Occam's razor: the simplest thing is most likely to be true.

A salad of steamed broccoli, red onion, cucumber and vinaigrette is delicious.
A.N. Onymus surprised me with some strudel from the Jewish bakery.

A Mega Mindy balloon can make a four-year old's day.

Yes, it is true that I've always been a proponent of the simple things in life. QED.

PS -- the salad served as a side for Nigella's steak slice or post-marinaded steak (use lemon, lemon zest, thyme, oil and garlic for the marinade... oh, and good meat of course). We matched it with a Chapel Down Rondo pinot noir 2004. Yes, that is a Kentish wine.

Salad days


When one is just returned from a holiday and single parenting, one has no choice but to inject souvenirs and health in one's food. Yesterday's offering:

Mini San Marzano tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella, young salad and beet leaves, arugula, and home-grown basil. Drizzle with some real Italian oil (not that Bertolli Spanish crap).

When food cultures meet...

Last Friday was the highlight of this shopping district's calendar: customer day. The shopkeepers set up a little stage in the little square off the main drag, arrange booths along the pavements, and generally stay open later. The local politicians stroll around (half the socialist party was there) in view of the upcoming regional elections.

In my case, it involved watching a botched attempt at trying to set a Guinness Record, having my munchkin's face painted and watching six munchkins devour pancakes cooked by the manager of our local KBC bank branch (which is in very troubled waters these days, but that's another tale of woe).

At the munchkin's request, we also joined a gaggle of Turkish and Morrocan locals near the stage as they watched a bunch of very Belgian pale women belly dance. The women looked uncomfortable, so did I. The men lapped it all up, clapping their hands and whooping to the music. And the munchkin enjoyed the music and the dancing. Help.

At any rate, on our way home, we discovered that we were in fact ravenous. Faced with a million choices, I chose the fast way out: Snack Rapido. The smell of sardines on the grill lured me, I swear. Usually, yours truly wouldn't venture near this place, given the number of men, and men only that frequent it. But the counter looked attractive enough.

So we duly found ourselves a table, ordered a kefteh for myself and something fishy for the munchkin and waited, as I sipped my extraordinarily good mint tea.
For some reason, the sweetness drew me back to the year I decided to trek around Morocco for a good month. I remembered the food, which, for the most part, was actually delicious. Especially the bowls of nutritious harira soup, which kept us going and only cost a few dirham.
Imagine my surprise then, when this dish arrived.
I hadn't even ordered fries with it. Too funny. Or how food cultures can, at times, clash.
We walked out to some enthusiastic rai music, and breathed in the smell of the sardines as they sizzled on the grill.
The rest of the evening was uneventful. No knife attacks, no sirens.

Firenze... Firenze...


I've put off writing this post, because I knew that once I wrote it, I would acknowledge that the holiday is over, that the souvenirs of Florence are there to be committed to paper, photo albums and the web, and that life will never be as good as those six golden days in glorious Tuscany. Such is life, I presume, and we can only attempt to cherish the enchantment for that beautiful instant.

So on to the memories. I will try to keep it brief, as I fear you will all be bored to tears after reading the first of many pages. The photos are by all three of us, including my munchkin, who turned out to be a natural photographer. We actually have photos of ourselves thanks to her!

We arrived in the most gorgeous city on earth on a Saturday. This photo was taken from Piazzale Michelangelo at dusk, after we traipsed up the staircase from our little corner of the city.
Where is the Duomo, you ask?

I didn't want to take the traditional touristy photo, so tried something different.

We were fortunate enough to stay in San Niccolo, a quiet neighbourhood of Florence, a good ten-minute walk from the Ponte Vecchio, or old bridge. Largely locals, the odd tourists strolling through on their way to the Piazzale. Next door to us was a tiny toy store, with a grandfatherly figure, who set sight on our munchkin and adored her presto (potential customer, n'est-ce pas?). He gifted her with a butterfly brooch on day 2 and she insisted on buying a book about La Cenerentola (Cinderella) from him as a return gesture. Across from our apartment was the church of San Niccolo.

We had a corner bar and restaurant, where we headed for our daily cappuccinos and paste (pastries).

Our days were spent eating, strolling around the city, visiting churches, idling away time in the Loggia dei Lanzi statue gallery, which our daughter was strangely obsessed with, and generally enjoying life. Not necessarily in that order, I might add, lest you should think that we were a couple of degenerate food-obsessed pigs.

Above is the munchkin's photo of her favourite statue, the Rape of Polyxena. Yes, I know, not exactly child-worthy, but neither are Grimm's fairytales, which is are, for the most part, grim. Note the composition. I didn't dare take a single photo after that...

At some point, though, we got bored of Florence and its zillions of tourists. It is impossible to venture anywhere near the trifecta of Duomo, Uffizi, Palazzo Vecchio, without literally cutting a swath through flocks of tourists herded by their shepherd guide from one attraction to another. Other places were strangely quiet, such as Santa Maria Novella church.

So, we decided on a day trip to Siena, with a quick stop in Panzano at a traditional butcher's. I will save this bit for last, as I want to savour it a little longer. In Siena, we were largely unimpressed with the square, which I somehow remembered as more expansive in my imagination. The munchkin, however, used it for the most efficient workout ever, running up and down the square's pathways and expending a lot of energy in the process. She was rewarded with an ice cream, after which we carted her off to the city's impressive Duomo. The storm broke just before this photo was taken.

The next day was a split day, in the sense that I had a museum visit to make, while the munchkin and SO entertained themselves exploring the Oltrarno. But first, we stopped at the temple of fragrance, known as the Farmacia Santa Maria Novella, for some of their heavenly scents. Read more about it here.

In the afternoon, my long-awaited visit of the Vasarian Corridor finally happened. I add the only two photos that I was allowed to take while inside and a photo of the outside. It runs from the Uffizi (Cosimo I's offices) along the Arno, over the Ponte Vecchio, in Santa Felicita Church, and into the Palazzo Pitti.

What can I say? I waited fifteen years, and thanks to an excellent organisation and guide, I finally got to walk through it. It was worth every second and penny.

And now for the part that I, and maybe you, have been saving for last: our visit to Panzano and Dario Cecchini's butcher shop. I had read about this store many years ago and stored this item of food knowledge in the back of my memory. So we drove down, after having bought bread and rucola, on our way to Siena, with the idea of buying some sliced meats and pick-nicking in some field. Well, it took us about 1.5 hours to find it, if only because we drove in a circle for half an hour along the colle of Chiantishire. Finally, we ended up on the outskirts of the village, in front of a pretty chapel, and I managed to get the directions from a guy in combat gear on a Vespa. We walked into the store, our eyes glazed over, and all systems failed. But Dario was hands-on and shoved a menu under our noses with the immortal words: are you hungry? Hell, yeah, we were affamati or starving by then. You can choose from the MacDario or the Accoglienza, he said. And then the magic door opened and we were led up to the terrace with the long tables.

I am ashamed to report that I only have about four photos, none really of the food, because we ate it all before even thinking of the camera. The arista di porchetta almost reduced me to tears and I cannot even begin to describe its delicate herby taste or the crackling. As for the sushi del chianti (raw meat, with lemon, etc., you know me, I love it), it was delectable. So I leave you with a pic and the man's website. Click here for more information and many more photos.
And on that fantastic note, I end my travel report. Something tells me we will be back next April, exploring more of the Chianti region and searching for an excuse to hit up Dario's again for even more tasty morsels of his food.

PS - gelato aromas tested during our visit: zabaione, limone, rosa, vaniglia, cioccolato fondante, zuppa inglese, stracciatella and many more... And yes, I did eat Bistecca while there.

Know me through food


Consider yourself tagged, as I was by Milo.

1. Can you cook?

Probably. If cooking means, putting a meal on the table, then the answer is indeed, yes.

2. Do you like to cook?

Yes, except when any of my relatives are lurking in or around the kitchen.

3. What do you eat for breakfast?

Lots of fruit of late, toast with lemon curd, little scarlet, fig or damson jam, soft-boiled eggs with soldiers, oeufs à la cocotte, a full English.

4. When, where and how do you eat on weekdays?

Lunch is usually at home, unless a lunch date. Anything from salads or a sandwich. Depends on my mood and the time frame. Evenings are usually at home, unless I'm too lazy to cook, and then I have a bunch of venues to choose from in a 2-km radius from our house. Always a hot meal in the evening, as it is the meal we share.

5. When, where and how do you eat on weekends?

Weekends always involve Turkish bread and the evening meal will have a little more oomph to it. It will invariably be preceded by prosecco or cocktails and some antipasti. I don't like eating in restaurants on the weekend, as I find that the double turnaround makes for hasty cooking. There are exceptions to this rule, of course. If out with friends, Japanese or at fusion restaurants. Always in the city. Same radius. We are fortunate that we don't have to stray too far to eat excellently.

6. How often do you eat in a restaurant?

I was recently told too often. But we do tend to eat out on Thursday or Friday evenings and we tend to be lazy.

7. How often do you order delivery/take-out?

Rarely. I do take-out from the Köfteci Doktor, because I have not succeeded in emulating the spices that he uses to make his meat.

8. Buffet, take-out or sit-down restaurant?

Sit down, of course.

9. What are your signature dishes?

Oy, good question. Bistecca Fiorentina or risotto, or a simple pasta?

10. Have you ever cooked for more than six people?

Yes, family meals.

11. Do you cook every day?

Yes, out of necessity.

12. Have you ever tried recipes from blogs?

Yes, often. Milo's beef stew, for example.

13. Do you cook totally differently compared to your mother/parents?

Yes. Both my parents are/were excellent cooks. My mother excels at French cuisine, my father cooked Italian food. Always from scratch. Always the best ingredients. My sister is a trained chef.

14. Are you a vegetarian or could you imagine being one?

Never. Beefeater.

15. What would you like to cook which you haven’t dared to make yet?

The range of ingredients and dishes exceeds this space.

16. Do you prefer cooking or baking?

I love both equally, but there is something very satisfying about the result of baking.

17. Home-made or store-bought?

Home-made as much as possible. Store-bought can also be good though, if the deli in question is of good quality.

18. What was your biggest cooking disaster?

I can't say I've ever had any but that's probably because I'm an anxious cook.

19. What is your number one comfort food?

White bread with young cheese and a glass of milk!

20. If you were on a deserted island, what one food would you want to have with you?

Bread. Hands down.

21. What is your biggest weakness when it comes to food?

Cold cuts.

22. What food can you absolutely not eat?

Eel. Squid. I've tried, in every possible form, but I just don't like it.

23. What is the most decadent dish you’ve had?

If decadent means expensive, it would have to be a meal at L'Ecailler du Palais Royal in Brussels many aeons ago, paid for by a client.

24. What is your favourite type of food?

Good food.

25. What is your favourite dish?

Fish and chips (haddock), a good steak, roast pork, lemon risotto.

26. If you could go to any restaurant you wanted, which one would it be?

Alice Waters' Chez Panisse in San Francisco.

27. Are you a soup or salad person?

I adore soup. I equally adore a proper salad.

28. What is the most impressive dinner you’ve ever made?

Christmas dinner last year.

29. Do you know what vichyssoise is?

A cold potato, leek, cream soup.

30. Can you name at least three TV cooking personalities?

And many more. Why?

31. Who is your favourite TV cook?

La Bella Nigella, of course. It's that little grunt that does it, every time.

A post on my Italian culinary experiences to follow soon.

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