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Posts tagged ‘food’

Christmas in Bruges… Sunny landscapes

After a rather soggy start to our weekend sojourn in Bruges, the sun, when it came, cannot have been more welcome. As always happens when the depressing influence of cloud breaks and the atmosphere breathes a sigh of relief, Bruges opened itself up to receive the first glimmers of winter sunshine. And suddenly, before our very eyes, the city, which until now had appeared quaint, suddenly revealed the full extent of its beauty in full multi-coloured high dimensional clarity – like a bride whose blushing face is uncovered before the doting groom, the obfuscation of her lace veil being swept aside.

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While Bruges exudes charm throughout its network of canals and cobbles, across its staggered rooftops and old timber town houses, it is a city which comes alive when the sun magnifies the resplendence of its colours and details. I loved the fact that on so many of the gothic spires or roof windows, a sweep of grey tiles would be broken by woodwork painted in a vivid high-gloss red; or the fact that in Bruges’ many squares and principal streets, its tightly packed buildings are each given personality through a veritable rainbow of coloured facades and golden statues.

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As is the case with any city set on water, such colour and charm as resides above the waterline is swiftly replicated as the tranquil canals provide a mirrored surface hungry to reflect the panoply on tones glowing alongside it, so that in providing a double vision, the waters of Bruges complete a fully immersive picture of architectural brilliance across all visual planes. Yet in Bruges, unlike in Venice for example, its skyline is additionally punctuated by the addition of windmills and peaked rooftops, which, when seen alongside gothic spires, creates a uniquely spiked spectacle softened by a multitude of trees which must look splendid in warmer seasons.

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Bruges is a place of unique and consistent beauty which is not disturbed by the touch nor inevitable destruction of modernity nor vulgarity. Yet in the sunshine it reaches an apotheosis of visual brilliance. I am so glad I was able to see it at its sunny best.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2018. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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Christmas in Bruges… Chocolate immersion

When you think of Belgium, many things come to mind: The EU, Tintin’s quiff, multiple beers and meticulously handmade lace. But of all Belgium’s exports, perhaps its most famous and certainly most popular is its chocolate, which (though the Swiss may disagree) surpasses all of Europe’s chocolate offerings in the glorious craftsmanship, quality and variety of its creation, resulting in shop and after shop of exquisitely formed shiny chocolates in every shape, colour, size and texture.

As we stepped out on our first night in Bruges, we realised we were in the centre of a chocolate paradise. Shop window after shop window was filled with trays of the joyous little balls of creamy, rich delight, moulded into a variety of shapes from Saints to sex symbols, resembling characters from cartoons, and characterising Christmas in every magical sense. These windows were like scenes from Chocolat the movie, and had the power to make us salivate with an even greater intensity. Happily we did not have long to wait until our first sampling.

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Shunning the more traditional offering of our hotel breakfast, we made an early-morning beeline straight for one of the local chocolateries, where we were able to sit up at a counter, drinking not only a rich coffee with a chocolate dipped Belgian waffle, but benefiting from a front-row view onto the kitchen where we could watch with mesmeric appreciation the rhythmic and methodical preparation of new truffles for the shop floor.

It goes without saying that among the panoply of Belgian merchandise which has returned with us to London, chocolate comprised a respectable part. How long that particular souvenir will last cannot be stated with any degree of certainty… 🙂

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© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2018. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Christmas in Bruges… Rainy landscapes

I always knew that I wanted to see Bruges (or Brugge) at Christmas time. Famed for its UNESCO protected idyllic old town, interlaced with canals which fill the city with all the charms of Venice mixed with a heavy dose of Medieval mysticism, there is no doubting that Belgium’s watery pearl makes for a stunning destination all year around. But with Christmas markets springing up all over town, and fairy lights strung across cobbled streets scattering their reflected golden light across the rippling canals, Bruges goes up one notch when the festive season arrives. It is a cosy Christmas card paradise, and the ultimate destination for the most magical time of the year.

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Hopping across the channel by Eurostar, we found ourselves in this quaint historical city within a mere few hours from London. However the short distance meant that there was no escaping the British rain. So it was that for our first 24 hours in the city, we encountered a Bruges blanketed in cloud, but also enhanced by the rain. For as darkness descended and the Christmas lights came to life, the combination of rain and canals made for a city which dazzled in this reflected light, as every surface of its historical beauty became magnified in the light of the season.

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So while sunshine was to come the very next day, this first day was characterised by the bedazzlement of Christmas… a time of year so magical and so beautiful that no matter how gloomy the weather, the stunning light of the season shines through. In this enhanced light, Bruges really shone, demonstrating to we first-time visitors why Brugge is famed throughout Europe as one of the most beautiful cities history has left us to enjoy.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2018. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Norms in Rome | Trajan’s Wedding Cake

Oh dear. The Norms’ reversion to the simpler things in life didn’t last for long. No sooner had they settled in the laid back Roman neighbourhood of Trastevere than they got itchy bottoms, and decided to trek again across the river in search of the grandeur for which Rome is famous. And this time they have hit the bullseye, arriving at the monument which, in modern times at least, is probably the grandest spectacle the city of Rome has ever created. Conspicuously named the Altare della Patria (Altar of the Fatherland), but otherwise known as “the Wedding cake”, “the Typewriter” and the “English Trifle”, this pompous and mammoth construction was, in the early 20th century, built in honour of Victor Emmanuel, the first King of a unified Italy. However, it caused great controversy in its construction, doing away with large swathes of the historically critical Capitoline Hill as well as sticking out like a sore thumb for its gleaming whiteness in amongst a city of ochres and reds.

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Norms at the Wedding Cake (2018 ©Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, pen and ink on paper)

Yet for all this, being white themselves, the Norms feel rather attracted to this mass of dazzling white theatricality and have made it a high point in their Roman adventure. That is not to say that they are ignoring the spiralling column of Trajan in the ruins of said Emperor’s forum just across the road. For one really can’t do one of these historical monuments without the other. And happily there’s an ice cream stop between the two, just in case the Norms required further inducement to enjoy these two indisputable icons of Rome.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. For more information on the artwork of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, visit http://www.delacybrown.com 

Norms in Rome | Trastevere living

The Daily Norm office may have decamped to Porto, but the Norms have decided not to stray from Roma. And if the Norms’ trip around Rome is about immersing themselves, unquestionably, in every aspect of the city, then they don’t want to visit just temples and ruins. For the essence of Rome extends far beyond its historical significance, to the robust character of her people, and the sense of contemporary spirit filling her streets and piazzas. The Trastevere may be an area popular with tourists – it is after all undeniably quaint – but it is also a part of the city with a proud working class heritage which is in no way acted out for the benefit of visitors. This is an area where laundry is strung across the streets because it needs to dry, not because it looks good in photos. And here, the restaurant terraces which hug buildings in narrow cobbled lanes serve up great Italian fare because the locals go there too.

Norms in the Trastevere

So to this most authentic of Roman neighbourhoods the Norms have strayed, enjoying a lunch of home made pasta which is as delicious as it is simple. Here the Norms can take a break from the big monuments and the grand boulevards, but focus instead on the charms of a very charismatic village-within-a-city, where plants grown in abundance and the architecture follows no pre-planned objective. It’s an atmosphere that suits the Norms down to the ground… in fact, after lunch, their next stop is an estate agent. This is clearly where they need to settle indefinitely! 

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. For more information on the artwork of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, visit http://www.delacybrown.com 

Norms in Rome | The River Tiber

When one thinks of Rome, it’s easy to forget the river which twists its way through the centre of the city, carving a divide between the ancient centre on the one side, and Vatican City and the neighbouring area of Trastevere on the other. Yet the River Tiber is as much part of the fabric of the city as the Castel Sant’angelo which sits proudly on its banks, once the mausoleum of Emperor Hadrian himself. Not only did it bring crucial transportation and supplies to the city throughout its burgeoning past, but it was also the source of plague and pestilence, bringing the relentless annual swathe of mosquitoes to the city where malaria routinely reduced the population to a mere fraction of its former self.

Today the River Tiber is one of the most tranquil areas of Rome. Indeed, I have barely ever seen a boat move along its waters, and the river bank, which could be as vibrant as the South Bank in London, is practically deserted, the odd piece of graffiti reminding that the presence of some is not entirely lacking. Yet the banks of the River Tiber are as much a historical treasure as other parts of the city, leading as they do to the ancient Pons Fabricius, the oldest bridge in Rome, together with the mighty Ponte Sant’angelo, lined with glorious sculpture and affording visitors the most stunning view of St Peter’s and the Vatican beyond.

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Norms on the River Tiber (©2018 Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, pen on paper)

It is from that very bridge that this week’s Norm sketch is located, with the dome of St Peter’s accompanied by a panoply of pine trees, Vatican buildings, and a river bank suitably populated by eager Norms. While the bank itself may be a place for the down and outs, the Norms kissing in secret, and the frustrated teenager Norm, spray painting the wall because his creativity has been suppressed at home, its river is a place for recreation and relaxation – these two Norm boats find themselves quite secluded, despite being in the very centre of Rome. Such are the advantages of a river which is integral to the city, but which today is quite forgotten, in the grand Roman scheme of things.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. For more information on the artwork of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, visit http://www.delacybrown.com 

Norms in Rome | Campo de’ Fiori

The Norms love a good market. Stalls filled with cheeses hard and soft, long and fat sausages, gloriously coloured vegetables, herbs and spices…mmm even though Norms don’t have visible noses, the perfumes of a sunny morning market are such that they could survive off for a lifetime. Now that the Norms have been in Rome for a while, it’s time to get down to business, to settle, and to live life like the Romans do. That means gathering up the freshest ingredients, sitting down with the family and cooking a big dish of delicious pasta for all to share. Clearly, the Campo de’ Fiori, Rome’s most famous market, is the must-go destination for such pleasures, and amongst the ancient cobbles and old decadent buildings, the very best produce is available for the pleasure of all.

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Norms in the Campo de’ Fiori

But the Campo de’ Fiori is not just about the pleasures of food. It has a dark history too, and as the looming dark statue of Giordano Bruno demonstrates, it was once the place in which to burn heretics. Poor Giordano suffered such a fate for authoring works of philosophy which went down badly over at the Vatican. His statue today faces defiantly towards Vatican city, and stands as a reminder to all Norms, happily munching on their freshly bought food, that times were not always so bounteous and happy as these.

But enough of the lecture, let’s go onwards with our food, and a bunch of flowers too… after all, this is a place named after flowers, and a bunch on the table is always the perfect finishing touch to any Norm dinner party.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. For more information on the artwork of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, visit http://www.delacybrown.com 

Compendium // Rome > And not forgetting the Pantheon

In this series of Roman compendia, I have done my best to steer the earnest Rome visitor  away from the tourist masses which plague the city, to time their encounter with the city’s icons when most visitors are at slumber, or to go where others know not to tread. But the atmosphere created by tourist hoards is not all bad, just so long as you can bat off the constant salesmen haggle of selfie sticks and water at 3€ a pop.

For instance, you’d be hard pushed to see the Trevi Fountain without a permanent ring of coin-throwing visitors, but then that is part of its charm. And if you’re thinking of having the Colosseum to yourself, forget it. But there is one square which will inevitably be busy whenever you go, but is worth the trip at whatever time you wish, just because it is so characteristically Roman and so utterly exquisite at any time of the day: the Piazza della Rotonda.

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I have long held a deep fondness for this Piazza, ever since the blissful few weeks when my art history studies took me and many dearest friends to Rome. Every day I would open up the windows of our pensione onto the most spectacular view in all of Rome: to a square bustling with people enjoying the trickle of the baroque fountain, listening to street musicians, and gazing in awestruck wonder at the work of architectural majesty which sits at the very centre of the Piazza: the Pantheon.

Still considered to be a wonder of the ancient world, the Pantheon is pretty much the most intact monument still standing from Ancient Rome. Its condition is remarkable, not least its gravity defying concrete dome, the brilliance of which kept architects and engineers guessing for years. Standing in front of the Pantheon, knowing that you are stood in the very same spot as emperors and citizens of an ancient age, is a frankly remarkable experience. And in no other place do you get that sensation than here, in the Piazza which is as Roman as it gets: atmospheric cafes, baroque splendour, cobbled paving, coloured houses, horses, musicians, locals, tourists, and that all important omnipotence of the ancient which makes Rome the true Eternal City.

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So with this final tip on the Rome bucket list, and with my own recent photos from a morning stroll through the square, I close the current season of my Rome Compendium series – at least for now. Rest assured, the next time I go, I’ll add a whole load of more tips to ensure you’re living La Dolce Vita when you visit Italy’s pre-eminent city. In the meantime keep track of the Norms’ visit to Rome. They ‘ain’t going nowhere!

Arrivederci!

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© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2018. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Compendium // Rome > Lunching in the Trastevere

Up until only a year or so ago, the Trastevere was a region of Rome which somewhat alluded me. Set away from the ancient heart of the city, separated, as the name suggests, across the river from the main city sights, it is easy to forget this bustling little cobbled gem. And yet Trastevere, with its streets still strewn with laundry, unplanned crooked little houses and uneven roads is one of the most characterful areas of Rome, and certainly one which, more than any other, hangs on to its authentic, working class past, despite the very obvious charm it now holds for tourists.

Imbued with the kind of gloriously soft glowing light which summer evenings were made for, the Trastevere makes for the perfect location for an early evening perambulation before dinner. However, the result is often coach loads of tourists pumping themselves across the ancient bridges of the Tiber and filling the dear little narrow streets of the Trastevere to near bursting point. Trying to find a free table in these conditions is not fun, and certainly deprives one of the relaxed, authentic charm of the area.

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In my view, the better alternative is to do the Trastevere at lunchtime, when the narrow streets are filled with the warm glow of a higher midday sun, and some of that sleepiness which characterises the neighbourhood is retained away from the tourist hoards. This is particularly so in the cooler months of the year, when eating al fresco is a real daytime possibility, and the truly uncomfortable heat is yet to hit.

This is exactly what we did one Sunday this January, when the Trastevere seemed to come alive under the midday sun, despite a relatively quiet time of year in the Roman tourist calendar. Even then, the restaurants peppered along cobbled streets and lanes hung with verdant leafy climbing plants were filling fast, and it was almost on the point of giving up and heading pack over the Ponte Sisto that we stumbled upon the restaurant of the same name – the Osteria Pontesisto on the Via di Ponte.

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As though in wait especially for us, we took the last sunny table set outside the restaurant’s burnt orange facade. There, soothed by exquisite rays of winter sunshine, a lunch of freshly chilled chardonnay commenced, and continued with an appetizer of Roman fried artichokes and deliciously fresh wild board sausage. Then came the mains, and with it some of the best pasta I have had the pleasure to enjoy – a taglioni of king prawns and courgette flowers which filled my mouth with sensual delight at every mouthful. The soft but certain bite of the al dente pasta; the sweet succulence of the prawns; the perfumed intensity of the fish stock. Dear god it was good. So much so, I was almost too drunk on deliciousness (and wine) to fully appreciate yet another superb dish which was to follow – a homemade puff pastry millefeuille stuffed with fluffy clouds of cream and drizzled with just melted rich dark chocolate. Just. Too. Good.

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The Trastevere is popular for a reason, and sometimes a bit of patience is required before the perfect table reveals itself. But trust me, if that perfect Trastevere lunch is meant to be, that cute little red and white chequered road-side table will be waiting for you. But to be sure, make a reservation at the Osteria Pontesisto. As my lunch told me, you can’t go wrong with that one.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2018. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Christmas Comes Home: Party time!

I’m not ashamed to spend many an hour making my home wonderful for Christmas just for myself and my partner to enjoy. Who else really matters? After all, it is us who get the ultimate pleasure of waking and sleeping to lights twinkling like an enchanted forest all around us. Nevertheless, there is something of the Nigella in me, and I can’t help but revel in the opportunity to share my winter wonderland with friends. So in this last post extolling the virtues of my home at Christmastime, why not take a glimpse of the flat all trussed up for a small soiree we held last weekend.

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Central to the event was the table. A vase at its centre hosted a flurry of discarded Clapham Common tree branches. What the wind had cast asunder, I recycled, creating the perfect skeleton for a cornucopia of lights and dazzling gold and glass decorations. On those branches, our glass treasures from Venice have never looked so beautiful, hanging freely, suspended in mid air, rather than getting caught up in the denser gathering of Christmas tree branches. Beneath this composition, a plethora of festive food gathered: a cheese board bedecked with berries and nuts, freshly cut meats from Italy and, best of all, the “Merookies” (a cross between meringues and cookies) recently featured on the newest Christmas episode of Nigella Lawson’s At My Table series. With an exquisite salty pistachio balance to the sweetness of the meringue and the rich depth of chocolate chips, I was completely sold on these Nigella creations. So was everyone else – they disappeared in seconds.

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I love Christmas parties. I love sharing with friends. And I love seeing my home so pristine in its presentation for a night out on the town. But even more, I love the clearing up at the end of the evening – when empty champagne flutes tell of hours of merriment enjoyed, and the crumbs of cookies and Christmas biscuits intermingle with fallen shards of glitter flickering in the dying candlelight. Home sweet home.

Merry Christmas, everyone.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2017. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.