Monday, September 29, 2008

A Saturday at the Aldeburgh Food Festival

A busy place, the Aldeburgh Food Festival. Only in its third year and utterly mobbed as the organisers sought to top the 15,000 visitors they had last year. I am blessed by friends who had sussed this little corner of foodie heaven out and took me along to see this year's offerings.

There were some honey-sellers there and we stopped for a short chat. They asked me if the African Bee had been seen in my neighbourhood (nope, not so far, so far as I've heard) and told me they'd successfully experimented with the icing sugar method of varroa mite control. They also said that borage had been a great source of nectar up until this year, when the Suffolk growers lost the oil contract to China. So no borage planted, no flowers for the bees, and a great deal less honey. Another blow for monoculture...

We paid a happy visit to Emmett's meaty stall, where the seller presided over acres of what I hear is gorgeous black (from the treacle cure) bacon, and was dishing out irresistible samples of imported chorizo. We weakened and he handed one over, apologising for having run out of bags, and suggested we walk around with it hanging from the string. I asked about storage - having had a stern lecture from a French sausage seller earlier in the month about the evils of refrigerating dry-cured sausage like this, and our man agrees there is nothing worse for the flavour and texture of the sausage. The best storage for chorizo is (pats stomach); otherwise, hang it from its string in a cool, dry place (my kingdom for a larder). If it gets mouldy, cut the mould off. Consume at a swift but leisurely pace as it will gradually dry out which impairs the flavour somewhat. And makes it hard to slice.

Another old friend: Suffolk Gold cheese (with Suffolk Blue in the background).

On to the celebrity chefs. We caught the end of Tom Aitken

and were sooner into the scrum for a taste of the lobster risotto than this group were. We also got in there while there were still spoons. Hah.

A little later we saw Mark Hix scoring a giant puffball from the man from the Red Poll Beef stand who we'd seen earlier harbouring several of them ...

and he explained how you really have to know people to get hold of these monsters as they're hard to find in the shops (though our local wundershop sometimes has them around this time of year).

Then he sliced a slab off and fried it up to sit under some game he was preparing, with creamed corn, under the watchful gaze and microphones of Tom Parker-Bowles and Matthew Fort.

We had a grisly presentation from Fergus Henderson, working on the pig tail end of his nose-to-tail weekend (he gave a workshop on cooking a pig's head on the Sunday, which we missed, alas). We were not convinced after sampling the finished product - braised, cooled, coated and pan fried - which just tasted a bit like, well, pan fried fat. But now we can move on and eat something else.

We didn't choose crepes, although we were able to queue for something else in sight of the beautiful van.

And we dined al fresco. With everyone else. A beautiful day for it...

...and for a walk out to see the Creek Men afterwards.

Finally, home to superbly cooked partridge. Mmmm.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Luck in London

Yesterday netted me two excellent meals in a row: a great welcome back to London. Lunch was at the Royal Court Theatre Cafe where we lucked into three delightful dishes, for me a fabulous warm salad of Jerusalem artichokes, mushrooms and baby spinach, with a Parmesan crisp to nibble on...

and reportedly delicious others: a pumpkin and goat's cheese tart crusted with almonds; and a Lancashire hotpot in its own little basin:

We weakened when faced with the dessert menu, and luckily so: the Sticky Toffee Pudding was ethereal

while the almond and fig tart was exquisite, a study in texture and colour:

Later that same day, at Carvosso's, I struck gold again with the duck leg confit, with roasted figs, green beans and mashed potato

while my companion fell upon her swordfish with glee and said it was absolutely perfect.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Fun in Paris

A lovely weekend in Paris. We travelled up by TGV, which was a swift and smooth ride, and as soon as humanly possible after disembarking we found ourselves a pleasant lunch. For me, some lamb chops

followed by some delightfully crunchy creme brulee.

Supper on Saturday night was prefixed by a trying stroll to the restaurant. Apparently there was a techno-parade heading our way and the streets of the Marais were thronged with Parisian youth seemingly attempting to out-drink and generally out-yob their British counterparts, and we had to pick our way carefully through what had become an open pissoir and vomitorium.

Putting all that thankfully behind us we settled in for a happy return to le Bistrot de L'Oulette where we embarked on a series of unusual delights. My starter was one of the best I've tasted: escargots with artichokes; tender and perfect:

followed by oxtail with foie gras wrapped in a cabbage leaf

and finishing with icecream - prunes with armagnac.

Sunday we visited the newly opened Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature, which was excellent, stylish and unusual, from the courtyard

to the ceiling;

and even the toilettes were suitably attired:

We hastened then to fortify ourselves with a splendid salad

and then joined many, many Parisians in the Luxembourg gardens

where we found ourselves in a queue to see the greenhouses, which are normally closed to the public (it was a holiday though, so they were open for two days only) and which have a stunning collection of orchids

They have one or two dahlias too...

and lots of fruit:

Even more interestingly, they have bees

in many hives. They were selling the honey the day we were there, but had sold out within an hour; I gather it's an extremely popular annual event.

We stopped to refresh ourselves with an Italian-style gelato from Amorino:

Foot-weary we managed to limp to a supper engagement at Chez Janou which is seemingly always heaving with custom, and rightly so.

My starter was a many-splendoured salad incorporating avocado, crayfish and pink grapefruit...

After some concentrated walking and shopping on Monday morning, our last lunch was upon us before we knew it. We settled into a cafe near Place des Vosges.

Tarte tatin, a fitting finale:

And finally boarded the Eurostar for the trip back to London. We were lucky to have no trouble getting ourselves back, since one of the tunnels is still closed and there are delays and cancellations which will go on for a while yet.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Climate of the Poem workshop with Sean O'Brien, in France

Last week at Chateau Ventenac sped by. Having made note of the interesting (to travellers) fact that it takes about 2 hours door-to-door to reach Stansted from Turnham Green, I have little else of comfort or interest to report about that journey.

There was that traveller's moment when I learned, at Victoria Station, that there was no underground service on the Victoria line the day I travelled, and so I had to make one of those Londoner rolling-gear changes, where you must always expect the unexpected whenever making a journey, and I got there in the end.

Can I just say what an appalling place Stansted is for anyone who cares about food, comfort, manners or convenience? And to mention that you can pay stupid amounts for just about anything there... speaking as one who forgot to pick up that essential item (for the borderline flu-sufferer, namely Twinings Ginger & Lemon tea) at my local groceteria and was forced to hand over the extortionate price of forgetfulness.

Seeking literary consolation, I visited the book concession and - in a vain quest to find any section called "Poetry" - stumbled upon a promising new tome by Felicity Lawrence (Eat Your Heart Out) to keep me company on my journey. I have already learned more than I wanted to know about the evils of cereal and some scary things about milk, meat and vegetables. Happy landings...

Here was our view from the chateau:

and another, of the many surrounding windmills at sunset:

Here's a view of our first evening's supper, first and last course: some grilled goat's cheese on bread on salad:

and a bit of apricot tart with ice cream:

Each day's lunch included a decorative platter of sliced beets garnished with creme fraiche, as well as a good selection of salads, sausages and and cheese.

Happy tutor packs his pencils at the end of the week:

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Market day

We had a trip to the market in St Nazaire d'Aude this morning, where there was a bit of everything on offer:

This little pig was there to raise money for an animal rescue charity, although I thought positioned rather dangerously near a sausage stand.