For those of you who’ve ever lived in the UK, the thought of exploring the country probably would have crossed your mind at some point, possibly when deciding what to do over one of the few bank holidays. One such place my friends and I decided to explore was the Isle of Wight. What? Where? You may ask. Yep the Isle of Wight – a tiny little island south of the main land – just off Portsmouth, about a 3-4 hour drive from London.
Naturally the next question, for anyone who knows the place would be “Why???” Well, perhaps the fact that its name had an ‘Isle’ intrigued. The truth is I can’t quite remember any more. Except that this would be a question that would haunt us for the two days we were there. Think a grey-haired population with beach-front restaurants that boast middle-aged Elvis impersonators (who also turn out to be the owners). An entire island about the size of Singapore populated mainly along the fringes and perimeter (= not many people at all).
Boredom aside however, the food proved to be a delight. Fresh seafood (possibly the freshest I’ve had in the UK), the best crab sandwiches and a most amazing crab pasty. The pictures as usual won’t do it justice, but take my word for it when I say, a year on, that my first bite into the warm freshly-baked pastry, sinking my teeth into that mouthful of juicy, sweet and unadulterated crabby goodness still lingers on in memory.
So for those who’ll travel the extra mile and hassle for unique food experiences – and I will admit that its something I’d probably only do again if for some unknown reason chance compels me to head down south to Portsmouth – do check out the Crab Shed at the Isle of Wight. Self-proclaimed fishermen since 1500. Believable given the quality of the seafood (and insistence that if there ain’t good lobster that day there’s no lobster at all). Most definitely one of the quaintest places and greatest finds I’ve ever stumbled upon.
So after reading an outrageous article about a local food blogger, coursing through some of my friends blogs, I’ve decided, on the spur of the moment, to kick-start this blog once again. To uphold the integrity of this activity I say. Haha. How long this newfound love for blogging will lasts remains to be seen. For now though (or soon) I will attempt to populate this dead domain again….
So I was previously asked to contribute a guest post on my maiden madeleine attempt on my friend’s blog here, where the recipe I followed can also be found. One thing I love about these tea time snacks (or really a snack for any time in the day) is how they can be frozen and taste exactly as before once thawed and toasted slightly. And because they’re so tiny, AND also because they’re really quite healthy if you think about it (100g of butter amongst 20+ madeleines?) they’re practically guilt-free!
That attempt ended rather amusingly, giving the teeth much to chew about, literally. But determined to get it right, I tried the recipe again, this time remembering that levure chimique is really baking powder and NOT yeast. I also consulted a couple other recipes and tried a slight variation on the theme. Instead of 4 eggs in the previous recipe, I substituted an egg for 50cl of milk, resulting in a lighter, smoother texture.
And very quickly, the verdict was out after 8-10 minutes of oven time. The heavenly smell of fresh madeleines wafting out of the oven was the first indication. Next was the lovely shade of golden – petite madeleines baked to perfection. Et enfin, the taste test. This time round, the texture was light and fluffy with a slight tinge of lemony goodness. The tingling sensation revisited, my tastebuds rejoiced and all I could do was sigh satisfactorily. Parfait.
Ok so those who know me will have known that 2009 has been an extremely momentous year for me. It’s been a year that’s led me on a curious path, across continents and cities, with too many anecdotes and fascinating encounters to boot. So every now and then, I’ll be posting up snippets from the last year, in no particular order, a travelogue covering my global food trail.
For starters, I’ve chosen a tiny trattoria in Genova – one food-crazed city in an even more food-crazed nation. A city with a glorious past, formerly known as ‘La Superba’, it is now a sprawling but somewhat overlooked city more known for its port. It is the capital of Liguria, a coastal province (really a strip) in North Italy famed for the pestos and foccacias and farinatas (flat chickpea pancakes). It was sheer chance that my friend and I decided to spend the night there, only because it was one of the (less obscure) Ryanair destinations in Italy. I’m glad for it however, we would otherwise have missed out on what turned out to be one of the more memorable experience of the trip.
“Trattoria Quagliarioli…MMmmmm….” Said our landlady for the night Maura while in one swift motion placing her index finger and thumb together and next to her pursed lips with a lip-smacking sound of approval, a smooth action which, really, only Italians can pull off. This perhaps sums up my love for this non-descript shop that serves up traditional Ligurian fare – roasts and tarts of all sorts, run by a grumpy bunch of charming old men.
Tucked away in a rather industrial part of town near the seafront, this easy-to-miss shop (partly because there’s really no signage that shouts ‘Trattoria Quagliaroli’) specialises in serving up simple no frills local snacks like the farinata, torta di carciofi (artichoke tart), polpetone etc, all prepared over a traditional wood-fired oven. They also served roasts for a more hearty dish, all done in the same oven. Part of its charm is their pricing system – charging by weight, which meant greedy and indecisive people like us could try tiny portions of everything – ‘piccolo'(tiny) or ‘poco'(little) were two Italian words that came in so handy here. All were oh so delicious, but the one that got my friend and I swooning was the torta di bietole, a flat tart, crisp on the outside, and a beautiful filling comprising stracciatella cheese and spinach within. You know how ever so often you come across something that is so good your portion disappears immediately and seconds aren’t enough? Well this was it. We even inquired about the opening hours of the place to return the next morning for breakfast.
the one and only torta di bietole
The darling old men at Trattoria Quagliaroli who completely stole my heart.
I must admit to having a soft spot for these old men who toil away at their trade in spite of the years, whose motivation must be a love for what their doing – otherwise why work? The thought of them churning out those delicious tortas patiently day after day definitely made the experience ever so delightful. In a time and age when the art of baking and food creation has often been disregarded, their dedication brought something else. Never will I forget how the old man managed to melt my heart when he earnestly gave me his business card, nor how they firmly refused to sell us anything in the morning because the fire wasn’t ready for them to bake their tarts. Nor the almost visible pleasure beneath the wrinkled skin that was sensed when he so readily posed for the camera. A sure way to steal one’s heart. And one reason to dedicate a post to old Genoese men.
Genova, Via Milano, 63-64R.
Every once in a while, one comes across one of those food encounters that leaves an impression long after that final linger on the taste buds. Every once in a while, one stumbles upon a culinary creation that leaves one trembling for that repeat success.
Yes I’ve finally succumbed to the food blog craze, after much resistance. Not because I enjoy scrutiny, nor do I harbour the thought of becoming an authority on the subject; but because after eating my way round various continents, I figured it’s finally time to give my friends a visual taste of what I’ve been getting up to. Also, because bien sur, good things ought to be shared.
So this is for the love of all things edible and beautiful, simple yet wonderful.
PS Also because finally, I came up with a blog name that suitably amuses, haha.