Honey and
food and travel

Friday, 31 January 2014

5 Things

A drizzly, busy week. The last week before I change jobs. Both scary and super exciting. But for now, a few happy moments:

1. Long black in Notes before work
2. Coming home to a delicious supper thanks to B
3. No more scaffolding on our windows (it's been months waiting for it to come down!)
4. Finishing Ruth Ozeki's A Tale for the Time Being
5. Week night dinner at Le Coq with maman et papa


Thursday, 30 January 2014

Barcelona Breakfast #2

It is fair to say that our estimations of Spanish breakfasts had been greatly improved by the first days excitement. We thought nothing would match it. In search of the best food Barcelona has to offer, we returned to the Boqueria market, conveniently a small hop (no  need for a skip or jump) away from the hotel. It was Saturday morning and the market was packed. In a good way. Locals doing their shopping, sipping on coffee, cava, cerveza, tourists gazing at the sweets as if they've never seen sweets before, and turning their noses up at the endless stalls selling what Locatelli would call the fifth-quarter: tripe and offal. We grabbed some fruit (distinct lack of the 5-a-day in this here Spanish diet) and meandered up every aisle, B obligingly holding all my belongings as I snapped away. Lots of snaps.

When we thought we'd done our fare share of offal gazing, we grabbed two fought-over seats at Bar Pinotxo. The locals sat with coffee and not a lot a to eat, the tourists were gobbling their way through plates of chickpeas, ham, shellfish, croquettes - whatever they could lay their hands on. Two cortados ordered from the wonderful man who works here (from looking around the internet it seems he's rather a permanent feature), and two xuixos. He seemed surprised. Dos? He raised two fingers in disbelief. Surely this silly little English girl just can't count in Spanish. This little English girl can count in Spanish. Quite well. And she knows she wants a whole xuixo to herself. I soon realised that everyone else was sharing, the pastry perfectly cut into two or four. Not so for me. Or B.

A xuixo, it turns out, is a Catalan speciality. A ball of deliciousness. Flaky puff pastry, deep fried, sugar coated, and filled with crema catalana. Bye bye healthy porridge Hannah, hello xuixo addicted Hannah. Where can I get this in London? I will be eternally grateful to anyone who provides me with an answer. Needless to say, it was amazing. And kept me smiling all day. The only upset it caused was that the whole market was shut on Sunday, which led to a breakfast disaster, a story I won't be telling.

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Barcelona Breakfast #1

I am a morning person. And a breakfast person. This always seems to prove a problem when travelling. I've been known to carry kilos of oats with me on trips abroad in the hope of finding a hob, some non-UHT milk and some runny honey to create my morning medicine.

Travelling only hand luggage to get to Barcelona allowed for no such treatment. And it was clear that the swanky Hotel Pulitzer (thank you Mr and Mrs Smith for yet another perfect hotel recommendation) was not going to give me a mini kitchen in my sleek, chic,  and minimalist room. So the first morning saw a quick gym session and a not so quick shower, before we set out on a breakfast hunt. Heading vaguely towards the Sagrada Familia as we did so. 

It was a moment of sheer happiness when we rounded the corner to find Granja Petitbo.  (This was a planned stumbling upon - breakfast is not a meal which gets left to chance). The place we had been searching for was there, was open, and was serving proper breakfast. And no, by 'proper' I do not mean the full English extravaganza that many places on the Rambla de Catalunya offer. By proper I mean coffee, fresh juices, oats, pastries, eggs, all a  far cry from the 'overpriced buffet in an generic continental hotel' standard fare. With zingy juices in vintage glasses, strong mugs of coffee, and surrounded by the Barcelona Steve Jobs fan club working away, we settled down in the leather armchairs and tucked into brioche with peanut butter and banana for me, and spiced porridge with apricot jam for B. The brioche was bouncy and perfectly toasted. The peanut butter satisfied me in my full time roll of peanut butter addict. And porridge, which people in the UK can't even seem to get right, was delicious, and put our homegrown porridge making skills to shame. Must try harder. 

Exactly the stuff we needed to fill those tums in preparation for a traditional tourist filled day. 

Saturday, 25 January 2014

El Kiosko Universal

It was a Thursday afternoon. It was my birthday. 23rd. And I'd just received a job offer. And we'd just arrived in Barcelona. I'll tell you more about the rest of that some other time. But for now, I want to talk about that lunch.

About 2.30 on a mid-January weekday afternoon, El Kiosko Universal, tucked away in the corner of the sense-exploding space that is El Boqueria, is full. Well, not quite full. Being just the two of us they managed to squeeze us in at the bar. Top seats. Worth being just a two for. From there people point at the seafood they want, placed inside the counter, an aching glass pane away, and they cook it for you. And they cook it perfectly.

With a glass of wine and a beer in hand, we scanned the blackboards before settling for what we already knew we wanted: a large plate of our favourite Pimientos de Padrón, calamarcitos (squid) for me, and dorada (bream) for B. The pimientos went into the deep fat fryer (along with the chips) and came out blistered and burning. With a (generous) portion of sea salt scattered over the top, plus a little bit more for good measure, they were little nuggets of Spanish, green perfection.

Squid was then plonked in front of me in an appropriately abrupt Spanish fashion. With perfectly soggy chips underneath. Everything covered in parsley and oil. B's dorada was served identically. The whole fish had been cut down the middle, split perfectly in two. Just caught, just cooked, and served just like that. With seafood this good you can ask for nothing more. So we didn't. We drank and ate and smiled and admired. And I think it was the best birthday lunch I've ever had. I intend to return, again and again.

Friday, 24 January 2014

5 Things

We ran away from the cold on Thursday. It was my birthday, do I need more of an excuse than that? So, there's lots of big things that have made me happy cette semaine, but here are a few of the smaller ones:

1. Left over Green Kitchen Stories baked carrot cake oatmeal for breakfast on Monday
2. Strong coffee at Violet Cakes first thing on Tuesday morning
3. A massive breakthrough in yoga... I've moved on to headstands!
4. Being 'allowed' to open my birthday presents a day early because we went on holiday super early on my birthday morning
5. Lunch at el Kiosko Universal as soon as we arrived in Barcelona. Pimientos, squid, and a crisp glass of white. No complaining.

Happy Friday to you all.


Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Baked Carrot Cake Oatmeal

So many bloggers seem to be talking about fancy breakfasts at the moment. And not breakfasts they've gone out for for lack of being bothered to be creative at home that early in the morning. No, proper, sleepy breakfasts made in their own home, in their pyjamas, made early enough so it is ready and waiting for when they're loved one awakes from their peaceful slumber. Well, this isn't something I've done often. Hardly ever. I normally wake up starving, or am off to yoga or on a run first thing to get that out the way. After that I'm far too hungry to start cooking when I get back... The ingredients would have all disappeared before they'd even had a chance to combine themselves into something decadent. 

In a determined state of mind to overcome my morning hunger problems, I set to work creating Sunday morning's breakfast on Saturday afternoon. I had set my heart on Green Kitchen Stories baked carrot cake oatmeal. And so had B. Other B was round that afternoon, and they both sat watching the football, discussing how strange I was to be making breakfast at 3.30pm on a Saturday. But I knew it was the only way. So with carrots grated, chia mixture whisked, oats tossed, seeds coated with coconut and honey, three separate bowls went into the fridge. Sunday morning arrived, I chucked everything in a baking tray, made a pot of tea and went back to bed. Twenty five minutes of tea (and the odd biscuit) later, and it was ready. The wait wasn't so bad after all, and the wafts of spices coming from the kitchen as it baked were wonderful. It felt like a proper Sunday morning. A Sunday morning I will have to repeat.

Monday, 20 January 2014

Bristol: Number 38, Bell's Diner, Boston Tea Party

It's taken me a while to sit down and write this post. It was meant to appear some time last week, when the memories where still fresh in my head. But the week passed, and I found other things to blog about. Procrastination re-entered my life as it hasn't done since finals. And I'm not sure why. I think it may be because I have so much to say. So much I want to tell you. And I don't trust myself to find the right words, to accurately convey my enthusiasm for this brief trip away. But now it's Sunday evening, we've had a perfect weekend, and B is roasting up a chicken for dinner. So, with my role in the meal done (apart from hopping up and down every now and then to take a photo), I have no more reason not to sit down and start recording 24 hours in Bristol.

This was B's Christmas present from me. Unable to think of a thing to buy him for Christmas, a night away was an easy decision. Thanks to the fabulous Mr and Mrs Smith website, inspiration was not hard to come buy, and booking was scarily easy. Before I had given it much thought, a Saturday night at the Number 38 hotel in Clifton, Bristol, was in the diary. That was it, Christmas sorted. Nothing more was done about it until the week before we went. A sudden realisation that Bristol is a bustling, busy, active city, whose restaurant scene is probably not that dissimilar to that of London i.e. a table may be difficult to come by. Especially on a Saturday night. Thank goodness it was early January. So an evening of reading reviews (and ignoring Trip Advisor's always useless comments), scouring websites, and plotting journeys on google maps later, Bell's Diner was booked. To B's delight, an early table was the only option. Great trust was put in Tim Hayward and his recent review for this. Turns out I will be trusting him again and again - Tim, thank you!

Being foreigners to this Southern city, we were heavily reliant on the recommendations of others for this. Not a situation we're normally in, or we like to be in. Mr and Mrs Smith did a fabulous job, as always, of sourcing a beautiful B & B. Situated in a large townhouse, with just ten rooms, looking out over Clifton Downs, this was simply, elegantly, chic-ly decorated. And the REN eye cream was an added bonus. An enormous bed, plenty of pillows, a beautiful desk in the bay window, and wonderful views, there wasn't much we could fault. Apart from the very slow breakfast service and not that amazing breakfast the next morning. But hey, we can't all be winners. And I am very pinnickity about my breakfast. Anyway, if you are going to Bristol for a romantic weekend à deux, the Number 38 comes highly recommended from me. If you don't want the toiletries in the room, I'll have them - drop me a line and I'll come collect them from you.

Getting out of London was as tricky as ever. I wasn't driving, but my directions weren't exactly top-notch. I'l say this wasn't helped by the random road closures and ridiculous one way systems, but B may like to disagree. After 100 and something miles on the M-something we arrived. Time for lunch. A trip to the Boston Tea Party it was. A burger for B and a bowl of Thai sweet potato soup for me. A fab burger (I may have sneaked a bite or two) with homemade slaw (because that's cool). Yum. And a proper portion of soup with several well-sized chunks of bread. All more than affordable and more than we needed: it was so great to be out of the London bubble of stupid prices for a poxy bowel of whizzed up leftovers and a stock cube. Homemade lemonade washed it all down perfectly. We couldn't resist it, served in glass jars with stripy straws.

Clifton is beautiful. Rows and rows of pastel Georgian townhouses, delicate verandas, crescents, square gardens, winding pavements, steep, steep uphills, and therefore steep, steep runs down, spectacular views over industrial lands, a magical suspension bridge... A bit like walking through a dream town, especially with all the Christmas trees laid out on the pavements outside every house ready for collection as they were that Saturday.

We ventured out of this haven for dinner. A half-hour wander in I'm not sure which direction and we were welcomed in to Bell's Diner. A very warm welcome. The people were lovely. I wanted them to be my friend. We knew it was going to be good straight away. This doesn't happen often. But I knew. Could just tell. Instinct, innit. (Sorry, I'm watching Jamie on telly as I type and it's rubbing off on me). We were led to a table in a corner, next to the record player (another point to them), and we soon settled down with a glass of Prosecco (on tap), for me, and a sloe g & t for B. A few croquettes and some lightly cured salmon to accompany, a jug of tap water and a basket of brilliant bread - smiles all round. And the smiles only increased throughout the evening. A menu of small plates to share, which is always my favourite: I can order more, and not run the risk of food envy or disappointment, as I get to try everything on the table. Not only could we mix and match plates, the drinks menu worked in unison with one third of a pint of beer available for £1.70, a taste of wine off a fabulous wine list (75ml), various cocktails, and, as I mentioned, Prosecco on tap.

So we tasted our way round the drinks and the food menu. Goat's curd and pumpkin (we forgot to photograph this one - too greedy), chicken oyster pinchos, lamb with apricots, baby gem lettuce with pancetta, marinated peppers, chargrilled prawns... I think that was all. I may have forgotten something but I was slightly overwhelmed. The chewiest, most delicious meringue with new season's forced rhubarb pomegranate and pistachio to finish. And of course I had space, because I have a separate sweet stomach from savoury. It's a fact. It was heaven. Everything was perfect.

All I can say is GO. Please go. If you're in or anywhere near Bristol, or in need of a break from London and find yourself drawn to Bristol, go.

Sunday morning saw a cold run around the downs, a slow breakfast with many a cup of tea, long cups of coffee over in Stokes Croft (mostly shut on Sundays - don't copy our mistake), walks through the University campus, asking why they rejected us (it would have been so much fun), more tea and this time some cake too, music and films purchased in Rise, and then a long drive home. Back to reality, and, sadly, away from Bell's.

Saturday, 18 January 2014

The Pavilion Café

When we're not getting up as quickly (which, it turns out, is never very quickly) as my body allows on a weekend morning for a quick jog round the park before breakfast and a power-walk over to Columbia road to beat the crowds, we're allowed a slower start, and a faster, shorter run, which ends with an instant reward: brunch at The Pavilion Café. There's nothing that will make me run that last stretch more quickly than knowing that those perfectly cooked eggs are waiting for me. The only thing separating me from me and my brunch is the speed of my legs. 

At Christmas there was Chai and Spiced hot apple juice mulling slowly on the counter; the rest of the time there is aptly described 'builders' tea, available for just a £1, colourful, fresh juices standing in line in the fridge, strong, smooth coffee. Loaves of freshly baked bread are piled up on the side, and blackboards all around the inside of the circular dome state what they're cooking. Everything sounds great. 

Eggs florentine has become a standard go-to for me (I tend to panic a little when there's a decision to be made and end up playing the safe-game), while B is slowly working his way through the other choices. So far all to be recommended. Cooked perfectly, presented beautifully, and served with a smile. 

And even if you don't want anything to eat, sit with a cup of coffee and watch the dogs go by. So many dogs. Such beautiful dogs. The Pavilion Café is like a doggy-catwalk. That should probably called a dogwalk. But maybe not. London seems to have become dog-obsessed in the last year or so, and on weekend mornings they all seem to gather here. Eating eggs, drinking coffee and watching the chic, doggy-world go by - an ideal way to spend a weekend morning.

Friday, 17 January 2014

5 Things

A grey, rainy week - 5 little things that have kept me positive the last few days:

1. Being on featured on the lovely That Adventurer's blog as her Foto Friday today. (Thank you Hannah!)
2. The Great British Sport Relief Bake Off. So glad to have the bake off back on TV, even if it is only temporarily.
3. Porcini risotto for a weeknight supper with friends
4. Accidentally leaving the radiator on at home all day so that when we got back, the flat had, for the first time in its life, turned into a sauna
5. A much needed catch up with C at Dirty Martini

Hope you've all had some happy moments this week.


Monday, 13 January 2014

Chocolate Meringues

I haven't baked enough recently. Numerous excuses have come my way: too much work, too tired, other things I should be doing, don't feel very well, still not unpacked, should be trying to be healthy... And there's been plenty of Christmas sweet treats lying around to nibble on after supper.

So after a day of working at home, and therefore an extra 20 minutes of time gained at the end of day,  and an episode of charity bake off to watch, I had to bake. No more excuses. And with my new swanky kitchen aid, it wasn't the hard work that it used to be (the neighbours may disagree). So after a delicious tribute to healthy January with a roast squash, rocket and mozzarella salad, we finished with baby chocolate meringues, dollops of crème fraîche, and some freshly defrosted summer berries. Just what the doctor ordered. No more pretence of a January detox for me.

Friday, 10 January 2014

5 Things

Apologies to have missed out on last week's 5 moments. I was away skiing in the permanently snowing mountains and had no idea what day of the week it was. I'm now longing for that freedom from time, where I have just the snowflakes and their silent falling to think about as I swoosh down the slopes. Back to reality on Monday it was, and here are five little things that have kept me chirpy this week:

1. A pale pink sunrise on my way home from yoga
2. Joining the 100 happy days challenge - I have a feeling this is going to be great. Come and join me!
3. Strong and beautiful coffee from the new Macintyre Coffee just round the corner from the office
4. Smoothie for pudding, so thick I had to eat it with a spoon (my attempt and joining in on this January health-kick thing the world and his wife seems to be so keen on)
5. An evening in with Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter. Read it now. It's fabulous. I now spend much time pretending I'm in an isolated Italian coastal town in the 60s. Dream on girl.

I hope you've all coped with going back to work okay and the holiday blues haven't kicked in too hard.


Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Spiced Ginger Loaf

Dad's birthday falls in that awkward, gangling, teenage gap which separates Christmas and New Year. And it's a tad to close to New Year's Eve for most people's liking. So in this brief interlude where everyone wants to rest and escape presents and cooking and yet more food, our little family battles bravely on. With the added problem of a minimal postal service. Cake isn't on most people's mind, but a birthday isn't a birthday without cake.  Dad's dislike of sugar, chocolate, carrot or orange (they give him a tickley throat) is only a further obstacle. Baking a cake that he will like and be happy with is a little tricky, to say the least. This dislike of all things sweet also posed a problem when making my family their Christmas hamper (it's what those of us who are obsessed with baking and also happen to be rather strapped for cash do). I had to stray away from the otherwise biscuit, chocolate, sweet filled delights, and move towards chutney and oatcakes, and lucky for him, a large wedge of Neal's Yard Montgomery Cheddar. With only hours to play with, I turned to Rose Carrarini's book Breakfast, Lunch and Tea: The Many Little Meals of Rose Bakery for advice, knowing she does all she can to use as little processed sugar as good taste allows in her scrumptious baked goods. When I stumbled upon the words 'this loaf is almost savoury' I crossed my fingers and prayed that we had all the right ingredients. There was not enough time to head back out to the shops. For once, we did (the joys of being at home and not in a little East London cupboard!). Worried about how watery the mixture was, it would be an understatement to say I was a little tense during the time it spent sitting in the oven. But when it was out there was a large sigh of relief. It was perfect. And Dad rather liked it too. He went back for another slice. Success all round, I'd say.

And maman would like to add that it was even more delicious the next day toasted and spread with butter for breakfast. Just in case you need another opportunity to eat cake.

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

January's to-do list

The beginning of a new year, I feel I should have more than just my usual monthly wish list. But I'm in a strange position to be starting the new year, and my new year should really be starting in February, so any life changes and resolutions will be put on hold till then... But for this month:

1. Lots of Gaudí and tapas during a weekend in Barcelona (time to get my University Spanish back up to scratch)
2. Meringues at home, now I finally can with my new KitchenAid (thank you Father Christmas!)
3. A short stay in Bristol
4. Using the ever long, dark nights to stay in and read
5. Fresh air and lots of snow to start the new year skiing in Chamonix
6. Finish Borgen series 1 (yes, I know I'm behind, but I have caught on, finally)

Happy new year to you all! I hope 2014 brings happiness and love and smiles

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