Saturday, 29 June 2013

Square Sparrow Flies to the Land of Piaf

Following in the footsteps of the daughterly duo
What a difference a week makes... Last Saturday evening, DD1, DD2 and I were dining in style on cheese fondue and fondue bourguignon in a bijou Parisian restaurant called “La Grange”. Tonight I dined chez Sparrow with HunterGatherer on pasta tubes served with leftover spinach (albeit homegrown spinach from our polytunnel!). Back to reality with a bump.

Fondue feast fit for a king at La Grange restaurant
My long weekend with les deux filles was a welcome treat from SuperGran, and we three "girls" certainly made the most of every moment. We strolled around Montmartre and Le Marais (Yours Truly walking the mandatory two paces behind the demoiselles, bien sûr); we stared out over the magnificent Seine from the Pont des Arts; we squished like a trio of sardines into one bed and nattered into the wee sma’ hours.

Hot chocolate and key lime pie at Soul Kitchen, Montmartre

After completing her ERASMUS year of study at the Sorbonne, DD1 is now psyching herself for her final year back at St Something’s in Oxford. Before October, however, she has a mountainous reading list of around 100 literary titles to climb, one of those works being Molière’s “L’école des femmes”. And by sheer chance, the said play just so happened to be on at the Salle Richelieu theatre on the Sunday night of my visit, so she felt it was too good an opportunity to miss...

Having recently been immaculately refurbished, the interior of the renowned Salle Richelieu was utterly breathtaking. Better still, the resident  cast featured several well-known French thespians among their number – a fact imparted to us by an excited French lady aux toilettes before the curtain went up.

Unsurprisingly, for DD1, fresh from her year in France, the ensuing two hours of French (or to be more accurate, the Gallic equivalent of Shakespearean language...) were a cinch. DD2, on the other hand, has not done any French for the past year. That’s why she had elected to work in Paris for the month of June in an attempt to “se perfectionner” in the local lingo before spending the 3rd year of her music degree as an ERASMUS student in the South of France.

And as for Yours Truly, suffice to say, it’s precisely three decades (yep, that’s 30 long years) since I spent any meaningful time in a French-speaking country...  Consequently, I have to confess that DD2 and I were rather grateful that DD1 had briefed us on the plot prior to the play. I am now resolved to practise what I preach to my Higher English tutees and discipline myself to learn a selection of new vocabulary every day (French vocabulary, in this case!).

The Italianiate auditorium of the Salle Richelieu 
During the weekend, we devoured as many French goodies as decency would allow. Actually that’s a lie...  Without even a semblance of shame, I freely admit that there was nothing remotely decent about our raids on the boulangeries of Paris.  Pains au chocolat and apple pastries for breakfast, the ubiquitous baguettes for lunch and the most exquisite pâtisseries for dessert. Aaah, sweet memories...

Paris is no place to even contemplate a diet

A trio of treats for a trio of gourmandes...

N-ice one! The local ice cream parlour...

French "slow" ravioli - you have to break up into squares by hand!

Maison du chocolat: sailing away to a chocolate paradise

For cocoa bean worshipers - Notre Dame in chocolate

As the above photos will testify, it’s nothing short of a miracle that the plane back to Edinburgh from Beauvais airport on the Monday afternoon actually managed to get off the ground, given my gastronomic excesses of the weekend.  Never mind, I still have a whole five weeks to lose weight before my 50th birthday. On second thoughts, who am I kidding?!

A quick photomontage of other French "stuff" we saw and did...

DD1's Parisian apartment (bottom 2 windows)

The view from DD1's bedroom

The flat's postage stamp garden
The club frequented by Picasso
"When you ring, I shall sing" - this stone caught my eye
As did this pretty "Pink House" restaurant

Vines and flowers growing in Montmartre

Street sweeper "human" statue

Le Pont des Arts - where couples attach initialled padlocks to the railings
The iconic Arc de Triomphe by night
En route back from the theatre, we espied l'Opéra

Monday, 17 June 2013

A weekend of food, glorious food in Fife's East Neuk

Producer Jane Stewart with her tempting selection of Anster cheese

Catching up with old friends is a very pleasant way to pass the time, and last weekend I was able to do precisely that, twice over, during a highly enjoyable visit to the much-acclaimed annual Crail Food Festival. I was accompanied on this "foodie road trip" by a friend, L, whom I'd not spoken to for many months (perhaps even a year!). We duly set off in excellent spirits around 10 a.m. on Saturday, and before we blinked, the miles between Kinross and Crail had disappeared in a good old blether and we were drawing up outside Crail Community Hall.

A queue had formed down the steps of the hall, so we waited patiently in line to pay our £2 entry fee and be unleashed into the traditional building, which had been transformed into a gastronomic Aladdin's cave for the day. And certainly there were edible treasures aplenty to be discovered once we entered the hall - our only problem was which of the tantalising stalls to visit first. It was at this point that I set eyes on an old school friend, Jane Stewart, who was manning her Anster cheese stall. Fellow cheese-lover L. and I needed no further excuse to hotfoot it over to the St Andrews Farmhouse Cheese Company table and sample snippets of several of Jane's delicious crumbly cheeses. We each purchased a pack of mature cheddar plus some cheese oatcakes (you can never have enough cheese, I find!) to take home for consumption later.

Where next? We paused to consider, and I immediately espied yet another familier face at the stall next-door - it was Sophie from The Pittenweem Chocolate Company, who had organised the fabulous chocolate workshop I attended last Easter Monday. On this occasion, in addition to her multifarious chocolate concoctions, Sophie was selling giant waffles. Of course, having exchanged pleasantries with Sophie, it would have seemed slightly impolite not to buy her wares, so L. and I decided to split one of the icing sugar drenched delicacies between us. Perhaps unsurprisingly, given Sophie's Belgian roots, it was quite simply the best waffle either of us had ever tasted, possessing the perfect consistency. 

Aaah, we could have waffled on for ages about how wonderful that waffle was, but there were other stalls awaiting our attention, with artisanal products to peruse ranging from raspberry jam to raspberry gin. Being teetotal, I had to rely on companion L for feedback on her snifter of the latter, and the verdict was that it was good - so good, in fact, that L later invested in a bottle (plus a bottle of elderflower gin, too, just for good measure). Meanwhile, I tucked into a freebie spare rib, coated in a delicious glaze, from the Balgove Farmshop stall, before both L and I sampled a selection of the prolific assortment of pickles and vinegars for sale. 

Foodies flocked to Crail Community Hall
One stall that seemed to be doing a rip-roaring trade was that of G H Barnett, the local bread makers. Loaves were flying off the table and into brown paper bags faster than you could say "salt dough" - and talking of salt dough, L purchased a portion of said product, which she later reported to be heavenly. Indeed, her only regret was that she didn't buy two portions!
G H Barnett & Sons had an irresistible array of fresh bread
Bread wasn't the only goodie on offer from G H Barnett...
Having completed our inspection of the indoor stalls, we two intrepid food warriors ventured out onto the sun-kissed streets of Crail to embark on the trail of local eateries.  Each of these establishments was offering a "special" of the day to visitors, and we identified the mackerel and beetroot pâté at Julia's cafe as sounding rather appealing. It certainly did not disappoint from the perspective of flavour or colour (have you ever seen pâté this purple?!).  We congratulated ourselves on our choice then promptly paid and headed down to the beach, hoping a leisurely stroll would create room for pudding later.

Mackerel and beetroot pâté - don't mind if I do!

Down at the beach, conditions were nigh on perfect for a summer's day: the sea was sparkling, the sky overhead was cornflower blue, and the air was balmy and pleasantly warm. We chatted about everything and nothing, and just enjoyed being out of doors in the rare Scottish sunshine. Simple pleasures...

Beach buoys...

Sun, sea and sand - Crail beach
Crail harbour Gallery and Tearoom was our next port of call, and here L and I each partook of a slice of very sweet and tasty lemon drizzle cake. The only slight bone of contention was that Yours Truly asked for a glass of tap water and, when offered hot water with a slice of lemon instead, accepted gratefully. Little did I suspect that I would be charge £1.30 for the said hot water! Refreshing though it was, I  felt the charge should have been made clear by the waitress when she offered it as an alternative. However, I'm really splitting hairs here: the hot water experience was a relatively minor blip during an otherwise lovely visit, and the yummy lemon cake more than compensated.
 Nichola Fletcher was "game" for a cookery demo
To complete our "foodie heaven" experience, we returned to the Community Hall and attended a game cookery demonstration by cookery author Nichola Fletcher. Having previously interviewed Nichola for a feature in a farming magazine several years ago, I'd been keen to see her "in action" at some point, and it proved well worth the wait. During her one-hour slot, she managed to demonstrate four different game dishes - each working out at less than £2 per portion, in deference to the recent credit crunch and its impact on people's food budgets. On the menu were duck risotto (finished with Anster cheese), ham'n haddie served with vegetable 'seaweed' (a veggie stir fry), pigeon breasts pan-fried to perfection, and game meatballs served with salad and a spicy sauce for dipping. It was an spectacular feat (and feast!) of oven time management and hob ergonomics - and particularly impressive to someone such as myself, who struggles to get potatoes ready at the same time as the mince!

Sadly, as Nichola drew her entertaining demo to a conclusion, so our day of gastronomic self-indulgence also came to an end. All that remained was for L. and myself to clamber back into the car and wend our way homewards to share our purchases with our families. To keep our respective spouses happy, we had purchased them each a bottle of the St Andrews Brewing Company's award-winning Crail Ale - which seemed somehow fitting.

Spotted: the "not so secret" Secret Bunker en route to Crail