Tag Archives: food

Conversations during Afternoon Tea

I believe the initial idea of the afternoon tea was to feed the hunger and satisfy the thirst of those who were too passionate to converse, to stop the flow of ideas….

Historic ambiance of Brown's Hotel, London
Historic ambiance of Brown’s Hotel, London

…writing and how a forgotten red scarf on a chair can tell a story…

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Contemporary chic Corinthia Hotel London

… time passing and how sometimes the memories of smell and taste overwhelm those of faces…

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Contemporary chic Corinthia Hotel London

… should a scone have a crusty top or be more like a brioche?

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Historic ambiance of Brown’s Hotel, London

… art nouveau and how some places are like a magnet for our romantic fantasies…

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The Ritz Hotel of London

… chocolate and love and how the simple thought of the separating them is hard to imagine…

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The Ritz Hotel London
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Food (or rather water) for thought…

I don’t know if there is a more symbolic gesture of hospitality than giving someone a glass of water, on a very hot summer day , while in heavy traffic, in one of the resorts on the Black Sea coast.
And I don’t know if there is something more symbolic than throwing it in someone’s face.
The first is the dream I came back home with, after six years, after leaving Romania. I was thirsty for good news, for signs that I had been wrong leaving it, that there was so much I was missing by being away.
The second is the reality.

runaway car
The runaway car with plate number B21XDN

I was coming back from the emergency hospital where I had brought my neighbour’s nine year old daughter who had high temperature.
I stopped my car beside a PARKING SPOT in front of a pharmacy, with my blinking lights on, without obstructing anyone’s way (at least 20 cars passed by without any noticing us). I was waiting in the car for the mother to buy the medication for her child who was dosing in the back.
When the horn of a car behind me made me look in the rear mirror. The woman driving the car was making gestures with her hand for me to move away. I waved her with a smile to go by me, but she pointed that she wanted the spot where I was, so I shrugged my shoulders and smiled.

She gets out of the car, approaches and opens my door to tell me to fuck off and let her get that spot if I don’t use it. I say I obviously am using the space and that she should find another spot. Her friend comes out of the car and enters the pharmacy.

Next thing, the driver woman goes back to her car and comes back in a hurry with a paper cup in her hand and throws it in my face, with a lot of other unrepeatable words.

Before I realise what had just happened, she drives off in a hurry leaving her friend behind and me with my phone trying to keep a proof of this incident so I don’t think it’s just a bad dream.
As minutes go by – me wondering if my mind is playing tricks on me or any minute now I will wake up – I begin to realise that despite the intentions, that glass of water had cooled me down…

Cooled me down of any doubt that I had valid reasons to leave my native land; cooled me down about any fake excuses that it’s the Communism or some other abstract ideology who kept this people in the dark; cooled down any hot air balloon that would carry me back soon to return.

They say that a continuous use of certain habits in a nation leads to the creation of a gene that will be carried by future generations. I am afraid we have passed that moment when we had a chance to define ourselves, Romanians, as kind, caring and hospitable people. We have exercised for too long this anger and frustration towards the other, the sister or brother beside us – as if the car in front of us is responsible for all our troubles.
There are so many things I treasure about my Transylvanian upbringing but I am certainly ashamed of the gene that is being formed in our DNA as we speak – throw the glass of water in the face of you neighbor if you meet him/her on the road rather than offer it to him/her to quench their thirst. That way, your ‘friends’ will think you are ‘cool.’
As the shock cooled down, I realise I have to thank that woman for reminding me that, even carrying this gene, I still have a choice to let it express itself in my behaviour or redefine myself as a New Romanian: aware of my past and my faults but strong enough to recognize them and realize that my neighbour and I have more in common than differences. That a glass of water is for calming someone’s thirst not for expressing my frustrations. That there is not such thing as “my spot,” but our world that we should learn to share.

Epicurian Sicily

Perspective is many times what makes a place heaven or hell, phylosophically speaking. From a traveler’s point of view, it’s important to take time to simply absorb the surroundings. And meal times or coffee breaks provide for such explorations.

I believe that entire history books are contained in the simpliest of deserts – from its origin, to the various nations that adopted it and to the sociological and economical pressures that cause ingredients to be replaced and others to be added, according to new fashions of the times.

Anyways, here are some of the ‘books’ I have studied during my trip to Sicily where I also learnt the importance of expressing your delight for a good meal: scarpeta (using a piece of bread to soak up that last bit of delicious sauce in your plate).
glass of wine

 

Caponata, a Sicilian aubergine stew served with four kinds of cheeses from southern Sicily
Caponata, a Sicilian aubergine stew served with four kinds of cheeses from southern Sicily
Salad of red oranges and smoked herrings, wild fennel and spring onions from Giarratana (a recipe of Nifosi family, owners of Eremo della Giubiliana)
Salad of red oranges and smoked herrings, wild fennel and spring onions from Giarratana (a recipe of Nifosi family, owners of Eremo della Giubiliana)
Oysters and Sicilian clams - a perfect starter for a Sunday lunch on the coast of Syracuse
Oysters and Sicilian clams – a perfect starter for a Sunday lunch on the coast of Syracuse
Wild strawberries, ricotta and pistachio, all in a tart - I could not imagine a more Sicilian desert
Wild strawberries, ricotta and pistachio, all in a tart – I could not imagine a more Sicilian desert
But don't bite yet into that tart before you taste this Marsala-flavored, Tagliolini pasta with rabbit and Modica chocolate - creation of Chef of Don Eusebio Restaurant, Eremo della Giubiliana
But don’t bite yet into that tart before you taste this Marsala-flavored, Tagliolini pasta with rabbit and Modica chocolate – creation of Chef of Don Eusebio Restaurant, Eremo della Giubiliana
cassata, a ricotta and marzipan desert with dried fruits served here with pistachio parfait
Cassata, a ricotta and marzipan desert with dried fruits served here with pistachio parfait
Cannoli, the tubes of pleasure everyone talks about when you say you are going to Sicily. Well, this one, in Marina de Ragusa, was indeed memorable
Cannoli, the tubes of pleasure everyone talks about when you say you are going to Sicily. Well, this one, in Marina de Ragusa, was indeed memorable
And finally, once you've done your 'passeggiata,' you've got to stop and have an 'ice cream burger' - a Sicilian brioche stuffed with ice cream (pistachio, please!)
And finally, once you’ve done your ‘passeggiata,’ you’ve got to stop and have an ‘ice cream burger’ – a Sicilian brioche stuffed with ice cream (pistachio, please!)

 

For the love of taste

Since my first experience, about ten years ago, of an eight-course tasting menu at the Tasting Room restaurant in Franschhoek, South Africa – a much more interesting area to visit by the way, than its rival Stellenbosch – I believe this is the way food should be presented if the intention is to show the skills behind the creations on the plate.

A restaurant is a place where I expect a culinary experience, even a sensatory journey – I have my own kitchen or the market if I am simply looking for food.

No better way to encourage one to pay attention to the multitude of tastes, colors and flavors than knowing that you only have two or three mouthfuls of a serving that took hours in preparation and the work of a whole team of people.

In contrast, with a full plate in front, we tend to move our attention to conversation, checking our phones, or anything else – by the simple fact that there is more, we tend to take it for granted. Whereas when a nibble or two is all we have, we start looking for the different ingredients by waking up the taste buds, we are stretching time by being in that moment, paying attention to what we feel when flavors stir things inside.

We are actually adding years to our lives, not only because we learn to be picky about what we eat, but also because we get to discover that we actually might love foods we never thought we would – when the combinations are right.

I confess, I cannot think of many blends I would not try if set in front of me by a chef, and I have become impatient and unforgiving with the lazy approach of some establishments – grill the fish and call it ‘a classic.’

So over the course of two days in Belfast, I explored the city’s renewed energy of encouraging creativity on the culinary scene and I was more than impressed with the Ox restaurant and the Malt Room. I hope the city gives them enough credit for putting it on the gourmet international map. Here are some highlights.

Truffled egg yolk, cauliflower, crispy chicken skin

‘Truffled egg yolk, cauliflower, crispy chicken skin – cauliflower becomes center stage as it the ingredient that lifts up the palate while the egg yolk and the truffles make a strong statement (OX)

Squid, chorizo, romanesco, squid ink, oyster

If you thought squid is not your thing, think twice as the presentation and the tenderness is remarkable and the presence of chorizo flavor and the romanesco textures gives this dish a more complex dimension – Squid, chorizo, romanesco, squid ink, oyster (OX)

It has to be chocolate

If it’s chocolate, it must be dark chocolate. And I savored the desert with even more pleasure as the flavor of the ice cream brought me back to my childhood when I always loved the remaining crust on the bottom of the pot where milk had been boiled – Valrhona chocolate 70%, banana, burnt milk ice-cream (OX)

Mackerel and olives

A rainbow of colors and Provençale flavors in a dish of Mackerel (undeservingly underestimated fish), stuffed with olives and served with red caviar. Ok, you have to like fish and love olives…but how can one wouldn’t? (Malt Room)

Kid goat, locally sourced, slow-cooked, tender and moist

Finally an interesting and healthy meat dish in Belfast – kid goat, locally sourced, slow-cooked, tender and moist, with a crusty pie pouring out a volcano of goat cheese and goat meat. Even if you had never read Coehlo’s Alchemist, images of herds of goats still come to mind, or more likely the evenings around the fire. (Malt Room)

Roast pear with buttermilk and Nougatine parfait

Maybe it’s because I could live on pistachio nuts but I can say the desert is memorable at the Malt Room: Roast pear, pistachio, buttermilk and Nougatine parfait. Parfait!

In my humble opinion, a restaurant without a tasting menu is not serious about food as a form of art or as a means to offer a memorable experience – less is more.

As the proof is in the pudding, try it for yourself and prove me wrong….or right.

Porridge with blue cheese and honey-glazed roasted walnuts

Growing up in Transylvania, one of the local delicacies was a dish called ‘blankets,’ made with polenta and cheese, as well as cream and bacon.

Moving away from home and discovering oats (which is not a common ingredient in Transylvanian food), I thought about mixing the cultures and came up with a savory breakfast or lunch dish, ‘porridge with blue cheese and honey-glazed roasted walnuts.’

Porridge with blue cheese and honey-glazed roasted walnuts

Have a try at this simple recipe and let me know what you think.

1 cup of porridge

2 cups of milk (goats milk or almond milk are nice alternatives)

100 gr blue cheese

a pinch Cayenne pepper

half a cup walnuts, roasted and then dipped in honey

Mix porridge and milk and let soak for half an hour before cooking. Then crumble in the blue cheese and cook on a medium heat, stirring continuously with a wooden spoon until it thickens – about 5 minutes if you like it thicker or less if you like it thinner.

Pour it in bowl and sprinkle extra pieces of blue cheese if you are fond of it or just the honey-glazed walnuts.

To roast the walnuts, just place them in a dry tray in the oven at 180 degrees for about 15 minutes.

Pofta buna!” or Enjoy!

Recipe was published by the Guardian newspaper on Saturday March 8 – delightful Women’s Day gift – Readers’ recipe swap: salty-sweet