Monday, 21 July 2014

A little walk down rue Saint Dominique

I'm on a mission for you.  To find the best sweets and pastries in Paris and tell you all about it.

The downside is, I gave up sugar.  

And how long did that last? One and a half days of pure abstinence.

It's worth a try, right? 

Basically, after Eataly, which means a gelato a day keeps the doctor away, I thought, things have got to come to a halt. 

So I announced to everyone that would listen, that Sugar was off the menu, things weren't right at all, I can't go on like this, everythings really dramatic, I need to quit sugar cold turkey. That's it, sugar and I aren't friends. We're over. O-ver. 

Those warm mini financiers smiled in a cheeky, lighthearted way, squeaking, "just one! you know you want to.. " just to be picked up and dropped back down as my colleague and so-called friend said "oh Abi it's the weekend" and I yelled "wheres the moral support!"

(delicious desserts in French bars.)

In Paris, it's all about the big patisserie names.  It's like you're never anything until your cakes are as small and as complicated as possible.  Which sometimes is great and sometimes a little annoying. On this occasion, great.

I was on a mission to discover "gateaux Thoumieux" a new little patisserie started by Jean- Francois Piege, a gastronomic leader of French cuisine and patisserie.  He opened up a boutique in rue Saint Dominique.

  And fell straight in love with that road.  I couldn't believe I'd never been here, it was everything you always imagine Paris to be; little cafes, little flower shops, little boulangeries, little boucheries, little fromageries and people sitting outside in the sun enjoying the moment.  So, so nice.

Photos were taken.. And it looked almost like Rome.  Almost.  Which made me even happier.

 There was this beautiful little chocolate and macaron shop called "Lemoine" I nipped my head in, only to find that the sales lady is a lady I've worked with before at the patisserie I'm currently at.  So I went in and she was oh so happy to see me, telling me that she'd been wondering where I'd been and started feeding me loads of sugar.

So, the sugar free plan came to an end obviously.  I tasted the best macaron I've had in Paris and a speciality from the house, a "canelé."

Canelé is a speciality from Bordeaux region.  A canelé has a thick caramelised crust and a super soft custard centre.

Oh, and they make Louis Vuitton bags out of chocolate.  Just saying.

Down this gem of a street I walked into "Gateaux Thoumieux", the patisserie I'd originally been searching for, (the sugar "antipasti" had only been a starter and I was now ready for the main course.)

The patisseries were so beautiful and delicate.  Unfortunately, I was not allowed to take photos of them in the shop, so I bought one (firstly to test the quality, and also to take a photo.)

The patisserie was beautiful, everything arranged delicately but not overly elaborate so you could see that the pastries and the food was still at the centre.  The pain au chocolat and croissants were displayed in rectangular baskets on the wall and I found that a really nice touch.  The sales lady was helpful and nice, which is very rare in Paris.

I bought a mini coconut and passion fruit "chou".  Inside was a light coconut cream with a passionfruit confit.  It made the "chou" lightly acidic but incredibly refreshing.  You could taste the delicacy and care taken to make this patisserie, the cream was fresh and the chou had all the right note of sweet and acidity.

 dessert with eiffel tower:

74 rue Saint- Dominique
75007 Paris

Gateaux Thoumieux
58, rue Saint- Dominique
75007 Paris

Monday, 7 July 2014

A drunk man and some forgotten cherries.

When I got back from Italy last week, my chef welcomed me back with a large slap on the back and declared, "you're starting at 4 now, for the rest of the summer."  Bam.  I looked up at him and smiled cheekily... "can we say five?"

 I suppose I can't stop myself from negotiating.  With everything.  In my little world, there's always something better and you need to try and get it in any way you can. Even if it means one extra hour in bed.  "No, Abigail, we gotta get right in there now,  theres a lot of work to get on with so we're starting at 4." 

4 in worse than 6 because it's still night when you leave at 3.30.  However, there is something quite fun about riding a velib bicycle to work at that time. Drunk men cycle after you because they think that you're a lonely girl going home after a night out.  Rather than a pastry chef about to assemble a bunch of millefeuilles.  

A drunk guy stumbled into our kitchen yesterday whilst I was icing the eclairs.  He was hungry, asking for a croissant in order to soak up all the alcohol in his system.  My chef sold him one because he took pity on him.  The guy stood in the kitchen for about ten minutes telling us about how amazing we all were.  "I want to cry it's all so beautiful" he said that about eleven times.  I thought he was really about to cry too and we all felt awkward not knowing what to say as he repeated "I've drunk a lot tonight and I'm so sorry.  So sorry.  So, so sorry..."

On Sundays we have lunch altogether.  I suggested veal escalopes because it's something special and delicious.  So I was appointed lunch duty and made veal escalopes milanese & linguine pasta with wild mushroom and cream sauce for the team.  

You dip your veal escalopes in well-seasoned beaten eggs, then in breadcrumbs and then you fry them with a knob of butter and some vegetable oil (so the butter doesn't burn).  Serve with a squeeze of lemon.

More cooking was done in the evening as I had invited some girlfriends round for dinner.  And girlfriends for dinner always means wine and chocolate.  Always.  My aunt had left these cherries in the fruit bowl and I couldn't help but think of cherry clafoutis. I am not completely sure of what my slightly hyperactive self was imagining when I started to toast ground hazelnut powder in the bottom of the cake tin and remove cherry stones but the end result was good.  I added a yoghurt because everything felt so rich and I wanted there to be a light tang of something.   It took 10 minutes.  It was moussey and rich in chocolate.  It was perfect for the girls.  (But boys can eat it too.)

We cracked open the champagne to celebrate getting my pastry exam.  I can legally sell food and drink now.  It's been a long journey but we got there in the end.

Chocolate & Ground Hazelnut Mousse Cake, with Forgotten Cherries:

Serves 5- 8 girls:

230g Dark Chocolate
180g Butter
10 tablespoons Sugar (140g)
One plain yoghurt (100g)
4 large eggs, separated
3 tablespoons flour
80g Ground hazelnuts

- Turn oven on 180C.

- Line cake tin.

- Half of roasted hazelnuts in the tin so it covers the bottom.

- Put in the oven for three- five minutes to roast and take out once toasted and NOT burnt.

- Put chocolate and butter in the microwave and melt at a not too hot microwave setting.

 This can also be done on bain mairie (over some boiling water) if you don't have a microwave.

(Don't melt to a very hot temperature)

- Separate the eggs and beat the whites in a mixer.

- Add the sugar to the butter and chocolate, then add the egg yolks, then the flour.  Then add the yoghurt.

- Fold the egg whites in.

-  Pour the mixture over your toasted ground hazelnuts.

- Pour the rest of your ground hazelnuts (the other half that's not yet toasted) over the cake.  The hazelnuts will toast on top of the cake.

-  Remove the cherry stones from the cherries using your fingers (but try not to destroy the cherries). Push the cherries into the cake evenly.

- Bake for 12- 15 minutes (depending on your oven.)

Leave to cool for a couple of hours before serving.  You want to be able to cut it into neat parts so it doesn't fall apart but still soft and gooey in the middle.

Serve with creme fraiche for an acidic kick.

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Venice Re-visited.

Dear Daddy, 

I've faced my fears.

I've come back to Venice after a year. I was so nervous about coming back, worried that I wouldn't be able to accept the fact that I had ever left for good. I often returned, hoping that that way of life could be picked up as easily as it was at the beginning. But then last year broke away a large bond with Venice and I haven't been able to face her until now. 

But I'm okay.  Last year when I was leaving, every street made me nostalgic and churned my stomach up into a sick feeling of sadness and regret of the fact that I wouldn't live here and Venice wasn't right for me.  You told me I didn't belong here right now. You said "darling, Venice is a place to go but not a place to be." I refused to listen to you and couldn't accept the fact that perhaps you were right. 

But now I walk down the streets with a sense of awe and amazement, admiring how the green water reflects the buildings in an incredible way, how that palace is even more beautiful then ever, how those musicians seem even more talented and your glass of wine still only costs 1 euro. 

You told me Venice is a fish, however I see Venice as a huge rich dark chocolate cake. If you had never tried chocolate in your life you would never miss it, but since you know the sweet richness of it you always crave it. So you have a slice and it's amazing.  Your spoon slides neatly into the first mouthful and the inside of your cheeks tingle and make you smile. Once you finished the first slice you want more. So you have another slice and it's still delicious.  But then you start eating it all with a spoon and you can't stop. So you keep going until all the cake is finished.  You feel sick. You hate the cake and you hate yourself for eating it.  If you ate the huge chocolate cake every day you'd be ill and you'd feel terrible.  In order to really appreciate it's goodness, you need to have it once in a while and then leave it until you crave it again. 

When you were my age, you sang a song called "A place to go". I was thinking about that song today and realised that you must have felt the same way as I do now. You were searching for it too, that place "where you'll be free".  Have you found it yet?

I think I've found my place to go.  A place out of this mad world. A place where people aren't elbowing you out of the way but instead inviting you to walk beside them. A place where you can be totally at peace.  A place to go but not to be.  

How good do I feel to finally accept this. 

Your daughter, 

Abigail x

You singing "A place to go"

An Ode To Venice

August 2013

Dear Venice,

I'd like to start off this message by thanking you for choosing me all those years ago when I was coming to Italy to study on my year abroad.  I actually chose Rome, but then you chose me.  And when I insisted on being in Rome by applying as an English teacher with the British Council, you stood right by me and said, "Hey Abi, I'm still here." So when the British Council gave me Milan as my location,  I thought, you know what Venice?  You've already stuck by me.  I'll go with you.

And I went to you.  And I found friends the first night I went.  I phoned a number on a room rental website.  The guy on the phone said, "When you coming, girl? You can stay here until you find a place."

With two suitcases and a couple of bags, I got on a vaporetto boat from the airport.  I phoned the stranger up and on the phone he said "look to your right."  On my right was a topless man in a motorboat, waving and smiling as he called "get off at the next stop!"

And when I got off at the next stop I said to him, "that's incredible! You have your own boat?"

"We have a boat."  He smiled a warm smile. "Wanna drive her?"

So I drove her through your lagoon and into your small canals as tourists looked on and stared.  That is when I met you.

I was the queen of you, Venice.  You looked on and smiled at me.  You said, there are many more adventures to come, my dear. And there were.

You gave me a man who took me to Indonesia and the Caribbean when you provided long winters, Venice.  And you said "Damn, girl, come back soon!  Send me a postcard!"  I didn't leave you too long did I?  I rushed back to have fritelle, those delicious fried donuts you generously hand out in February.

I met the greatest people ever known to walk this earth.  People who greet you with arms wide open when they don't even know who you are.  People who ask you questions and not only genuinely care but are fascinated.  People who shower you with love, kindness and generosity.

But now, I've had to say goodbye to you for a little while.  I thought I'd stay with you for a little longer and that is why I did not write sooner.  But I could not conquer you in the way I would like to one day.  But as the city that conquered my heart, I would like to thank you.

Abi x

Saturday, 28 June 2014

Rome, you've been wonderful.

You just start getting to know somewhere, and then you gotta leave.

 I arrived in Rome exactly a week ago and was welcomed with a homemade spaghetti alle vongole.

Over dinner, we talked about Rome and Sicily where house mates Alessandro and Felice and Maria Vittoria are from.  

Alessandro is a passionate foodie. His taste buds are adapted to only the freshest and finest ingredients.  Even his mineral water was transported with him from his village to Rome.  

I walked out onto the patio and breathed the Roman air.  It was an air of comfort and welcoming.  

I'd really missed the words buonissimo and bellissimo.

I got lost in Rome.  And found again. I learned that it is only when you get truly lost in a city that you begin to understand it. You wander down roads, insisting that the gelateria with the insanely good walnut gelato was to the left of the corner, only to look to the left of that corner and to see that it is not there anymore. 

I moved in with my host family after a few days, a family that had accepted on hosting an English teacher/ animator in a summer camp in Monteverde.

And English camp happened.  We danced and sang like lunatics.  We made plays about James Bonds. Kids died. Kids were revived. 

Roman artichoke salad with ricotta and hazelnuts was had.

On Friday I had a nutella croissant for breakfast. I had a nutella pizza for lunch.  I had nutella ice cream for five o'clocks.  If you asked me my name I'd say Nutella.

(nutella mille feuille) 

Croissant are somewhere between brioche and croissant in Italy.  They have a lot less butter and are more dense. Often they are lightly flavoured with lemon which makes me keener on french croissants but they are more dense which means after one, you're good. 

I write this blog post and reminice about my week with this family.  How the mother took me to a Brazilian street dance show at Hadrians Villa.  The beauty of this archaeological site was  breathtaking. 

I asked about pastry in Rome.  My host father went to talk to the pastry chef of his favourite coffee bar/ pastry shop.  Today I walked there. I saw the pastry chef making apricot filled croissants and raisin brioche.  I talked to the owner and told her why I was taking so many photos of everything. I told her I was tasting. And I was thinking. I said my chef will want a recap of everything I ate when I get back to Paris.  The owner asked me if I could teach them to make macarons when I'm next in the area.. 

Nutella and whipped cream tartlet with nougat. 

Sacher torte with dark chocolate cake, apricot jam.(pasticceria Fiorini)

I said I'd be back.  Not in the terminator voice though. Rome has been good to me. It's fast but not too fast, its friendly but with a little distance, its warm but not stifling.  It's just right.