Edinburgh: Literary liaisons

The story so far: Inspired by the success of my trip to York in March, at the beginning of June I was off for another mid-week staycation, this time to Edinburgh. I had heard many good things about visiting the city and was looking forward to a few days exploring. After boarding at London’s King’s Cross station on a busy Monday morning, my seamless and comfortable train journey to Edinburgh’s Waverley Station took just under four and a half hours.

This post is the second of three and is designed to be an armchair tour of my brush with Edinburgh’s literary fraternity. Those of you that know me even a little will know that I love to read and there are a host of literary links in Edinburgh from Sir Walter Scott, J.M. Barrie (Peter Pan), Arthur Conan-Doyle (Sherlock Holmes) and Robert Burns (he of Burns night) – right through to modern masters like Ian Rankin (Inspector Rebus), Alexander McCall Smith (the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency) and J.K. Rowling (Harry Potter).

Sir Walter Scott is a big deal here – he wrote Rob Roy and Ivanhoe, neither of which I have read, but there were quotes everywhere in the train station and when I emerged onto Princes Street, there was a stonking great monument to the bloke just down the road.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

You’ll also find Scott at The Writers’ Museum – along with two other Scottish wordsmiths – Robert Burns and Robert Louis Stevenson – and on my last day I spent about an hour here admiring the personal effects, checking out the photos and reading about the lives of these famous men.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

After three days in Edinburgh, I hadn’t found very much that paid tribute to another well-known literary Scot – Arthur Conan-Doyle who invented one of the world’s most famous detectives, Sherlock Holmes. Luckily Allan Foster’s Book Lovers’ Walking Tour plugged that gap and at one o’clock we met outside the museum and ventured off into yet another downpour.

Heading to the south side of the city, we entered Conan-Doyle territory with a couple of stops at the College of Surgeons – where as a student, he found the inspiration for Sherlock Holmes in Joseph Bell – and his local drinking hole, Rutherford’s Bar. The bar was also a favourite of Robert Louis Stevenson and the restaurant that occupies the building now is called The Hispaniola in a nod to Stevenson’s most famous novel, Treasure Island.

Conan Doyle

Photograph of Conan-Doyle at The Hispaniola Restaurant in Drummond Street

It was an interesting, behind-the-scenes sort of 90 minutes and pretty easy walking in spite of the weather. Allan’s knowledge covered so much more than I would have discovered on my own so I’d recommend this walk if you are even remotely bookish.

There are also quite a few eateries with literary links in Edinburgh and I particularly enjoyed The Queens Arms in Frederick Street (New Town) and the Deacon’s House Cafe off the Royal Mile in the Old Town. I also visited The Elephant House whose claim to fame was as the ‘birthplace of Harry Potter’, it being claimed that J.K. Rowling used to frequent the cafe when she was writing the books. It was well-appointed and spacious but I was underwhelmed by the service and food.

So that was the extent of my literary goings on in Scotland’s capital. My next, and final, Edinburgh post will shine a light on three of my favourite staycation moments. But if you’re coming along, you’d best bring your brolly


If you are interesting in reading about my entire visit, here are the other posts in my armchair tour of Edinburgh:

Edinburgh: Inside and out (the next – and last – one)

Edinburgh: A royal trifecta (the first one)

 

A scrumptious success

In my last post, I waxed lyrical about my day slicing and dicing at the Waitrose Cookery School.

I am delighted to report that just ten days later, I have successfully reproduced one of the recipes at home.

I’m SO pleased…and proud!

Here’s my path to today’s red onion chutney.

I started by slicing up two large red onions and heating them in a medium-sized saucepan – with a little groundnut oil and sea salt – until the onions started to ‘fall’ (that’s cookery school jargon for soften slightly).

Red Onion Chutney 1 (crop)

I added 62.5g of caster sugar and a quarter teaspoon of yellow mustard seeds…

Red Onion Chutney 2 (crop)

…and stirred through until dissolved (see pic below).

Red Onion Chutney 3

I then added 70mls of red wine vinegar and left it all to simmer – no stirring! – for about 15 minutes.

I ended up with about 100g of this…

Red Onion Chutney 4 - finished

 

Yippee! Woohoo! You little ripper! 

 

Yes, I’m a bit excited. I’ve already had some and can report that apart from looking gorgeous, it tastes absolutely delicious.

I am one happy little Vegemite right now.

Feel free to snaffle the recipe – in about an hour, you could be enjoying this scrumptious treat for yourself…

You are welcome.

Sliced and diced

This week I did a knife skills course. No, I am not running away to join the circus. I’m talking about knife skills of the kitchen variety.

I’m a bit of a foodie, have loads of vegetables in my diet and tend to spend a lot of my meal preparation time chopping stuff. I never had lessons in how to do this – I just got stuck in with what needed to be done over the years and it all seemed to work okay. Especially as all ten fingers remain attached and intact.

But when watching cooking television, I’m always hugely impressed and intimidated by the speed and confidence with which chefs slice, dice and generally handle their knives. Every so often they offer a smattering of how-to-chop instruction when a celebrity guest gets involved but do you think I can remember it for application later on?

So I have never filleted a fish or jointed a chicken and terms like Chiffonade and Brunoise are a complete mystery to me. Or used to be.

Continue reading

When a foodie goes to Melbourne: By night

I spent two and a half weeks in Melbourne (the one in Australia not Florida – just to be clear) over the Christmas-New Year period visiting family and catching up with a few friends. It was hot – much hotter than I’m used to even in the warmer parts of Europe – but that did not stop me from doing loads and eating even more.

Last time I tap-tap-tapped away about the high points of our daytime eating adventures and promised to follow up with the same for our culinary exploits after dark. So here it is, post number two.

Fat Bob’s Bar & Grill – Moorabbin

For at least three years, my loved ones have been Facebook posting about Fat Bob’s and when I arrived for a visit two years ago, I was sadly informed that Fat Bob’s was closed until the day after I was due to fly back to the UK. This time Lil Chicky was on the case – Fat Bob’s would be closed from Christmas Eve so nine hours after I got off the plane on December 23rd, we were scoffing amazing burgers, more-ish fries and some super scrumptious fried apple dumplings.

fat-bobs

Tucked away in an industrial estate in Moorabbin, once you walk through the gate there are vintage signs everywhere you look.

fat-bobs-food

There’s a good range of craft brews and ciders to pair with your burger. My White Rabbit Dark Ale was smooth and easy (too easy?) to drink and my Victa burger – a crumbed chicken fillet with Asian slaw, Japanese mayo and BBQ sauce – was completely scoff-worthy

It’s a fabulously unpretentious place and was definitely worth the wait. The food was served in plastic baskets with the burgers wrapped in foil (helps to stop the drips as you hoe in) and cutlery was kind of optional frowned upon. If you love a dirty burger and a retro approach to decorating, get yourself to Fat Bob’s…and leave your tiara at home.

Mexico City – Bentleigh

The original Mexico City restaurant opened in 2011 around the corner from where I used to live in Elsternwick but I’ve been away since 2004 so when Lil Chicky told me that there was a new one in Bentleigh, it seemed the perfect place to stop for a pre-cinema dinner. It’s quite a small place and as we were only two people and didn’t have a booking, we had a choice of sitting at the bar or at the window. We chose the latter and ordered a couple of Moscow Mules to sip with our complimentary corn chips and salsa before our meals arrived. I loved my vegetarian burrito and Lil Chicky enjoyed her Mexican trio. But be warned – the portions are huge so if you want to have more than one course, I’d suggest sharing.

Favorite Noodle & Dumpling Restaurant – Moorabbin

This is a family-run business right across the highway from Moorabbin train station. It’s a large restaurant with an extensive menu of dumplings and Chinese stir fries. Mum, Licensed-To-Grill and Lil Chicky all raved about the dumplings so that was what I chose. They were soft and melt-in-the-mouth delicious – definitely the best I’ve had. I’d been eating elsewhere in the day so couldn’t fit anything else in but again I was gobsmacked by how big everyone else’s portions were.

It got really busy while we were there and the service, while still friendly, did suffer a bit as a result. There was also a little lost in translation moment when pea-hater Lil Chicky asked whether there were peas in the fried rice. (We were absolutely assured there were no peas, just beans, only for Lil Chicky to be faced with picking out all the peas when it did arrive.)  But it’s cheap and cheerful and if I lived there, I’d probably be doing a dumpling run at least once a week.

Bad Frankie – Fitzroy

I was reading one of the daily newspapers at Lil Chicky’s in turns marvelling at how clueless I am about Australian celebrities nowadays and checking out all of the things-to-do recommendations. It was the word ‘jaffles’ that caught my eye – these were the mainstay of many a Sunday night dinner growing up and were crammed full of things like baked beans, ham, tuna, tomato and savoury mince but always with loads of gooey melted cheese. I managed to convince some friends to have a jaffle-themed catch-up…and what a catch-up it was!

bad-frankie

Top row: Look out for the sign when you turn off Smith Street into Greeve Street; Quirky decor  Bottom row: Retro cocktail glassware; the traditional ham and cheese jaffle with a side of tomato chutney; the infamous lamington jaffle – there are no words – you’ve got to experience it for yourself!

Bad Frankie specialises in Australian spirits and the drinks list is pages and pages long (who knew we Aussies were so prolific outside wine and a bit of boutique beer) so we went with cocktails served in the types of glassware you might find at the back of your Mum’s kitchen cupboard. We chose a range of savoury jaffles to begin with – which were yum – then tackled the lamington jaffle. Chocolate sponge filled with jam and rolled in coconut was served warm from the jaffle maker with cream on the side – it was scrumptious and VERY rich, making us all glad we had decided to share. The others also tried the ANZAC Bikkie jaffle (brioche toasted with rolled oats and golden syrup) which they reported tasted faithfully of its namesake.

To my mind Bad Frankie was an absolute find. The decor is quirky and cosy and everything is very laid-back. We’d been in the City in the afternoon and the promise of jaffles and boozing did take us out of our way but it was a chilled and convivial evening with an easy tram ride at either end. Just go!

Okami – Hampton Street

Okami is a chain of five Japanese restaurants across Melbourne and on my last night, we decided to tackle the All-You-Can-Eat offer at the Hampton Street branch. You get a two-hour sitting, a menu and then you just keep ordering dishes until you can’t eat any more. We shared many great dishes but stand outs for me were the Chicken Karaage and the Teriyaki Chicken Skewer. We also tried the Octopus Ball – which turned out to be balls of octopus meat versus something akin to a Bush Tucker Trial – better served with soy sauce than the mayonnaise they came with I thought.

okami-1-441x640

Domo arigato for a job well done! 

We managed to find a small space at the end for some cold vanilla ice-cream (it was 38C that day – that’s really hot!) and pretty much rolled out the door. And all of this for less than $30 (approx. £18) each.

And that peeps ends the culinary tour. The next day I boarded a plane for the long trek home with an underweight suitcase (believe me, it took careful packing to manage this with the amount of shopping I did). However I cannot say the same for yours truly and I must admit to my comfy travelling trousers feeling slightly snugger than when I arrived two and half weeks earlier. But what are holidays for, I ask you?

I hope this has whet the appetite of those of you  living in or travelling to Melbourne…if you are a glutton for punishment and want more or missed the partner post on daytime eating in my hometown, you’ll find it here so in the words of my childhood dinners…

Two four six eight

Dig in. Don’t wait!

 

When a foodie goes to Melbourne: By day

I spent two and a half weeks over Christmas and New Year in Melbourne. It is my hometown – not the place I was born but rather the place that I endured the pangs of teenage angst, the excitement of leaving home and the hopeful anticipation of beginning my career – in essence my transition to adulthood (although some my argue that this happened much later). In any case, it’s a city that holds a huge piece of my expat heart hostage and as Mum and Lil Chicky still live there, it has become something of a habit to make a bi-annual pilgrimage Down Under.

We shopped and hung out and laughed and did a whole lot of stuff while I was there – more of which I’ll post about soon – but mostly we ate. As with most holiday ‘diets’, calories became a distant memory and it was not uncommon for us to be tucking in to some meal somewhere and be talking about where we should have the next one!

As a result I’ve clocked up quite a few great recommendations if you happen to be in Melbourne around the City or down towards the bayside suburbs of Brighton, Mentone, Hampton and Parkdale. There are too many for one post so they will come to you in two parts – by day and by night.

Here’s where I suggest you spend your days.

—————————————————-

Breakfast/Brunch – for a cracking start to your day, I really liked these three:

Urchin Bar – Hampton

Ostensibly this is a Turkish restaurant and bar but serves a great breakfast and we lingered here for a couple of hours catching up over fresh juice, delicious food and great coffee. The service was friendly and laid back and whilst they were attentive, at no stage did we feel rushed by the staff. Don’t let the average website put you off and if you go, make sure you walk through the bar and snag a table in the covered courtyard out the back.

The Groove Train – Brighton

This is one of my regulars when I visit and is a particular fave for breakfast. It’s located in upmarket Church Street and when we were there, the glass doors were concertina-ed aside, opening the whole place out onto the street. I have never had a bad coffee here and my breakfast burrito wrap was chock full of scrumptious stuff. Lil Chicky’s smashed avocado concoction looked pretty amazing as well.

Parkdale Beach Cafe & Kiosk – Parkdale

If you want food with a view, then this place is for you. Perched on the cliff top overlooking Port Phillip Bay, this cafe serves great coffee and a small but excellent selection of food to both tables inside and at loungers outside under the shade of the umbrellas. Mum and I happened to coincide our visit with a Greek Orthodox New Year celebration which moved from the boardwalk that runs along the beach up to the BBQ area next to the cafe. So we decided to enjoy our warm banana bread with fresh berries and mascarpone cream from a inside table with an excellent position by the window…

parkdale-beach-cafe-1-640x360

Window seats –  the view from our table

This place gets busy but there’s something so unbelievably magnificent about the location that for me, the hustle to get a seat/table is worth it.

—————————————————-

Lunch/Coffee and a little something – as the day goes on, you’ll need to keep your strength up so try these three:

Larsen & Co – Hampton

This calm Scandi oasis is tucked into the lane that leads from Hampton Street through to the station car park and features clean Scandinavian decor inside and 3-4 shaded wooden tables outside. The menu is not extensive but the quality was excellent – I had an amazing superfood salad while Lil Chicky enjoyed her fried calamari with orange, baby fennel, feta and mint. The portions were big – so great value for money – and the service was friendly and efficient (after all we had a train to catch). It’s worth mentioning the excellent toilet facilities here too.

Brunetti – City Square

The original Brunetti opened in Carlton in 1985 and has since expanded to include this outdoor cafe that commandeers the south end of Melbourne’s City Square on Swanston Street. The biggest problem you’ll have is choosing which of the myriad cakes and slices to have. To complicate matters even further, you can also get yourself a little tub of fresh gelati…

brunetti

Left: My delicious hazelnut and coffee slice  Right: Ice-cream anyone?

There’s plenty of seating – although not all of it is under cover – and the bird life can get a bit cheeky with any leftovers but if you clean your plate (as well you should), watching the hierarchy of sparrows, pigeons and a seagull or two oust each other for the crumbs can be quite entertaining. Of course Brunetti’s Italian heritage means the coffee is outstanding.

Hopetoun Tea Rooms  – Block Arcade, City Centre

Melbourne’s arcades are something of an institution and the elegant Block Arcade, running between Collins and Little Collins Street, is no exception. Built in the 1890s, it features some of Melbourne’s most delightful retailers and none more delightful than the Hopetoun Tea Rooms. I was told that the line to get a table is usually out the door, down the arcade and around the corner into the street but we found ourselves here at 10am on a Tuesday morning with only a 10 minute wait ahead of us – so plenty of time to window shop…

hopetoun-tea-rooms

Clockwise from top left: Window shopping of the best kind; the mirror dating from 1892; red velvet cake; chocolate and pecan tart

This place is decorated tastefully ‘of the period’ featuring a mirror from 1892, flocked wallpaper and a display of crystal wares in one of the cabinets. It can seem a little cramped when you come through the door (one-in one-out is the best way to manage the traffic flow here) but once seated there was ample elbow room for us to tuck into our sweet treats. My chocolate and pecan tart was so delicious and I have it on good authority that the red velvet cake and the crepes with fresh berries and cream were every bit as good. This is not a place to linger and chat so go for the experience and the cakes rather than the conversation.

—————————————————-

And then there’s the best-laid plans and all that…

The Local on Como – Parkdale

I am a huge Audrey Hepburn fan and when Mum and Lil Chicky discovered this place, they couldn’t wait to tell me and put it on the ‘visit list’. Unfortunately it was closed for the entire time I was in Melbourne so I had to be satisfied with peering in the window…

audrey-mural

Awesome Audrey mural at The Local on Como (there was also a purple coffee machine!)

…so I cannot tell you anything about the coffee, the ambiance or any of the vittles on offer. But it must be pretty good – Lil Chicky does not do bad coffee. And the mural was worth the walk on a mighty warm Summer day.

That completes my haunts by day. You may like to pause (as we did often) and ready yourself for the next installment – my favourite culinary haunts after the sun went down. They’re coming soon…

En route to Christmas

I am currently sitting on the couch at my sister’s place in Melbourne. It’s been a hot day and the night is balmy and warm meaning that we have every possible window and door open in an effort to catch the breeze. It’s my bi-annual pilgrimage Down Under for a family Christmas, it’s day number two and with Christmas Day looking like a scorcher, I couldn’t be much further away from the chill of a London winter.

It’s a long way so as is my usual habit, I paused for a week on the way through to soak up some sun, read lots of books and enjoy some amazing food. This time the pause was in Hua Hin in Thailand at the gorgeous Anantara Resort.

I had a room overlooking the pool…

img_20161214_171446

After a ‘busy’ day poolside, I would spend a couple of hours curled up on this comfortable couch before heading out for dinner.

…and there was a lovely message from Dow, my room housekeeper, on my pillow every evening.

imag6035

Speaking of locals, there were elephants everywhere – this cutie was my favourite…

imag6075

A welcoming hello at the entrance, just one of the Elephant Parade installation scattered throughout the grounds.

…and Alex, the resident blue and green macaw, was a colourful sight around the resort.

img_20161215_154904

Apparently Alex is bi-lingual (English and Thai in case you were wondering)

All up nature was at her best whether big and breathtaking…

imag6121

View from the beach bar at the Anantara Hua Hin resort…it’s a tough life for some.

…small and delicate…

imag6101

There are orchids of all sorts everywhere. I passed this one every day on the way to breakfast.

…or there for just a moment.

imag6109

This water lily had blossomed overnight so I got this shot on the way to breakfast in the morning – the flower had drooped by mid afternoon and was gone by the evening.

The food was delicious..

imag6108

A traditional Thai appetiser. Take a leaf and add a bit of everything – peanuts, dried shrimp, dried coconut, shallot, garlic, lime, chilli and palm sugar paste. Wrap up the little parcel and pop it in your mouth. Delicious!

…and the cocktails many and varied across the balmy evenings…

…but in the main, I lay by the pool – cooling off with a dip in the water every so often – and read.

I devoured four magazines (two Vanity Fair and one each of Raconteur and The Economist’s 1843) and five books: Emma Donoghue’s absorbing The Wonder, Jeffrey Archer’s sixth in The Clifton Chronicles (Cometh the Hour) and the eighth novel in Bernard Cornwell’s Viking series (The Empty Throne), a light and fluffy Lift and Separate by Marilyn Simon Rothstein and the utterly gripping How I Lost You from Jenny Blackhurst. I was also halfway through Marlon James’ A Brief History of Seven Killings when I left.

It was such a blissfully solitary and self-indulgent week. Reading is my favourite thing to do and is exactly what I book the holiday for (as well as a much-needed dose of sun). It also stands me in good stead for the next phase of my trip – a little me-time before the hustle and bustle of Christmas and the inevitable flurry of activity with family and friends.

Which brings me back to where I started – a balmy night in the Melbourne suburbs on the night before Christmas. So before I embark on the various opporunities for festive cheer scheduled in the days ahead, all that remains for me to do is wish you a happy holiday season however and wherever you are spending it.

MERRY CHRISTMAS!

Lessons in kale

Over the past few months I’ve been paying a bit more attention to my diet.

It’s so easy to get into a food rut and whilst swimming has proved to be an excellent exercise rut and remains in the well-being kitty, I’ve been wanting to create a few more good habits especially since I need to keep myself in good mental shape for my ‘what comes next’.

I’ve been keeping a food and exercise diary since the end of August. The idea has been to become more aware of exactly what I’m eating and, rather than adopting some diet or other, to understand how to balance calories, nutrients and exercise better. Recording this each day has certainly made me more mindful about food choices and also about really enjoying what I choose. Let’s face it – catering to every whim is not particularly healthy but when I do indulge, boy do I make sure it’s worth it.

One of the areas I’m particularly conscious about is getting enough iron in my diet. Many years ago I restructured my eating habits (alongside some other lifestyle choices) and one of the consequences is that I don’t eat red meat. While I get enough protein from other things like poultry and eggs, iron in a form that can be absorbed by the body – like in dark green, leafy vegetables – has not featured in recent times.

I’d rather eat fresh where I can versus taking supplements but I’m no rabbit so I want something more appealing than leaves on a plate. Every so often I’ll add a bit of spinach or rainbow chard to something or munch on some mixed nuts but I know it’s not enough.

In an inspired moment during my bi-weekly shopping order, I decided to add some kale and ordered the smallest size bag available – 500g.

Do you have any idea how much kale this is? (Peeps, this is not the time to be funny and say 500g, okay?) I gasped – and may have actually sworn in shock – when I pulled that big green pack out of the delivery bag. To use that much kale before it became limp and un-usable seemed like an insurmountable challenge.

But as with all challenges, it seems this one has taught me a thing or two three.

Lesson 1: Out of the bag

I was bemoaning my mountain of kale at work when one of my lunch pals gave me a great storage tip. Line a large plastic container with paper towel and store the kale in that versus keeping it in the bag. This blew my mind (I know, it’s the small things peeps). It kept the kale dry for almost a month which, luckily enough, is how long it took me to use it. And it works for spinach too. All of a sudden leafy greens have become workable rather than wasteful in the Gidday kitchen.

Lesson 2: More than a handful

As with most green leafy veg, once kale wilts down there’s not a lot of it so after adding a first miserly handful to my normal stir fried vegetables, I got a whole lot more generous when next I stir fried…

thai-fish-cake-with-veg-stir-fry

Thai Sweet Chilli Fishcake with Kale (and other Vegetables)

I have also thrown some leaves into my Quorn sausage and vegetable stew with fabulous results.

Lesson 3: Hey pesto!

Within half an hour of getting that enormous leaf-filled bag I desperately googled “recipes using kale” and was particularly inspired by a Walnut and Kale Pesto recipe from The Food Network for a number of reasons:

  • It had a four and a half star rating and was marked as easy.
  • Pasta is one of my go-to mid week meals, especially after swimming.
  • It would use up half the bag of kale.

So I chopped, toasted, grated and pulsed away to make my very first pesto…

The ice cube tray was another gem from a different work pal – that’s fourteen meals right there in the freezer. No need to defrost, just stir a cube into the hot pasta!

This pesto has turned out to be an absolute winner – one cube is tasty enough with a portion of plain pasta but I’ve also tried adding sun-dried tomatoes and black olives and in the version below, turkey bacon and red pepper.

turkey-bacon-tomato-spaghetti-with-kale-walnut-pesto

Gluten-free Spaghetti with Turkey Bacon, Red Pepper and Kale Pesto

I cannot believe I waited so long to make pesto. Seriously peeps, what have I been doing with my life?

So kale has made its way into my culinary pantheon (much to my surprise and delight) and whilst its superfood status may be under scrutiny, adding this green leafy habit into my kitchen is definitely a big tick in the box for me.

PS…If you made it all the way to the end of this random post about kale, well done you. You definitely deserve a pat on the back. And while you’re at it, if you know any other handy ways with kale, please don’t be shy about letting me know. I’d be very grateful.

When a foodie goes to Lisbon

When you live so far away from loved ones, the opportunities to come together are precious and rare so when my sister told me she had to be in Europe for work/a conference for a couple of weeks, we decided to rendezvous in Lisbon for six days of sibling fun. This kind of jet-setting would have completely impressed me before I embarked on expat life – we found ourselves explaining our across-the-globe holiday planning a lot during the trip (our accents prompt a fair bit of inquiry) – and I had to keep reminding myself that it was actually ME in the story versus someone else.

Anyway Lisbon was fabulous. We had wonderful weather in the mid to high 20’s (Celsius), and we were never short of something to do, see, wander around or eat and drink. It’s a tough task to pick one post’s worth of highlights for you to peruse. So there’ll be a few posts in the series as I try and draw out the best of what was an amazing week.

My first post in an armchair tours series is not usually about food but quite frankly, I keep thinking about it and it’s like I can’t write about anything else until I scratch my foodie itch. So loosen your belts peeps, here goes…

Having never been to Lisbon before, one of of Lil Chicky’s most important introductions was to Pasteis de Nata – Portuguese custard tarts. This is a complete departure from what Australians think of as a custard tart. A pastel de nata is a small bite (well about three bites really) of flaky pastry filled with a rich buttery eggy custard. Our first one of the trip was at Confeitaria Nacional on the corner of Praça da Figueira.

pasteis-de-nata-1

It went down a treat – so much so that we made it our mission to try a custard tart from a different place each day and nominate ‘the best’ at the end.

Lisbon is a hilly place and this, combined with an average of six to seven kilometers of walking each day, meant we found plenty of reasons to stop and refuel wherever we were.

assorted-vittels

L to R: Delicious gelati (she had raspberry, I had passionfruit) at Gelateria Portuguesa just around the corner from the entrance to the Castel de Sao Jorge; caffeine kept us going and the Portuguese make pretty good coffee; our first Caipirinha was sipped from the rooftop bar at The Mundial on Martim Moniz with excellent views across to the castle.

Most evenings, we either wandered down to the food huts on Martim Moniz or grabbed some snack-type vittels and wine from the supermarket at the bottom of our building. We did try the Time Out Market on Sunday night with mixed results – Chicky’s meal was delicious but I was served cold, stringy and partially-cooked fries with my fish which the vendor refused to swap (that’s how we do it, I was told). Luckily the wine was good and Chicky found some freshly-made churros to ease my disappointment.

A few nights later we thought we should try some traditional cuisine. On the recommendation of a local, we snaffled an outdoor table at Cervejaria A Lota in Restauradores and to the cacophony of a strident spruiking battle between a couple of the restaurants in the street, we enjoyed a(nother) Portuguese red wine, grilled sardines and a mixed bill of mains.

a-lota

Far right: My delicious fish and rice ‘stew’ (monkfish, shrimps, clams served with rice in a tomato and herb broth) is in the foreground. Chicky got adventurous and went for the wild boar (in the background) which she said was okay – game-y and quite salty.

Our final day was one abridged by departures (Chicky to her conference hotel and me back to London) so we booked a foodie walking tour with Culinary Backstreets. We spent several hours with Celia (our guide) and a Brazilian couple (just off the plane from Sao Paulo) learning about and tasting Portuguese food. It started with a wander around the Time Out Market (it’s also called the Mercado da Ribeiro) with Celia explaining the elements of traditional Portuguese cooking and introducing us to a few familiar and unfamiliar ingredients…

mercado-di-ribeiro

…before settling us at a table for our first eating and drinking of the tour – some ‘toasties’ filled with local ingredients, a platter of fresh figs and amazing sheep’s milk cheese and a glass of Vinho Verde.

Next we moved to a little store next to the market selling Ginja, a Portuguese digestif made from sour cherries. Celia explained that one way of serving it was to sip it from a dark chocolate cup followed by eating said chocolate cup. Oh well, when in Rome Lisbon and all that…

ginja

Next it was a short walk to visit to a traditional grocery store where we were introduced to a number of ingredients essential to Portuguese cuisine. We also tried muxuma, a dried and cured tuna that tasted a lot like bacon to me. Quite delicious!

grocery-shopping

Clockwise from top left: Tinned fish is everywhere and there are so many brands; dried and salted cod or bacalhau which is soaked for at least a day before using it in any of a variety of dishes; pulses and grains are a big part of the Portuguese diet; carob pods.

Our next stop was the Cantina das Freiras which is linked to a charity dedicated to helping women in trouble. We entered a nondescript building in Chiado, took the elevator up and walked through the dining hall to be greeted by an amazing view of the Christo Rei across the River Tagus. We had a brief stop here to enjoy a cold glass of gazpacho and a home-made cod fritter in the sunshine.

charity-begins-with-a-view

Our next stop was for lunch at Restaurante Vicente at the bottom end of Rua das Flores. We had an array of Portuguese dishes to try along with a(nother) bottle of red wine. I loved the delicate flavours in the octopus salad and I think everyone nominated the tempura green beans as a favourite.

We were pretty full by this time but Celia promised us that the walk up the hill to our final stop – for pasteis de nata – would be worth it. So off we waddled.

We made an unscheduled stop on the way at By The Wine – about halfway up Rua das Flores – for a cheeky glass of Portuguese muscat. Celia explained that this was not normally on the tour but as Chicky and I had originally booked for the tour on the Sunday evening prior and the guide had cancelled due to illness, this was by way of an apology from Culinary Backstreets. Apologise away I say!

muscat-by-the-bar-lisbon

Top: The arched ceiling is lined with over 3,000 bottles Bottom: Gloriously golden muscat – when in Rome Lisbon…oh wait, I already said that…

Then we arrived. A tiny door led us off the bustling Largo de Camões into a narrow shop with a very special window into heaven…

manteigaria

Manteigaria fabrica de pasteis de nata make only Portuguese custard tarts and we stood at the window watching the staff cut the dough, form the bases, make and pour the custard and pop those little cups of delicious-ness in the oven….whilst sipping espresso and munching on the best pasteis de nata of our trip – by far! Celia said something about them using butter whilst most use margarine…but I barely heard and have already recommended this place to a number of people since I’ve been back in London including a colleague who is married to a Portuguese fella. She gave me a few recommendations before the trip and it gave me great joy to return the favour – she’s keen to check out this paragon to pasteis for herself when she’s there for Christmas with the family.

And with that (and before I exploded), the tour ended so we got some final recommendations from Celia (anyone been to Taberna do Mercado in London?), hugged good-bye and poured ourselves into a cab for the dash back to the hotel/airport.

So in summary, Lisbon is a foodie paradise. No matter whether you stick to a budget, embark on a culinary discovery tour or lash out at the top end (the latter I didn’t not experience directly but I overheard some people enthusing about this on the flight back), you could do a lot worse (and I have) travelling throughout Europe. And don’t worry about all of those pastries for breakfast/lunch/with coffee, you’ll definitely burn some calories walking around…and up…and down.

I’ve included some links below to help you with your foodie planning (don’t say I didn’t warn you) and I’ll be back with more of our Lisbon adventures soon.

——————————————————–

Our rooftop Caipirinha was at The Mundial, Praca de Martim Moniz

Our pasteis de nata trail: (from least to most favourite):

You’ll find information on our Lisbon Eats walking tour at https://culinarybackstreets.com/

May: Between the bookends

The month of May has the dubious privilege of being book-ended by bank holiday weekends here in the UK and it has to be said that the weather on both occasions was worthy of a patio session or two. But true to form, the temperatures in between have dipped considerably so this month I have found myself veering between layering up from my Spring wardrobe and delving back into some light woollens.

But the flowers (and other green things) were out and about…

…and so was I, starting with two contemporary dance shows at Sadlers Wells.

The first was from one of my favourites, Rambert, and their triple bill – the moody seamlessness of Terra Incognito, a dichotomous look into the mind of Macbeth in Tomorrow and the exuberant joy of the Brazilian Carnival in A Linha Curva – left me breathless and thrilled. Then I went to my first Nederlands Dans Theatre show. Actually it was Nederlands Dans Theatre 2, the 2 referring to the company’s troupe of ‘up-and-comers’ – if their extraordinary programme was anything to go by, the main company might just blow my mind. They were awesome.

Staying with the stage, a friend and I went to see Kit Harington (yes he of Game of Thrones fame) in Doctor Faustus. It’s a story I know, having seen the play for the first time on a school trip to the Adelaide Festival in my teens and it also provides the overarching serial killer narrative in the movie Seven. This was edgy, swinging between being absolutely hilarious and intensely shocking. There was even a nod or two to modern times woven into Christopher Marlowe’s 1604 script. It’s received quite polarised reviews but I really enjoyed it. It probably helped that Mr Harington spent quite a long time on stage in his underpants. After all, I’m only human.

I also heard Chris Anderson speak at the Institute of Directors last month. Who is Chris Anderson? He’s the CEO and curator of TED and has been doing the rounds promoting his book, TEDtalks: The official TED guide to public speaking (as opposed to the Talk like TED tome that has been doing the rounds since 2014). In any case, spending an hour listening to him speak and handle some Q&A before I started my work day definitely gave me a bit of pep in my step.

On the food front, I cooked my first BBQ – ever…

IMAG4775 (360x640)

…I went to a masterclass on being good to your gut with Eve Kalinik

IMAG4798 (640x360)

The goodie bag

…and then topped the month off with a visit to a free chocolate museum in Brixton which, being underneath a chocolate cafe, meant that Aussie-K and I were inspired to indulge after our visit – the gingerbread hot chocolate was absolutely delicious.

In literary news, the best of the five books I read this month was Ferney, a ‘time-slip’ novel by James Long. It may have been published in 1998 but right here in 2016, it earned itself a big fat five-star rating from yours truly. An inspired recommendation that I’m glad I took on…and there’s a sequel. *squeals with joy*

And speaking of time-slip, I managed to find some time to slip across the road from work to enjoy a bit of sunshine…

Westminster picnic (640x360)

The view from the grass in Victoria Tower Gardens

…and sculpture.

It’s really just as well that the month ended with a long weekend – June is beckoning.

A sweet life

It feels like January has disappeared in the blink of an eye and that, at last, the real chill of winter has descended upon the UK, settling itself around London’s shoulders and shrouding parts more northern with snow and ice. Since my return from Down Under on the 7th, I have been bundled up like a veritable pass-the-parcel prize, the clear skies making the morning air sharp and bracing on my nose and ears.

And yet despite the layer of frost over the back garden each morning, the green stalks poking out of the soil herald the coming of daffodils and I am also convinced that my morning commute is becoming a shade lighter. This may be a sign of Spring or foolish optimism or both.

In any case, since my last post my sister has graced Gidday HQ with a little visit.

(Yes I know I only saw Lil Chicky over Christmas but she was in The Netherlands for work and one of the founding principles of expat life is ‘never waste an opportunity to hug your loved ones’. More on this sibling hugg-ery in a later post.)

So I picked her up from the airport and left her in Gidday HQ’s second bedroom to get settled in for her four day sojourn. Wandering back in a few minutes later to assess the coffee situation (essential to Lil Chicky’s status of well-being and general happiness), she asked me to pick up her jacket off the bed.

Aussie snacks

That’s right.  4kgs of gastronomic nostalgia! There were (clockwise from top left) Chicken Twisties, Burger Rings (snacking on scoffing these as I type), Cheezels, lamingtons (in the plastic container), licorice bullets (soft licorice covered in either dark or milk chocolate), Caramello Koalas and a whole heap of my favourite chocolate bars, Violet Crumble.

You may well laugh but while Aussie vittels like Milo and Vegemite are pretty easy to come by in the UK, these are things that I have not been able to find over here, particularly since the demise of The Australia Shop. It is a complete joy to have a little stash of these for home as well as enough to take into work to Aussie-fy my colleagues. Let me tell you, the few bags of koalas and bullets I brought back with me earlier in January went down a treat in the office with one lady describing the bullets as a ‘taste sensation’.

But there always comes the moment when the last one is gone and I wonder how long it will be before my next nostalgic face-stuffing and while that might be a week or so away at the moment, the thought of a Violet-Crumble-less future makes me a little despondent.

But last night, after a bit of wine and a good meal, some English friends of mine and I discovered the Kingdom of Sweets…and these…

IMAG2218[1]

…as well as these.

IMAG2217[1]There were also English retro sweets like Parma Violets, White Mice and Love Hearts…

Love Hearts

…and for the Americans, there was an abundance of Wonka confectionary, Fluff (my English friend giggled)…

IMAG2216[1]

…as well as the biggest bottle of Hersheys syrup I have ever seen.

IMAG2220[1]

85 Oxford Street has just become my new favourite place in London. Although I read that Nestle deleted Violet Crumble from their range in 2010 and that more recently, a descendant of the original inventor Abel Hoadley has been chasing the recipe and naming rights. Go Bryan (Hoadley) I say. It would be a tragic thing to be missing this chocolate-y honeycomb moment of joy from my nostalgic nose-bag.

So January may have passed in the blink of an eye but things are definitely looking up.

Best I get myself back to the pool so this sweet life doesn’t migrate on a permanent basis to my sweet a**!