Food culture, not just ancient culture, in Paphos

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Food culture and more in Paphos

Paphos is the joint European Capital of Culture this year (along with Aarhus in Denmark, in case you’re interested). Which might surprise you, as you might just think of it as a place for a week in the sun. But there’s more to it than that.

Now, there are lots of incredible sites of ancient culture in Paphos and the beautiful surrounding countryside, which you could spend weeks exploring. There are many beautiful hotels, and there are some really naff ones (hello The Roman, I’m looking at you).

But I’ve already written that my favourite thing, unsurprisingly, about Paphos is the food, which is definitely about culture to me. Let’s face it, if anything binds us to those who went before, it has to be that we all had to eat and drink.

And culture can be many things. There’s history to the dishes, passed down the generations from ancient starting points. There’s the mixing of cultural influences, particularly in somewhere like Cyprus, a great trading post or stopping off post for travellers in all ages.

There’s myth and legend, which is bound to either get mixed up in food and drink, or get some good retellings after a little bit too much of the local wine. And there is some good wine, although my experience it doesn’t travel well.

My original article is here, and I would love to be there, eating some of these dishes, at some of these places. I have to give a health warning here, I no longer have connections with the island (well, not living ones, my dad is enjoying his eternal rest under a shade giving tree there) so I haven’t been in about 4 years, but I would still recommend it.

Look, like many places with sunshines and beaches, there are some incredibly naff parts where you could be anywhere. But with a bit of searching out, and heading a bit off the main drag, then you will definitely find out why Paphos is well deserving of its year in the cultural spotlight. And you will enjoy some brilliant, local, seasonal cooking, at a fraction of the price those titles might set you back in many other cities.

And I would still prefer a Keo beer to Denmark’s biggest beer export. Especially on the beach at sunset.

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Exploring Irish gin

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I had a few nights in Dublin this week for work, though managed to pack in a good dinner and some good cocktails.

Which is not where I discovered Irish gins. No, that would have been killing time at Dublin airport, for much longer than expected thanks to a delay.

Sadly there were no tasters available, so no idea on where to start on these other than working from the visual appeal. Anyone help me out? Where would you start? I mean, I could go alphabetically but maybe you know different?

 

A shelf full of Irish gin loveliness

I really liked the look of these two in particular:

 

My choices of Irish gins

Now, maybe I’d like the Gunpowder Irish Gin as a starting point, given how much I liked the Yorkshire Gin infused with Yorkshire Tea. But then I’m fonder of Yorkshire Tea than gunpowder tea, but I’m still very fond of gin.

I would pick the Glendalough on looks alone, such a beautiful looking bottle. I also love the story behind the brand, with them having a different gin recipe for each season. This is the summer one, with aromas of green meadows apparently. I’d like the autumn one right now, with a mix of crab apple, blackberry and water mint.

Maybe there’s more to be explored? Given that many places that go onto make whisky start with gin, and the history of whisky in Ireland, then maybe there is a lot more to explore. Just so hard to decide on where to start.

Which would you pick?

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Learning to cook the Italian way at Tasty Tuscany

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Al fresco dinners at Tasty Tuscany

 

As I mentioned on Tuesday, MGG and I have just enjoyed 8 days. in Tuscany, 6 of which we spent immersed in the world of Italian cooking with Manul and Paolo at Tasty Tuscany.

Perched on a hillside (count the hairpin bends getting up there, all five of them!) it’s idyllic, peaceful (if you ignore the cicadas) and surrounded by olive trees. And it has a kitchen that I could happily live in, and a huge marble table that any would be chocolatier in particular would have huge envy of.

 

The marble kitchen table at Tasty Tuscany ready for lessons to begin

 

The 6 nights there give you a good combination of cooking lessons, and trips out around the local area. Let’s face it, it was nearly 30°C most days at midday, and not many of us amateurs would choose to be cooking in that heat, so lessons were at 5pm, ready for that evening’s meal.

The three lessons focused on a northern dinner, a southern vegetarian dinner and a Tuscan dinner, so reflecting three diverse styles out of the many that actually make up “Italian” cooking. As Manul says, these are family dishes, not restaurant dishes and actually, for me, that makes them much more useful. We’ve already cooked some of them again since our return home.

The style is very relaxed, there were three of us staying, with a maximum of six, which the kitchen can comfortably accomodate. It doesn’t need any particular level of skill, just enthusiasm, the ability to follow instructions, and to just enjoy. The wine usually came out at some point in the process and there was lots of laughter.

And then there were the dishes. We can’t really decide which we liked the most, but we’ve already cooked the pork loin in vin santo again along with the white cabbage and dried fruit salad.

 

Pork loin with vin santo at Tasty Tuscany

 

Tomorrow will see us revisit the cannelloni with aubergine rolls (and I didn’t think I liked aubergine before this trip), and probably the chocolate chip cantuccini as well.

 

Cannelloni with aubergine rolls at Tasty Tuscany

 

We enjoyed all the meals, particularly when it was cool enough to eat outside (though take industrial strength mosquito repellent, they’re real biters up there) and I loved how many different salads we did.

 

View of the main house at Tasty Tuscany

 

The rooms are comfortable, though don’t come expecting 5 star facilities (this is not the trip for you if that’s what you need). Plenty of space, beautiful views, though we were so busy that we didn’t see much of the rooms. There’s also a gorgeous saltwater pool, perfect around 6pm if you’re not cooking for a pre-dinner dip.

 

Pool with a view at Tasty Tuscany

 

I’ll write separately about some of the trips we did from here, as we loved many of those adventures too. I would highly recommend this trip if you are looking for a holiday that’s a good mix of activities and sightseeing, busy times and some down time, great food and meeting new people. I’d love to go in October/November when you can get involved in the olive harvest and all the steps involved with the oil extraction.

If you’re a last minute kind of person, I believe they do have some availability in August and September, so get in touch with them now. Your tastebuds will thank you!

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A quick photo trip round Paris

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Paris Time

 

Just in time for Bastille Day, I thought I’d share some photos from the two nights I had in Paris recently with the day job. Which is no bad thing, when in between the work stuff you can stumble across all kinds of great stuff en route to the next work thing.

So, just a few snaps to remind you why any time spent in Paris is a treat for a food lover. I mean, this was the local bakery just along the street from my friend’s apartment:

 

Just your average local bakery, when you're in Paris

 

There were beautiful napkins to browse at Fragonard, in amongst all the amazing fragrances:

 

Beautiful napkins at Fragonard

Fab chocolate displays for Father’s Day, which could have been very tempting.

 

Chocolate for Dads, Parisian style

I stopped in this store because their air conditioning was great (it was a fabulously warm day, about two days after they were moving paintings out the basement of the Louvre). They also had some great food based gifts.

 

Father's Day Gifts Parisian Style

And then back to the bakers, to discover why Parisians don’t bake. I mean, why would you when this was on the doorstep?

 

Why Parisians Don't Bake

And that was about all I had time to fit in. Well, that and drinking champagne in the Tuileries Gardens until late with good friends. Which is probably the best thing to do during any trip to Paris.

I highly recommend it.

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On the passing of a unique hostess: Imogen Skirving of Langar Hall

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Langar Hall

 

I was really sorry to hear of the passing of Imogen Skirving last Friday, in an accident whilst she was away in Menorca.

Imogen was one of life’s one offs, unique and wonderful. A night at Langar Hall always left you with a store of stories, and not just about the food and drink. If Imogen was about, and she usually was, then she would walk around the tables and have a good chat.

Or explain there was nothing to worry about, that women cartwheeling down the hallway was quite normal. As she put it, it was fine, they were doctors.

Langar Hall is a wonderful, beautiful, eccentric place and full of happy memories for so many of us in the local area, and beyond. You were as likely to find locals like us there, as people like Paul Smith (I sometimes think he actually lives there, we see him often enough) through to Jools Holland and Sarah Lancashire.

And everyone got the same greeting, the same treatment.

I suppose change is inevitable when someone such as Imogen passes away, when they have been such an integral part of the atmosphere of a very special place. I’d like to remember her for the many funny occasions there have been there, and thank her for those. My thoughts go out to her family, and the staff at Langar Hall.

 

Imogen Skirving a true hostess with the mostess

 

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Want to share in Leicester’s glory?

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Leicester City - come share in the glory

 

Well, you’ll be needing to eat whilst you’re visiting! Not to mention a drink or two. I’m very fond of Leicester, and often shop and eat there instead of Nottingham, as live between the two.

If you’re coming to soak up the atmosphere of the Foxes’ triumph, then these are the places I’d be stopping by to keep you going, when the adrenaline runs low:

 

St Martin's: my favourite stopping off point for coffee and tea in Leicester

 

Start with really good tea or coffee at St Martin’s, with their incredible choices of teas and expertly made coffees. Not to mention great cakes, and very decent breakfasts, like breakfast tacos and avocado on sourdough toast. I know, it’s almost like still being in London (eye-rolling from those of us who’ve known food exists outside of London for years). In fact if you’re there at the end of the week, you could arrive at breakfast and not move out until after dinner as they now serve great burgers and more in an evening.

 

Leicester Market for all kinds of goodies

 

I’d take a wander from there down to the central market, which is my favourite locally. Brilliant selection of fruit and veg, reflecting the fact that Leicester was the first city in the UK with no one ethnic majority, so a huge variety of things to choose from. Usually stock up on chillies and herbs here, the temptation is always to buy too much as prices and variety are so good.

Of course Leicester was famous for its Indian culture, and there are certainly a great many choices from across India on the eating front. I’m still very fond of Bobby’s for Gujarati vegetarian food, and also Kayal for exploring the flavours of Kerala. Fantastic dosas, always on my order.

Not for food, but I’m very fond of Curve in Leicester, for all kinds of theatre, and all kinds of reasons. I’ve been tweeting them to say I hope they’ve got a play in development about this Leicester season, a homegrown success story should be celebrated in the city’s theatre too.

 

45 West Bottle Shop & Bar - not just gin, but definitely has great gin

 

So, you’ll be needing a good drink to round things off. Only one place for me: 45 West Bottle Shop and Bar, from the team behind Burleighs Gin and 45 Gin School. Great cocktail list, great atmosphere…maybe not much football being shown but great way to toast a great win for the Foxes. I can’t spot a cocktail for the win yet, but there is a Martinez on the menu (which I believe, from my very limited knowledge, may have an unintentional footballing connection).

Leicester may not usually make it onto your plans of places to visit

 

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Falling in love with Beaminster

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Beaminster and surrounding hills

 

I think Beaminster is one of the most perfect places I’ve come across on our recent stay there. I can’t decide if it’s a large village or a small town, but from a food and living perspective there was so much good stuff going on.

 

Brassica in Beaminster

 

We had a fabulous dinner at Brassica, which is a delight. I loved the atmosphere, the decor and the cooking. Anywhere that does a decent wine by the carafe gets a thumbs up to (I think I heard the waitress say Louise’s dad is in charge of wine sourcing). Lovely enough for date night and a special occasion, unpretenious enough to pop out to any time.

 

Rubber coated ceramics at Brassica Mercantile

 

Next door is Brassica Mercantile, their deli and homewares shop, which you can also shop from online as well. I really loved the rubber coated ceramics, they were very tempting, and I only forgot to go back for one because we had such good weather and headed to the beach. We did enjoy English Preserves raspberry jam from there, and was pleased to see they stocked Amelia Rope chocolate.

Of course you can’t live in a village just with a fancy restaurant and charcuterie, so it was good to still have a village bakery, as well as Nick Tett’s butchers and a proper greengrocers. Beautiful flowers from the florist, and bits and bobs from the Co-Op and you’re pretty much sorted. And gifts are sorted at Cilla & Camilla, and there are several places to pop in for coffee and cakes.

For other kind of dinners, there was decent enough food the night we went to the dinner, there was an Indian, fish and chips and a Chinese takeaway. Pretty much all bases covered.

It’s far enough away from the coast to be slightly cheaper, and hopefully is not too blighted by second homes as it certainly seemed to be buzzing. Although obviously we were in someone else’s second home and were there in the school holidays. But I really loved it and got a sense of community as well as loveliness. I know they need money to get the swimming pool reopened and seem to be galvanising behind that.

I’d happily move there tomorrow, but it’s one heck of a commute back to Nottingham. But maybe one day!

 

View of Beaminster by Nathalie on Flickr.

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Marking Shakespeare’s 400th

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Stratford on Avon - home to the bard

 

Not quite the same as your 400th birthday (Shakespeare would have been 450 last year) but there’s a lot going on this year to celebrate 400 years since the bard’s passing, on 23 April.

I wrote last year about how much I love Stratford, and I love Shakespeare too.

Well, certainly well done Shakespeare, there’s no longer an evening than badly acted Shakespeare.

So to celebrate this landmark, here’s a few things that have caught my eye, great gifts for literary food lover perhaps.

 

Shakespearian Insults Tea Towel

 

Starting with a couple of tea towels, as I do love a good tea towel. First off, something he was great at, a tea towel of insults. Useful to learn to cuss the slower minded with, it’ll have sounded so good they won’t realise till you’ve left what you actually said.

Greater Shakespeare Map Towel

I like this tea towel from the RSC shop, which shows the personality types that occur from play to play and the connections between the characters. Just don’t get this out in the middle of performance to try and work it out!

 

Shakespeare Character Mug

You’ll need something to dry up, so another way to get to know the characters with this mug from the Literary Gift Company.

 

Shakespeare Cookie Cutter - to bake or not to bake

 

And you might need a biscuit to go with whatever is in the mug, so how about making your own Shakespeare cookies? I guess the question is, to bake or not to bake?

 

Portia Dark Espresso Chocolate Bar

 

Can’t be bothered to bake? The RSC have a great range of chocolate bars, based on different female characters from the plays. Just don’t rustle the paper loudly if you’re in the theatre. I am very fond of the Portia, which is an espresso coffee flavour.

 

Shakespeare's County Ale

 

Now, wine and ale get plenty of mentions in the various plays, and sure the bard was partial to a drop or two. If you’re in Warwickshire then you might well find this on tap in local establishments. From the Warwickshire Beer Company, this is Shakespeare’s County, a light easy drinking beer apparently.

Shakespeare Wine Quote Coasters

Something to put your wine glass down on, these coasters have quotes about wine from the plays. “Have we no wine here?” continues to be a question on a far too regular basis here!

 

Shakespeare Not Stirred

 

Talking of drink, a great friend sent me this book at Christmas. Combining two great loves, Shakespeare and cocktails, I think it’s fantastic. I’ll be consulting this for something appropriate to drink to the toast the occasion. Shakespeare, Not Stirred is definitely a great gift, I can’t believe I hadn’t found it before I was sent it.

 

Shakespeare's Kitchen - get your own banquet ready

 

Of course you might want to do a full on Shakespearian banquet to celebrate, in which case Shakespeare’s Kitchen by Francine Segan should do the job. Beef Purses sound like quite the kind of thing Falstaff might have been fond of, and this covers every course and a banquet or two as well.

I’m told it’s pretty impossible to get reasonable priced accommodation in Stratford on 23rd April, but there are lots of events planned throughout the year. I’ve written before about places I love there, and I never tire of time there. Of course, there are plenty of tourist trap type places, but also some great eating to be had. And I still love a drink after a show in the Dirty Duck, you just never know who you’ll bump into.

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The Friday Five – my holiday cookbook reading

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We had the most incredible weeks holiday in Dorset over Easter, in a beautiful cottage in Beaminster. I would happily never have moved back out, but school and the owners might have taken a dim view of that!

 

One shelf of fabulous cookbooks

 

 

Holiday cookbook shelf two

 

 

One of the reasons I loved it was for the fact that it had a cookery book collection to almost rival my own, but without much duplication. It’s a slight cheat on the post as I got through six, but would probably only add five to my collection.

 

My holiday cookbook reading

 

Fish Pies and French Fries by Gill Holcombe

 

Fish Pies and French Fries

 

I thought I’d featured Gill’s first book, which was the snappily titled How to feed your whole family a healthy, balanced diet with very litle money and hardly any time, even if you have a tiny kitchen, only three saucepans (one with an ill-fitting lid) and no fancy gadgets – unless you count the garlic crusher…although it turns out I hadn’t. This was my least favourite book out of the six, though great if you’re not a very experienced cook. There was quite a lot of condensed soup in it. And Smash in at least one. Not my kind of thing, but might give it to MFL as perfect for in a rush, trying to feed 2 teenage boys kind of territory.

 

How to Feed Your Friends with Relish by Joanna Weinberg

 

How to feed your friends with relish

 

I rather liked this book, even if the set up is somewhat different to many of our realities. But there are lots of recipes for gatherings of friends and families for all kinds of occasions, and it was the kind of food that made me want to dash into the kitchen and start cooking. Marinated steak with chimichurri sauce and then frozen berries with hot white chocolate sauce would make any day good in my book.

 

The new English kitchen: how to make your food go further by Rose Prince

 

The New English Kitchen

 

I think this one is probably the one that’ll make it onto my shelves first out of all of them. I loved the style of writing, but I loved the recipes more. If I’d read this one first then I think I might well have cooked from this whilst I was away. I loved it from the first chapter about bread, and how to use it from day one to day seven, which just showed how much you could with it. Great shopping guide as well. There are hard cover copies on Amazon starting at just 1p so definitely worth a look.

 

The Kitchen Diaries by Nigel Slater

 

The Kitchen Diaries

 

My love of Nigel Slater is well-documented here, though I haven’t bought any of his books in a while. But I loved this one for the same reasons as I’ve loved many of the others: the stories, the recipes, the wit, the honesty. I mean, you don’t spot many admitting that dinner is sometimes baked beans with Worcestershire sauce. Once I’ve worked through the New English Kitchen, then I’m getting this one and working through it throughout the year.

 

The Little Paris Kitchen by Rachel Khoo

 

The LIttle Paris Kitchen

 

This one has been on MFL’s wishlist, I think he has a bit of a crush on her to be honest. I quite liked it, I would probably cook from it a bit, but it wasn’t my favourite. Let’s face it though, the competition was tough! But the recipes look well written, not over complex and certainly sound very tasty. It’s a maybe from me, love to know if anyone has it and enjoys cooking from it.

 

Forgotten Skills of Cooking by Darina Allen

 

Forgotten Skills of Cooking

 

I’d featured this one before some years ago, and I’d forgotten why I thought it was a great title. To be honest, it’s a toss up between this and The New English Kitchen for which one joins my bookshelf first. I love Darina’s style of writing, I love the tales she has to tell, and the skills she describes. I’m craving some soda bread followed by a bit of foraging, particularly given there were some great recipes for wild garlic which is just in season.

 

So, no fancy new titles in here, but I think at least three out of the six will truly stand the test of time. We were lucky to get some fabulous weather so had lots of time on the beach, otherwise it might have been more like seven or eight books! Have you got holiday cookbook reading lined up for your next holiday? Love to know what.

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Getting ready for Australia Day

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So familiar, and so amazing to have stood here

 

In spite of Austravel’s best attempts, I’m not heading to Australia this year but I guess we could be very tempted to celebrate Australia Day on January 26.

It was certainly a trip of great eating and drinking, and there are some things I’d definitely think of having on the menu here to celebrate:

 

SundayFavourite end to a fabulous trip of great eating in Australia

 

So, it’s unlikely to be BBQ weather here (although with the way things are going then you never can tell), so I’m going to go with the Bill Granger option and make a pile of the ricotta hot cakes. Or, given that it’s a Tuesday morning, then maybe I’ll make the sweetcorn fritters for dinner instead.

 

Tim Tams in every possible flavour

 

I seem to remember my luggage had a whole load of Tim Tams in it, from the original through to the chocolate raspberry, some peanut butter ones and the coconut ones. And the salted caramel. They didn’t last long. Sanza have quite a few of the flavours, which is cheaper than the return airfare!

 

Vegemite spread - one for the shelves

 

I never got into Vegemite, but then I’m not a fan of either Marmite or Bovril. But it would seem appropriate to have a jar on display at least.

 

Bundaberg Ginger Beer

 

For when it wasn’t quite yet wine o’clock, then I got seriously into Bundaberg Ginger Beer. Perfectly refreshing when it was warm, without being too sweet. It went perfectly well with fresh fish and chips on the beach. And it appears you can get it pretty much everywhere here too now, from Tesco to Waitrose. I must remember to stock up.

 

Getting used to the local wine in Australia

 

When it was wine o’clock then it was hard to choose from the huge variety. In the end I ended up picking a name I liked the look of. I choose racehorses to back in the same way. I had better luck with wine than I’ve ever had with horses. Looking at the choices on Majestic, then I’m going with Two Left Feet Shiraz. About right for me.

 

Banana bread: appears to be a national obsession in Australia

 

And if I wanted to get baking, then there could only be one thing: banana bread. Everywhere we went it seemed to be on the menu, in much the way a scone or flapjack might be here. My go to recipe has always been from Domestic Goddess, we have always been, and remain, Team Nigella.

I would love to be in Australia for Australia Day, it was definitely the most incredible trip and I loved every minute of it. But, not to be, at least this year, but I’ll be raising a glass to family and friends there, and to the expats who for some reason want to leave all that for here.

What about you, anyone else joining in?

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