Friday, 24 June 2011

The Pets of Quillan

I could not resist taking some pictures of the pets who lived in the square, and of some donkeys we met on our travels.


France, Food and Ol' Friends

Last weekend Nick and I travelled to France for the sixth time in two years. This time we had a reason beyond the lure of the French way of live – we were visiting our dear friends Becca and Dave. We flew into Carcassone in the Languedoc-Roussillon region and travelled to Quillan, our dear home for three nights where Bec and Dave and rented a beautiful house on a little square.  

It was exactly two years since the last time we had all been together, and in fact since Nick and I’s love affair with Western Europe began, when we spent a splendid couple of days in Lisbon. Visiting them reminded me of one of the best things about living abroad, catching up with old friends in some gorgeous part of the world. 

I am sure Becca won’t mind me saying that, despite appearances, she is a few years older than me. She therefore has far more life experience than I and is able to counsel me in a way that only someone who has ‘been there and done that’ can. It is a joy and comfort to have such a wise friend like Becca, particularly as Nick and I face a time of uncertainty. I was reminded of this, and how much I have missed it. 

As is always the way when Bec & Dave are involved, we spent the weekend eating, drinking and working off the excess with some physical activity. On the Saturday, our first full day in Quillan, the weather was pretty miserable which meant there was nothing to do except head to the market in the morning and spend the afternoon in the kitchen baking with the goods purchased. It seemed like the perfect opportunity to make a savoury cake recipe by Hugh-Fearnley Wittingstall that I had been keen to make for ages. With a slight adaptation, involving the substitution of some ham with £60 saucisson (a story best left for another time), we had ourselves a very tasty savoury cake. We also baked a superb cherry and almond cake of Nigella Lawson – equally delicious. And all made without kitchen scales, cup measures or electric beaters. We also made breakfast parfaits’ (which will of course go on the Phil n Jack cafe menu) of honey poached apricots and fromage blanc – divine. 


The next day we took our baked goods, along with the saucisson, some cheese and a bottle of wine, to the top of a small Pyrenean mountain for a picnic. 

In between the baking and the hiking we squeezed in some movie watching, new beer tasting, blanquette (the regions form of champagne) and espresso drinking, toe painting, cross-wording and of course, eating. 

So thanks Dave & Becca (or David Beckham if you say it quickly) for a wonderful weekend.  

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Dim Sum & Iberian Ham

For Christmas last year my brother gave us Harrods vouchers with the explicit instructions to spend them on something extraordinary. Instantly we knew what we were going to do – buy some cheese of course. Nick and I love eating cheese at some wonderful department store’s cheese bar. We developed a hankering for cheese bars on our first visit to Sydney together many years ago. Our favourite cheese bar experience so far has been at a German department store, Ka De We, which has the most fabulous of all food halls. (If you are ever in Berlin you must go). 

Last Saturday while in London, we arrived at Harrods suitably starving and keen to blow £60 on some (overpriced) cheese and wine. In looking for the cheese bar we stumbled across the Dim Sum bar (Yum Cha to the Australian readers). Enjoying dim sum for brunch on a Sunday is another one of our favourite pastimes so we decided to enjoy and amuse-bouche of dumplings & steamed pork buns. Although in Australia we could have comfortably fed 10 people for the price of the three dumplings and two pork buns that we shared, they were absolutely delicious.

With our sugar levels restored we continued our search for the cheese bar.  Harrods foodhall has an oyster bar, seafood bar, sushi bar, rotisserie, pizzeria, ice cream bar, Champaign bar and an espresso bar, not to mention the many cafes and restaurants on other floors, but as we discovered no cheese bar. Devastated we decided to drown our sorrows with some ham and sherry at the Iberian Ham Bar. And what a treat that turned out to be. We shared a monstrous plate of Iberian ham, some olives and some patatas bravas, and washed it all down with some sherry. The ham was described as a ‘truly sublime delicacy’ and ‘the most exquisite unique, traditional, pure Iberico Spanish ham’. The combination of diet based on acorns from Spain and the pigs freedom to wander at will supposedly resulted in ham of supreme juiciness, flavour, taste and scarceness. I have not eaten enough Iberian ham to be able to verify this but it was DELICIOUS.

We left satisfied and confident that we had kept our promise of spending the money on something extraordinary. Thanks Liam. 

Thursday, 9 June 2011


Last Wednesday night Nick and I went to see the foxy, silver-haired darling of Nashville, Emmylou Harris. Nick and I were first introduced to Emmylou by my Mum, and if memory serves me correctly, it was my brother Liam, who introduced Mum - he gave her Wrecking Ball as a birthday present many years ago. In many ways Emmylou was our introduction to the world of country, folk, blue grass and blues music. We had resigned ourselves to the fact that we may never get to see her perform live (her visit to Australia in January this year was her first in ten years). That was until we found out she was touring Europe.  Nick and I don’t have our hands on London’s pulse, so by the time we found out we could only get seats behind the stage. We were a little dubious about the seats but what a treat they turned out to be. We were in the ‘front’ row, very close to all the behind the scenes action. Plus the seats were only £15 – an absolute bargain.  

It took her a little while to get her unique voice going but once she did it was magnificent. Emmylou has a beautifully haunting voice that was even better live. She promised something’s old, something’s new, something’s borrowed and something’s blue and she delivered. She paid tribute to her dear friend Kate McGarrigle singing ‘one of the most beautiful songs every written’ in her honour – Talk to Me of Mendochin. She spoke of Gram Parsons (‘if it wasn’t for him I probably wouldn’t be standing in front of you tonight’), signing The Road. She sang many of her songs ‘recorded when she was a brunette’ including Red Dirt Girl, Orphan Girl, Every Grain, If I Needed You and Harlan - but also many songs from her new album. One of them, Big Black Dog, is such a delightful song about her dog. As the story goes, on a visit to the animal shelter she came across the big black dog and couldn’t resist him. She had no intention of keeping him permanently and was planning on finding a suitable owner, but the big black dog soon became part of the furniture. Unfortunately she did not sing Wrecking Ball or When you Left this World, two of her most beautiful songs, but you can’t have it all. And it seems the crowd agreed. Not once during the 2 hour show did I hear a single request shouted. It was as if everyone agreed that what Emmylou decided to sing was exactly what we wanted to hear.