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Video: Truffle Hunting with Ezio in Piedmont

I have just come back from a whistle stop tour of Piedmont & Liguria in Italy. I went truffle hunting with a wonderful truffle hunter Ezio, and his fabulous little dog.

I shoot a lot of video but rarely get the time to edit them, so I forced myself to turn this around really quickly this time. I normally shoot them on my DSLR but it committed hari kari recently, so I filmed this on a swish Samsung S4 which I was sent to review.

The results are pretty impressive for a phone – the S4 can’t do ought about my still scratchy voice (5 weeks of coughing takes its toll!). I would like a little tripod / stabiliser thing to do something about the shaking, but otherwise, I am pretty happy.

Enjoy! Here are some photos that I took with the phone also. The timing could not have been more perfect.

Sunset in Piedmont

Sunset in Piedmont

Ezio and his fabulous truffle hunting dog

Ezio and his fabulous truffle hunting dog

… more soon!

I travelled to Piedmont & Liguria and Tra Arte e Querce as a guest of BITEG & the tourist board

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A Postcard from Lisbon

Lisbon

Lisbon

And now, Lisbon.

Lisbon grabbed me by surprise. I have been here before and knew I liked it but Lisbon is a city that I could now see myself spending a lot more time in. In fact, I am fantasising about moving here for a bit to write my next book.

People are so helpful and friendly (in the main), it is affordable, the food and wine is delicious (once you steer clear of the tourist track), and it is on the sea. The architecture is beautiful with pretty buildings coated in colourful tiles dotted throughout. It is also possible to stay in really lovely places without blowing the budget.

I have lots of recommendations for you, the first being put Lisbon at the top of your list. Then come here for a prego (Portuguese steak sandwich), wonderful seafood, those swoonsome pasteis de nata (especially the original secret recipes ones from Beleim) and the wine, for lots of the delicious and very affordable wine.

A full detailed and printable list of recommendations will be appearing here soon, for now some photos, as is the tradition.

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Suckling pig sandwich and piri piri oil at Pombalina, Lisbon

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Wrapped tinned sardines at Conserveira de Lisboa

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Manuel at Pombalina with one of the three suckling pigs that they sell in sandwiches every day

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Love this! The bottom one means accountant (uh huh!)

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Clams with garlic at Cervejaria Ramiro, Lisbon

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Prego (Portuguese steak sandwich) at Cervejaria Ramiro, Lisbon

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Pasteis de Nata and a coffee at Confeteria Nacionale

Pasteis de Nata and a coffee at Confeteria Nacionale

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A Postcard from Rome

The Jewish Ghetto in Rome

The Jewish Ghetto in Rome

Greetings from Lisbon, and a delayed greeting from Rome. I haven’t written from either (yet) as I have been ill. Coughing and whooping, I felt like something within was scratching to get out. I am much better now, and sitting in a gorgeous Lisbon apartment bathed in sunshine. I can now write.

Lots to catch up on, lets start with Rome. I spent 4 nights there, working on a HouseTrip city commission, gathering local recipes and checking out the best local places to eat. It was my fourth trip to Rome, but my first in seven years. It was interesting to see how much it had changed. Less Fiat 500s and more Smart cars for  a start.

I stayed near the Vatican, on a hill, in a sleepy quiet part of Rome. Rome is so walkable it was a great location from which to explore. The four days were saturated with nostalgia. I couldn’t help but recall previous trips. The first when I was 19 and so very naive and enthusiastic. I had been in Nice for the summer and had saved some money so I hopped on the train to Italy.

I started in Florence which was nice but too quiet for me, but I loved Rome. I loved it all but I especially loved the potato pizza and the gelato and I went from being a seriously (too) skinny girl to normal size, which was 2 stone heavier. It broadened my culinary horizons and that was when I discovered the joy of culinary travel.

I visited the Vatican and I remember how thrilled my Irish grandmother was when I brought her back some rosary beads. Pope John Paul II was hugely popular in what was a very Catholic Ireland then (not so much now, things have changed in my generation). I walked past it every day on this trip and each day reflected on then and now and what has changed.

Then I recalled my last trip there 7 years ago, when I stayed near the Vatican again. I remember the pizza, the pasta, the croquettes, courgette flowers, the Fiat 500s (sadly less numerous now), men beating the trees with sticks in the evenings (to get birds out?), the crazy lady whose house we stayed in, who enthusiastically showed us the advertised PANORAMA from her apartment then ushered us back to our room which overlooked the bins. Rome doesn’t quite do B&B even though it thinks it does.

More on Rome soon… and Lisbon. For now, enjoy the photos.

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Recipe: Linguine with a simple tomato sauce, wild garlic flowers and pine nuts

Linguine with a simple tomato sauce, wild garlic flowers and pine nuts

Linguine with a simple tomato sauce, wild garlic flowers and pine nuts

I wasn’t planning on blogging this recipe. I arrived back from Ireland extremely tired and with no voice, replete with booming scratchy cough. I was in reasonable spirits though as I had just spent a great weekend at the new Ballymaloe Literary Festival of Food & Wine. It was a terrific event and weekend, drawing the worlds best food & drink writing talent to East Cork. But, that deserves a whole post on its own and I will come back to that.

On my return I was tired, hungry and in need of nourishment. Something delicious but not too challenging. The sun was shining, the sky was blue and London was alive. We had our first peep of summer. So, I brought summer to my kitchen too.

I eat this dish a lot. I adore pasta and I love quick pasta dishes like this one, carbonara, gricia and many more. The secret to this dish is to use the best ingredients. There are so few that if you don’t, you will know.

I had fabulous Italian tomatoes in a jar, a great dried linguine (from Pastificcio dei Campi available online at Food in the City and from Melograno Deli in London – they will also sell the best tomatoes too), some fresh basil intended for another dish that I didn’t get around to making, and some lovely lively garlic. A little bit of espelette pepper gave everything a ping, you can use a little chilli too (but not too much).

I made my dish and posted it online and had several requests for the recipe. Pasta with tomatoes in one version or another is such a feature in my kitchen, I realised that I should.

Enjoy, this tastes of sunshine and summer and is delicious. I made enough for two even though it was just for me, and then roasted the leftovers in the oven later with an egg cracked in the middle. I recommend you do it to.

Note on the recipe: you can serve with pecorino or parmesan too but I fancied something light so used pine nuts.

RECIPE: Linguine with a simple tomato sauce, wild garlic flowers and pine nuts

Serves 2

Ingredients

200g best linguine
1 400g jar or tin of best tomatoes
a handful of fresh basil leaves
2 cloves good garlic, peeled and finely chopped
espelette pepper if you have it, if not one mild fresh chilli
sea salt
olive oil for frying
25g pine nuts
wild garlic flowers to garnish, if you can get them (they are lovely and fresh, remniscent of spring onion!)
optional: a little (very good) extra virgin olive oil to drizzle on at the end

Method

Sauté the garlic in the olive oil over a medium heat for a minute or so. If using fresh red chilli add about half of it, chopped and deseeded, now.

Add the tomatoes and after a few minutes reduce the heat and let them cook for about 15 minutes. If you can’t source great tomatoes, enhance the flavour with a little sherry or balsamic vinegar and also a little honey to taste. Add the espelette pepper if using that, to taste.

Toast the pine nuts until light brown in a dry frying pan and leave to the side.

While the pasta sauce is cooking, cook the linguine until al dente (literally – with bite). Drain, reserving some of the water, and add the linguine to the sauce. Mix thoroughly, adding pasta water if too dry. Tear the basil leaves by hand and stir through.

Serve immediately in bowls / plates that have been warmed through in the oven (this will help keep the pasta hot). Sprinkle with the toasted pine nuts, drizzle the extra virgin olive oil on top and sprinkle with the wild garlic flowers.

Article

On 6 Years in Blogging: Reflection, Ranting & Some Advice

Well hello! This morning I realised that I was now 6, or rather that this blog was. Sitting on my sisters sofa, sipping coffee and observing the tornado that is my 3 and 2 year old niece and nephew, I spied the date and thought, didn’t I start this blog on May 2nd 2007?

I did.

6 years later, and my life has changed. I am very grateful for that. I was at a point where I was getting no satisfaction from my job and I needed a creative outlet. I knew something had to change but I wasn’t quite sure what. I had an urge which became a fierce drive with each unhappy meeting and day in the office.

I had long loved food & travel, hoarding cookbooks and putting every spare penny towards travel wherever I could. I was touring London’s food shops, buying random ingredients, cooking furiously at home. Learning all the time, hungry for information and recipes, trying to perfect everything at home.

2 years previously I had started loading my pics from my very average camera to flickr, actually usually my very rubbish camera phone, and had gained more confidence with each post. It made sense to start a blog, and I really wanted to.

But, I didn’t have the confidence. I know that will surprise you now. My background was in science and technology and even though I had dearly loved writing, my approach was scattered and very personal. No one had ever read anything that I had wrote and I was worried about how people would respond. I had every excuse. I need a name, I need a proper design. And then one terrible day, I thought to hell with it, and started that evening at home.

I quickly discovered that it brought me much joy. More than I imagined. It didn’t matter how bad work was, I had lots to look forward to at home. I was one of the early ones out of the blocks in the UK, but more started, and I got to know them. A community started and many are now firm friends.

As a child I read everything I could get my paws on (an education in itself I think). I was such a keener, I even asked my 6th year teacher for extra essays for practice and he said no, which was the correct response. I wanted feedback in the safest way possible. Guidance from someone paid to educate me. I wasn’t yet ready to show anyone else.

I remember my first late night when I discovered that that was when I loved to write. I can’t even have been 17, but for some reason I stayed up till 4 am and found myself furiously writing, I don’t even know about what. I didn’t know it then but that was a landmark. I often thought of that night and how much I enjoyed it. I wasn’t even sure why. I applied for a degree in journalism, and I got a place. But I grew nervous and chose the safe science option instead. I was very academic and I knew that that would be fine.

So, years later, I started. One furious frustrated push. One blog post and then another. Twenty in the first month. There was nothing outstanding in there and I was doing it anonymously but people started to respond. I grew confident and came out. Shyly at first, yes, I write a blog, about food & travel. I am a little obsessed.

And here we are now. 6 years in. For the first 3 years, I wrote while holding down pretty intense full time work. My personal life was full of ups and downs but that seemed to provide fuel for the blogging fire. In year 4, I cut my work down to 3 days a week and started to do more freelance work.

I was speaking to publishers about doing a book but had never committed to one. I was worried that it wouldn’t be done right, I wouldn’t be ready, and what if this was my only chance? Then my Dad became seriously ill and I decided that this was it. I quit my job, moved back to Ireland for a bit, signed with Quadrille and wrote Comfort & Spice. I haven’t looked back since (except occasionally, fondly, at memories of a frequent solid pay cheque).

Writing a book was not what I expected. It is the most isolating, head wrecking and infuriating thing I have ever done. It was also one of the most rewarding. The period between handing it in and seeing it on the shelf – otherwise known as the time of THE FEAR – I headed off to Argentina for a month. Unexpectedly, this was one of my best travel experiences to date. I needed space and I got it. I returned refreshed.

My book came out, I got a column in the Evening Standard and I started to dabble in TV. 5 episodes of Market Kitchen, The BBC Food & Drink show, some interviews for TV abroad (including randomly in Georgia and in Denmark) and a few other small bits and bobs.

I started to travel more, as much as I could manage. I started writing travel pieces in a freelance capacity which funded my passion. I became more of a recipe vampire, trying to gather as many recipes as I could on every trip abroad. I loved it, I still do. I find travel inspiring, that if I stay still too long my brain aches and becomes dull. This was it, everything I wanted and was working towards, I was doing it.

Which brings me to now. Reflecting here, after 6 years writing, looking at where I was, where I am and where I want to go. How to work out advertising and monetisation? I have yet to work that out but it is something that I need to seriously consider if this is to continue as it is.

What I can share now are some lessons gleaned from 6 years blogging. I am often asked for advice and here it is. I hope it is useful.

Try not to think too much about what anyone else thinks. Write for yourself or for people very close to you. Everyone else will come.

Write about what you are passionate about and only that.

Not everyone will like what you do and some will be quite vocal about it. Learn to accept constructive criticism and tune the nasties out.

Try not to copy anyone elses style. Be yourself and do your own thing. If you replicate, what is attractive about that? Everyone will choose – quite rightly – to continue reading the original.

If you are starting now, try to use technology or blogging formats in a way that no one else is using now. This will help you to stand out.

You will lose faith but don’t give up, stick at it. There were periods of time where I hardly blogged at all, but I always came back.

Start small but evolve. Get the best camera you can (although now actually phone cameras are often great), work on your design so that it makes sense to your readers. Make changes where you can. Ask for advice and feedback but…

… don’t email and pester other bloggers for links or spam people on twitter with your posts. This will only wind people up and work against you. Find your peers and grow with them, this is healthier and much more productive in the long run.

Always be polite. Don’t use your flash in restaurants. Don’t disturb other diners as you review.

Build your blog naturally. Don’t start because you want stuff. This is pointless and actually, you don’t get offered anything until you have been blogging for a few years and are established.

Find the social networks that work for you. Don’t try and do everything. I love twitter and instagram, and they work for me. They work because I enjoy them, perhaps a little too much.

Use the same identity on all social networks that you use so that your readers can easily find you. I am @eatlikeagirl or Eat Like a Girl everywhere.

Overall, enjoy it, get on with it and don’t take it too seriously. It is just a blog after all :)

Addendum: I was just asked this on twitter: So you didn’t think your blog would lead you to where you are now? No, I didn’t. There was no precedent for it here. I wanted to write and I wanted to be better at it. I wanted to do something that made me happy.