Sunday, 22 December 2013

Food Tripping in Nice

One of Nice's beautiful sun streaked arcades

When gifted photographer and fellow food-obsessed friend Ayako invited me to join her for a day of foodie exploration in Nice I jumped at the chance. 

Ayako is as demanding and as curious as I am when it comes to food, probably more so and she's been roaming around in Nice lately, weeding out the good foodie places from the bad and the ugly. During her outings she's been texting me photos of her gastronomic discoveries that leave me crazed with envy and wanting to share some of the fun.
The Cours Salaya
Even though it's only a half hour drive away, I can count on my fingers the number of times I've visited Nice since moving to Monaco over a decade ago.  Compared to the gentility and safety of Monaco, I find Nice rather edgy and unfriendly so it takes something really worthwhile to blast me out of my cocoon and down the coast.  This foodie day was it.

We agreed on the Cours Salaya as our rendez-vous point. 

The sky was an achingly clear blue and about 13°, perfect weather for exploring the narrow streets of Nice's Old Town.  
One of only two Paysan vendors remain

On Mondays there's a fun, but expensive, antiques market. Today being Tuesday, the vendors sell fresh food and flowers with some soaps, tea towels and some charming artwork for tourists thrown in to the mix. 

After roaming down both sides of the Cours to see what was on offer, I was somewhat saddened to see that out of the 30 or so vendors, just two were producteurs selling their own locally grown products - all the rest were resellers.  This sent a bit of a chill down my spine.  I've been seeing over the past few years the number of Paysan vendors dwindling and close to extinction.  So sad.  On we ventured...

Ayako and I spent the day roaming around, visiting some of her new food discoveries and when it was all said and done, we spent a wonderful day together which included a vegetarian lunch and abandoning ourselves to some delicious pastries - something I rarely do. The other shoe dropped when we had a flat tire and encountered perhaps the rudest woman we'd ever met in the parking at Nice Etoile. So it goes...

I thought I'd share with you some photos of Nice and what we saw during the day.  Maybe you can join us next time?

The pastries at Deli Bo were worth the calories

Mushrooms from France and the USA

Little tulip embryos in the Cours Salaya market

Mail delivery the traditional way

I'm a real fan of vintage French signage

Fish market in the Place St François

Chestnut Pannetone at the Italian shop

Marzipan fruit from a vendor in the Cours Salaya

Fig sausage from a vendor in the Cours Salaya.  It's served with cheese or just eaten as is
My favourite building in Nice:  Tête Carré by French artist Sacha Sosno.  It's a public library.
Holdiay decorations here and there

Peeking inside a boucherie  

Sunday, 8 December 2013

A Starbucks for Monaco

When I arrived at Monaco's brand spanking new Starbucks this morning, there was an empty dark grey Lamborghini parked on the sidewalk out front, idling away.  

By the time I'd pulled out my camera, its owner had left the shop with a distinctive Starbucks paper cup in his hand, slipped into his car and roared off.  I imagine this will be a common scene from now on. The idea of "take out" coffee in a paper cup doesn't  exist here. 

On Wednesday, Monaco's first ever Starbucks opened to great fanfare, ribbon cutting, and the revelation that Princess Charlene along with two local businessmen were the driving force behind it.  Hats off to them.  The café scene could use a bit of shaking up around here.

Monaco has a huge number of cafés, buvettes and tea rooms but most of them are what I'd call  "Old School."  In other words, a bit frayed around the edges, uncomfortably cramped, and frankly, unwelcoming.  On the luxe end of the spectrum are tourist haunts like the Café de Paris where for €20 you can get a weak pot of tea and watery hot chocolate served by war-weary, surly waiters.  Alas, what you're really paying for there is a luxurious perch from which to people watch.  Truth be told, for €20 it's quite the show!

Many of the old guard café and shop owners seem to harbour an innate disdain and suspicion towards foreign brands, especially those which may alter the status quo or steal patrons away from them.

So along comes a shiny new Starbucks in the bottom corner of a shiny new block of apartments, shaking things up a bit. To begin with, its interior and sprawling terrace are extravagantly spacious for the Principality where commercial real estate costs an average of €25,000- €50,000 per square metre.

When I walked in this morning to take a peek, there was pleasant music playing in the background, a lively buzz, and staff who were smiling and helpful. Such a fine sight to see that they offer soy milk as an alternative to cows' milk.  This is completely unheard of in these parts.  What a breath of modern fresh air it all is.

Since I never drink coffee, today was about the 5th time I've ever stepped foot in a Starbucks. I guess you could say I'm mostly indifferent about the brand because I've never really had the need to go into one.  All that changed this morning.  I've already made plans to go there with some friends après-skating on Wednesday to check it out.

As they say, location is everything.


I dragged Hubby and some curious Canadian friends to Starbucks last Wednesday afternoon, après-skating so we could share the Starbucks experience together.

When we arrived, there was a very slow moving line that snaked out the door.  When we finally got to the counter to order, it became clear why the line was moving at a snail's pace.  Suffice to say that more staff training and a sense of hustle is required.  Generally speaking, in my experience, efficient American service doesn't translate into French.

Other notes:  unfortunately they used UHT milk in their beverages but to their credit, they used soy milk that was not too sweet.  Hubby also noted that his cinnamon bun was stale.

Nonetheless, despite its faults, I think I'd go back on my own for a steamed soy milk and just to sit in a spacious, modern café and access their free WiFi.

The view from the outdoor terrace

Starbucks Monaco

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

A Spot of Tea for 200

The English Countryside themed table at the Glebe House Tour Tea

When my dear friend and neighbour Suzanne asked me to run a Tea Party for 200 people this Fall, my head caught on fire.  But in a good way.  

Suzanne is the talented chair of Ottawa's Annual Glebe House Tour and the Tea Party is held for the participants at the local community centre mid-way through the tour.

My mind raced - what a chance to roll three of my passions into one:  sharing my tea cup and table ware collection, baking for a big crowd and fund raising for a good cause. 

First step was to recruit BFF and partner in decorative crime, Sean. His expertise with staging and keen eye for design is impeccable. 

The English Countryside
We put our heads heads together over the summer and decided to theme each of the 6 tables after a different type of home decor. I developed sweet treats to match each theme, and off we went.

The English Countryside
(Tea Brack Fruit Cake)
Asian Influence
(Matcha and Black Sesame Shortbreads)

The 50s
(Apples, Orange Cream-Filled Ginger Sandwiches)

French Provincial
(Macarons, Meringues, Pâte de Fruits)

The Crazy Cat Lady
(Cat Shaped Sugar Cookies)

The Groovy 70s
(Oreos and Gluten-Free Chocolate Chip Cookies)

I created special "House Tour" gingerbread caramels and we sprinkled those here and there for everyone to enjoy. 

Like a community barn raising in days gone by, local businesses donated their time and goods, neighbours were asked for favours and husbands and friends were swept into the fray and put to work. Children painted charming pictures of their homes to decorate the room.  Six delightful young women donned aprons to became "Tea Ladies" and helped with the set-up, serving the tea, and the washing up.  If there's one thing I really miss about my old neighbourhood it's the way everyone pulls together for the greater good.  We couldn't have done it without everyone's help.

The tea went smoothly except for one thing:   we didn't count on how hungry (or curious) our guests were.  Here and there people were spotted table hopping, trying each of the different sweets. Truly flattering but, oh dear - we ran out!   Clearly we must make more next year...

Where would you have liked to sit?
Black Sesame and matcha shortbread cookies at the Asian Influence Table

Little friends and Tea Brack cake in the English Countryside table
The 1950s Table

Orange cream filled ginger sandwich cookies at the 1950s Table
French Provincial Table
Pâte de Fruits and Chocolate Hazelnut Macarons at the French Provincial Table
The Crazy Cat Lady
Oh dear,  I think the Crazy Cat Lady is me!
Groovy Baby!  The 70s Table.  Oreos and chocolate chip cookies, natch!
The 70s Table.  That's my own troll doll that I played with in the 70s

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Changing the Way we Start the Day

I don't know about you but of all the meals I prepare in a day, breakfast is usually the one stuck in a rut.

Same thing, same room, same time.  Yawn!

This morning I changed all that ... Instead of putting our morning fruit in a bowl or a plate, I made brochettes. I cut the fruit into pieces and impaled on sticks and put the brochettes into a vintage vase I had never used, sitting in a cupboard.

It was a small change, brochettes are nothing new.  it was quick to make and nothing elaborate but it was different and it started our day off with a laugh.

Sometimes it's all about taking a moment to rethink what you do all the time and making a small change that can open you up to larger ones.

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

A Crown Roast of Frankfurters

My vegetarian version of the Crown Roast of Frankfurters

On one of our cherished "Trailer Trash Days," an all-day flea market and thrift shop extravaganza, BFF Sean and I scored a strange black and white vintage movie magazine from the 1950s. Near the back of its fragile pages was a short recipe section.

"Americans are known far and wide as great consumers of the frankfurter. And for good reason!," the article, "Tasty Tricks with Frankfurters" began.

Well, that got my attention.

One of the recipes was for a Crown Roast of Frankfurters. How could I resist a vintage recipe with frankfurters, especially one where you had to sew them together with a needle and thread?  My "Home Ec" teacher would be so proud.

And what a perfect occasion to have Sean over for dinner and set the table with some of my vintage housewares.
Being a vegetarian, I altered the original recipe a bit, substituting the frankfurters for Yves Jumbo Veggie Dogs.  Inspiration struck when I decided to fill the crown with Mac and Cheese instead of stuffing.  The result was a pleasant surprise:  the strong seasoning in the veggie dogs infused the Mac and Cheese with a wonderful smoky flavour.

After cocktails and before the main course, I served Iceberg lettuce wedges with a choice of home made blue cheese or Ranch dressing.  To serve with the Roast, I prepared mixed vegetables cleverly disguised to look like vintage sides that would have come from a can:  diced Carrots Vichy mixed with fresh garden peas and sautéed sweet corn with green beans.

Strange, I know, but loads of fun and truly delicious.  I must try the other recipes too!

The original recipe

Vegetarian Crown Roast of Frankfurters

The original, non-vegetarian recipe called for wrapping bacon around the frankfurters to give it some structural integrity. I skipped this but next time I make it I'll substitute leeks for bacon.  The instructions for the leeks are included below.

Serves 6
40 minutes 350 F/180 C

6" spring form pan
Darning needle and about 1.5m of kitchen string

20 jumbo veggie dogs or enough to fill the perimeter of a 6" spring form pan
2 long leeks, green part removed

For the mac and cheese
2 1/4 cups elbow macaroni
3 cups whole milk
3 tablespoons  unsalted butter
3 tablespoons flour
1/4 teaspoon salt, pepper
2 teaspoons prepared dijon mustard
3 cups (6oz) shredded aged cheddar
1 cups (3oz) shredded aged Gouda
1 cups  (3oz) shredded medium Gouda

1 cup soft white bread crumbs
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
few pinches of salt

Prepare the Crown
1.  Cut a length of foil long enough to form a collar to fit around the inside of the spring form pan with a few inches to spare. Don't trim the top of the foil, it should come up above the rim of the pan.  Remove it from the pan and lightly coat one side with oil or butter. Set aside.

Sewing the frankfurters together
2. Lay the hot dogs side by side and sew them together at about 1- 1 1/2" from the top and bottom.  Be sure to leave about 3" of string at the end of each section. Form them into a cylinder inside the spring form pan.  They should fit snugly so if you need another hot dog to achieve that, add it to the chain. Tie the ends of the strings together to secure it.  Trim the ends of the string.

3. Slice the white and light green part of the leeks in half lengthwise and poach in salted water for 1-2 minutes, drain, cool, and separate the stalks so you have many individual ribbons.   Create lengths of string by tying the ends of the leeks together so they're long enough to wrap around the Crown.  Tie the leeks around the frankfurters at the top, bottom and middle.  Make pretty bow if you like.  Secure them in place with a few toothpicks here and there.

Wrap the outside and top of the crown with the foil and place it in the spring form pan.  Make sure you cover the tips of the hot dogs with foil - this will prevent them from drying out in the oven.  
Prepare the Mac and Cheese
1.  Cook the macaroni in salted water until barely tender, drain in a colander and rinse with cold running water. Drain and set aside.

2.  Melt the 3 tablespoons of butter over medium heat in a large saucepan. Add the flour and stir until it bubbles but not brown.  Slowly stir in the milk and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from the heat and stir in the salt, pepper, cheese and mustard. Taste and adjust seasoning.

1.  Fill the crown with the mac and cheese.

Bake for 40 minutes at 350F (180C)

Lift the spring form pan from the side of the crown roast and slide it onto a serving plate.  Remove the foil.  Remove the toothpicks you used to secure the leeks.  

You can spoon your vegetable sides around the base of the Crown Roast to make a pretty presentation.

Vegetable masquerade:  fresh garden peas with Vichy Carrots, fresh sautéed sweet corn with green beans
Iceberg wedges with Blue Cheese or Ranch dressing