Sunday, July 28, 2013

Foodie tour in Nantes

Any trip is an opportunity to learn more and, of course, to taste more interesting and healthy foods. While in France, do what French people do: go local, talk with people from the bakeries and ask for food directions. Very often, we speak a lot about 'national' cuisines, ignoring the pleasant flavours of the regional cookbooks. At least in the case of France, there it is a lot of challenge in discovering local menus and so was Nantes for me: a very interesting experience not only in terms of culture and nature, but equally for the lovely galettes I tasted as often as possible. 

My food started at a local bakery: meeting and talking with people, but also having the eyes wide open to catch as many food as possible. For the beginning, I spotted the chocolate baguettes.

A perfumed meringue for 1.50 Euro looks as a good investment, enough for a tasty and calories full breakfast.

My choice was more local though: a heart-shaped Bottereau, the typical doughnut in Nantes. 

After my first hour of discovering Nantes, before going to spend a good amount of time at Jardin des Plantes, I stopped by a small bakery around and had a good looking coffee - exactly my style, genuinely strong - and a tartelette au citron. The basis was a bit too hard, but the combination between the lemon cream and the coffee was excellent. If looking for a fancier place for a breakfast around Jardin des Plantes - and the central train station - Salon du thé has generous breakfast menu.
Other sweetness were inviting me to stay more, but my diet concerns and my time management obsessions kept me away from the temptations for a good couple of hours.
More than four hours later and many interesting things seen, curiosity - and not hunger - brought me together with the first macaron of the day - a bit of caramel and some fruity jam, too sweet for my tastes but interesting with a glass of cold water or a coffee. 
Discovering interesting fruit juices is part of my mission when on the road. The superstores in Nantes offer a lot of apple and tomato juices, as well as different usual combinations - strawberries, kiwi. Many are based on the local production. Fruits and vegetables from French territories are completing the variety of treats. Cidre and 'jus de pommes' are the specific drinks made in Brittany
Wherever I went, the smell of food on the street was distracting. Either flying from the kitchen of the various restaurants - the Cambodian and Laotian ones were the new entered on the list of ethnic cuisines, together with the classical Chinese, Japanese and Thai and of course, a huge variety of French restaurants. No German cuisine, as far as I remember. The main destination for foodies can be found around street Copernic and Cassini. You may find special fish shops and cheese shops and numerous wine shops. An impressive number of chocolateries, of course. Expect to talk with people welcoming and keen to help you to combine the right meals and flavours. This is France, after all.
The exquisite macaron experience followed later in the day: pictures from a tasty exhibition of products by Vincent Guerlais, rightly branded as 'agitateur de papilles'.
This boulangerie is recommended for breakfast or for a late meal in the evening. For regular foodie tours, everyone go at least once.
You can pick up your own fish, find what something you did not know you were looking for or simply have a professional talk with someone from the shop. Everything is possible and done with the highest professionalism.
Vincent Guerlais shop has also a special corner at the famous Talensac market, a local attraction for tourists from everywhere. 
Time for some serious food. The final decision was not very easy, as there are a lot of local places many of them very busy after 7pm. St Leonard looks quite cheap at the first sight and was not sure that I really want to go there. However, after tasting my first meal: galetter Provencale - blended tomatoes, egg mirror, aubergines, zucchini and hot goat's milk cheese - I was extremely impressed. A lot of food, a good glass of Rosé, many calories and the pleasure of being in Brittany. It is recommended to eat it hot. The galette base is very discrete and add to the ensemble the correct pinch of goodness. 
The next stage of my meal: Crepe Broceliande at St. Leonard in Nantes: caramel with salt of Guérande, gingerbread ice cream banana and Chantilly cream. Unforgettable. I went completely lost in the combination of sweet and sour, hot and cold, all melting together. The dough of the pancake was sweet and delicate. 

No more food till I was in my hotel room. I was tempted to have a coke at Brasserie d'Europe before taking the tram, but after waiting 10 minutes for someone to talk with me and another 5 minutes for the menu, I decided that it is not worth my time. I know the place is highly recommended, but my direct experience matters always more.
The macarons from Vincent Guerlais that I bought for testing were a bit affected by my wandering of the last 5 hours. A good sign for me of their delicacy and quality. Before starting the tasting I was sure that everything is done, and a glass of cold water is on my desk. Between tasting a macaron I waited around 10 minutes, to be sure that I got the right taste and impression. As the framboise macaron - the red one -looked the most affected, I started my tasting with it: a very full sweet taste, but feeling too much sugar for my taste. Next on the list - after the 10 minutes, of course - the figs macaron - the brownish one: a mysterious taste, hard to describe precisely. The biscuit side is very strong and is invading the mouth completely. I think it goes very well with a good tea. The green pistachio macaron was next: with a lot of caramel feeling and a specific sweet individuality. It looked as each piece was at its place working together to guarantee a perfect taste. The last macaron - salted caramel - made me feel sorry that the testing is done: the perfection always came at the end: the last is lost in the sweetnest of caramel. After a long trip and so much sweetness, was about time to go to sleep some nice dreams.

The next day started in a very light way: a French croissant from a bakery followed by a strong coffee in the welcoming ambiance of La maison Bertille. Did some more tours to discover new hidden gems of the Brittany cuisine and had a nice discussion about quality products at Atelier St. Michel.
I was told that the products do not contain any palm oil, are very healthy, without any animal ingredients. The madeleines were not only delicious, but also very fresh, even after one week. The pancakes were relatively good, better combined with honey or a fruity jam. I tried it with some goat's milk cheese and was not extremely impressed. The salty caramel cake was the most disappointing, but also because I had so many good special pieces of salted caramel macarons before and the competition is very unfair. 
When I am at home, I cook a lot of pasta but during my trip to France, was too much focused on different products. Spontaneously, I stopped at Mezzo di Pasta, wich offers special prices for students and had a good and fast simple meal of cheese pasta with a Pepsi Max. 
Back on the track of documenting the best foodie places, I stopped at the famous Talensac market, an attraction for tourists visiting Nantes. Maybe it was too early - around 11 o'clock, in the middle of the week- not too much action around. However, I was charmed by the diversity of local fruits and vegetables, especially the Senegalese mango I will hunt after later in London.
 Other local cuisines in France were also well represented.
 Wish I can be able to prepare such good pasta one day.

 The choices of cheese are difficult to count.
 My already old friends from Vincent Guerlain were here too. French markets are a clean and elegant place to be, after all.

The more I think about my trip there, the more I want to be back. I am sure that one day I will do a perfect food tour of France. At least once. 
Bon Appetit!

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Summer treats from Yves Rocher

One of the best part of the (real) summer vacations is that I spend a lot of time on the road, and shopping is constantly part of my travel assignments. I am always very happy to discover various local products, test them and eventually post some reviews. 
However, in case that I am visiting a normal big town, most probably I would be happy with any quality cosmetic product, especially if it is offered at a more than reasonable price. 
I am a long-time fan of Yves Rocher, especially of their special collection Jardins du Monde/Gardens of the World. More than anything else, that collection represents me as a person always on the road, always curious to try new products and to open new horizons. From my last trip to Rostock, I bought three cute and colourful bottles of shower gel.
Each of them has a strong personality and, in my opinion, may fit different personalities and different times of the year. In all three cases, the smell is natural, without added perfumes. As an allergic person, I am very careful of what I use in terms of cosmetics, but after constant use for a couple of weeks already, I did not encounter any counter-reaction.
Somehow, I was extremely surprised by my choices. In general, I did not like ylang yland, but out of the three, the yellow gel seems to be my favourite. Maybe because it suits very well the hot days of the summer. After using it, I always have a feeling a freshness that can last for at least one hour. The next favourite is the Lotus Flower - maybe a bit too sweet for my taste. I would prefer to use it during the early spring or even end of the summer. Maybe for a mild autumn too. The last one on the list - Californian almond - is what I would have call number 1. In fact, this is the first piece that I wanted to have but tempted by the offer of buying more for a good price, I added more pieces to the collection. It is dense, smooth, with a good smell, but a dense cream is exactly what I am not interested to put on my skin on a very hot summer time. 
I will recommend them to anyone, with the specific seasonal features. I can't wait to get more from the collection though (for the sake of the writing, of course).

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

A spicy tea, for a good afternoon

I am still trying to get acquainted with the pleasures of tea and it will take me a long time till I will be able to play the role of a real connoisseur. But the summer and the winter are the best time to test more teas and fragrances and also to read as much as I can find about the mysterious - yet - drink (for me). (I am preparing a very historical-intellectual post about tea sorts and its history, but probably after I finish the long line of real foodie reviews waiting in line for me).

From the same Rossmann shop, I purchased a Bio Sweet Chai Vanille. I am passionate about spices and wanted to see their effect on everyday teas. The result is very pleasant, with the full fragrance turning my kitchen into an interesting secret food laboratory.

The good and perfumed taste comes at the end, after the tea spent some 2-3 seconds in your mouth. It is a good simple taste of good mixture of spices. Do not expect nothing sophisticated or outstanding, an unique fragrance of vanilla spices, but a good perfumed companion. It goes very well with biscuits and even with some Gouda small cheese croquets. It goes as well at the end of some heavy foodie days, when all you need is a little bit of help to relax your tired stomach.

It is easy and you can drink as many as you want to. There it is always a good occasion to celebrate the good life. 

So hot, let's have a Brooklyn beer

It is finally very hot in Germany and elsewhere and the search for fresh and cold beverage is on. In Germany especially, they drink a lot of beer, without but most likely with alcohol. I will write a next time about the (bad) drinking habits here and how I cannot accept it at all, especially among teenagers. Till then, I will go on with my light topic: beer!
I am not a beer drinker at all and the first time when I had a sip of it, late in my 20s, I found it disgusting: the taste and the smell altogether. For diversity, I love the Belgian beer combinations, that according to the experts there are not real beers at all: with cherry or even chocolate taste. But more than the Belgian beers I miss Brooklyn so sometimes around March, I received a suggestive present: a bottle of Brooklyn beer. Let's forget about my refuse to taste more than one bottle of beer the year! This was one of those beers from my beautiful Brooklyn. I started by reading the ingredients, and continued by putting it in the fridge where it spent the next 3 months. Who would fancy a beer in the cold? Not me, anyway!
But suddenly, there was a short spring and cold again and finally summer! And just because, I decided that it is time to taste my present. In an almost perfect evening, when I was expecting a lot of relaxing conversations, I made some chips, opened the bottle and enjoyed it. It is not very heavy and the taste isn't so sour, my big disagreement about considering beer a worthy-to-drink beverage. Very cold is perfect and it goes well for lunch, I suppose. As I do a lot of intellectual work, I need to have my mind clear during the day and only the evening was recommended for such a beer tasting experience. 
As this is my only experience with beer for the year - unless some special Belgian specialities are landing in my fridge - I was happy with the taste and it created the good ambiance. And, after all, it was a Brooklyn beer!

Monday, July 8, 2013

Clean as you go

I have a small kitchen. Why? It is a very simple answer: when I moved in this house, almost five years ago, cooking was my last priority. I was not even able to cook anything else but an egg. And to clumsily cut some tomatoes. 
Times changed and I have created a new space in my little library for the cooking books. I go daily to check the latest fresh fruits and vegetables at the local stores and, more importantly, I cook and bake almost daily (proof my gorgeous cheesecake waiting to be tasted tomorrow early in the morning).
But my kitchen is still small (as many of the German kitchen are, at least most of the Berlin ones are like that) and when I need to prepare some of my lunches or suppers, I should use the living room table for having enough space to cut, arrange, mix and melt all the ingredients of complicated cakes or salads.
Predictably, I should cope with a lot of cleaning emergencies that will help me to prevent the kitchen mood to enter the rest of the house. Take, for instance, the Fridays, the busiest days for cooking, when I need to get ready in due time and to prepare a menu of at least 3 meals, for 5+persons aimed to last for 2 days. A lot of work and a lot of cleaning. 
As I need to be ready in time and I love order, I try as much as possible to clean on the spot. I don't let the spots till change into a crust and cannot be removed easily. Once I see the dirt, I clean it and continue the work. For a multi-tasking person as me, there it is not such a big problem to interrupt the cooking for a while and continue focusing on the ingredients. I always keep some whipped creams on my side or a wet sponge and in a couple of seconds I am able to be back at work. Cooking on a clean table is similarly for me with working on a desk where all the books and papers are in order and I know what to take from where. When I finish with one meal I clean immediately the dishes and bowls and other tools used during the preparation. It may take another extra 5 minutes, but again, it is better that I see everything in order and clean. There it is also a practical reason to do so: once I see the dirt it is better that I do the cleaning as soon as possible as one meal after I may completely forget where should I clean properly. 
With more cooking books and ideas of recipes for the next weeks, and new tools bought for the kitchen, I am more and more concerned about the lack of proper space. Wherever I will be sooner or later, I will continue to keep the good habits of cleaning as I go - where do I go? to the next stage in my cooking life. 

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Foodie books for the summer

As in the last 10 days I did a lot of trips - few of them food-related - I spent a lot of time commuting and changing or waiting for buses, the perfect time of then year to catch up with books. Food is getting more and more slices from my life and reading how to write about food is part of my newest writing games. In the last two months, my interests oscillated between spending time with my travel blogs or improving my cooking experience, including my ways to share my recipes, achievement and most likely, failures. 

Because I was going to spend some time in my beautiful France, before arriving to Paris I tried to finish Amy Thomas' Paris my sweet. I am quite predictable, but I started to read it long before I decided to head to France for a couple of days. You can read the book from different perspectives: the history of sweets in France and America, the American expat life in Paris, good inspiration for food writing, a sweet travel guide to Paris. As for the last part, I saved some references for the next occasion when I plan to dedicate more time to the sweet delicacies of the French capital city. 
The delicious part of the book is the mouth watering description of the cakes: I rarely find in my foodie reading experiences so much precision in describing the right fragrance and dough consistency. Do not expect recipes and stories about how to prepare those miraculous - for me - cakes or pastry or chocolates. Most probably, for many of them, one do not need to try it at home, but in the proper ambiance and good smelling corner of a Parisian laboratory. 
My favourite quote, Marcel Pagnol's: 'I'm gonna make a bread like none other ever tasted before and, in this bread, I will put a lot of love and friendship'. Need to keep this in mind when experiencing my easy or complicated recipes.
What I did not appreciated: the insertion of personal stories that I've rather find clumsy.

This is not a book about me and my late entry in the kitchen. The writing is great, the recipes fantastic and a good sample of quality food writing, but what a pity that the most part of the book is taken by the love stories - not all of them with the food - and name dropping and celebrities' high-life. 'After all,  she writes, everyone cooks for matters of the heart. We're all in the kitchen because it fulfils a longing inside, whether it's for grave, survival, a renewed sense of self, or just of the thrill of it all - there are the stories that get us there, keep us there or sometimes take us away'. Similarly with love, cooking can be learned; all you need is an open heart and the curiosity to take the risk of the unexpected. 

PS. Stay away, there are a lot of reviews and tasting going on in the next days, nowhere else but here, on my delicious blog.