Saturday, July 30, 2011

Rome City Guide

Ponte Sant'Angelo, Rome. Photo copyright Marina Vidor, all rights reserved. 
Rome is one of my favorite cities and there is no question that it is one of the world's great cities, full of some of the best food ever. Just imagine the freshest zucchini, tomatoes, the amazing gelato... When in Rome, eat seasonal fare and steer clear of anywhere that serves stuff that is way out of season. Also, check out this city guide put together by The Guardian before you go. It looks like a great resource with tips from some trusted bloggers based in Rome.

Rome City Guide - The Guardian

Doesn't that make you want to hop on your Vespa?

Sunday, July 24, 2011

The Botany of Desire

Apples, Tulips, Cannabis, Potatoes - The Botany of Desire. Photo courtesy of
I'm a big fan of Michael Pollan and if you're reading this blog you probably don't need an introduction. I've read his wonderful book The Omnivore's Dilemma, but haven't got around to The Botany of Desire. Imagine my joy to find that PBS in California has made a documentary version of the book! It's feature length (about 2 hours) and really fascinating. I highly recommend watching it.

The Botany of Desire - PBS

The film is split into four parts, exploring how food fulfills human desires:

Apple - Sweetness
Tulip - Beauty
Cannabis - Intoxication
Potato - Control

I learned so much:

- About the real man behind the myth of Johnny Appleseed
- That apples came from Kazakhstan
- That apple seeds produce bitter apples and almost a random selection of genes and that the only way to guarantee sweet ones is to graft
- That tulips are from Afghanistan
- That some tulips were worth the equivalent of millions of dollars in Holland in the 17th c. (I hope I got the century right...)
- That cannabis makes those crazy buds only if there are no male plants - sexual frustration
- That marijuana only got stronger by crossing two varieties to make it easier to grow inside - a response to the crack down on outdoor growing in the States in the 1990s.


Watch it!

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Ingredient history - the Moors in Spain and New World influence

Alhambra, Granada. Photo by Marina Vidor, all rights reserved
It's pretty amazing that before Columbus and company sailed over to the Americas, Europe was without tomatoes, potatoes, corn, squash, several types of beans, chocolate, turkey... the list goes on. I sometimes imagine what it must have been like before those crops started to become cultivated in Europe at the beginning of the 16th century. Food was radically different.

I'm reading Tariq Ali's Shadows of the Pomegranate Tree and he peppers the book with recipes. His novel, part of his Islam Quintet, is the story of a Muslim family trying to understand how to survive after the fall of Granada. The year is 1500, just seven years after Columbus returned from his first voyage to the Americas. It's a good read, but descriptions of food had me a bit puzzled at times. Some sound totally authentic. He describes the family cook, a dwarf, concocting some glorious recipes, but a few times New World crops appear. Maybe we could get away with including tomatoes and corn, but potatoes were from South America and not brought back until the second half of the 16th century. It made me wonder how quickly these foods became widely cultivated.

The recipe that most had me scratching my head was this one:
Listen carefully all ye eaters of my food. Tonight I have prepared my favourite stew which can only be consumed after the sun has set. In it you will find twenty-five large potatoes, quartered and diced. Twenty turnips, cleaned and sliced. Ten dasheens skinned till they gleam and ten breasts of lamb which add to the sheen. Four spring chickens, drained of all their blood, a potful of yoghurt, herbs and spices, giving it the colour of mud. Add to this mixture a cup of molasses and, wa Allah, it is done. But young master Yazid, one thing you must remember! The meat and vegetables must be fried separately, then brought together in a pan full of water in which the vegetables have been boiled. Let it all bubble slowly while we sing and make merry. When we come to the end of our fun, wa Allah, the stew is done. The rice is ready. The radishes and carrots, chillies and tomatoes, onions and cucumbers all washed and impatiently waiting their turn to join the stew on your silver plates. - p. 174, Tariq Ali, Shadows of the Pomegranate Tree.
Chillies are from the Americas, and yes, they could have been used by then. But potatoes, definitely not. I'd be interested to know how much research he did into food and cuisine before he wrote the book.

At any rate, these references to food got me really intrigued to know if there is any documentation of recipes from the time of the Moors in Spain. It's a research project I would love to dive into!

The recipe in Tariq Ali's book that sounded the most delicious is described on p. 30:
The old man had been skinning almonds, which lay soaked in a bowl of water, when Zuhayr arrived. Now he began to grind them into a smooth paste, adding a few drops of milk when the mixture became too hard. He looked up and caught the smile. [...] The old man did not reply, but transferred the paste from a stone bowl into a cooking pan containing milk. To this concoction he added some wild honey, cardamoms and a stick of cinnamon. He blew on the embers and let it simmer. Zuhayr watched in silence as his senses were overpowered by the aroma. Then the pan was lifted and the old man stirred it vigorously with a well-seasoned wooden spoon and sprinkled some thinly sliced almonds on the liquid.
Sounds delicious and comforting.

Later on he describes a 'heavenly mixture' (p. 54):
Ama entered with the maize cakes wrapped in cloth to keep them warm. She was followed by the Dwarf, who was carrying a metal container full of bubbling hot milk. Umayma came last with a pot full of raw, brown sugar. [...] Ama was beginning to prepare the heavenly mixture. Her hands were hidden in a large bowl where she was tearing the soft cakes apart. They crumbled easily. She added some fresh butter and carried on softening the mixture with her hands. Then she signalled to Umayma, who came forward and began to pour on the sugar while Ama's wrinkled hands continued to mix the ingredients. Finally the fingers withdrew. Zahra clapped her hands and proffered her bowl. [...] Then the hot milk was poured on and the sweet course was taken. For a moment they were too busy savouring the delights of this simple concoction to thank its author.
I bet they were! But I want to know if corn was really being cultivated that soon after the Columbus voyages. He did bring back maize in 1493, so I guess it's totally possible. It would be interesting to know if there are recipes that back this up.

Veering away from New World foods, I was intrigued by 'dasheens', mentioned in my first excerpt from the book, which are taro. I just read up in Wikipedia about them:
Taro is native to southeast Asia. It is a perennial, tropical plant primarily grown as a root vegetable for its edible starchy corm, and as a leaf vegetable and is considered a staple in African, Oceanic and Asian cultures. It is believed to have been one of the earliest cultivated plants. Colocasia is thought to have originated in the Indo-Malayan region, perhaps in eastern India and Bangladesh, and spread eastward into Southeast Asia, eastern Asia, and the Pacific islands; westward to Egypt and the eastern Mediterranean; and then southward and westward from there into East Africa and West Africa, from whence it spread to the Caribbean and Americas. 
Taro was consumed by the early Romans in much the same way the potato is today. They called this root vegetable colocasia. The Roman cook book Apicius mentions several methods for preparing taro including boiling, preparation with sauces and cooking with meat or fowl, After the fall of the Roman Empire, the use of taro dwindled in Europe. This was largely due to the decline of trade and commerce, from Egypt, previously controlled by Rome. It has remained popular in the Canary Islands.

P.S. A fun fact: Peppers (Capsicum), tomatoes and potatoes are all part of the Nightshade family (Solanaceae), all native to the Americas, and they all have really similar flowers. Deadly nightshade (belladonna), tomatillo, tobacco, Cape gooseberry, eggplant and petunias are all Solanaceae. Strange that eggplant, a native of India, is included, but so it is.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Viva San Fermín & Dos Cafeteras

Dos Cafeteras
I'm fortunate to have the opportunity to travel fairly regularly to Pamplona, Navarra, Spain, the city made famous by Ernest Hemingway. Its San Fermín festival, known to most as the 'Running of the Bulls', got off to a riotous start yesterday and I'm sitting here chewing on one of the city's small culinary delights, Dos Cafeteras, Pastillas de Café y Leche (soft caramel candies made from coffee and milk). Back at Christmas when I was in Pamplona last, a friend of mine sent through a nice article on this nice little sweet. There's a good story behind these tasty candies so read on!

Dos Cafeteras Coffee Candies: Great Product, Great Story - The Atlantic - by Ari Weinzweig (Dec 2010)

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Eatymology and Thomas Jefferson

A friend recently posted this fascinating article on Thomas Jefferson on her Facebook. It talks about how Jefferson was passionate about good food and wine, how he cultivated local and exotic produce, and of course, that he maintained a reliance on highly skilled slaves. It's a thoroughly engaging read on 'America's original foodie'.

If you're interested in more articles on food history (one of my great passions), check out the Eatymology section on I've read the article on tequila, and again, I highly recommend it. It's all great fodder for dinner party conversations.

Friday, July 1, 2011

A Morning in Maltby St

Last Saturday I finally made it to Maltby Street in Bermondsey, southeast London. It's only about a 15-minute walk from the famous and overcrowded Borough Market, but it's a completely different experience. Maltby Street is a collection of artisanal food producers who have their warehouses under the railway that runs from London Bridge station. (A few of them, called the Bermondsey Seven, were evicted from Borough Market recently. Read more here.) They open to the public on Saturdays from 9am - 2pm. It's obviously popular for those in the know or those wiling to trek out to Bermondsey, but the streets are largely empty, which makes it a relaxing shopping experience. I went with a budget of £40 and ended up spending most of it. Maltby Street is not cheap, but if you're looking for something special, this is the place to come. 

First I bought half a loaf of French Poilâne sourdough, butter, and chunk of a slightly matured, creamy farmhouse Irish goat cheese from Neal's Yard Dairy on Stanworth St for £14. When I got home, I made a grilled cheese with the bread, cheese, slices of finocchiona salami from Tuscany and sun-dried tomatoes. A heavenly lunch.

Fern Verrow, London (photo: Marina Vidor)
At Fern Verrow, 55 Stanworth St, they stock biodynamically grown vegetables. I bought some fresh garlic and a huge lettuce. They also had a variety of berries (including gooseberries and josterberries), and beautiful broad beans, but I didn't indulge. In general I am still under impressed by farmers market style produce in London. The quality was fairly high, but the prices were ridiculous. Only the garlic and lettuce put me out £7.50. I don't understand this idea that fresh, high quality produce is a delicacy. Anyone who has grown vegetables and fruit knows that they always end up with way more than they can use and even if you pay people well, a lettuce and fresh garlic should not cost that much. Fern Verrow share the warehouse stall with the Borough Cheese Co. (who were selling amazing Virginia peanuts) and Coleman Coffee Roasters. 

St John, London (photo: Marina Vidor)

St John, 72 Druid St, which supplies bread to the St John's restaurants in Spitalfields and Smithfield had some nice bread, so I bought a dense white stick for £2. 

Booth's, London (photo: Marina Vidor)

Booth's on Druid St was my favorite. The range of fruits, vegetables, and mushrooms was something I'm more used to. It's not all local, but the quality was quite high. I was a bit disappointed to see some out-of-season fruit (rock hard plums), but that is to be expected in London. I bought a couple of enormous peppers, purple carrots, chives, yellow and green zucchini and an endive for about £8.50. Tonight I think I'll make pasta with the zucchini and the fresh garlic from Fern Verrow.

Booth's, London (photo: Marina Vidor)

Booth's, London (photo: Marina Vidor)

Booth's, London (photo: Marina Vidor)

I ended up at Monmouth Coffee Company back on Maltby St, some of the best coffee in London. This is where they do their roasting. I got a single macchiato and a wonderful little madeleine for £3.50. 

Monmouth Coffee, London (photo: Marina Vidor)

Single macchiato, madeleine from Monmouth (photo: Marina Vidor)

Outside, I indulged in some fennel and orange sorbet from La Grotta Ices for £2 in a cone. That was all she had left besides strawberry, but this lady has a wicked list of sorbet flavors. I wish I could go to try a new one (or two) each week. 

La Grotta's offerings (photo: Marina Vidor)
Fennel and orange sorbet, La Grotta Ices, London (photo: Marina Vidor)
My final stop was The London Honey Company, 54-58 Tanner Place, which opens its studio on the last Saturday of every month. Unfortunately they don't take credit cards and I was out of cash, but I got to see their cute studio. The smell of honey is overwhelming. I'll be back in a month, I hope, to buy some local honey. They apparently have some from Hackney Marshes that I'd like to get my hands on, but they have hives all over the capital in the most unlikely places.

London Honey Company (photo: Marina Vidor)

As I walked back to Liverpool Street and braved the horrendous crowds of the area around Borough Market, I felt relieved that I had spent some time in a much quieter, easy-going place. Maltby St seems to be a place for local foodies and people looking for that special treat. Lots of Italians, French and American customers, as is customary to see in specialty food markets in the capital, and trendy 30-something British people. (I wonder if being Italian-American doubly predisposes me to food obsession.) At any rate, this is not your normal food market. If you're looking for a great deal, this is not the place, but if you want a peaceful, quality foodie indulgence experience, head on over to Maltby St and enjoy! 

My loot from Maltby Street (photo: Marina Vidor)

Personally, my next trip will be to get some honey, a coffee and some of that amazing sorbet.

For more information on all of Malby Street's vendors, visit their website:

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Pan'ino in Florence

Recently I was sent at the last minute to Florence, Italy for work. I had lived there as an 18-year-old during my gap year, but I hadn't been back since. Not knowing the current state of florentine restaurants, I consulted my favorite food blog, Parla Food, in search of some tips. Katie Parla appears to have impeccable taste and her blog is a vast resource of tips and observations. In one of her posts she recommended 'ino, a panino shop in an alley behind the Uffizi Gallery, calling it 'one of most delicious sandwiches of recent memory.' For a girl who will do anything to eat an outstanding hot sandwich, 'ino got jotted down in my notebook immediately. I was going to be filming on my own with a tight schedule, so I knew I wouldn't have much time to eat and 'ino seemed to be the place to try.

I showed up at 'ino sweating like a pig with all of my gear and was greeted with a cute little shop, minimalist and modern and air conditioned (phew!). Speciality products from all over Italy lined the walls and people sat chomping on gorgeous panini. On the walls are pieces of brown paper with handwritten panino suggestions. I ordered 'Il Solito' ('the usual') which was toasted and filled with fresh pecorino, prosciutto, sun-dried tomato, and olive paste. If you've never had fresh pecorino, it's a dream AND spreadable. I had my lunch with the chinotto (slightly bitter soda made from myrtle-leaved orange trees - similar to campari, but sweet) they stock and was determined to come back the next day for more. This was probably the best panino I've ever had.

I did show up the next day for lunch and had a gorgeous panino with finocchiona (salami with fennel seeds), mostarda di peperoni (roasted pepper paste), and fresh pecorino. Then I got another one to take home on the plane to London.

At 8 euro per panino it's not the cheapest, but it filled me up and the quality of the products was outstanding. You could easily spend double on lunch in one of Florence's many restaurants and not eat nearly as well.

via dei Georgofili 3r/7r

Mon-Sat 11am-8pm, Sun noon-5pm

*Please note that panino is the singular and panini is the plural. This is a common mistake by English speakers, easily rectified!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Borough Food Fight

Check this out - apparently seven vendors at Borough Market in London have been evicted because they trade for five-hours a week at Maltby Street in Bermondsey, which isn't even a registered market.

Read the article from The Atlantic here: Artisanal Food Fight: London's Farmers' Market Showdown - Katie Parla - Life - The Atlantic

I agree with Ms. Parla regarding the state of Borough Market at the moment. It's always overrun and I can see how the produce vendors might have a hard time with tourists not buying their products. I look forward to exploring Maltby Street in the future since it seems like place to find the very best. Borough Market is something I can no longer handle.

Saturday, May 7, 2011


I want some of this gelato now...

At Maltby St Market in Bermondsey, London, on Saturdays in the spring and summer.

Friday, February 18, 2011

MOO Milk

I would buy this organic milk from Maine if I could. When are farmers like these going to get decent pay?! Go out there and buy local, organic milk. It tastes better and you're supporting your local community.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Les bonbons

A sweet little video on how bonbons are made by hand:

Fabrication de bonbons à Berlin from philmotion productions on Vimeo.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Let it dough!

Happy holidays everyone! This is probably my last post for at least a month because foodie holiday travel awaits. I'll be sure to report back in January.

It's freezing in London and we're waiting for a blizzard, so I thought I would post something cheery. Many of you are probably making holiday cookies (or will be soon), so the following from the New York Times is sure to delight. It's always great to play with food:

image: Christoph Niemann

Let it dough! - food art fun from artist Christoph Niemann's blog on

Saturday, December 11, 2010

After Eight factory to close down

As a lover of After Eights, those totally addicting thin mints covered in chocolate, I was a disappointed to see the news that Nestlé, which produces After Eights, is set to close down their After Eights factory in Castleford, West Yorkshire, UK, after 40 years. Over 200 could lose their jobs if the After Eights factory closes. This comes as an additional blow to the chocolate production industry in the UK, which already was hit earlier this year when Kraft bought Cadbury's and shut down one of its plants in Bristol.

Read the whole After Eights article from The Guardian here:

And all about the Kraft takeover of 186-year-old British company Cadbury and the £40m payout Cadbury's chief exec received:

Monday, December 6, 2010

Miscellany Monday

Here are a couple of food-related news items to get you going on a winter Monday.

First up is food fashion. Before Lady Gaga's meat dress, photographer Ted Sabarese directed a food-based fashion shoot. The artichoke dress is stunning. Check it out here:

Food Photo Friday: Gaga for Food Fashion - NPR

Second is the great Pavlova debate: did Australia or New Zealand make the first pavlova cake? It was named after the Russian ballerina, Anna Pavlova, when she visited the two countries in the 1920s. Seems like the debate is still open, but New Zealand seems to have won with the OED. Read the article here:

Pavlova created in New Zealand not Australia, OED rules - BBC

And that ends food Miscellany Monday.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Who forgot the cranberries?

OK, I forgot the cranberry sauce. I know, I know. Pathetic. I even told people I had made it from scratch and then just completely forgot! I blame the pomegranate martinis.

Yes, Thanksgiving was a smashing success. I cooked a fruit-themed seasonal winter meal for 11 and they pretty much licked the plates.

Le Menu

Pomegranate Martinis made from freshly crushed pomegranate juice from Iranian pomegranates bought in west London. The colour was spectacular. Far better than the Turkish ones on sale and huge.

Stewed quince and dolcelatte salad from the new Ottolenghi cookbook, Plenty. It's a superb salad and I highly recommend it if you want to impress guests. So simple and tasty - an totally in season.

Italian Christmas Turkey from a recipe that my family uses every year. It's out of the excellent cookbook, Italian Cooking in the Grand Tradition. The stuffing features chestnuts, walnuts, fruit and sausage.

Brussels sprouts with pomegranate and basil. This is a recipe from an Ottolenghi holiday special in the Saturday Guardian magazine about two years ago. One of my guests proclaimed that brussels sprouts had never tasted so good - and she's a picky eater. It's got a maple syrup, pomegranate molasses and lemon rind dressing. The key is to cook the brussels sprouts at very high heat - braised. The only aspect of these that is out of season is the fresh basil.

Roasted mixed root vegetables including carrots, sweet potato, purple potato, normal potato, and parsnips with garlic, olive oil and rosemary.

Cranberry sauce (but I forgot to serve it)

Torta di noci, a flourless Italian walnut cake.

Butternut squash 'pumpkin' pie, made from scratch and so delicious.

Hot, spiced apple cider with ginger, cinnamon and cloves.


Thursday, November 25, 2010

Songs for Stuffing: A Thanksgiving Mix

If you're cooking Thanksgiving or just want to get shakin' to some foodie tunes, you must listen to the Songs for Stuffing playlist from National Public Radio.

Do it now. You won't regret it!

Enjoy hits like 'Pass the peas', 'Quiche Lorraine', and 'Country Pie'.

The truth about the First Thanksgiving... Uh oh...

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! It's the best holiday ever invented. Hip hip hurray!

So let's shatter some myths today and have a look back at what might have really gone on at the first Thanksgiving....

Who brought the turkey? The Truth about the First Thanksgiving - Krulwich Wonders - An NPR Society Blog - from National Public Radio

No turkey? No cranberries? No pie?

Oh my!

I've got my menu decided and will be cooking a feast for 11 on Sunday. Stay tuned folks!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Julia Child Day

Yesterday was Julia Child Day at Smith College, now a college tradition started which started six years ago following her death in 2004. Julia Child graduated from Smith in 1934 and went on to be a legend. She donated her kitchen to Smith, too! [See the press release from Smith here] As a fellow Smithie, I'd like to pay a small tribute here. I think her amazing, crazy, confident videos speak best! A friend of mine posted the following omelette making video and I'm still laughing. "Lightly coagulated eggs!" Et voilá! I especially like the bit at 2:11. As Julia said herself, "Find something you're passionate about and keep tremendously interested in it." Word. Enjoy. I love her...

She was also just named one of the 25 most powerful women of the past century by TIME (along with another Smithie, Gloria Steinem).,28804,2029774_2029776_2031824,00.html

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Rising price of chocolate

Chocoholics beware - you could be paying a lot more for chocolate in the future.

Even if you're not addicted, we should all be aware that disease, demand, and unfair trade policies are putting huge pressure on the cocoa market. As stocks fall and demand rises, it's pushing prices up and up. Disease has killed crops in major growing regions and farmers who are not making enough money because of unfair compensation are closing shop and heading to the cities. All the more reason to be moderate in consumption and purchase fair trade chocolate. Support those local growers!

Cocoa lovers hit by rising price of cocoa as disease blights crops - The Daily Telegraph (6 Jun 2010)

Chocolate supply threatened by cocoa crisis - Discovery News (11 Nov 2010)

On the menu tonight... and a beautiful blog

In my effort to be a better food blogger, I've got what's on the menu for tonight! The meal I've created is all about simplicity. (Sorry, posted a day late!)

Menu 16 Nov 2010
Potato and leek soup
Pasta with gorgonzola sauce

To make the soup, you roughly chop equal parts leek and potatoes. Tonight I used two huge leeks and about six medium to small potatoes. Throw the leeks into a heavy-bottomed pot with a tiny bit of roughly chopped onion and plenty of olive oil and a bit of butter. Cook on low with the top on the pot until the vegetables are soft. Then add the chopped potatoes and mix. Add enough water to cover the veggies and add vegetable stock cubes (1 for every 500 ml of water). If you're cool and have homemade vegetable stock ready, use that! Bring to a boil on high and then reduce to a simmer. Stir occasionally so it doesn't burn. Cook until the potatoes are very soft and crumble to the touch. Add freshly ground black pepper and blend with a stick blender until a smooth purée. If it's too thick, add a little water.

For the pasta, take 1 cup double cream and just over a cup of crumbled gorgonzola cheese (I used dolcelatte tonight) and heat them together in a non-stick pan. Stir until the cheese basically dissolves. Add a generous amount of pepper and turn off the heat. Cook the pasta in salty water until just 'al dente'. Mix sauce and pasta and devour with a good amount of grated parmesan on top.

Beautiful blog find: Cannelle et Vanille by Aran Goyoaga
I was just going through my Flickr page and saw that there was a feature on photos of citrus fruits. One photo stood out and it was by Aran Goyoaga, who is a Basque ex-pat living in the USA, pastry chef by training. I quickly went to her Flickr page and then her blog. The photos are just stunning and the recipes look tasty and wholesome. I don't post them here because I'm respecting her copyright and haven't had time to ask for permission to use her images, but do check her work out. You'll be drawn in by her superb artistry.