A taste of summer

There are many things I love about travelling: meeting new people, exploring different cultures, and of course the journey itself.  However, as an enthusiastic cook and someone passionate about good food, I also really enjoy having the opportunity to try new, local dishes and if I’m really lucky, I might even get told how to cook them myself…. And it’s not just me who enjoys this pleasure, it is one which we all share as a family.

Zermatt (91).JPGTry all foods at least once

It’s a good and well-used principle. As a result, we have relished reindeer stew in Finland, loved Lefse bread in Norway, and fallen for Swedish meat balls with lingonberry sauce. In Estonia, we discovered the most delicious garlic bread, made of extremely thin, deep-fried strips of dark rye bread. Of course you can’t visit Poland without tasting Pierogi and in Vienna we munched our way through large numbers of pastries.  In Zermatt we enjoyed not only Swiss Cheese Fondue, but also the most wonderful home made carrot cake, made by Edgar, owner of Pension Edelweiss, and his grandson Simon. I shall always be grateful to them for showing me just how they made it, and giving me the recipe too…

French Cuisine

“…’the French, if they cared to try, could produce an excellent and nutritious substitute out of cigar stumps and empty matchboxes.’ – Norman Douglas, British novelist (1868-1952)

rom16.jpgThis summer, as we prepared for our travels around France, we were all excited about the prospect of eating lots of wonderful French food. It came as a complete surprise to us, therefore, to learn just before we left, that the French [allegedly…] owe their culinary skills to the Italians, or to Catherine de Medici to be more specific. Daughter of one of Europe’s wealthiest families, Catherine had been brought up with nothing but the best. The French on the other hand were not exactly known for their skill at throwing pots and pans around the kitchen successfully. Catherine agreed to marry King-to-be Henri II of France in 1533 but refused to put up with his food.  She brought her entire kitchen staff to France, who ‘instructed’ the unruly French in the finer art of cuisine – or perhaps that should read ‘cucina’? Whether or not this little story is true or not, we’ll never know. 🙂 One thing is for sure though, these days the food in France is to die for…..

RIMG0190.JPGYou’re not hungry, you have an appetite…

Arriving in a new place can be very disorienting, and this is not helped when stomachs are rumbling and blood sugar levels are low.  In other countries at such times we have sometimes found it difficult to find quick fix food. Not so in France of course, where you head for croissants, baguettes and other delicacies by simply following your nose to the nearest ‘boulangerie’.

After that, when you’ve found your bearings, there are street signs to guide you to the local food market.  UsuallyRIMG0196.JPG open daily from 08.00-13.00, this is where you will find the most delicious selection of fruit, vegetables, fish, meat, poultry, bread, cheeses, herbs and spices – almost all of it locally produced, reared or caught. If only we could have such daily markets, and wonderful displays of quality fresh food here in the UK. If only….

RIMG0105.JPGIle de Ré

As part of our travels around France, we spent a week cycling around the lovely island of Ile de Ré, which lies just outside La Rochelle. Our home base was the small town of La Flotte, on the list of France’s prettiest villages and totally charming.  Its gorgeous medieval market place offers fresh food of any variety and provides the town with its soul! Its café’s, bars and restaurants are draped around the picturesque old fishing port, and it took no time at all for us to develop a habit of visiting the boulangerie early in the morning for fresh bread, followed by coffee at a quay-side café, before heading home to wake the kids. All very civilised…. 🙂

RIMG0208.JPGLa Flotte is a very sociable place. By the end of day one we found ourselves participating in a communal dinner for 250 people, all eating moules and frites washed down with local wine of course, and all of this to the sounds of a very ‘confident’ band…. A series of musical events was scheduled for almost every night, including performances by the municipal orchestra, a visiting youth orchestra from Taiwan and by the inevitable karaoke singers.  All of it taking place just below our window, I should add. 🙂

The Salt of the Earth…

RIMG0530.JPGIle de Ré is famous – amongst other things – for its production of ‘Fleur de Sel’, the locally harvested sea salt.  The process of harvesting sea salts dates back nearly 1000 years, and involves a series of water basins, an ingenious system of water drainage and evaporation. Crucial are the pink micro algae, which not only add flavour to the harvested salt but also give it its distinctive pale pink colour. At high tide the water basins are flooded at one end with sea water.

Once the sun has done some of its work, the remaining salt water is drained to the next basin. This process isRIMG0537.JPG repeated several times, until the salt is crystalised sufficiently for it to be harvested. Once the salt is ready, the ‘Paludiers’ (the salt workers) carefully rake up the salt, trying not to damage the crystals, and build little mounds of salt along the side of the basins.  The salt is then left to drain, after which it is packaged andsold to enthusiastic foodies like myself.

RIMG0306.JPGIt takes nine months of hard work to produce ‘Fleur de Sel’. Watching the ‘Paludiers’ hard at work under the burning mid-day summer heat has made me realise just why the stuff is so expensive.  I shall remember that, next time I grumble at the price, when I get to the checkout.

And so another summer slips by – dashing from place to place, catching trains here, buses there. Right now I’m having serious withdrawal symptoms.  I guess the tastes of summer – salty or otherwise – are still lingering, and I’m not quite ready to let go.

PS. ‘You’re not hungry – you have an appetite’ …. Erik, I love that quote!

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