Skip to content

Sweet Focaccia

One of the many things I miss during this coronavirus lockdown – and to be honest, it’s really not the most important – are my daily trips out to a cafe in the morning to enjoy a coffee, pastry and to read my newspaper. I like to still buy the ‘real’ paper kind – although am now making do with my iPad kind.

Going out for a coffee isn’t just about having a morning treat but getting out of the house and having a little social contact early in the day. As someone who lives alone and works from home, despite a (usually) busy social life, there’s no one other than the cat to try out my voice with first thing. Most often (pre lockdown) I go to Paul Bakery in Richmond where the staff know me well enough to get things started without my placing an order; they’ll ask how I am; ask about my family, who sometimes go there with me. These are the kind of everyday social interactions we are so short of now. We must remember how important they are once we can go out again!

I do have some bread in the freezer, but I’m not really a toast person (just as despite being English I’m not a Full English Breakfast person!). I crave a little sweetness with my coffee, though. Coffee is always later. How much later depends on how long I can wait for my caffeine kick. I get up quite early and have cereal, yoghurt, fresh fruit to start. But a sit down and coffee with a little sweet treat comes later. In Paul I almost always choose a mini pastry – one of those tiny ones that’s just two or three bites. There’s something rather Continental Europe about it for often in places like Italy and France a coffee will come with a little biscuit or chocolate.

I often buy a Cramique Brioche in Paul that has raisins in it, with little bits of sugar on top, to take home. My 5-year-old grandson Freddie loves it. I slice it thickly and freeze some to keep for him; a slice is soon thawed and warmed through in the toaster. When I take him to school – in normal times, three times a week – once I’ve picked him up and we’re back at my house for a while before walking to school, he’ll have a slice of brioche and glass of juice before we set off. One of the last times I took him before school closures, as I parked the car in front of my house, Freddie’s voice from behind me said, ‘I can smell brioche in your house, Nonna.’

There’s been an extraordinary surge of home baking since the virus lockdown began and supermarket shelves started emptying fast. Now it’s almost impossible to buy bread flour and yeast. However, as I wrote about a week or so ago, I’m able to get flour for pasta and focaccia from my local Italian deli and fresh yeast. I’ve been making focaccia at the weekend, cutting it into 6-8 pieces and freezing it. I take a slice out in the morning and come lunchtime it’s thawed and I just pop it into the toaster to warm it through and freshen it and I have fresh bread!

This now regular baking got me thinking. Maybe I could make a sweet version of focaccia for my morning coffee. I wanted something that was still easy and quick to make; nothing too sweet. I looked at a few recipes; I remembered making panettone but wanted something quicker and easier. I couldn’t find what I was looking for … so I decided to adapt my usual focaccia recipe (an Antonio Carluccio one I’ve made for years). I took the idea of adding sultanas and candied peel from Italian sweet breads; I thought an egg yolk would make the dough richer; I kept olive oil rather than butter; and I put in only a little sugar to satisfy my not-too-sweet tooth. I used the semola (flour) that I’ve been getting from Corto Deli, which is a semolina flour made from durum wheat. Romina told me it’s what Italians normally use for pasta and bread. I – almost literally – threw it all together and hoped for the best. ‘Fingers crossed’ I texted my daughter as I told her my plan. Well, the fingers or something worked for it was very delicious; just what I was looking for. And here it is!

 

Sweet Focaccia

  • 450g semola (or strong white plain flour)
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 2 tablespoons caster sugar
  • 50g sultanas or raisins (soaked briefly in hot water and drained)
  • 25g candied mixed peel
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus a little more
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 300ml warm water
  • 15g fresh yeast (or 7g pack dried – but check instructions for us)
  • 1 tablespoon Demerara sugar

 

 

In a large bowl, put in the first seven ingredients. Measure the water – it should be warm but cool enough to put your finger in comfortably. Add the yeast and mix well. Pour this into the bowl.

   

Mix well together. I used a spatula for this. When it all comes together, gather into a ball with your hands and knead on a lightly floured surface for about 5-10 minutes. Once it’s ‘elastic’ and less sticky, test its springiness by gently putting a finger a little way into the top. The indentation should spring back out.

   

Put the dough back in the bowl and cover the bowl with cling film or a tea towel. Leave for about an hour, until double in size. Meanwhile prepare a tin. I don’t use a tin for my usual savoury focaccia but thought it would be nice to do it for the sweet kind. I chose a heart shape because we could all do with some extra loving right now! It’s about the same as a 23cm diameter tin. Lightly grease the sides and bottom with some olive oil.

Once the dough has doubled in size, knock back briefly and flatten into the tin.

   

Cover lightly and leave to rise again for 30 minutes. Turn the oven on to start heating to 220C/Fan 200/Gas 7.

Drizzle over a little extra virgin olive oil and brush across the surface. Scatter over a little – about a tablespoon – of Demerara sugar.

   

Put into the pre-heated oven for 15 minutes. Remove once nicely golden brown. I tested ‘doneness’ by slipping a small sharp knife in; I’d thought it might take longer to cook but it didn’t.

Remove from the tin and allow to cool on a baking rack.

I was so delighted with how it looked – but how would it taste? I managed to wait until after lunch and had a slice with an espresso, sitting in the garden in the warm sun and enjoying a peaceful moment.

It was really good! Almost brioche-like in texture – probably due to the egg. It had a light sweetness to it but definitely wasn’t ‘sweet’. It was perfect with an espresso.

Now to freeze some slices; I don’t think it would keep fresh for long so you need to either eat it (which means sharing it!), or freeze it. I’ve found the plain focaccia freezes very well, so I’m sure this will too.

Not quite an Italian Easter bread but close enough. So Buona Pasqua! to you all.

My Lockdown Week in Food

It’s a long time since I’ve done one of these ‘My Week in Food‘ posts and necessarily this one will be very different. Usually the posts are a way of me revisiting favourite restaurants and recipes that I’ve already written about, and just reminding myself and you of how good they are. But there’s no going to restaurants at the moment while we’re living through the coronavirus pandemic and most of the world is in lockdown. And there’s no popping out to the shops and buying just what you fancy cooking that day. It’s looking at what’s in the fridge, freezer and store cupboard and picking some ingredients, then deciding what you could do with them. It’s about making things stretch further and not throwing leftovers away; not if they’ll make a lunch, or another meal, perhaps padded out with a few other things. The positive way to look at this is: it gives us a chance to be more creative in the kitchen. I appreciate though that this is easier for people who enjoy cooking and are quite experienced cooks. But here’s what I’ve been eating this past week and hopefully it will give you some ideas.

 

Friday – Moussaka

 

Moussaka is one of my favourite things and something that the family will request more than any other dish if I ask them what they’d like me to cook. Usually when they come I make a large moussaka for us all to share and enough extra to make one or two individual ones to go into my freezer. Making moussaka from scratch is a bit of a mission; it takes a while. But of course it’s worth it! But it’s also nice to have one or two of your homemade ready-to-cook portions in the freezer. Taking one out in the morning, leaving it to thaw, and then popping it into the oven for supper always seems like a wonderful treat!

Last Friday I took my last packet of beef mince from the freezer. I had a couple of large fresh tomatoes, eggs and some UHT milk. I’ve always been rude about UHT milk, especially when it’s put in one’s coffee in France, as often happens still (or that was my experience in Nice last September). But now we’re all learning to live with ‘less than perfect’; learning to be not quite so fussy. And really, there’s not much wrong with a béchamel sauce made with UHT milk to go on top of a moussaka, over which you’re grate a generous shower of Parmesan!

This time I made 4 little individual ones. I enjoyed one for my Friday evening meal and 3 went into the freezer. Three more supper treats to come!

 

Saturday – Focaccia & Burger with Freekeh Salad

I’m used to going out and buying good bread from the local artisan bakeries. I rarely freeze bread as I tend to like it fresh. However, fresh bread is not so easily bought on a regular basis at the moment so I decided to make focaccia on Saturday with the flour (also hard to come by now!) that my local Italian deli delivered with some fresh yeast. Now the freezer did come into play. I sliced the focaccia into pieces that would be a perfect size for lunch – filled as a sandwich or to eat with soup or cheese. It freezes beautifully. I find if I take a slice out in the morning at breakfast time, when it comes to lunch I can just pop it in my toaster and soon it’s warm, soft and delicious.

I think we’re all burrowing down in the freezer to find out what’s lurking there. Actually it wasn’t long ago that I bought some of Waitrose’s lovely venison burgers when they were on offer. So I took one out with a brioche bun. I had no green salad. But I did have a courgette that needed to be used fairly soon, so I decided to make my Freekeh and Courgette Salad. This not only stretched the one courgette – quite a big one, it must be said – but would provide a nice grain salad to use up after with another meal or at lunchtime.

 

Sunday – Griddled Chicken Breast, Roast Potatoes & Spinach

I love spinach (my little grandson Freddie would say ‘Yuk!’ to that). And the deli had brought some fresh veg on Saturday, including a bag of spinach. Wonderful! I was possibly more pleased with that than anything else. On Sunday I took a chicken breast from the freezer. For supper I marinated it for about an hour in lemon juice, olive oil, Herbes de Provence and seasoning, then griddled it for supper. I like to par boil potatoes before roasting and cut them into quite small pieces. More crispy bits to enjoy! I scattered some za’atar over the top. The spinach was simply cooked in a small amount of water, drained thoroughly, and dressed with just olive oil and a squeeze of lemon juice.

 

Monday – Griddled Halloumi with Black Garlic Dressing & Freekeh Salad

I keep halloumi in the fridge and some feta. Generally they have long ‘use by’ dates on them. I decided the halloumi would go well with my leftover freekeh salad. And it did! I had some black garlic that my daughter gave me so I made a dressing for the halloumi with that, adding it to olive oil, a little cider vinegar and seasoning.

 

Tuesday- Souffle Omelette with Spinach, Parmesan & Chives

This was an example of doing things a little differently with often-used ingredients. I wrote about it in this post – click here. It also made good use of the second half of the bag of gorgeous spinach.

 

Wednesday – Pasta with Broccoli, Tomato & Chilli

I eat pasta a lot. I had a big head of broccoli that the deli had brought; half a large tomato. I gently fried them in olive oil with a shallot and a pinch of dried chilli (because I put chilli in lots of things) to make a sauce to go with pasta for supper. A generous shower of Parmesan over the top of at the end, a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and I had a simple but delicious supper – using ingredients to hand.

 

Thursday – Courgette & Fresh Mint Risotto

Another courgette and Parmesan in my fridge, a pot of fresh mint in the garden, risotto rice in my cupboard – all the ingredients for a delicious risotto supper. Quick, easy and a gorgeous creamy comfort of a supper.

*******

Has your cooking changed in the lockdown? What kind of things are you cooking? Do please let me know.

Soufflé Omelette with Spinach, Parmesan & Chives

There was a touch of routine in this evening’s supper for I almost always have an omelette on Tuesday evenings. The reason for this is that it’s my book club night and I have to eat early and don’t want to eat anything heavy before I go out. So an omelette is perfect.

We meet every week, which always sounds alarming when I mention it to anyone. But we only read one novel (or long book) a month (1st Tuesday) and this is followed by weeks of Poetry, Short stories or novella, and a Theme (last week’s theme was ‘books that made you laugh aloud’). On 5th Tuesdays – only four times a year – we all go out for a meal. Tonight should have been the meal but we’re all locked inside due to the coronavirus pandemic. We continue to read our list though (mapped out until end of July) and communicate our thoughts by email, which are put on our blog (click here). Why not take a look at it and let us know if you’ve read any of the things we’re talking about?

I usually make a traditional French-style omelette or an Italian frittata. But the last week or two has seen me doing things differently in the kitchen; having to make do often with what I have rather than what I’d like to cook with. It’s seen me stretching some ingredients or finding ways to use leftovers up better, perhaps to made another meal. When we’re not going out to shop so much and it’s hard to get deliveries, we have to make do with what we’ve got for longer. Eggs have been hard to come by but luckily for me the local Italian deli has been keeping me supplied.

The ingredients I used tonight were the same as if I’d cooked the omelette another way (click here), so I wasn’t using up nor making do. But I think this growing tendency to look differently at what I might do with ingredients – or certainly midweek when I’ve been working and want to keep things simple – made me remember The Soufflé Omelette. This is something I used to make quite often many years ago but had all but forgotten about. What reminded me of it, I haven’t a clue! But I went with the thought and so this is what I cooked for supper tonight.

 

Soufflé Omelette with Spinach, Parmesan & Chives – Serves One

  • about 100-125g baby spinach
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 large eggs
  • small bunch of chives, chopped
  • about a 10g piece of butter
  • Parmesan

 

First of all prepare the spinach. I like to put it in a bowl, swish it around so any grit loosens and drops to the bottom. Carefully lift the leaves out into a small saucepan with lid. Push down and put the lid on. The water on the washed spinach is enough to cook it in. Cook over a moderate heat until wilting, stirring from time to time. When it looks cooked – but not a complete mush and you can still see some bits of almost uncooked leaves – take from the heat, and drain, squashing the spinach down with a wooden spoon to get out as much liquid as you can. Put the cooked spinach back in the saucepan with the lid on to keep as warm as you can while you make the omelette. Also heat your grill at this point.

 

Put 1 whole egg in a small jug or mug, then separate the other 2, putting the yolks in with the whole egg and the whites into another larger jug.

Put the chives and some seasoning into the egg yolks and whole egg. Whisk together. Then whisk the egg whites until you get to the soft peak stage.

   

Tip the egg yolk mixture into the egg whites and very gently fold together. Be as gentle as you can; do it slowly so that you don’t break down all the air trapped in the whisked egg whites.

   

Put the butter in an omelette pan and heat until frothing. Then pour the egg mixture into the pan. Shake the pan a little to spread right across. Now cook over a moderate heat until the underneath is nicely browned.

    

You can check it’s done by carefully lift up an edge with a spatula.

Put the pan under the hot grill and cook until pale golden brown on top.

 

Remove from the grill and cut across the middle of the omelette with a sharp knife, but not right through. This is to make it easier to fold at the end.

Spoon the cooked spinach on it, slightly to one side. Grate over a generous shower of Parmesan. Fold in half as you transfer to a warm plate and grate over a little more Parmesan. I had no green salad – my usual accompaniment with an omelette – so I made a salad from some tomato, cucumber and a little finely sliced red onion.

It did look very impressive and delicious. And it tasted delicious too. I liked the soft airy texture – the soufflé effect! Putting the chives into the egg before cooking is also a good way of getting the most from their flavour.

It did all look a bit more special than my standard omelette. I’m not sure it tastes better than the French kind or a frittata, it’s just different and just as nice. It offers an alternative when eggs are to hand and you fancy making an omelette with them and allows you to ring the changes with the same ingredients.

I had some spinach as the deli brought some a couple of days ago, but you could put other fillings in – some mushrooms sliced and fried in butter or maybe some bacon. The things that go well with eggs are many.

It’s not a recipe for a crowd – really only one or two, I think, as you need to serve it immediately. I guess you could make a bigger one for two and cut it in half. For family cooking I prefer to make a frittata. When my son and family were living with me for a time I used to make a huge frittata with about 10 eggs in a large pan and we’d have slices (similar to a Spanish tortilla) with salad.

Bread for the Pandemic

This is where I admit straight off that I’m not really a bread maker. Making bread at home seems to be one of those things that some people adopt with a passion; for me it’s always been a bit of experimentation from time to time or – as in the case of focaccia – some fun when entertaining.

My bread making experiments began back in the late 1970s/early 1980s when people tried to emulate the ‘healthy’ wholemeal loaves being newly sold in health-food shops. Certainly the kind of bread we bought in bakeries and supermarkets at the time was a long way from the glorious artisan bread that’s been available to us in recent years. The mass-produced version was doughy, rather disgusting slices of bread, heavily laced with nasty additives.

Now in London we’re awash with lovely artisan bakeries selling delicious sourdough loaves and all kinds of variations of bread, and even the bread on offer in supermarkets is healthier and nicer to eat. A few years ago some people became excited by electric bread makers for the home – the kind where you dropped all the ingredients into the machine at bedtime and came down to fresh bread in the morning. A kind of bread slow cooker. As far as I’m aware, most of those machines have been moved to a dark, isolated corner … much like most slow cookers. But there is now a fashion for making real bread; making one’s own sourdough starter and doing the whole thing properly. I’m in awe of this kind of dedication and although I absolutely love good bread, would even admit to an addiction to good bread, I’ve never had any real appetite for making my own.

But now with the pandemic turning our lives upside down and having to rethink not just our whole world but how we eat, bread is something to think about. Now we can’t just pop out for a nice fresh artisan loaf; the supermarket shelves are empty of flour; flour-making factories are working overtime to try to cope. So maybe – if you can get some flour! – it’s time to rethink home baking and decide that perhaps there’s something to be said for it.

I’ve been kept stocked up on lots of things by my wonderful local Italian Deli – Corto Italian Deli Twickenham. Romina posts what’s come in her delivery each day and you can order a home delivery. One day she brought me a large slice of focaccia and I cut it into six generous pieces, putting 5 in the freezer. At lunchtime I can get one out and pop it in my toaster to warm through. Then I saw she had some fresh yeast. Fresh yeast! And flour! Well there was no question of backing off from this opportunity. I would make my own focaccia. I’ve done it plenty of times before and it would be fun in these restricted times. I could put on whatever topping I fancied. And how great it would be to take a slice of my own Italian bread from the freezer at lunchtimes.

For the recipe click here for a previous post that details precisely what to do. Yesterday I decided to go very traditional and make it ‘Focaccia Ligure’ style (for more about this click here – and here). With slices of potato, chopped rosemary picked from the bush in my garden, Maldon sea salt and lashing of gorgeous extra virgin olive oil, this was going to be pranzo superiore (superior lunch).

My first challenge when the flour and yeast arrived was that it had been a long time since I’d used fresh yeast! I was used to those little packets of the dried variety. So I had to consult my ancient Delia Smith’s Cookery Course to check on what to do. Actually it’s easier – you just melt it in the warm water and you’re ready to go.

I decided to do the whole thing by hand and eschew the electric mixer. I mixed the ingredients together and starting kneading. I remembered that I learnt to knead not making bread but making pots! I did O level (pre-GCSEs) Art at school, which included pottery, and we had to prepare our own clay. So kneading was a skill I learnt back in my teens. Kneading bread dough is the same. Really! It did strike me as I was doing it that it was very good exercise for one’s upper body and thus lungs (minor health input here)!

I put the prepared dough in a bowl, covered the bowl with a little cling film and left it to rise. I watched the magic ballooning of the dough. Wow! Really you have to be impressed, even if you’ve seen it many times before. It was close to being ready when the phone rang. I spent the next 45 minutes talking to my good friend Liz. Like others recently, she suggested we FaceTime. When you can’t go out and meet up an normal, and especially if you live on your own like me, it’s great to actually see people. In fact, I said to my daughter that in some ways my life was more social than normal; instead of lots of emails and texts, fixing times to meet up, people are phoning instead and one has the pleasure of a proper conversation.

I was having a lovely chat but keeping my eye on my dough through the doorway into my kitchen. Then suddenly I saw that the dough was no longer rising but seemed to be collapsing. I bid a fast farewell explaining and finished preparing the bread.

I’d already chopped rosemary; I’d boiled three little new potatoes, skinned and sliced. I knocked back the dough, stretched it out into a large oblong shape on a baking tray, put the toppings on and left it for its second rise. Then into a very hot oven for 15 minutes.

It looked good. When it cooled I cut it into 4 generous portions to freeze 3 and keep one for lunch the next day. It looked a little heavy and dense; I tasted. It was OK but not my best. Clearly one must be more attentive to timing! But it’s fresh, made with good ingredients and will still be a good treat. And I have more flour and yeast … Delia suggested freezing small amounts (I managed to get 3 x 15g pieces, the amount needed for the recipe) for up to 3 months. So there will be more focaccia. And next time I’ll suggest ringing back anyone who calls!

Cooking in the Age of a Pandemic

The pandemic is teaching us many things, and for me highlighting what’s really important in my life. My family of course are by far and away the most important thing. But food is important to me too; it always has been and I’m sure will go on being so. Yet what’s highlighted now is my privilege, living the life I do in London; having enough money to just pop out to the local shops because I fancy an avocado or some blueberries; or to buy ingredients for a moussaka because I have a sudden whim to eat Greek style; buying lovely bread from artisans bakeries.

And now things are different.

I’ve never ordered food online. Partly it’s because living alone it’s easy to shop almost day by day and buy food for what I fancy eating that night. I also enjoy the process of looking at the food available, thinking what I might be able to make with it, picking out the best-looking items. Thus when it suddenly came home to me about 10 days ago that the pandemic was going to have a much greater effect on our lives than I’d imagined only a month ago, I thought I’d better go online. The result was that I did manage to place an order – but the first delivery wasn’t until almost 4 weeks’ time.

I’ve been kept going with many things by the wonderful Corto Italian Deli as I wrote about the other day. What’s available is limited (it’s a small Italian deli after all) but the other night Romina brought fresh eggs (hard to come by now), fresh tomatoes and courgettes; a large slice of fresh focaccia, and other things. Meanwhile, my stocks of other items are running low or gone. And now we’re pretty much in lockdown, I’m not going out. In theory I could go to the supermarket still, but in practice I prefer to now stay in the safety of my home and make do as best I can with what I’ve got.

I’ve heard of other small local shops now running delivery services, so I could ring round and perhaps get hold of some more things. I’m sure at some stage I’ll ask the local fishmonger for some fresh fish. But for the moment I’m using what’s here – in my fridge, my freezer and store cupboards. Oh … and my garden! I don’t grow fruit and vegetables but I do grow herbs and I was delighted when I stepped out into a sunny garden the other day to spy one of my large pots of herbs overflowing with flat-leaf parsley. There’s mint, chives, thyme and fennel; basil in a pot inside on a sunny kitchen windowsill.

It’s an interesting twist to cook according to what I have available rather than what I could go out to buy. Instead of starting in my head with what I’d like to cook, I’m looking at what I have and wondering what delicious food I can make with it.

I’m also wasting less. And I’m being less greedy. Instead of, ‘Oh I might as well throw the whole lot in’, it’s become, ‘Is there enough for two portions?’

What I have plenty of – because I always do! – is pasta and risotto rice. I had half a large courgette that really needed using (no throwing away now!). I always keep frozen peas in the freezer. And there were those herbs. Spring was here and it was time for a spring risotto.

I’m not giving a recipe as such (but you could look at this one), but I made it in the basic way: gently frying a shallot in some olive oil, adding the courgette diced quite small with the chopped stems of a large bunch of parsley, and cooking for a couple of minutes or so; tipping in half a cup of risotto rice and stirring it round to coat the rice with the oil. You could add a splash of white wine here. Now start adding hot stock or water. I didn’t have stock and no one will ever convince me that any kind of stock cube is okay; there’s always an aftertaste. So I’m happy with water and all the flavours from the ingredients.

Once I’d slowly added more liquid, stirring as I went, but the risotto wasn’t quite ready, I added a handful of peas (pre-soaked briefly in boiling water and drained) and chopped parsley. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper. When the rice is al dente and the liquid absorbed, plop a large lump of butter on top and grate over a little Parmesan. Put a lid on and leave for a couple of minutes. Then stir round to make the risotto creamy – this is the important mantecato stage.

Spoon the risotto into a shallow bowl. Grate over a little more Parmesan. Drizzle with olive oil. And garnish with a little more chopped parsley.

Delicious. And so fresh tasting, yet comforting too with the soft embrace of the warm rice. A perfect supper!

The Virtual Traveller

The coronavirus pandemic has thrown the world into shock and fear and it has disrupted our lives in ways we couldn’t have imagined only a month or two ago. Indeed, only 4-5 weeks ago I was wondering if it would be over by the end of March and I could still go to Turin as planned. I soon realised that was an impossibility, even before the borders closed down – there came a point when the risk of going outweighed any advantages of being there.

There are many things to worry about; there are many things to adjust to. And obviously our concern for our loved ones is uppermost but I think we are all struggling with the knowledge that there is no clear end in sight. We are used to planning ahead and yet when dare we hope that things will be ‘normal’ again? As I said in my last post, I don’t believe we will return to the ‘normal’ we knew but will have to create a new one. Will we start jumping on planes again and travelling frequently all over the world? Will we continue to support buying fruit and vegetables being flown across the far side of the world just so that we can eat foods like raspberries all year round? We are now seeing the implications of such free and easy travel, such disregard for the natural seasons, not only in the astonishing speed at which the virus has spread, but by how the world itself is starting to breathe again. Well, if Greta Thunberg and David Attenborough couldn’t stop enough of us in our tracks to look seriously at climate change, then the virus has. With less carbon emissions because planes aren’t flying and fewer cars are on the road, levels of carbon monoxide, gas CO2 and other pollutants have dropped dramatically. We can literally breathe fresher air. Fish and wildlife are being seen again in rivers and even the canals of Venice where they’ve been missing for years.

I’m finding it’s putting a lot into perspective. I think of the things I was worrying about, angry about, irritated by, only a short time ago and now I see that really the only important thing for me is my family – their health and happiness and that I am with them.

However, I do like to think that one day I will travel to some of those favourite places of mine again! Whether they will be the same, I doubt, if only because some hotels, restaurants and cafes aren’t going to survive this. I’ve been in touch with the fabulous Grand Hotel Sitea in Turin where I’d planned to be staying (for the 4th time) next week; with the wonderful Hotel Al Ponte Mocenigo in Venice where I’ve stayed several times, to check in with owners Sandro and Walter, who now feel like friends. I think of the amazing historic cafes that I love in places like Turin and Florence, which have existed for a hundred years or more – Cafe Gilli in Florence since 1733. They’ve survived two world wars but will they survive this pandemic? I can only hope so.

It’s been interesting that while none of us can travel anywhere at the moment, I’ve acquired more followers to the blog most days. Perhaps we are engaging in virtual travel? Maybe we just need to reassure ourselves that one day we will go to our favourite places again; explore new ones. Maybe we are seeking some semblance of that ‘normal life’ we have lost for the time being. And maybe sometimes it’s just fantastic to dream and live in an alternative world for a little time.

So if you’re in the mood for dreaming, here are a few of my favourite places:

 

VENICE

Click here for some reading.

 

TURIN

Click here for some reading.

 

AMSTERDAM

Click here for some reading.

 

MALAGA

Click here for some reading.

 

Nice

Click here for some reading.

***************

I hope that gets your dreams started! There’s a host of places to look at on the A Travelling Gourmet pages of the blog (click here).

***************

Wishing that you and your families stay safe and well and that it won’t be too long before we are meeting again and travelling in the real world.

 

 

Welcome to a Delivery World

I think the word of the week – other than ‘coronavirus’ of course – is ‘unprecedented’; we are living in unprecedented times. Certainly I’ve never known anything like it – and I’ve been around for a few decades (I have three gorgeous little grandsons now!).

Theories abound about how it all started. Politicians and ‘experts’ put out terrifying predictions of how long it will last. None of us know when our lives will return to any kind of ‘normality’.  And when we get there, I’m sure it will be a different ‘normal’. Things have to change; things will inevitably change. Our high streets, the places we like to travel to on holiday, will all be different. How different depends on how long it takes to stem the pandemic.

We all have to adapt in some way. I’m fortunate that I’ve worked from home as a freelance book editor for many years, so I’m used to it; set up for it. What I’ll miss is getting out and about and seeing people (I live alone). But I’m also fortunate that my work continues, while other people – the less well off on zero-hour contracts, working in hospitality, etc. – face no work at all for perhaps a long time. Others, unused to working from home, struggle to get used to it. Even the way we work will sometimes change. I’ve always liked to joke that I still get page proofs from publishers to check; printed on paper to which I add marks with my red (printer’s errors) and blue (author’s error) pens. Now I’m being asked to check proofs on-screen because editors aren’t in their offices, they’re at home with no printers to print out proofs and no post room to post them out. I’ve been editing on-screen for years so it’s not a big jump, though surprisingly different in ways perhaps only an editor would understand (no it’s not quite like reading a book on Kindle). But in all honesty it’s progress; we were on the way there anyway. We’ve just jumped ahead. But it’s not like that for everyone.

While I long for my life as I knew it to come back, and it’s awful worrying about family and friends and where this ‘new life’ is headed, I’ve been amazed at the love and kindness that’s sprung up around communities. My newish neighbour, Ana, who I’ve barely got to know yet, texted last night to ask if I was OK and let her know if she could do anything. People really do seem to be helping and looking out for each other. Friends and family are phoning and talking to each other rather than relying on email or text for communication. And I applaud those small businesses, whose very survival is at risk, who are working hard to do things differently and keep their business going.

One such is my long-time favourite – Corto Italian Deli. I’ve written about it many times. It’s a smallish deli in Twickenham’s prettiest street – Church Street – where you can buy the best Italian food products you’ll find anywhere, stop for a coffee made the true Italian way, or have lunch. Sometimes I’m in there surrounded by Italians; have even seen people pop in for a quick espresso which they down quickly, Italian style, at the counter, then bid a ‘ciao‘ as they rush out again. Platters of Italian meats and cheese are cut freshly straight on to serving dishes. There are wonderful salads, ciabatta or focaccia sandwiches, and always three or four freshly made hot dishes – dishes they really do make themselves – offering things like homemade soup, lasagna, melanzane parmigiana.

I often meet friends for lunch there; we’ve had lots of family lunches at Corto – even birthday lunches! Sometimes I pop in to buy a few things and stop for a coffee. But of course there’s no more popping at the moment … not for a while.

So how delighted I was when I saw that Romina had posted on their Facebook page yesterday that they would now deliver food, and they plan to soon offer an evening meal delivery service.

As you can see from the photos below, there’s a lot of lovely food here, from dried pasta, risotto rice, jars of sauces, fresh cheeses and meats, olive oil … well the list goes on. And particularly wonderful if you love Italian food like me! (The 5 photos below are Romina’s and the one of the shop above.)

My first order was delivered by Romina on her Vespa this evening (photo at top). I love these amazing Italian sausages from Siena that she regularly stocks. They’re so meaty and taste fantastic. I plan to make a sausage pasta sauce and will freeze extra portions.

   

I’m addicted to these fabulous cantuccini – the best I’ve found anywhere – and my whole family are addicted to the taralli! Even the little grandsons ask for taralli.

   

As you can see from the photo at the top, I just ordered what I’d normally buy in the shop. We can all help each other by not over-buying. What I did was promise Romina I’d put in an order each week. This is a time to help each other and, where we’re able, we need to support our local businesses as much as we can.

You can call Romina at Corto Italian Deli on 020 8892 9013.

Keep safe and healthy!

Sensational Alkalising Salad

We can’t escape the need to stay as healthy and strong as we can during the current coronavirus epidemic so I’m reblogging another healthy salad. This post also explains why eating a largely alkalising diet is good for us and helps maintain optimum health.

Travel Gourmet

IMG_4703

It’s a rare thing for something so obviously ‘healthy’ to appear on these pages. In fact it’s a couple of years since I posted my Sensational Antioxidant Salad. And since that was also in January, I guess I’m just caught up once again in the ‘let’s be healthy in January’ crush! In my defence, should you be imagining I eat a lot of unhealthy things, I think I generally eat a good, healthy and balanced diet. But in general, I’m not into ‘health foods’ per se. A few years ago a friend suggested meeting for lunch at a new local health foods restaurant. It was a kind thought as I’ve always been concerned about the healthy aspect of food – partly as I’m an alternative health practitioner as well as a book editor – and eat organic where I can and lots of fresh fruit and vegetables and rarely…

View original post 1,005 more words

Sensational Antioxidant Salad

With a lot of anxiety about staying healthy at the moment, this seems a good time to post this recipe from the early days of the blog again – 8 years ago! But still a sensational antioxidant salad; still delicious; and still good for you.

Travel Gourmet

IMG_2456

I eat a pretty good, healthy and balanced diet most of the time so rarely get into dieting as such. However, along with many other people come January, I’m feeling a little in need of losing some weight and gaining some energy after an indulgent Christmas period and eating my way through six months of food blogging! As I wrote in my recent post about Sally Beare’s book, The Live-Longer Diet, ‘dieting’ should really be about adopting a way of eating for life rather than a unsustainable crash diet; a diet that balances sensible eating with occasional indulgences. No one wants a diet that stops you having fun eating – especially a Single Gourmet Traveller! – but I often quote The Food Doctor, Ian Marber’s advice in his book, Everyday Diet, that if you aim for 80% of sensible eating and allow 20% for indulging in less ‘healthy’ foods then…

View original post 504 more words

Zoran’s Delicatessen, St Margaret’s, Twickenham

It’s taken me an embarrassingly long time to review Zoran’s on my blog. I say this because when I lived in St Margaret’s, I was there when Zoran first opened the cafe/deli and went in regularly (nearly every day!) to have coffee, eat, or buy some of his top-quality deli products. I’d chat to Zoran when I went in and watched with pleasure as his slow start to building up the business suddenly took off and Zoran’s is now a St Margaret’s institution. Everyone knows Zoran. Then 14 years ago I moved to the other side of Twickenham and since then have only been to Zoran’s occasionally. Back there today, as I sat with my lunch, Zoran came up from the little kitchen downstairs and thanked me for coming back. It was so nice to be remembered and really – I must go there more regularly again!

It seemed the obvious choice today as my friend Annette – on a short trip from Italy where she lives – was meeting me at St Margaret’s station late morning and we wanted an early lunch before visiting Turner’s House, which has recently undergone a major restoration. The great artist JMW Turner designed the house in St Margaret’s, which was built in 1813, and used it as a country retreat. It currently has an exhibition of five of his original oil sketches on show, loaned by the Tate.

It was all wonderfully familiar entering Zoran’s. As it was quite early we easily got seats on the ground level but there are many more downstairs. Immediately before you as you go in is a fabulous array of freshly made foods – salads, dishes like lasagna, and cakes. And above the counter a board offers a large selection of sandwiches, made with focaccia, baguettes or bagels. There’s also a breakfast menu.

Everything is made in a little kitchen at the bottom of the stairs as you head down to the sitting area below. It’s quite amazing how such gorgeous food is cooked in so tiny a space. But there was Zoran with an assistant chef, busy at work.

Annette and I only wanted a snack so chose one of the focaccia ‘sandwiches’ each; they were excellent.

But there’s also homemade soup, salads or cooked dishes. I’ve eaten more substantial dishes before and watched today as some came up from the kitchen. They looked so good it strengthened my resolve to return soon.

We chose some Bottle Green drinks to have with our focaccia and had coffee afterwards, which came with little amaretti biscuits on the side. (Bill for 2 lunches and drinks was £20.20.)

   

It was really good to be back and we took a rather long and leisurely time to enjoy our lunch and catch up before heading off to Turner’s House. Zoran’s is somewhere you’ll find the best home-cooked food and its deli shelves are filled with the best quality products. Nestled between Richmond and Twickenham, St Margaret’s isn’t an obvious go-to place unless you have a reason to go there. But now you have – go to Zoran’s!

Zoran's Delicatessen Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato