaves. (The sauce can be made ahead of time, just warm up before finishing the dish.)
To Finish the Dish:
Preheat oven to 200C (about 400F). In a wok or large skillet, heat a few tablespoons of olive oil over medium to medium-high heat. Brown the chicken pieces on all sides. Once browned, transfer the chicken to an oven-proof dish and cover with the sauce. Bake for about 30 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked and the sauce is bubbly.
Traditionally, this dish is served with rice. However, I served it with a “salad” of quinoa, pomegranate and wild rocket leaves.

Ready to be served…

…and ready to be eaten… 😉

Quinoa, pomegranate and wild rocket “salad”

Vietnamese Coffee and First Impressions

It’s ironic how “they” always say that first impressions are the ones that count. I think it’s not really always true, or at least not always accurate…but here are mine of Vietnam.

When we landed, a car was waiting to pick us up to take us to the hotel. We were escorted in style with comfortable air-conditioning through a busy road lined by rice patties and fields. But as we drove, it was hard to soak in all the contrasting views. Here we were sitting in a luxury automobile with the driver and one of the concierge ladies from the hotel, with wifi included so we could get online or make a phone call (like we did on Skype to my parents), while outside there were a complex array of views passing by. The road was full of vespas and motorbikes, loaded with not only people (most wearing masks to protect against pollution and air contaminants) but everything you can imagine; the rice patties on the sides of the road brought images of a quintessential Asia seen in travel and history books; the houses looked like something out of a European fairy tale crossed with Indian or South American influence, with their very tall and many-storied look and colourful facades; and yet through this semblance of peacefulness, there is an underlying chaos all around with horns honking, fumes blowing out of cars and motorbikes, and even a water buffalo or two trying to cross the same road we were driving on.

Vietnam is a country trying to embrace and adapt to the modern world, yet it is riddled with a political system that would seem anything but Communist (everyone seems to be an entrepreneur) and a history that usually equates to invasions, suffering and wars. The Vietnamese seems like a strong and resilient people; a people with hope and hard-working ethics; and a people who want to bring their nation into the 21st century quicker maybe than they are really prepared for.

I couldn’t help but think all of this, and kept rehashing that only about 30 years ago, this country was at war, and one of the bloodiest and most tragic wars remembered in recent history. From a Vietnamese perspective, especially in the north, the latest war is called the American War, and was started by the invasion of the Americans. They have also been invaded on numerous occasions by China, from whom they have a rich historical legacy, and by the French.

But on the street, all that one sees is a frenetic kaleidoscope of colour, people, mopeds, and rapid movement, sprinkled with elements of an ancient culture, which is still very strongly pulsating.

So, my first impressions of this beautiful country were anything but orderly (what a contrast from “alles ist in Ordnung” mentality of the Germans!).  And to make matters a bit more disconcerting, I was suffering from jet lag and lack of sleep from our 12-hour flight from London and our little excursion into Macau (I’ll share about that soon, as well as a delicious recipe).

I was in serious need of sleep, but too excited to get any. And, so once at the hotel, I ventured out to see a pagoda and a temple along the West Lake of Hanoi.

I quickly learned that I should’ve gotten some rest, especially if I wanted to be lucid enough to remain alive on the streets. Crossing the road in Hanoi and Vietnam for that matter is a question of keeping calm, having a determination of steel, and carrying on…there are no rules of the road and very few traffic lights that are adhered to. Therefore, one must cross the street amidst hundreds of mopeds zooming by, other people crossing, and an incessant noise, as well as uncomfortable fumes lingering everywhere. I know a few friends back home, who probably wouldn’t venture out more than once in a chaos like this!

But being successful at the effort is definitely rewarding! There’s a magnificent world to be discovered if one does. The first pagoda I visited was Tran Quoc. It’s not the first one I’ve seen in my travels, but it was the first one in Vietnam. It’s quite impressive mostly because it’s on a little peninsula on the West Lake and is truly picturesque. I didn’t dare ask if photography was allowed, and simply started taking pictures and waited to be reprimanded. However, I never was and there were many other taking pictures, including locals. (I’m usually more respectful, mind you, but I was a bit tired to be coherent.)

After the pagoda, I walked along the tree-lined avenue to the end of the lake, where there was a temple to be discovered. Along the walk, locals were fishing with bamboo canes, selling exotic fruits and lounging around. It was all very peaceful, except it was constantly interrupted by the noise of all the mopeds driving by.

The Quan Thanh Temple dates from the 11th century and is one of the four sacred temples of Hanoi. Although it’s not as impressive as other temples, it’s worth a visit for its historical value, as well as being very close to the Ho Chi Mihn Mausoleum complex, which I realised a few days later when we visited that area.

Another important discovery, which helped me immensely with my jet lag and concentration is Vietnamese coffee! On my way back to the hotel, I just couldn’t keep my wits together any longer and had to stop for a strong dose of caffeine to wake me up. And wow, what a discovery! I love coffee. I love the aroma when it’s being ground and brewed. And although I could drink it more often than I regularly do, I don’t because I usually get very nervous with more than two cups. But Vietnamese coffee is different. It looks menacing with its dark colour, but as it’s a smoother version of Java, it’s easier on the nerves. Or at least, it seemed so to me.

The Vietnamese serve the coffee in a little cup brewer with condensed milk on the bottom. And although I’ve pretty much given up sugar, I couldn’t resist for two reasons: one, it was safer than drinking coffee with “fresh” milk; and two, it is simply delicious! And well, I must add a number three: I love anything different and drinking it as the locals do just made it more fun.

I had numerous Vietnamese coffees while in the country and even bought an individual brewer and some coffee. I just wish I would’ve bought a couple more brewers and also more coffee to last a while…

But fortunately, as the Vietnam Lonely Planet explains, Vietnamese coffee is exported all over the world. “The best grades are from Buon Ma Thuot and the beans are roasted in butter.” Maybe that’s the reason for the delicate aroma and smooth flavour? Additionally, LP points out, the following, which I didn’t pursue unfortunately, but found interesting: “Lovers of weasels and strange things should get their hands on ca phe chon (‘weasel coffee, No 8 of the signature Trung Nguyen brand). These coffee beans are fed to weasels first, then harvested from their droppings before being sold to you.” Ha! Now, that’s different alright! I, however, bought No 7 of the Trung Nguyen brand unknowingly, which probably has a less colourful process, but tastes just as delightful.

Over the course of the days we were in Hanoi, I managed to have at least two cups of coffee per day. And we even visited the Kinh Do Cafe, which is famous for being the setting of Catherine Deneuve’s morning coffee during the making of the film Indochine. If you’re in Hanoi, don’t bother, unless you’re a fanatic of the actress and want a picture of the film’s poster or are in the neighbourhood.  There are plenty of more inviting coffee shops in the city.

I did miss out on one opportunity though and that was trying caphe trung da, coffee with “a silky smooth beaten egg white” (and one could say a Vietnamese version of cappuccino)… so I had to try this at home and hope that it’s close to the original. 😉

CAPHE TRUNG DA

Ingredients:

1 cup of Vietnamese coffee

sweetened condensed milk to taste, or honey and milk to taste

1 egg white

Process:

Place a teaspoon or more of sweetened condensed milk or honey, if you prefer, in the bottom of the serving cup or glass.

Place the ground coffee in the Vietnamese brewer with piping hot water over a cup or glass. (If you do not have a brewer, use your regular coffee method to serve yourself a cup of coffee.) Allow all the water to pass through the brewer. (Add milk at this time as well.)

Beat egg white until stiff peaks form and place over the brewed coffee.  Serve immediately. Sprinkle with cinnamon or nutmeg if so desired.

(I have to admit that without the sweetened condensed milk, the flavour of the coffee is not the same. So, if you eat sugar, at least give this a try once the “real” way! ;-))

 

Subscribe to Azahar

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.