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Posts tagged ‘food’

Marseille to Marbella, Part VII: Aix, Le Marché

Colour, colour, colour! Shiny red apples, ruby like strawberries, resplendent silver fish and emerald green herbs. Courgettes in forest green, sage green, yellow green and white, blackboards written with curly french writing. And king of it all those sunflowers: a full, powerful sunshine punch of yellow with a deep fury chocolate brown at its centre, signalling the very epitome of this Provençal heartland. This is the market of Aix-en-Provence, the sensory spectacle to which I rushed on my birthday morning, and which is such a sight for the eyes that it deserves a post all of its own.

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I can only imagine how Paul Cezanne, famous son of the city, became inspired by the bustling, vivid life of Aix’s morning market. Who could not become an artist when basking in the glories of a sun filled square, filled with stripy umbrellas casting a warm glow over stalls full of just-picked produce and carefully nurtured harvests. Yet despite its beauty, this is no artwork to be admired on a gallery wall: The beauty of le marché in Aix is that it continues to be such a vital cog in the life of the city. It is a place for bargaining and butchering, for perusing and tasting. And in Aix’s market, watching the picky locals carefully choose the very best from an already magnificently presented selection was almost as captivating for me as the produce itself.

The market of Aix is a king amongst European street markets. Not big, not intimidating, but utterly authentic and wonderfully, completely charming.

© 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.

Ginger cakes for the onset of Autumn

Ginger Cake with dark chocolate and paprika or white chocolate and orange blossom icing

I haven’t baked for ages. Not even since I had my London kitchen revolutionarily overhauled with wonderful new Victorian green ceramic tiles which offset spectacularly against my Ferrari red accessories and frankly make cooking a joy. But two things prompted me to bake this week: First the weather, which has taken a decisive turn towards autumn; a time of cosy nights in and the comforting perfume of baking enriching the home experience. Secondly, and by no means unconnectedly, is the final collapse of all beach body hopes. At least for this year. Now, in the run up to Christmas, a little binge is surely justifiable?

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So yearning for the smell of baking, and of seasonal spices, I set about making some ginger cupcakes, which also turned into a ginger cake because of excess mixture. I creamed together 200g of salted butter and 400g of soft brown sugar. To this I added 375g of self-raising flour, 4 teaspoons of ground ginger, 1 of nutmeg and another of cinnamon, and 2 teaspoons of baking powder. To help it all mix into a fluid and creamy batter, I added 8 fl oz of black treacle dissolved in another 8 fl oz of boiling water, and also folded in two egg yolks and the whisked up whites likewise.

Batter done, I made about 18 cupcakes and a small round sponge cake, so clearly you could decrease all of the quantities above if you’re after a smaller batch. I then split my butter cream (which I made quite recklessly without measuring – but essentially it was about 1 third butter to 2 thirds icing sugar with a dash or two of water) into two batches. In one I mixed melted dark chocolate and a sprinkling of smoked pimenton (Spanish paprika) and to the other melted white chocolate with a few drops of orange blossom essence picked up from the heavily scented streets of the Marrakech souks.

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The result is frankly too much delicious indulgence, even for me. The dark chocolate icing combines magnificently with the soft ginger sponge to create a cake befitting of all the spice-enhanced warmth of the season. The white chocolate brings a promise of the summer again, and a heavy dose of buttery chocolatey happiness to get us through the cold days soon to come.

© 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.

The Sicily Series | Part IX – Momentous Modica: the Churches and the Chocolate

Modica, the momentous mountainous town lying somewhere in the craggy landscape between Ragusa and Noto, was the last visit of our multiple Baroque exposure during just a few days in the south of Sicily. Who knew that there could be such a concentration of putti and angels, of curling stone foliage and grandiose capitals, all to be found in comparatively tiny towns heavily overshadowed by these architectural masterpieces. But just as Noto had been notable for its golden yellow consistency, Ragusa for its hillside spectacle, and Ortygia for its elegance on water, Modica impressed us with the sheer magnificence of its churches, and for the unique quality of its famous chocolate.

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Modica, like Ragusa, is a town clustered around several steep hillsides before filling, in a dense mass of stone coloured houses and richly decorated public buildings, the lower town below. It is so tightly packed into and around the natural valley carved into steeply sloping hillsides that Modica is almost like shanty towns of South America, only much richer in its decoration. For amongst this swathe of little stone houses are two spectacular churches which just take the breath away. The first, the Chiesa di San Pietro, is framed by a series of fully lifelike, wonderfully detailed statues which line the grand staircase leading to its vast iron doors and another ridiculously over the top facade comprising an opulent broken pediment and rusticated pilasters. But if this church was to win the prize for its excesses of sculpture, the church of San Giorgio would carry away the award for theatre. For sat atop of sweeping soaring multi layered staircase, this masterpiece of the baroque is like the hotly anticipated starlet descending onto the stage from on high, a veritable wedding cake sitting abreast a multi-tiered display stand from which she demands the respect and astonishment of all who come before her.

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But Modica is not just a place which is inspiring for the eyes. The tastebuds will get a good tickle too. For Modica has another defining feature too: its chocolate which, usefully in this climate, never melts. Reticent to indulge too heavily (this was the end of the holiday after all, and the pasta carb-count was already at an all time high), we were nevertheless dragged into the chocolate dream that Modica presents so well by a very charming shop keeper from whom we had bought a parking voucher in his Pasticceria Frisby on the Via Vittorio Veneto (n.38). Generous to the full, he not only allowed us to taste the uniquely granular chocolate, but took us out to his kitchen and showed us how to make it too. Comprised essentially from bitter dark chocolate heavily sweetened with a coarse sugar which is not allowed to melt (hence the grainy texture) and various dried ingredients to make different flavour variations, the resulting chocolate paste is essentially banged into shape in a series of traditional moulds before being set in the refrigerator, traditionally wrapped and sold.

Learning the trade: Chocolate making in Pasticceria Frisby

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In that chocolate shop, we had our share of banging the chocolate, of tasting the various stages (pure bitter chocolate not to be recommended) and generally enjoying the utmost hospitality of this wonderful shopkeeper and his wife. Of course we left their store with far too much chocolate at frankly stupidly cheap prices. But above all things we left with a warmth in our heart founded on the great kindliness shown by those two chocolatiers. We arrived to Sicily thinking it would be a hard land full of mafiosi and moody islanders. We left touched by the hospitality we had been shown, and determined to return to this island of plenty.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2017. 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. 

The Sicily Series | Part II – La Pescheria, Soul of the City

You can smell Catania’s famous daily fish market, Le Pescheria, long before you approach it… that unmistakable smell of the sea tinged by an ever so decipherable pungency of putrid flesh together with the fresh zing of lemon, the fragrant perfume of fresh herbs and the pure scent of water, the neutral base note which both reflects and is imbued with the distinctive nature of the surrounding area. In Catania, that is a smell which is characterised by the scorching heat absorbed into and evaporating off the dark lava stone walls of its ancient Etna-born palazzos. Follow the scent, past the resplendent Baroque Duomo, and you find yourself in Catania’s burgeoning and frankly raucous market, starting with the abundance of locally caught fish, and spreading outward into the streets beyond where stalls loaded with fruit and vegetables, herbs and spices, bread and cheeses populate every spare inch of the pavements.

The famous fish market

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I have been to many wonderful European markets. Each have their own character, and every one of them is utterly captivating for the breadth of fresh produce and characterful salesmen. But Catania’s market feels more historical and more authentic than any I have visited. Gathered together among the foundations of ancient Roman ruins and decaying Medieval walls, the stalls of the fish market are collectively transportative, with the power to recall the bustle of a Roman Forum or a scene from the Renaissance. The market takes us back to the roots of modern civilisation, stripping back our senses to a basic appreciation of nature at its best: enviably fresh fish, sensationally plump vegetables, none of them the result of quality control but a product of nature’s caprice. And beyond the produce, perhaps the best thing about Catania’s market is its people, the fishermen and stall holders who are so full of passion, who will declare strong and loud that their fish is the best, outdoing one another to see who can attract the most attention, and secure the quickest sales of their freshly acquired catch.

To be accompanied by some super-fresh fruit and veg… (and cheese)

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All of this combines to make a visit to Catania’s market an ultimately thrilling experience, full of noise, of smells, and of colour; shades of pink and red and green and blue whose vibrancy truly shines against a backdrop of black lava stone. This is street theatre at its thrilling best, as fishermen slice open slithering fish and proudly display their decapitated fish heads while elegantly dressed women totter in heels, neatly stepping over pools of water stained with blood. Catania is a city with real spirit and an abundance of outwardly expressed emotion, but it is perhaps in its market where Catania’s soul truly resonates.

…and some more fish

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© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2017. 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. 

Tuscan Towns #3 – Casale Marittimo

Driving along on the slower (and far more beautiful) inner coastal road from Castagneto towards Livorno, you may notice on the hills beyond the acres of vineyards a perfectly formed little town perched up at a height. Small as a toy town but quaint in every respect, there is very little in Casale to place it on the tourist map, but with its cute little central square and an endearing piccolo church I defy it not to please any visitor to the max. But for us Casale was not about the uniquely formed sloping streets or the picture-perfect micro-shops. It was about the views, and one very special lunch spent appreciating them.

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At the Osteria L’impronta, we enjoyed one of those lunches that will linger a long, long time in the memory. With the most incredible private terrace all to ourselves, a soundtrack of jazz, sun rays bouncing off the table’s edge and an endless supply of wine produced on the very land whose spectacular appearance we spent our whole meal admiring, it was like a lunch from a legendary time of utopia. The kind of occasion writers conjure up and artists swoon over. And then there was food – a mix of perfectly al dente pasta, crusty bread with deep golden olive oil, and unctuously rich cinghiale (wild boar) from the surrounding landscape. All combined to make this lunch the culinary high point of our holiday, and a true homage to this legendary region of Tuscany.

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© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2017. 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. 

Wholemeal lemon and rosemary cake

I was sitting just next to my little blooming lemon tree, breathing in the subtle perfume of its abundant blossom one morning before work when I saw the recipe for a lemon polenta loaf cake go up onto the blog of my phenomenally talented (and heavily pregnant!) blogger friend Lady Aga. It was undoubtedly the heady combination of lemon blossom and her tantalising looking photos which immediately inspired in me the certain knowledge that I was going to make this cake at the first opportunity. And last weekend, lemon, rosemary and olive oil at the ready, I did! Sadly for Lady Aga’s wonderful recipe, and perhaps also for my resulting cake, I was a little too keen on the uptake. Midway through, I realised I lacked polenta and a loaf shaped tin. It quickly became clear that I might have to disembark from the Lady Aga road slightly.

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So recipe a little altered, and a round cake tin employed for the purpose, I opted instead for  wholemeal not-so-loafish cake using the integral flour which we have in stock in an attempt to be healthy. I also blended a load of his trusty breakfast porridge oats as Lady Aga suggests, and with the rosemary growing fresh on our terrace, it worked a treat. I won’t recite the recipe here seeing as Lady Aga has it penned so well, but whether you decide to go with my wholemeal approach or the undoubtedly better polenta recipe, this cake is surely exquisite.

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Fresh out of the oven, its sugary lemon juice drizzle still a little sticky, we eagerly devoured a slice or two of this delicious cake in the creamy afternoon (terrace photos happily intermingled with model-shots of cake above). Accompanied by a steaming earl grey, the lemon and rosemary flavour couldn’t have made for a better British-Mallorquín afternoon tea, and as for the wholemeal flour, while I worry that it may have made the cake slightly drier than the polenta version, the result is a cake which made every appearance of a morally highbrow, persuasively healthy teatime treat. Thank you Lady Aga!

Mallorquín Spring Lamb, enjoyed two ways

It may be premature to announce that Spring has arrived on the island of Mallorca, but having been blessed by almost continuous blue skies pretty much since the summer, it’s sometimes hard to say what season we are in. The only thing I know is that since the new year dawned, and we returned from the chilly climes of Vienna, it has surely felt like Spring is here. And with the arrival of Spring comes a cast of the usual protagonists – blossoming trees, warmer wafts of perfumed air, and the innocent bleating of fluffy little lambs.

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We came face to face with those beautiful little animals on a recent walk through Mallorca’s Tramontana mountains. Heading along one of the island’s worst-surfaced zig-zagging rollercoaster of a roads up one of Mallorca’s highest mountains to the vast valley nestling in the mighty shadow of the ruined Alaró Castle, we had a lunch date at the iconic Es Verger restaurant.

Recently made famous, to UK audiences at least, by its short starring role in one of chef Rick Stein’s televised adventures through the Mediterranean, Es Verger is an unbelievably quaint traipse back through time to the truly bucolic routes of peasant Mallorca, where everything on the limited menu borrows from the immediate rugged environment, and is cooked by a charming old lady using recipes passed down throughout the centuries. The star dish is Mallorquín lamb, the very same animal which only metres from the secluded restaurant you could see bleeding innocently in the rays of a newly sprung-sunshine (see attached photos above for heart-warming snapshots).

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But any guilt which we could quite easily have felt for seeing these sweet animals and then eating the same was quickly dispelled by the sheer exquisite deliciousness of this incredible dish. Cooked in beer and infused by the juices of a variety of vegetables roasted over long hours in a smokey log fire, the meat both melted over the tongue, and was deliciously caramelised at the edges. Never have I enjoyed meat so much, nor indeed a meal. Pure, simple, and finished off by a cremadillo – a flaming mix of local hierbas liquor, rum, coffee and all sorts of other liquid indulgences.

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Needing to walk off the alcohol and indulge a little more in the staggering scenery which surrounded us, we headed after lunch to the ruined castle of Alaró, an incredible historical site sat atop the mountain which, while looking deceptively close, required a good hour’s uphill climb along one of Mallorca’s craggier paths. But with views from the top spreading across the bay of Palma on one side and across to Puig Mayor, the island’s highest mountain on the other, we were awfully glad for the scenery, that amazing lunch and the Spring in our step it had given us.

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All photos and written content are strictly the copyright of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown © 2016 and The Daily Norm. All rights are reserved. 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.

Living off the land; moving with the seasons: The Mallorquin Huerta

I was recently lucky enough to be invited to a stunning little Huerta (kitchen garden) clinging to the terraced slopes of the Mallorquin coastline. Between the dry stone walls of terraces made long ago by arab occupiers in their magnificent process of taming the otherwise unreachable landscape, this little vegetable garden lay nestled in perfect order, with the mountains on one side and the sea on the other. From an initial sweep of green emerged vegetables the colour of which you would be hard-pressed to find in even the best quality supermarket.

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Keen to show me the fruits of his labour, the farm manager went about collecting samples of his home-grown produce. As he created a pile of the best of the harvest, the collection before me grew in both voluptuous size and magnificent colour. From super green cucumbers and a richly purple aubergine, to wonderfully fragrant basil, bright yellow peppers and startlingly intense red tomatoes, this gathering of produce was worthy of a museum piece, rather than a humble feast.

And yet feast we did, sampling flavours the likes of which I have never had the pleasure to enjoy before. The tomatoes were so sweet, and so complex in their flavour contrasts, that the sweet sticky small tomatoes might have been an altogether different fruit from the large meaty giant tomatoes which I could have feasted on forever.

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But behind the intensity of the flavour and the quality of the produce was the rationale which went with it. These vegetables were grown in alignment with the seasons. They tasted so good because they emerged from land grown traditionally, with no additives, at the time of the year when they are meant to be harvested. No tomato, artificially grown under a lamp light in the winter could ever have tasted this good. And what struck me most of all was the pride glowing from within the farm manager. Because he had presented the very best product from his intensely laboured land – the fruit of his work, with a little help from the perfect timing of mother nature’s seasons.

All photos and written content are strictly the copyright of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown © 2015 and The Daily Norm. All rights are reserved. 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.

Art on the Riviera: Breakfast at La Colombe d’Or

I wish I could claim to enjoy the kind of artistic notoriety and talent of those celebrated artists exhibited in the stunning collection of La Colombe d’Or and the Fondation Maeght, the latter being the feature of my last Art on the Riviera post. In the second feature of this series, allow me to indulge myself a little by featuring not the work of an artist great, but a painting created by myself.

Except that is not perhaps strictly true… for in sharing with you another of my honeymoon artworks, completed while we stayed at the blissful Colombe d’Or hotel, I am also sharing something of the work of much more famous artist, Fernand Léger. This is because in painting a work devoted to our experience of eating breakfast in the garden of La Colombe d’Or, I could not do so without featuring the stunning 1950s ceramic mural by Léger which is famously installed in the garden.

Breakfast at La Colombe d'Or (2015 © Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, gouache on paper)

Breakfast at La Colombe d’Or (2015 © Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, gouache on paper)

Breakfast at La Colombe d’Or captures the random cosiness of the beautiful restaurant terrace as it was set up for breakfast on those sunny Riviera mornings. Still recovering from a heaving night of fine dining, and before preparation of the terrace for lunch, the restaurant at breakfast had much more of a relaxed feel, like a star of the stage before her makeup was applied. The old rusty tables around which Picasso once sat were scattered haphazardly without a tablecloth – this was only placed on the table when a guest chose from amongst them and sat down to eat petit dejeuner in a dappled spot. Likewise the little vintage metal chairs were randomly placed, their normal cushions not yet affixed.

Amongst this friendly scene, the ceramic mural by Léger continued to glimmer in the morning sunshine filtered through the large leaves of the garden’s fig trees, and on the table, an exquisite breakfast of rich coffee, pastries and fruit was served in La Colombe’s iconic branded porcelaine. Breakfast bliss.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2015. 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. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. For more information on the work of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, head to his art website at www.delacy-brown.com

Discovering Palma: Mercat de Santa Catalina

This weekend, rather unbelievably, we will be marking two months since we moved to Mallorca – in some ways surprisingly long, in others surprisingly short. For we have already discovered so much about our incredible home city of Palma de Mallorca – from its winding old town streets, to its hidden tapas gems, nearby sandy beaches and even a cinema showing films in English – that it is hard to accept that we have only been here a mere matter of weeks. But despite many an exploration made, there is still much left to discover, as our recent gastronomic sojourn in the Santa Catalina market demonstrated.

We had heard much about the Mercat de Santa Catalina (or Mercado in Castellan) before we ventured there ourselves. Half the problem was that despite its excellent reputation, we could never quite seem to find the market, despite wandering always close by. But this time we had the market firmly marked on the map and did not miss it.

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Compared with the Mercat de Olivar, a market on an almost industrial scale, the Mercat in Santa Catalina is a far more select affair, and for that reason is characterised by a clear focus on gastronomy rather than economy – a clear case of quality, not quantity in this refined temple of food. Walking amongst its compact and well stocked aisles,  any chef or food lover cannot help but get emotional at the sensational food on offer, from an abundance of fresh fish in glittering silvers and soft pinks, to fruit and vegetables so perfectly rounded and robust in colour and quality that they look picked straight from Eden.

Happily if, like me, you become a little overwhelmed with all that is in offer, so astounded by the impact of the produce that all cooking ideas float straight out of your head, you can at least sample some of the best food from the market in a series of popular bars dotted around the periphery. Such is their popularity however that you must jostle for a space, and that meant seizing upon such opportunities to reach a bar as arose. For us that meant finding ourselves squeezed into a small space at the bar of the Tallat a ma S’agla, which was a fine piece of luck, because the Salamancan bellota ham we indulged in was amongst the finest I have ever eaten.

The Mercat de Santa Catalina can be found bridging the Carrer de Servet and the Carrer d’Annibal just East of Palma’s centre.