From top: fabrics in Derry Craft Village, view to Inishowen from Magilligan, wool shop – Craft Village Derry, dessert at Harrys, Bridgend, communion dresses – Derry.
You might not feel the same way about the Eiffel Tower as this person does. (Is it over yet, I wonder? Someone needs to check in on her.) But if you fancy snapping this amazing view (and apologies for my enormous, fuzzy iphone pics)
the newly refurbished Hotel Marignan has a couple of suites which will make photographers very happy indeed, on a clear day.
This (and the terrasse above) is the terrace suite, whose prices range from 1265€ to 2300€.
But the smaller junior suite directly above has the same, if not better, view from a very beautiful terrasse and prices are from 605€ AT THE MOMENT, HINT, to 1200€. If you are not a millionnaire or travelling on expenses, that is pretty good for a 5 star special occasion in Paris – & perfect alternative to booking just any old room in a trophy hotel like the Meurice or the Plaza. (Though the Hotel Costes still rules for good value legendary.)
It is a gorgeous, if rather oddly laid out space, with an enormous dressing room, I guess designed to house fashion week teams? (My poor, lost New Balance) There’s also a coffee capsule machine (but no milk!) and a very dramatic looking vacuum home wine bar. Bed and bath all work just fine and the lighting and tv/sound instructions are as reassuringly impenetrable as any luxury hotel. Poor the Marignan is also a iphone 4 dock upgrade victim.
Here’s the bar.
And the lobby.
Pierre Yovanovitch, French star designer du moment, worked with the owners to refurbish the place late last year and it feels as wee bit as if the hotel still can’t believe its luck. Or like a schoolkid in a new school blazer – a bit stiff and still a little too big for him. But it’s great to have a more low key hotel in this very glitzy patch of Paris, between Avenues George 5 and Montaigne. And if the food at the Marignan hasn’t quite found its stride, (new menu coming very soon) there’s l’Avenue 50m away with great international hotelish food non stop from 8am to 1am. Just remember to turn left towards Chanel, and not right towards the pong from La Brioche Dorée on the Champs.
Anyway, for me, la sleepy touriste, it’s all about this, grey rooftops in early light.
And this, when the last étincellement of la Tour fades at 1.10am.
As the horsemeat scandal rumbles on and on in the UK and Ireland, I thought I’d take a closer look at the horse butchers in my favourite market in St Germain en Laye.
It’s a very sparse stand, with only four very large, red, fatless, boneless cuts, a tray of chunks and another with rather lurid and unappealing saucisses and saucissons. There’s no attempt at seduction or presentation. No bows or plastic parsley or suggestions de menu here and, had it not been for last week’s news, I would not have stopped, faithful to memories of Rusty, my childhood pony, & finding the notion of eating my favourite animal pretty unpalatable.
The butcher, all thick mascara and diamond nose piercing, explains that, like most Bouchers Chevalins south of Lille, her meat is imported from the US and Canada and bought at Rungis.
Horse is a muscly, delicate meat to handle, spoils (she’s carefully cutting little black spots from a lump of filet as we speak) and goes off very quickly. There are no producers in the centre and south of France and she will not touch anything that comes from Eastern Europe, implying that less scupulous butchers might.
The North American supply is also the only way, she says, to be sure of proper animal welfare standards and therefore quality of her meat.
Her clients in affluent St Germain en Laye, are mostly over 60, “les petites mamies” as she puts it, who have been reared on horse meat and know all about its health benefits. The recession has kept her business steady, whilst beef declines and pork sales are up.
The cuts she’s selling are filet, sirloin and chuck, with offcuts for mince. The sausages contain pork “for fat, for taste” but by law must be more than 50% horse to avoid any competition with the pork butcher opposite.
I order 4 burgers to try out on the children, which she minces, flattens and wraps individually in cute pink-patterned paper, throwing in a piece of saucisson as “cadeau.” Hmm.
The burgers cook quickly and surprising silently, no fat spluttering, no shrink back (as Mary Berry would say, maybe) The meat is dark, remarkably juicy and slightly gamey. The popular adjective over the past few weeks has been “sweet” I don’t find it sweet at all, this is like tender venison, but bloodier and more satisfying.
My daughter tastes it reluctantly, she says it’s “horrible”, like “eating the smell of a horse’s stall.”
My giant, ravenous sons, spouting philosophy at my noble, intransigent daughter, devour the horse baguette sandwichs, dripping with cooking juices and garnished with a little grated comté and lettuce (no butter, ketchup, mayo or other lubricants needed) & declare it the most delicious steak sandwich they’ve ever had.
So what was simply a light-hearted experiment has found me a cheap, fast, no-fuss new way of making sure my boys get their twice weekly meat fix. And for convenience, well, I’d have some too.
Forgive my iphone snaps…
In a large Super U supermarket, in Pailhes in Herault, Languedoc, equipment for making & preserving large quantifies of jam, tomato sauce & stoning cherries. It’s an area where unemployment is rife and incomes low. The main local industry is wine making.
In the UK/Ireland, these products are only available, at higher prices (the copper basin costs 26€!) in high end, specialist cook stores. What would it take to one day see an Asda or Tesco stock this stuff? And is it really something to strive for?
My corner store, Cazouls les Beziers. Chickpeas and haricots blancs au poids at the till. Note the ham sitting in the open air (next to the fly zapper) behind. It was 33C today & the store has no aircon. In France, choosing how your food is packaged is still one of the choices consumers can make.
We’re settling in to our place in the country near Versailles. And despite recent legal rumblings, I heard on Friday that we are here to stay. Forgive me, but I have to write that again to help it sink in. Until the children leave school, we are here to stay.
It is giddily appropriate to me that this news should come as spring well and truly arrives. All doors and windows onto the garden have been flung open and my kitchen/sitting room/deck/terrasse is forming one, bright peaceful room, soundtracked by birdsong, fragranced by the contents of the oven. Yesterday I allowed myself to open the last of the boxes of kitchen stuff in the garage, and all my old favourite cake tins and cooking stuff have been located and put away again, mindfully and closer to hand.
We’re now about 10 km from St Germain en Laye, where the children are at school, but my shopping habits and favourite addresses have not changed. If anything, there’s a much more definite routine, as the school run gives rhythm to the day so differently from waiting for the children to wander home on foot.
I thought I’d start writing again about feeding the three children still at home with me, week in, week out. And here, then, is my Sunday market vegetable shop. All 21€ of it. (The asparagus was very tempting this morning, but was mostly from Mexico, Peru and Spain with the first violet topped Provençal spears weighing in at around 17 € a kilo, so I’ll wait a few weeks more for a true taste bomb.) Just in at Maison Huet were lovely new carrots and turnips. I have rosemary, bay and thyme in my garden but they are looking very sad after such a harsh winter so I bought 1 € sprigs of each, along with the last of Huet’s sage to go with the rolled shoulder of pork lined up for today’s lunch. I picked up the first spring goats’ cheese at The Normandy Stall of Everything, reckoning my 87,50 € shop, with 15 € or so for top ups of bread, eggs etc. should more or less cover all our meals for the week. I’ll keep you posted.
Shoulder of pork à la cocotte with lemon, sage and miso.
For 6 , with leftovers
5 minutes preparation, 1hr 30 cooking.
1 boned and rolled (or not but you’ll need a bigger pot) shoulder of pork , 1.5/1.75 kg
1 small sprig of sage
1 or 2 cloves garlic, peeled, 1 onion, chopped.
grated zest of a lemon, salt, pepper, olive oil, red miso paste (optional)
Make a paste in a mini blender with the garlic, lemon, sage leaves and a tablespoonful or so of olive oil. Add salt and pepper to taste and rub the meat all over with the paste. Let it stand for 30 minutes or so (you can wrap it up in cling film and leave itto sink in properly overnight, but I was in a hurry)
Heat the oven to 180°. Heat some oil in a heavy based casserole dish and brown the meat all over. (I also added a chopped onions at this stage) Deglaze the pot with enough water to come up to about 2cm on the side of the meat. Bring it to a simmer, put the lid on, slip the pot into the oven and cook for about an hour and a half.
Remove the meat from the pot, keeping it warm before slicing.
Pour the cooking juices from the cocotte – remove some of the fat and reduce them. If you add a heaped teaspoon of hatcho miso at this stage, it will make all the difference to the taste.
Serve with new turnips and carrots, simply peeled and steamed.
PS. I now have a very large oven, so I turned it up to 200°c to let a banana bread and an oat and apple crumble cook alongside the meat.
It’s sad, I find, that along with the usual casualties at the end of love affairs, come all the places which hold memories of them. Poor, unsuspecting restaurants, bars, hotels, (also houses, stately homes, gardens, galleries, theatres, streets and entire arrondissements in my thin-skinned case) are bluelisted, until time has spread its balm where love has burned.
St John Hotel, off Leicester Square in London is the perfect place to stay, then, when you need warm, not hot. In a brilliant location, just off Leicester Square, it has a brisk, institutional atmosphere, naturally not unlike the St John restaurants, protecting you from the Chinatown clamour outside. The mildly claustrophobic building, (the roadworks outside are not helping) the staff’s eastern European accents and white uniforms could make you wonder if there might be padding on the walls of your cell, er, room. But no, of course not silly. The floors are lino. There are no wardrobes or any drawer-bearing pieces of furniture, but wooden pegs all around the room, which appeal massively to this bordelique traveller who rarely unpacks her suitcase anyway. It’s all very comfortable , reasonably priced and, I suspect, easy to hose clean. Also a great bed, mountains of pillows, solid, roomy bathroom with fast water, make up mirror (Dean Street Townhouse I’m looking at YOU) but with NO LIGHT (ultimate kindness for the over 45s) decent smellies, properly free wifi and an excellent double espresso with hot milk on the side please, and a smile thank you, in less than 5 minutes.
But it’s the food here which brings true solace, in a no-nonsense, nanny knows best way. For Nanny St John KNOWS how you like the little things during, this, your fleur de peau convalescence. The pipIng hot, morning after bacon sandwich, whose butter, whilst dripping helpfully through the many folds of bacon, has not quite soaked through the whole thickness of the (epic) bread, the baked to order madeleines which , like the espresso, arrive in less than 5 minutes, the molten rarebit which strips the roof of your mouth with one bite of glorious self-punishment, and death hastening ‘devilled pigskin’ (photo) for which Adrià would doubtlessly learn, at last, to speak English, or Nathan Mirthvoid get a grant from Harvard, just to understand how Fergus Henderson GOT IT THAT WAY. And all this, for the moment, might not be the love you want, but it’s sure as hell the love you need.
For 4/5, 10 minutes preparation, 2 hours cooking
1.5kg neck of lamb, 4/5 waxy potatoes peeled, sliced into circles, 2 large onions, sliced into rings, a good sprig of thyme, as fresh as you can find it, 3/4 largish carrots, peeled, sliced into discs or longways (I like them this way to vary the shapes a little.)
Pre heat the oven to 170°. In a heavy based caaserole dish with a snug lid, layer the onions, meat, potatoes and carrots – you should manage 2 of each – sprinkling the thyme leaves over the layers as you go.
Add 2 glasses of water and a little salt and pepper. Put the casserole in the oven and cook for between two and two and a half hours. Resist the temptation of removing the lid before. You have no need to stir, or even look at what’s happening before it’s time to eat the stew.
Serve with fleur de sel or Maldon salt flakes.
In near hibernation since the start of the year, trying to write a 180 recipe book, here’s my favourite, fast, minimum fuss recipe I make for myself. It’s been a complete godsend in this freezing weather. The courgettes give it a lovely creamy texture I would usually seek from, well, cream – or potatoes, so carbs and calories stay very low.
Very green soup
Makes 3/4 bowls. 15 minutes prep and cooking
50g butter, 300g spinach leaves, 150g roquette, 3 courgettes, salt, pepper.
Heat the butter in an heavy based saucepan. Throw in the roquette and spinach leaves and put the lid on. Wash and roughly chop the courgettes (I leave the skin on) as the spinach and roquette steam and sweat down to just a few limp spoonfuls. Add the courgettes, a glass or so of water (so it just covers the vegetables) put the lid back on and cook for about 10/12 minutes, until the courgettes are soft. Whizz to a purée in , or with a hand held , blender. Season and serve. If you have a old parmesan rind (I always keep mine) add it to the soup with the courgettes and water for extra taste. Don’t forget to remove before blending.
Jazz the soup up with (unpeeled) Granny Smith apple grated over it before serving, or make a light pesto with basil, flatleaf parsley, garlic, a little olive oil and parmesan and stir through.
Sometimes a dish, like a piece of art, or love (arguably, food *is* both) hits you and nothing is ever the same again. Yet nothing happens completely by chance of course. Epiphanies lurk until you care to allow yourself to see them, ‘the dish that changed your life’, like love at first sight, is a complex emotional and sensual construct the romantic in us prefers not to unravel (unless you are Alain de Botton) and I knew SOMETHING would happen in New York last year. I hadn’t been for a while, and, about to start work on my book, had rarely felt such an imperious need to get on a plane. Walking around New York (everyone does this, I know) in an exalted daze, senses heightened & sniffing (the air, the taxi fumes) like a cokehead, indulging my delicious, childlike ridiculousness in a sea of total anonymity, I managed to book a table in David Chang’s Ssäm bar with, thankfully, a very sensible friend. Behind us was the table in the photo. 3 generations of handsome, healthy looking people, diving into & devouring a Bo Ssäm. Now, if I were a proper food writer, I would give an impassioned & wiki-informed description of the dish’s history and how it tastes. But the thing is, I didn’t eat it. I didn’t need to.(I have made it many times since, see recipe below) The pork bun I WAS eating, along with about six other plates my friend and I tried, told me all I needed to know. That Chang is a (filthy) genius and that the caramelised on the outside, confit on the inside, pork shoulder 100 fingers were pulling apart & wrapping in lettuce leaves, with oysters and kimchi and other Chang potions, was delicious. But, mostly, it’s what the dish did for the people around that table I loved – a magical concentration of fat, sugar, heat, sea, soil, greed and freedom, helping them celebrate the banal miracle of a united family.
Bo Ssäm for 6/8, 6 hours cooking plus 6 hours chilling for the meat. 25 minutes prep for the rest.
3/4kg bone-in, skin-on pork shoulder, 175g sugar, 125g coarse sea salt plus 1 tablespoon, 150 demerera or muscovado sugar. A dozen oysters shucked, a lettuce, washed, leaves separated, fluffy rice, kimchi, hoisin sauce. ( or check out David Chang’s recipes for his amazing sauces & pickles)
Score the skin of the shoulder, without piercing the fat. Mix the sugar and 125g of salt , put the meat in a snug roasting tin and rub it all over with the sugar and salt. Wrap it tightly in cling film and leave it in the fridge all night, or for at least 6 hours.
Next morning, 6 hours before you are to eat (sorry), pre-heat the oven to 150°, take the meat out of the cling film and discard the excess salt/sugar. Rince and dry the tin then put the meat back in and start roasting. Baste the meat every hour at least, until it is sticky and easily comes off the bone. Get the lettuce, oysters, (fingerbowls are useful), napkins and sauces on the table. 20 minutes before serving, take the meat from the oven, turn the heat up as far as it will go, ideally 250°, pub the meat with the brown sugar and salt and caramelise the outside for about 10/15 minutes. Remove from the oven, let it cool a little then unleash it on your guests and watch them smile.
Photo 1 taken by me at David Chang’s Ssam bar, New York with the family’s permission to publish online.
Photo 2 Bo Ssäm maison.
Market shop, Sunday 9th October.
Still poorly from a horrible cold I’d tried to ignore for three days, and drousy after a lovely evening with Emma and Barbara (Emma wrote about it here), I generously dragged poor Emma under the rain to the barely open market before dropping her at the RER.
Any Adam Gopnik/Peter Mayle style French romance was well and truly morte that morning. This was grab the greens and get out fast marketing. My brushing was only day old, after all, and I had a dinner to go to that evening. I swear, my hair rules my life. Vain, but true.
This very handsome fish’s eye caught mine, and that was that. The mussels looked pretty much beard-free so lunch was sorted. Then, I bought the usual weekly veggie base of celery, potatoes, carrots, lemons, apples, broccoli and added some pretty aubergines (Emma’s idea) and lots more of the fresh sweetcorn that went down so well with the children the week before.
I didn’t have much change from 120€ and, frankly, the price of the cheese haul, the main culprit, is making the The Normandy Stall of Everything start to look like Petrossian.