Thursday Thanks #2

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I suppose that I should start by apologising! I know some of my followers have been wondering what has happened to Thursday Thanks, when it is now Saturday. The only excuse I can offer is that it has been a very busy week since my first Thursday Thanks. Not only did Easter weekend fall in that period, and for most practising Christians that is an incredibly busy few days, and my weekend was no exception; but I have been busy preparing for two dinner parties here, I have enjoyed dinner with other friends, and I have been to the theatre with supper at a local restaurant beforehand, and there has been a little bit of tutoring in the French language for some youngsters, which has also passed the odd hour or two. I could apologise for the delay, but no – I’m not going to, I’m thankful that I’ve been so busy and wouldn’t want it any other way!

Last week I wrote that friends are so important, and that I’m really fortunate to have such a lovely group of friends. This week I can only say the same again. They are different friends, in different circumstances, but sharing meals again, and feeling truly blessed in the people that I know. No doubt many of you can say the same, and I hope that like me you want those friends to know that they are not taken for granted.

That’s it for this posting this week; next week looks interesting, busy and a bit different!

Tiramisù – Pick me up!

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Several years ago just after I took early retirement, I attended a day class on simple Italian Cookery. Apart from teaching us how to make  pasta and classic pasta sauces, our tutor passed on to us her Italian mother’s recipe for Tiramisù. It was so easy, foolproof and what’s more, absolutely delicious! I have sampled many a Tiramisù since, either in restaurants, eating with friends or the shop bought variety, but for me this recipe is the best. It is creamy, neither too solid or too runny, and if you like coffee, brandy and chocolate, it is just so full of flavour. I would like to share  this recipe with you, and at the same time acknowledge its source. I claim no responsibility for the recipe, but I can claim to have made it many times and it has always been so good!

Tiramisù is of course, an Italian word, and means something like pick me up, cheer me up or lift me up, and is a very popular coffee flavoured custard dessert which probably first saw the light of day in the Veneto region of Italy in the 1960s, although other sources claim the dessert originated  in Siena in the late seventeenth century. Originally the recipe included eggs, but the version that I am going to share with you, does not.

The ingredients for my Tiramisù are:

  • 250g mascarpone
  • 50g icing sugar
  • 150ml whipping cream
  • 50ml milk
  • 125g Savoiardi biscuits (Sponge fingers or Lady fingers)
  • 175ml strong black coffee, preferably espresso
  • 2 tablespoons brandy
  • Cocoa powder to dust top
  • Grated chocolate to sprinkle on top

Directions:

  • Make the coffee, and add the brandy. Allow this to cool.
  • In a large bowl, whisk together until firm, the mascarpone, icing sugar, cream and milk.
  • Place half of the sponge fingers on the bottom of the serving bowl, and pour over half of the coffee and brandy, ensuring that they are well soaked.
  • Place half of the cheese mixture evenly over the soaked biscuits.
  • Place the remaining biscuits on top of the cheese and carefully drizzle the remaining coffee mixture over the biscuits.
  • Top with the remaining cheese mixture and chill in the fridge for at least three to four hours.
  • Before serving, dust with cocoa powder, and finish with grated chocolate.

Making this dessert usually takes me about forty minutes, is a very easy process and the finished result will serve between six and eight people. I hope you enjoy making it and eating it as much as I do!

Buon Appetito!

 

 

Thursday Thanks #1

Blogging is fairly new to me, I’ve only been doing it for just over a week, and thankfully I’m enjoying both the writing and the responses that I’ve had. Today I want to start what I hope will become a regular feature every Thursday. Like all of us, I have so much in my life for which I am thankful, and quite simply this is going to be my way of putting my words of gratitude in the public domain.

  1. Friends are so important to us all, and I know that I’m really blessed in having many good ones. Last Friday evening, my partner and I, (just so that you know when I use the word “we” in the future) had supper with friends who live in a village on the border of Warwickshire and Leicestershire. They had prepared us a lovely meal, which included paella and a good bottle of Rioja, for which I’m always grateful, but it was the time just sitting and talking and catching up on news, sharing thoughts, and reminiscing which was priceless.
  2. Food will be a common theme through a lot of what I write, and we enjoyed a lovely lunch on Sunday when another friend celebrated her seventieth birthday. Another good meal, and more good friends, but on Sunday it was the stunning view that I was really thankful for. We had travelled into the Cotswolds from our home in Coventry, not far, just about forty minutes away; but we could have been a world away from this city. The lunch was at Charingworth Manor near Chipping Campden, and with glorious weather we enjoyed on Sunday, which was the hottest day of the year so far in these parts, we could see for miles over the rolling hills of South Warwickshire and Gloucestershire. I remember saying to someone how many shades of green there were in that view. I know its a simple thing, but very often those simple things leave a lasting impression.
  3. Those signs of Spring are all around us now. This year the Magnolia tree in our front garden has been absolutely full of beautiful blooms, and the blossom on the pear tree at the back survived longer than usual because there was hardly any wind, and certainly no rain to ruin it, and this morning I had to do a double take at the vast amount of pink blossom on a flowering cherry tree that I passed in the park on my way to the shops. Signs of Spring and signs of rebirth after the winter.
  4. Of course, this coming weekend we celebrate that greatest of all Christian Festivals, Easter, which is all about new life, the new life of Jesus Christ after his resurrection. As a Christian, this Holy Week is very important to me, and I have been sharing in the worship of the church as we remember the events leading up to the death and resurrection of Jesus. Last Sunday was Palm Sunday, and like many Christians we were able to witness to our faith with an outdoor procession. We have that freedom to do that in this country as in many countries, and we feel safe doing it, but at the same moment that we were witnessing to our Christian faith in the streets of Coventry, two suicide bombings killed at least forty Coptic Christians, and injured many more, in churches in Egypt. I am thankful for the freedom we have in this country, and as I remember those who died in Egypt, and other Christians who have given their lives for their faith throughout the Middle East, I am thankful for their witness in such difficult and dangerous circumstances.
  5. Yesterday was a family day. My brother and sister-in-law visited us, and brought with them two American students from the University of Evansville in Indiana. That university has a British campus in the unlikely setting of a Victorian stately home in the village of Harlaxton just outside Grantham. The students come for a semester to do British Studies and experience something of the life and culture of the United Kingdom, with opportunities to travel around the country and neighbouring European states. They came yesterday to see Coventry, its cathedrals, all three of them – the medieval foundations of the first cathedral destroyed by Henry Vlll, the ruins of the second cathedral destroyed by German bombers in November 1941, and the third modern cathedral consecrated and opened in 1962, which stands as a sign of peace and reconciliation. Living here it is easy to take these things for granted, but yesterday was a reminder to try and see them through the eyes of visitors. They were impressed with our city and our cathedral, and that IS something to be grateful for!IMG_1322

The real Paris

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Almost a week has passed since our trip to Paris. As tourists do, we did the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame Cathedral, the Arc de Triomphe, the Louvre Museum, the Latin Quarter, Sacré Cœur, and outside Paris we visited the Château of Versailles. We walked the Champs-Elysées and the Grands Boulevards, saw the Palais Garnier, travelled on the Metro and literally walked miles in our quest to show our godson the city we fell in love with over thirty years ago.

But there is so much more to Paris than these great tourist attractions and famous buildings. It is the place where tourists seldom go that show you what the real Paris is like. Wander the streets of the Île Saint-Louis, and you could imagine yourself far away from the centre of a capital city, when in effect you are just a few hundred metres from the great cathedral of Notre Dame. Unlike its big sister, the Île de la Cité, this smaller island contains almost everything that you could want from a village community, and moves at a much slower pace than the streets on the opposite banks of the Seine.

Or take yourself to the Marais or to Montegueil, village communities bustling with cafés and bistros where Parisians eat and drink after work, where every kind of food shop imaginable is to be found, and where the Jewish community rubs shoulders with designer boutique hotels and Paris’ gay community. A different atmosphere can be felt as you tread the streets in the northern districts of Menilmontant and Belleville, birthplace of Edith Piaf, and close by the fascinating Cemetery of Père Lachaise, where Edith Piaf, the little sparrow, and Oscar Wilde, that great figure of literature, share a graveyard with a million other people, and where the remains of the famous twelfth century lovers Abélard and Héloïse were transferred at the beginning of the nineteenth century.

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Montmartre is another of those places. The steps of Sacré Cœur and the Place du Tertre are always busy with tourists, youngsters who sit and sing on the steps as they look down over the city lit up below, or where artists try to sketch your portrait as you wander by the restaurants and souvenir shops in the Place. But step just a few metres away and you are in a different world, where vines grow and windmills turn and narrow streets are home to houses clad with ivy, and where quiet flights of steps lead to unexpected  views of the surrounding districts.

I love Paris. I love its grand monuments and its famous places. I love to relive the history of the city, even though I shudder when some of those places remind me of the bloody Revolution and its aftermath. But I have a deeper affection for those less well known places, where Parisians go about their daily lives, and where the real Paris is to be found.

 

Julien

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You can almost feel the history of the place when you enter through the front door of 16 rue du Faubourg Saint-Denis. This is the home of the beautiful Brasserie Julien. The original tavern, or café, as we would know it today was opened on this site before even the French Revolution began, and has seen many a famous face through the centuries. The present building dates from the beginning of the twentieth century, and its beautiful Art Nouveau interior is quite stunning.

Friends had recommended that we ought to put Julien on our list of places to eat during our stay in Paris. We were meeting with French friends that we hadn’t seen for a few years, and wanted somewhere special. Julien came up to the mark, in its decor, service and cuisine.

We all chose from the Menu Julien, and two of us enjoyed Egg Florentine with fresh spinach in a Parmesan Sauce, whilst the others sampled the Sea Bass and Salmon Tartar in lime and ginger with a fresh herb salad. Our main courses included a Grilled Chateaubriand with a Béarnaise Sauce, Honey-lacquered pork spare ribs and pebble potatoes with rosemary, Filet of Sea Bass with oyster mushroom risotto and shellfish sauce, Whole roasted Sea Bream, sautéed potatoes with a soy and lime vinaigrette, and for the vegetarian with us, Wok stir-fried vegetables also with a soy and lime vinaigrette.

The desserts looked sumptuous, especially the Profiteroles with warm chocolate sauce, poured from a huge jug at a great height at the table, Crêpes Suzette flambéed with Grand Marnier, and for me – well I always opt for the Café Gourmand if I see it on a menu – a small espresso coffee with four little desserts, Crème Brûlée, Fondant au Chocolat, a tiny Muffin, and a small Fruit Crumble – absolutely delicious!

The price of the Menu Julien is 31€ for two courses and 37€ for three courses, which for the quality and service is quite reasonable. However, the wine is quite pricey, but needs must, and we needed two bottles of Château Tour Prignac from the Medoc between the five of us. But a very pleasant evening in beautiful surroundings, so well worth the price of the final bill. If you are ever in Paris, and want somewhere typically Parisian, then look no further than Julien just down the street from the Porte Saint-Denis in the tenth arrondissement. We were not disappointed, I hope you won’t be either!

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Coffee

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I love a good cup of coffee, but finding one is easier said than done! There are indeed many coffee shops around, and since I’m still reflecting on last week’s Paris trip, let me start there. The big international chains are all over the city, but I avoided those, I don’t see the point in travelling to another country to taste the same thing that I can get at home. Then there are the cafés and bistros on every street corner and in every locality. Some no doubt serve a good coffee, but so often the bitterness of the contents of the cup, or the surliness of the waiter spoils what should be a pleasant relaxing interlude of being with friends or watching the world go by. We drank a few cups of awful coffee last week, but thankfully we also found some very acceptable coffee shops and I just want to tell you about two of them.

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Just along the road from our hotel in the Boulevard Saint Germain was a branch of Cofféa with a vast array of coffees and teas. We bought some Tanzanian Mara Domaé coffee, with its notes of orange, mandarin and cedar, to enjoy once we were home.
The other coffee house we visited was La Caféothèque on the rue de l’Hôtel de Ville. Here we enjoyed a beautifully smooth Cappuccino made to perfection with Ethiopian beans for just 5.00€. This was just before we headed off in our taxi for the Gare du Nord. That smooth creamy taste stayed with me, and was a far cry from the bitterness of those other coffees or the surliness of some of the city’s waiters! A soothing end to five wonderfully hectic days in Paris.

Les Cocottes

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Close by the Eiffel Tower, in the rue Saint-Dominique, in the seventh arrondissement of Paris, are three restaurants owned by the chef Christian Constant. Le Violin d’Ingres, Les Cocottes de Christian Constant, and Café Constant offer slightly different menus and differ too in style and ambiance. The locals know the street as rue Constant! How fortunate those locals are to have these three establishments on their doorsteps!

During our stay in Paris, we were treated to dinner at Les Cocottes by our godson, who wanted to give us a memorable dining experience. Not one of us was disappointed. From the moment we stepped through the open door to the moment we left, the staff were super friendly, efficient, unhurried, but totally natural. Nothing was too much trouble. Language was not a problem, we used our French, but they were happy too to explain the dishes carefully in English. Our table had been booked for seven o’clock, and already by that hour the restaurant was almost full. It remained so until we left, just after ten.
The menu was quite extensive and with the specials of the day, we had difficulty choosing our dishes. But eventually two of us decided on the special starter of Poached Egg with asparagus, peas and parmesan in a delicious sauce, whilst my partner enjoyed six oysters.

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I was then delighted by my main course of Steamed Cod fillet, with seasonal vegetables with olive oil and lemon honey vinaigrette – Dos de cabillaud cuit vapeur, quelques légumes à l’huile d’olive, citron et miel – whilst my friends chose the Magret de Canard.

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Everything from starter to dessert was served in little cocottes, cast iron pans which are perched on wooden boards, which keep the food wonderfully hot. Rice pudding doesn’t sound too exciting as a dessert but the Riz au lait à la vanille de Madagascar was delightful, absolutely full of flavour. Our godson, a chocoholic, could not resist La Fabuleuse tarte au chocolat de Christian Constant.
The other essentials of an excellent dinner, a bottle of Bordeaux, delicious bread and good coffee, all played their part in what was a wonderful evening with friends. The food was excellent, the produce seasonal, and the price very correct for both the quality of service and the dishes themselves. I shall look forward to my next visit to Paris; this is a restaurant to which I very much hope to return.

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