A Long Way to Go

Olive Oil Display I am happily back in Kerry now, and spent most of a busy bank holiday Sunday in our Dingle shop.

Herme Shop WindowThe most lasting impression of this last trip and the food world in Paris is how upscale many of the boutiques have become and how far ahead they are in terms of care of mouth-watering presentation and the sheer love of food.

From the excess of Hediard and Fauchon to tiny shops selling anything from olive oil to tea to cheese, there is an attention to detail that is lacking in Ireland. And boy, have some of them become super-posh!

Ireland has come such a long way, and it is now producing some gourmet food products that I believe are as good anywhere in the world. But in terms of the retail end of the food business, it has a long way to go.

This is not meant as a criticism, since we don’t have the same tradition of food, and for so many centuries we were lucky enough to eat anything at all. Still, I think that anyone with a food shop or cafe in Ireland would do very well wandering the streets of Paris to bring back ideas (that is, if you need an excuse). I know that I came back with a trunk load…

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Food Treats in Paris – My Best of…

It certainly is hard on the feet pounding the pavement in search of tasty treats in Paris, but it’s easy on the eyes and on the stomach! What a great time!

Here are my top Paris picks from this trip:

Best Chocolate: Patrick Roger on 108 boulevard St-Germain. This shop is irresistible from the scent of chocolate upon walking in to the huge circular display of treats. Truffles get top marks as does everything we tried. The fact that the chocolatier himself was inside made it that much more special.

Best Pastries: Pierre Herme 72 rue Bonaparte. His chocolates are wonderful, but his pastries are even better. The staff is pleasant and professional, and I could hardly wait to rip that pretty bag to pieces the moment I could (out of sight of more restrained eyes) to get at the goodies! (By the way, his ice cream, at 24 euro a tub makes mine seem an utter bargain!)

Best Breads: Erik Kayser 14 rue Monge - This is an organic branch just a few shops down from his flagship shop. Fabulous!

Best Hot Chocolate: La Charlotte de l'isle 4 rue St.-Louis en l'ile - Don't be shy - march into the back room of this little shop, sit at one of the little tables and indulge in the silkiest, thickest chocolate in the city accompanied by a crystal carafe of water. It's only open Thurs - Sun, but well worth the trip if you need a chocolate high!

Most Pretension - Marcolini 89 rue de Seine - The staff wouldn't even look at us in this stuffy shop, and you are taken in the back room to pay (assuming you're up to their high standards). I've never had such a hard time trying to buy chocolate. Ridiculous!

Most Interesting - Sadaharu Aoki 35 rue de Vaugirard - Japanese pastry chef meets Paris. Lots of interesting flavours and fun combinations. Don't go if you're astonished by 12 euro bars of chocolate!

Most Garish Foodie Place - Fauchon place de la Madeleine - They are celebrating their 120th anniversary, and the banners and posters are about the tackiest thing I saw in the city of lights...

Best Ice Cream - Has to be Berthillon 31 rue St.-Louis-en-l'ile - Even though they are closed until January, there is no shortage of places to sample their wares. Truly top on fruit flavours and sorbets...

Best Meal - Casa Olympe 48 rue Saint-Georges - Dominique (Olympe) Versini was the first female French chef to receive a Michelin star. We had a delightful dinner in her tiny bistro near Pigalle. And the value was exceptional!

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Andalucia, Part 2

Boy rider I’m just home from Spain, so please forgive the silence over the last days. The internet connetions were troubling, to say the least.

MarbellaHowever, it was an interesting trip. I have never been to the South of Spain before, and I would certainly go back.

I had heard many negative things about Marbella, but I must say that I enjoyed a couple of days there. There was a fiesta on, so maybe I had an unusual view of things, with lots of people in traditional dress and flamenco dancers of all ages thronging the streets.

It has a pretty old town, and the promenade is what one would expect…

From there we went on to Puerto Banus. Much too much bling for my tastes…

AlhambraMy favourite parts of the trip were the cities of Grenada and Seville.

Grenada, with its Alhambra palace, youthful population, and delightful town, and Seville for sheer ambience. The narrow streets with endless picturesque buildings and churches are made for wandering.

Both places are foodie heaven, and I could have spent the full week in either quite happily!

Cadiz beachI finished the trip in the sherry country around Jerez and Cadiz. It’s not the prettiest area, but it certainly has its parts of interest. 

The wind along that coast is something to experience, but it feels good after the heat of the inland cities. The beach in the old town of Cadiz is quite beautiful.

I didn’t make it to any of the bodegas, but I did bring back a couple bottles – one of sherry and one of port, and both should bring happiness to someone like me.

I’m already thinking about how to use them in the ice cream!

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Andalucia

Flamenco girl I´ve taken a week to travel a bit in Andalucia, looking for inspiration and the possibility of opening a shop here. The latter is a fairly crazy notion because of the transportation from Ireland, but given the outrageous rents at home, it could well be that transportation costs are offset by lower rent.

Mind you, there seem to be as many cranes on the skyline in Spain as in Ireland, so who knows…

Caves In any case, I´m having a bit of trouble connecting here, so it looks like I will have to wait until I find a more reasonable connection before posting more and just enjoy the scenery…

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Beghrir – Moroccan Pancakes

Tafaroute In Tafraoute, the landscape is miraculous with strange rock formations like pink Henry Moore sculptures and a swathes of yellow flowers that turn dazzling in the sun. The almond trees were in blossom – ghostly white, and snow capped the mountain tops. Tafraoute has fewer tourists than it should, and it certainly was a highlight of the trip.

The breads in general were excellent, the best we have tasted so far, as were the breakfast pancakes called Beghrir. Both are made with semolina and maybe its the water there or the mountains – in any case how simple and wonderful. The pancakes in the morning served with honey and accompanied by a cafe au lait, the bread after a hike in the hills…

Beach sunsetI will post a recipe when I get home and try it out myself. I bought a Moroccan dessert cookbook in French and so it will take a little work!

I am back at the coast now and the sunset was glorious. Two weeks is not a lot to spend in this country. I recommend it very highly, and it was a bargain (379 euro including flights from Shannon and accomodation in Agadir though Sunway, which is so cheap that you don’t hesitate skipping out of town and making your own way around).

I will miss Morocco!

Marrakesh

There is a such romance about the Djemaa el Fna , with the exotic expectation of the snake charmers and fire-breathers that the reality leaves one a little disappointed. The cobras seem small and doped up – the charmers have to flick at them to get them to stand up. As for the stalls, there is little that we haven’t seen in other towns around Morocco, although the spices are better displayed!

Still, there is a great pleasure in looking at the bustle of it all – the seething crowds, the darting mopeds, and hearing the clamour of the music and storytellers, especially when drinking deliciously cold, fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice and munching on dates…

Mind you, a much better way to spend time in Marrakech is to sneak away to the Jardin Majorelle and spend some time among the plants and beautiful colours. (You could even bring along the dates!)