Archive of ‘Holiday’ category

12 hours in Copenhagen

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If you could go somewhere great for £56.82 would you? 

What do you do when you have a dwindling holiday allocation*, the desire to get away and cheap flights? A quick dash to Copenhagen, that’s what! (more…)

India

Well, I’m back from what was probably the trip of a lifetime. Before going I was excited but also nervous, having never been to India before, or even a ‘non Western’ country before either. India was many things, crazy, hot, interesting, funny and fun , beautiful, varied, dusty and just plain full on. And of course the food was great.

Unlike most of my holidays this was not totally centered around the food – I didn’t have any places jotted down in a notebook that I had researched online – I left it up to my parents and whatever and wherever we happened upon on the day. It was quite nice to go with the flow.

We spent 3 days in the crowded city of Mumbai – visiting the sights, taking tea at the famous Taj Mahal Hotel, shopping in the super sleek malls and also the higgeldy piggeldy street markets. The pollution and the crowds were hard to handle and crossing the road is plain terrifying.

Our hotel did brilliant breakfasts – things like Idli Sambar (above) and Batata Vada for breakfast along with big bowls of juicy papaya and super fresh watermelon juice to wash it all down. We ate mostly in the hotel restaurant – paneer in buttery spicy sauces, tandoori naan breads – crispy and soft all at once, black dahl and vegetable koftas.

After that we left for Navsari in Gujarat, which is where my extended family live. There was plenty of visiting family but we also did a lot of shopping in the many sari shops and jewellery shops. Here we ate with our family – lots of vegetarian food – plenty of dahl bhatt, kadhi and vegetable rice and ‘curry’ made with the freshest vegetables. Everyone in the smaller towns shop one meal at at time in the local market, getting their vegetables in the afternoon and cooking them a few hours later in the evening. As much as I appreciate the convenience of a supermarket for people like me who work all day, it is nice to see people eating food that is fresh and local.

We were also introduced to the concept of Chinese Bhel Puri (crispy fried noodles, little spring onion and soy koftas with crunchy vegetables) and Manchurian Paneer at a local hotel restaurant – Chinese food is really popular in India and something I want to recreate soon. Breakfast was always a masala chai, sometimes with some toast and sometimes with some fruit, normally a ‘chiku‘ which is a soft sort of fibrous sweet fruit- very hard to describe how it tastes. I didn’t like most of the fruit in India, the textures are so different compared to what we are used to over here – but I did like the little chikus we bought.

Kulfi is a big thing in India, ice cream basically, and there are lots of flavours in the ice cream shops in you find in India. We stopped in once place in Navsari – the flavours above are pistachio mango and at the back Paan Masala – which is the flavour of the tobacco filled leaves that people chew after a meal. At the back is the famous milky drink, Faluda – made with mango. 

After 5 days in the small town of Navsari we left to travel the rest of Gujarat and the north of India. We visited Virpur, Somnath and then down to the beach at Diu. This took a couple of days just in one state, India is such a huge country, it is mind boggling. Diu was a nice relaxed beach resort, I remember we had a great spinach chicken dish in the hotel restaurant.

After this we left to go further north into Rajasthan – we stopped a night at Udaipur in a beautiful hotel made mainly out of marble.

Then onto Jaipur – the pink city – which was my favourite city of the visit. We visited the Amber Fort up in the hills – built for Raja Man Singh in the 1600s – it is high up in the mountains above Jaipur (the view from the top is the photo above). The views are amazing and the place itself is awesome, I can’t think about how they built such an impressive place in that time period in that location. The pink part of the city is beautiful, the vegetable dye is so vibrant and they still use the same methods to this day to preserve the pink city. Jaipur is famous for its textiles, we visited several textile shops and I bought a lovely quilt to take home with me. Food highlights were less impressive than the rest of the holiday- we ate in KFC eating curry crunch chicken!

Next we went onto Agra to visit the Taj Mahal. All the things that can be said have been said about the Taj Mahal – it is truly a beautiful building and so well preserved, our guide told us the story behind it and I’ve heard it many times but it is still a great story. Oh and the bit about the King cutting off the hands of the builders is a myth, he didn’t do that.

After Agra we headed to Delhi for a whistlestop tour of the city. We visited the recently built Akshardan Mandir – a Swaminaryan temple made from marble, completed in 2005. Then we drove around the city and saw India Gate, the parliament buildings. We visited the house Gandhi stayed in and where he was assasinated, along with Rajghat park which is where the memorials for Mahatma Gandi, Indira Gandhi and Rajhiv Gandi are.

After Delhi we started on the long journey back to Navsari, stopping in Jaipur over night. This is when you really realise how big the country is, it takes about 6 hours to get from Delhi to Jaipur and then another 15 hours from Jaipur to Navsari again. Crazy. We were tired.

Our last few days were spent in Navsari staying in a swanky hotel which did excellent breakfasts. My favourite was the Poori Bhaji which is potato curry with big crispy pooris. I had this on the day that the cold I’d caught (I know) was at its worse and it totally fed my cold like a boss. This is on my ‘to cook’ list too. Parathas also featured at breakfast time, and also good old toast for when we needed something plain to break up all the spice. We had more family meals too.

Overall the trip was great, it was tiring and I felt a long way from home at times but it was also a brilliant experience. I want to recreate so many of the meals we ate over there – I’ve already made Dum Aloo and Pav Bhaji which I’ll be posting on here soon, along with making the effort to make rotlis more often than I normally do too. The colours, saris, silks and designs in India are giving me lots of jewellery inspiration too.

I’ve got lots more pictures on my Flickr stream, not just food ones too!

A Little Weekend in Paris

I visited Paris the week before last, half for work, half for play, and with clear intentions to eat some great bread, a great pastry, a Pierre Herme macaron, try a crepe and do some shopping – I am happy to say I achieved all these things and a few more. I also got to meet one of my favourite bloggers, David Lebovitz, at his book signing on Saturday evening at La Cuisine cookery school – I was probably a bit fan girl about it and I hope I didn’t come across as a weirdo (probably did).

So here goes with my quick round up of a beautiful city, can’t wait to go back.

I didn’t take any pictures of the meals I had during the work part of my stay but I would recommend the brilliant (and very typically Parisien) Chez Prune (36 Rue Beaurepaire, 75010) bar for atmosphere and great wine, we ate at Philou (12 avenue Richerand, 75010) one night where I had a brilliant cassoulet and we all shared a huge and delicious chocolate fondant pudding. I mostly hung around in the 10th arrondissement which is a great neigbourhood, with lots of restaurants, bars and also very chic (but sadly out of my budget) clothes stores from independent designers.

On the first day of freedom (i.e. my first day in Paris when I wasn’t working) I headed straight for the bakery around the corner from my flat – Du Pain et Des Idées – I’d already walked past it the evening before and saw a queue snaking around the corner, so it had to be my first port of call.

This little bakery is run by smiley friendly staff selling baguettes, breads, pastries, but with some inventive additions. I’d read up before I went along and their ‘Pain Des Amis’ seemed to be the one to try – a sourdough bread with a smoky flavour and a great crispy crunchy top. You can buy a huge loaf – which I would assume is for share with your ‘amis’ but they do also sell it in smaller portions.

I also picked up a couple of L’Escargot pastries – one with pink praline and one with pistachio. I do believe they are the sugariest things I’ve ever eaten – which is brilliant. The pink praline was my particular favourite as it had a mixture of caramel stickiness and crunchy pieces of praline amongst the flaky pastry. We tried again on Saturday morning to get some croissants  but unfortunately they only open Monday to Friday – next time!

On the Friday evening we were both tired (in no way was I suffering the effects of too much good Bordeaux) so we just chose a bit of an unspiring pizza place across the road from our flat (Canaletto) – if you want to try a better pizza place The Pink Flamingo is fun and the American Italian owners are really nice, they have several branches in Paris (yes I ate pizza twice whilst in Paris!).

On Saturday we hit Boulevard Haussmann for some retail therapy,  we spent most of the day in the stunning Galleries Lafayette which is a shopaholic’s dream. The ceilings are also beautiful and even more beautiful with the enormous Swarovski crystal decked Christmas tree through the centre. We of course also went across the street to the food hall where we marvelled at all the cheese, so much cheese, along with lots of other amazing looking food. I particularly liked the little spice market, lots of spices, dried herbs, tea and even paan masala piled up beautifully ready for you to scoop up in to little bags and take home.

The wine section is also a thing to behold, we browsed the vast array of wine including the impressive selection of vintage wines, one bottle was €2300! We picked up a slightly more €13 bottle of Macon Cremant – sparkling wine. Macon Villages ‘Chamorey’ wine is also excellent, we’ve had it before and it you can pick it up in Waitrose and sometimes Tesco.

We also stopped at Pierre Hermé for macarons and a selection of chocolates. The display itself is as beautiful as the macarons themselves – we opted for white truffle & salted caramel (pictured), rose and yuzu, salted caramel, milk chocolate and pistachio. We decided not to go for the foie gras festive editions, he may be a master at flavour combinations but foie gras in a macaron? Hmmm. The white truffle split us – Mr hated it but I thought it was brilliant, the truffle was delicate and earthy – a little strange but I think it worked. The chocolates we took back home feature similar flavours and also some others – one of which is smoked salt – which tastes like bacon and chocolate – a bit like those brownies I made a while ago!

After spending most of the day shopping we wound our way (got lost) down towards the river to La Cuisine cookery school for a book signing with one of my favourite bloggers, David Lebovitz. I’m afraid I was a bit of a superfan geek but I really do love his blog and the way he writes. I am now the owner of a signed copy of David’s book, The Perfect Scoop. *grin*

After the book signing we headed to the trendy district of La Marais to have crepes and galettes at Breizh Cafe. I’d been recommended this traditional Breton cafe by a friend and been reassured it was very authentic and many of the ingredients sourced in Brittany – also crepes are great if you are with a vegetarian. It’s tough finding veggie food in France! I started with a Kir Breton (breton cider and cassis)  which is something I’ve never heard of and it works really well, something I am going to recreate at home.

I had a galette (the difference between a crepe and a galette is that galette is made from buckwheat flour, whereas a crepe from regular wheat flour) with ham, gruyere cheese, a soft egg and confit onions.
The confit onions were my favourite part, so sweet and savoury at the same time, I also enjoyed the dippy egg and galette combo!

Mr had a goat’s cheese galette which came with a large serving of creamy goats cheese, salad and more of those confit onions.

The pudding was the real star, we shared a tarte tatin crepe made with the most amazing caramelised apples I’ve ever had. The apples were infused with vanilla and just a little spice and I think either cider or apple juice – they were gorgeous with the light crepe and homemade ice cream. I kind of wished we hadn’t decided to share a pudding!

For our last day, Sunday, I had plans to visit Saravanaa Bhavan, a vegetarian Indian restaurant just near Gare du Nord. The restaurant was absolutely heaving when we arrived about 12.30, we were told to find a seat where we could, and ended up sitting with others which totally does not appeal to Brits, but it was quite good fun in the end. It was chaotic but the atmosphere was buzzing – full of families – Indian and French, tourists, people alone getting a taste of home. A great place to people watch.

We were planning to eat lightly before we got the Eurostar that evening, so we went all out for lunch. We both ordered a dosa – a classic masala dosa for me and a paneer dosa for the Mr. Both were very very crispy, freshly made with a great spiced potato filling and the accompanying sambar, coconut chutney, chilli chutney and dahl were all perfect.  After that we shared a ‘North Indian Thali’ which contained dahl, mushroom curry, rice, potato curry, spinach curry, raita, papar, poori and finally a sweet – sooji. They have restaurants all over the world – including London and randomly Ilford which isn’t too far from home!

After our meal we caught the metro to the Champs Elysees and walked down to the Arc du Triomphe including Jardin des Tuileries. There is a very touristy Christmas market down there where we had some pretty bad churros, I’m sure there are better Christmassy things to do in Paris, I would avoid that. The shops, however, were great and I managed a little more shopping before we had to catch the train back to London.

A weekend away in a nice little place

Last weekend we stayed at the beautiful Brook Farm B&B in Berrington, just on the border of Shropshire and Worcestershire. It was so lovely, the B&B was so homely and the owner Sarah was so friendly, accommodating and and excellent cook!
We ate yummy breakfasts, walked around the beautiful cottage garden, played with the cats, patted the donkeys and ate in the many lovely pubs in the area. Just what we needed.

I didn’t take any pictures of our meals out but I recommend the Rose & Crown in Tenbury Wells, The Queens pub in Ludlow and Chang Thai in Ludlow. The food market on a Saturday in Ludlow is so yummy, and they have a craft section too. And then the market is opened up on a Sunday for antiques and flea, so many interesting finds!