February 2008 Archives

Polish bingo caller

poland
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SmKrakow0001.jpgWe heard this walking down the street in Kraków this evening, and didn't realise what it was for a while.  If you understand Polish, presumably this sounds like a very boring string of numbers - which is all it is (it's a bingo caller in action).  But if (like us) you don't, it sounds like some kind of mysterious ritual chant.

Click here to listen.

Click here for more audio samples.

A bakery with a view

poland
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Smsamantadonuts0001.JPGIn the basemenent of Maciej Rzankowski's bakery, Cukiernia Samanta, there's a 100-year-old poppy-seed grinder that's been in the family since 1927 - much like the business itself.  It started with his grandparents, in the southern Polish town of Zakopane, up in the Tatras mountains.  And it's still there over 80 years later, and still going strong: Zakopane only has a population of about 26,000, but on the last Thursday before Lent ('Fat Thursday', the Polish equivalent of Mardi Gras) he sells 47,000 pączki doughnuts

Since 1927 there have been many changes in Poland, much of which we found reflected in the history of Cukiernia Samanta. There's a lot that his grandparents wouldn't recognise: it's changed from a one-shop operation into an out-of-town factory supplying cafés all over town.

But there's a lot they would recognise, too. It's still an avowedly local, family business, still has the same eye for quality, and the loyal customer base who wouldn't let him get away with anything less. And having tasted a selection of delicious freshly baked goodies - both in one of the downtown cafés and after our tour of the factory - we're sure his grandparents would have been proud of all of them.

Like a bear with a sore head

poland
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Smbarnabyapplepie0001.JPGLast night Barnaby had a great time in Zakopane drinking 'apple pies' with Anna and Matt's friends Richard and Marzena.  Richard makes a mean cocktail using just Żubrówka, the famous Polish vodka flavoured with bison grass, and apple juice.  Its innocent taste is remarkably like a delicious apple pie, buttery pastry and all.  Today Barnaby is a bear a little worse for wear.  (Although he looks better than Matt and Anna.)

Read recipe here.

Apple pies

poland
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Smapplepie0001.JPGThe combination of Żubrówka and apple juice is a popular Polish tipple.  (Or of course, you can omit the apple juice.) 

Żubrówka (aka bison grass vodka), made in Poland since the 16th century or earlier, is said to boost manliness, stamina and sexual drive.  This is because it's infused with the grass which the bison of Białowieża forest in Poland love to eat.   These ancient bison are so fond of this special grass that attempts to transplant them to other parts of Europe have failed due to the absence of the grass.  Every bottle of Żubrówka contains one stem of the grass.

This recipe comes courtesy of Richard Abel, our friend in Zakopane, Poland.  Richard welcomed us to Poland with several rounds of apple pies...

Wine fit for an archbishop

czech republic
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Smarchbishopsbarrels0001.jpgI'd known the Czechs liked their beer, but I'd had no idea they were so good at making wine.  Until we happened to visit Kroměříž, an unpronouncable old market town in southern Moravia, Czech Republic.  In the centre of town there is a huge archbishop's palace, complete with peacocks in the gardens and hundreds of barrels of aging wine in the cellars.  It turned out they'd been making and storing wine here for 800 years, and it tasted pretty fantastic too.  In fact we're drinking a bottle of their rulandské šedé right now.

Breakfast: Czech Republic

czech republic
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Czech Republic, in Kroměříž.

More meat and cheese - but different rolls.

Getting a quick pint in

czech republic
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Smbarnabybeer0001.JPGToday Barnaby went to see the Eggenberg brewery in Český Krumlov, where the Czech brewers have been producing beer according to their own secret recipe since 1560!

There was quite a lot to see and do, so at the end he treated himself to a large dark organic beer. Tasty.

Beer from the Middle Ages

czech republic
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Smeggenbergbeers0001.JPGThe Czechs certainly like their beer - in fact, they drink more of it than anyone else. One of the world's best-known beer styles, pilsner, is named after the Czech town of Plzeň; and the name of one of the most famous brands (deservedly or not) derives from the brewing centre of České Budějovice (or as the Germans call it, Budweis).

They've also been brewing it for a very long time.  In Český Krumlov, they've been brewing since at least the 1300s, with records showing they were granted a charter to brew and sell beer in 1336.  And at the Eggenberg brewery, they still make beer the same way - local organic ingredients, secret recipe and all - producing a rich, tasty, slightly yeasty brew known for its dramatic effects on the youthful appearance of the local womenfolk and on the digestive systems of tourists.

Zum Horizont

germany
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Smzumhorizont0001.jpgHaving spent the morning cycling round the Bodensee in southwestern Germany (well, part of the way - it's a big lake), and the afternoon crossing Germany on mind-numbingly boring motorways, we arrived at Deggendorf, a small town nestled beneath the foothills of the Bayerisches Wald, a little later than we'd meant to. 

Every hotel we found was booked up or hideous (unless you're planning a large corporate conference), or both.  It seemed the whole world had also decided to stop in Deggendorf and look for accommodation due to a nasty accident blocking the mororway.

Breakfast: Germany

germany
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Germany, by Lake Constance.

Note the classic spirally breakfast brötchen, hard-boiled egg, meat and cheese.

Across to Alsace

france
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Smriquewihr0001.JPGWe've spent the last few days driving across northern France from Paris to Alsace, staying in various lovely farmhouses with friendly people on the way. We'll write more about each one when we get a moment, but we've seen (and eaten or drunk) home-made products from black pudding to Munster cheese to eau de vie.

Plus (in the week that the US ordered the largest-ever recall of commercial beef) met some of the happiest small-farm veal calves there can be. And discovered that Alsace makes some of the nicest white wines we've ever had, and one or two truly rank vinegary reds.

You can see some of our photos from France here.

Getting into the mountain spirit

france
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Smbarnabystill0001.JPGToday Barnaby was so intoxicated by Gaby Demoulin's alambic au feu de bois (wood-fired still) and vast array of eaux de vie and liqueurs (including raspberry, gentian, quince, bay and laurel), that he nearly stayed at Ferme La Fonderie.  The fruits go through a double distillation process, and finally end up in beautiful bottles on sale at the farm shop.

The three wise women of Weinbach

france
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Smweinbach0003.JPGWhen we knocked on the heavy wooden door at Domaine Weinbach we weren't sure we were in the right place.  Having had it recommended to us by our friend Jono at Chez Panisse in Berkeley (who knows a thing or two about wine), we were confident their wines would be good, but only if we could find them... 

Having driven up and down the picturesque little Alsatian valley at least four times, we finally decided to pull into the winery despite the enormous 'Domaine Faller' sign and the distinct lack of inviting 'tastings' signs for tourists like us which are displayed prominently at so many other wineries.  And when Colette Faller peered round her front door at us, she didn't look sure we were in the right place either.

Munster in the mountains

france
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Smbarnabytome0001.JPG Today Barnaby met Dany Roess at his farm in Soultzeren in Alsace and learnt how to make proper Munster cheese. As bears don't eat Munster he ended up buying a whole Tomme des Vosges instead. Yum.

Anna and Matt preferred the Munster, which is the local AOC washed-rind cheese and is fantastic on its own or in lots of local recipes. Tomme isn't as old and traditional around here as Munster (Dany says they started making it 15-20 years ago), and isn't regulated to the same extent (you can put any herbs you want in it, including delicious wild garlic). But Barnaby liked it all the same.


Traditionally cheesy

france
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Smvosges0001.JPGIt's not easy being an Alsatian cheesemaker.  Yes, you get to live in a beautiful valley in the foothills of the Vosges mountains.  And yes, you get to produce the traditional Munster Fermier, one of France's tastiest (and smelliest) cheeses.

But tradition brings rules, regulations and responsibilities as well as tastiness (and smell) - not to mention expense.  And it's not easy to make a living from cheese alone anyway.

We stayed with Chantal and Dany Roess at their farm in Soultzeren, where they make Munster (amongst other things), and they told us all about what they do, how they do it, and how they see their role as upholders of the traditions of cheese.

As happy as a cow in Viviers-sur-Artaut

france
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Smjumelles0001.jpgThis week, while the US government was recalling the largest ever amount of commercial beef (apparently, cows from the Westland/Hallmark Meat Co so sick they couldn't walk properly have still been ending up in diners' Happy Meals), we were playing with Farmer Cornet's very happy baby cows on his farm in Viviers-sur-Artaut.  

One of his cows had just given birth to twins, one of whom Michel was bottle-feeding twice a day himself as the mother would only feed one.  (Nature can be cruel too, let's not forget.)  The twins were having some trouble using their legs, but then they were only 5 days old.  All their older relatives were walking around happy as can be, probably because Michel gives care and attention to each and every one.

Boudin for Barnaby

france
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Smbarnabyboudin0001.JPGBarnaby could hardly control his excitement when he saw the delicious pile of boudin noir freshly made by his hosts Michel and Francine Cornet at their farmhouse in Champagne. There was three times this much from one pig! (whose name was Gui-Gui, to give him full credit)

A bistro too far?

france
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Smeiffel0001.JPGWith only seven nights and seven days in Paris, narrowing down our shortlist of 36 restaurants to a feasible dining regime was no easy task. 

In the end we managed six bistros, two fancy restaurants and over a dozen bars, cafes, boulangeries and patisseries, plus five outdoor food markets and two cooking classes, leaving a couple of hours to quickly nip up the Eiffel Tower and round the Louvre.  

Did we go a bistro too far?

Not very impressed

france
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Smbarnabybaguette0001.JPGToday Barnaby bought a so-called 'artisan' baguette from a Paris boulangerie, but thought that although it looked quite nice, it tasted as if it was made from a packet. He should have come with us to Poilâne.

Queuing for vegetables

france
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Smbarnabyqueue0001.jpgToday Barnaby has been chatting with the locals while waiting his turn to buy vegetables in the Place d'Anvers market. The best stall with the nicest-looking most local produce has the biggest queue, but it's worth the wait.

Sur le carrousel gourmand

france
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Smcarrousel0001.jpgHello from Paris, where we are caught up in a merry-go-round of sightseeing, bistro-sampling and market shopping.

From now on we'll be trying to keep this site updated with recipes, other culinary notes from our travels and the odd journal entry to let you know where we've got to and what we've managed to write up.

Next stop Alsace...

You can see some of our photos from France here.

Sunbathing in Paris

france
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Today Barnaby has mostly been sunbathing by the Seine.

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Eating oysters in Whitstable

uk
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Today Barnaby has been eating rock oysters (farmed ones, but he's only a bear) by the harbour in Whitstable.

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Sticky toffee pudding

uk
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It was February, it was cold and I was in England.  Perhaps this explains the craving I experienced for sticky toffee pudding.  Having reviewed a number of formulas claiming to be 'the ultimate' or 'best ever', I came up with this version, adapted from recipes from the BBC Good Food Guide and Sharrow Bay.  It's certainly the best one I've had.  Make double the puddings and freeze the others for the next cold day.

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Rhubarb and custard

france, uk
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No, not the scrawled 1970s cartoon or the tooth-wrenching sweet of my childhood, or even the early '90s hardcore rave anthem of my (very brief) clubbing days, but instead some delicious vanilla petits pots de crème (very French) with some bright pink rhubarb scented with orange zest (very English). 

Smrhubarbcustard0013.JPGI was inspired to make this by a vanilla panna cotta with rhubarb which I enjoyed at Cotto, by far the best restaurant in Cambridge at the moment.  Rhubarb has just hit Cambridge market, so I wasn't surprised to find it on the menu at Cotto, which makes a point of using local, organic and seasonal produce.  Not wanting to get involved with gelatin this particular afternoon, I changed it to pots de crème.  They were easy, beautiful and delicious.

Getting ready to go

uk
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We're about to start a culinary journey around Europe and West Africa: finding out about (and testing!) the food, and talking to the people who grow, prepare and eat it.

We'll be posting pictures, recipes, food facts and (occasionally) general diary stuff. The "about" pages here have more information about the journey (where we'll be going and roughly when), and some information about who we are and why we're doing this.

But at the moment we're still in Cambridge trying to get everything ready: vehicle, documentation, camping gear, clothes for snowy Poland and sunny Turkey, and so on. And we still need to find some good cheap espresso cups.

Lemons

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lemons.JPGThe lemon seems to be such a common, and essential, fruit, that you'd imagine it had been around since the beginning of time.  Not so.  The original three citrus plants, from which all others have been bred, are the citron, the mandarin and the pummelo.  The lemon is probably a multi-step hybrid, involving the citron, the lime and the pummelo.  Lemons arrived in Europe 1500-2000 years ago, having originated in what is now Pakistan and India, and coming via the Middle East.

Preserved lemons

morocco
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To make up for the absence of recipes this last month, here is a citrussy pair suited to the season, complete with nerdy citrussy facts.  I think preserving oranges and lemons is fun.  You might not, of course.  (The lemons are for Anthea, who assures me she's interested.)

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It's really easy to preserve your own lemons, and once you have a jar of them you'll find yourself adding them to tagines (eg chicken with lemon and olives), salsas (with shallots and fresh herbs, to go on grilled fish or meat), salads and couscous dishes...

Mum's marmalade

uk
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When I was 4, my dad gave my mother 'The Times Cookery Book' by Katie Stewart for Christmas, doubtlessly not for entirely altruistic reasons.  She's been making Katie's marmalade every January since.  The house being filled with the sweet-sour aromas of Seville oranges cooking in their own syrup is a favourite childhood memory.  Mum's excellent 2008 vintage prompted me to write it up, complete with her own and Katie's tips.


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So, we are STILL in the UK, waiting for our new car (it's a red one, and actually quite old) to be fixed up.  We still have a few essentials to buy (plug adaptors, espresso cups, etc), but hopefully next week's email will come from Paris...

Many thanks to those who have sent us tips for where to go and other useful contacts for our travels.  Please keep them coming.

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