Paris en août

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Wow, it’s been a long time since I last posted on here but it’s been a truly busy year. The highlight of which was the news that I will be spending a year abroad in Paris, a city that I have dreamed of living in for a long time now. After the kerfuffle of setting up accommodation etc (I won’t bore you with all of it), I spent a chunk of my summer in the French capital, hoping to become a Parisian in no time at all. An unrealistic target, yes, but whoever said you can’t think big? I started to move over in early August, a period of congé estival when Parisians set off on their holidays and restaurants take a much deserved break. Bad timing you might say but Paris in August is surprisingly fitting for a bit of exploring. Largely empty, life on the metro and in tourist hot spots becomes a walk in the park. And of course, with temperatures rising to 30 degrees, the jaw-droppingly beautiful jardins are a perfect backdrop for a spot of sunbathing and picnic-ing.

I’m usually one for planning my city-trips, itinerary and all (yes I’m the overly organised one). But this trip was a refreshing break from schedules and reservations. As many of the places I wanted to visit didn’t say online whether they were open in August or not, I decided on a new approach. Each day, I headed to a new area and spent my time wandering around the arrondissements, coming across hidden gems that are well worth visiting.

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One of those sunny mornings, I set off for the Marais (I’m positive I share love for this place with many others). Craving a sun kissed and fairly quiet spot, I stumbled upon the jardin à l’heure d’été, a pop-up venue organised by the Institut Suédois (Swedish Institute).  At the risk of sounding cliché, this jardin was an oasis in the heart of the 3ème arrondissement. The square had an international book stall on one side of the beautifully kept lawn, where you could borrow a novel during your séjour, and al-fresco dining tables on the other, perfect for those wanting to stay shaded from the sun while enjoying a takeaway from the jardin’s very own Café Hej.

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As a sun baby, I lounged in one of the many hammocks in the centre of the square but only once I had grabbed one of their popular swedish salmon and cream cheese bagels. The bagel wasn’t the usual new york ones that I’m partial to back home but a sesame topped brioche-style version which was a nice surprise (and perfect for a sweet tooth!)

 

 

 

Unfortunately I missed the Swedish Institute’s events, such as open-air cinema screenings, but I’m hoping they will be back next summer to put on an equally great pop up. There will be more to come from my travels in Paris this year so stay tuned!

The Great Island of Dogs

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Gran Canaria landscape

Las Islas Canarias, Spanish islands off the tip of Morocco, are a dream destination for us food-lovers and sun worshippers. Gran Canaria, the third largest of the islands, not only has a wonderful ring to its name but is also named after man’s best friend – the Dog. No wonder I love the place, though I do wish that my puppy had joined me to walk  the cliff-top promenade during my stay.

Early September is a perfect time to visit the island. The weather is faultless – not too hot, not too chilly and no rain whatsoever. While the islands are known for their windy climate (the island Fuerteventura translates as strong winds), you’ll be thankful for the light breeze along the seafront during the scenic beach-walks; these are perfect for walking off the inevitable food-babies after a stackful of pancakes at breakfast. If you don’t want to risk missing any sunbathing time, the beach and pool are the destinations for you, with just enough clouds to stop you from overheating.

I stayed in Meloneras, famous for its distinctive lighthouse and proximity to Playa Del Inglés. I don’t think I’ve ever visited a place where the people were so friendly. Waiters laughed and joked with you, making you feel right at home. The best restaurants of the bunch are El Senador, which has the best tapas in town, Grand’ Italia, whose pizzas are inventive and hugely satisfying (make sure you’re hungry as they’re great value for the size) and finally MezzaLuna, another Italian which specialises in unique pasta dishes. At the latter, I had an unforgettable dish with flavours that I have never tasted combined before – Pappardelle with prawns in a tomato and ginger sauce with a hint of truffle.

Pappardelle Mezzaluna

Pappardelle Mezzaluna

Canarian cuisine is creative yet straight-forward enough to recreate at home. I always look forward to their papas arrugadas, the Canarian version of patatas bravas (and in my opinion the yummier version). It consists of salt covered baby potatoes, known as wrinkly potatoes, covered in the best sauce ever with the equally awesome name of MOJO. It’s hard to describe the delicious taste of mojo sauce so I’ll let the ingredients do the talking – oil, paprika, garlic, cumin and Spanish red peppers. Green mojo is also featured on menus but is usually associated with fish rather than potatoes.

While I usually get the same tapas every time I visit, I was a bit more adventurous this time and chose some new plates. And I’m happy I did because I found a new favourite- Salmon Carpaccio. This one was marinated in a mixture of finely chopped red and green peppers, onion and garlic and presented with slices of chunky fresh bread and a few basil leaves. It was so refreshing and light that I could have eaten platefuls more. Alas I had to share it con mi familia after ranting and raving about it.

Note to self: keep it secret next time…

Salmon Carpaccio and Papas Arrugadas

Salmon Carpaccio and Papas Arrugadas

Traditional Paella

Traditional Paella

Unsurprisingly, one of us always went for the seafood paella but this one was unusual because it was squid-ink dyed rice. While it isn’t the most attractive dish, it’s tastier than the traditional, so definitely give it a go. The pièce de resistance, though, was the Salt-baked Sea Bass, which after being taken out of the oven is prepared at your table while the rest of the restaurant watches in awe.

Salt-Baked Sea Bass

Salt-Baked Sea Bass

Spanish cuisine is easily one of my favourites and I always try and recreate the flavour by adding paprika to my dishes. You might have already guessed after looking at my recipes that I’m a bit obsessed with that spice.

If you fancy recreating your own paella, check out my Canarian-inspired recipe here.

Summer in Switzerland

Switzerland is largely viewed as a winter destination, with the crisp cold climate perfect for skiing and an après-ski hot chocolate made with silky melt-in-the-mouth chocolate. Or even a cheeky Glühwein. Now this isn’t a bad thing for skiing fanatics or those with a sweet tooth but it’s worth holidaying in (what I like to call) Swissieland in the summer as well.

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I recently visited a traditional little town in Switzerland not too far from Zurich, on a family trip. I went with rather low expectations, as the weather was terrible last year. I mean I’m talking thunderstorms every day. But this year the scorching sun paid us a daily visit leading to a bit of sunburn (oops) and plenty of thirst for ice cold drinks.

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Panorama view of the unbelievable landscape

I began the holiday with a fairly narrow outlook that there was nothing to do in Switzerland during those long summer holidays. Those who know me know that I hate being wrong but I have to admit that there are countless activities available to adventurers and culture-seekers alike. Here are a few of my favourites:

  • Tobogganing, essentially the summer equivalent of sledging, takes you back to your childhood and is brilliant for families
  • Cycling and scootering alongside the scenic rivers and forests is a must-do
  • For the water-babies amongst you, renting canoes or pedaloes is perfect for taking in the spectacular views
  • I also noticed loads of paragliders while I was on holiday though that’s more suited to the adrenaline-junkies 

Granted I’m not that sporty but even I enjoy a summer hike. What’s not to love about the smell of fresh grass (sorry hay fever sufferers) and the views, which are as picture-perfect as a studio backdrop. It gets even better when it’s your dog that takes you for a walk, fascinated by the other four-legged creatures and their farm noises; the goats in particular caught my dog’s attention.

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You get to experience the picturesque surroundings even more while dining at the family-run traditional chalet, otherwise known as a Gasthaus, at the end of the tough hike. Boy do you appreciate the hearty menu after what feels like the climb of the century. Swiss cuisine might be simple and carby but what’s better to satisfy cravings after a spurt of exercise.

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Hike up a waterfall

While the food is on the salty side, it’s pretty crucial given that you sweat quite a bit while out and about in the 30 degree Celsius heat.

Eugh sorry to mention the word sweat in a food blog. Won’t happen again.

I always opt for the national dish Rösti, a potato cake made from grated spuds, which are then fried or roasted in the oven. You could compare them to latkes or even the conventionally British hash browns. They even feature in Marks and Spencer, though you need to visit Switzerland for the real deal. The dish is great plain and simple but it can be topped with anything the customer desires; I’ve seen cheese, bacon and even a fried egg as potential garnishes. Others have told me that they have had the odd combination of Rösti with apple sauce.

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Unfortunately, Switzerland isn’t the cheapest of countries when it comes to eating out but the produce in the supermarkets is so fresh that cooking at home is just as good.

So next time you’re planning a summer holiday, don’t rule out Swissieland. And if I haven’t convinced you enough, remember that they created Lindt chocolate. I mean what more could you want.