Now that the business side of the Paris airshow is over, husband finally has time to spend with us. We went to Carrefour and spent more than 250 euros on groceries. Which includes blemish cream for his sun-marked hands, tank tops for GG and a gossip magazine and earplugs for me, a new brush and some dental treats for the dogs. V got the best stuffs- sunglasses (15 euros), kiddie sunblock (10.95 euros!), summer tops (from 6 euros for 2), a Dora ball as well as a Hello Kitty book on shapes to share with Mummy. So now that I am toting it up I realised we spent more on non-food items.
Newsflash: Carrefour carries Heinz baked beans too.
Anyways, this Sunday I will follow husband to Bonn. I am not too optimistic about the food but the shopping should be good. And then it will be July, and I have all these random leftover snacks that I wanted to post about from when the siblings came over.
Since I had my oral exams at nearby Bd Raspail that longago day in late May, I took second sister out to lunch at the well-known La Coupole (102, bd du Montparnasse T: 01 43 20 14 20). It was lovely to sit in a well-proportioned room with art-deco fixtures, sink into the comfortable banquette seats and catch up with her news. Our neighbours were a couple of business suits, we felt like the only tourists in our little corner. The food did not make front page news but I wasn't expecting it to. I ordered the signature lamb curry which has only the slightest whiff of spices to differentiate it from an otherwise decent stew. I was more impressed that the stew was served in a copper pan with separate condiment jars of chutneys, rather fun in a masak-masak way. Sister loved the chocolate mousse a lot.
The weather was good enough to push us out of the city boundaries. We drove to Epernay and Reims for a day of picnicking and champagne tasting. We went to Moet & Chandon, Pommery and Ruinart, would have done more if our drinking stamina was more well honed. My favourite was the Cuvee Louise from Pommery but it is very expensive. Ruinart's Blanc de Blancs is delicious too, with very fine and very many bubbles and crisp well balanced sweetness of white fruits and a subtle hint of fresh grass. Just remember not to buy it from the chateau itself, the prices at wine shops and even Bon Marche were much cheaper.
After spending a whole morning with many dogs and their long-sufffering owners at the vet hospital- pet vaccinations are much cheaper there- we decided we needed a good meal and headed to the 14th arrondissement for a steak frites lunch at Le Severo (8 Rue de Plantes). Because Mark Bittman of the NYTimes had recommended it in his feature on Paris steak frites and I was too lazy to do other homework and for some reason the husband did not want to drive beyond the 14th. It wasn't crowded but unsurprisingly our neighbours were all from America.
Daddy had the fillet, I had the
skirt steak onglet (centre part of skirt steak) with shallots and husband and fourth sister had the rumsteak. Third sister had the veal and it was not worth mentioning. There are more expensive cuts available but we wanted to try the simpler items first. The fillet was tender but not as tasty as the onglet which was also one of the toughest piece of steak I've ever eaten even though I ordered it saignant (bloody, or slightly underdone) as recommended by the waiter. Rumsteak was somewhere in between. Much much better than the meats were the frites. Handcut haphazardly and fried to a beautiful brown gold and incredibly, profoundly delicious, I would have gladly eaten them without any of the meat.
Another newsflash: my dear friends, I finally made it to Pierre Herme. The queue was long and daddy was not impressed that people would worship pastries in such a fashion. But we perservered and finally it was our turn. We took home some macarons and two boxes of their pretty desserts. The macarons were well-liked enough but everyone were way more impressed with their pretty confections especially the Ispahan versions of their tart and jelly verrine.
We did a few more of the expected stops but my favourite place was actually something more basic and unplanned. At the Galeries Lafayette foodhall the Bellota-Bellota stall sells a sandwich called bocadillo arburico (?iberico) jamon as well as their famous hams. That day I was not able to move my right arm much and daddy was tired from all that walking but the sisters were just getting warmed up to hit the shopping button. The only solution was to take daddy and myself to that little corner for a small break of beer and sandwiches while the girls did their damage upstairs. It was my first time, and I wished I had tried it on previous visits. Slices of Spanish black pig ham is layered together with a good smear of their magical creamy tomato sauce, manchego cheese and olive oil between two slices of very good bread. Good quality ingredients make good quality sandwich, it was probably the best ham sandwich I've ever eaten, ever. Still, if there is a next time I'll also treat myself to eat just the hams, slice after slice downed with a good red.
That came from my sister C. She is probably the only one in my family who follows my blog and as we can see, she is keeping me on my toes. Which is just as well, because we are already seeing the end of June and I have pictures from way back when we were in London, so here is the rest of what I was going to say.
When I was younger, I was more obsessed about food. Hard to believe I know, but it's true. For my 21st birthday, I invited about a dozen of my friends over and spent a whole day cooking for that dinner. The menu included toasted bagels with cream cheese or peanut butter, grilled lime-soya chicken, grilled 'mediterranean' vegetables, hummus, deep fried wantons, there was probably a quiche or fish pie of sorts, all very BBC Good Foods of the late 80's and just about all I could afford on the pocket money my parents sent over to cover my student's expense.
With jobs came money, which meant dinners became more elaborate and plentiful. If I was on call and had no time to shop or cook I ate ready-made Marks & Spencers or Waitrose foods because suddenly I could afford to. C had to tell me to stop feeding her so well as "not everyone likes to eat like you do".
And when I travelled, I was a bit of a monster. Some people have heard this story before, and some have not. Anyway, Paris, in the summer of 1993. My travel companion, she who did not think it strange to serve undoctored microwaved canned salmon for her dinner parties, well, she was shocked at how few francs our miserable sterling pounds bought us and decreed that we should prioritise our spending for museums and attractions. Now then, food and shopping was my department, she was in charge of sightseeing, this division worked good for our previous holiday in relatively cheaper Madrid. Fine. Deep breaths. Understand also that her family is well-off and we were earning good salaries, we could afford to indulge a little but no, she had to be her usual kedekut self.
We were in the Opera area on the third day of our five-day trip, and I was hot and bored. Suddenly I felt like eating an omelet, a runny cheesy omelet with a little side of green salad, and it had to be eaten inside one of those mirrored, chandeliered belle-epoque type places in the area. Just because. What do you mean just because, it is neither lunch or dinner, and are you crazy, it is probably very expensive. But I want to. No. Silence. More silence. I am going home. Tomorrow. But we have two more days. I don't care. Silence. Oh fine, go ahead and have your dxxxxx omelet. Well, she didn't exactly say that, she is not the type to swear, but she did relent. We didn't have anymore arguments about meals afterwards and needless to say, we stopped going for holidays together.
I like to think that I am a little more relaxed these days. And probably also a lot more lazy. I no longer study the guidebooks compulsively and plan everything in the minutest details, checking reviews against forums and 'best of' lists. I read a little around the subject, and maybe earmark something to try but is not too crushed if it falls through and leave it all up to chance.
Why, on our last trip to London I even placed faith in the concierge. The one who unabashedly suggested the hotel's own restaurant's The Bugis Street Cafe when I asked for Chinese food. Which I know is the pits, and I told him so. Still, we went ahead and decided to meet my sister for dinner at his second recommendation. On the way there we stopped by a Chinese grocery store, when I paid for my chilli oil, I asked the cashier what was her favourite neighbourhood restaurant and ate there a few nights later. Now, hose recommendation was better, can you guess?
Both places were brightly lit and busy, and smack in the middle of Chinatown. The waiters were quick, brusque but occasionally friendly. One served very moreish crispy salt-and-pepper prawns and a decent but not cooked a la minute dish of crabs stirfried with young ginger and green onions. Their tung-choy (kangkong) with fermented beancurd sauce of fu-yu was exemplary and so was their cha charn tng staple of iced milk tea. Details: HK Diner. 22 Wardour Street, London, W1D 6QJ. T: 0871 0757361
The other was not a typical Cantonese joint, as we had initially thought. The staff spoke Mandarin more than Cantonese and they had many chain-smoking Mainlander customers, the menu even listed lau gan ma sauce fried rice. I was tempted to back out but it was late and the others were hungry. The cooking was predictably cruder and MSG intensive, the only standout was a 'water-cooked beef' which was for once not too spicy as to kill the tastebuds. Not exactly a redeeming detail but in this case it was appropriate. Details: New Laughing Buddha, 12 Macclesfield Street, London W1D 5BP, T: 020 7437 5598.
HK Diner was recommended by the hotel concierge.
I didn't eat much Chinese this time. In between the Brit foods, there were other standout gems too. In the happy party land that is Upper Street in Islington, I was at one time torn between Carluccio's and Ottolenghi. Both restaurants have an inviting demeanour, their see-through windows beckon with tempting displays of baked goods and appetising salads. But my sister prefers Ottolenghi (287 Upper St, T: 020 7288 1454) and I can see why. Even though I had initially wanted to order a cup of coffee and a cake to eat while I look through my French verbs, a cavernous bowl of plum and beetroot salad called out to me and I was miraculously saved from an otherwise sugar-loaded teatime. The wait staff, all young and beautiful, were also very friendly and attentive. I loved the beetroot salad, and should have gotten a whole plate of it instead of combining it with the peas which were fine, but not not quite as magnificient.
After the power-packed lunch and much window-shopping, it was time to rest. And then time to eat again, this time at nearby Exmouth Market because I was curious to try Moro's, having read about it for, oh, only the past 10 years. Ah but I was full even before we sat down, so we decided to eat lightly from their tapas and mezes menu. The fried patatas were very good, so good that potato-phobic C ate quite a bit of it, helped along by an unbelieveably tasty tomato sauce. The chorizos were amazing, though I'm not sure if it is the same chorizos as the one sold at the famous Brindisa next door. Everything on the meze plate was eaten up, even the little pink radish was adorably sweet unlike the ones I usually buy from my market. Damned good chorizos, but I had already mentioned that.
So the next day I went to Exmouth Market because it was a Friday and on Fridays there have outdoor stalls. Also, my sister mentioned that Brindisa serves a mean tortilla. Unfortunately by the time I dragged my lazy self over, they had sold out, it was a very hot day and the picnickers had nabbed them all. Also, the St John's Bakery stand there only operates on Saturdays, so no Eccles cake for me either.
And by the time I reached the head of the queue at Moro's Paella stand, they were officially sold out. I contemplated waiting 20 minutes for the next batch. But the very nice man said he could give me the pan scrapings for free if I didn't mind that there would be no seafood. Blink. Are you sure? He smiled. Oh Yes. Wow! I would absolutely love some thanks very much.
So there it was, my very nice free lunch. I am not saying this because it was free, but the paella was great, so much nicer than all the other paellas I ever had in Madrid. It tasted of caramelised prawn shells, of saffron, of tomatoes, of peppers, of plump toothy rice. Yummy!
Speaking of free food, London has been kind to me in this aspect. At Krispy Kreme, although I paid for two hot donuts they gave me an extra one. And both times, because we checked in early and our rooms were not ready, the hotels soften the disappointment by offering free breakfasts.
Breakfast. We were pleasantly surprised to discover that our 6.30am journey home in the Eurostar comes with a choice of hot or cold breakfast. Now I know why the tickets are so expensive, but we had no choice as I didn't want to miss my exams that very afternoon. The juice, the jams, the breads and hot drinks were fine, but the omelet and sausage were of the same unappetisingness as their airborne cousins. Thank goodness because it gave me the excuse to chomp instead on my takeaway Exmouth Market brownies and cardamon shortbread.
In London, I was gripped by a wanting for lemon cakes during our nightly outings to the 24-hour Sainsbury's nearby. Their supermarkets are open nearly all hours, very cool. But everytime I looked at the labels, including yours Mr Kipling, I saw long lists of ingredients and the dreaded "e" word emulsifiers, and regretfully I had to put it back on the shelf. Until I was at one of the many Pret & Manger outlets, ostensibly to buy a bottled drink but also keeping a lookout for a prawn cocktail sandwich. Which I didn't find but in another case was a selection of cakes sold by the slice.
Granted, they are a bit too full of their own PC-ness but hey it listed no emulsifiers nor unnecessary additives. The cake was wrapped in plastic which is then packed inside this informative box, tsk tsk. The cake itself was delicious, moist and lemony with a great homemade taste and generously speckled with poppy seeds.
We're down to one small can of Heinz baked beans now. C, you know what to do right?
We saw artichokes selling at 1 euro per piece in the market and decided to try cooking and eating it. It's yummy. V thinks so too. There are numerous videos out there showing how to cook and eat artichokes, but not many starring a 20 month old child. Enjoy!
The day before we went to London, we, along with some Singaporean students and ex-residents, were at a tea reception at the Singapore ambassador's residence in honour of visiting Minister for Transport, Mr Raymond Lim, .
The visitors have come and gone. After the sisters and daddy stayed for nearly 10 days, we had to stuff the washing machine and dryer to turn over the linens for another set of visitors who 'checked in' the very same day and stayed till the weekend. Two mad hectic weeks of sight-seeing, champage quaffing, shopping and plunderings of every chocolatier/ boulangerie/ fromagerie/ patisserie/ marche in our paths. Little V is still calling out to her yi-yis and kong-kong but we can only show her their photographs. She also had to miss a whole week of halte-garderie because of a recalcitrant cold. Me, I strained my right shoulder so bad I could not reach behind my back to fasten the bra straps let alone move the mouse.
The good news is, I passed my exams. It was only the debutante level but still, yay! Husband has now unleashed my half-baked articles and prepositions on the unsuspecting shopkeepers, no longer can I rely on him to translate my enquiries.
I will take a break from school for a while to catch up on readings and sewing. And processing photos of course, dearie me, we have rather a lot to get through. Here is the first batch, from the last trip to London where I spent most of my time reading a translated version of a bodice-ripper novella with the aid of online dictionary in an effort to learn me of some grammar. Trashy to be sure, still, it beats the tedium of memorising verbs after endless verbs.
Meal breaks were mostly taken alone, usually takeaways or pub lunches when I felt that it would be beneficial for me to see other tourists and hear some spoken English.
Stanhope Arms (97, Gloucester Rd, London, SW7 4SS) feels bright and spacious but can be very smokey, but I decided to go in and try their famous fish and chips anyway. The fish was brilliant, all flakey and tender and encrusted with a light and crisp beer batter, chips were quite ordinary but nothing a good shot of Heinz ketchup couldn't fix. The mushy peas I would give full marks too though, very yummy. When I asked for desserts, the barman apologised, saying he was not on the menu. Didn't know whether to laugh or feel insulted. The steamed treacle sponge with custard could do with more of the lovely custard to balance the sweetness, the teeth were literally yowling with pain; I had plain forgotten how sweet treacle is. Feeling confident in them I sent husband out one evening to buy some takeaway ploughman's sandwiches for my dinner, and what he came back with nearly made me cry- they used shredded processed cheese and very little of it, and charged an outrageous 5 pounds to add further insult.
The hotel concierge preferred Hereford Arms instead (127 Gloucester Road,
SW7 4TE) and it was slighly better. My steak and ale pie was very tasty with largish chunks of tender beef and a beautifully browned meaty crust. Too bad the peas were hard as pellets and the chips falling short of average.
Better than my pathetic cheese sandwich was another takeaway dinner of onion bhaji, pilao rice and chicken tikka masala from the corner Waitrose. I love chicken tikka masala, it is a dish invented outside India but is delicious and right up there alongside with fish and chips as a traditional British food. Snacklike dishes such as pakoras and onion bhajis are great in UK too, well, compared to Singapore; one of the tastiest selection was from a vegetarian Indian stall in Exmouth Market. I miss onion bhajis most, next time I'll buy more for deepfreezing.
Within walking distance of my sister's apartment in Angel, kind of behind Liverpool Street, is a lively street market where I came across the Naked Sausage stall. Home-made sausages and burgers are grilled to order and served with mash and gravy or in a bun. I enjoyed my Cumberland sausages which was especially good accompanied with mustard and onion marmalade.
London was where I thought I could find myself some tasty scones. Husband had enthusiastically recommended the Orangery in Kensington Gardens so off I went to meet dim sum dolly for tea. They microwaved the scones before serving it to me, for heaven's sakes. I had been hankering also for some lemon cakes, and again, their version was pretty damn lame. Avoid, avoid, avoid. The rest of Kensington Park and adjoining Hype Park was marvelous though, English parks with grasses and gravel are just so much better than the prissy sandlots we get over here.
And what foods did we bring back this time:
1. Heinz baked beans
2. Colman mustard
3. Wilkin and Son Little Scarlet (Vintage Year) strawberry jam. It cost me 8 euros at Carrefour and the domestic and V finished the jar before we had a chance so this time we'll not be so sharing.
6. Jaffa cakes
7. Kettle Sweet Potato Chips
8. Chilli oil
That'll do, I think, until the next trip.