Spice, coconut and sour cherries

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I went on a massive reading browse in Waterstones about a month ago, driven by the need to console myself after a brutal exercise class that had nearly reduced me to tears.

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First up in the restoration, The Grammar of Spice, which gives you the history of the spice, some foods it goes well with and a high level hint at a recipe. More of a thought factory and wonderful illustrations.

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Next up, a street food book that looks good but isn’t terribly useful, and at the far more tempting end of things. Stirring Slowly from a Jamie Oliver protege, and lots of tasty recipes, pretty light and healthy too. I went for this courgette and coconut cake that weekend and it went down a treat.

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Finally, an armful of cookbooks from the east of Europe: exploding pomegranates and sour cherries in Kazakhstan and watermelons and dill in Azerbaijan, both reminding me how we’re no longer an agricultural country, and making my mouth water for the summer produce.

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Berlin nights

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After hours of strolling in the heat, the cold glass of sour buttermilk was just the thing we both craved to quench our thirst. The clean, pure flavour and its thickness cooling my throat lingered with me long after we pushed back from the table, said goodbye, and walked home, sandals slapping gently against the sidewalk.

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Muck had told us to bring dessert, so I sifted through my recipes cookbooks searching for something to make, both relishing the task and feeling indecisive as I always did…

I could bake a cake, something simple and rustic, topped with fruit. But in Germany, cake was eaten mainly in the afternoon served with a cup of coffee or tea. And although I used to bake cakes for dinner parties in New York, the idea of a slice of cake after dinner no longer appealed to me…

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I thought about slicing peaches and slipping the wedges into wine, but the truth is that good peaches were not so easy to come by in Berlin….A pavlova sounded pretty good too: marshmallowy mereingues topped with whipped cream and berries.

But pavlova felt too fussy for this languid afternoon. I leaned back on the couch and closed my eyes, hearing the faint hum of traffic from the outdoors and thinking about our day. I remembered the buttermilk we’d shared, creamy and sour. It occurred to me that buttermilk and berries would make a perfect summer dessert…

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The panna cotta was simple to make, but when the time came to unmold the set cream from its ceramic mold, I struggled to loosen it from the sides. Max came into the kitchen just as I was starting to lose my cool and ended up helping me, the two of us giggling at the panna cotta’s luxuriant wobble as it settled into its serving plate. Then I spooned the juicy berries and their syrup all round the panna cotta, almost obscuring the creamy mound. As Max drove us to Muck and Jurgen’s house, I held the serving plate gingerly in my lap as the fruit slid precariously back and forth.

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Out on their deck at dusk, we ate pink-fleshed lake trout poached gently in fennel broth, small boiled potatoes, waxy and sunflower yellow and dusted with chopped parsley, and a little salad of soft greens studded with toasted sunflower seeds. There was a cold bottle of Riesling and a sharp and creamy horseradish sauce mixed with grated apple for a bit of sweetness to dollop on the fish…

The table soon fell quiet and as our spoons scraped against the china and I saw the light draining from the sky, my life suddenly felt so complete, so rich and full and just as it should be, that I almost lost my breath.

Luisa Weiss, My Berlin Kitchen

Gourmands

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Sadly the Victor Hugo market was undergoing a huge renovation when I visited Toulouse and was both locked up and being drilled to the ground, so I didn’t get the full gastronomic experience that the city can offer, but the shops in the local streets more than did their best; chocolatier, glacier, several wine and cheese shops, a bakery, an emporium of Spanish hams… I couldn’t take photos of it all, but here’s a snippet.

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August 2017.

Indulgence

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Sorry/not sorry for the shouty capitals, but if you are in or visiting London then YOU MUST GO to Coin Street, one of the backroads between Waterloo and the Southbank, and the restaurant Sticky Mango.

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I’m still having dreams about the Singapore-style crab with creamy tomato sauce, the pin-sharp taste of the oysters, and of course the eponymous sticky mango dessert, made up to look like a fried egg. All photos from Sticky Mango’s website and Twitter feed.

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Sharpening the edges

There is something poetic about this September salad of two vine fruits. The last of the tomatoes, heavy with sun, with the first of the grapes, the onion and vinegar sharpening the edges like a heavy pencil outline.

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I’ve posted quite a lot about / from Rachel Roddy recently, but sometimes you just find writing that slots into your head and gets you. I can think of at least two friends I want to give her cookbook too, whilst the recipes posted online with the Guardian satisfy me.

The lemon cream is typically southern Italian, and therefore thickened with a little flour, which gives it an old-fashioned and homely feel, especially if you are used to more elegant, butter-rich lemon curds.

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The mix of lightly-worn food history and anecdote reminds me a lot of Nigella Lawson in her glory days, and she knows how to turn a phrase:

You know how we are often reassured that the fussiness of anchovies will slip away like an obedient manservant, leaving just the wonderful seasoning? This is not the case here. The anchovy flavour remains indignant, its fishy saltiness producing golden crumbs that shout “I am an anchovy breadcrumb!” There no doubt, if you hate anchovies, you will hate these breadcrumbs. If you like anchovies, I suggest you make this for lunch tomorrow.

Naschmarkt Omas

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Just beyond the flat was the Naschmarkt, open 6 days a week and selling wine, fruit, veg, fish, bread, cheese and spices. In the same district, the 4th, were the following eateries (highly recommended):

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– Figar Bao: only the second place to start selling these Chinese buns in Vienna and a small room with two long tables, chilli mayonnaise, watercress and light quinoa in the chicken bao, iced beer and friendly staff.

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– Vollpension: a cafe for all ages, staffed by retirees (Omas and Opas: grannies and grandads) and a place where the generations can hang out together. The roll and glass of milk for breakfast tickled my fancy, but we went for a much more luxurious affair at Demel (chandeliers. orchids. cake.) in the end.

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– possibly the best kebab shop I’ve seen, with the most beautiful tiles behind the counter, a bar that sold bicycles besides the beer, and a wine shop called the Eulennest (owl nest).

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– a couple of Japanese cafes and a hipster burger place with vegan brownies and fries.

(All photos of the market my own, photos of the other venues from their websites.)

Nourishment

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As usual on a bank holiday, I spend a lot of time lying on (not in) my bed, still in my pyjamas, reading and planning lots of meals.

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About 9pm I might start cooking some, getting to bed at 2am the next morning a bit too tired and irritable and completely mis-setting my body clock for the rest of the weekend. I am also very happy for finding new voices and stories.

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This time it was Rachel Alice Roddy, whose tales of Testaccio and Sicily grabbed me (photos from Rachel’s Instagram above; link to blog here). For those of you around, head to Stoke Newington Festival & other sites in London this month to hear her talk about cookbook as memoir and taste her cooking.

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Rachel’s feed then led me to Hanna of ¬†Building Feasts, whose supper clubs look divine, and whose weekly round ups include both makeup and books amongst the food. Both Hanna and Rachel feel like direct links to Nigella Lawson, whose writing and sheer enjoyment of food can’t be faulted.

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Finally, here is the great idea of Kino Vino, pairing a cuisine and a film. Little Vera and Russian dumplings are still to come, as is a pairing of I Am Love with Rachel’s cooking. Full circle.

Top two photos my own; Building Feasts & Rachel images from their Instsgrams.

Blog of the week – chocolate

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Sometimes you just need chocolate. Lots of chocolate. I first saw the recipe for this double-chocolate brownies here, and then searching for the image I also came across this blog here and thought I’d better link that too.

Try both, make lots: buy *all* the chocolate, and then come and see me. These are so getting made this weekend. I like the comment that they last 5 days. Um, more like one?

Anyway, the blog…after a recent trip to a Venezualan cafe (delicious, by the way), I was definitely intrigued by My Colombian Kitchen. There’s a spicy (savoury) orange salad, stuffed potatoes and hot avocado sauce. And chocolate. What’s not to like?