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.

Paris rooftops

Cake by cake

I appear to have developed a habit.

Not the worst of habits, as vices go. But a deliciously decadent one: cake.

Wandering the streets of Paris over the last few weeks, as the city warmed up with the caress of spring’s fingers, I’ve found myself nibbling sweet treats on almost a daily basis.

I’ve lots of other pastry, chocolate and cake shops earmarked for a visit, but so far there’s been no shortage of tasty treats.

Eclairs have always been a favourite of mine. My grandmother made gorgeous ones, and seeing so many lined up in the windows of bakeries here has brought back some lovely memories of her homemade eclairs, oozing with freshly whipped cream.

The best cake I’ve guzzled so far in Paris? A salted caramel eclair from L’Eclair de Genie, a swanky bakery with every eclair flavour you can imagine.



Another highlight was a gooey, nutty, crunchy masterpiece from a small bakery in Montmartre that I happened across on a lazy stroll. Its take on the popular Paris-Brest cake (choux pastry with a praline flavoured cream) was quickly devoured in a little park.

Cake in the park

Cake in the park

I imagine there’ll be plenty more cake as myself and Paris continue to get acquainted.

Lazy like Sunday morning

Between work and having stuff on at the weekends, sometimes mornings can be a little chaotic: shower, breakfast, grabbing bags of stuff needed for the day ahead, throwing together lunch, losing things, desperately trying to find the lost things, and rushing out the door already feeling like you are on the back foot.

Sound familiar?

I’m the first to admit that I’m really not very good at mornings. That’s why I relish a nice slow moving one, where there’s time for a cup of tea, a read and a treat.

Today’s treat was my first attempt at homemade bounty bars, a Little Green Spoon recipe I came across recently. It’s a doddle to make. Simply blitz desiccated coconut with some melted coconut oil and some maple syrup to form a sweet coconut mixture. Squish this into a lined tin, and compact it (as you would the base of a cheesecake) and freeze it.

Once it is solid, chop it into squares, bars or whatever you fancy and dip in melted dark chocolate (or drizzle the chocolate on top, whichever you prefer). Then dig in with a cuppa!

Tea and a treat

Tea and a treat

A word of warning: be careful when dipping the coconut bars in the chocolate as they start to crumble a bit and then the chocolate gets bits of coconut mix in it. Not an issue for taste, as it all goes down the one way, but it makes them look a little less pretty.

Coconut treats are definitely one of my favourites. I’m also partial to snowballs, and coconut and raspberry muffins. Hopefully this batch of bounty-type bars will last for a few days, although I’m pretty sure they’ll be devoured long before they go off!

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!



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!

Lazy Sunday

It’s a bit miserable out today, a bit damp and grey, and well…January-ish. On such days, I’m usually far more susceptible to the lure of tea and biscuits, accompanied by a ‘straight-to-TV’ film or a flick of a magazine.

A few weeks ago I watched a documentary on sugar, which quite frankly terrified me and was far more effective than any January health kick in motivating me to step away from the biscuit tin.

That said though, life would be terribly dull without a few treats.  So my current approach is to at least try to opt for homemade ones where I can control the sugar and other ingredients. I’ve been meaning to try The Little Green Spoon blog’s pistachio and cranberry squares for the last couple of weeks.

These were really simple to make, and quick too (an added bonus!). In summary, lightly toast oats and pistachios. Blitz these with coconut and cranberry, and then bind with melted coconut oil, almond butter and maple syrup. I reduced the amount of maple syrup slightly, and I’d imagine you could use another oil or melted butter instead of coconut oil, depending on what you have to hand.

If you happen to be into icing cakes, and have an icing smoother, it comes in very handy for squishing the mixture into a baking tray to set. If not, your hand or a sideways mug (hold by the handle and roll) will also do the trick.

The recipe I was working from yielded 12 perfect squares. My attempt was a bit crumblier…so broke a little when I cut it into pieces. Still tasty, just a bit misshapen (and the leftover crumbs were delicious sprinkled into yogurt).

Avoid the shopping

If like me, you’ve still got most of your Christmas shopping to do, the chances are this weekend might involve a dash to the shops.

Much as I love soaking up the atmosphere around town during the festive season, I don’t like buying gifts under pressure. Instead I tend to shop online, and also make homemade gifts.

Continue reading

Exotic drizzle

There’s nothing exotic about the weather over the last few days, but there has been plenty of drizzle! Sometimes cold weather makes me crave traditional comfort food, but sometimes exotic flavours can be a nice taste of sunshine when it is freezing outside. Continue reading

A cherry on top

It’s the little things that make a big difference when it comes to a special meal. A pretty napkin, nice plates, fresh flowers. It doesn’t need to be fancy but, for me, a few little touches can really set off a meal.

It’s the same for cake. A little decoration can turn a nice cake into a really special one. You could use chocolate, fresh fruit, flower petals or fondant icing. There are plenty of options to match both the amount of time you have and the occasion. Continue reading

A hug in a dish

The temperature has dropped, and I am finding myself increasingly drawn to all manner of comforting, hearty fare.

Baked ham, brown bread, soups and stews will be stocking my fridge, and my belly, for the next few months. When it comes to colder-day treats, apple crumble is one of my favourite desserts, reminding me of family dinners and cosy Sundays. Continue reading