On then to Toledo. A walled city surrounded by a rushing river. It looks very magical, and it is easy to imagine the rich history that Toledo has. There is much to see, Toledo is a rare place where historically Christians, Muslims and Jews lived in harmony alongside each other. There are ancient mosques, synagogues and an impressive gothic cathedral too.
Can you believe that summer is almost over? My garden is wild and enthusiastic, my small harvest looms, and my tomatoes are finally turning a glorious red. Autumn is almost here. The sun is bolstered with crisp air, and the evenings are drawing in. The leaves have started to fall off the trees in my garden.
Menorca is a small island with a big heart. Not just a big heart but a serious heritage. It is clearly Spanish but all a little different, from the stone house structures that look prehistoric and like the many UNESCO heritage sites scattered throughout the island. These are relatively modern and are used to house animals in farm fields. They add to Menorca’s sense of wildness and natural beauty. There is little modern here to interfere.
La Mancha will surprise you. Inland and south of Madrid, La Mancha is home to fields of bright saffron crocuses (and their gorgeous stamens, aka saffron), windmills atop hills surfing waves of wild rocket, each tender stem reaching for the stars and proud with rocket flowers. There are beautiful rural towns with ancient buildings and theatres. Country squares full of locals dancing, painting, enjoying local festivals. Don Quixote was set here and you can see it everywhere.
Galicia loves seafood. The scallop shell is an emblem of their pilgrim walk, the camino de Santiago. I saw a church covered entirely (and beautifully) in scallop shells and many pilgrims with a scallop shell painted with the camino emblem attached to their backpack or their wooden walking stick.
Razor clams are a favourite, as are clams, more pedestrian (but still fabulous) mussels and gnarly percebes, plucked from the cliffs before the waves crash in by expert brave fishermen. If you have been to Spain you will have noticed the percebes, it is hard to imagine that you can eat them that first time they take you by surprise. Black and pointed, looking like a velociraptor talon, not something tender, saline and delicious. Harvested in Galicia and popular in Spain, they are cooked by plunging them briefly in boiling salted water for just a couple of minutes. Pinching them to remove the outer leathery carcass reveals a delicate addictive interior, juicy and bright.
There is a tired and jaded notion that cooking over fire is the preserve of the male, and that women are neither interested in or inclined to BBQ, preferring instead to be at the stove indoors. This is nonsense, of course. There are people who love to cook, indoors and out, and it is in no way gender specific. Why are people so obsessed with gender when it comes to cooking, anyway? We all eat, it is the one thing that unites us, and so many of us love to cook too. Why be divisive?*
After my breakfast with Guy Savoy, I made my way to the 14th arrondissement to meet Didier Lavry at Le Petit Mitron, a baker who had just been awarded the second prize in le Meilleur Croissant au Beurre d’Isigny AOP. That would be the best croissant competition in France, Paris section, then. Don’t you just love France for that?
As I walked up the stairs of the Monnaie de Paris on a quiet Friday morning, I wondered what awaited me at the top. I was in France’s oldest institution, the national mint in the centre of Paris overlooking the tree lined Seine. It was early, and the staff at the door were surprised to see me arrive as they don’t open until lunchtime. I am here to have breakfast with Guy Savoy, I announced gently in clumsy French, with some trepidation.
If I had a beach hut I would paint it yellow. Somewhere between canary and primrose, cheerful, bright and full of promise. I would put it facing the sea, surrounded by heather, long grass and all sorts of sea vegetables. It would have a lovely little hob and lots of gorgeous pots and pans hanging from nails on the wall. There would be lots of enamel dishes. I might whistle as I walked there. If I could whistle. (I never could and I spent most of my childhood trying.)
The secret to living in London well is not encoded in the size of your pay packet or the size of your flat. It is in knowing when you need to get out and take a breath, so that you can rush back to go through it all again. I love London, deeply, but I love the sea also. I grew up by the ocean and I miss the clear salt air, the familiar smells, the sounds of the crashing waves, the slippery seaweed, creeping crabs and barnacles, hostile and pointing and telling you what is what.
I know that I am one of those Londoners guilty of not exploring the countryside surrounding. It could be that I don’t have a car, nor do I drive anyway, but that is a poor excuse with the extensive train network that we have here. Life is busy and I am often elsewhere. Last year I decided that I would dedicate more time to exploring the countryside around me, the nearby cities, towns and villages. I made little inroads and so I raised the task this year again.
Bournemouth is only 2 hours from Waterloo on the train. It has a mixed reputation. Some describe it as God’s Waiting Room, others simply describe it as dull. I went along with this for a while until friends told me that this was nonsense, with recent years seeing an influx of interesting places to eat and drink there. And then there is that big long beach and glorious fresh sea air.
Sold! I booked my train ticket and off I went. Being an excessive planner I researched painfully as I always do, and booked anywhere I needed to before I left, leaving enough time to idle or wander, an essential component of any weekend trip.
I stayed at the Hilton in Bournemouth, freshly pressed (not yet a year old) and well located just 5 minutes from the beach. Everywhere you turn you are greeted by a cheerful windmill pattern, on the walls, on the blankets, on the wallpaper, there are even some windmills in your room for you to play with. It is not overdone, though it may sound like it. It is all soothing and lovely. The bed is very comfortable and the sheets are crisp.
We had Executive Lounge access along with an Executive Room, which meant we could goto the lounge for snack and drinks throughout the day (including alcoholic drinks from 6-8pm). We started here before heading briefly to check out the view from The Sky Bar which has a bright white balcony stretching the length of it. From there we went to the restaurant downstairs, Schpoons & Forx, for dinner.
A little about the name, for I thought the same as you are now. WHAT? It is quite sweet really, the restaurant is names after Bertram Bell, a master cutler from the area in times past, who had a speech impediment, and was chosen to speak at the The Cutler’s Feast in 1733. He was nervous, but the audience embraced it, and so the term Schpoons & Forx was coined. Matt Tebutt is at the helm here, behind the stove but also behind the tandoor. They are doing very good things.
Hotel restaurants fail when they try to be all things to all people. A restaurant that knows its mind has a much stronger chance of success. That is the case here, the menu is divided between dishes for the table (snacks, really); starters; tandoor, clay oven and chargrill and sides. Desserts follow on their own page later. The sea has a strong presence, we order some fried cockles which were divine, I was so tempted to order a second portion (and I did when I returned the next day, I ordered 2!). Crisp and light with hardly a trace of grease, we had them with the buttery large nocellara olives and some smoked aubergine with flatbread.
For starters, I had the monkfish “scampi”, firm fresh nuggets of monkfish in a light batter, with some gorgeous fried slices of lemon. A fragrant aioli came on the side. My friend had a small portion of mussels, that came in a fragrant fresh bath of riesling, ginger, coriander and lime leaves. For mains we both had the 400g tandoor rib steak, served sliced in tarragon shallot and port butter with watercress and a sturdy pot duck fat chips. The steak was gorgeous, the tandoor delivering an intense crust, but it was tender and rare inside (as I had ordered it). The port butter added a layer of indulgence. I will by trying that at home in BBQ season (of course, now I want a tandoor!).
Lemon posset was large and tart, with raspberries on top. I was full but it served well to cut through everything that I had eaten before. I battled a little but I couldn’t manage a lot. To drink we had the Portillo Malbec from Salentein, a wine that I have not had since I visited Salentein in Argentina in 2011. Seek it out, it is very good, and well priced.
We were woken early by breakfast in bed (which I had ordered the night before). Poached eggs, sausages and hash browns. No bacon, as I have eaten SO much of it recently in the final (final!) round of Project Bacon testing. Then to the beach to hire some bicycles, we had a plan for lunch booked before we had ever boarded the train from London.
We cycled along the beach, hugged by beach huts on one side in varying degrees of gorgeousness. Some bright and cheerful, others concrete with pale enquiring faces made of windows. We boarded the ferry at the Sandbanks crossing, and 2 minutes later continued our journey through the National Nature Reserve that is Studland and Godlington Heath. Furze bushes, soggy marsh, proud rushes. One cow grazing announced by numerous signs.
After an 8 mile cycle in total, we arrived at the Pig on the Beach, a hotel and restaurant set in a rambling old house with a kitchen garden and garden wood oven. Deck chairs and tables are dotted throughout the garden, overlooking the white cliffs and the sea nearby. The day was absolutely gorgeous, so bright, so blue. We sat at a table outside on the terrace for our Sunday lunch.
The kitchen garden provides much of the vegetables and salad, the pigs nearby the meat and there are chickens also. Everything that isn’t sourced in house is sourced from within 25 miles. I can never resist crackling, even if I am going to order a pork roast for main course, and so we had that to start with apple sauce. Also house fish fingers which were pleasant, although I would have preferred them with a mayo based sauce.
The pork loin came in slices, which were nice and moist, the yorkshire was large and proud and the potatoes crisp from their roast in beef fat. Mustard sauce came in place of gravy, which worked quite well. House ice cream came for dessert, in 3 flavours (chocolate, mint & thyme) with a pig shaped cracker. We had some lovely Cote du Rhones white throughout. Service was charming and the day cheerful, we didn’t want to leave but we had to get back on our bikes.
We finished our short trip with drinks at The Library, above the Larderhouse in Southbourne. The Library is the last thing that you would expect in Bournemouth if you listened to those that rehash its old reputation. The Library, complete with taxidermy and quirk wouldn’t be amiss in London. Perhaps that shows the sometimes small mind of the Londoner, there IS life outside the capital after all (I jest but you know what I am saying). The menu is delivered in a bronze tube and is written over a map. We opt for the Peruvian and the Madagascan, both so lovely we immediately order 2 more, the Haiti and the New York. Salvatore was manning the bar, with white jacket and bow tie. I dragged myself from the table to get my train. And I had a couple of portions of fried cockles back at the Hilton when I collected my bag.
A lovely 28 hours, it felt longer, and just 2 hours from London! Gorgeous.
What You Need to Know
With thanks to the Hilton Bournemouth who hosted us for dinner and our room. We spent £90 on lunch at the Pig on the Beach with drinks and service. Cocktails at The Library were £10-12. We hired bicycles for £16 each from Front Bike Hire on the beach, and I paid £2 extra for a basket. Our train fare paid in advance was £56 return each.
Eating and Drinking Map of Bournemouth (for a weekend break)
Menorca in Spring is covered in flowers. Wild joyful ones, carefree and colourful with tall stems and bright petals. So many poppies lining old stone walls, gates made of wild olive wood and bristling against ancient UNESCO world heritage monuments, occasionally a donkey, some cows or some sheep. There are wild orchids too, tiny and discreet. Up to 25 types. I found one hiding on a walk to the seashore.
The Wild Flowers of Menorca
There are over 900 types of wild flowers recorded there. Menorca doesn’t have an Autumn, instead they call it Winter-Spring, in reference to the wild flowers that flourish at that time of year. So, it isn’t inaccurate so to call the honey produced in Menorca thousand flower honey. There are hives dotted throughout the island. Sebastià Pons has 350 dotted along 8 locations on the island. Sebastià is the producer of Miel S’eixam (along with all of those busy bees), a raw honey produced and sold in season.
Visiting Miel S’eixam hives
Down winding Menorcan country roads, through fields rich with flowers and past some curious cows we found some of Sebastià’s hives. It was an overcast day, which was a good thing, as his bees can become agitated in the heat. They are part African bee (he had some genetic analysis done), and they are aggravated by red and black, which were the colours that I was wearing that day. Bad planning but not to worry, I had a full beekeeper outfit, complete with hat, to protect me from any unwarranted bee attention. Although Sebastià was keen to stress that he allows himself to be stung on occasion as he believes it is good for him, citing back pain in particular (and there is scientific evidence that the immune reaction to bee stings can be beneficial for other situations).
I watched the bees fly in and out and could not help but think of those two terms busy bees and mind your own beeswax. I watched them return to their hives with the pollen attached to their legs as tiny perfect cylinders (pollen is bee protein, and is very good for us too). A separate hive had started to form in a nearby bush, which I walked to through wild flowers as tall as me (and that would be 5ft 3!). Sebastià had placed a box nearby for them.
The Benefits of Raw Honey
Raw honey is unpasteurised and so has not been subjected to the heat that can strip honey of its health benefits and breadth of flavour. Local raw honey helps with hay fever too, and it has to be local, as what you are doing when you are eating it, is inoculating yourself with local pollen, and getting your body used to it before the onslaught of the season. It is rich with antioxidants, and minerals like iron, zinc, potassium, calcium, phosphorous, magnesium and selenium. It is vitamin rich, containing B6, thiamin, riboflavin, pantothenic acid and niacin. Raw honey also mops up free radicals and there is evidence that shows it enables significant suppression and prevention of cell damage. We focus too much on the fact that it is sweet and confuse it with processed white sugar. Honey has long been a valuable energy resource for us, and a health food.
Miel S’eixam was not yet available (it sells speedily when in season, and the season has yet to start this year), and raw honey is hard to come by at home but it is available if you look for producers in your area. I get excellent local raw honey at my farmers market in Balham, London of varying types depending on the location of the hives. I buy 3 types: forest, lime and borage (the borage is said to be particularly good for hay fever). They have pollen too, which is dried (and this removes a lot of the properties) but with notice they can get me some frozen pollen which is still very good.
If you are lucky enough to be in Menorca during honey season, make sure to get some. And have it with sobrassada as the locals do.
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I travelled to Menorca as part of a project between iAmbassador and Visit Menorca, who sponsored this project. As always, I have complete editorial control.
Some towns capture the heart and the imagination. Ciutadella is one. Previously the capital of Menorca (but not since 1722), it is the same size as current capital Mahon, both small cities with 30,000 people living in each. The remaining 30,000 Menorquins live in other small towns and rural Menorca. Ciutadella is a small city, cosy and friendly, but its architecture and large square lend it a feeling of a much larger place, and one that you want to get lost in.
The streets of Ciutadella are gorgeous, winding and narrow. Many shoot off the large impressive main square, the Placa d’es Born, which overlooks the harbour below. The narrow streets are lined with Moorish, Gothic and Medieval architecture. Window balconies jut out above, reminding me of sleepy Andalucia. It is all very lovely, and glorious on a sunny day.
Coffee in Bar Imperi, Ciutadella
We started our day in a lovely little cafe in the corner, Bar Imperi. I was meeting Antonio, secretary of the Fra Roger Gastronomy & Cultural Society (Fra Roger Gastronomia y Cultura) and a Ciutadella native. Fra Roger wrote the first Menorcan cookbook and is a very important figure in Menorcan gastronomy. He was a Francisan friar and likely learned to cook in the friary. He wrote down all he learned in his book Art de la Cuina (The Art of Cooking) which was published in the 18th century.
Bar Imperi is a local institution and it is clear from the first few minutes that Antonio knows everyone there. Here you can have local pastries and snacks, coffees and alcoholic drinks. There is an open courtyard to the back as is common in buildings like this in this area. Over coffee and sobrassada sandwiches we spoke of Fra Roger and his recipes. He wrote 200 including dishes like lobster meatballs and there are many references to the original mayonnaise, alioli. Menorquins claim mayonnaise as a Menorcan dish, discovered by the French during their occupation of Menorca (and called after its place of origin, Mahon).
Seafood lunch at S’Amarador overlooking Ciutadella harbour
Lunch had to be seafood, and we headed to one of the best restaurants in Ciutadella, S’Amarador. It was packed on a Monday lunchtime, on the terrace overlooking the harbour, in the courtyard where we sat, and throughout. We had a seafood platter to start with john dory (sublime!), grouper, cuttlefish red prawns and scorpion fish.
To follow we ordered the local speciality Caldereta (invented since Fra Roger’s time and in Menorcan cuisine for 100 years or so). A local spiny lobster soup, this version was rich and had a beautiful deep rust red lobster broth with lots of lobster in, and crisp thin toast to dip in and soak it all up. As good as last years was this was divine and I was full, but the magnetic broth kept pulling me back. For dessert I had to have the local ensaimada, a glorious snail shaped lard pastry dusted with icing sugar, and served with cinnamon ice cream this time.
Finish the day with a Pomada, Menorca’s favourite gin drink
My third recommendation is the same as my first, but you will thank me for it. Start your day at Bar Imperi with a coffee, and finish it there with a pomada. A pomada is the local drink, a gin cocktail made with Menorcan Xoriguer gin and lemonade (or lemon fanta). Sometimes, lemon, or homemade lemonade.
Here I learned a neat trick, maybe two. First, you can order small cocktails, just to start your evening, a perfect primer, and not so much that it will make you sleep. Second, as I witnessed the barman repeatedly smash a bottle of fanta off the side of the counter, I realised that they had frozen the whole thing, and then gave it a good beating to create crushed ice. My pomada was like a pomada slushie, and it was so good in the heat.
I will return to Ciutadella, I have a list of restaurants to check out and I loved the relaxed friendly vibe there. I think it will be a perfect place to chill out once my book is done (and it nearly is!).
What You Need to Know
Bar Imperi, Placa des Born 5,Ciutadella de Menorca
S’Amarador, Carrer de Pere Capllonch, Ciutadella de Menorca
Follow me on instagram! (@eatlikeagirl)
To see more recipes and to see them first come follow me on snapchat! I share video recipes from my kitchen, almost daily, along with my other London and travel based food adventures too. Add eatlikeagirl on snapchat using this link: http://www.snapchat.com/add/eatlikeagirl
I travelled to Menorca as part of a project between iAmbassador and Visit Menorca, who sponsored this project. As always, I have complete editorial control. With particular thanks to Antonio and the Fra Roger Gastronomic and Cultural Society and Menorca Guides for their help on this wonderful day in Ciutadella.
Whenever I travel I add places that I love to my Google Maps and places of interest, so that I can return and recommend them. I save the best places to eat, drink and stay, and anything else of interest in between. It is high time that I shared them with you! So, I am introducing Eat Like a Girl Food & Travel Maps to help you plan your next adventure.
Starting with Cork, home to my alma mater and also somewhere that I lived for 8 years, I go back often and know it very well. Details below but all included in the map also so that you can navigate on the hoof when you visit. All address information etc is in the map below.
> Where to Eat in Cork
Miyazaki – fantastic authentic handmade Japanese food. Ramen, udon, excellent sushi. A small takeaway, you can eat in at the counter. There is no drinks licence but you can BYO.
Greenes Restaurant – fine dining with the best of local ingredients. Excellent value pre theatre menu, available all night earlier in the week. A la carte and tasting menus with matched wines are also available. Check out their range of Irish craft spirits too.
Café Paradiso – One of the best vegetarian restaurants in the UK and Ireland. Chef Denis Cotter and team produce consistently exciting and very tasty food. Relaxed fine dining. Booking is essential as it is very popular.
Fenn’s Quay – tucked on the ground floor of an old tenement building in Cork, Fenn’s Quay is a local Irish bistro (at least that is what I would call it anyway). Kate Lawlor, head chef, has put together a lovely contemporary Irish menu. Space is limited, so again, best to book.
> Best Cork Cafés
Idaho Café – gorgeous small characterful café. All food is made on site and is contemporary traditional. The sausage sandwich or the waffles with bacon and maple syrup make an excellent breakfast. Open for lunch and in the afternoon too.
The Farmgate Café – A cafe and restaurant, the cafe makes up the largest bit. An essential stop serving the best of Irish produce in a traditional and contemporary fashion. The Irish stew is excellent. Fresh oysters from the market below are always good. Try the toasted sandwich and soup combination. Or anything! They have a great selection of Irish craft drinks too.
Triskel Arts Centre – café, bar, arts centre, it is hard to know how to categorise it. There is a terrace outside in summer and lots going on in the arts theatre too, including arthouse cinema.
Filter – great little contemporary café a little out of the way and on the river. Filter serves espresso based coffees but has a brew bar also. Cakes etc are also available.
Rocket Man – just outside the English Market, the Rocket Man serves excellent salads, fresh pressed juices and wholefoods. They serve good coffee too, and offer a selection of non-dairy milks (oat and almond when I visited).
Nash 19 – café and art gallery, Nash 19 veers more to being a restaurant. Excellent Irish food is served in lovely surroundings, the back of the restaurant is an art gallery. It is packed with locals, and is just down the road from the English Market.
> Best Cork Pubs
The Hi-B – a glorious little old school pub, always packed. There is an open fire in winter, as with most Irish pubs. Don’t order Guinness – a Dublin drink – Cork tipples Murphy’s or Beamish are on offer here. There is always someone who wants to chat too.
Mutton Lane Inn – Small dark and cosy, this gorgeous pub down a laneway from the English Market is a lovely place for a drink. It gets very busy in the evenings with the crowd spilling outside. Be sure to take a look at the stunning wall mural outside painted by local artist Anthony Ruby.
Meades Bar 126 – Meade’s is one of my favourites, a small cosy bar, like being in someones house, especially in the winter with a roaring fire. There is a nice wine selection here and tapas too.
Sin é – characterful with excellent traditional Irish music sessions on Tuesdays, Fridays and Sundays, sometimes other nights too.
Arthur Mayne’s – in a converted old pharmacy, Arthur Payne’s retained all the old bottles and cabinets and added enomatics making it a great destination for wine lovers. Food and craft beers etc served also.
The Long Valley – famed locally for their doorstep sandwiches which you can get toasted, try the local spiced beef. I love the Long Valley for lunch but it is also great in the evening. There is a weekly poetry event upstairs every Monday.
Callanan’s Bar – a cosy lovely local with a great craft selection.
Tom Barry’s – a little out of the way, but perfect for a pint after Miyazaki’s nearby, or for a woodfired pizza in the large lovely beer garden outside.
Franciscan Well Brewery & Brewpub – Cork’s original brewpub and finest.
> Cork’s Markets
The English Market – A special place that defines Cork and is packed with producers from old school butchers selling Cork’s spiced beef (think corned or salt beef with spices), pickled pork and bacon, the local tripe and drisheen, and contemporary offerings like Frank Hederman’s wonderful smoked salmon and other products. Fresh seafood lines one side of the covered market, you can also find great chocolate, cheese, charcuterie etc.
Coal Quay Saturday Farmer’s Market – small lively selection of local producers every Saturday.
Shopping in Cork
Bradley’s Off Licence – far more than just an off licence, Bradley’s has a terrific selection of Irish and international craft beers and spirits and local foods too.
Brown Thomas – Cork’s poshest department store, should you need anything!
Iago’s – A gorgeous Italian deli, if you are staying in Cork self catering you need to shop here. Italian and Irish produce, cheese, fresh pasta, pizza dough, fresh chorizo and anything else you might require for a great dinner.
> Chips! (Yes – because they are good)
Jackie Lennox Chipper – I loved this chipper when I was in university. Proper chips, batter sausages and legendery cheese and onion pies (mashed potato with cheese and onion, battered and deep fried).
> Where to Stay in Cork
The River Lee Hotel – upmarket hotel with comfortable well decorated bright rooms 5 minutes walk from downtown. Very friendly with a large buffet breakfast. The Weir Bar lines the river and is a lovely place to relax over a drink.
Hotel Isaacs Cork – central hotel with rooms ranging from budget to higher end suites. Very well located and very friendly. Recommend staying here particularly if you plan to eat in their lovely restaurant, Greene’s. Have a drink outside by the natural small waterfall, and do try the local gins while there.
> Follow me!
Stay up to date with my restaurant and food adventures by following me on instagram (occasional pictures from restaurants and my kitchen) and snapchat (eatlikeagirl there, so much fun and lots of little cooking videos too). I am always on twitter and facebook also!
This is part 1 of a 2 part series. Coming soon: road tripping in Cape Breton with all the lobster! The photo above is from the Cabot Trail in Cape Breton.
If it were possible to unravel the coastline of Nova Scotia, it is said that it would stretch across Canada. This can’t be true when you look at the map but it is indicative of the length of coastline that there is to explore of the Eastern Canadian province and it makes for a terrific road trip. Almost an island, but not quite, the coast line of Nova Scotia clinging on to the side of Canada, almost like a hinge.
I love Nova Scotia, I have been several times to see friends. I love the easy charm of the place, the friendly people, the vibrant local wines (particularly the sparkling and white wines) and the produce. It reminds me so much of home, yet it is different. The accent is similar yet different. The seafood is so good. Lobster and scallops are in abundance and very affordable, you see both in roadside diners wherever you stop.
Food and drinks at Obladee in Halifax
Start off in Halifax and treat yourself to a couple of nights there. My favourite place to stop is Obladee wine bar, and – full disclosure – it is owned by my good friend Heather. What she has created here is the best of what she loved when she lived in the UK and explored Europe, but with a distinct Nova Scotian flavour. Obladee serves the best of Nova Scotian and Canadian wines, and international wines too. Themed wine flights change weekly, and the food served by chef Brock is very good. The menu changes, on my recent visit I adored the chicken and wild rice soup and reuben sandwich. The toutiere pie with spiced minced pork within gorgeous flaky pastry was so good I returned the next day to have it again. The goat’s milk chocolate fudge is an essential finish.
Donair and beef brisket tacos at Field Guide in Halifax
A trip to Halifax demands a kebab, sorry, a donair. An evolution of the doner kebab, specific to Halifax and now Maritime Canada generally, the donair is a beef kebab, sliced like a doner, and served with donair sauce, a sweet garlicky sauce made of evaporated milk, sugar, vinegar and garlic. King of Donair claim to have invented it, and that is still a favourite for locals to go to. Field Guide in Halifax are doing an upmarket interpretation which I loved, more of a donair sausage served in a steamed bao. Field Guide is a lovely contemporary space serving excellent food. I loved the beef brisket tacos with housemade tortillas also. I had some local wine that night but the cocktail list looks well worth exploring.
Hit the Maple
Heading out of Halifax make Sugar Moon Farm your first stop. Sugar Moon is a small independent maple farm focussed on making maple syrup (and you can see that in action if there in season), they also have a lovely restaurant space and do an excellent brunch. Local sausages and bacon are divine, and they are deservedly proud of their pancakes. Maple Tonic is a must on a cold day (maple syrup, lemon juice, hot water and cayenne), which you can upgrade to a Maple Toddy with a shot of white rum. I had try the Irish Maple Coffee, a Sugar Moon coffee with Irish whiskey and a maple sugar rimmed glass.
Baked eggs with ham and cheese, Irish coffee and the fabulous sausages and bacon at Sugar Moon Farm
Cook Up Some Lobster with the Kilted Chef
Chef Alain Bosse is the culinary ambassador for Atlantic Canada, and runs excellent and fun cooking classes from his home in Pictou. We made gorgeous lobster rolls using fresh cooked lobster in the traditional rolls that you get in Eastern Canada. The rolls are not round rolls like we are used to, but have cut sides, which crisp beautifully when you grill them before filling them up. We also made lobster caesars, and if you don’t know what a caesar is yet, may I suggest that it is one of the first things that you try off the plane. It is the Canadian take on the bloody mary using clamato in place of tomato juice. Clamato is tomato juice with clam brine and it is a very delicious thing. Now, imagine dressing that up with some lovely fresh lobster and making your own clamato with lobster brine? Yes! Chef Alain has classes scheduled in advance but you can also book private classes.
Part 2 of a Nova Scotian Road Trip to Cape Breton including the Cabot Trail and lots of lobster, coming soon!
Half my family come from Northern Ireland. My Grandmother and Grandfather were both raised there before they moved South to Waterford where I would eventually be born. I have a deep affection for all things from there, and I have always felt a strong tie. Despite that I have not been there since I was a child, which makes no sense. Except of course it was a very long drive – 8 hours – with restless children piled in the back seat asking relentlessly if they were there yet. I remember it clearly. I remember drawing piles of turf that I saw from the car window, and a factory with smoke billowing out of the chimney.
I had never been to the Giant’s Causeway in Co Antrim. I seemed alone in this. I was almost ashamed to admit it. I finally went late last year on a wild day during Storm Clodagh where winds gusted up to 70mph. It is a stunning vista of approximately 40,000 interlocking basalt columns hugging the coastline, the result of an ancient volcanic eruption but said in legend to be the result of a challenge between two giants who built the causeway with giant boulders so that they could meet. It is a world heritage site now with a wonderful visitors centre that offers guided walks and information.
Winds ripped through, over and around, the ocean spat spray furiously, and we stumbled around, laughing and trying to stay steady, until we heard ferocious whistling from a man in a high vis jacket just behind. It was too dangerous and we had to leave.
Try telling that to the couple who didn’t speak English and who were determined to take the wildest selfie of their lives. I yelled behind them, only a foot away, but the winds were so fierce they stole my voice and threw it behind me. Eventually I got through, and we stumbled back. By now, it was difficult even to walk. But, what a day. And the perfect way to see the wonder that is the Giant’s Causeway.
After, it is essential to go to Harry’s Shack nearby, a wonderful restaurant on the beach at Portstewart. It is a gorgeous little restaurant forged from wood, with large windows overlooking the sea and the sky and a gorgeous wood fire at one end. Food is all locally sourced and beautifully cooked. Seafood is a must, but there is always a meat dish on offer too.
We ate very well, starting mussels and prawns and wonderful dressed crab. On the side, good bread with Abernethy hand rolled butter with dulse.
For mains, we had whole plaice with cockles and smoked bacon; hake with chorizo, paprika and potatoes and buttermilk battered haddock, with, of course, chips.
To drink, we had some terrific Irish craft beers from Kinnegar. I couldn’t fit dessert. I always prioritise savoury food. I am definitely more salty a person than sweet.
Afterwards, we continued back along the Causeway Coastal Route, a stunning drive and a thrill for the Game of Thrones fans of the group. I am one. More on the rest of my trip soon, and my time in Belfast.
My trip to Northern Ireland was sponsored by Tourism Ireland. This year is the Year of Food & Drink, and the perfect time to visit. All editorial is my own, always. I never write about things I wouldn’t love to share, or heartily recommend.
Lets go to Paris shall we? Just for a little while, and just in our heads. Lovely Paris, broad boulevards, gorgeous architecture, the small winding streets of Le Marais and the pep and the quirk abounding. A quick jaunt to Paris is one of my favourite London things to do. It is such a joy to hop on the Eurostar in central London, and just over 2 hours later arrive in central Paris. A whole new world greets you off the train.
Le Marais is one of my favourite places to stay when I visit. Previously the Jewish Quarter (and it still is to a large extent), Le Marais is very central and has many lovely restaurants, bars and cafes. Many designers have moved in, and yes, the chains are moving in now, but Le Marais still retains a charm and a gorgeousness that reels you in.
I spent a night at Hotel du Petit Moulin, a 17 room boutique hotel. In a 17th century building (and former boulangerie where Victor Hugo would buy his bread), I went to try a package that they were offering with La Cuisine, a cookery school just outside Le Marais facing the Seine and île Saint Louis, that small island in the centre of the Seine.
Hotel du Petit Moulin already has much to recommend it. Each room is individually designed by Christian Lacroix, and the breakfast room / evening honesty bar is one of the most cheerful and gorgeous rooms that I have ever seen. It is located in one of the most charming areas of Paris and is within walking distance of some terrific places to eat and drink. My room was beautiful and eclectic, and very comfortable. A free standing bath was accompanied by Hermes toiletries. Breakfast was classic French, pastries, yogurts, fruits, jams. I loved the whole hotel experience.
At La Cuisine I had a choice between making baguettes or croissants and breakfast pastries. Why make croissants when you can just buy them everywhere? Right? But homemade croissants are so good, so flaky, so rich with butter and they have to be eaten very fresh. Best out of the oven. And worth every ounce of effort. Yes, even corner shops sell croissants, but they are a bit lacklustre, aren’t they? Usually made with margarine and not butter, and only seeing a human hand when you go to eat it at the end.
Ah yes, but how do you know? In the shop or bakery, how do you know if they are made with butter or margarine? You can trust your nose and your taste buds of course, but you can tell with your eyes. Are the croissants straight or do they have a curve in them? Curved croissants are made with margarine, you see, and straight ones are always made with butter. Those are the (actual) rules.
Straight croissants rule. Croissant pastry is pastry that is delicately layered with butter with painstaking effort and organisation. Butter trumps margarine, no contest. For flavour, texture, and to quote a much used phrase “I would rather trust a farmer with my food, than a pharmacist”. Not only this, but freshness is key, you must eat your croissant within a few hours of them being baked, as traditional croissants are pure and have no preservatives.
Making croissants and breakfast pastries is fun. They take a while, and like most baking projects have rigid steps. But you are rewarded with wonderful golden flaky pastry, and better still you can play with them and be as creative as you want. The classes at La Cuisine are small and taught in English. My teacher was enthusiastic and knowledgable and taught us not only how to make the perfect croissant, but many other things that we could do with the croissant dough like pain au raisin, pain au chocolat and pain suisse (with pastry cream and chocolate chips_. We also experimented with delicious pastries made with pistachio paste (YES) and apricot jam. We experimented with shapes, and shaped them as rolls in and baked them in muffin trays.
I left the class with a joyful bag of pastries in hand planning kitchen adventures with croissant pastries of my own. And planning my next return to Paris, and my next stay at the lovely Hotel du Petit Moulin.
With thanks to Hotel du Petit Moulin who hosted my stay. Stays at Hotel du Petit Moulin start from €195 per room per night, based on two sharing on a B&B basis. The three-hour croissant and breakfast pastries class at La Cuisine costs €99. Booking in advance is recommended as they are popular. I travelled to Paris with Eurostar, who are currently offering tickets from £29 each way.
I meet so many people who tell me with a bare blush that they have never been to Ireland. And that they really want to go. I mean it is just over there, right? An hour and a half by plane and an hour later you can be in West Cork overlooking a pristine beautiful beach that feels a world away from anywhere.
I love Inchydoney and nearby Clonakilty. Many moons ago I gathered my friends there for my 28th birthday. We rented three houses and promptly removed every cup, plate, fork, spoon and chair into one house where we would all hang out, cook and eat. It was a terrific weekend, and one we still talk about whenever we get together. This time was a little different, I was to stay at a luxury hotel right on the beach, the four star Inchydoney Island Lodge & Spa.
A favourite of surfers (there is a surf school on the beach), the blue flag beach is also a great place to get lost in your own head as you walk the beach, and so is a favourite of walkers. Locals flock here for Sunday lunch and dinners as the restaurant has a great reputation for seafood.
There was a storm the day we arrived, I do think that is sometimes the best way to see the will and the energy of the wild Atlantic. I watched recalling times before, when I had witnessed the same tug and draw in my childhood. I grew up only half a mile from the Atlantic, I could hear it from my house on a windy day, and I spent many hours scrambling along the rocks and playing there.
Set just outside the picturesque and colourful town of Clonakilty, worth a visit alone to catch some music in one of Cork’s most famous and best music venues, de Barras, a small bar which showcases some of the best traditional and folk music in Ireland, along with some contemporary stuff too. It is also a great spot to swing by for a drink, should you fancy it. And make that Murphy’s or Beamish not Guinness, for you are in Cork now, and should enjoy a Cork tipple.
When you arrive at the hotel, after check in you are offered a complementary glass of Irish Mist. Scattered throughout the hotel are some wonderful Joseph Walsh pieces, his furniture is extremely rare and expensive. Design pieces much in demand, crafted in his studio near Kinsale. Inchydoney Lodge bought early, his work features in several museums including MOMA in New York and the Devonshire Collection in Chatsworth House. Inchydoney Lodge have one of the largest collections of his works in Ireland, outside of his own studio.
The rooms are very comfortable, spacious and nicely designed. I had an ocean view and could watch the ocean from the comfort of my bed. There are two places to eat, the residents bar and the restaurant, the Gulfstream. The bar has a more casual menu, dishes like mussels and fish and chips. The restaurant is a little more detailed, although still lovely and relaxed. We had a 6 course tasting menu focussed on local ingredients.
I never miss an opportunity to indulge in local seafood. I had mussels, crab, monkfish and oysters. We had smoked salmon from local smokehouse, Ummera, and their terrific smoked duck too.
Don’t neglect the spa should you visit. The pool is pumped with seawater from the Atlantic Ocean and while families do stay, the pool is only open to children at specific times. There are many seawater treatments available as well as Elemis treatments. I had a wonderful full body massage. I spend much of my life hunched over a stove or a laptop and it shows in the knots in my back. I suspect we are all cursed like this now. Afterwards, the fuchsia room with large windows overlooking the wild sea offered a further opportunity to relax.
I could have stayed much longer, and I will visit again. A world away, but not so far at all. Go visit Cork, and when you do, spend a night or two in the city also. I can help you there too! -> Where to Eat, Drink and Stay in Cork City (Boy!)
Tart Basque cider is a must when in San Sebastian, poured high, as with Txacoli. Sour more than sweet, and flavoured intensely with the nectar of a jumble of heritage apples when I tried it at Petritegi at Astigarraga near San Sebastian, a traditional Basque Cider House, not far from San Sebastian.
Even if you don’t like cider – or think you don’t, I promise you that this is different to the commercial fare that we are more familiar with – you must go for the food and the experience.
A large wooden room greeted lined with tables with nothing on them bar plates, cutlery, napkins and a large stick of bread. The room was lined with large barrels of cider. Huge wooden vats. We proceeded to the tasting room down a hallway lined on each side with more barrels, into a large room, where one of the family waited manning the tap, waiting for me catch my cider.
Yes! You catch your cider. I don’t know how else you describe this. The tap is flipped, the cider arches high and proud and you giddily stretch and try and get your glass right beneath it to catch a couple of inches of it before the tap is turned off. There are no pints of cider here, you can have as much as you want, but in polite pours.
For eating, there were several cider house menus, including excellent children’s menus, with real food! They are real people after all. Why all the nuggets here? Our menu was €33 per person, including all the cider our hollow legs could carry. Be warned: the portions are large.
The food was very good. A fluffy salt cod omelette started us off. Very tender and light. We also had local sausage, served simply as it was.
Hake tail followed this, served as a flat fillet with perky slices of roast garlic on top. Gorgeous. We were not even at the main event yet (these portions serve 2).
Bone in rib eye steak arrived, sliced, charred outside and bright red, 700g for two people. In English that is a steak as big as your head, and a little bit if your friends head too. Great quality local steak with rich deep flavour and superb texture. A little salty, but with all that cider, a little salt is good.
Dessert was local cheese, membrillo (quince jelly) and walnuts, served in the shell with a nutcracker.
A Basque Cider House? Fun, delicious and terrific value for money. Do it.
I went to San Sebastian on the #SeeSanSebastian blog trip, created and managed by iambassador in partnership with San Sebastian. The editorial is, of course, my own. I maintain full editorial control of the content published on Eat Like a Girl, as always. All of our lives are too short for any alternative!
Pasta is one of the great joys of life. My life certainly, and lots of Italians. And you too, right? I love to make it from scratch but I also love cooking best quality dried pasta, which is so misunderstood. You can read more about why we should eat pasta, and why we certainly shouldn’t view it as anything near a guilty pleasure on another post that I wrote – Blasting Pasta Myths – Reasons Why You Should Eat Pasta.
Pasta Production in Italy
Pasta is made all over Italy with many regional variations extending to the flour used, whether just water or water and eggs are used, or just eggs. Shapes differ, how they serve it differs widely too. In general, the North makes more fresh pasta, and the South has more dried.
This is fiercely protected in terms of the dried pasta that you purchase from Italy. There are laws governing it: dried pasta must be made using durum wheat semolina flour, and egg pasta can only be made with durum wheat semolina flour and a minimum of 4 hens eggs weighing 200g without shell, per kilogram of semolina. Croissant production is also regulated in France, incidentally, and more on that soon.
Pasta Production in Abruzzo
Abruzzo has a long history of producing some of the best Italian dried pastas (along with Gragnano in the South). In central Italy to the East of Rome and Lazio, Abruzzo is on the opposite coast on the Adriatic Sea, with sea and mountains, snow and sunshine, and a wonderful food culture dotted regionally among small towns and villages. I have been to Abruzzo twice. A gorgeous spot, under the tourist radar and who knows why? You need a car to get a round, as is the case for much of Southern Italy below it, it is worth the effort.
Pasta in production & drying at the Rustichella pastificio
The terroir (the mountains, hills, spring water, soil and proximity to the sea) is important here. The flour produced from the local grains, combined with the local water sourced from the mountain springs produced great pasta. The prevailing winds and humidity in the hills ensured that, in season, the pasta could be dried at a pace that produced dried pasta of a superior quality that could be used throughout the year. Slow drying allows fermentation which creates more intense flavour, and also makes pasta more digestible. Some of our best foods (in terms of flavour and ease of digestion) are a result of preservation and fermentation, pasta is an excellent example of this.
How Dried Pasta is Made, from Grain
Once the grain is harvested, it is cleaned, tempered and milled. To make the pasta, the flour is mixed with water and kneaded. No salt is added at any point, which is one of the reasons why it is so important to salt your pasta water properly. This is how you season it. When the dough is ready the pasta is extruded through bronze dies and then dried in the prevailing winds. Traditionally, the pasta was arranged on racks and dried naturally as the wind blew through the long rooms lined with windows on either side of the pastificios (pasta factories). This is now managed using a technical process in a climate controlled room, and takes approximately 24 hours for a high quality dried pasta. The wheat production is seasonal, and so pasta was (and remains in some places) a seasonal product. We are used to seeing it on shelves all year round, and so we forget that.
The First Harvest in Abruzzo
I went to Abruzzo last summer for the first harvest or Primograno (first grain) at Rustichella d’Abruzzo. A family owned and run pastificio producing high quality dried pasta in Abruzzo since 1924 (starting in Penne, yes, there is a town called Penne!). Four generations later, Gianluigi Peduzzi wanted to bring back the flavour of the pasta that he remembered from his grandfathers mill in Penne, using 100% Abruzzo wheat derived from four specific heirloom varieties which can be traced back to the wheat used in his grandfathers time. Four different primograno pastas are made with this heirloom flour, which is grown by 14 farmers over 60 hectares near Pianella in Abruzzo.
To celebrate we had dinner (with lots of pasta, naturally!) and then watched the Pupe dance. A large papier mache doll with a man dancing inside to music, and fireworks flying off her head.
Wonderful, and only in Abruzzo.
Rustichella d’Abruzzo hosted my stay in Abruzzo, but all editorial is my own, as always. Primograno is a seasonal product, and when in season, it is available at Odysea online, who also sell other Rustichella pastas, which I recommend (and use in my kitchen). Irish readers, I bought some Rustichella d’Abruzzo pasta at Sheridan’s when I was last home (the orecchiette is superb!), and I just checked, and some Rustichella products, including pasta flour, are available online.
Have you been to Finland? I have been twice before. Once, 19 years ago, at the very start of my travels, I went to visit some fond friends, my Finnish university flatmates who were from Tampere. Last year, I went to Rovaniemi in Finnish Lapland and spent 3 days on a reindeer farm. This year, I returned to explore the Southern part of Finland, Turku and the Archipelago Sea and Helsinki.
Finland has 50,000 islands, and 20,000 of them are on the South Western tip near the city Turku in the Archipelago Sea. 150 are inhabited, and there are 16 ferries, 9 of which are commuter ferries, considered an extension of the road. Foot passengers travel for free on them. We hopped between islands before settling on Korppoo where we would spend the night, and the next morning we went on a sculpture walk in the gorgeous and slippery snow.
Some of the islands are tiny. En route, we stopped at Stentorp, a sheep farm spread over three islands. They also ice fish, as do many Finns, and make traditional fish soup with their catch. Ice fishing is fun and peculiar if you are not used to it. Small holes are drilled in the frozen lakes, they wait a while and try to catch fish with a small rod, if there is no fish, they drill another hole.
They also fish by putting a long net between two ice holes (approximately 120m apart on my visit), and leave it for a while, overnight in our case. The fish weren’t biting much that day, but we caught three pike perch this way. They became a soup, using Vendi’s grandmother’s recipe, with allspice, red peppercorn, dill, leeks, potato, plenty of butter and of course the fish. The secret is to add the fish at the end and never boil it so that it remains tender.
To get to Korppoo we hopped on two ferries, one took 5 minutes, and one just 3. We arrived shortly after at Hotel Nestor, a converted barn which was built originally in 1925, and is now a boutique hotel. We were greeted on arrival by two beautiful ice lanterns on either side of the door, each bearing a cheerful lit candle. Hotel Nestor is gorgeous, minimalist with spots of bright Finnish fabrics and design.
Local chefs cooked dinner for us that evening, a lovely fish soup and archipelago burgers (both fish and lamb – like patties on open sandwiches). Archipelago bread needs a mention, rich with malt and rye, and slightly sweet, almost sticky, it is served with every meal and is quite addictive. I will seek out a recipe for it. You need to try some!
The sauna is a must after dinner followed by a dip in the icy cold frozen sea which had a hole cut in the ice so that you could. The ice is very thick. Usually in the nip, the Finns don’t have our qualms about nudity. Everyone donned their bathing suits and indulged but I didn’t, my skin was inflamed and I couldn’t take it. Sensitive skin and extreme cold means a horrible rash, nothing that tons of moisturiser and proper ski trousers couldn’t help. But I will try the sauna next time. They all said they slept so well after, and felt terrific. It is an essential Finnish experience too, people used to be born in saunas as they were the cleanest warmest place, and they use them often besides. Every house and apartment block has their own.
The next morning we did the Barefoot Walk by Hotel Nestor, a sculpture walk in the forest. Not barefoot of course, sub zero as it was, but in the summer people do. Artists travel to this island for an Artist in Residence in programme every year, and some create sculptures on the Barefoot Walk which remain after they leave. My favourite was the white Shiver House which was created by London artist Mark Nixon. It was all a bit dreamy, silent save our boot crunch and the enthusiastic scarper of the owners Italian water dog. Just one year old it was her first proper winter outdoors and she loved the snow. I loved her enthusiasm.
A short video of the Art Walk and general snow high jinks.
I was utterly charmed by the archipelago, I would love to return in Autumn for the berries and the mushrooms or Summer for the midnight sun. How wonderful would that be?
More to come on Turku and Helsinki soon!
Yangon. Golden temples, busy streets and a giant reclining buddha (the Chauk Htat Gyi Buddha which is 66 metres long). The capital of Myanmar rushes and bustles like most others, but it has a laid back charm.
When I visited last year it felt like a trip back in time even though it has already changed very much compared to 10 years ago. The first KFC opened just after I left but there is no real imprint of the west otherwise, which is so very rare. So much is done by hand, from making gold leaf to coat the buddha by hammer and with sheer strength and endurance, to silversmithing ornate detailed bowls.
The clack of the weavers loom is a familiar sound through open windows as they weave the longyi and htamein, traditional Burmese clothing, essentially skirts formed when a woven sheet approximately two metres long is wrapped around the lower body, the first for men and the second for women. Both are still commonly worn all across Myanmar. It is also common to make the cotton from the cotton balls which they grow themselves and then spin using spinning wheels.
The food of Myanmar is unique and very interesting. Influenced by the countries around it, chiefly China, Thailand and India, Myanmar absolutely has a flavour of its own, and lots of variations between regional cooking. Myanmar is very large and has a very long coastline but also a large interior. Parts are incredibly hot (hello Bagan with your beautiful but burning hot temples). The food adapts accordingly. There are lots of noodles, many mild curries, and rice features heavily, as rice, flour and noodles, in savoury food and desserts. The most favoured is the Shan cuisine (from Shan state). Shan noodles are a gorgeous rice noodle dish with chicken and peanuts, but Mohinga, a rice noodle and fish soup claims the title of national dish.
As with much of Asia, don’t neglect the food on the streets. Grab a small plastic stool at a tea stall and have a cup of Myanmar tea and lahpet thoke, a gorgeous pickled tea leaf salad with garlic, chilli, nuts and other bits like fried dried broad beans. It is sensational and so revivingly fresh in the muggy heat. There are many other salads which you should try including the vibrant gin thoke, a bright fresh salad of young shaved ginger. Tamarind leaf was in season when I visited, and the salad made with it was one of my favourite things to eat. Tiny winding tendrils, cheerful, fresh, bright and plentiful, wrapping themselves around the other ingredients greedily. There is also kaffir lime, tomato, noodle and potato salads. Try them all and report back to me, please!
The recent changes in leadership and government will see Myanmar open further and at speed, I am sure. This is a good thing. The people of Myanmar have little and work incredibly hard just to make ends meet. I hope it becomes easier for them. Myanmar has many resources which up until now, haven’t filtered down to the people. Education is limited and quality of life for many is poor. They deserve a lot better. So do tip generously, every little bit can do a lot. My visit to Myanmar really showed me how lucky we are, we have so much, and we have a responsibility to contribute as much as we can when we visit. It also showed me that we have become lost in our materialistic way of life, they have little but what they have they give back and they look after one another so very well.
I can’t wait to return, I hope that it can be soon. More posts to come on Bagan, Mandalay and Inle Lake. You can also look back at the Postcard from Myanmar that I published just after I visited. There is more info and lots more photos in there.
Shwedagon Pagoda and the Chauk Htat Gyi Buddha
The people in Myanmar were wonderful. So friendly and helpful. Very laid back.
The food, with the wonderful pickled tea leaf salad, lahpet thoke, in the bottom left corner
Bogyoke Aung San Market, with lots of laquerware (I couldn’t resist the tiffins), puppets, fabric, dressmakers, jewellery and food. It is a little touristy but it is still worth a visit.
Breakfast at the Sedona Hotel, a 5 star hotel in central Yangon where I stayed for the 2 nights of my visit. The breakfast buffet is large and varied, offering some local dishes with other pan Asian items (e.g. Sri Lankan beef curry, roti, miso soup, dim sum). There are western items too but I love an Asian breakfast, and so that is what I chose each time.