Families are a lot like apple and blackberry crumble - sweet, fulfulling, made with love... and often not quite perfect, but who's complaining

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

This is an old one (but many of the good things often are).

On the cusp of a papal conclave, it also seems appropriate to quote from a Pope.

As the family goes, so goes the nation and so goes the whole world in which we live.
JOHN PAUL II, London Observer, Dec. 7, 1986

Losinj... Croatian pastries and a BBQ in the woods

Friday, 17 August 2012

Burek, filled with spinach and soured cheese
Losinj, an island in Istria, in the North of Croatia, was our final stop before our trip back to London (for the Olympics!!!) via Pula.

There seems to be a divide in Croatian cuisine that I've experienced whilst traveling up the country.One the one hand, fresh fish are in abundance and there is a clear Italian and meditterabnean influence (with Pizzas and pasta dishes, plus the use of garlic, capers and aubergines). However, there's also a clear Eastern European influence.

You may remember my reference to 'Sarma' and 'Burek' in my post on Serbia a couple of months ago and their love of flaky pastries, filled with soured cheese. I found the same in Croatia. My favourite were these 'Burek' (same name as in Serbia too), which where filled with spinach and cheese and rolled tightly before baking. The perfect cheap snack.

In addition to gorging on Burek, I did manage to light up the BBQ once again on Losinj - a quiet island, frequented by a multitude of German and Austrian campers. We stayed on what is probably one of the largest campsites in Croatia (Camping Cikat) but somehow still managed to find ourselves a secluded spot in the woods, a short walk from the clearest sea I have ever seen.

It's amazing the variety of food you can cook on a BBQ - it's not just for grilling sausages. Given we were camping in a wood, I thought that a simple dish of mushrooms and garlic on toast (served with local red wine) would be appropriate.

Sadly, this post marks the end of our Croatian trip, and the end of our European adventure as a whole.

However, the summer does not end here. 

Last week we flew back to London in time to watch the women's pairs rowing final (well done Helen and Heather, go Team GB!).

We are now on a different continent (Asia!) and over the next few weeks I will be posting about the sights, smells and tastes of the next leg of our adventure - in Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur, Bali and Singapore.

Please let me know if you have any recommendations!

Hvar - the Pakleni islands and a hidden fish restaurant (Pansion Tonci)

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Our mode of transport for the day

The water around Hvar (even in the harbour) is so clean and crystal clear that it is a magnet for sea urchins. Mind where you step!
Hvar Town, another old walled city on a Dalmatian island in the South of Croatia is a yachting and backpackers paradise. Turquoise waters, bars lining the harbour front and right round the coast, plus endless opportunities to explore hidden bays and discover bars, restaurants and beach clubs in seriously secluded locations.

That's exactly what we decided to do when we hired a boat for the day and left the main island in search of a fisherman's shack on one of the Pakleni Islands (Palmizana) where we could indulge in a lot of fresh seafood.

Unfortunately the sea was slightly more choppy than we expected. And the island we were heading to was a little further away that anticipated. We had a few hairy moments getting to the island (and managed to wash the boat onto the rocks at one point), but eventually made in there unscathed.

Determined to find our fish, we ventured inland, and spotted the sign to Pansion Tonci, along with a fish skeleton picture. Divine intervention.

This family run restaurant is just set back from the beach, on the Hvar-side of the island, and offered a selection of grilled fish, caught that morning (we didn't get a choice on what kind of fish we were served, it was just whatever was landed that day), capers from the mainland, olive oil from their own groves and white wine they had made themselves from their own vineyard behind the house.

There was even a hammock available for a quick sleep after our meal, before we headed back to Hvar (which was incidentally a very scary trip back given the waves had grown significantly since we left Hvar harbour that morning).

This meal has been one of the highlights of the whole trip so far. Definitely worth nearly capsizing for.

Homemade fish pate

Anchovies with local capers and olive oil from the garden

Pansion Tonci's own white wine... this is a fresh, new wine and only lasts for one season. We were told at the end of the Summer, they have a big party to finish off what is left in the barrels

Deep fried courgette

Grilled Barracuda

Homemade apple cake to finish off the meal

Quick post-meal siesta

Next stop, the Istrian islands and Losinj.

Korcula... getting excited about the wrong kind of arancini

Friday, 10 August 2012

A quick (4 hour) ferry ride from Dubrovnik and we arrived in Korcula, a sleepy and much quieter town than the hustle and bustle of the city we had just come from. We stayed in an apartment right in the centre, a short walk from the old city walls.

The food in Korcula is, as you might expect, heavily fish-focused. However, there does seem to be a stronger Italian influence than we experienced in Dubrovnik. Pizzas and pasta and bruschetta aplenty here.
Bruschetta with garlic, tomato and anchovies
Nearly at the end of our European adventure but this glass is definitely half full...
Another great speciality in Korcula (and one I sadly have no photos of) is arancini. You may have seen my post about the start of my arancini obsession in Sicily. Unfortunately, my joy at seeing the word 'arancini' on a sign and racing into a shop to buy a delicious stuffed rice ball was short lived. Arancini in Korcula it turns out, are actually a version of candied orange peel. Sweet and delicious, but not the savoury snack I had anticipated.

After a few days of serious pizza-eating and soaking up the sun in Korcula, on to Hvar...

Exploring Croatia ... Dubrovnik, Scampi buzara and Kamenice

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

This is the first of a series of posts on Croatia, starting with Dubrovnik - the scenery, the cities, and of course, the incredible food.

We arrived in Dubrovnik at 7am on the overnight ferry from Bari. If you are planning the same, there is a bus that runs from the port straight to the edge of the old town's city walls. We decided to walk, which was probably the wrong choice given the heat and the weight of our backpacks.

Dubrovnik itself is a cruise tripper's magnet. Between 9am and 4.30pm each day, the city is crawling with trails of tour guides, holding umbrellas and followed by a legion of sticker-toting day trippers.

That said, it's a beautiful and compact old city and one we explored every inch of on foot and by kayak (to get the best views of the city walls).

A glass of wine in the sunshine on the edge of the city walls

One of the things I found the hardest about Dubrovnik was finding truly local, good quality cuisine. Many of the restaurants in the old town offer hiked up 'tourist menus'. However, we found a real gem... Kamenice on one of the old squares (Gunduliceva Poljana).

This informal restaurant has a number of tables outside (none inside) and they are always packed with tourists and locals alike. They are renowned for their calamari, their black risotto with cuttlefish, their mussels and their 'scampi buzara' - a local speciality of langoustines with white wine, tomatoes, garlic and onions.

This is probably one of the best places you can eat in Dubrovnik - if you can get a table. Piles of steaming shellfish, fantastic atmosphere on one of the city's oldest squares, and an unexpectedly small bill at the end of your evening.

Patrolling for dropped shellfish at Kamenice

Next stop, Korcula.

The Deep South - Puglia, Basilicata, Calabria and 'cucina povera'

Thursday, 26 July 2012

The food in this region of Southern Italy is often referred to as 'cucina poverta'.. literally 'poor man's food'.

Pasta made without eggs, bread made from hard durum wheat and greens gathered from the hedgerows. This is what makes Southern Italian food so welcoming, hearty and filling.

In the past few days we've eaten orecchiette pasta with wild horseradish in Matera - one of the oldest settlements in the world where the houses are built into caves; pureed fava beans and bitter chard in Alberobello - a village seemingly built for dwarfs where all the little white buildings have perfect conical stone roofs; and riso, patate e cozze (rice, potatoes and mussels, another classic regional dish) in Polignano a Mare - a town perched on the clifftops.

Matera - 46 degrees in the late afternoon. The cave dwellings are nice and cool though

Homemade pasta with wild horseradish (nose-burning!) at Le Botteghe in Matera
Polignano a Mare

riso, patate e cozze

Pureed fava beans with bitter chard and lashings of olive oil

Orecchiette with tomatoes and ricotta forte - strong, aged ricotta

The seafood in this region is of course outstanding too. And I ate a whole octopus in Bari.

One of the highlights of the trip through South Italy for me though has been stumbling across a side street in Bari where a team of old ladies were making fresh pasta outside their houses, to cater for the local restaurants. They were kind enough to let me take pictures - and get a few tips on technique as they proudly showed me how they made orecchiette by hand.

Next stop... Croatia...

The Amalfi Coast - a quick detour for Spaghetti alle Vongole

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

The title of this post says it all really. I love the Amalfi Coast, I love spaghetti, I love clams.

I managed to get in a plate of spaghetti alle Vongole in Amalfi after arriving by train, bus, hydrofoil and ferry to Salerno via Lipari, Messina and Villa San Giovanni. It was worth it.

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