Sunday, 25 October 2009

Aux puces de la Mosson

I find it is always either feast on famine at flea markets and car boots, and today was no exception.
I love wandering around & searching out long forgotten or discarded treasures but, easily distracted by people watching & evesdropping, I inevitably miss a bargain in the process.  This flea market is so colourful, it is very difficult to concentrate on the task in hand. The faces and voices combine with the wafting aromas of frying merguez sausages, fresh oily coffee and cigarette smoke to create a hypnotic headiness which draws you away from here towards North Africa and far away from the task at hand.
Today I tried to keep my head down & focussed, so I did my best to ignore the Moroccan tagines, the drum-playing father & son duo and the guys strumming guitars to advertise their sales in the far corner. Now that I have my lovely canary yellow rectangular Le Creuset 1970's cocotte (bought here earlier in the year), I'm trying to find smaller items that are more useful for everyday cooking. The focus was again cast iron.  The trick, I have learnt, is to check the insides carefully - by touch rather than by eye.  Often rust and dirt is just superficial, but chips that look quite superficial can be deep into the enamel which will flake further in use.  Today was a good day ...

 I won't mention the set of simple fluted ice cream glasses that disappeared from before my eyes into the bag of a lady in front me ...

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

help please - the next day of the rest of my life

My usually cast iron stomach is no more, and I have been mourning my loss.

At present, my diverse investigation into foods of the world has been interrupted, and my own body is doing the interrupting.  I have scarcely recovered from the news that I have to exclude all things nightshade from my diet.  This has now been augmented by my body's sudden aversion to meat, fat, dairy products, sugar and (almost worse) alcohol.  To be honest I am not sure that the alcohol bit is entirely necessary so I will do some tests - for the sake of science, mind you - to challenge this theory next week.  In the meantime though, all of the above means that I have suddenly become a vegetarian, no fat, gluten free teetotaller.

I'm not sure yet what I make of this change, it is really too early to say.  On the plus side,  I feel a lot better than I have done for months and I am looking forward to fitting into clothes that haven't seen daylight for a while!  On the negative side, at first glance, almost everything that I enjoy for both nutritional and purely pleasurable purposes, is now denied me.

The effects of this are immediate.  At work I am struggling to be able to taste the recipes that it is my job to design so I am having to learn to work in a whole new way.  I have to be very careful how I taste products, and spitting a sample (so beloved of supermarket buyers everywhere) does not permit you to experience the the flavours & textures of a products in the same way as swallowing.  At home, the enjoyment that I used to get from baking and creating sweet treats is no more, and in its' place is a new challenge I face (at least) 3 times a day - what on earth am I going to eat?

Friday, 16 October 2009

tomato nomato

Let me introduce to you to my new best friend: nomato soup.

 Doesn't it look great?  Bright red, juicy and fresh - you can almost taste the tomatoes.  I didn't make a spelling mistake, by the way, this isn't Tomato soup, that is out of reach for me at present.  This is Nomato Soup (I know, even by standards, that is an awful pun).

Friday, 9 October 2009

Chinese tea eggs

Chinese food fascinates me but nothing caused me more confusion on initial discovery than this method of cooking eggs.  The first Chinese recipe I book I owned was Marks & Spencer's book 'Chinese Cooking' by Deh-ta Hsiung and bought in 1981.  I still have it and it brings back so many happy memories of my (retrospectively staid) introduction to this exotic and alien cuisine.
Chinese takeaways didn't feature on my radar until my mid-teens.  My introduction came instead from a wonderful family friend, Vera,  who took my younger sister and I to Chinatown in London for the first time when I was about 12.  I was hooked from the first moment, the smells, the hustle and bustle, and the ducks hanging in the windows of the restaurants as we strolled by.
Vera took us to a restaurant on Shaftesbury Avenue where she was greeted as a long lost friend.  It's only whilst typing this that I remember that she was brought up across the road in Soho, part of the close-knit Italian immigrant community who have introduced us Brits to the joys of Italian coffee as well as proper Spaghetti Bolognese and Parmesan cheese.

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Mark Bittman's crustless gluten free almond tart

My first ever parent-free overseas visit was, like most English schoolkids, a day trip to Boulogne.  This included the obligatory visit to Auchan which, thinking back, was more for the teacher's sanity than the kid's education!  How influential that trip was - so much so that I still remember exactly what I brought back: 4 different cheeses, the stone pot of grain mustard and a crepe pan.

I fell in love with the array of pans, coffee filters and implements that greeted me in aisle after aisle in this enormous supermarket.  This was heaven beyond my wildest 11 year old dreams.  But what to buy?  I settled on a crepe pan as it was the cheapest non-stick pan in the store.  Non-stick was aspired-to but untested in our household.  I relished the thought of arriving home and presenting my mum with this new modern pan in which we would create paper-thin lacey crepes flambeed with brandy, instead of our more familiar thicker pancakes rolled up with a sprinkling of Jif lemon juice and granulated sugar.