the humble leek

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During my growing up years in Canada, I was acquainted with the leek while watching my mother make vichyssoise for her dinner parties: a thick soup of puréed leeks, onions, potatoes, cream and chicken stock, traditionally served cold. But the French don’t make vichyssoise, even though it’s named after the French town of Vichy. Or rather, they do make it, but under a different name: velouté de poireaux et pommes de terre. Velouté means velvety. The origin of the name vichyssoise, apparently, is the Ritz-Carlton hotel in New York City.

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The humble leek (called the poor man’s asparagus here) is often used in a classic recipe called leeks vinaigrette (which I don’t like at all.)

Here’s my recipe.  1. Place a heavy-based sauté pan over medium heat and add any kind of oil. Nut oils are nice if you have (walnut, hazelnut, etc.) When hot, add the leeks, cut into rounds, and cook, turning frequently, until they’re softened and a golden color. Season with salt and pepper.

2. Add garlic, thyme and butter. Once the butter has melted, add some white wine (not too much) or if you wish, a small amount of chicken broth (optional). Set a piece of fish atop the leeks, cover the pan and simmer gently for 12–15 minutes. If there’s a lot of liquid, remove the lid for the last 5 minutes of cooking time in order to reduce it.

3. Transfer to a serving dish and sprinkle with parsley if you have any lying around.

And voilà. There’s your steamed fish with veg in a single pan. Simple. Serve with a Muscadet or a light Alsation wine.

Yesterday, while food shopping after work, I bought a big bunch of fresh and fragrant rosemary for under two euros. If you don’t know what to do with fresh rosemary, you’ll find a ton of ideas on the internet. But here’s one idea you won’t find: heat the electric burner of your stove to high. When it’s really hot, throw a handful of plucked rosemary leaves onto it. The scent is gorgeous. You can do the same with fresh sage or thyme.

Rosemary

 

The Sprouted Kitchen

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cocoa powder, photo courtesy of Sprouted Kitchen

I’ve fallen in love with a blog. The photos are breathtaking. The recipes are irresistible. There are a few travel posts (Stockholm, Paris, Amsterdam, Brussels), but it’s primarily a (marvellous) foodcentric blog.

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coconut creamer coffee, photo courtesy of Sprouted Kitchen

 Click on Recipes for amazing photos and recipe ideas. Enjoy!

Here’s Stockholm –

https://www.sproutedkitchen.com/home/2017/10/16/stockholm-sweden

Here’s Paris –

https://www.sproutedkitchen.com/home/2013/4/14/paris.html?rq=Paris

Here’s Belgium and Amsterdam –

https://www.sproutedkitchen.com/home/2013/5/5/belgium-amsterdam.html?rq=Paris

the North Point Surf Resort, abandoned hotel in Barbados

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When I was a child I stood on the cracked floor of this derelict, olympic-sized swimming pool. I was with my mother, father and sister, and from Rockley Beach where we were staying, we had driven up to the northern tip of the island for the afternoon. That moment, that place, and that pool has haunted me ever since.

Mystery surrounds this hotel. No-one seems to know who owned it or why it was built in such an isolated area. Barbados’ north coast is spectacular: wild, rugged and windswept with the Atlantic Ocean waves crashing against the cliffs. Here’s a photo of that same swimming pool in its heyday.

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Over Christmas we escaped to Barbados and discovered paradise. I have perfect recall of the Air Canada DC-8 jet, gleaming white on the tarmac, and me stepping out of it. I can still feel the trade winds caressing my cold-chapped skin as I descended the metal staircase. It was a day before my tenth birthday and my family had travelled to this sun-drenched little isle for the holidays. Speeding along the littoral road in a taxi, we caught sight of the sea and gaped like country bumpkins out on a day trip. The island sky was vast with bold cloudscapes and there was a glittering brightness in the air.

The Sweet Life was a plantation-style guesthouse with a frangipani tree gracing its front lawn. From our rooms we threw open the shutters and gazed onto a garden brimming with blooms that burst with energy from the sun. Gecko-lizards flickered across pathways and vanished into the jungle-like undergrowth. Intoxicated by the perfume and the heat, we shed our clothes and like pale pilgrims from the North ran to frolic on the sands of Rockley Beach across the road.

Bajan boys, shimmying nimbly up the trunks of coconut trees, slashed open the giant shells and offered us the water to drink. I had never seen a fresh coconut before. I had never seen a black person before. We stared enrapt as flying fish catapulted themselves out of the ocean, and with a neat flick of the tail pirouetted back down into their immense aquarium. That evening we feasted on jug jug and spicy fishcakes while a steel band playing tinny music plinkety-plinked beside a shimmering pool. Drunk on the voluptuousness of the tropics and too many rum punches, Dad joined the limbo-dancing contest on the beach and wrenched his back. The next day he lay, subdued under a fig tree on the hotel lawn, while my mother, sister and I went into town to find me a birthday cake.

In bustling Bridgetown a new language floated in the air. We wandered the city center and heard the Bajan dialect spoken by the citizens, their lilting voices mingling with the smells and sounds of the marketplace. We rented a sun moke and roamed the northernmost tip of the island. There was a cliff hotel, its setting dramatic but eerie as Atlantic waves crashed violently onto the rocks below. We stood on the floor of the empty swimming pool then roamed the neglected property; a compass rose was etched into the crumbling patio tiles near the abandoned bar. Despite the heat we felt chilled. Imagining the ghosts of former guests to be present, we could almost hear the chatter of voices and the clink of ice cubes in glasses as they sat smoking in lounge chairs, playing Mah Jong and sunning themselves like sleek, contented reptiles. Shivering, we returned to Rockley Beach and hurled ourselves at the waves.

 

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Another old photo of the hotel in its heyday, the compass rose etched into the patio tiles near the bar. That’s where I stood, years later.

 

Two weeks later the DC-8 jet lifted off with a powerful thrust and within seconds we were aloft, northbound to our snow-blanketed Canadian tundra. With the sound of Calypso music ringing in our ears, we quit paradise.

Copyrighted Material

 

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The last time I was in Barbados was with my parents in the 1990s. It’s time to go back.

I just found this video on YouTube and watched it, transfixed. It’s hard to believe the remains of this hotel are still there.

the hidden passages of Paris

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When I first moved to this city, I lived in the 9th arrondissement and worked in the Paris bureau of the Reuters news agency. Imagine my delight when I discovered that the hidden passage located near my apartment snaked through the city and led directly to my place of work. Fresh from North America, I was utterly charmed by the historical aspect of these late 18th-century and mid 19th-century conduits. I imagined myself in an Emile Zola novel. In fact, Zola wrote about the passages in his novel, Nana. Here’s a brief excerpt (published in 1880!)

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“One December evening Count Muffat was strolling in the Passage des Panoramas. The evening was very mild, and owing to a passing shower, the passage had become crowded with people. There was a perfect mob of them, and they thronged slowly and laboriously between the shops on either side. A perfect stream of brilliancy emanated from white globes, red lanterns, blue transparencies, lines of gas jets, gigantic watches and fans, outlined in flame and burning in the open. And the displays in the shops, the gold ornaments of the jeweler’s, the glass ornaments of the confectioner’s, the light-colored silks of the modiste’s, seemed to shine in the crude light of the reflectors behind the plate-glass windows.”

Here is the Passage des Panoramas today:

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Each passage has its own character; some a bit shabby and run-down, others well-tended. Here’s the Passage Verdeau, near rue Cadet in the 9th arrondissement, that was my starting point when I walked to work all those years ago.

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There used to be a restaurant-deli in the Passage Verdeau called Le Stube which sold divine German pastries (strudels, poppyseed cake, Sachertorte, etc.), pastrami and Black Forest ham sandwiches on rye, hot dishes of sauerkraut, bratwurst, etc. I once had a delicious potato and herring salad followed by warm cherry strudel and a double espresso there. They used to sell those irresistible Niederegger marzipan chocolate-covered loaves that I love. Sadly, Le Stube is no longer there.

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Here’s the next connecting passage. It’s Sunday, so this bookseller’s shop is closed. For several years, twice a day, I walked this route, dawdling in the shops on the way home, never tiring of its appeal.

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Exit the Passage Jouffroy, cross the boulevard Montmartre, and into the next stretch of passage. For anyone wanting to come here, the nearest metro station is Grands Boulevards.

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Further south, on the other side of the Bourse (the stock exchange) is another, independent passage called the Galerie Vivienne. This is the most elegant and well-tended of the glass-roofed shopping arcades. At Christmas-time it’s all lit up with fairy lights. Notice the gorgeous mosaic tiled flooring.

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This is a great shopping area. Inside this passage and outside on the rue des Petits Champs heading towards the Place des Victoires are dozens of small clothing boutiques. There’s a shop inside the Galerie Vivienne called Nathalie Garçon which sells original one-off pieces. Directly across from it is another shop that sells exquisite scarves.

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Further up is a second-hand clothing shop called La Marelle where I’ve bought and sold many shoes, handbags, clothes and accessories over the years. You can pick up a gorgeous pair of Prada shoes, a Fendi handbag or items of clothing with Miu Miu, Hermès, YSL labels and other luxury brand names, depending on what’s in stock.

This lovely-looking restaurant (below) is overpriced and a bit precious.

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Instead, I recommend the Bistrot Vivienne at number 4 rue des Petits-Champs, just at the entrance of the Galerie Vivienne. It’s much more down to earth and serves delicious, hearty meals and good carafes of wine. Remember the movie, Something’s Gotta Give, with Jack Nicholson and Diane Keaton? The Parisian brasserie where they and Keanu Reeves ate at is Le Grand Colbert, located just around the corner at number 2 rue Vivienne.

If you’re a wine lover, you must visit LEGRAND wine merchants. From their website: A wine cellar, gourmet grocery store, a bistro, a tasting bar — visit Legrand’s many ideal spaces in which to share our passion for wine. You can have a meal there, drink a fabulous glass or bottle of wine, and buy some sweets afterward (and a few bottles of wine, bien sûr!)

Before you click on this in-depth link below of these shops, I just wanted to add that there’s a lesser known passage, very chic, that I haven’t been to yet, but intend to explore. It’s tucked away in a backstreet near the Louvre, and it’s called the Galerie Véro-Dodat. It’s a hidden gem, I hear, with a good French restaurant inside called the Restaurant Véro Dodat. (P.S. There’s a Christian Louboutin boutique inside this gallery, so it must be très chic indeed.)

https://julietinparis.net/2014/04/15/shopping-food-and-sightseeing-itinerary-2nd-arrondissement-part-i/

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me, Soso, and taxidermy

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Soso and I have our familiar routine which includes going to the Red Park then to the Gare Saint Sauveur across the road. A converted train station, the Gare Saint Sauveur houses art exhibitions, an excellent bistro and all sorts of seasonal events. This season they’ve installed a skating rink and a toboggan run. Sledding and tobogganing is called “la luge” in French. Saturday we went to the cinema to see the movie, Coco.

Here’s the Red Park which isn’t its real name. Winter in the north of France can be grim. It wasn’t too cold, but it was gray and damp during my weekend in Lille.

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For the first time ever, we visited the Lille Natural History Museum. Founded in 1822, it houses zoological and geological collections. Here’s the north-facing wall. There’s a lot of brick in the north of France that I like. In the rest of the country, you don’t see much brick.

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The place was packed, not only with small kids and parents, but with large dead stuffed animals. All museums in France are free on the first Sunday of every month. I guess that’s why it was packed.

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Never in my life have I seen such a large collection of stuffed animals, there were rooms and rooms of them, filled with birds, flamingos, rodents, big cats, even a giraffe, a polar bear, lions and tigers. This is what I learned about taxidermy: the earliest methods of the preservation of birds were published in 1748 by Reaumur in France. Frenchman Louis Dufresne, taxidermist at the National Natural History Museum in 1793, popularized arsenical soap in an article in Nouveau dictionnaire d’histoire naturelle (1803–1804). This technique enabled the museum to build the greatest collection of birds in the world.

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After awhile, Soso announced that he was hungry. So we headed back down the street, across the park and towards the in-house bistro of the Gare Saint Sauveur.

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It’s an inexpensive, kid-friendly place that serves delicious food. Soso had fish fingers and chips from the kids’ menu. But not before spearing half a dozen olives from the glass in front of him. I warned him that too many salty olives will make him thirsty afterwards. “Mais, j’aime les olives!” he said happily, and continued to spear more.

I had a pork-vermicelli-coconut-cashew stir-fry with white rice and salad. With a small glass of white wine for me and a fizzy grenadine drink for my companion, the bill came to only 24 euros. No dessert. Afterwards, we went back outside to the skating rink and toboggan run. All entirely free. Lille is a Socialist city run by the popular Martine Aubry, mayor since 2001 and daughter of Jacques Delors, President of the European Commission and Minister of Finance of France from 1981 to 1984. Many family and cultural events in this city are heavily sponsored.

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Back home for a hot bath followed by a game of BANANAGRAMS using letter tiles. 

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On the 5 o’clock Sunday train back to Paris, I conked out.