Thursday, December 31, 2020

Traditionally, I’ve ended the year on my blog by looking back at all the good dishes I’ve eaten during the past year.

 

Well, 2020 was a strange year – with very little travel and eating out at restaurants – unlike previous years. It’s a bit more difficult to recap the best meals I’ve eaten this year. However, most of the best meals in 2020 were homemade and eaten at home.

January 2020

The year started out hopeful. One night, we met friends after work to take advantage of a 3-course meal at Gaucho in the South Kensington neighborhood of London. While sipping my glass of red wine in the chic bar, I had no idea what the upcoming year would have in store for us. Highlights: scallop ceviche and chicken Milanese.

At the end of January, we flew to Barcelona to meet up with American friends visiting from NYC. Highlights from our dinner at Can Boneta –known for its Catalan tapas and small plates – included octopus with creamed potatoes and veal carpaccio. 

Our last meal in Spain was a tapas lunch at Mercado de la Sagrada Familia – cheap platters filled with Spanish jamon and queso and a side of patatas bravas.

At the end of January, I even managed to drive to Bath for a day with two girlfriends. We enjoyed an Italian lunch at Sotto Sotto with its vaulted cellars and bare stone walls.

February 2020

We planned an overnight trip to Liverpool, one of the larger English cities that we hadn’t visited yet. We went to a food hall, a beer festival with hundreds of people and ended the night at the Cavern Club – a crowded night club where the Beatles once played. A weekend like this would be unthinkable right now.

At the end of February, we were supposed to go to Milan, which ended up being one of Italy’s epicenters of the Covid-19 virus. We opted for a nice dinner out in London at Eneko Basque Kitchen & Bar, which was offering 3 courses for £28. Highlights: beetroot tartare, pork ribs and a decadent chocolate tart for dessert.


March 2020

On March 9th, I flew to the US to visit family and celebrate the 90th birthday of my husband’s grandmother. I made a two-layered carrot cake for the occasion. I’m glad we had the chance to visit family before the pandemic took hold of the entire world.

Luckily, we flew back to London, landing on the 16th of March – the day Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced the initial UK lockdown. We were in for a bumpy ride.

At the end of March, we celebrated our 10th wedding anniversary in our garden at home instead of on the beach in Thailand as we originally planned. I made a an issahn-style pork salad and pad thai, and hubby made pina coladas to drink.

April through Summer 2020

And thus, this started the beginning of our lockdown life in London.

I was furloughed from my pastry job. Hubby was working from home. I began cooking all the time and joined the sourdough baking bandwagon. I learned the ups and downs of feeding and taking care of my starter and also had difficulties sourcing flour several times.

I made Turkish kebabs, pide, sigari böreği, mucver and revani – a semolina cake.

I sometimes made Italian focaccia, pasta, ravioli and pizza.

We took advantage of the sunny days and went on long bike rides and grilled outside.

I baked bagels, challah and cakes at home. I soon started donating treats to my friend’s business, The Plattery, who started cooking for low-income people who needed food. (NOTE: we’ll still be donating meals in 2021, so if you can help donate here, please do.)

 

I made homemade tortillas and pulled pork so we could celebrate Cinco de Mayo at home.

We discovered a fish delivery company called The Upper Scale and cooked our own seafood feasts at home like French moules frites.

 

July 2020

For more than three months, cinemas, hair salons, museums, restaurants and bars were closed (except for take-away and delivery services) in the U.K. The country’s first lockdown ended on 4th of July.

Toward the end of July, we booked our first trip post-Covid-19 restrictions and drove up to the Peak District for a week. Our life didn’t change too much – hubby still worked from “home” and I went on long walks and cooked at our rental cottage. However, we did manage a few visits to the local pubs – as long as we could dine outside.


August 2020

We booked our second staycation and stayed in a rental cottage in southern Cornwall for a week. Sitting outside at a pub, smelling the sea air and eating fish and chips – life never seemed so good!


September 2020

We ventured out of the city again – this time we donned our facemasks and took our bikes on a train heading to Norwich in the County of Norfolk. Over the course of six days, we managed to cover 205 miles/325km on our bikes. We ate a lot of pub meals to fuel up for our long bike rides and ended that staycation with a big steak dinner.


October 2020

Although I’ve tried all sorts of new recipes during lockdown, I started taking some online cooking classes in October. I learned how to make pastel de nata from a Portuguese woman in Lisbon and Argentinian empanadas from a lovely couple in Columbia.

We also managed – just barely – to escape to Wales for a couple of days for hubby’s birthday. The foodie highlight of that staycation was cooking Welsh lambchops in our nearly 200-year-old rental cottage.

November 2020

My favorite foodie holiday, Thanksgiving, fell during our second lockdown. We still pulled off a socially-distanced dinner with our neighbors and piled a table full of festive delights such as grilled turkey, green bean casserole, sweet potato casserole, roasted veggies and more.

 

December 2020

As mentioned in my previous blog post – How to Pretend You’re in Paris via London – we were able to treat ourselves to one fancy meal out before London went into lockdown – AGAIN!

This year has been all about cooking and baking new recipes at home, becoming a pantry raiding superstar and foraging for ingredients around the city. I’m thankful that I’ve learned some new baking skills, but I’m hopeful that I’ll be able to work in restaurants and enjoy dining out with friends again in 2021.

 

Wishing you all a Happy and Healthy New Year!

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Wednesday, December 30, 2020

I often create my dinner menus based on what I find at the market.

Today was no exception.

I cycled up to Borough Market to see what I could find. I ended up going with a French theme. Who can resist truffled cheese? Duck breast with duck-fat roasted potatoes. Oui. Please.
Even if it's just the two of us to ring in the New Year, at least we'll dine well. Plus, overall, we're happy and healthy. 

Wishing you a Happy New Year too!

Tuesday, December 29, 2020


Last December, I spent a day in Paris meeting a friend, walking along some of my favorite streets and eating some scrumptious French food.

Who would’ve known that 2020 would mean virtually no travel was possible, and that anyone from the UK would be eventually banned from travelling to France? All thanks to Covid-19.

Even though taking a quick train ride from London to Paris is off the table right now, it doesn’t mean that you can’t try to enjoy the best parts of a Parisian get-away from London. During the past few months, I’ve tried to recreate some of my favorite French moments at home.

How to Pretend You’re in Paris While at Home in London

DIY Boulangerie

Start your day off right with a typical French breakfast, which usually involves a tasty treat of carbs and a cup of coffee or tea. I used to buy my croissants from Dominque Ansel’s pastry shop before he closed earlier this year. However, there are plenty of French offerings in London such as Chanteroy in Fulham, Orée in Chelsea, and even the Gail’s bakeries.

Eat French Cheese

I love the cheese shops in Paris! And actually, to be fair, the UK has a pretty damned good selection of cheeses too. But if you’re craving fromage, why not create your own cheese board and throw in some tasty charcuterie as well? Look for brie, camembert, comté and reblochon.

Enjoy a Sweet French Pastry

From time to time at home, I’ll make my own French eclairs or financiers. But if I don’t want to go through all that fuss, I’ll head to Ladurée or Pierre Hermé in Convent Garden or Maitre Choux in South Kensington. 


Shop like a Parisien in London

My favorite place to buy French products is at Le Marché du Quartier at the Borough Market. The options for foie gras are amazing as well as French saucisson and cheeses. Sometimes, I even treat myself to a take-away duck confit sandwich.

Make French Onion Soup from Scratch

Oh la la, how about making your own soupe à l'oignon gratinée? I love this traditional soup, which is based on a homemade beef stock, lots of caramelized onions and topped with cheesy bread. My go-to recipe is this one by Julia Child.


Dine like a Parisien in London

Unfortunately, this option is off the table for now unless you create a French meal at home or find some decent French take-away food. Right after the second lockdown lifted on December 2nd, we made reservations at Coq d’Argent, a fine-dining French restaurant in the city. We booked an outdoor table under the heat lamps so we could dine with a good friend of ours. We took advantage of the special holiday menu – three courses for about £50.

We’ve dined here before, so I couldn’t resist the escargot! I ended up using my fingers to prevent a Julia Robert’s moment. For my main, I had the haunch of wild roe deer, which was cooked to perfection. And for dessert, I chose the traditional bûche de Noël – which was filled with a frozen chestnut and white chocolate parfait. Très bien!

Hopefully, we’ll be able to return to Paris in person in 2021!

Fancy some French tea?
And a snazzy French jewellery store.

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Sunday, December 27, 2020

Well, Christmas this year wasn’t exactly as we planned. Since London is currently in Tier 4 restrictions from Covid-19, we’re not supposed to “hang out” with anyone at home. 
 
We decided to make our traditional Feast of the Seven Fishes for Christmas Eve and serve the food outside in our communal garden. A few of our neighbors were able to enjoy the dishes with us as we ate outside.
 
The Feast of the Seven Fishes is part of the Italian-American Christmas Eve celebrations, and one that my husband’s family does to honor his family’s Italian heritage. Jason’s great grandfather came from Cassano Irpino, Italy, and immigrated to the U.S. around 1905. 

The idea to celebrate Christmas Eve is to make sure you eat seven different types of seafood or fish. 

Here’s our menu: 

Oysters served with a traditional French mignonette sauce 
Yellow fin tuna tartare with a soy-ginger dressing
Hickory-grilled sardines 
Linguine and clams in a white wine sauce – a traditional dish always served by my mother-in-law 
Pan-fried scallops in butter, garlic and chillies 
Hickory-grilled salmon with honey-soy glaze and roasted brussel sprouts 
Hake fillets baked with tomatoes, kalamata olives and capers 
Hopefully, next year, we’ll actually be able to sit around a proper dining table and eat Christmas dinner together with our friends/family members.
And for dessert, I made a classic French Buche de Noel with a raspberry cremeux inside and topped with a Chantilly cream and chocolate flowers.


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Monday, December 21, 2020

Day Trip from London

Just a sampling of the late autumn colors at RHS Garden Wisley.
I always find something interesting to see in the English gardens – no matter what the season.

By the first week in December, I was finally able to book a weekend time slot to visit RHS Garden Wisley, a 240-acre botanical garden located southwest of London in Surrey. It wasn’t raining for once, so we decided to bike part of the way to the gardens and organized another day trip from London. 

I’ve visited the gardens a couple of times, but hubby had never been. Normally, we would have planned our day so we could do something outdoorsy and then have a pub lunch, but alas, all pubs were closed because of new Covid-19 restrictions.

Even during a late English autumn, you’ll still find plenty to enjoy at RHS Wisley. Upon entering, there’s also a sign indicating which areas look interesting or have something currently blooming. I took a photo of the sign as well as the map so we could plan our afternoon.

Throughout the gardens, you’ll find several water features that are perfect for autumnal reflections. You may even spot the large koi in the pod or the grey herons that sometimes roost in the trees.

 

You’ll also find pretty berries such as the bright orange sea buckthorn as well as the peculiar purple berries on the “Imperial Pearl” (callicarpa bodinieri).

The Mixed Borders by the Glasshouse provides something of interest in every season – currently seedheads of perennials, some fennel-like plants and tall, golden grasses.


Surprisingly, the Rose Garden was looking exceptionally lovely even during the first weekend in December. I was surprised to see so many roses still blooming that we wondered if Wisley had a strange microclimate or if even hot water was pumped underground around the roses.

Check out the interesting purple color of the Rosa Rhapsody in Blue “Frantasia.”

Special Sculptures at RHS Wisley

Also, you can’t miss the four larger-than-life sculptures – called The Four Seasons by contemporary American sculptor and filmmaker Philip Haas. The figures are 3-D interpretations of paintings by 16th-century Italian artist Giuseppe Arcimboldo and re-imagine the four seasons: Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter in human form. The exhibition has been extended through May 2021, so you should have time to see it.

What’s your favorite season in England?

 

How to Reach RHS Wisley

Honestly, you need a car or a bike to easily reach Wisley. By public transport, you could take a train from Clapham Junction to West Byfleet and then walk 3.5 miles to the gardens. Our best option was to take the train to Weybridge and then cycle about 6.5 miles, one way, on fairly quiet country roads. Maybe next time, we’ll try cycling the entire 50-mile roundtrip to the gardens.

Christmas tree in front of the Glasshouse, which was unfortunately closed
due to Covid-19 restrictions.
A strange plant that looks like fennel, but doesn't smell like it.


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