Travel tastes

When I travel, a big part of the adventure is tasting interesting food and discovering new flavours.  A recent trip to Vietnam delivered in spades: colourful markets, fruits I’d never seen before, delicate herbs, tasty fish dishes.

But, it also brought a pleasant surprise: chocolate.

On a cycling tour of the Mekong Delta, amidst a warren of narrow pathways and palm trees, our guide pulled into a small house to show us the cocoa pods growing in the garden and the cocoa beans drying in the yard.

The farmer greeted us warmly, and our guide explained that he was one of a number of people in the area who supply cocoa to artisan chocolate maker, Marou. The company was the subject of an interesting read in The New York Times, if you want to know a little more about it.

Marou makes six single origin chocolate bars, each one named after a Vietnamese province. It has also branched out into some flavoured bars too.

Later in our trip, we sought out the Marou chocolate cafe in Hanoi to see where those beans we’d seen ended up. A bright airy modern cafe, with a good selection of chocolate based cakes plus the full range of bars and sweets, it’s a nice place to while away an hour or so. Plus, bonus points for a Willie Wonka vibe. A glass fronted kitchen allows you to watch the chocolates and treats being made as you munch away on the finished product.

Whether you are a chocolate purist or prefer more experimental flavours, there are plenty of options. I enjoyed a pho (Vietnamese soup) flavoured chocolate. Just a hint of spice with velvety dark chocolate.

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Picture this

Succulent red tomatoes, crispy golden bread, berries bursting with juice, a sizzling BBQ.

Words can only go so far when it comes to describing food. But a good photograph? With that you can smell the smoke rising from the BBQ, almost taste the burgers.

I started this blog because I enjoy eating, cooking, reading food magazines and listening to food-related podcasts. Writing is my day job, so the words part of blogging wasn’t too daunting. Photos, however, are not my strong point.

I snap away on my iPhone (I don’t have a camera). And I play about with colour and light and all that stuff. Really though, I haven’t got a clue.

In a bid to improve, yesterday I spent the afternoon at a workshop on food photography and styling with the lovely Elise, also known as The Pineapple Chef.

Before I got there, I was a little wary that most of the stuff would be far beyond the capabilities of my iPhone and I. But I was pleasantly surprised to find that the same basic rules apply to a good photo, regardless of the device.

Elise offered great tips on how to improve photos, which will hopefully mean better images on these pages from now on. And after the fun of playing around with photos and styling, then there was plenty of time for cake eating too…all in all a lovely Sunday.

Some of my images below…

Fancy apple tart

Fancy apple tart

Lemon macarons

Lemon macarons

Berries and macarons

Berries and macarons

 

 

 

 

Night in nibbles

Make food a friend

“Eating is not merely a material pleasure. Eating well gives a spectacular joy to life and contributes immensely to goodwill and happy companionship. It is of great importance to the morale.”

Elsa Schiaparelli

I came across this quote on Instagram recently, and liked the sentiment. I’ll admit I had to Google Elsa Schiaparelli (an Italian fashion designer, apparently) but I like her approach.

Eating can become a battleground of sorts: a battle to eat well when really you want to surrender to the biscuit jar, a struggle to maintain good habits and look after yourself when time is hard to come by, and fighting against the constant clamour of pseudo-science to avoid fads and just eat simple, wholesome and tasty food.

That’s a lot of conflict, so it’s nice to think of the friendlier side of food too. Food as a friend, as comfort and nourishment and fun.

For me, food is often a social or leisure kind of thing, a way to recharge, find some head space or share some good company. On my own, cooking  away with a podcast on, grabbing a quick bite at lunch time on a busy work day to clear my head, meeting friends for a meal, or simply tea, cake and chats.

A recent holiday in Spain featured lovely, lazy balcony afternoons with snacks (amazing fresh figs, nuts and other tasty bits) and good company. Fast forward a few weeks to a Saturday night in with friends, and lots of delicious nibbles, including olives, cheese, and juicy red grapes.

It’s the simplest things that can make us happy really, isn’t it?

Holiday snacks

Holiday snacks

Sweet nostalgia

There are certain smells that have the ability to transport me to a specific moment the second a waft hits my nose. Cinnamon and nutmeg will forever remind me of Christmas preparations, tomato soup brings me back to an ill-fated family holiday hit by food poisoning, and burnt toast makes me recall my first attempts (bad ones!) at fending for myself in the kitchen.

Food has an amazing ability to conjure up long-forgotten memories, which wrap themselves around you like a comforting shawl. When in need of comforting, or if simply in the mood for a treat, I’m partial to retro goodies. Perhaps because such treats – the likes of a good ol’ finger of fudge, or a mini bakewell tart – remind me of being a wee one!

When it comes to retro treats, it doesn’t come much better than a snowball. For those of you unlucky enough not to have had one, it’s a gooey, oozing, sweet affair: a fine chocolate shell, covered in coconut, encasing soft, sweet, fluffy marshmallow. Bliss!

Snowball

Snowball

How was your Pancake Tuesday?

I was all set to make healthier pancakes last night, with yogurt and berries for a simple topping.

But sometimes, the traditional option is called for. On a wet, icy evening, all I wanted was a plate of comfort food: fluffy hot pancakes topped with lemon, butter and sugar, and a big mug of tea.

And the best bit? Leftover pancakes for breakfast this morning!

A taste of Japan

Food is a big part of holidays…and holiday memories.

In 2014, my boyfriend and I went to Japan. It was an amazing trip, a real adventure, and it was punctuated by delicious food.

Last week, we decided to revisit some of those holiday memories with a sushi making course. It was a lovely way to spend an evening, and best of all, we left with boxes of the sushi we had made to bring home for dinner.

Talking food

Each morning on my walk to work, I like to listen to something. Some days it’s music, other days the news, but recently my morning walk has been filled with sounds of food.

I’m hooked on the Burnt Toast podcast from the team behind the website Food52.com (named because we cook 52 weeks of the year). Short, snappy episodes are easily digestible, and perfect for listening to when your brain is waking up or fried after a day in the office.

This podcast only started a few months ago, so I’m hoping that there are lots more episodes ahead. The chats that the hosts and their guests have are the sorts of conversations that you could imagine having with friends over a cup of tea. Not too foodie or technical, just entertaining. Topics include meal planning, how to avoid lunch boredom and teaching kids to cook.

“Cakes are a great weekend thing. Something to bake on Sunday, and have for the week.”

Another of the food-related podcasts that I’ve been enjoying recently comes from the BBC World Service. The Food Chain is simply great radio: interesting stories, brilliantly told. The content is a blend of economics, culture and history, peppered with anecdotes and interviews.

“The cliché is that men make chefs and women make cooks….According to Bloomberg, last year in the 50 most prominent American restaurants, only 6 per cent of the tops jobs in the professional kitchen were held by women.”

There are a few other food-related podcasts that I’m planning to listen to soon, such as The Sporkful and Eat Your Words. For me, podcasts are a bit of a rabbit hole. Once I listen to one, I find myself happening across another and another.

Any suggestions for interesting podcasts on food, cooking or baking?

Five to try: Apps for healthy food ideas

My bookshelves creak under the weight of countless food books; some dog-earred, others reserved for special occasions. Books, and the recipes they contain, become like friends. The one you turn to in a panic when you need something in a hurry. The ones you spend indulgent afternoons with, simply enjoying the luxury of time.

In a small apartment though, there’s only room for so many friends at the party. Which is why I’m trying some new online relationships, trading my lust for new cook books for the immediacy of downloading a new app. So far, so satisfying.

Food apps are very handy for on the go recipe hunting. For the day when you are on the bus and remember you’ve an *insert wilting vegetable of choice* buried in your fridge that needs to be turned into a meal pronto.

The beauty of apps is that you can try a new one out without a big commitment. The most I’ve spent on a foodie app so far is €4.99, and there are a lot of cheaper – or even free – options.

In no particular order, the following five apps are my current favourites for healthy recipe ideas. They all focus on eating natural ingredients, and overlap a lot in terms of their philosophy. I don’t really go for the whole juicing craze, or the idea of a “cleanse” whereby you eat a very restrictive diet, but I agree with the overall goal of eating less processed stuff and trying to choose fresh, natural stuff instead.

Food Fix Up: I came across this app from Aussie Stephanie Neal purely by chance, and now I’m addicted. I especially love the jerk chicken with baked sweet potato and mango salsa.

Deliciously Ella: This app is a pretty popular one, and the Ella of the title now has a book out too. A good range of recipes, with a special mention for all the lovely smoothie ideas.

Green Kitchen: For starters, this app features gorgeous food photography. It offers a wide range of vegetarian recipes from couple David and Luise, who also have a lovely blog.

Clean and Green: This app has some really simple recipes, and is a nice starting point for someone who wants to mix up their menu a bit and introduce new recipes.

Honestly Healthy: This app has some recipes with fancy ingredients, and some more complicated suggestions. But still some nice ideas to try.

If there are any apps you enjoy using for healthy eating ideas, I’d love to hear about them. Share your favourites by posting a comment below. Thank you!