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Archive for the ‘chocolate’ Category

It seems to be a pattern this year, just as I am embarking on blogging about a trip away, life intervenes and the posts stop before they really get started.

Oh well, I hope that my Scotland trip will still appear here, but for now my seasonal offering this year is a tradition from Iceland I have just heard about from litlovers facebook page:

The “Jólabókaflóð” – literally, the Christmas Book Flood.  Apparently Icelanders love books perhaps more than any other nation in the world, and every Christmas everyone will find at least one book under their Christmas tree.

 

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Bells ring out at 6.0 pm on Christmas eve and then Icelanders sit down to a formal meal:  many  listen to the service on the radio even if their families aren’t religious, just because this is the beginning of the Christmas celebrations.  Once the meal is over and cleaned up, the gift distribution (or book distribution) begins. In fact, it’s a tradition in Iceland to open the books and spend all Christmas Eve reading and drinking hot chocolate, or better still, to climb into the freshly cleaned sheets of your bed, in your new pyjamas, with your new book plus some chocolate, and spending the night under the covers eating and reading:)

Its interesting that chocolate in some form seems to go hand in hand with reading:  clearly I am Icelandic:)

I hope you get some good books this Christmas!

 

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We had some family over for tea today: so out came the best china, silver and tablecloths from previous generations.

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Its only Christmas and Easter that these things see the light of day but it seems a shame.

Sunday tea used to be an Institution.  It is rare that I make egg mayonnaise sandwiches with the crusts cut off.

Perhaps we should bring the custom back once a month or every six weeks or so.

I hope you all enjoyed the Bank Holiday:)

PS The dogs loved the crusts!!

 

 

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This  was our view on 6th March this year driving from our house to have tea out on Mothering Sunday:

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And today March 27th  we have no snow, green grass, young leaves on bushes,  flowers, bright sunshine and blustery winds, and this:

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To all who celebrate the season, I wish a very happy time, whether it be Easter, the Goddess Oestre or just Spring, New Life and Chocolate:)

 

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I have taken so many medications over the last few days that this morning I feel as if I have been run over by a truck and hit hard in the head! The good news is that they work.  Also, that their effect has been to give me a sleep lasting ten hours: so this morning I woke feeling refreshed, non-achey and as if the worst is over.

I needed a really slow start to the day so L. went out for a long, fast walk to discover some of the old lanes round the back of the Bastille that used to contain wood working shops.  The wood was brought down the Seine and easily transported the few metres to these shops.  Unfortunately for us tourists the little workshops have all gone, to be replaced by more up market boutiquey shops.

By the time she returned she was famished: after a slow start for me and very little breakfast I was more than happy to accompany her!  We had decided on a Bistro we have been to on previous visits down in the St. Paul district. We knew that B, L’s husband, had very fond memories of this bistro and would be pleased that we had revisited it.  On the walls were photographs of Marilyn Monroe, Gary Cooper, Ingrid Bergman, Humphrey Bogart, Spencer Tracy, and other film people I did not recognise, perhaps producers/directors: all people who had eaten here in the past! Knowing how full it used to get we arrived there bang on 12.00 noon and already one table was occupied.  It is run by an Italian family but the menu is not what I would expect Italian food to be back in the UK.  Very little pastry or pasta so plenty of choice for me.

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more richard and paris 071L chose a tomato, aubergine and pancetta ham starter and a pasta and calamari dish for her main,  followed by a panacotta mould with a sweet orange sauce.  L loved her starter and dessert but found the pasta to be too al dente for her liking although the calamari and its sauce were lovely so she filled up on the bread as she loves French bread anyway.

I missed out the starter, and went for rabbit with a ratatouille sauce.which had olives and raisins in it, followed by a confit of aubergines with orange zest and frozen ricotta. The dessert sounded so strange and not at all nice, but I always feel that when abroad one should take every chance to experiment (providing one is hurting neither man nor beast) and it was a revelation.  Aubergines had been slow cooked in a syrup with candied orange peel and served in layers inbetween which were curls of very dark, very bitter, pieces of chocolate. The ricotta also had pieces of the bitter chocolate in it and had been frozen.  The depth and mix of flavour was intense.  I had to leave some because they had been overgenerous with the portion. This is what it looked like:

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and it was out of this world!!!!!!!!!!!   The whole, taken together, gave explosions of flavour which were amazing.  I was so glad I had taken the chance and ordered it.

We ate slowly, savouring everything, as the restaurant filled up to overflowing, and the wine and the talk increased.  It was interesting to hear French spoken with a very obvious Italian accent by both the ‘patrons’ and some of the customers! After a really lovely meal, we both left feeling very well-nourished and walked gently round the St. Paul area after which we walked to the nearest SCNF office to buy our rail tickets for our two outings next week.  We are not sure how the rush hour will affect our timings on  those days and thought that at least we could avoid having to queue for tickets. They didn’t speak English and were kind enough to say that my French was good, which it isn’t, but I suppose it sufficed for the interaction!  With all tickets safely bought we split up, with L going on to further exploration and me needing to go home to rest up again.  So a liesurely walk home doing some shopping on the way for the holiday weekend: as well as groceries, I bought some flowering branches and some decorations I found reduced to make my Easter branch to add a holiday flavour to the flat. But at least I managed to get out for a bit and think I am on the mend.

In the early evening I rose from my bed again and we regrouped over a cup of tea and decided that the rain was just too fierce to wander forth again instantly, so it was some hours later, after a light supper, when it had cleared up a bit that we went for a saunter  to buy L a special ice cream:)

On our way out we passed people going into the Synagogue with lots of food for a Passover meal, and as always, armed soldiers on guard.  I am sure we passed two plain clothes policemen outside too, because they stopped talking as soon as anyone walked past them.

I went round taking photographs of the chocolate in some of the specialist shops.  During Easter, the confiseries and chocolatieres, are filled with beautiful and delicious chocolates. More often than not, these chocolates look more like exquisite works of art than mere sweets and certainly put our cardboard-boxed, foil-wrapped Easter Eggs to shame.  So for the rest of this post, revel in a chocolatey extravaganza: by the way everything is made of chocolate and is edible!

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Much like peering at a masterpiece, many a Parisian, and I, can be found staring into the windows at the chocolate.

Richard II and Paris 039.jpg 1 The pieces are quite extraordinary and very expensive but they are works of art, even if they did not all appeal.  Richard II and Paris 038

Many French Easter traditions revolve around chocolate, chickens, rabbits,  fish and church bells.  Of course a lot of countries celebrate Easter with chocolate in some form and often with chickens and rabbits, but I think it is unique to France to celebrate also with fish and bells.

I have already mentioned the tradition of the April Poisson: when mischievous French children stick paper fish on to the backs of as many unsuspecting adults as possible, then run away yelling “Poisson d’Avril!” The custom is for the tagged adults to respond by giving kids gifts of chocolate fish.   Swarms, or should it be shoals, of chocolate fish fill shop windows all over the City of Light. They come in varied sizes, some packed in shiny tin boxes holding small schools of fish all wrapped up in foil.

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They are also sold unwrapped, by weight, with the larger sizes often molded to resemble either a pike or a carp.

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So, whilst there is no direct correlation between chocolate fish and Easter, since they usually begin appearing in the shops just in time for April Fool’s Day, and you will often find them still in stores around Easter time because of its close proximity to the holiday,  fish have become an Easter tradition also.

Le Notre had as its theme this year a Treasure Island, so alongside the fish, there were parrots, pirates, treasure, pearls, etc.

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Alongside these intricately decorated pieces, one can also find chocolate bells.paris 2015 easter 018.jpg 1 These “flying” bells directly correlate to the resurrection of Jesus, and with the end of Lent

What about the bells? Cloche volants or ‘Flying Bells’ are another important symbol in the French Easter tradition. Much of the country (about ninety percent) considers itself Roman-Catholic in culture whether they are truly practicing Roman Catholics or not.  Churches, with their soaring architecture and revered history, are an intrinsic part of this culture and you hear the bells ringing out several times each day to announce the times of the old monastic services.

On Maundy Thursday evening, just before Good Friday, all the bells in France become still and silent in remembrance of Jesus’ suffering and death. This is quite a sombre remembrance and a real change in the texture of daily life. Traditional belief holds that on Good Friday all the church bells in France miraculously ‘fly’ off to the Vatican carrying all the grief of those mourning Jesus’ crucifixion. To ease any disquiet or fears of children, parents tell them that all the church bells have flown off to Rome to visit the Pope.These flying French bells then return to their steeples on Easter morning just in time to ring for the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection and the children are told that the bells have flown home again. The bells also bring back chocolate and decorated eggs in time for children to collect when they wake up on Easter morning.   Hence, the appearance of chocolate bells at Easter time

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And last, but not least, I took this photo especially for Coco the Scottie Dog, from Walkies on Table Mountain – see my side bar of blogs I follow:)

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We had booked Easter Lunch at a Bistro, ‘Au Bon Coin’, following excellent reviews on Trip Advisor by people who said they ate there Easter Sunday 2014, and it was so good that they went back again the next day.

However, we had no preconceptions: so we dragged ourselves away from the music and socialising outside St. Medard and walked down only a couple of blocks, to a small side street, where we found the Bistro on a quiet residential corner.  It did not look much, but there you go, never judge by appearances:)

They greeted us warmly, sat us at a tiny table and almost immediately the whole place filled up, entire families of three or four generations, down to the tiniest in a pushchair, and two elderly ladies dining a deux.

We ordered a starter of chicken livers with a shallot confit and fresh raspberries all on a circlet of puff pastry.  The main dish was roast lamb with spring vegetables, and for dessert I ordered red fruits with cream cheese and nougatine and L ordered a sponge doused in Limoncello and topped with fresh whipped cream.

They brought L the wine she ordered and a carafe of water as per my usual: they also brought small glasses filled with a mushroom sauce topped with olive oil, for us to nibble on with the bread.

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I am not very fond of mushrooms but this was absolutely lovely!  Neither of us ate any bread, we decided it was going to be hard enough to eat three courses, but hey, it is Easter.

Then the starters arrived.  I scraped mine off the pastry, (not eating gluten), and found lots of the lovely raspberry sauce.

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It was cooked to perfection, and I am not guilty of hyperbole here, and tasted wonderful.  We just sat for a minute staring at each other, not used to eating food like this.

“WOW”, said L.

After a slow, relaxed beginning, the lamb was served.

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Sitting on fresh young turnip, yellow and orange carrots, green beans, freshly hulled peas, a new potato, garlic roasted in its skin and a rosemary gravy.

As she cut into the meat, L stopped, raised her knife and fork, and said, “You try it”.

I did.  Well, what to say.  Enough that L who is a gourmand of some experience said it was the best lamb she had eaten in 60 years.  And it was.

A small, simple, unpretentious corner Bistro, was giving us the meal of a lifetime: this was what one imagined French cooking to be about, and what is getting harder and harder to find.

We spent a couple of hours over our meal, absorbing the atmosphere, talking to the waiters (both of them), and finally the chef to thank him, as well as some of the children and parents at other tables because inevitably the kids moved around and came and talked to us, so the parents followed suit.  It was a real family Easter Sunday meal, and we were made to feel so welcome.

I told them that we would remember the meal for a long time.  We felt as if all our senses had been satisfied.

(In fact it was so good, that we have cancelled our Reservation at Le Train Bleu for our last day in Paris, and made another one at this Bistro instead).

The Bistro emptied gradually, we being the last to leave (!) and we decided to walk over to the Jardin des Plantes:  this houses the Natural History Museum as well as greenhouses and all kinds of planting.  Unfortunately not a lot was in flower or even full growth yet and when the sun went in it became very chilly.

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But we met most of Paris out for a walk to exercise after Easter Lunch and we did meet one plant which was feeling Springlike:)

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The far exit opens on to the Pont d’Austerlitz, which always make me think of War and Peace, which we crossed, suddenly meeting crowds of tourists: it is interesting where you find the groups, perhaps following some tour plan.  At the other side we saw a canal branching off the Seine and heading towards the Bastille, so we followed it and walked alongside until it vanished underground.  (It then reappears up in the area of St. Martin.)

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This was near the Seine, you can just see the bridge in the distance.  We found lots of barges and yachts moored up at each end of the water in wider basins.

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Here, where it was below street level, it was warm and sheltered and the plants were further ahead than other places we saw.

wpid-img_20150405_1550394491People were taking advantage of the sheltered sunny spots too.  In places families were sitting on the grass with picnics and the children with their Easter eggs.

wpid-img_20150405_154931225The Bastille coming into view.

wpid-img_20150405_155133473The end of the water, with the metro station up ahead, and the final stop for the boats for a while.

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We finally arrived back at the apartment at about five o’clock after a memorable Easter Sunday and flopped down on the sofa with a large pot of tea.

We never ate again except for a tiny snack just before we went to bed to fend off night starvation;)  Shows just how filling a really good, nutritious meal can be.

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You could tell it was a holiday weekend beginning, last night.

People arriving late, suitcases bumping across the yard and up stairs, feet pounding across the floor above us and water running furiously.

This morning I was feeling much better so we got the bus straight to the Musee D’Orsay: on the bus there was the most appalling smell and I could not work out where it was coming from.  Honestly, it was overwhelming.  Later L. said it was coming from a lady near me and I think it was a fungating wound.  My friend Judith had one, although hers was not too bad.  I know that they can be a nightmare to look after and that the smell makes both the sufferer and those close to them go through terrible agonies of stigma and withdrawal from society.  Poor lady, she did not look well.

Anyway, we got to the Musee and the queues were terrible: on previous experience I reckoned it would take about three hours for people to get in.  We sailed past with our Annual membership passes and went straight in.

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After a look at a winter rooftop scene by Gustav Caillebotte which L had copied some time ago for her husband, we left the packed Impressionist room and went for lunch.

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I really do not think that the marble tables and plastic chairs do much for the decor: when lunch came it looked marvellous.  We both ordered chicken, free range, in juniper sauce with Pear Chartreuse, which turned out to be a cooked, stuffed cabbage leaf.

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Well, all was lovely except for the chicken which was barely cooked, pink in places and tough.  So different from previous experiences.  Then I ordered a chocolate and passionfruit dessert, which we both expected to be along the lines of thin layers of chocolate leaf interspersed with passionfruit mousse.  Again it looked wonderful and the layer of passionfruit mousse on the top was good, but the rest was just thin layers of rather miserable sponge, and I left it.  More what one would expect of large scale commercial catering which fancied itself.  I learned later that the Musee has outsourced its catering to some kind of outlet.  Ah, that explains all.

Then L went home via some shops, and I walked every inch of the Marais, looking in shop windows, taking photographs of Easter Parisian Style, and watching people  doing their Easter Saturday shopping.  All was bustle, special cakes, special Ors d’Oevres, special chocolate.  Selling out fast and furious.  A lovely, exciting, holiday feeling.

I bought an Easter gift for myself at the request of my husband since I am not at home for him to give me one,

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(sheets of different kinds of hand made chocolate, broken into pieces and layered into a card cone)

and some trifles to spread round my Fertility Altar!  At least, that’s what L calls it, and I see her point.  Photo reserved for Easter Day!!

A scratch supper, which has become our habit: we eat very frugally at the beginning and end of the day, and try new places for lunch.

More people arriving tonight: cries of welcome as families and friends came to visit!  It feels very exciting.

Then plans for tomorrow, checked out Metro stations etc. and to bed.

The bells should be back tomorrow.  They have been very noticeable by their absence.

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Just before Christmas I, husband and one grand-daughter went down to Warner Bros. at Watford to visit the studios where the Harry Potter films were made.

In fact, the visit was to redeem tickets which were last year’s Christmas presents.

We had a wonderful time, and I hope to post about it shortly, but we also bought a few souvenirs in the shop at the end.  Amongst which a chocolate wand, which mysteriously ended up in my stocking, a chocolate frog, which equally strangely ended up in husband’s stocking and a box of Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans, which I decided to take along  as a fun ending to Christmas Dinner.

The day began well with everyone in festive spirit:

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although rather sleep deprived

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with six of us sitting down to a traditionally groaning board

 

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followed by Christmas Pudding, Brandy Butter, Chocolate Log and cream, musical crackers, and then, the BBEFBs.

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These were available, in the first film, on the express train to Hogwart’s, for sale from the refreshment trolly which came round.

Ron Weasley says to Harry,”You want to be careful with those.  When they say ‘Every Flavour’ they mean every flavour!”

The choices apparently on offer were: Banana, Black Pepper, Blueberry, Bogey, Candyfloss, Cherry, Cinnamon, Dirt, Earthworm,  Earwax, Grass, Green (Sour) Apple, Lemon,  Marshmallow,  Rotten Egg, Sausage, Soap, Tutti Frutti, Watermelon, and lastly, Vomit.

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 Now, being a dyed-in-the-wool cynic, I expected the manufacturers and salespeople to have ‘sanitised’ these flavours to make them acceptable to a wide audience.

I was wrong.

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 We appeared to have got very few of the nice ones and nearly all the horrible flavours, and they were, really, really, horrid.

But, oh, such FUN!!!

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