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Mykonos….island of relaxation?

The boat, the boat, the boat. I remember why I HATE boats. The first stint from Santorini to Naxos was horrendous. I felt so sick. I cried. I wanted OFF. Once we reached Naxos and it became a nearly full boat we had to move to our allocated seats. I tried sleeping on Chris’ lap and luckily that help ease the motion for our next leg to Mykonos. I wanted to kiss the asphalt when we docked. Mwa mwa mwa. Land. Mwa mwa mwa.

We were starving so grabbed lunch at the little café next to the port and as we were about to set off, the owner, a nice little Greek lady asked where we were staying. She said she knew the family and would call them as they normally will pick up their guests. Hallelujah reigned as we did not want to get ripped off again from the monopoly that is island taxis.

I knew the hotel was on the hills overlooking the water, but I had not imagined something so beautiful.

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We dropped out bags, turned on the air con so that our room would be nice and cool upon our return form a leisurely stroll into town. The roads are not wide so the pedestrians are sharing with the lunatic drivers and scooter riders. Although I did not get hit, there was one lucky call. Crazy hooligans.

Once we got into town I did not remember the streets from my trip 9 years earlier, so we began exploring. What we found was breathtaking.

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A lot of the small shops sold tourist items, beach wear and little nick knacks, none of which we were interested in. I did however find some designer stores none of which I could fathom dropping the amounts displayed on the items shown. Ridiculous. Probably because it is an island and there is nowhere else to shop.

Back to the hotel to get ready for a nice dinner for two. I think I do a good Alfalfa impersonation (first attempt at curling my newly short hair).

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The dinner was fine dining which we had not had for a while, and what better way to enjoy such a meal then with a short walk, past a beautiful view of Mykonos by night, to our room. A very impressive table setting instantly make you feel excited for a meal. Look at this unique wood place mat with delicate cutlery and abstract plate. I love every inch of it and want to steel it all, including the light. It may be ugly but it is such a great idea for menu’s and actually give people a chance to read in dimly lit restaurants.

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Entrée was saganaki mussels. After a few failed attempts of having saganaki in Santorini I think we have hit the jackpot here. Cheesy + tomatoey + slurpy make for a lot fun, I don’t mind getting in with my hands too. Not the normal saganaki but captures the essence of the dish and makes it even better with the local seafood.

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Mains were just as impressive. I had risotto with speck and Chris had the surf and turf. The risotto was nice, very earthy and much richer than all the seafood ones I have had to date on the trip, so it was unfortunate I actually could not finish the plate, not even close. Chris very much so enjoyed his steak, but when you have a well cooked steak who wouldn’t?

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Yep no room for dessert, plus the game was starting. Brazil vs Germany. We were excited to watch it in the bar area with at least 20 others. There were a group of girls sitting next to us wearing Brazil bandanas. Germany score One. Two. Three. I cannot believe it, everyone is so stunned, the girls even take all Brazil merchandise off. Four. Five. Half time. Ok I am not staying to watch more, so I left Chris to go to bed, there is no point watching it. I did actually get the tv working in the room, Chris shortly came back after another goal went in, and he watched the rest from the room. We were shocked.

DAY 2

Today we did not really feel like doing anything, our only objective in Mykonos was to go to Paradise Beach, which we decided to do the following day. Plus did I mention that it was State of Origin night, well afternoon? Even if we did want to go somewhere Chris refused to go out before 3pm once the game would be finished. He spent all morning trying to find a website to stream off and finally streamed from the NRL website. I was not going to sit in a room to watch or even listen so off to the pool I went.

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I got a cocktail and enjoyed the sun on my chair. I did go into the pool a handful of times to cool off but not for long as I could tell the chlorine was very strong and not something I like to breath in. So the game started at 1pm our time, Chris did not join me until 3:30pm. Little did I know that those 2 hours would be like years in Sun years. We enjoyed a nice lunch together overlooking the pool. I had a deconstructed gyro while Chris had a terrible pizza that tasted like it was frozen and came out of a box.

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After lunch I was not interested in more pool so left Chris, showered and went into the town for some window shopping. I was quite pleased when I caught a glimpse of how brown I was getting 😀 happy Trish.

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Going for a walk by myself also gave me time to photograph and take my time with them.

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The town was fairly busy as it was getting to the end of the week, not that there is much space in the small cobblestone roads anyways.

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I also made it my mission to find the infamous Jimmy’s Gyros. I remember eating delicious gyros here at 3am after hitting up the clubs last time I was here. The situation was a bit different to this trip so we may not get a chance for gyros, but at least I can say “I was here 2014”.

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I went back to find Chris in the room but suddenly was not feeling well. I led Chris back into town to a little restaurant I found (the picture with the tables next to the water). We walked in and there was plenty of space but as soon as we were told that their eftpos machine was down we also walked right back out only having credit cards with us to pay. So we found another small restaurant along the same strip which overlooked the water and the large Mykonos windmills. Our food was not great, but I also had lost my appetite and was extremely tired…….I think we have a case of heat stroke, and all because of a silly NRL game. We left and I slept as soon as we reached our room. Not a nice feeling that was!

DAY 3 paradise

Our final day in Mykonos and we had to experience Paradise.

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We found an umbrella fairly close to the water (less hot sand to walk on until you reach water) and set up shop. I was peckish so ordered a baguette, 4 euros thank you very much for not being over priced!

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A couple of hours and drinks later, we had swam in the bluest, clearest waters, laid on the nicest beach lounges and walked on the softest sand (possible in Greece). This was paradise, and not a cloud in the sky!

How are we going to finish such a nice day off? Eat what we like best, fresh pasta. I stumbled on this restaurant on my explorations and looked it up after paradise. It had may alterations on seafood pasta so it was worth a try in both our eyes.

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I was not game enough to have the pasta with clams and instead opted for a linguine with crab in a white wine sauce.

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Chris had to try it, the clams that was, but it just would never be as good as Da Adolfo. Still, it was the best food we had outside the fine dining in our restaurant so that was a good night for us.

DAY 4

Our last morning we slept in and got ready for our boat to Athens. Hopefully it would not be as choppy as the boat to Mykonos. Well it shouldn’t as we have a huge almost cruise liner that is quite slow, 5 hours in fact, so I don’t anticipate that to sway much at all.

The final view from our hotel is just as spectacular as when we arrived. To have experienced Mykonos both crazily and this time relaxed has been good. I have seen different sides to the island, both good and bad. I think the food generally isn’t as good and perhaps more touristy. I think the view is just as, if not more beautiful than Santorini, and on that point the sunsets are great too, there is just no volcano, who cares! The beaches are and will forever be far superior in Mykonos to Santorini. Maybe this is because I am an Aussie and love sand but the rocks just don’t do it for me and if anything hinder my experience of the beach.

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We have enjoyed it though, well we have to, the honeymoon is coming to a fast end!

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Sunsets and Santorini

Flying to Santorini was quite the trek. Rome to Athens, stopover, then Athens to Santorini. I did find it amusing during our stopover to listen to Americans trying to say ‘efharisto’, but instead saying ‘f-haaristooo’. I cringed and wanted to correct them but I was outnumbered, there were too many of them, not worth the effort.

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Our overpriced taxi drive did not even take us to the door, but I suppose it serves us right for getting a hotel in the little cobblestone alleys of central Fira rather than in a smaller town like Imerovigli. Nothing mattered once we got to our room and patio.

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The view makes everything better.

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It was already 6pm and we were hungry, but Argentina were about to play Belgium in the quarter finals, a game we did want to watch, Argentina had to win! So we found a nice restaurant which had tv’s and sat down, after a detour to look at the view again.

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Dinner was great, lots of tzatziki, greek salad, lamb and octopus. You can’t get much more Greek than that. I was exhausted after the game. Argentina won of course then we headed back to the hotel. Chris returned to the bar to watch game 2 that night while I tried to sleep. I don’t remember so much noise last time I was in Santorini, but then again I did not stay in Fira. We were in the thick of it, but so were the clubs, and what comes with clubs is their blaring music which we could hear all night and morning long. Needless to say we did not sleep that much all night.

DAY 2

Breakfast was served on our rooftop overlooking the glistening blue sea. I was ecstatic to see a plunger of coffee as it had been a good 2 months since I had had some, our Wedding day, I made a huge pot for all the people at my house getting ready. Good thing was that it was made well, and not burnt (as I found out later on a flight serving terrible plunger coffee). We paired fresh coffee with yogurt and honey, watermelon (sooo greek), boiled eggs, bread, orange juice and apple french toast. Healthier than the big buffet breakfasts we had enjoyed up until this point which was a nice change.

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We spent the morning looking up our good friend trip advisor to decide on a restaurant for the evening, but in the end just took a recommendation from the hostess at the hotel. So we walked down, along the cliff face to book it in and tried to do the ‘selfie’ with the nice white buildings. FAIL. All we got is my hat and hair in the way.

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Our light breakkie was also convenient as it left room for a Gyro lunch. We tested both the pork and chicken gyro. YUM. Fresh meat, salad and crispy chips smothered in tzatziki and wrapped in fluffy soft pita bread. The perfect snack before an afternoon at the beach.

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Black beach in Kamari, famous for its black gravel that spans the whole coast.

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We set ourselves up under a nice umbrella and it only set us back 6 euros. Compare this to the 15-25 euros they were charged in Italy and this is a steal. After we settled in we wanted a refreshing beverage, so I got us us frappes. Now Chris had become accustomed to this traditional Greek drink, even bordering on the point of liking it.

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OF course to make them last longer we topped them up with cold water once we got to the halfway point. It would be blasphemy to finish a frappe in under an hour!

The water was surprisingly freezing and the wifi was not working at the beach so after a few hours we had had enough and went back to the hotel to rest before dinner.

I was able to capture the beginning of the sunset as there are ledges all around our hotel, perfect for setting up a camera on timer. I do love this photo.

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Back to the cliff face and we were able to find someone happy to take a photo for us. The result, much better than my efforts.

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Lucky we booked as we were given the best table in the house. Well sort of. It did have the best view, right on the edge, but at 7:30pm when we arrived the sun was still beaming strong and there was no shade cover. I suspect other tables opted to be further back so they weren’t as hot as we were for that first hour. Almost too much sun for even me, but we held out and the results were well worth it.

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We also had a good view right along the coast and got to see packs of donkeys walking up and down the stairs. I do feel sorry for them having to carry so much so I was glad to photograph these donkeys not carrying anything at all.

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Right everyone get your cameras and phones out as it is starting. The famous Santorini Sunset.

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People at every restaurant along the cost were watching and celebrating.

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Boats were out in packs too.

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Once the sun did finally go down everyone clapped and cheered.

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A nice romantic dinner, food wasn’t great but it was about the experience. It certainly made us want to sit side by side and cuddle up while we watched the changing colours of the sky.

DAY 3

I don’t think I could get sick of this view. Today many more cruise liners were out and it got me thinking. What a nice way to do the islands as it is calm, you don’t need to worry about choppy high speed boats or turbulent small planes. You don’t need to wheel your luggage up the cobblestone streets and you will always have a beautiful view…..maybe one day, but not today, we still have much more land to cover.

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Today’s outing was to more famous beaches in Santorini, Red and White beach in Akrotiri. Incredibly they are just around the corner from each other yet they are so starkly different that you cannot believe they are from the same small bit of coast line.

We caught a boat out to see the three beach options for the afternoon then could dock at whichever one we wanted. First was Red beach. I had visited before but it is always so busy and there are not many umbrellas available, let alone empty beach space. So we gave this one a miss and went onto the next beach.

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White beach. Such a view and like nothing we had seen before. So secluded there is no road nearby let alone any amenities. The next beach was Black beach but we had already been to a Black beach so opted for White.

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Plenty of umbrellas available, and because it is so secluded it is surely a monopoly, 15 euros for the both of us. Well we coughed it up as we did not want to attempt lying on the hard white pebbles. We experienced them enough getting off the boat. Since the water is shallow closer to shore the boat docked about 15m out from shore. We had to get off the boat in our cozzies and thongs and walk to shore in waist high water, with out bags on our heads and trying not to trip on the pebbles. I did save my bag, but I did trip too, it is so hard to walk on those pebbles.

Once we were relaxing on the beach, and in the warm water, it was bliss – a quiet, calm beach with crystal clear water. Yes please!

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All good things must come to an end, and our last day in Santorini had so far been paradise. Back at the hotel we got the good news from the hostess that she got us a booking at her favourite traditional restaurant there, Naoussa. We again got the best table in the house which we felt had an even better view than what we had seen before.

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We were hungry so ordered big. Entrée consisted of Greek salad, tzatziki and cheese croquets (which were basically just fried melted cheese). All so delicious and as I am writing this I am salivating over this meal. We washed this down with a small jug of house white wine.

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Mains were just as impressive. Moussaka, which I was so glad that they served in a terracotta pot. The waiter told me this was the best moussaka in Santorini and he was not lying. It was delectable. The béchamel was smooth as silk, creamy and the hint of nutmeg gives it that proper greek flavour. The meat, potato and eggplant all rich in flavour and as a whole dish YUM. Chris had slow roasted lamb with lemon potatoes which tasted good but was a tad dry, so disappointing for something that looked so impressive. The potatoes on the other hand were ‘just a-like-a home’ although would never be better than my Grandmothers, ever. But beyond my Grandmothers they were the next best.

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Our view. The best ending to a fantastic time in Santorini. We have seen a lot of sunsets on our trip. This would be number one, Biarritz number two, everything else does not matter.

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Santorini is just as beautiful when the night sky is out and the lights are on.

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Our time has been full of much needed relaxation and tanning. If we are coming back to Australia after 9 weeks we most certainly need a tan, what else would people come to Europe in Summer for?

 

 


The Amalfi Coast

We left Rome with a quick 1hr train ride to Naples where we had a transfer ready to take us down the zig zag path to Amalfi. It was a busy Sunday afternoon so instead of the freeway we took the route through Sorrento, Positano, Priano and then Amalfi. Once we arrived at our hotel, after this two hour road trip, we were exhausted and so happy to finally be at a hotel and not still going left, right, left, right. Lucky our hotel was directly on the port so we did not have to walk far to find it. Our suite had the best view as you can see, not to mention 4m ceilings and an extra two single beds just in case we wanted a break from each other, I suppose!

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We did not waste time taking a look around the main square and sussing out the restaurants for lunch. We noticed immediately that masses of people were lining up to drink and wash their hands from these small spouts of water. We did not try it straight away until we asked around that it was yes drinkable and extremely cold, most probably spring water, good on the hot days.

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The town was extra busy on this Sunday, more than expected on a weekend due to it being St Peter’s day and therefore tourists and locals had come to see the grand church overlooking the town. It is unlike other churches we have seen in Italy but reminds me of churches in Marseille with a slightly Marrakesh influence in the detailing and design. It is no wonder so many people come to take photos in front, it is incredible.

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We chose one of the many restaurants off the main square overlooking the ‘fountain’ and church and did not hesitate to order pizza and pasta. Chris got a simple napolitana pizza with salami which was again delicious with its soft and thin base.

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From my last trip to the Amalfi Coast, which I learnt how good simple pasta was, I have since become obsessed with aglio olio, so that is just what I had. The WHOLE plate. In my defence I did stop half way…..but then I had a strand here and a strand there and then it was all gone. Wooops. Well at least I enjoyed every, single, bite.

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Although we were full there is always room for gelato. Plus with gelaterias every two shops it is basically calling you “eat me, eat me, eat me”. Okay! I got blood orange sorbet and Chris had lemon sorbet.

Well a tad disappointing as these sorbets were so sweet we could barely eat them, and we left them to melt on our balcony.

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We went for a stroll before dinner to look at the town, from a different angle. It is so beautiful and peaceful along the coast at night, which is the opposite to the roads that go inland.

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These roads are blossoming with people, restaurants, singers trying to make a few dollars and of course the tourist shop with lemon merchandise everywhere.

We just picked a restaurant for dinner but it was not fantastic, or worth mentioning, not because it was bad, but because overall we had unforgettable food in the Amalfi and there is no point mentioning ‘okay’ food to you guys. But for the record I had Antipasti di mare, ‘seafood salad’ and Chris had Bolognaise.

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DAY2

Monday morning I was up bright an early ready to claim my stake on the beach. The day before it was St Peter’s day so Amalfi was PACKED. There was no space on the beach whatsoever and because it was now school holidays I had no idea what to expect on the Monday. So I went down bright an early, at 9am, pastry in hand, ready to get a good spot…..well no fear, it was a quiet day in Amalfi and the beach did not even get half full.

As I left early I enjoyed breakfast on the beach with my favourite Italian pastry, sfogliatelle. It is very crisp pastry in the shape of a shell with ricotta and orange peel piped inside. ABSOLUTELY DELICIOUS. After half the pastry I was getting full and I realised I should not have gotten the biggest one I could find, but I would not let this beauty go to waste, so I finished it. I’m on holidays, I’ll burn it off when I get back to Sydney, our motto for the whole trip.

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By 1pm we were getting hot and hungry so we left the beach to get some lunch. Again we tried a different restaurant off the main square as it was convenient and quite busy. Chris had a delicious pasta with fresh tomato and parmesan. Simple and delicious.

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I ordered smoked mozzarella baked in lemon leaves and a salad. The salad was so small it was a joke and the ‘baked mozzarella’ was cold. I could not believe it. I sent it back but they did not accept it. Then they came out with a plate of overdone melted mozzarella, even though all my utensils had been removed. It was still terrible and a pathetic attempt to rectify this. Correct me if I am wrong but if you read ‘baked’ would you not expect baked?

After lunch we did not feel like more sun and beach, as it gets quite hot, even with the crystal blue water to cool you off. Maybe it is also the lack of sand and plethora of hot stones that slightly hinders the experience, a truly European beach! Well I am Aussie and do very much like my soft, non feet hurting sand. So we went back to the hotel to rest before more world cup games.

We had been doing the cheap thing and watching a television outside restaurant Pizza Duomo with many others, but tonight we did not want to wait 2 hours for the game to end to eat so we nabbed one of the last tables outside and enjoyed dinner while watching the game. GOOD MOVE. Dinner was so much better than any meal we had had so far in Amalfi. I had sole cooked in a lemon butter sauce with mash and Chris had an Argentinian steak. No pizza and pasta here tonight!

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‘A’ happy couple.

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They also passed around some Amalfi lemons which permeate the strongest, most refreshing fragrance. It is obvious why lemons are so famous in the Amalfi, they are ‘real’ lemons.

DAY 3

Our  day trip to Positano, one of my favourite places in the whole wide world. It is a beautiful town with excellent food and a less touristy feel than Amalfi. We slept in so caught the ferry at 10:30. Once we got there we had a coffee while we caught up on skype with the family, did I mention our hotel in amalfi did NOT have wifi, how ridiculous is that in this day in age.

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When you see these houses you think to yourself what an amazing place it would be to live. Yes I would agree, absolutely a beautiful view with tranquil surroundings, not to mention the nicest people.

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This is what I have been looking forward to. This view, exactly like this. After standing, staring and admiring, we enjoyed free wifi at a coffee shop, skyped the family then headed to the port to find the boat with the red fish.

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Not just any red fish, but the Da Adolfo red fish, full determination of getting a table without a reservation.

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If you know me you will know that I HATE boats. Despise, shiver with fear. Yes I did catch the ferry service, but they are large and not catamarans, which I find much worse. So the little boat to Da Adolfo was at first scary but the water is calm and the boat does not go too fast so I will admit it, I enjoyed the boat ride. I enjoyed the fresh air, I enjoyed watching the houses on the cliff face as we moved along, but most of all I enjoyed seeing that little restaurant in the distance which made me smile, cheek to cheek.

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As this was one of my favourite meals last time I was in this neck of the woods it would be rude of me not to share such an incredible experience with Chris. I love it so much I have a picture blown up on the wall of my kitchen, reminding me of this place.

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What more could you ask for, a simple blackboard menu sitting on the rocks, chairs and tables on the gravel floor overlooking the beach. You are eating incredible food in what is almost your own private beach, no cars here, only a boat service on the hour.

Our luck is unbelievable, we got the last free table, again. I ran to the board to see if items I had last time were still here. YES. We will be having prawns for entrée, sautéed in chilli, salt and pepper. I will have the lobster spaghetti and Chris the spaghetti with pippies for main and all washed down with a bottle of Greco di tufo wine.

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What doesn’t look good about these dishes.

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Impressive much? Once I took all the meat out and mixed it around the flavours of cherry tomato, garlic, oil, lobster were having a party in my mouth, literally. Perfection…..so Trish says

Chris on the other hand thinks his pipis in aglio olio with a touch of parley is the clear winner…..well maybe. It is all so good.

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This is it. The best restaurant in Positano/Amalfi/Italy. This may be because we did not stop talking about THAT lunch all night, and all the next day too. You could not fault an experience like that.

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We found it back to Amalfi, sadly, and watched some more World cup on the TV’s at Pizza Duomo. It was already full so we decided to get dinner after instead and to try one of the restaurants overlooking the Amalfi beach.

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It was a beautiful view, I will not deny it. It is more peaceful than Positano as a lot of the town is set back behind the port rather than Positano where it is all on the water. This restaurant was called Silver Moon.

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Yes we did have more wine that night, we are on holidays, we are allowed.

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Dinner was more spaghetti, bolognaise this time, for Chris and I had a seafood risotto. Chris’ dish was nice, but we are still comparing back to that first pasta in Rome, the ragu which was on another level. My risotto again okay, but really its no lobster paella in Valencia, which still reins as the best rice dish I have had on the trip. Enjoyable and fresh but I felt it needed lemon and chilli as it was a little flat.

No dessert, just finishing our wine before a relaxing sleep.

DAY 4

Beach again, if we were going to get a tan at all on this trip this is the place to start it, and who can complain, our hotel is just across the road. Convenient much?

We decided today to try one of the private beach areas where deck chairs and an umbrella may be a little more expensive but there is food and drink service too. We actually went back to Silver moon ‘beach area’. I think the red is much nicer than the other blue umbrellas.

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We ordered pizza for lunch, but unfortunately it was not that great. The base was too hard and crusty and the flavours, not pow. We did spend the rest of the day relaxing here, I wrote, Chris enjoyed the free wifi and read, read, read.

Whilst using wifi we did look up good restaurants in Amalfi. There were a few options but some looked like they needed reservations. Our luck stikes again with Da Gemma where we got an early table, an in by out by. Usually I am not a big fan of these but we have not been having dessert recently so timing should be ok.

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The restaurant was situated behind the port in one of the main streets leading away from the beach, but on the first floor. It was so nice to overlook the street, people watch and see the sun set slowly over the town.

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Although we have been dining out every night not every night is at a fine dining restaurant. In Italy it has been mainly simple trattorias but every now and then it is a nice change.

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We decided to share an entrée and since we had not yet had a caprese salad we chose the trio plate. Tick. First was crumbed and fried mozzarella with tomato and basil. I was the impatient child and jumped right in, burning the roof of my mouth with the hot fillings…obviously all those cheese and tomato jaffles as a kid did not teach me to wait. Next, at the end was a gazpacho like cold soup with aerated mozzarella cream. Nice, an unexpected style but captured the flavours well. Lastly the true Caprese with bright red, juicy tomatoes and delicious mozzarella. mmmmmmm

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I decided to try the seafood risotto again, well crab risotto since it was made with a lemon base. BEST MOVE. It was so delicious, so aromatic, fresh, rich, al dente and way too much food but who cares, it was too good to leave so I had to finish it. That good! gemma5

Chris was also extremely satisfied with his ragu. As you can see, true ragu style, cooked for hours, decadent and flavoursome. It even came with a nest of parmesan, which impressed us.

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We enjoyed our dinner very much and were happy to leave by 8:30 as we could not eat anymore, not even with a second stomach for dessert, nor would we want to ruin the flavours in our mouths at that moment.

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DAY 5

You just cannot keep us away. We did it again. Positano and Da Adoldo although this time we booked, it was a Thursday so we thought it may get a tad busy closer to the weekend.

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We were correct. We missed the first boat as people scrambled to claim the limited seats. I was not going to fight with some of these enthusiastic people, so we patiently waited for the next one. We all arrived at nearly the same time anyways as our boat was faster. It was incredibly busy. So many people being turned away and I thanked my lucky starts we thought to book. People without a table could go back to Positano or wait at this little beach until one became available. Not a good position to be in if you were hungry, as we were.

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We decided on two entrees this time. The prawns of course and baked mozzarella in lemon leaves, proper baked mozzarella, not cold mozzarella like that stupid restaurant in Amalfi, this place is the real deal here.

The mozzarella leaves some of its oils on the leaves, with juice that are perfect to be soaked up with bread. It is like a creamy, lemony, smokey flavour that just reminds me of Positano.

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I will agree with Chris now, and say it publicly, the spaghetti with pipis was the better spaghetti. We enjoyed it so much we actually did consider getting one more plate to share, just so they would not think badly of us, being pigs you know. We contemplated and did wait to see if we actually could. In the end our stomachs caught up with our eyes and we could not eat any more.

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Thank you very much Da Adolfo, it has been sooooo great. We will be back for sure in the near future. As this was our last day before heading back to Rome we knew we this was our last supper for this trip. We sailed away knowing we had eaten the best dish, at the best restaurant in all of the Amalfi Coast and without a doubt the best meal on our whole trip. This is an easy question to answer as every day around meal time we kept saying to each other “Just take me to Da Adolfo for lunch” “Let’s just fly back to Da Adolfo”. I do not think a day went by that we did not want to go back just once more for that amazing dish.

I do make a lot of fresh pasta at home and always do an aglio olio base so once this trip is over I am experimenting with pipis. Watch out Da Afolfo!

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The small cobbled streets of Positano get more colourful and picturesque as you walk around. There is never a dull corner, even the most simple of walls, in its context, is lovely.

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Bye bye Positano, until next time.

It was like Groundhog day as we ended up at Silver Moon for dinner. The beach was not so silent but amusing none the less. There were a group of boys sitting, eating pizza then spent at least 20 minutes throwing stones trying to hit signs in the water.

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Last time we were here we saw a girl having the salt and pepper squid and thought we must try that next time, so entrée was decided.

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I was not as hungry as I was last time so only had a simple fish fillet with green vegies while Chris yet again had the bolognaise.

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Our final day in the Amalfi was a perfect day in our eyes. This part of the trip has been the first spot we could just relax, do absolutely nothing. We would not be missing out on something, fighting cues or catching bus and train to get to one location. Life here was simple, easy, carefree.

Although I do love it here I do also love city life. I miss walking streets full of people, I do love shopping and aimlessly walking around taking in the city. So it wasn’t all sad when we got the transfer to Naples. I was nearly sick as it was without a doubt the windiest road possible, but arriving back in Rome made me feel reenergized and ready for the more.


Rome – ‘gluten’ville

Rome has been such a different experience for me. I have gone from hating the city to loving it’s vibe, it’s chaos and wanting to come back and explore. In our 3 days all we saw was a check list of monuments and the restaurant outside our hotel, as it had the best pizza and pasta.

If I was doing a list of awards for this holiday, the award for the city I wish I could have spent more time in would be Rome.

We arrive on a Friday afternoon and luckily our hotel was very central located just up from the Spanish steps. We were starving so we had to decide whether to go and find a good restaurant or should we just chance the restaurant outside our hotel, which we got 10% off at. It was busy so that was a good sign, plus we were so hungry that anything probably would have tasted good.
The menu was simple so we settled on fettuccine ragu and pizza with sausage, mushrooms and mozzarella. I had hoped that my small amounts of daily of gluten consumption in France had warned my stomach of what was to come in Italy, I was not going to go without here. We were so excited for this meal and had been looking forward to pizza and pasta everyday for basically the whole of France.

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Well let me tell you, we had been there one hour and I knew this pizza and pasta would be hard to beat, this is the evidence.

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We debated whether to get another plate of either as we thought we were hungry still, but opted out and set off in the direction of the Trevi Fountain. On the way there we did go past the Spanish steps and decided to sit and relax there on the way back to the hotel. Also on the way to the Trevi Fountain were 2 major shopping streets, the first Prada, Bulgari, Dior, Cartier, Fendi etc etc. Chris was pulling me along and probably wishes he had a leash he could keep me close with so I would not run to each window and admire. Ok I was a good girl and did not go in, we continues on. Then next street Zara 1, Zara 2, Mango (my favourite shops) plus many many more. Again Chris pulled me along reminding me of the prize, ice cream at the fountain. Ok Ok. We got there. Excitement, gone. Disappointment, boiling. Scaffolding, everywhere. Water, vanished.

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Chris was so upset, he was saving his two 1c coins for us to throw, he did not want a photo.

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There were many coins thrown over the barriers and onto the concrete that once was a pond. No wishes would be happening here! Later we looked up how long the works were taking place as we were returning to Rome a week later for a day, but nope they were to be ongoing until 2015. A multi million euro restoration of the Trevi Fountain sponsored by Fendi. Well thanks a lot Fendi, ruin our night. Next disappointment was returning back to the once excellent gelataria only for it to look sloppy and no Italians ready to serve. Right back out we walked, authenticity lost. We then walked, shoulders dropped, back to the Spanish Steps on the look out for some good gelato. We would have walked into at least 5 places and none looked good, “what is it in these major cities, it was hard to find a good patisserie in Paris and now we cannot find gelato in rome?” we said to one another. It is as if cities have become so touristy that the chance that you will stumble upon a good little find is dwindling. LOOK those people are holding what looks like proper gelato, head in that direction. BAH BAH, success. Actually just across from the Spanish Steps too…..well at least the Spaniards are still guiding us well.

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Double scoops were a must which we enjoyed on the steps looking out at the stupid tourists dumb enough to take roses from the man who wait for it, wait for it, there it is, will ask for money. Surely people are aware of these ploys, these men don’t just want to give you a rose, nor do the men in Paris just want to give you a bracelet, all they want is money. We sat for at least 40 minutes watching this occur over and over, still humoured every single time.

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Not a bad way to spend a Friday afternoon with my husband, great food, smooth cheap wine and a two scoop of my favourite flavours.

The next morning we tried to leave reasonably early for St Peter’s Basilica as it was a Saturday, and the lines are always long. On the walk up to the Basilica we were asked in at least 5 different languages if we needed a guide as we can ‘skip the queues’. No thank you. Well the line was long but it was moving reasonably fast.

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Yes is did stretch the whole way round but was only an hour and quite a bit was under shade. So it was not until we saw scaffolding in the square then ask a staff member why there was all this construction here that we were told tomorrow, Sunday, was St Peter’s Day and not only will the museum and basilica be closing early today but tomorrow would be closed. We are extremely lucky we came TODAY.

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So we came, we saw, and we left. It is another extravagant church. Nice but once you have been to Sagrada Familia, no churches are anywhere near impressive, and that one is not even finished.

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As we were walking out of the basilica we saw a sign for pre purchasing tickets to the Vatican Museum. It was a bit more expensive, but by now it was midday and getting hot outside. Yes thank you very much we are more than happy to pay tourist prices to skip the lines, please take our euros. I think if you go in with this attitude you will have a happier experience and not think back to all the lines you stood in, but how well spent your money was.

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….and lines there were. We relaxed for a little in a café across from the entrance to enjoy our overpriced coffee, gelato and water in full air conditioning before we were ready to start. I did warn Chris before we entered that it is like a maze which if you power walk through the whole thing, and not even look at the art, will take you at least an hour to reach the Sistene Chapel. We did look, but quickly, or as quick as we could with the large groups blocking passage ways.

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Just over an hour and we made it. This time more people were talking and not so stealthily taking photos but every few minutes the police would say “SILENCIO”. Without glasses I did find it very difficult to look up and examine all the little scenes so I got over it very quickly as my eyes were burning, but if you have the time there is so much to take in, so many stories told.

[insert photo downloaded from the internet of the sistene chapel]

It is interesting that even the exit has some ‘creativeness’ to it. As you walk down the very steep ramp that has no grip you slowly meet short steps and slowly slowly reach stability and the feeling that you will not fall over somewhere towards the bottom, the only place with yellow strips along the edge alerting people that ‘this is a step’. Odd and definitely would not be allowed in Australia. If this was in Australia there would be a second ugly handrail which is the correct height above the original one, large yellow strips on the edge of every step as the light grey is not different enough to the dark grey of the step and where the ramp is too steep there would probably be perpex steps built over the top to ensure that noone would sue the building for ‘falling over’. I am so glad we are not in Australia right now.

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We were met with the same situation as I was when I left the Vatican Museum 5 years earlier, severe hunger. A whole morning of waiting and looking around the smallest country in the world is draining, so we walked through the little alleys hoping to find anything and then tada we hit the Piazza Nuova.

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It normally has a plethora of different artists from musicians, jewellers and painters but today seemed rather quiet. We enjoyed people watching from one of the cafes around the edge of the piazza, ours even squirted cold water mist over you to cool you down. This definiely heightened our experience of bruscuetta, salad and Chris’ bolognaise.

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Another big attraction is the large fountain with obelix in the centre.

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Our last stop for the day was the Pantheon. Walking there I noticed a key difference between Rome and other european cities, well cities we have thus far visited. The combination of sunlight and the colours of the buildings add warmth to the city rather than glimpses of light and cold colours of grey or white concrete. Also the fact that every road is treated like a plaza with masses of people walking along and only moving if a car is on its way, oddly, adds a relaxed nature, people are not running around frantically to move almost as if pedestrians rule.

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Well frantic does pick up closer towards the Pantheon. More guides offering there services but for us we thought the information signs around were enough. It is without a doubt my favourite building in Rome. Every time I come here it takes my breath away, maybe this is because every time I visit there is a children’s choir chanting which makes this space just mesmerizing. The light, the shadows on the ceiling, the detail of the interiors and the scale are all so beautiful. No need for our dodgy ‘selfies’ here, it can speak for itself.

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A great way to end our Saturday, well almost. On the way back to the hotel I lost Chris to the Brazil v Chile game so I decided to relax with some shopping but made sure I was back by 8, which I did, Chris was not. I got ready for dinner and went to find him, in the bar, not dressed, watching the game. Thanks very much guys why did it have to go to extra time, then penalties, I wanted to eat. Everyone was glued to the screen (this was back when people liked Brazil). They won yay, can we eat now?

We had decided to try the rooftop restaurant in our hotel, little did we know that a lot of Rome had that same idea. It was packed and we did not have a reservation. We were yet to stay in a hotel where people actively seek out the restaurant so it was a shock to us. We had our cocktails and waited. Finally we were seated and ordered as quickly as possible. Entrée was delicious, beef carpaccio with quail eggs, pecans on a rocket salad.

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Happy Trish and Chris, but not for long. Mains were a complete disaster. The pasta was so horrible, thick, undercooked and gluggy that they were hardely edible. The things we do when we are hungry, hoping every bite will get better. In hindsight we should have sent them back but hunger does funny things to people. (definitely not photo worthy).

We finishes our wine as quick as we could to get out of that terrible place wishing we had pizza and pasta again. So we decided to at least get some enjoyment out of a few more wines and some live music at the piani bar. It started to get quite busy and before we knew it some americans were up and dancing. It was a funny sight as the girl knew how to salsa but the guy truly did not. After a few wines Chris gets quite proud and wanted to show them how it was done so grabbed me and spin, spin, spin, spin. I am not a good dancer but I would say that I gave a better effort than that guy. Chris was satisfied and sat down for the rest of the night. Before we knew it it was 2am and we had an early train down to the Amalfi. We must have lost time after another bottle or was it the haze of smoke as that everyone was puffing that did it????

Amalfi story will come shortly.

We headed back to Rome for one more night after our fantastic trip to Amalfi as it did take a good 4 hours to travel between them and we needed to rest before another half day of travel to the Greek Islands. So we got back to Rome around 4 in the afternoon dropped our bags and set of for the last item on our checklist, the Colloseum. We looked online and there was a tour which included the space under the colloseum at 4:30. Metro was not going to work so we jumped in a cab and power walked making it just in time. We asked the staff but were informed that the tour we wanted is booked out months in advance and we would not be able to get in this summer. Well ok, that did not go according to plan. This is when anoying people asking if you want to join their tour are welcome. So we joined a group, got straight in and heard this eccentric man go off on tangents and talk about the colloseum, that was until we were told we only had 20 minutes free time in the colloseum before our next tour of the Roman Forum was about to start. Tour suddenly did not seem like a good idea. Who actually liked being rushed? We had paid so we decided to just see what we could then get on with it.

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Thankfully the second tour was with a different guide, this guide was an overenthusiastic British ex teacher who was in love with Roman history. Although we were hot and bothered it was a great tour and really informative.

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We learnt that the Arch of Constantine here outside the Colosseum was the first arch, built in the 4th century, and apparently the one that the French Arc De Triomph was based around. We also got a great view of the Colosseum without all of its scaffolding. Then saw what would have been the original and grandest basilica (the large building with domed ceilings behind us), which is much much larger than St Peter’s is and what St Peter’s is based on. The Basilica of Maxentius. The only difference between what this would have been and what St Peter’s is is the dome on the top, which the architect added and Michelangelo advised to raise to make it very tall.

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So the architect really did not do much except copy a design and add a dome, not dictate the final product.

The Roman Forum used to be under a lot of silt and has taken many years of excavation to discover the remains. What is truly incredible is how old some of these buildings are. The most spectacular I think is the Temple of Divus Romulus church which still has the original bronze doors, lock and key and dates back to the 4th Century.

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Tick tick and tick. We were done. Now to get back to the hotel to enjoy some more pizza and pasta. This time we were not willing to share so we got an entrée pizza, potato, rosemary and mozzarella. To be honest I was so excited but I have had sooo much better in Sydney with thin slices of potato, rock salt, even rosemary spread across. Oh well I ate most of it anyways. Our mains were delicious. I had spaghetti with pepato pecorino and zucchini flowers. It was definitely a flavour punch with the cheesiest sauce I have ever had, but I enjoyed it as I do LOVE cheese. Chris got his favourite fettuccine with ragu. It was a good end to a lovely adventure in Rome.

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Paris and a birthday

I’m tired just thinking about it. When you go to Paris there is a list of things you need to do, in no particular order.

Louvre (closed on Tuesdays)

Musee d’Orsay (closed on Mondays)

Eiffel Tower

Sacre Coeur + Montmartre

Champs Elysees

Arc de Triomphe

Bridge of locks

Notre Dame

Four days really ‘is’ enough to do them all, but what is not on that list is rest or taking time to enjoy the holiday. We also need to factor in watching world cup games at night and the early mornings and late nights make for tired people.

We arrived in Paris and already had trouble with the French as we tried to drop off our hire car. What a great experience it was to drive from Barcelona over the border and all the way up to Paris. Yes there were A LOT of tolls, so people in Australia do not complain; we are talking some tolls that were 30 euros each. We also need to mention the 500 euro fee to drive a car over the border and not return it, but when you find out that trains are on strike through France, any amount of money to not have to worry, jump in and go is worth it. When we found the Hertz office we were told that we needed to go to a different one as it was closed. Trying to navigate in the centre of Paris is not easy, especially finding a small ramp with a even smaller Hertz sign on it.

Once done we had to walk with our bags to the hotel, cab would have taken a long time, but in the end, and a few wrong turns, maybe it would have been worth it.

The hotel was in Saint Germain on the South Bank of the Seine. Very central and close to many different monuments. So we dropped our bags then walked down towards the Musee d Orsay along Rue de Rennes, a large shopping street that also had quite a good little bakery on it. Lunch was baguette and nicoise salad. Better than all that we have had so far in France so this is a good sign. We walked walked waked in the heat to the Museum. The lines were not long at all so we were excited that waiting time would be limited. We took a few happy snaps, it was my birthday after all, then walked round to the entrance only to be told that on Monday’s the museum is closed. Shattered as I do prefer this museum to the Louvre we decided we might as well keep walking to the Eiffel Tower. More walking in the heat but once we made it there it was definitely worth it, plus who would complain about a sunny day in Paris where it is normally grey.

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We waited in another line to walk up the stairs, for a lot less than we would have had we chosen to go up the lift. 700ish stairs. Our glutes were definitely feeling it.

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The view was great but we were hit with another line, the line to take the lift to the 3rd platform. We considered it but were done with lines for today and would give it a miss, perhaps go back another day. So we exited, took a few more shots on the first platform as there is a viewing area made of glass right that looks over the ground and all the little people below. It is a tad scary.

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We walked back to the hotel to watch Australia vs Spain (which ended up not being shown anywhere) then go for my birthday dinner, but just before we left Chris kissed me.

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This is how I felt!

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I found a little bistro nearby with quite good reviews called La Gauloise. It was on such a pleasant street full of bistros, ours however had nice white tablecloths. Finally able to relax and enjoy some wine.

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Entrees came out and we were excited as they looked very impressive. I had the octopus and fennel salad, nice and fresh. My octopus was so soft, citrusy and the fennel was done two ways, fresh and sautéed down.

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Chris had what I wanted but sigh, I cannot have asparagus and little did we know there was a layer of peas underneath the thick broth, another no no. The theatre of cutting open the egg with a large steak knife makes this dish even better as the creamy orangey yolk streams out and through the dish. Ok I did have food envy!

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Mains were even better, if possible. I had the steamed cod served in a copper pan with pippies and potatoes in a white wine sauce. The fish fell apart at the slightest touch, almost as if it was confit. It was the most flavoursome, delicious fish I have ever had, and how much better can it get for my birthday dinner.

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Chris had, surprise surprise, a steak, excuse moi, fillet of beef with pepper sauce. We finished the lot, how could we not, it would be a sin to leave such great food on the plate.

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Dessert was a must, no candle though. I had the millefeuille with raspberries. The cream was not like boring whipped cream, it was thicker, more custardy and actually had its own flavour. Yippee. OK call me a pig but I did finish the whole thing. I’m allowed, it’s my birthday. I had told Chris we could share the dessert but he was determined to try the Chocolate pudding. Probably not a good idea. It was huge and I don’t know why something so rich would be served with salted caramel ice cream but it was, which made it even richer. Chris did not finish it.

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Seriously satisfied we walked back to the hotel via the Eiffel Tower and just in time to see the light show. Very pretty, maybe not the most impressive thing I’ve seen, but a nice change of location for my birthday.

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So Tuesday we DID go back to Musee d’Orsay. On the way we were certain we could find a nice boulangerie for breakfast. Wrong. We walked, and walked, and walked. I’m certain we walked along every single street without a boulangerie in St Germain. By now we were hungry, tired and hot and ended up at a café that we paid the tourist tax in as it was just across from the museum. We did not care. After sustenance we stood in line for 1 hour for the museum. It would not have made that much difference if we booked online as that line was long too, probably half an hour wait. You can see how thrilled we were with the lines.musee1

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Inside was so cool and air conditioned ahhhhhhhhh. Floor by floor we went, seeing impressionist after impressionists. Fabulous artwork. We got to the Van Gogh section and it was under renovation so all of his works plus more had been moved to a temporary exhibition downstairs which had another line.

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We were sick of lines and decided to do that last after we had had lunch upstairs. The upstairs wing is my favourite with the likes of Monet, Manet, Degas, Renior, Cezanne and there should have been some Van Gogh too, but what I also like is the café in one of the clocks of the façade. I was so excited when we got the table next to the clock, the same table I had 5 years earlier when I visited, and I think the best table there as you can get photos with the clock, which actually turned out more like silhouettes.

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We had energy now to wait in line. The estimate was 20 minutes but it ended up being 25. Totally worth it. The exhibition was from the point of view of another artist who wrote an essay about Van Gogh and how he could not have been insane like many thought. It gave an artists point of view on how people at the time should have been praising his work but instead just did not understand it. I think everyone would learn a lot from this exhibition, we were so glad we saw it.

So four hours later we were all arted out and walked back to the hotel, past the shops. Chris actually gave me free time to go shopping. YAY. The only problem was that the sales were starting the day after so I did not buy anything, what was the point, it was all full price still, I returned empty handed.

We rested before the dinner I have been looking forward to for a long time. Chez l’ami Jean. I wished we could have had this for my birthday but it was closed on Mondays. My stomach was playing up a bit from a quiche I had for breakfast so I was not terribly hungry, a point I would overlook for dinner as I knew the food would be great.

We arrived, the most dressed up two people there, me in a short black dress, and Chris suited up. Other diners were in t-shirts and shorts as it is a simple bistro. From looking at it yes, but the food is anything but simple. As it is so popular tables of two are not common so we were seated in a long row of tables along a wall which were moved around like tetris to let the diners sitting along the banquette out. Not quite the experience I was looking for sitting right up next to different group, but it is what it is.

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So the menu was all in French and we were told we would get help to understand it. Nope, it was so busy that that wasn’t the case so we just decided to do the ‘Trust the chef” menu which means that the chef would just bring out whatever he felt like. We were then asked if there were any intolerances. All I said was onions, not gluten as I can handle that when absolutely necessary. The waiter looked worried. He went to ask the chef and came back saying it was not possible. I then pleaded and said if it was only small bits in stock its ok, but not fresh onion or chunks in dishes. He went back and again said that the chef refused to give me this menu as there would be onion and basically it was just no. I was deflated. The menu I had had 5 years ago, by myself, that was the highlight of France and something embedded in my mind was suddenly taken away from me. I even thought what was the point then? The waiter said that Chris was welcome to have this menu and I was to choose off the a la carte, which was still in French. So after very brief descriptions I ordered an entrée and main reluctantly.

I think they felt sorry for me as they brought out two bowls both with little ‘croutons’ of peas, bacon, parmesan ready for the holy grail of soups, their Parmesan soup. It was poured and I couldn’t wait but started slurping that up straight away. It is the best soup you will try, Chris agreed and he is not a soup person.

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Next my entrée came out. Tuna tartare with strawberry, foie gras, beetroot and white truffle. I have seen the combination of foie gras and berries at a few places now and it is always fabulous, this did not disappoint. The creamy soft foie gras was balanced with the fresh tuna and sweet fruit. Perfect. I gulped that up although I was admittedly getting full, my stomach was still recovering from the morning and giving me a hard time about it over dinner.

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As I ate two different tables came in all ordering the “trust the chef”. Chris’ next dish was taking a long time so we thought that the chef was waiting for them to catch up so he could serve 6 at one, makes sense. As my dish was being cleared his was being served. Squid with cucumber and radish in a soy sauce. Fresh and nice he commented.

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I was then served main. Roast chicken with olive, green beans and you guessed it, more foie gras. I don’t think I could handle more. The chicken was so moist and soft and with the foie gras did taste divine, not like any chicken I could ever cook.

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Next Chris and the other 5 next to us were all served crispy skin salmon with more Asian cucumber;

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followed by poached tuna with miso and sesame;

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next was sole (I think) with rosemary and orange burnt/infused on top and roasted pepper puree;

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another fish we cannot remember with the parmesan soup ‘foam’;

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and then finally some meat.

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The problem was Chris was struggling by this stage to eat more, forcing more and more and more. The duck was roasted with crispy skin and served with shrooms and mash. It was rich, it was decadent, it was a memorable duck, what was consumed anyways. Toilet breaks were becoming more frequent as we tried to finish, knowing that dessert is still to come, and yes dessert was coming. We were given the option to have the cheese course first, which we opted out of, but looked on in disbelief as others nodded away. It was a hard cheese sliced thin served with fruit compote. I think we were cheesed out after Biarritz. Dessert was then served but was really two desserts in one. The famous rice pudding with salted caramel cream and praline of nuts, but also shot glasses of vanilla and chocolate milkshake and then a fruit and custard bowl.

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A few spoonfuls and that was it. The towels were thrown in. Officially cannot consume anymore. We left and I was glad that Chris was overwhelmed thinking about the meal he just had, the experience I wanted to give him. They tried their hardest to give me the same but this time round things were different, that is what intolerances do to you, you have to adapt and sometimes are left without, but it is better than being sick so at least I had what I could.

It was probably a good thing that Day 3 we booked a walking tour, we definitely needed to burn off some of that dinner. Eeeek run run run we were late. We tried to catch the metro only a few stops to St Micheal but we could not even buy a ticket. Stupid French ticket machines, so we ran there and arrived 10 minutes late and worried we would miss out. PHEW they were still there taking group shots, probably getting all the housekeeping. We were allocated a group and off we went. First past the police headquarters on the small island in the middle of the Seine where Paris originated then past the ‘New Bridge’ with funny faces carved in stone displayed along it which the story goes the King at the time got his artist to sketch guests’ faces at the end of a huge party he threw and then they started popping up on the bridge.

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We then crossed over the bridge of love/locks which interestingly had a panel of the bridge fall off the week before as the locks are so heavy the handrails cannot cope, hence they are continually being cut off.

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The Louvre forecourt was the last stop before lunch which Chris and I were hanging for since we did not have time to grab breakfast that morning in the state of rush we were.

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Fed and coffee’d we then walked through the Tuileries Gardens and up to the bottom of the Champs Elysees where the Obelisk from Egypt was, one of Napoleon’s accomplishments. The gold pyramid at the top however is not original and was the finishing touch by Yves Saint Laurent.

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The tour was over but we were just getting started. I could see a street of shops, on sale I might add, but what Chris saw was the Arc de Triomphe to visit. As we walked up the Champs Elysees I kept having to remind myself, as we passed shop by shop, that I am on a honeymoon, more commonly known as time to spend with new husband, not time to run away from husband and spend all his money. So walk we did, t o the top, under and up onto the ‘round a bout’ where the Arc de Triomphe stands.

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We saw the Unknown Solider grave and the Eternal flame. We did not wait to get up on top of the Arc, it also was another 9 euro entry fee and a view we felt we did not need after being up the Eiffel Tower just days before.

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Back on the other side we just watched. Apparently there is a car accident every 15 minutes here as there are no lanes its each for themselves. We would definitely not drive in Paris after watching this.

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Our walk back down the Champ Elysees was halted when Chris said he was hungry, a quick stop at Maccas for a “Royal with Cheese” or in Aussie talk “a quarter pounder”. The problem was that this must be the busiest McDonalds in Paris. Chris waited in line for 30 minutes just to order! He consumed in 5 minutes and then we left. Although there was some ‘free time’ I ended up with one jumper and Chris waked out of GAP with bags galore. Good for him I thought, the more he buys the more I am allowed to buy later 😛

We walked back quickly to get ready as we had tickets to the Moulin Rouge that night. What to do for dinner, time was running out? We ended up stopping at the corner bar/café for a meal. I ordered salmon in a butter sauce with sautéed potatoes and Chris had a steak. They were terrible! My sautéed potatoes were just fries and Chris’ steak was overcooked and dry. No time to find a better meal, we ate what we could and got ready. By now we were running a tad late so caught a cab and thankfully made it in time with 5 minutes to spare.

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Unfortunately we don’t have photos from inside as they are not allowed but it was spectacular. So much glitz, glamour and variety of dances and scenes. It’s almost unbelievable so much can take place in two hours.

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After the show we considered watching more world cup at a local bar but realised it was on a free to air channel and could watch it in comfort from our hotel room. Yippee (I could fall asleep before the end).

 

Day 4 we were up early to visit the Louvre. Our tour guide the day before had told us about a secret entrance. We were so happy just thinking about the lines we did not have to stand in. So we casually had our breakfast, no rush as we are skipping the lines, then walked to the secret entrance. Yes we did find it, yes it was another was in but no we did not pre buy our tickets. Back in line for us. Angry and not looking forward to lines in the heat we walked back to the pyramid to stand in the security check line.

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Someone was watching over us as it was moving very quickly and it only took up 20 minutes to get down and the ticket line was minimal. I would liken our entrance into the Louvre, along with many others, like the scene in Rat Race where the race starts and Mr Bean says “It’s a race!”. Who can walk to Mona Lisa the fastest, dodging oncoming traffic. Do not get distracted walk walk walk. Everyone was heading in that direction so it was no surprise that when we got to Mona the crown around the barrier was large. Chris did eventually get to the front to view ‘him’, I waited from the side which was actually a better view. After Mona we saw Venus de Milo then spent a few hours in the Ancient Egyptian wing. I was desperately needed to sit down and consume some coffee by this stage, it was midday. We walked through a few more areas on our way to one of the café’s inside. I was done with Louvre art, it is not my style so I decided to stay at the café then visit the gift shops while Chris saw some more.

Lunch at our favourite chain of bakeries, Erik Kayser, then more walking to Notre Dame then Sacre Coeur. Notre Dame was free to visit but by this stage we are just over lines and waiting in the sun. I had such a different experience 5 years ago as it was raining every day and lines were very short.

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So we saw the front but for me I think the back of Notre Dame is much more interesting and beautiful with the gargoyles and huge buttresses holding the church up.

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It also has a nice park at the back with my favourite French tree. I don’t know what it is but I love how full they are, the colours of the leaves and the contrast to the white sand they always stand on. The only thing that would make this photo more beautiful would be if it was raining.

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Tick tick. Only one more thing on our list and with only 6 hours left in our last day we made it with time to spare. A metro ride to Sacre Coeur however we got on the metro at the largest station, Chatelet – Les Halles, and had to walk through what felt like never ending tunnels, probably all the way there, well close. We did make it to Montmartre the suburb that Sacre Coeur is in and walked all the way up those stairs to see the view.

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Many people were relaxing on the stairs or grass taking in all in and yes those men at the bottom were still tying string around girls wrists, why you would fall for that I do not know. I should mention that we also had a crepe up here but it was mediocre so that is all I will say. Tick though.

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Tired and in need of rest we made our way back to St Germain for our last night. I looked up good bistros in walking distance and we set off, determined not to end up at the corner bar for terrible food again. We found the bistro and the owner came out, shook our hand then said he was full. If you could hear disappointment then as we walked off it your ears would be ringing. It looked so cute, so promising and now we had to find a plan b. Walking the streets when you are hungry is not a good situation to be in as you need to remember what you want, good food, not cheap bar food. We ended up a block away from our hotel and had a look at a restaurant we did notice on the walk up to disappointmentville. It was Russian, a first for both of us, and the menu looked good so we sat down. Chris ordered Chicken Kiev which came with rice and mushrooms and I had tuna and scallop tartare on blinis.

Both were fantastic and very tasty, just what we needed. It might not have been the perfect send off from Paris but it did us just fine.

To sum up Paris I think the past 4 days were full of tourist lists, sight seeing and must do’s. At least now I can say I had my birthday in Paris where my new husband and I kissed in front of the Eiffel Tower after a beautiful dinner (a bit corny I know). I can also say that we did a road trip across Europe. From Barcelona up the west coast of France, to Nantes to visit our friend Francine and into Paris. 1760km later and many funny memories had. I probably would not rush back to Paris or France for that matter. Beautiful and lovely as it is I don’t feel drawn there as much as I do to Italy which I am in love with……with that said, Bon Voyage and take me to Rome!


Biarritz Biarritz Biarritz

 

Our drive from San Sebastian was easy, not toll free unfortunately but beautiful. the one thing we noticed was how quickly the scenery changes to ‘typical French countryside’ or what I would expect in French movies.. As we drove towards the boast there is no way you could miss the hotel. It has large black gates surrounding its grounds, embellished facades and multiple entrances of the tiniest streets imaginable.

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The Hotel du Palais is an old palace/summer house built in 1855 by Emperor Napolean III for his wife Empress Eugenie who loved to visit Biarritz. Today it is just as large, just as grand and makes every guest feel what it might be like to be a royal, in our case two days worth.

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We parked our ‘grand’ Peugeot and walked to reception passing Aston Martins, Mercedes, Audis and Maseratis. The bell boys quickly ran to us to take our bags. The receptionist who took care of us then escorted us to our room advising us that there were fresh strawberries, mineral water and a small gift for us.

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WOW. The view out of our bedroom was spectacular, blue blue blue as far as the eye can see. 180 degrees worth of ocean. Next door our own ‘walk in robe’ had another view of the sea. The bathroom had so many toiletries including mini Hermes colognes. Spoilt much? Wait there is more. The strawberries sitting on a little table were as red as you could ever wish and tasted like none I have ever had. You cannot get flavour like this in Sydney, no way. We had a personalised note wishing us a great stay and the gift was another Hermes cologne for us. I was in another world for a moment until Chris said to look at the TV. It had on the screen “Welcome Patricia and Chris”. Everything is so personalised, so perfect, so luxurious. room3

Well we knew there was an indoor pool and spa but the weather was fantastic so we quickly changed and hit the outdoor pool overlooking the ocean. We sat down at two deck chairs but were asked to get up for a moment while the pool attendant fitted them with cushions and clean towels for us. Sure, why not! We relaxed and soaked up the suns rays with some drinks in tow. This would have to be one of the most relaxing afternoons we have had. Chris was getting peckish so ordered a Club sandwich. Well we knew this was a very exclusive hotel but as we had pre paid everything we forgot about the prices. So at the Hotel du Palais a club sandwich will set you back 39euros….but then it was served. So we should not have expected anything less. More than enough for two people it was a very tasty club sandwich if I do say so myself after sealing a quarter (to taste).

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A few hours in the sun was enough today. We retired in the room before our Michelin starred dinner at 8:30pm. The dinner was served in the main dining room which was a much better view than the side Michelin dining room. We were happy with this and thought as a weeknight that there may not be enough people to open up that dining room.

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The Menu for the evening was already placed on our table, it looked good. Bread was served and I was happy when two large and warm gluten free bread rolls were placed by my side. Two butters accompanied – salted and carrot (an odd flavour). An appetizer was served for Chris parmesan pastry with jamon wrapped around, I received a plate of jamon, but French jamon which was cut thick and did not have the oiliness that the Spanish style required. We then were both served another appetiser of Ratatouille with bacon cream which we looked at in disbelief as it was white, then we tried it. Spectacular. What a great mix of flavours and light at the same time. Our excitement was growing!

Entrée – Duck foie gras terrine with sangria jelly and poached peaches. Rich, creamy, delectable especially when paired with the jelly. A very large portion however so we tried but had to hold off finishing this one as there were many more courses to come.

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Main – Calf sweetbread fried in half salted butter coated in ginger and coriander and served with vegetables and sesame. An Asian flavour which everyone knows I am not normally a fan of, and sweetbreads, who isn’t scared when that word is on the menu. Surprisingly they were soft and the fat had a sweet creamy flavour which was cut back with the herbs and strong flavours in the sauce. A very enjoyable dish and something I would expect only the best chefs to be able to cook perfectly.

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Now for the cheese trolley. The waiter was explaining the cheeses to us, some I were familiar with, a lot not though, but I did tell him I was adventurous and not scared of smelly. He went for gold and put the most smelly cheeses they had. Chris on the other hand described himself as ‘not as adventurous as her’. So he had some local hard cheeses and a creamy soft style. Well when I said I like smelly what I mean is that I like smelly in Australia, pasteurised, probably flavoursome smelly. Smelly in France is really like “I need to go to the other side of the room” smelly and not just in smell the flavours were unimaginably strong in a not so good way. I was not prepared for that and knew I had to ask more carefully tomorrow.

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To say we had room for dessert would be correct but the dessert was not a flavour we normally like. Apricot.

Dessert – Whole roasted apricot, Madagascar vanilla and almond

Like the strawberries in our room these apricots were like apricot concentrate if there was ever a pure one made. I think our taste buds were done for the night. Strong after strong, rich after rich. I think a plain piece of bread would have cut it for dessert at that point as we just could not handle this much in one go.

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Oh wow look at the time. 11pm and we are the last ones in the restaurant, everyone is now in the bar listening to the live pianist.

We decided to have some tea to help digest and were moved into the bar. Food was not over yet as we still had petit fours to go. How silly of me, missing a course in a French dinner, and before you ask, yes we did have sorbet to cleanse our palettes after cheese.

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I was extremely tired as we had one glass for each course, plus another for some of the appetizers, add that to food coma and my body was telling me I just needed to sleep. The pianist was fantastic buy my body was giving in and I nearly fell asleep at our table. Up to bed we went ready for a nice sleep in tomorrow.

Day 2.

Well sleep in is exactly what we did. We closed the double windows so there would not be any light but still a little sound of the water crashing. It was such a relaxing sound and perfect to wake up to. Breakfast was the largest buffet we had ever seen. I’m talking cereals, pastries, breads, cheese trolley, small goods, salad, salmon, fresh fruits, eggs, bacon. Too much to enjoy especially after the dinner we had the night before.

After breakfast the sun was not out so we decided to give the indoor pool a try, it would be a sin not to. Empty was a good start, Jacuzzi at the end even better. Isn’t it funny that even though an indoor pool is heated and quite warm you still get cold as the air is normally even warmer. I had to spend most of my time in the Jacuzzi. We then gave the saunas and steam rooms a go. Boys in the Boys rooms but only of an afternoon between 4-6 are woman allowed to mix in that room. Shame it was only the morning.

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Hot and steamy and nice and chloriney we went up to shower and I could not believe that I was hungry. Woot woot we can enjoy lunch outside at the restaurant, why not.

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I had to try the steak tartare, surely at a place like this it should be one of the best. Chris ordered steak as always which was served with béarnaise sauce. Mmmmmmm both were fantastic and we weren’t shy to show it, finishing both plates and most of the chips. I thought I vowed after south America not to eat as much fried food? It’s not my fault everywhere in Spain and France add chips with meals. Chris was certain I wanted dessert and made sure he told the waiter that. This is his favourite trick you see, make the waiter believe I am a fatty and the only one who really wants to order dessert. Well he is the one who enjoyed most of our ice cream bowl. Vanilla, chocolate and coffee with mini meringues.

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Why did we order dessert I am so full, and we have another big dinner in 6 hours. We need a walk! So we walked to the end of the public beach and back, not far but enough to make ourselves feel better then laid by the pool for the rest of the afternoon.

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I was not hungry by the time dinner came round, but knew I had to soldier on and put that little note aside. Well once we saw the menu it was definitely not important. The menu looked incredible and so much better than the previous nights, well once our waiter told us what it said as they forgot to translate into English for us.

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Again Chris had the parmesan pastry with jamon, I got a plate of jamon and rockmelon. Nice but I am not the biggest fan of rockmelon. We were also served the Ratatouille with bacon cream. Ok we finished that but only because it was so good.

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Entrée – Blue Crab with gazpacho of confit tomato and citrus with tomato sorbet and olive oil.

Wow. The. Colours. Speak. For. Themselves. If you got this would you not be impressed? It was one of the most impressive seafood dishes we have had and refreshing was the best way to start the meal as you know you can eat and enjoy more. At this stage I am feeling good!

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Main – Roasted pigeon with eggplant, foie gras pate, reduction of port, oranges and carrots.

I have only ever had pigeon once in a dish like this and it was terrible. What better place to try it than this. Succulent meat, soft and gamey almost with the slightly sticky port sauce. I suppose they have treated the meat almost like venison. I did not have the foie gras pate on my eggplant as it had onions in it so my dish was great and not as rich as what Chris got. Perhaps the one time my intolerance has benefitted me. Luckily the meals were coming out a lot faster this evening so we had less time to get full in between courses, plus we had a lovely sunset beaming into our window. It was like the perfect last night for us.

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So cheesewise I stuck with what I know, goats cheese and my favourite French hard Ossau Iraty. Chris also got more hards and Camembert which we ordered another piece of as it was that good. Being full is for wimps we kept telling ourselves and we battles on.

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Sorbet to cleanse the palate before dessert, of course.

Dessert – Chris had a raspberry cream tart and strawberries while I had the most beautiful dessert of fresh fruits and strawberry sorbet. Again mine was better if only for the sorbet which was out of this world. Lemon juice just adds so much to food.

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So it was only 10:30pm at this stage after we spent time enjoying some more chit chat then we went to the bar, which was deserted, to enjoy the pianist. We requested many songs including Let it Be, Love me Tender and Over the Rainbow to name a few, which the pianist played at the drop of a hat, no prep, it was mesmerizing and a nice relaxing end to a night of extravagance, and with a view.

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As I said to Chris the next morning as I struggled to eat anything at breakfast, “It is so beautiful here and I love it but I could not survive another night of food.” And with that we said goodbye to the Hotel du Palais. Next time we might enjoy the hotel without the gastronomic package and order a la carte, but there will be a next time.

 

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San Sebastian – last city in Spain

We left bright and early from dodgy Granollers to set of on our way across Spain to San Sebastian. For all of you who are thinking “why would you drive across Spain instead of catch fast trains?” it is because all trains go through Madrid and not from Barcelona to San Sebastian. We would actually be adding time if we did it that way rather than attempt to drive the 550+km ourselves. Plus who doesn’t love a road trip?

Well our car which we have names Rufus, a large Peugeot, which is not manual but automatic with tiptronic, took a while to get used to. It also took a while to get used to driving on the wrong side of the road as we were forever veering into the next lane, but also speeds of at least 130km/hr for hour long stretches of straight road. I would say after 3 hours between us as we were both used to the car and the drive. We pushed ahead only stopping an hour out of San Sebastian for lunch in Pamplona. We did not explore the city as we were keen to get to our destination, but it we did enjoy a good burger (not a hamburgesa).

We arrived at our hotel early afternoon and luckily found street parking before we parked in the hotel car park. Our hotel, Astoria7 has a movie theme throughout and each room is assigned a movie star. We had Richard Perkins, the bad guy from Psycho.

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After we dropped our bags then went for a stroll down to the water and through the bustling streets full of bars. Our hotel was a 20 minutes walk from the water, a good thing since we had been enjoying a lot of food and wine each day. The sunset was beautiful and makes me believe all the good things that are said about this town.

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I again looked up our second best friend, Trip Advisor for some restaurant recommendations and found a small place called La Cepa. Every restaurant we passed looked fantastic but we held out and looked for the prized one. We found it and again nabbed the last free table. What is it with us and free tables? After 20 minutes we could not see the bar that is how many people had filled in standing at the bar.

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Our table was odd, like an showcase of nuts and seeds as the table was made of perspex or glass with little pockets full of different varieties.

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Ordering was easy. I wanted something fresh so the crab salad was right up my alley, especially after my stomach rejected the slow roasted lamb the night before. Chris ordered steak again. It turned out to be cooked extremely well, a blessing since the Granollers version of medium was 100% rare.

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We gobbled up everything on our plates then contemplated the mandarin sorbet. Yes. No. Yes. Maybe? No. We gave it a miss and went on to explore the town more. On the way back though I had to stop in for a cone of choc mint.

Day 2 was cool in the morning so we decided not to hit up the beach. If we have learnt anything about Europe so far is that whatever the morning is, forget about it, by midday it will be hot. It was soo hot. That was ok for me as I just took cover in the air-conditioned 4 level Zara, and I might have bought a few things too. It is not my fault Chris that you wanted to wait outside. We then decided to split so Chris could go off and be cool somewhere else, a bar probably. I went back to Zara as there were more floors to hit up. By the time we met back up at 4pm it was sweltering. We considered walking 20 minutes back to our hotel and then back with swimming costumes, but by then it the wind, which has started, would have picked up, so we gave it a miss.

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On the way home we stopped at a grocery store and bought some cheese, jamon iberico, bread and wine and had a picnic whilst watching more world cup (Brazil was playing). As the hotel had a movie theme they did in fact have a movie screen in the dining room which they were projecting games onto. What could be better?

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Up early the next day to drive to Biarritz.


Barcelona – Gaudi Town

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I feel like calling it the City of Angels, maybe because there is so much Gaudi and his spell is cast over the whole city? If there was no Gaudi would as many people visit Barcelona as they do today? It does have nice beaches, great food and an interesting history, but so many European cities do. What makes it so different? Gaudi……this coming from an Architect so maybe I am biased.

We arrived to Barcelona on a hot Summer’s day, our hotel located in the Gothic area and ‘Old Town’ near the port.The hotel seemed luxurious as it had air conditioning, something our friends in Valencia were lacking, and knew a good night sleep was awaiting us that evening. It was still early though, plenty of time to explore. First the roof top bar overlooking Barcelona.

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We could see Gaudi’s mark on the city from way up here. Next walking through the small back streets of this gothic area seemed like a maze. Tall buildings seemed to encompass us with only small flickers of sun making it through the narrow distance between them.

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Hunger hits. Not a problem, there are so many little bars that sell pinxtos small appetizer/tapas foods served on bread. So we stoped and loaded our plates.

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It seems to be a continual occurrence that whatever place we decide to eat at suddenly gets extremely busy after we arrive. Needless to say that paying our bill was a struggle. Others came in, ate and then also waited to pay, I would say 30 minutes is a conservative estimate. We did finally make it out of there during daylight though and decided to walk to the beach. Our map actually cut off before it hit the water so we thought keep walking that way and we should reach it. WRONG. What we reached was an exact copy, or should I say that Darling Harbour is an exact copy of this port. Aquarium, Imax, Shopping mall, Food vendors, little trains. Tourist town to the max. We needed to get out of there quick smart.

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So we did a loop, did not see any beach and walked back to the small alleys to get lost some more before finally making it t the hotel, tired, hot and wanting showers.

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I looked up restaurants for that evening and we decided on a bar called “Bar del Pla”. Remember it. Write it down somewhere and go. Go early or be prepared to wait. We went at around 8pm (on a weeknight) and nabbed the last table available, again. People walked in and then back out the front door disappointed, a good sign that we are in a good place.

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First up are tomato bread and roast chicken croquettes. Ok. BEST CROQUETTES IN SPAIN. You saw it here first. BBQ chicken, roasted, oven, cooked flavours are all here inside creamy, crunchy goodness that is a croquette. No chicken chunks, the whole filling is chicken mixture and the crumb is evenly cooked, not soggy, not falling apart. Perfection. Smiles all round. Tomato bread next. Wow. The vibrant red was not lying when that flavour hit our tongues. This is what a real tomato tastes like, but better as it is mixed with extra virgin olive oil and crusty bread. What could be a better combination. Again, you saw it here. BEST PAN CON TOMATE.

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We are living it up tonight. The next two dishes we had to take recommendations from the helpful staff. Smashed eggs with Chorizo is like fried eggs smashed but they must be cooked over a low heat as they are soft and have no crispy sides at all. The chorizo was super super strong and did need the eggs to balance the flavour hit. Together smeared on bread. Heaven.

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Last savory dish the scallops with green sauce and pine nuts. Scallops are just a hard ingredient to work with. They over cook at the blink of an eye, cool down rapidly and can taste bland if not cooked well. These chefs know how to cook up some scallop. These gigantic mummas were soft as butter and melted in our mouths. The dill sauce just enhanced the creaminess of the scallops, which were hot I might add.

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Ahhhh with perfection comes food comas, naturally. Did I mention we had ‘a refreshing salad’ too? It didn’t matter as Chris HAD to order dessert. I just HAD to eat some too. Gelato. Simplest dish of the night. Chocolate, vanilla and Lemon and mint sorbet. They were all incredible but the lemon mint was so interesting and like a cocktail in our gelato. Refreshing in more ways than one and when mixed with vanilla brought back childhood memories of summertime spiders.

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Chris can we come back tomorrow? He said yes. It was like a marriage that should last forever. Us and Bar del Pla.

Day 2 started off with a walking tour of Gaudi. The first building we visited was Casa Batllo in the ‘ritzy’ part of town. No teeny tiny alleys but instead wide roads where light is only hidden by trees and shops galore, especially the further away from the Port you get. Near Casa Batllo the road is boasting the likes of Zegna, Burberry and Jimmy Choo.

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The beauty and uniqueness of this monument adds colour and breaks up the rigidity and repetition that the street possesses. Gaudi was the first to embrace the natural forms in more than just a handrail and ornaments.

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The detail inside and leaves me in awe and wanting to replicate these mosaics in my house, but no time to dwell on that we are ushered onto the next building, Casa Mila. Unfortunately this one was under repair and the whole façade was boarded up. Finally, the last building on our tour, the grand Sagrada Familia.

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What a structure it was. Unfortunately it is also under heavy construction which is forecast to be finished in approximately 15 years. We were so glad that we had a local guide to tell us all about the differing facades. Firstly the façade that was finished just after Gaudi’s death and one that only he had designed. It is the passion façade which is dedicated to Jesus, Mary and Joseph from the Angels telling Mary of her pregnancy to the birth of Jesus in many different scenes. The sculptures are all very organic with flowers and leaves an integral part of every scene. The reason for this is that in the time of Gaudi people thought that with the fast paced life post WWII that people will loose nature and forget what it was like, and this is why it was integrated into the architecture to remind us what it was like.

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The second façade is the passion façade and symbolizing lead up and death of Jesus from soliders coming to arrest him, then Jesus carrying the crucifix to him being crucified. Although Gaudi did leave detailed information of what each scene should have, it was the interpretation of a new sculptor who had the job to finish this façade. The sculptures are much more rigid with their hard edges and are lacking life. Although it is very cold it is also beautiful.

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We decided to save the interior tour to another day when our stomachs weren’t commanding so much from us. Off we went walking the few kilometers back to the old town and to the food markets. After Madrid we were inspired to try as many in Spain as possible. The Mercado de Santa Caterina was a very different experience to that in Spain. Although it is a building I have studied in Architecture classes, seen many photos of due to its interesting roof, it is not what we expected. A market for the people is the best was I can put it. Fresh seafood, meat, vegetables and fruit. No cafes, tables, bars to get some take away food or sit down at for a glass of wine. There was one or two nice restaurants on the edge of the markets but not cheap options at all. We ended up at a simple café just out of the markets for a sandwich and salad. Lunch and the afternoon were quite non eventful other than some shopping and more wine at a wine bar.

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Day 3 was the day we had booked in a wedding photo shoot through the streets of Barcelona and also another of Gaudi’s amazing site, Park Guell. Our morning was simple hitting up our local coffee joint which is probably the only boutique roaster in Barcelona and was like finding gold. No longer did we have to worry about having bad coffee every day, now we could go and order our Americano and Cortado (long black and piccolo) and enjoy…We then stood in line to see the Picasso Museum which thankfully is in the Gothic area so we did not need to walk far. If you go please do me a favour and get the Audio Tour, you learn so much more about Picasso and also his artworks which adds to the appreciation of the tour. Lunch was a simple sandwhich and salad again, we were saving room for a nice dinner at Bar Mut.

So while I got hair and make up done for the shoot Chris went off for some beer, wine, CROQUETTES at Bar Del Pla and a Vodka, but he came back empty handed with nothing for me.

The photo shoot was great, hot but great. Our photographer, Gabby from Enroute Photography was helpful and told us exactly what to do, and what not to do! After nearly two hours in the gothic area we headed up to Park Guell where ‘the shot’ I wanted was waiting. Park Guell reminds me of Gaudi meets Willi Wonka as the park looks like it has edible gingerbread houses and candy everywhere. People had started to clear out as we were there right before it closed, waiting for that sunset shot. Well here are some of the shots we got. Worth it? I think so.

Barcelona Wedding Shoot

Barcelona Wedding Shoot

Barcelona Wedding Shoot

Barcelona Wedding Shoot

Barcelona Wedding Shoot

Barcelona Wedding Shoot

Barcelona Wedding Shoot

After the shoot we got back to the hotel and stripped just to cool down, but not for long, redress in more comfortable clothes for dinner. Bar Mut is not a restaurant you can find a lot of information on, its website only has a weird 25 minute long video which is more about the characters and their stories than the food. We got there and were sat up at the bar.

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The menu was a board which were hard to decipher as it was in Catalan and not Castellano, which is more familiar to Chris and I. We were told some specials but just let the waiter recommend as we really did not know where to start. First came out croquettes which we were sure were to be pulpo but actually tasted plain. Definitely not pulpo in there, just crispy goodness and creamy filling. Well enjoyable nonetheless but nowhere near Bar del Pla.

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Next was carpaccio of egg or a very runny yolky thin omelette with prawns and crispy noodles. YUM. We were instructed to mix it all together so it would be a plate full of crunchy, creamy seafood goodness. There was no point plating it up between us, I ate straight off the plate.

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Fullness was kicking in right here, mind you I did eat the majority of that egg dish. I just love eggs! We had a break before our whole fish was displayed to us, cooked in a copper dish, prior to being filleted. It was enormous. The fish was emitting aromas of white wine, butter, herbs and garlic and those potatoes might just looked like cooked potatoes but they had soaked up all of those delicious juices.We ate and ate and ate until we could ‘ate’ no more. This was one of those times where you have used up your dessert stomach for mains and therefore dessert was not an option.

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We found it incredible that large tables were coming in to dine at 11:30pm, but in Europe this is so normal. I will admit that when their main came out, the Chateaubriand we had serious food envy as we had not had a good steak in quite a while and wish we had ordered the meat. C’est la vie. We were full, satisfied and ready for a nice long sleep.

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Day 4 we went for a long long walk. This walk started with us looking for breakfast, since we slept in and missed the hotel buffet. I remembered seeing a nice bakery but when we walked and walked and walked and still could not find it we gave in and just sat down at any regular bar for ‘brunch’ as it was now midday. I watched the waiter make us coffee. My long black was over extracted then the button was pressed for another extraction on with the same coffee. I was cringing everytime I glanced that way and wished we were back at the boutique roaster. To my complete surprise it was not bitter and it was drinkable but probably knowing how it was done made me not enjoy it.

We decided to find the beach so at least we could say we saw it. If we thought it was hot on our wedding shoot this was another level of heat. We walked and walked trying to hide in the shade of trees, which in the central gardens were not plenty.

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We also could not exit the gardens how we had hoped as the Zoo blocked us out so we walked around the zoo then the Parliament blocked us out and geez look where we ended up, right back where we entered, wasting time and energy. So we walked AROUND the gardens now and looked out for public transport to the beach. Nothing, so we walked a bit further. We were ecstatic when we saw the light rail as the light rail in Valencia took us right to the beach so we hoped for a similar situation. Nope. It would take us 200m down the road to the final stop. We ended up walking the rest of the way to the beach. It was a beautiful beach with real sand and not pebbles.

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We were kicking ourselves we did not bring our costumes with us. When we set out in the morning we did not know where we would end up. The heat made us think silly things like ‘let’s go in the water in our clothes’. Easy for Chris who had already stripped his shirt off and could easily jump in in his shorts. We walked along the beach back towards the centre until I realized I was getting a shorts tan. AHHH isn’t that something men only get? I had to get in the shade asap. Now we were done with the beach and on our way back but were on the look out for a 95 bus which would go near our hotel. Many buses past us and when the 95 did we ran to the next bus stop only for the bus to leave 3 seconds to early. Nooooooo. We walked back stopping for lunch and coffee then collapsed in our air conditioned hotel room for a quick rest then were up again to go to see the insides of Sagrada Familia which we were booked in for at 5pm. The plan was to do the church then go get dinner and watch the Spain vs Holland game.

Sagrada Familia is an incredible church not only for the sheer size of it but Gaudi’s mind and creation is just brilliance. Every single piece of glass, every column has a meaning and a need. I cannot even try to explain why things were done but here are a few photos which will try to show you the generous that is Gaudi.

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When considering where to watch the game that evening we needed a large screen and dinner so we could get a good spot early on in the night in front of the screen. The place I went a few nights before was okay, not great but worth a try. We were definitely early as it was not terribly busy yet. We ordered our meals, both hungry for hamburgers after walking for miles earlier that day. Our hamberguesas came out and were not what we expected. A hamburger patty with two fried eggs and hot chips. Well not quite what we expected but we were hungry and devoured the plates. Well the bar did get packed and then we were glad we did not go to the Irish pub up the road as you could hardly see the screen there were that many people. We were comfortable at our table enjoying wine right in front of the screen.

There is nothing to say except Spain are terrible and the locals were walking out of the Bar at half time. Not quite the experience we wanted watching Spain play in Spain.

Our last night was a let down but we weren’t finishes with Barcelona quite yet.

The next day we went to pick up our hire car we would have for the next 10 days. Today we were driving it to Granollers, only half an hour outside of Barcelona to watch the Moto GP.

Picking up the car was ok, although it was not the car we had booked, it was much larger and also not manual like requested but automatic with the stop start at the traffic lights. The integrated GPS was a bit delayed when in a busy city so it took us at least half an hour to get out of Barcelona city and onto a highway. Once we did the GPS was fine and directing us like it should. Well. Granollers is not a sight for sore eyes. A small town which gets busy once or twice a year for the Moto GP and maybe the F1 too. Our hotel would have been close to the race track but a lot of roads had been closed so that traffic was directed in and out of the race track on only a few roads. We raced to see the qualifiers but as we were walking in after parking we could hear the crown go wild as it had just finished. If roads had not been closed and our GPS not so confused we would have made it. What can you do. We watched the Moto3 qualifiers then walked around to see the merchandise.

So if we thought that getting out of Barcelona was bad, getting out of the race track was probably 20x worse. We were not moving. Our hotel was a 10 minute drive away. It took us an hour to just get on the highway, then another 5 to the hotel. By this time we were hungry so drove straight into the town for dinner. It was 6:30pm at this stage. We went to the main square, found a restaurant and sat down. Unfortunately we were told that dinner does not start until 8pm so we only had the small bar menu to order off. It didn’t look to appetizing when I went up to have a look a the options. I ordered a few things including chorizo, potatoes and tortilla. Chorizo was served in a pool of oil, the potatoes were ok but the tortilla was still raw. We nibbled then went to the bar next door for a wine. The bar also happened to have a tv and world cup games on, so we stayed there all night and had simple snacks to get us by. Not a gastronomic experience at all.

Race day we were up early to get a good park and watch warm ups. We were also worried about the traffic getting there. No problem, it took 10 minutes and we got a good park as the car park was not full yet. The effects of this wouldn’t hit us until later in the afternoon.

moto1The Moto3 and Moto2 races were a bit boring as one or two people were leading for the whole time, there were no interesting fights for first.

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The Moto GP however was full of excitement. Valentino Rossi lead for the first half then Marquez came to first and Pedrosa in second. After this is was like musical chairs and they kept changing but the local Marc Marquez won in his home town and the crown went wild. We did not stay to listen to the interviews post race as we did not want to be in a long line driving home.

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Well I think it was inevitable. We were at the back of the car park and actually did not even leave the car park for at least an hour. In hindsight we should have done the shifty like everyone else and push in on the side. The whole drive took us an hour and a half to get out and into town. A lot of people were driving back to Barcelona so we were happy we were going back into the small town.

We were experienced today so went for a pre dinner drink and waited until a nice restaurant opened at 8:30pm. Finally we had a proper dinner of steak and slow cooked lamb and we enjoyed every bite. Unfortunately my stomach did not appreciate the sudden change to super rich food and I was not feeling too well that night!

Thankfully the next morning I was better ahead of our 5hr drive to Saint Sebastian……but that is another story.


Valencia – home to the best Paella

Valencia was hot when we arrived, hot at night and hot when we left, perfect weather for beaching and post dinner strolls. We got off the Train from Madrid, map in tow, and walked up this corner, around that one. Stop. Where are we? Back to that corner. Wow half an hour has passed in this heat. Oh we are there! Ok this is the street. I can see the hotel! Finalllllly. Of course we arrived hungry so after dropping our bags we went on the search for food. We really did not want to walk further than a block, lucky it was a big block, and after walking around ¾ of it we found a bakery. It had a huge selection of pastries, emapanadas, sandwiches, pizzas, sweets and Coffee! We had a jamon y queso sandwich each and suddenly felt so satisfied. Simple and delicious. Now that we could think we had to plan for dinner. So back to the hotel to do a little research and not long after I found what I thought would be the perfect restaurant. It looked funky, new and ‘gastronomic’ but not pretentious and posh. Dressed up and starving again we set off with the help of our dear friend, google maps. It was not a leisurely walk as one might think. When I am hungry I am on a mission and basically power walked my way to that restaurant, poor Chris trailing behind. I blame my Dad when we were little kids. Can you imagine a 6’4” man with two little kids holding his hand, each as tall as his knee, running just to keep up with him. As I grew my pace slowed but now I have developed a comfortable and fast power walk in addition to a pet hate of slow walkers in the street who block my path. So. Vuelve Carolina. If this restaurant was in Sydney it would have a very good chance of actually staying open. Great central location. Tick. Fresh décor consisting of light timbers, Mini plant wall and contemporary lighting. Tick tick. Bookable. Ding ding ding. Winner. Did I mention the interesting dishware?

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The menu is set out to share so we chose 4 dishes to start with so we could suss out the food descriptions. Papeles – Papel & steak. Worth a try……WOW served ON newspaper, paper thin steak with what tasted like a hamburger on top, just deconstructed. Memories of cheeseburgers as a child flooded back without feeling guilty about going to McDonalds. If this is the first dish we are onto a winner!

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Next Huevo a baja temperature (eggs cooked over low temperature) that secretly hid roasted shrooms, although you did not need to see that, the flavour permeated through the whole dish, even with the creamy yolk blended through. Ravioli gyoza? Not quite.

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A layer of what I could only guess is solidified beef stock was the ‘pastry’ above a ‘san choy bow’ with prawns. Again we were left licking the plate wanting more. We could not leave without trying the Mini Burger Carolina served with fried and wrapped in newspaper. Mini is correct, small enough to fit in even my big mouth, no. How do I attack this?

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Like Chris I suppose, open as wide as possible and shove it in. mmmmmmmmmmmmm Juicy meat, pickles, sauce, soft bun. Do we have another burger? We could still eat more but thought we had better try something new. Our one mistake. We did order the sesame chicken cooked in paper, thinking there might be a dipping sauce. No the skewers of chicken were cooked in paper so nice and smokey in flavour but the sesame part was quite boring, not like our journey so far. Sigh.

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Hopefully dessert would pick us up. White chocolate cream, mango and passion fruit looked promising and fresh. It was exactly what it sounded like, white chocolate cream in a passionfruit soup with noodles of mango sorbet.

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Needless to say we were fighting spoons for the rest of the course trying to get as much as possible. I think being in constant need of walks after dinner will be how we spend our whole honeymoon. Our eyes are bigger than our stomach and the food is too good to say no to. So walk we did tonight through the main square up to the fake Colosseum to watch a random 16km Marathon being held at 11pm on a Saturday night in Valencia.

running There were hoards of people lined up the streets cheering on friends and a batucada group drumming away to motivate the runners, some of whom really needed it.We watched for half an hour until the group of runners died down then went back to our hotel and attempt to sleep in the heat.

Our second day in Valencia we were determined to hit up the beach since we had not been seaside for quite some time. Valencia is known for its long and large beaches so it was definitely something we had to tick off the list. A metro and light rail ride later we were there. The beach spanned as far as we could see down the coast and was at least 50m deep till we reached sea from the pavement. Huge is probably an understatement.

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We found a spot and tanned for a few hours until our stomach were telling us to stop. All along the beach there were cafes with Menus of the Day. We walked up and down and found one of the cheaper menus to try. Well probably an indication of what was to come, slow service, not so great food. To cheer us up we walked up the beach to find ice cream but settled for a calippo, probably a better option too. To be honest I did buy a maxibon first but after a few bites of the cheap creamy ice cream I had to throw it out and enjoy icey cool lemoney calippo.

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We continued walking along and after too much sun went back to shower off . Dinner we decided to wing it and walk around the town to find a little bar. We found a bar in a back street that was full and with not too many English speakers around so we thought it was worth a try. No. Crap croquettes, mini frozen prawns attempting to be garlic prawns and a not so fresh salad. Today was not a good food day, let’s just leave it at that.

The next day we went had booked in to go to the Aquarium which is part of the Culture Park of Valencia. It has a number of buildings and bridges designed by the world famous architect Calatrava. They were magnificent and just incredible to admire.

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The scale, the geometry and just concepts were not like anything I have seen before in person. The aquarium had so many little ‘worlds’ including tropical, Mediterranean, Artic, Antartic, Shark, wetlands and a dolphin show. It kicks the Sydney aquarium in the butt.

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On the walk back I decided to try and find a hairdresser to get my hair done, try being the key word since it was siesta time. It was not easy as many were closing at 4pm for the afternoon. I feel that Valencia is a lot more relaxed than Madrid and adhere to siesta times. I had told Chris that I would be back by 6pm at the latest. Well I found a hairdresser, waited for an hour, then it took 2hrs for her to do my roots, I was one of 3 clients in the salon. I must admit it was probably the best colour I have had but the fact that I confirmed it would be LESS than 50 euros before I started, then we enjoyed some chit chat where the hairdresser learnt that I was Australian and a little about me gave her the right to charge me 52.50 euros for a simple roots dye. In Sydney I pay $30 for this, so basically she ripped me off, but what can you do? I was not going to start arguing in the little Spanish I know about 20 euros. At least we got a good restaurant recommendation for that evening! Marisqueria los tres Mares. The restaurant specialised in seafood and it was time to try what we had come to Spain to try, paella. A dear friend of mine Panayiota has always told me that she had the best ever lobster paella in Spain, although it was from Barcelona I thought it was worth a try in Valencia. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves though entrée first. Garlic prawns? Surely anything could have been better than last night’s attempt. Well the giant king prawns served in a fresh garlic oil with potatoes was 1000% better.

pall1 We gulped it up quick smart. Amateur mistake. Had we even noticed the size of the paellas? We were not expecting what came out. A HUGE 50cm diameter paella dish at least with two half shells of lobster resting on top. This was for two. Um how was I supposed to finish that? Simple. It tasted so good with the little squid, prawn, octopus and other seafood pieces, saffron rice and of course crunchy crust that we just had to force ourselves to finish it as it would be a crime to leave any on the plate.

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We did try but just could not eat any more. The equivalent of how full we were can be likened to the fullness you have after your grandmother keeps telling you that you have not eaten anything then puts another plate of food in front of you that you feel bad not to eat. That full. Not wanting to disrespect full. Well almost that full, there was room for lemon sorbet to help digestion. That 52.50 euro hairdye just paid for itself with the satisfaction we both had. Needless to say we did a long walk back to the hotel. The next morning we packed up our things ready to catch the train to Barcelona. We had come to know the streets of Valencia much better than when we had arrived. Luckily we did not get lost on the way to the station as we boarded our train as soon as we arrived. Sit down, relax, it’s 3hrs till we reach Barcelona.


Madrid – an affair to remember

Ah Spain, how lovely our first meeting was. I loved so much arriving in sunny Madrid to a nice hotel, H10 in the centre of town with big large windows overlooking the old style apartments across the street.

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I was so hungry after getting off the plane though that we needed to feed me straight away. Lucky you had a plethora of bars along our street that we were able to enjoy some tapas and a bottle of wine at 4pm, and OMG what great tapas they were. If the flavours from this first manchego and jamon iberico plate is anything to go by, we will do just fine together.

…..and it was sooo fine!

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The rest of our first day we spent walking through the large central park, contemplating whether to hire a row boat in the middle of the lake (although it was now so balmy and almost uncomfortable in the sun).

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We decided to find shelter in the streets near our hotel which, I was so happy to discover, were full of shops. No shopping yet I was told. Another thing we discovered was a gluten free bakery. A WHOLE BAKERY dedicated to the gluten intolerant. It was called Celicioso – Like Delicioso and Coeliac (well Spanish spelling). Closed now but definitely a place we were to return the next day.

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We rested in the afternoon and ended up napping for 3 hrs due to the jet lag flying from Peru to Spain and the 7hr time difference we had to make up. Dinner was just there to cure our cravings of meat since we had not had much ‘steak’ in Peru. So it was a boring steak place, but we promised ourselves we would be m ore authentic going forward.
What did surprise us though was that Madrid was always buzzing. When we left the restaurant at midnight people were still walking the street, eating, drinking, walking their dogs. It is almost a city that does not sleep. I was falling in love already. I kind of imagine this to be a mini New York if you add lots and lots of European culture and super old buildings, Maybe???

Our first/and last full day in Madrid (we only had a short 2 nights together) we decided to hit up the gluten free bakery first to have coffee and I had a nutella alfajore (shortbread normally with dulce de leche inside but instead nutella). AMAZING, does not crumble at the slightest touch + coffee = a happy Trish. Not wanting to spoil my appetite for the food markets I restrained myself and we left. We walked the streets towards the food markets and as Chris pulled me along I was writing a mental list of shops I wanted to visit.

The food markets are called Mercado de San Miguel and are near the central Plaza. On the way there we stopped at the Museo de Jamon “Museum of Ham”. Wow red red red everywhere. Jamons hanging left, right and centre. The bar in the centre had queues lining up just of people wanting to have a small tapas plate or a jamon bocadillo “sandwich” from this institution.

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We kept walking remembering the prize at the markets, a much larger selection of foods and highly recommended by my food mentor Andrew, so if Andrew said it was good, it was GOOD. He did not disappoint. MY eyes were like I was seeing 100 shooting stars. I could not control where I was looking as there was too much to see, too much to smell, where do I start????

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This was mainly for the tourists due to the expensive prices but also sold fresh seafood, meat and vegetables for the locals who wanted to spend a little bit more. It reminds me of what David Jones food hall is but much more interactive with the people and just better (full stop).

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We settled on more jamon iberico, aged manchego, wine and chicken croquettes. The jamon was strong and oily full of flavour rich fat; the manchego brittle, dark and nutty; the croquettes creamy, crunchy and ‘taste like chicken’. Sad but true we were full from jam and cheese, again, but still have weeks left to discover more dishes, plus I had just spotted mini ice cream cones that I found room for, and a flavour I had never seen before lemon sorbet with shards of chocolate through it. Someone in Sydney should be making this as it is perfect for all those people who feel like chocolate but need something refreshing instead and cannot decide.

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We then walked through the city, past the parliament, main church and back to the hotel with a little bit of shopping included. Well rested we set off to another recommendation “El Tempranillo” a little bar close to the food markets on the other side of the main plaza. We walked through peak hour of people on the streets and after a few wrong turns, dress ups and seeing a naked man on a hotel balcony, we made it to El Tempranillo lucky to nab the last table. All of a sudden groups arrived wanting tables with none available for a while and we thanked our lucky stars we had timed it right.

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The service was interesting as the waiter did not seem to care if we were sitting there or not. After a while we got some chunky cured chorizo as an appetiser. The globules of fat burst in your mouth and woke our tastebuds which were screaming for more….well more would have to wait a bit as the waiter had not even come back to take our order. So we ordered 5 different tapas with the waiter’s recommendations and after some more waiting, they arrived. Maybe us two Sydneyciders are just impatient people but the Spanish seem content everywhere we go, this must show the restaurateurs that fast service does not matter if you have a quality product. It is probably the same theory used when people wait in lines for long periods of time to buy bread, gelato or a pork roll sandwich. Well let me tell you we were not complaining once we took our first bites. We ordered:
– Fried egg, asparagus and chives;
– Grilled vegetables, goats cheese and olive oil;
– Smeared tomato and jamon iberico;
– Foie gras and pear;
– And we forgot the last one but it was just as good as the rest.

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All simple flavours but just done so well. We did not know how to order and probably should have had some larger dishes, but we were so content after this, and 1.5 bottles of wine, no more food was required.
Looking around you could not see the bar any more as it was packed in here like sardines. We decided to leave and give someone else a table, but our dear friend the waiter did not care that we wanted to pay. I must admit for the amount of people in there perhaps more than one waiter should have been on. Well it worked for them, they were turning people away and the crowd was happy so I suppose it probably does not matter to them.

Walking the streets we could not help ourselves when we stumbled upon a churreria “churros house”. Like amateurs we ordered 2 hot chocolates and churros but our neighbours were sharing the one hot chocolate between them. Smart, very smart. We probably had 1/5 of the hot chocolate each as it was the richest little cup of warm chocolate ganache I had ever tasted. Unlike Peru’s first picarones disaster our first churros were not a disaster at all. So so crunchy and with the slight salty flavour it paired so well with our cup of brown glop (I’m sorry chocoholics but it was just that rich I nearly could not have it).

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And this my friends brought Madrid to a halting end, but the “meet-cute” we shared would be the start of my desire to return, and to enjoy a nice affair with one day.


Peru – Part 2

Day 11. We survived Cusco. That story needs to be explained in person for effect! Back in Lima we had planned to go with Tia Rosa to the Incan Markets in Miraflores which have a lot of crafts and souvenirs, but first lunch. On my hit list was ‘eat at a Cevicheria’ or house of Ceviche and since we have previously had such great experiences at Gaston’s restaurants Panchita, Tanta and La Barra, why not add another to the list, so off to La Mar we went. Taxi’s in Peru are another interesting and new experience for me. They firstly do not have a GPS or even a street directory, nor do they actually need to know where to go BUT the benefit is that you negotiate the price before you go, so regardless of the traffic the price is what was agreed. This is actually good for Lima since the traffic is horrendous. So on this particular day the driver said yes yes yes, but then took a wrong turn. A half an hour journey turned into an hour and with four people stuffed in the back seat, my comfort levels were not very high. We arrived and all I wanted was to sit down at the table, no chance, a table was a 40 minute wait, so wait we did. At least we scored two bar seats after 15 minutes and chowed down on canchita (air dried corn seasoned with salt) and had a few drinks.

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The wait was well worth it! I ordered a plain ceviche with mixed seafood, Chris had ceviche with chicharron, Chris’ sister actually hates all seafood except tuna so she ordered causa, a potato and tuna stack with egg, and then Chris’ mum and Tia Rosa shared a mixed plate of goodies which we all tried to finish without success, it was huge!

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Although we were sufficiently stuffed there would always be room for dessert and it would not be right if we did not order Picarones. I was already disheartened after the last Gaston effort but had to give it the benefit of the doubt that this would be better. It was, they tasted as good and as crunchy as they look.

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So after the diverted taxi ride and long wait I can say that this cevicheria experience was just as flavoursome, colourful and enjoyable as I had hoped, well I finished with a coffee, that may have helped too.

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Absolutely full we hit up the markets buying handicrafts, more blankets, Chris even got some ‘alpaca’ slippers, lets see if they are as good as Aussie UGG once we get back.

A well overdue siesta was necessary before Brisas that evening, a dance performance that showcased many of the traditional dances and costumes from Peru. As most of you know I am an early bird and struggle to stay awake, well God help me, the show started at 10pm and we did not get home until 3:30am! Good effort I think, although the table was looking like a nice bed from about midnight. The dances were incredible as were the costumes. So much colour, detail and varieties for the different regions and styles of dance, most of which I have already forgotten the names.

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Once all the performances were finished it was our turn to get up and dance. I was being taught the Huayno dance which is a stamping dance from the country, looks easy but is so NOT easy. One leg stamps once then the other stamps twice alternatively. After realising that you should not lift your legs too far off the ground I was able to get a bit of rhythm and by the end of the night I got it for about 20 seconds until my legs got tired! Its incredible to see people doing it for countless numbers of songs. Their legs would be getting the best workout, no Gym needed here.

Sleep that night was not to be as I was cooking Sunday lunch for the family. I thought to myself “What is a good Greek dish that is different souvlaki or pita?”. Then it hit me, I could make a Pastitsiou, which is a typical Greek Lasagne, and who best to ask for the recipe than the Queen Pastitsiou maker, my Thea Betty. I have only ever made it once before as I have never needed to, Thea Betty always does. After receiving her recipe I went to the markets in the morning to buy ingredients and start cooking as lunch needed to be ready by 12pm sharp! Papa Raul expects lunch at 12 and I would not want to leave a bad impression.

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Unable to find good rigatoni or tubular pasta, I settled on a fat round pasta that will have to do. The meat was easy although I did not cook with onions as I was going to use some of the meat for a mini gluten free, onion free version for myself. The hard part is definitely the béchamel sauce. Basically you cannot leave the stove until it is done, that is how much you need to stir, stir, stir. Funnily enough I am not a patient person at all, but I am patient with food. I am happy to cook pasta from scratch for 2hrs or prepare bread over 4hrs as I know how good it will be and how happy it makes people. This patience comes from enjoying the process rather than just wanting the finished product. The béchamel needs to be done slowly with only small amounts of milk and egg added each time to allow for a smooth texture and to ensure that all lumps are whisked out of sight. My béchamel might have taken at least 30 minutes to prepare but it tasted heavenly. It’s lucky I am lactose intolerant otherwise I would have eaten far too much from the pot. I assembled the pastitsiou and was ready to bake it in the gas oven.

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I was told earlier that morning when I went to heat the oven that they do not know if it works, Papa Raul and Mama Celes have not used it as long as they can remember, if ever. Eeeek. Well worth the try in my eyes, I still remember the taste that a gas oven gave my Yiayia Eleni’s baked potatoes, there is nothing that ever compared or even reached the level of flavour they had. If this is the effect the gas gave my grandmother, then maybe I would be lucky and my Pastitsiou for Chris’ family would turn out perfect.

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An hour later the top was certainly browned and the edges nice and crispy, and with 15 minutes to spare as the clock ticked 11:45am. I set the table, called the troups and plated up. Sorry, I forgot to get the Inka Kola for the table.

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As I sat there with my gluten free pasta and onion free meat I envied the family who were about to eat the creamy and delectable pastitsiou recipe I prepared, thanks to Thea Betty (although I can say that as I did taste test a small piece and OMG crispy edged , creamy top and rich meaty sauce were heavinly). The response from the family? Well I think Papa Raul summed it up well, he asked me to give him the recipe so Mama Celes could make it for him. We all laughed, I was immensely satisfied and grateful it turned out so well. What better for a Sunday lunch than family, traditional dishes and laughter.

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Day 13 and the cooking classes did not stop as I was lucky enough to learn a dish called Papa Rellena from someone Chris holds dear to his heart, Della. Della used to help out the Alzamora family when they lived in a suburb only around the corner from where they live now called Matute. Christopher lived in Matute when he was 9 years old on his 4 month visit to Peru. He showed me around the ‘residential village’ that was his playground for those months, where he roamed free until the early hours of the morning when he would return and Della would make sure he was washed off before he went to bed. Now Della has a family of her own and lives in that same flat that the Alzamora family used to live in, so my cooking class would take place where Mama Celes used to cook for the family which was a nice feeling.

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I felt so terrible that Della was up since 4am preparing for this dish, which is understandable when we saw how many she was preparing as there were at least 40 large Papa Rellenas (enough for 20 people), some prepared and some waiting for me to practice on.

Basically a Papa Rellena is soft potato stuffed with a meat mixture, almost like an empanada but instead of pastry there is potato. Suits me just fine and for all those out there who are gluten intolerant. So the base is the same as for gnocchi, you boil the potatoes then mash, although Della has mashed each potato into individual balls so they are evenly portioned out. The meat mixture has the standard Peruvian base of garlic, cumin and aji (and for everyone else onion too). Then the side dishes are prepared – sliced boiled egg, olives and raisins, if you like them inside. Once ready to make you flatten a ball of potato in the hand, put two tablespoons of mince inside then add on top some egg, olive and raisin before closing the potato around the filling to form an egg shape.

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Before you fry you lightly cover the outside of the potato with flour then add an egg wash. Fry away until browned evenly and enjoy.

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MMMM so so so good. I cannot wait to make these at home and try new combinations. I am already thinking waygu bolognaise with mozzarella would be one of the first things I would do. YUM. I had to finish both balls but unlike most Peruvians who eat double carbs at every meal, I was fine without rice to accompany my papa rellena, I wanted to enjoy every mouthful without interruptions in my mouth. Plus I needed to leave room for dinner at La Rosa Nautica. Thanking Della we waked home, out of Matute and farewelling many new memories.

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Siesta complete we all got dolled up to go out for dinner. We were lucky that Tio Pedro who works at La Rosa Nautica was to join us for dinner as he is able to get a 50% discount. The prices once converted into Australian dollars is still very cheap but who wouldn’t pass up that offer.

We arrived just at sunset and took photos of the surfers enjoying some ‘colour’ in the sky.

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Once we sat down, the city lit up. Oh no wait, that is just the constantly bad traffic jams.

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Once we started to relax a large BANG that sit the building, a wave, and a common occurrence and the reason Tio Pedro’s wife, Herlinda, did not want to join us as she is too scared of the waves. Chris’ sister and I ordered main dishes – Lomo Saltado and Salmon with aji potatoes respectively – and Chris’ Mum, Tio Pedro and Chris shared a mixed platter of seafood, however that was only entrée for them. For main Tio Pedro had organised a hot seafood plate which included fillets of snapper, squid, prawns scallops and potato.

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I ordered a Malbec from Argentina which we all loved, but too bad, it was the last bottle. Then we moved over to Rioja in Spain and had a Temprinillo which in fact was even better! Chris’ Mum ordered a Chicha cocktail just to be different, and as we can see she enjoyed it very very much!

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How could we pass up dessert? I certainly could not, especially after polishing off every morsel on my plate. Us young gals ordered the chocolate fondant, although one each was probably an oversight, sharing would have been smarter. Chris’ Mum ordered the Lucuma dish expecting ice cream but a tart came out. Tio Pedro had to help her finish it, and also finish Chris’ Apple tart

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I must say that I was sooo impressed with the food and will make the huge statement that it was the best meal I had in Peru, better than all of the Gaston restaurants and better than the food in Cusco. The dishes were simple, not fancy and overdone, but had flavours that jumped out with every bite. I have not finished entire plates of a main and dessert in a very long time, lucky I was wearing black and my top was loose!

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Our last full day in Peru we spent visiting the city centre, something I am told we cannot leave Lima without doing. To be honest the temperature had dropped this day and the sky was still gloomy so I was not thrilled about leaving the nice, cozy, warm house of Mama Celes, but I did not want to regret staying home. The centre reminded me of the Rocks in Sydney, touristy, old and once you have seen a bit, you have seen it all. We decided to take a tourist bus to do a loop of the city so that we can see everything the centre has to offer.

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The only problem was we decided to go on the bus at 5pm when the roads were in grid lock, more than normal due to peak hour, and the temperature had dropped due to the sunset, so our outdoor seats were not looking so good. The one hour tour took an hour and a half. We could not get away from the bus quick enough and into a taxi to go and get dinner. What better send off meal than BBQ chicken with the family in a warm restaurant only a short Micro bus ride away from home. Perfect!

Here we said a final goodbye to Tia Rosa. I will miss her smiley face and I know she will miss me trying to translate words into Spanish. For example, she kept joking around one lunch and I tried to say she was ‘cheeky’ which is a harmless playful English word. My dictionary told me to tell her she was ‘descarado’, or even better I wanted to say that she was ‘rude’, but again in a playful way as English would allow. Nope, my dictionary told me to say ‘indecente’. The laughter amongst the family was so loud, I wanted to crawl into a hole for trying, but it was all in good humour. The final miscommunication was when I asked Tia Rosa before dinner whether “Tienes hombre?” Do you have a man?   but what I meant to say was “Tienes hambre” Are you hungry. She replies “No tengo homre o hambre” I don’t have a man and I am not hungry. I know these phrases are going to be joked about with the family for a loooong time to come. At least I got one right as we were saying goodbye “Eres decente” You are a proper and lovely person, a big hug and we were off on the Micro back to Mama Celes’ house.

The day of our flight we packed, had a simple lunch and said our goodbyes. It was so sad as I know that Mama Celes and Papa Raul cherished the visit, cherished the blessing we had at their church and appreciated us coming to celebrate the 88th birthday of Mama Celes. Chris’ Mum was also crying as we would not see her and the rest of the family until Christmas, so it was a sad time for all.

To say I was disappointed to leave is not correct. I was very much looking forward to our travels through Europe, coffee being available at every corner, carrying my camera around my neck to take endless photos and also have alone time with Chris, as we have been busy with family from the time we stepped off the flight at 2am to the time we were to board at 5pm. What I will miss are the people, the generosity, the love and the hospitality. Experiences like this cannot be bought as I was lucky enough to see many different sides of Peru and was able to put on my ‘tourist’ hat in addition to my ‘I’m part of the family’ hat, even ‘hablo terrible espanol’ hat, but I tried. I opened my eyes and saw a part of the world I had never seen before and for that I appreciate my life and how lucky I am so much more.

Now off to spain!


Peru – Part 1

Peru, a place unlike any other I have been before, a place full of extremities and little in between, but a place full of many unique and beautiful experiences.
From when we arrive the love and hospitality was evident. Our plane was an hour late so we flew in at 1:30am, that did not deter Mama Celes who at 87 insisted to meet us at the airport, flowers and hugs ready for our first meeting. The joy on her face spoke the emotions I am sure she had, seeing her Grandson and new wife for the first time after their wedding. The last time Chris had seen Mama Celes was in 2010, but that four year gap was insignificant as he picked up right where he left off.  Papa Raoul waited patiently at home for us to return, again with the same excitement and arms wide open.

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Lots of sleep was necessary due to the large time difference, 15 hours behind Sydney! Day 1 we spend locally,walking around the  suburb, markets and of course to change money from the guy standing on the corner of the intersection with a calculator, I am told this is the completely normal. A simple lunch with the family of grilled chicken, vegetables and rice showcased how flavoursome the ingredients are in Peru, something we are not so exposed to in Sydney with an array of bland flavoured produce. Dinner was test one for me, will I like the infamous Jamon del pais sandwich from the Japanese guy from around the corner. Waiting patiently in line we watched as he used his chopsticks to assemble the roll. Soft white bread rolls are filled with a smear of mustard, chunks of specially cooked pork, a mound of Spanish onions which are almost pickled in lime (lemon) juice, then to finish a slice of fresh aji (chilli). Due to the fact that I cannot eat onions I think there is no point even trying the sandwich as the onions are such a huge component of this sandwich, they add crunch and also the liquidy juices of lime break down the rich meat. I added some more aji verde paste when we got back to the house so that MY sandwich was not as dry and boring……..the verdict, its OK. Chris was horrified as we now cannot share one of his true loves. Test one, fail.

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After our local dinner we decided to head off for a drink and try one of Gaston Acurio’s restaurants, Panchita. So from one extreme of walking around the local suburb at night, without handbags or cameras just in case we got mugged, we set of for Miraflores, the Double Bay of Lima where a different class of people live. Fancy cars zoomed past, jewellery was out for show and handbags were hanging off all the women. The restaurant was full of chatter, full of laughter and it is obvious that jokes are welcome. We sat up at the bar to have ‘a drink’ and ended up consuming a mixed platter and picarones, how could we not. I did need to try as many traditional Peruvian foods as possible so the mixed plate went without question as it featured Tamale verde, Papa rellena, Chicharron, Choclo y Papates con huancaina, Causa and Anticuchos. Tick, tick, tick, my list instantly got a lot smaller, then add Picarones and I am almost ready to leave after day one. Unfortunately the picarones, which are rinds of sweet potato donut were slightly undercooked. This Greek girl knows a thing of two about donut cooking after cooking many locomathes (greek donuts) in my time. Disappointing but that is ok, I kept dreaming about the tamale verde which were stuffed with cheese that had melted through th already rich corn surroundings. Test two for me was Chicha morada, purple corn juice which in Australia you can really only get in the form of a cordial. Freshly made it normally has a twist of lime (lemon) in it to lift the strong flavour. OH noooo, yuck, eeek not to my taste at all. Chris’  Sister looked on unable to comprehend how I did not enjoy it. Test two, fail.

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We retired that night for to catch up on our sleep until 5am when the phone rang right next to my head, prank calls apparently were common, not a welcome start to my morning. After breakfast we headed over to Lince to visit one of my Mother in law’s friends. Since we did not have a car we decided to catch a micro today, as opposed to a taxi. A micro is a vehicle of any sort like a small van, mini bus, old school bus etc, that locals have painted a route on, drive around without any concern for rules, actually PARDON there are no road rules in Peru at all, and even if there were, no one follows them. These micros are private and basically do not have a timetable. They just race each other around the place to pick up people and fares, so you need to be prepared to jump on and off very quickly so you don’t slow them down. Well we arrived in Lince in one piece but had to be weary on the streets as it is not the safest suburb. People were on the street fighting, many homeless people were trying to sell the little items they could to raise some money too. Suburbs like this do however have their little glimmers of beauty. The apartment we were going to was in an old Spanish building made out of mud brick and still had the original timber staircase up to the first floor. Due to the tremors in Lima the staircase had sunk into the floor so that the treads were no longer at a 90 degree angle, but rather sloping down like mini ramps. As an architect you can admire buildings like this, especially standing on the solid timber balcony overlooking the streets. I wish I had photos but this was a no handbag, no camera type of place. It was even a place that I was nudged to remind me ‘no english’ as we do not want to draw attention to ourselves.

Lunch was a la Mama Celes, Quinoa and queso, a delicious and simple meal with the trio of Peruvian ingredients, garlic, aji and cumin. Tio Augus came to visit and took us to Jockey Plaza for coffee and a sneaky shop. I must say for me this was a little bit of a sanctuary, a place I was comfortable with after being exposed to ‘the reality of Peru’ as Chris’ Mother puts it. It had Zara, which I did enjoy some retail therapy in, and we had a coffee, my first since arriving, and what joy it brought coffee addicted me. Chris ordered Lucuma Ice Cream, another favourite of his. Test number 3. Bah-bow. No go. This was disguising. It was like a rough melon cream that had an odd tart flavour too…..well things aren’t really going to plan to enjoy Peru like Chris does when I dislike every ‘memory food’ he gives me.

Siesta tick, now time to eat again. Dinner was Pollo a la brasa (BBQ Chicken) which is a favourite of Chris and mine, a la Lebanese from Charcoal Kingdom back home, so this was something I was very much looking forward to comparing. The chicken was delicious, skin crispy as required, but what makes the dish is the generally the sauce, today we had yellow spicy aji sauce. Like toum which I can eat by the tubful, this aji sauce would be a welcomed permanent condiment to my fridge, but of course it is very hard to find these sauces in Australia unless you make it yourself with dried aji or aji paste, probably not the same. As you can see from the photo, no one drinks water except me. It is almost as if water is not required in your body, but instead your body cannot survive without Inka Kola. I am so astounded at the amount of sugar Peruvians consume on a daily basis and surprised more do not have diabetes.

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After dinner I met the lovely Tia Rosa who took us to the central park where there is a nightly water and lights show. The light show is projected off water fountains and showcased different cultural dances, all of which I was to see at Brissas, the local dance show. We ran around like kids, playing with the water, ooing and aahing at the colours and tried not to get wet as we followed the processions under the arch of water. What a contrast to suburban streets only two blocks away. Going to the bathroom is an interesting experience too. You pay 50c and get given a wad of toilet paper  to use, and you even get a receipt!

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Day 3 we had a private tour around the city, first stop the statue of The Unknown Soldier which is one of the highest points of Lima perfect for a 360 degree look. It only strengthened the idea of extremities being just streets away. In a suburb called Chorillos there is a hill where people just find space and build a small house. It looks almost like favelas of Brazil and if you move your head slightly to the left we have San Borja which is like the ‘old spanish town’ and a very touristy and pretty area to visit, not a slum at all.

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We then visited the Parke de Amor which is dedicated to love. Love is all around and I think it is impossible to miss the point with a giant statue of two people kissing and an organic wall with seats fully mosaicked in love quotes and names. It is a very beautiful park and adds some colour into the grim and sombre colours of Lima. It occurred to me that there is never sunlight in Lima due to a layer of smog above the city that cannot make it over the Andes. This smog acts like permanent cloud cover and is what I think London looks like for most of the year, grey and dismal.

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Our last stop was La Rosa Nautica, an iconic restaurant that overlooks the sea and I would call it that signature restaurant every city has with the best view in town. It was lucky for us that one of the family’s uncles, Tio Pedro worked there so we went past to say hello, and of course have a drink and snack. The bar has around 48 different piscos and does all kinds of variations on the classic pisco sour. Since we were looking out at the sea we decided to try a small ceviche, another tick off my list. It was perfect in my eyes, fresh and soft fish with the perfect balance of acidity from the lime (lemon) juice and strong chilli. I enjoyed the leche de tigre very much without the need to order it as a separate item off the menu.

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We were picked up for lunch by Tio Augus who due to the culture of long lunches was able to take us out for a couple of hours to try Cuy (guinea pig), another tick off my list. The restaurant/eatery we went to specialised in food from Arequipa which is a country region from the south. The cuy was deep fried and served with choclo, fried potatoes and onion salad, obviously to break down the large proportion of fat in the meat. Once we cut off the head it was not unlike other small animals we are accustomed to such as quail or wild hare, slightly gamey, but some might just say “tastes like chicken”. We then went on a hunt for a café so I could enjoy a coffee after my meal. For a coffee lover like me I am blown away that in a region that contributes so much to the coffee scene of Australia with high quality beans, there is not more café’s or a coffee scene at all, I actually started looking up Starbucks to add to the list of destinations we had daily as I knew there would at least be quality control and would satisfy my needs. I realise this is sad but what do you do when you are used to drinking two long blacks a day?

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Dinner was another Gaston Acurio restaurant, Tanta. A bit more casual than Panchita but no less impressive, and yes we still have to line up for half an hour for a seat. I had a bit of a food coma all afternoon due to so much frita frita frita. Everything is fried here too, so chicken salad for me went down very well! The others of course had to try the Lomo Saltado, as they do in nearly every restaurant, clearly a favourite, unfortunately I cannot have it as it is made with onions and soy sauce and it really would not be possible without these key ingredients, so I get a pass from this test. We were all so full after dinner we had to walk to digest so we walked down to Larco Mar, the big shopping centre on the water in Ritzy Mira Flores. It was funny watching the young line up to enter the night clubs, and it is not an unfamiliar scene to Sydney with girls barely wearing anything, having to change out of ‘normal’ clothes in the bathrooms into their outfits packed in backpacks. Ahhh how glad I am to be married and not go through such a scene.

Day 4 we visited Gamarra, a large central markets which yes was an experience, not all good though. Basically if I knew it was going to be that chaotic, that crazy, that scattered I would have said no, please take me to the shopping centre where people are calm, things are easy to find and there is no chance of getting mugged. For an outsider or someone who is not used to things like that, it is not all fun, especially when my hand was getting squeezed and I was getting nudged left, right and centre as a reminder not to speak English. Yes things were cheap and yes we needed to buy some items ahead of Cusco, but at the end of the day I would be happy to pay more for sanity than go back there and fight the crowds. For those who have not seen it, I would liken it to walking through Town Hall at 11am on Boxing Day to go to the sales in Sydney…. A nightmare.

By the end of the day we planned to get our hair done ahead of the big family lunch tomorrow, but as we arrived at the hairdresser, which you cannot book, we were advised that there were people waiting ahead of us. An hour later we left, another example for me of un-organization, something I am told Peruvians are not famous for, and as a Project Manager, something that is foreign to me.

Day 5 we rose bright an early to prepare for our wedding blessing and lunch with the family. This included doing my own hair and make up as shops do not open until quite late in the morning. Family rolled in from 8am we greeted and took photos with then left for the church around the corner.

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The ceremony was lovely and our blessing I know was appreciated by all that were there. Back at the house Chris and I even did a first dance and then continued to dance with many family members, like a mini reception. The day was not only for us, it was also the 88th birthday of Mama Celes. We seemed to do things in reverse as we cut a cake at the house then left for lunch at Gaston’s new restaurant La Barra at Casa Moreyra. The restaurant itself, Casa Moreyra is an old Spanish style house which was to be sold only to Gaston or not sold at all, we are told. La Barra or The Bar is like an semi indoor/outdoor space with plenty of natural light and a casual atmosphere about it.

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There was nothing casual about the service though, they were on top of every request we could possibly have had, none more annoying I am sure than the kitchen preparing an individual menu for me without gluten, onion or lactose. I had my own bread which was delicious, stretchy (i.e. did not fall apart like normal gluten free bread) and was actually soft and fresh (not frozen). I also had an individual portion of every dish of the menu as I know the others did not want to share my intolerances with me. Here is the food that we enjoyed on the day.

  LA BIENVENIDA (The Welcome)
Aceitunas olivar de San Isidro, maní acaramelado con curry, aceite de oliva, pan campesino, pan chapla, pan para Celiacos

San Isidro olives, caramelized peanuts with curry powder, olive oil with an assortment of breads

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DEL MAR (From the Sea)
ALMEJAS, chalaca, semillas de tomate confitadas, flores de cilantro

Clams with corn, tomato seeds and coriander flowers

CAUSA, bonito ahumado, aceite de escabeche, mostaza y piel de limón

Causa with cured tuna, pickled olive, mustard and lemon peel

TIRADITO, salsa nikkei, nabo, frejol chino, sésamo blanco, ají limo

Tiradito with salsa Nikkei, turnip, chinese beans, white sesame and lime chilli

CEBICHE, pesca del día, leche de tigre al rocoto, chicharrón de calamari

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DEL CAMPO (From the Country)

SALTADO DE QUINUA, langostinos cristal, verduras crujientes, naranja

Sautee of quinoa, lobster, green vegetable crudités and orange

ALCACHOFAS FRITAS, arvejas, jamón, huevo frito, hojas de menta

Fried artichoke with peas, ham, fried poached egg and mint leaves

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DE LA CIUDAD (From the City)

YUCAS ESCABECHE, jamón del país, alcaparras, cebolla, aji y hierba buena

Pickled yuccas with roasted pork, capers, onion and herbed chilli

AEROPUERTO, de pulpo y papada, pecanas, fideos fritos, huevo, frejolito

Stir fry with octopus, pecans, fried noodles and egg

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LAS FUENTES DEL DIA  (Large dishes of the Day)


LOMO SALTADO,

Stir fry of beef with fried potatoes, onions and tomatoes


POLLO ENRROLLADO, de hongos y hierbas, papa huamantanga con crema acida y ajíes dulces

Rolled Chicken with mushrooms, herbs, potatoes with cream and sweet chilli

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POSTRES DEL DIA (Desserts of the Day)


TORTA DE LÚCUMA

Lucuma cake, one without gluten or lactose (I am boring, but I was the only one who had a piece so at least everyone else got to taste the real cake, which I was told was delicious. Surprisingly my not so fun cake was soft, flavoursome and also ‘ricisimo’)

 

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We were all so full before we even got to the large plates that we had to take home quite a few doggy bags which we shared around with some of the guests. It was such a great lunch, not only due to the relaxing atmosphere, live music and sunlight streaming in but the great company. For me restaurants like this are quite the norm but for a lot of these people they would not dream to dine like we did. You could see how appreciative and just excited they were. Their faces beamed when we met Astrid, one of the owners of Astrid & Gaston and Casa Moreyra. A lot of the guests raced towards her hoping for a photo which she was more than happy to pose for. She gave us her time and best wishes and was such a pleasure to talk to. Like many of the guests meeting Astrid made my day too.

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We left all with food babies, probably twins, and retired for the rest of the afternoon…..but our rest was short lived as we had to pack for our next adventure, Cusco, which we were to leave bright and early the following day. That is a whole other story!

 


Cherry Frangipane Tart

Dinner with my partners extended family. I had only met his Tia and Tio once and I was still trying to make a good impression so I thought what could I take over as a thank you? Their Grandmother lives with the family and is from Uruguay so I was certain dinner was going to be fabulous and I am sure she would have all bases covered, therefore I felt there might be room to impress with dessert, plus I hadn’t baked something worth wild in a couple of weeks.
I did not want to take something too rich or chocolatey, it needed to be simple and delicious without being over the top. I thought fruit was a good place to start and I remember a couple of years ago baking a nectarine frangipane tart which was fantastic. Unfortunately it is the middle of winter now and all the good fruits are out of season. What could I be left with – apples, pears or cherries. The first two are boring and not packed with flavour. Apple is better in a crumble, pear is better with a chocolate frangipane, which is a good mix, but not something I wanted to recreate for this occasion, so by deduction Cherries it was to be.

I was surprised the cherries out, although $15/kilo, were so large, juicy and bursting with flavour, I thought to myself even from the get go this was going to be good. The frangipane itself was surprisingly easy to make, even though once someone commented that good frangipane had to be made a day ahead and left to rest for 24 hours before using it, I think people who believe this have no life and personally I think it would not make any difference as the tart I made turned out fabulous.

I had to make a few little tarts for my Mother who always wants to try my creations, but I had so much mixture that the mini tarts were basically overflowing with filling. One thing I was worried about once it was in the oven was the fruit burning but I was lucky that my oven did not decide to do its own thing and it baked evenly, did not burn and looked amazing. The only thing I forgot to do before I took it along to dinner was use some jam to make the cherries that little bit shiny and prettier, but I was confident they would like it none the less.

The result? THEY LOVED IT. I was soooo happy I have proved my baking abilities and impressed the relatives to be. Now I am sure they will have faith that I can take care of and cook for their beloved nephew. So that was one half of the satisfaction, but the other was my Mother’s reaction. Normally she always finds faults in my cooking, too dry, not enough stuffing, whatever, but her mini tarts were perfect. She could not stop complimenting them. PURE DELIGHT!

So the moral of the story is, this is the perfect tart to impress, serve with some ice cream, doucle cream or dab with some cognac when it comes out of the oven even for an adults only version, and you will be raved about for weeks to come.

Cherry Frangipane Tart
Pastry

25 cherries

115g butter

1/2 cup sugar

2 eggs

1 tsp vanilla paste

1 1/4 cups almond meal

1. Prepare pastry and bake then leave to cool.

2. While cooling pit all the cherries and cut in halves (you don’t want to bite into seed).

2. Preheat oven at 180 degrees C.

3. Cream butter and sugar until light in colour. Add vanilla paste then eggs in one at a time and mix until well combined.

4. Take mixture off the paddles and stir in the almond meal with a wooden spoon.

5. Pour frangipane over cooled tart shell then arrange the cherries in a nice pattern, but make sure that they are pressed in so they don’t fall off once baked.

6. Bake for 30 minutes or until golden brown and cooked through. Allow to cool.

7. Serve with vanilla ice cream, double cream or dab some cognac over the top (while still hot). Enjoy


Chocolate Pear Tart

For Christmas this year I was lucky enough to get a Mix Master from my family. It is amazing and I could not wait to christen it, but wanted to do something special. It was also close to the birthday of a very close friend, so I thought it would be nice to bake her a tart. Really what better reason to cook but for others to enjoy it.

What would I cook though? Well Francine is always happy and bubbly and I know she likes chocolate as all the kids in my family and hers used to love eating a rich chocolate mousse cake at her house since we were young. But now we are older and I thought something a little lighter might be appropriate. I have always loved the look of tarts in which whole fruits were pushed on the top and then baked but did not particularly want to make a marzipan filling as I am not so fond of them, and honestly, how much more boring are they to chocolate. So I found the tart I would make…..a chocolate pear tart (and it is a tart as I am completely in love with pastry and now find it so rewarding to make perfect pastry that is crisp and crumbly, but not overly, just right).

This tart however is different to my signature chocolate caramel tart in which you cook the pastry before adding the filling as you cook the filling to so it all cooks together. I was a bit skeptical at the beginning as I thought the pastry would not cook enough and would be soggy but the filling rose quite a lot and was light so the pastry was able to cook through and go hard.

It looked beautiful when it came out, although the pears weren’t perfectly placed, but it was a little difficult to cut as you would need a very sharp knife to cut through the pear so you don’t pull them out of the filling. I was not game enough as I was out at a restaurant, so decided to give Francine (birthday girl) a whole line of pears and me none. I actually preferred that as I just wanted chocolate. As we were at an Italian restaurant we also got some vanilla bean and hazelnut gelato to go with the tart and I must admit I preferred the latter (surely I am not biased as it is my favourite flavour) but I really do think it just added a little bit more to the whole tart.

There was about 7/8 left of the tart so I sent it home with Francine for her family to enjoy.

Happy Birthday Francine!!!

Chocolate Pear Tart

Perfect tart pastry

3 Pears (ripe and firm)
8 oz good semisweet chocolate
3/4 cups of heavy cream
1/4 sugar
1 egg
1 egg yolk
seeds from 1 vanilla bean or 1 tsp of vanilla extract
Confectioners sugar for sprinkle

Preheat the oven to 375 deg. F
Peel, core and cut the pear into quarters. Cook it in a microwave until they are just about tender.
Take out and let it cool.
In a double broiler melt the chocolate with cream. Whisk thoroughly so that it all incorporates well.
Then add sugar to the chocolate and mix it till the sugar dissolves well.
Set it aside and let it cool.
Whisk egg and egg yolk in a mixer. Add vanilla beans or extract and mix it together.
Once the chocolate and cream mixture is cool enough pour it into the egg with mixer on medium low to combine everything together.
Take out the tart pan from the freezer. Arrange the pears and then pour the custard into the pan carefully not to pour on top of the pears but from the sides.
Place it into the oven and bake for about 45-50 minutes but I start peeking after 40 minutes.
When the chocolate custard is puffed and set, its done. It should be a little firm to touch and slightly cracked from the edges.
Take it out and let it cool before serving, only if you can resist!


Slow Cooked Rabbit

So it has been a fair while since I have posted. Lots has happened in the past couple of months including adjusting to my new job, breaking my wrist and trying to do anything with my cast on, and also getting through Greek Easter, graduation and Flaounes making which all happened on the same weekend.

It seemed as though when I cooked it was only quick dinners as time got past me, or the limited time to prepare anything for a party left me feeling ashamed of the non creative plate I was bestowing on the host. Finally though, a dinner party where I not only had time to cook, but also time to prepare something unique and delicious.

I had a week to devise something impressive but also something challenging to myself. Recently I have been going down to my local butcher, Pino’s Dolce Vita, and choosing something new to cook every week. They are specialists in sausages and cured meats but they also have a huge range of meat, poultry and game to whip up. I had a look at what was in the window and there were things like beef cheeks, veal cutlets and other more common meats, but I really did want something less seen, so I asked if they had rabbit……OF COURSE they do, but it is brought in fresh to order, and let me tell you, when I got my rabbit the flesh was so pink that you could tell how incredibly fresh it actually was. I was so excited at the challenge.

Rabbit is an animal I have wanted to cook again since my first attempt, which was a very “good effort” was overcooked and dry as I did  not know how to work with this delicate meat. When cooking the meat it requires your full attention because like poultry or other white meats, it is so easy to overcook and be dry and tasteless.

I have continually come across recipes which stated rabbit stew, rabbit terrine or even assiette of wild hare. There are many ways to cook rabbit more than simply applying to a heat source. I really wanted the meat to keep its juices and be succulent and flavoursome. I therefore decided to treat the meat as something I could slow cook, something that can soak up all the flavours from the juices it was in.

So I did just that, cut up the rabbit, threw it into a casserole dish with tomatoes, garlic, sausage, white wine and cinnamon quills. Simple. Lid on. Bake for 6 hours on 150 degrees  and ta da! Soft rabbit meat falling off the bone. DELISH!! I was so happy with my dish, I could not wait till my friend tried it. Finally something different I could take to a dinner party, something you won’t find commonly at restaurants and overall a very cheap meal.

The response was fantastic, and we even found a wine that matched perfectly, although a very unexpected pairing, an 2010 Arbois “Trousseau” from Jura mmmmmmmm

Slow Cooked Rabbit

serves 4

1 rabbit cut into 6 pieces (with bone)

1 can crushed tomatoes

4 cloves garlic, crushed

2 chorizo (or similar sausage)

2 cinnamon quills

2 cups dry white wine

1. Preheat oven to 150 degrees C

2. Roast for 6 hours, turning every hour (if there is not enough liquid add some more wine and tomatoes)

to serve

3 large parsnip

50g butter

1 cup milk (use cream for a richer taste)

1/4 cup Parmesan, grated

2 bunches dutch carrots

knob butter

golden syrup

1. Peel parsnip then chip into cubes. Roast until cooked through and slightly browned on outside.

2. Put cooked parsnip into a blender with the milk, butter and Parmesan. I wanted a texture that was not completely smooth, but if you wanted it to be smoother, add more milk. Set aside)

3. Peel carrots then boil until cooked (note that they will not all be the same size so you will have to constantly take out the cooked ones individually as you don’t want some to over cook). Once cooked put in a bowl of cold or iced water to stop cooking them.

4. When ready to serve put carrots into a pan with butter and golden syrup and cook until they start to get crispy.

5. Portion up the rabbit, parsnip puree and carrots onto a plate and enjoy with a glass of Trousseau.

 

Pino’s Dolce Vita

45 President Avenue

Kogarah NSW 2217

(02) 9587 4818

http://pinosdolcevita.tumblr.com/

www.pinosdolcevita.com.au

Mondays to Fridays  – 8:00 am -5:30 pm
Saturdays                  –  8:00 am – 2:00 pm

They have a full breakfast and lunch menu and beautiful coffee and sweets.


Gluten Free Lemon Bars

For those of you who have stomach problems I highly recommend looking into the FODMAP’s diet. It has saved me and I can assure you it is not a fad diet, but a life changing diet. I used to have  stomach pain every day, bloating, indigestion and constant discomfort. I went to doctor after doctor and it wasn’t until I saw a particular Gastroenterologist that he int

For those of you who have stomach problems I highly recommend looking into the FODMAP’s diet. It has saved me and I can assure you it is not a fad diet, but a life changing diet. I used to have stomach pain every day, bloating, indigestion and constant discomfort. I went to doctor after doctor and it wasn’t until I saw a particular Gastroenterologist that he introduced me to this diet. Within a month I was not sore, I wasn’t constantly complaining and I was actually happy and enjoying food again.

There are a lot of foods that must be cut out but I won’t go into that, it is easy enough to find information about it, however what I will say is that I had been searching for a book on FODMAPs written by Dr Sue Shepherd who is a specialist in this area. Recently I found it while holidaying in QLD and had to buy it. The great thing about this book is that is explains clearly what FODMAPs is, how different foods affect different peoples and then it gives suggestions on how to make such a diet part of your life even if you are also gluten intolerant, lactose intolerant, vegetarian or vegan. There are a range of great recipes at the back which I really wanted to try out.

So this easter I thought I would make a dessert so I could enjoy it without feeling sick and decided that the items I had on hand were sufficient to make the lemon bars. It was really easy to make and actually didn’t require as many as I expected.

It is as easy as making the base then pouring over a lemoney mixture, baking and cooling. Done. Easy peasy! It is even a great one for the kids to help with!

Gluten Free Lemon Bars 

(recipe slightly adapted from “Food Intolerance Management Plan, Dr Sue Shepherd)

3/4 cup rice flour

1/2 cup tapioca flour

1/2 cup caster sugar

2 tsps grated lemon zest

125g unsalted butter

topping

3 eggs

3/4 cup sugar

6 tbsps lemon juice

1 tsp lemon zest

3 tbsps rice flour

1.Preheat oven to 160 degrees C.

2. Mix flours, sugar and zest in a food processor to combine. Mix in butter until it starts coming together in a ball.

3. Press into a lined tin and bake for 10 minutes or until slightly browned on top.

4. In the meantime beat eggs and sugar in an electric mixer then add lemon juice, zest and flour and mix until well combined.

5. Pour over the top of the base and bake for 30 minutes or until lightly browned on top.

6. Let cool then dust with icing sugar to serve.


Valentine’s Dinner

In recent months I haven’t been cooking as much as I have started working full time and have not had my own space to experiment without interruptions. I knew that my whole family would not be home this Valentines Day so it was the perfect opportunity to satisfy my huge desire to cook up something special. Last year I had to work on Valentines so I haven’t cooked up a celebratory dinner like this for a while, and I know post Valentines it will have to wait until September until we move into our own apartment with our own custom designed, absolutely fabulous kitchen (now christening that kitchen will be a dinner to remember). But we are not there yet so I just have to make do with my electric cooktop in the crowded kitchen I currently have at home.

I have been dying to cook Waygu every since a friend of mine made it for me at his house, although his was from Victor Churchill’s in Wollahra and costs ~$180/kg. I could not afford this yet, but one day, so I shopped around and found another well known butcher, which has a huge meat market in Glebe. Glenmore’s is just next to Wentworth Park and has been there for years. As it is a wholesaler the meat is ridiculously cheap, I mean I was able to get waygu for ~$55/kg, and although this was the lowest level of waygu I did not mind as I could handle having to work of that amount of fat but not a piece or fat with meat through it as some of the higher levels seem to resemble.

I had also planned to get some oysters for entree but the thought of buying them from David Jones after work and transporting them on the train home seemed like a less than pleasant experience, and not only for me but all the other train goers. SO I resorted to something very simple and quick to prepare which everyone loves, fried cheese mmmmm My family had bought a large wedge of Kefalograviera, which is a hard and salty Greek cheese traditionally supposed to be made from sheep’s milk, but the stuff we get here does not taste like sheeps milk. It is traditionally used in Saganaki which is a dish that has so many variations but basically is a thick chunk of this cheese fried and sometimes topped with prawns. It works well as it does not melt easily but goes stringy like mozarella.

We both enjoyed this entree and it only wet our appetite for the dish to come. I was not sure if the flavour would be enough to enjoy, as it hung on the fact I’d cook the meat perfectly and this was something I was scared I would not achieve. 10 seconds to long could be fatal and result in overcooked meat. I have had a lot of practice recently and learnt how much meat continues to cook off the pan, so I was confident but just in case I also made some paprika chips, green beans and diane sauce (on the side, this is not blasphemy with waygu).

My complete concentration was on the meat as it cooked and because one steak was thicker than the other it was easy to achieve medium rare and medium steaks. One thing I must say right here is that recently I have started cooking steak in butter rather than oil, I just find that the flavour is a little richer, and really a little butter wont kill anyone, but you will enjoy the meal a lot more.

While the steak rested I plated up the sides, the sauce and pouring the wine. We enjoyed a Katnook Estate 06′ Founders Block Cab Sav which was aired for hours, super super smooth and paired perfectly to this delicious piece of meat.

Here is just another one to tease you because it was INCREDIBLE, and you know you have done it to perfection when your partner who is not the biggest foodie but loves a good steak continually compliments you and says it was the best dinner ever and because it was so good now feels bad he hasn’t contributed to dinner.  Of course he knows he couldn’t have helped as I would have been a complete Nazi telling him he was doing his task wrong, probably after he was distracted by something else. Cooking is not his thing, as as I tell him, it makes me so happy to cook for him…..so really the way into my man’s heart I have learnt over the years is a good steak and then a nice simple dessert, like ice cream!

A couple of months ago I introduced my partner to Maggie Beer “Burnt Fig, Honeycomb and Caramel Ice Cream”. Big Mistake! Whenever he is left with a container it disappears withing a couple of days so that I am not able to enjoy it. Well this obsession with ice cream had led me to in the past learn to make passionfruit semifreddo, ice cream millefuelle and chocolate strawberry ice cream cake. This year I wanted to try a recipe my Thea whips up for all family funcitons, and it is quite funny that now ice cream sandwiches are in fashion at many restaurants! It only required 4 ingredients and is very simple, so I thought, well I did manage to stuff it up by getting the quantities wrong so that the mixture was not dense enough to keep the biscuits on the bottom when poured over, they rose to the top and so I don’t have a sandwich but rather an ice cream slice with all the heavy chocolate bits sunk on the bottom.

Did we really mind? NO. It still tasted delicious and the best bit were all the crunchy pieces of “malt o milk” cookie, violet crumble and chocolate. We gobbled it up very easily and were now very very full.

I was so happy at how the dinner turned out as it was perfect and my partner was really in awe as he could not stop saying thank you thank you thank you. Definitely one of the best dinners I have ever cooked and the best Valentine’s meal we have had together. See no need to go out to restaurants, eat not so good food in a bad atmosphere, probably 1m away from the next table and with a long drive home. I much prefer home cooked dinners anyways which are simple and with good produce.

Happy Valentine’s Day mi amor.

 

For recipe of Steak Diane click here

Ice Cream Sandwiches

1 can condensed milk (400mls)

1 x thickened cream (600mls)

2 x crunchie bars, crushed

Malt o milk buscuits

1. Line a dish with baking paper at then line the malt o milk cookies flat so they resemble tiles (remember the direction you have placed them)

2. Mix the rest of the ingredients and pour over cookies.

3. Place remaining cookies in same tessellation pattern as on the base then freeze overnight.

4. To serve lift the baking paper out and cut off rectangular sandwiches.


Momofuku’s Crack Pie…..with Nutella

I have been wanting to make Crack Pie for such a long time. We have all heard the rave about Momofuku even before it hit Sydney with their famous Pork bun’s and crack pie, but now Sydney ciders are lucky enough to experience it all on home turf…..at a price. For me, I am not that into asian cuisine, but I do have a very very sweet tooth and this pie is known to be the epitome of sweet pies and one that you will become addicted to. I think it is something about the base, it is basically a cookie that you bake then make into a tart base, similar to cheesecake (and if you wanted to cheat you could just do so with pre made cookies). The filling is somewhat like a custard or creme brulee as it is smooth and thick but rich. I assure you, if you give this pie to kids they will be running around for hours and not sleep that night, that is how much sugar there is in this tart.

The perfect opportunity arose with the 18th birthday of a close friend from work. Not only does she love desserts but is a huge chocaholic. I did end up finding a recipe for Crack Pie with a twist or nutella and thought it’s a done deal….Sure some people would this this would bastardize the original recipe but isn’t everything better when you add nutella??

I have seen some versions of this recipe which required days of cooking, cooling and setting, and during the week I just didn’t have time for that so this version is perfect as you can do it in one night, over 3 hours and then cool it overnight and it will be perfect the next morning. The only thing that you need to consider is how you will transport the pie to your destination as it needs to be kept cold. I was lucky and it was a particularly cold Summer’s day in Sydney town so it did not melt even though it was nearly two hours between fridges at either end.

Once it came time to cut the tart it came out of the fridge at the last minute as it must be served chilled as it does melt and goo all over the plate after a while. In the end was it a success? DEFINITELY but one thing I noticed is that once it did start to warm up it tasted sweeter which was a little bit too much. If I made it again I think you would get away with no brown sugar at all. Nutella is sweet enough as it is and with the amount of sugar in the filling and brown sugar it is a little sickening, so omitting brown sugar all together would be fine….there was so much filling left over that you don’t need it.

But now I am so happy I can say “I have made Crack Pie” and even if people did not know what you were talking about the name is still pretty cool, give it a try!

See ShowFood Chef’s recipe here. (but remember no brown sugar in the filling)


Adriano Zumbo “Tanzanie” cake

I have wanted to try something from the Adriano Zumbo cookbook released only a couple of months ago. We have all seen his crazy cakes on Masterchef and in his stores but to actually make one, I am sure many of us would not even dare. For me it is a challenge that will test me and these are the types of things I love giving a go. I know it will not be perfect and like he would do, but for your average run of the mill kitchen I think I did ok.

I wanted to give this cake a try as it involves many layers of chocolate, which I love, and it has so many contrasting textures I thought it would be really interesting to eat. I must admit that I only ‘got’ the idea of the cake half way through cooking it. Although you created each layer and froze it individually to set, it ended up being a sort of ice cream cake. The thing I did not get was how 7 layers of frozen goodness were supposed to merge into one cake…..

The first time it was served it fell apart into its layers, but after a few times it had melted a little then was refrozen it set into one form. It was very hard to cut the bottom three layers but all in all a success. The result for the best layer was unanimous too….creme brulee was so delectable, perfect by itself or with some of the chocolate mousse, which does look more like choc chip mousse as I did do a boo boo while making it. The recipe states that when you have the melted chocolate and the cream you  must cool the melted chocolate so it does not melt the whipped cream, but too cold and it will set into chips rather than turn into silky chocolatey creme……so cold melted chocolate equals what I produced. I actually like the look though as it breaks up the rest of the intense chocolatiness and makes it look not as rich.

So three days and seven layers later I used up 2 dozen eggs, 4 blocks of chocolate, over a litre of cream and blocks and blocks of butter……do you still want a piece?

There is one layer which I made but did not include in the cake which was a chocolate meringue. Since the cake had not moulded very well at first the meringue layer would have just completely separated the cake in two. It was very tasty and took the longest out of every layer to prepare (nearly 4 hours) but it did not go to waste and was subsequently eaten by my family. The mirror glaze would have been the trickiest as it depended a lot on temperatures and having particular ingredients which I did not have, so I made do with what I had and it was shiny, but a little thick. The rest were all straight forward and just required patience. Overall I do think it is a marvellous cake, and definitely the best ice cream cake I have ever had…..would I ever make it again? Probably not, unless a close friend requested it for a special occasion.

Was it worth it you ask? YES I made a Zumbo cake and it nearly worked, that is an achievement in itself!

[I have decided not to put up the recipe as it is extremely long. If you would like a copy, email me and i’ll send it to you.]


Chocolate Souffle Cake

Mum’s birthday. What do I cook??? She has recently deemed a new cake cookbook she purchased as her favourite thing since sliced bread….well maybe not that much, but she is very excited, so I thought I would do something out of that for her. I did think however maybe the choice should be her’s and I am glad I did as she told me to make one of her favourite cakes which I forgot I was saving to bake for this day.

I lie actually, I made it a couple of weeks ago but that recipe was stupid, or maybe I was the stupid one to listen, as it instructed to put a springform tin into a waterbath to cook the cake. It is evident that the bottom half of the cake was absolutely soaked! Straight to the bin it went….

I researched and found many recipes for souffle cakes which did not require a waterbath and decided on one. The key to this cake is creating as much air as possible and being very delicate and careful when you do finally fold everything together as you want it to be as light and airy as possible, so if you are too rough or stir rather than fold, you will get rid of a lot of the air bubbles.

Once you pout it into the springform tin (no waterbath this time) you bake it slowly for a long time. If you cooked it fast the outside would cook and the inside would remain raw, so be patient and it will turn out like this…..

Crusty on the outside and soft and fluffy, to the point of it melting in your mouth, on the inside. It is for this that it is so appropriate for any event as it is rich yet light and wont leave you feeling like you just ate a brick, you might even go back for a second one.

When I served this to my Mum she was just in heaven and did, like most girls, continue to cut slithers to make themselves feel better about not having a second slice. My twin brother was convinced it was just too rich and did not understand why I was putting a large scoop of ice cream to have with mine….some boys just don’t know how to enjoy decadence!

All in all Mum loved it, which is the most important thing. We had a simple do for her birthday this year, but I know she did not mind as she got exactly what she wanted…..the best chocolate cake in the whole wide world.

Chocolate Souffle Cake

(slightly altered from Dolcetto Confections)

400g dark chocolate, chopped
175g  unsalted butter
7 large eggs, separated
¾ cup   sugar
ice cream to serve

1.Preheat the oven to 160 degrees C and grease a springform tin.
2. Over a double boiler melt the butter and the chocolate together then take off the heat and cool slightly.
3. Beat the egg yolks with half the sugar  until pale orange, light and fluffy, and so that the beater creates ribbons through the mixture.
4. Using a rubber spatula fold the chocolate with the egg yolk mixture. Set aside.
5. In a ‘clean’ bowl with a clean whisk attachment, whisk the egg whites on medium speed until soft peaks form. Add the rest of the sugar and whisk until you reach thick glossy peaks. Stir 1/3 of the egg white mixture into the chocolate mixture, then fold the chocolate mixture into the remaining egg whites (be careful not to loose a lot of air out of the mixture)
6. Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and bake for 30-40 minutes or until the top is just browning and it has risen up substantially.
7. Refrigerate while still in the pan for at least 3 hours (as you might break it if you took the springform off while it is still hot) then serve at room temperature with ice cream.

Beetroot Ravioli with goat’s cheese and sage butter

Finally the day had arrived. I organised a lunch with my capoeira girlfriends at least a month ago, although admittedly I cancelled and rescheduled twice, so in a way it is my fault, but it worked out for the better as today was a beautiful day and really the start of summer!

I woke up early for anyone’s standards of a sunday morning, 7am, and was out of the house by 8:30 for a morning coffee and to buy groceries. By the time I got home I had already prepared the pasta I had planned, which worked out quite well considering I had never made a flavoured pasta before, and by 11am all prep was done. Now at this stage I would have been stupid not to swim and tan in my pool since the sun was out and I hadn’t gotten any vitamin D in a while.

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Once I was a lightly darken shade of brown and the girls were almost here I finished the ravioli. I had wanted to make a beetroot pasta for a while as the colour is quite pretty and I flavour goes particularly well with goat’s cheese, which I love, and I was certain the girls would love it too. To prepare the filling I just mixed a marinated goat’s cheese with a goat’s chevre and powdered sage, but I left it until just before they arrived to finish as I did not want to leave the pasta in the fridge to toughen up, but did not want to leave the cheese out in the heat to ruin.

The girls actually timed it perfectly and arrived all at once not too long after I had finished the ravioli. I heated the water, made the sauce and then we served up and sat on the balcony where the sunny Sunday afternoon turned into a stormy, thundery afternoon. It did not dampen the lunch though as it made sitting out on the balcony, overlooking the water that bit more relaxing…..especially with a glass of wine or two.

The one thing I love about burnt butter sauces is that they go with so many fillings, and do not have to be heavy as many people might think, you only need a drizzle and the beautiful nutty flavours go through the pasta beautifully. I also this time bought fresh sage which fried while the butter was cooking away and really enhanced the dish. All in all I got the thumbs up from the girls and showed them that fresh pasta is not so daunting to make, you just need a good pasta maker, strong arms and patience because if the dough is not springy enough, it will rip in the pasta maker or your pasta will be tough and not enjoyable. A key I would say is to allow at least 10 minutes for constant kneading, and I’m talking full elbow grease, not just wimpy kneading, and your pasta will be delicate silky strips of pleasure.

Beetroot Ravioli with goat’s cheese and sage butter

(serves 6)

pasta

400g ’00’ flour

2 eggs + 2 egg yolks

100g beetroot puree

1. put flour in a large bowl and make a well in the centre.

2. Put eggs and puree and beat lightly with a fork to combine.

3. Using your hands mix to form a dough and knead until springy and silky. Leave to rest for half an hour.

4. Separate the dough into6 balls. Using the largest flat setting on your pasta machine, then close the gap by 2 notches and feed the dough through again. (each time coating the dough with a little flour so it does not stick and rip)

5. Put the setting to the thinnest you can get and slowly and carefully feed the dough through. Lay flat on a towel (do not fold over, I did this and they all stuck together even though I had rubbed flour onto them. In the hot weather they just fused)

6. Repeat with all the dough and lay flat.

 

filling

300g marinated goat’s cheese (drained weight)

300g goat’s chevre

4tsps powdered sage

1. Mix all ingredients together until a smooth paste.

 

sauce

250g butter

fresh sage

parmesan (to finish)

1. To make the ravioli add dollops (about a tsp) along the dough leaving at least a 5cm gap. Put a sheet of dough over the top and press around the filling to make the dough stick together. Using a ravioli cutter cut into squares and place on a clean tea towel until ready to cook.

2. Once all done and ready to cook, boil a large pot of water and add some salt. Carefully place the ravioli into the water and cook for approximately 2-3 minutes. Do not overcook as the sauce will continue to cook it.

3. While cooking make the sauce by melting the butter in a pan and add the sage leaves. Cook until the butter is bubbling, has turned brown and the sage leaves and fried.

4. Once cooked strain and make sure you get as much water off as possible.

5. Plate up and then using a spoon pour the burnt butter over the top of the ravioli and then place the fried sage leaved on top.

6. Grate parmesan over the top and serve immediately.


Fresh Scallop & Prawn Spaghetti

I love making fresh pasta! I just have to state that, and until I went to Italy two years ago and learn from my friend who lived in Milan, I did not realise how easy it is. Super easy, but you really need to have patience once you form the dough and knead like crazy. I’m talking at least 10 minutes to make a super springy, glossy, smooth ball of dough. Once rested for half an hour it is all steam ahead and you will have fresh pasta in no time.

Your pasta maker will have a whole heap of different size profiles but once you start you need the flat profile open to the widest, this is to start the flattening process. After this is done close the gap two notches and then afterwards 2 notches again until you have quite a thin sheet of pasta. (throughout this whole process you must continually wipe the sides with flour to avoid it sticking on the pasta maker and ripping. Disaster!

If it has not ripped and is thin you can decide on the type of pasta you would like to make, for this recipe and most seafood or light sauced recipes spaghetti is a great option. Slowly feed your pasta sheet through the spaghetti profile and wind until it is all cut up then add more flour and with your hand grab the pasta lift up and drop, lift up and drop so that the pasta separates. Put into bundles and let it rest while you prepare your sauce.

This sauce is one that I just whipped up with a mystery bag a friend bought over, so you can use an type of seafood you like, including shellfish, bugs, prawns, mussels etc. Just remember with seafood the one thing that is a must is fresh parsley. I am very lucky we have an abundant supply in my backyard so it was just a quick trip downstairs and not up to the shops for half dead stuff. Other ingredients that are complimentary with fresh seafood pastas include chilli and garlic, but today we were adding some truffle oil to finish, so I went without as I did not want them to overpower. Instead I just added some fresh truss tomatoes and a whole lot of mushrooms.

One thing I do stress is that once you make the pasta it MUST be undercooked slightly as you need to stir it through the sauce for at least a minute so it can absorb those flavours, hence it will continue to cook, so if you want perfect pasta don’t hesitate and take it out.

NB: one last thing….. fresh pasta will always taste better the day after as it has had all that time to absorb the flavours of the sauce.

Fresh Scallop & Prawn Spaghetti

fresh pasta (serves 8)

600g ‘oo’ flour

6 eggs

1. Put the flour in a bowl and then make a well in the centre. Crack the eggs in the centre and then using a fork lightly whisk the eggs together.

2. Start combining the flour then use your hands to form the dough. Knead until the dough is very springy, shiny and smooth (approx 10 mins).

3. Let dough rest for 30 mins before cutting it.

4. Cut the dough into eight small balls and using the largest setting on the flat profile of your pasta maker, push the balls through. Dust discs of dough with flour.

5. Close the gap by two stops then put the dough through again. Dust discs with flour.

6. Close the gap to the thinnest or second thinnest setting (whichever you prefer) and slowly pass the dough through without ripping it. Dust with flour.

7. Using the spaghetti setting pass each disc through then sprinkle with flour. Using your hands separate the pasta by picking it up and dropping it, then leave the eight piles to rest until the sauce prep is done.

8. Cook pasta in salted water, take off and strain just before ‘al dente’ (as it will continue to cook in the sauce and you do not want soggy pasta). Set aside to cool.

sauce

600g baby scallops (frozen is fine, just thaw before using)

600g whole green prawns, shelled and cleaned

3 large truss tomatoes, diced

500g mushrooms, diced

2 large handfuls of parsley (although you can never have enough)

50g butter

truffle oil to drizzle

1. Before using the seafood pat it dry as it will release a lot of liquid which you do not want.

2. Melt the butter in a pan over a medium heat and add the mushrooms. Cook until soft. Add the tomatoes and cook until softened.

3. Add the scallops and cook them for 3 minutes then add the prawns. When the prawns are nearly done add the parsley and stir through.

4. Add pasta and stir through for a good couple of minutes so the pasta absorbs the flavours of the sauce.

5. Serve then drizzle with truffle oil.


Spicy Date & Walnut Loaf

This is a long time favourite in my family and a great, much healthier alternative to ‘banana bread/cake’, but I will warn you, make 2 loaves as it goes very quickly. This version is not super sweet like some store bought varieties so you can take it for breakfast morning tea, afternoon tea or something to finish off dinner, and for that reason it does not last in my house.

I also add spices to the mixture which you do not have to do, like cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg, as I love this combination. We can see a similar combination of spices and fruit and nuts in Moroccan foods such as the spice mix ras el hanuot which contains cinnamon and nutmeg, and many tagines that use ras el hanout have prunes and almonds, so although this is just a basic loaf which has chucked a few ingredients together, it could be a mix that can be translated also into many other moroccon dishes. You could substitute the flour for pastry, add almond meal and make a phyllo snail roll with nuts, dates and spices, which would be a variant on their almond and cinnamon phyllo roll.


Anyways back to this loaf. It really is not a hard loaf to make, it just takes a bit of time to prepare and cook, but the only way to fast track this is to make the loaf in a very small tin so it cooks quicker, but noone will prefer a small slice to a large thick slice!

Spicy Date & Walnut Loaf

250g dates, chopped

1 tbsp bi-carb soda

1.5 cups boiling water

100g butter

3/4 cup brown sugar

2 eggs

2 tsp cinnamon

3/4 tsp nutmeg

1/2 tsp cloves

1 cup plain flour

1 cup self raising flour

200g walnuts, roasted

1. Put the dates, bi-carb and boiling water in a bowl and leave it stand for 15 minutes.

2. Preheat oven to 170 degrees C

3. Cream butter and sugar then add eggs and mix until smooth. Add spices then remove from mix master.

4. Add flours, walnut and date mixutre to the butter mixutre and stir until just combined. DO NOT over stir otherwise it will not be light and fluffy but dense and hard.

5. Cook for 1 hour 20 mins or until cooked through. (I usually have to cover the top with alfoil after 40 minutes to avoid the top burning as I want the inside to cook, even in my weird fan forced oven)


Flourless Mandarin and Almond Cake


My Mum recently purchased a cookbook of the most simple cakes you will ever come across. This one is no exception, and features in the ‘food processor cakes’ section. With the exception if boiling some fruit, everything is thrown in, blitzed and baked. Easy peasy!

Cakes which use almond meal commonly are paired with oranges but we had just been given a bag of homegrown mandarins from the elderly couple next door, so of course I feuded to substitute these as the flavour of these mandarins were so intense, they were juicy and sweet, Much nicer than those dry ones you buy in the supermarket!

The benefit with this recipe is that it is not only gluten free but also completely dairy free, no butter, no milk zilch! Great for people with intolerances and this cake although it has a little but if sugar is high in protein and fibre. For those who can have dairy it is great with some natural Greek yogurt, but it is still delicious just plain.

The texture is so moist and light so great for any time of the day, if you wanted to make it an adult version you can pour 2 tbsps of galliano or cointreau over the top once it cones out of the oven.

Overall I give this cake 5/5, it is light, tasty ad super easy to make. I’ll let Mum gloat now and tell Me that cookbooks do not need to be expensive or have celebrity chefs to be good. How right she is!

Flourless Mandarin & Almond Cake

6 mandarins

1/4 cup galliano

1 cup caster sugar

1 tsp baking powder

1 3/4 cup almond meal

1 tsp vanilla essence

6 eggs, lightly beaten

1. Boil mandarins in a pot full of water for 40 mins or until the skin is soft.
2. Cut off any bad bits of skin and then quarter mandarins. Allow to cool.
3. Preheat oven to 180 degrees C.
4. Once cooled slightly blitz until quite a smooth purée. Add galliano, sugar and baking powder as blitz again.
5. Add among meal and pulse until just stirred through then add eggs and pulse until just combined. (do not over mix it otherwise it will be dense and heavy)
6. Line a springform tin with baking paper then pour mixture in. Bake for 50 mins.
7. Allow to cool in tin then when ready to serve dust with icing sugar.